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Venice & The Arts (for Bluffers)

In Venice you will likely come across all sorts of references to the Republics rich history of art. So if you need a refresher or you just plain don't know this track is intended to serve as a complete bluffers guide to the Venetian history of Art. Well not complete exactly, we'll start from the Renaissance because that's where the story gets interesting.


Renaissance means rebirth. In the mid fourteen hundreds the rediscovery of old Greek and Roman literature stimulated cultural experimentation in art and science. The height of Greek and Roman civilization, known as the classical era, was felt to have been reborn in Western Europe.

Western Europe was not considered to be the centre of the civilized world. For a long time western Europeans had been the barbarians of the dark ages and the height of civilization was in the east at Byzantium, the last remains of the old Roman world. The Arabic world was also considerably more advanced. The Renaissance was a deliberate attempt by Western Europeans to reconnect with a civilized heritage.

The printing press revolutionized the spread of ideas, poetry and drama. Mathematics learnt from the Arabic world revolutionized science. Humanist philosophy from the ancient Greeks encouraged people to seek happiness in the present in good living. Music became more expressive and emotive. The stranglehold of the medieval church on culture was loosened just a little. Commerce became more important and the middle class gradually emerged. In short it was the first glimmer of the modern world being born.

Italy was an incredibly important player in all this. The Renaissance really came out of the Italian city states of Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome and of course; Venice.


Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto and Canaletto.

Everywhere you go in Venice, from the smallest church to the biggest cathedral, you'll hear the names and see the works of the great Venetian painters. The riches of the trading empire paid for a legion of artists and decorators to cover every nobleman's palace with frescoes and canvases of lavish quality. Venice, isolated from the mainland, went its own way and developed its own style. The Venetian School.

The Bellini Family headed up by Jacopo Bellini started a dynasty of painters that dominated the art landscape of the city. The Venetian school. A mixture of the stylized spiritual art of Byzantium, the emphasis on lines and transcendental quality of Gothic art and later the influence of the Flemish painters landscapes and focus on nature. They pioneered the use of oil on canvas and obtained their mastery of light by layering many layers of oil glaze up from black and white drawings on canvas. Venetian painters were famous above all for their use of colour. Jacopo was painting from the 1420's and he trained his two sons Gentile and Giovanni and his son in law Mantegna in the art.

Giovanni Bellini trained the next generation whose rising stars were Titian and Giorgione. Titian worked in the early to mid fifteen hundreds, the time of the high renaissance.

Titian, whose name in Italian is Tiziano Vecellio, was born in Pieve di Cadore, north of Venice, by his own account in 1477. He's considered the greatest of the Venetian masters and he and his son domenico painted several major works for the Doge of Venice. Titian was the republics offical artist for much of his life.

Giorgione, only a few paintings remain as the Mysterious giorgione died young and even his remaining works may have been finished off by his contemporaries. Yet there is something in the unusual quality of light in his work that suggests he could have been the greatest of the school.

Titian saw the next generation come up and the stars of the mid to late fifteen hundreds were Tintoretto and Veronese.

Veronese was a Venetian Mannerist painter. He was originally from Verona hence the name! He picked up Mannerism in Verona and Mantua. Mannerism was a style of very heavy and complicated symbolism, stylised colours and bodies, high drama and crowded scenes.

Veronese settled in Venice to work. His paintings are characterised by big dramatic scenes and vivid colours. His most famous painting is in Paris now, the wedding at Cana. Veronese was attacked by the church for trivialising religious subject matter. Apparently everyone looked a bit too happy at Veronese's picture of the Wedding of Cana. Veronese actually put himself and his artist mates into the wedding scene, thre of the figures are portraits of himself, Titian and Tintoretto.

Tintoretto is actually a nickname for the artist Jacopo Robusti. His father was a dyer of fabrics. Tintore is the Italian word for Dying. Known as the last great painter of the Italian Renaissance he was in that tradition obsessed with light. He used models and lamps to experiment with light and shade. He painted what is even now the largest oil on canvas, Paradise. Housed in the Doge's palace the painting is a massive 75 by 30 feet.

Although the age of the great Italian renaissance was long gone by Canaletto's time he is still a well loved painter.

Canaletto was nickname for the artist.... Given because he painted the canals of Venice. Canaletto was an eighteenth century townscape painter. He's famous for his iconic picture postcard paintings of the city itself. His early paintings of Venice are considered to be the best. He was one of the first painters to actually paint the picture on site rather than take sketches into the studio. Later he used a camera obscura to make paintings.

Things to say when looking at a Venetian Painting:

My that's a classic example of the Venetian school, the wonderful smooth brush strokes, a dramatic content reminiscent of mannerist works and oh the light, only a Venetian could capture light like this. Is it Titian?



In the fifteenth and sixteenth century, the works of ancient Greek and Roman writers were rediscovered. A movement sprang up among Italian intellectuals that was inspired by the ancient plays and philosophers called the Renaissance. It had a huge effect on art and literature. The Renaissance writers wanted to imitate the Old Classical forms so they tried to reinvent drama using the ideas of Aristotle. The Italian common people weren't in the slightest bit interested.

For centuries Italian popular theatre was Commedia Dell' Arte. Commedia was fast paced, energetic rude and acrobatic comedy performed by highly trained actors. The style still lingers on today in British punch and Judy shows and in the figure of the Harlequin. There were stock characters , masks and costumes and the style revolved around a very physical performance. By contrast the dry and formulaic intellectualism of the Renaissance writers had nothing to offer.

Just like Aristotle, the Renaissance men felt that drama had to be morally enlightening to be justifiable. The audience were more interested in the intermezzo's, the musical comedy pieces that that were shown in the intermission. In any case it was the invention of Opera that finally seemed to satisfy on all fronts. The aristocratic Renaissance men felt that Opera was rooted in ancient Greek drama and the common people liked the big songs and party atmosphere.

Goldoni tried with some success to update Commedia as a proper theatre form by scripting the performances and making the characters less grotesque and more sympathetic. Gozzi hated Goldoni's plays and his first play was a scathing attack on his rival. Gozzi is credited with opening the way for modern theatre in Italy.

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