Venice is “itself a work of art,” writes Joseph Brodsky in Watermark -- “the greatest masterpiece our species produced.” From the wide-eyed Byzantine Madonna in the Basilica di San Marco and Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello to Gino Rossi, the 20th-century Venetian Van Gogh, Venice has inspired artists throughout the ages. “The Bellinis and their peers develop a particularly Venetian style of painting characterised by deep, rich colors, en emphasis on patterns and surfaces, and a strong interest in the effects of light,” comments Heather Horton at the Khan Academy.
Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto are the triumvirate of Venetian painting. “An account of artists whose styles or approaches were literally transformed by the example of Titian or Veronese would comprise a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the seventeenth century and beyond,” writes Andrea Bayer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Titian “was the first Italian artist to garner a truly international reputation,” says Bayer. Paolo Veronese’s paintings are “grandiose and magnificent visions of the spectacle of sixteenth-century Venetian life,” writes Xavier Salomon for the Met Museum. And Tintoretto is the most Venetian of the three -- he never travelled and worked exclusively on civic projects and sacred subjects for churches and confraternity halls.
These are among the art treasures every visitor should see in Venice, according to Francis Russell and Nicholas Hall of Christies:
St Mark’s Basilica: “The spiritual, indeed the emotional, centre of Venice … the wonderful drama of its façade and domes and the measured rhythm of the interior impress immediately … the treasury must be the most remarkable in Italy, and the panels by Paolo Veneziano in the museum mark the highpoint of Gothic painting in Venice.”
St. George and the Dragon by Carpaccio in Nicholas Hall: “Painted on a massive scale -- the canvas measures 360 cm in width -- it depicts the determined saint in a suit of gleaming black armour transfixing the ferocious dragon on the point of his lance.”
Church of Madonna dell’Orto: “A majestic late Gothic brick church, memorable not least for its pictures. Cima’s Saint John the Baptist with Other Saints is as sharp in detail as any relief by the Lombardo … while Tintoretto is found at his most cerebral -- in the Presentation of the Virgin -- and at his most visionary -- in the Last Judgement of the choir.”
Museo Correr, Ca’ d’Oro, Ca’ Rezzonico: “Venice’s civic museum … the most elegant of early 15th-century Venetian palaces ... is also remarkable: the Bellinis there can still be seen in natural side light, as the artist would have expected.”
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari: “Other major Venetian churches are rich in sculpture, but none competes in range perhaps with the Frari, for impressive state monuments to public figures are complemented by Donatello’s spare Saint Jean de Baptist and Canova’s pyramidal memorial to Titian.”
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco: “One of the grandest of Venice’s institutions … the lower hall, vast and tenebrous, is adorned by a series of eight canvases by Tintoretto … he has a force that demonstrates that his study of models after Michelangelo had not been in vain.”
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