Venetian Painting
Characteristics of Colorito Art in Venice.

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Assumption of the Virgin by Titian
Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18)
S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
By Titian. One of the greatest works
of High Renaissance painting.

Venetian Painting (c.1450-1800)
History and Characteristics of Oil Painting in Venice


Disegno Versus Colorito
Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)
Giorgione (1477-1510)
Titian (c.1488-1576)
Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556)
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
Tintoretto (1518-94)
Venetian Painting Compared to Florentine Painting
Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
Canaletto (1697-1768)

Apollo conducts Beatrix of Burgundy
to the Genius Imperii.
Wurzburg Residenz (1751-53)
By Giambattista Tiepolo, the great
master of Rococo fresco painting.

For a chronology of events,
see: History of Art Timeline.

Disegno Versus Colorito

While the Renaissance in Florence was exhausting itself by the very splendour of its own achievement, artists in Venice were exploring a different set of pictorial possibilities. The difference between these two great schools of the Italian Renaissance can be summed up as follows: to a Florentine of 1480 a painting was composed of shape/design plus colour; whereas to a Venetian of 1520 it was shape/design fused with colour. In Florence, colour (colorito), however harmonious, was a quality to be added to design (disegno). In Venice it was inseparable from design. To a Florentine it was an attribute of the object to which it belonged: a red dress or a green tree were patches of red and green confined within the boundaries of those objects. The Venetians meanwhile thought of colour as a quality without which the dress or the tree could hardly be said to exist. It permeated everything and flowed across contours like light. The structural unity of Florentine painting gave place to the chromatic unity of Venetian. In Venice, colour gave the canvas life, and an artist's skill in mixing and using colour pigments was critical. The importance which Venetians placed on colour explains in part why they adopted oil painting more enthusiastically than their counterparts in Florence, since oil paint gave artists greater depth and luminosity of colour than tempera. For the impact of Venice painters on European art, see: Legacy of Venetian Painting (after 1600).

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.


Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)

It is in the paintings of Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) - son of Jacopo Bellini (1400-70) - that this new quality is first seen, but before following the pattern of Bellini's long career it will be necessary to focus our attention on the city of Padua in the middle years of the quattrocento, when Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506) was the dominant artistic influence and the Bellini family, Giovanni and his brother Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507), looked to him for guidance.

Padua - then a centre of Early Renaissance painting - must have provided a congenial background for the precocious young artist. At the Academy of Francesco Squarcione - a mediocrity among painters but evidently a stern and efficient teacher - Mantegna learned his craftsmanship. In the cultural air of the city he acquired an almost fanatical reverence for the legendary power and majesty of ancient Rome. Through the remains of Roman architecture and sculpture, which Mantegna studied assiduously, he was able to reconstruct in his mind a vivid picture of the great pre-Christian past, and in his religious paintings it emerged as a world of immense and uncompromising power. His forms are hard and sculptural. They have the same metallic intensity as those of Andrea del Castagno (c.1420-57), but they are more finely and even more scientifically constructed. (See the effect of Mantegna's foreshortening technique in his Lamentation over the Dead Christ.) In the Eremitani Chapel of Padua he painted the story of the martyrdom of St James, destroyed, alas, in the Second World War. In Mantua he filled the little Camera degli Sposi in the Ducal palace with frescoes of the Gonzaga family, and on the ceiling he painted the first trompe-l'oeil worm's-eye view, the earliest experiment in visual illusionism - a method of fresco painting later perfected as quadratura by Correggio - see his Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1526-30); by Pietro da Cortona - see his Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39, Palazzo Barberini); and Andrea Pozzo - see his Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94, Sant'Ignazio, Rome).



Giovanni Bellini's sister, Niccolosia, had married Mantegna; the two artists were exactly the same age. From the very beginning Giovanni was completely dominated by the power and austerity of his new brother-in-law. Yet even in his early works there is a note of gentleness and pathos that reveals the difference between the two contemporaries. The difference was to increase throughout Bellini's life until, at the end of it, no one could have guessed at the harsh discipline of his youth. For Giovanni was to lay the foundations of all that was musical, sensuous, and glowing in later Venetian art.

Back in Venice, Giovanni moved slowly towards the point where light and colour become paramount ingredients in his art. His pupils, Giorgione and Titian as well as Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547), seized on the new discovery, gradually relaxing their linear tension and their structural sense, and replacing them by a set of glowing harmonies that had their origin in light rather than colour. Florentine colour had never been timid; it was, at its best, as intense as anything the Venetians could achieve but it did not radiate or burn. Titian's colour is often almost subdued, Tintoretto's gloomy, Veronese's muffled, but Titian's greys and dull purples have more fire in them than Fra Angelico's vermilions and pale ultramarines. In fact Titian set his foot on the road that led directly to nineteenth-century Impressionism in that he did not paint the thing-as-he-knew-it, but, the thing-as-he-saw-it. A green hillside can be purple if it is in the shadow, a brown field scarlet if it is seen at sunset. Titian did not push his researches anything like as far as did French impressionists, but in all his paintings there is a sensuous pervasion of light that ties all the parts together in a closer relationship than they ever had before, and in particular binds the figures and the landscape into a single harmony.

Landscape painting had not yet reached the point where it could exist in its own right without the justification of figures, but Venetian landscape fused itself intimately with the figures, whereas in Florentine painting it was seldom more than a theatre backcloth. The extreme example of this Venetian fusion is Giorgione's Tempest (1506-8) (Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice), that enigmatic masterpiece which can be classified neither as a landscape in which the foreground figures are disturbingly important nor as a figure painting in which the landscape plays an unusually dominant part. It is in this picture that one first notices a new method of composition which was later to become the landscape painter's favourite system. The normal Florentine painting is based on the pyramid, the picture piled up more or less symmetrically round a central mass. Giorgione's picture has no central mass: on the contrary, its centre is a gap through which the eye is invited to pass in order to penetrate into the further recesses of the landscape.

A change of mood runs parallel to the change of method. A languor creeps in and an opulence that bear witness to a more worldly view of life. In Giorgione's Fete Champetre the young men and maidens are no longer alert and eager-eyed. They are creatures of leisures enjoying the summer afternoon; and though this, again, is an extreme case, the same glowing languor runs through much of the later work of Giovanni Bellini, the whole of Giorgione, and a high percentage of Titian.

It was Giovanni Bellini who laid the foundations for the whole of this remarkable change of mood and method. The triple climax of Florentine painting had been prepared for by a dozen artists of the fifteenth century, each of whom had contributed to the cumulative heritage of Leonardo (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), and Raphael (1483-1520). The pattern of development of the Renaissance in Venice was different. In Venice the climax was prepared for by one man: it was from Giovanni Bellini that his two famous pupils, Giorgione and Titian, drew almost everything that we think of as being typically Venetian. Yet though Giovanni prepared the ground for his successors, he did so very gradually, developing slowly and steadily, pushing his researches a little further each year in his long career, intensifying the inner glow and adding to it a lyric note that was to be fully developed by Giorgione.

An early landmark in this long progress is the Ecstasy of St Francis (Frick Collection, New York) where the saint steps out from his grotto into a landscape full of light and air and lifts his eyes to the sun. Bellini always liked to place his saints and Madonnas in an open-air setting, and as he grew older the landscapes became warmer, more golden, more habitable. One of his favourite types of Christian art was the Pieta - the dead Christ with angels or saints - and even when he was frankly under Mantegna's influence, these pictures have a degree of pathos of which Mantegna was incapable. In his middle years he painted a series of little pagan allegories (now in the Venetian Accademia), fanciful, steeped in lyric poetry, the earliest examples of the kind of painting in which Venice later specialized - the poesia - the picture in which the precise meaning of the subject-matter hardly seems to count: in which the dreamlike pagan mood is everything. Towards the end of his life this pagan note became more resonant till it reached its climax in The Feast of the Gods painted in 1513 for Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. This, perhaps, is the Venetian answer to Raphael's Parnassus. It is rustic, pastoral, Dionysian, and it makes Raphael's fresco, for all its pictorial science and its noble grandeur, look a little cold and manufactured by contrast. Bellini's Olympians are gathered together on a summer evening in the wooded hinterland of the Veneto. Raphael's Parnassians exhibit themselves in front of beautifully painted scenery.

These are the expressions of Giovanni's poetic imagination. But throughout his life he continued to paint formal altarpiece art - the Virgin enthroned with attendant saints in an architectural setting, glowing with gold mosaic in a subdued golden light. Each time he tackled the hackneyed theme he produced a new variation on it, and each time the Madonna herself achieves a new and tenderer femininity. For the contrast between Tuscan thought and philosophy and Venetian poetry and music is accompanied by an equally significant contrast between Tuscan virility and the Venetian worship of the feminine ideal. The St Job altarpiece now in the Venetian Accademia, is a typical example of his big altarpieces. It was painted in his prime at the age of fifty. So solemn is it in its general effect that the sensuous Venetian elements in it are hardly perceptible, but they are there. The Madonna and her companions seem to be listening to the music: action is suspended: taken in isolation the three lute-playing angels below the throne are among the most typically Venetian incidents in Giovanni's oeuvre. See also his: San Zaccaria Altarpiece (1505, Church of San Zaccaria, Venice).

For more about altarpiece painting in Venice, by Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and others, see: Venetian altarpieces (c.1500-1600).

None of Giovanni Bellini's contemporaries possessed either his nobility or his poetry. They were excellent, conservative painters: craftsmen of a high order, upholders but not creators of the Venetian tradition. Carlo Crivelli (c.1430-93) - the oldest of them - was mannered and elegant. Vittore Carpaccio (c.1465-1525/6) is the most lovable; he is best known for the colourful and animated pageantry of his series of paintings of the legend of St Ursula, which contains one surprising picture, The Vision of St Ursula. Here, for once, Carpaccio achieves a note of magical, quiet intimacy that neither he himself ever repeated nor any other Venetian ever achieved. Other Venetian painters, contemporary with Giovanni Bellini - Basaiti, Montagna, Cima of Conegliano - produced charming but unimportant variations on the Venetian theme.

By the time that Giorgione and Titian, as young men, had entered the Bellini studio as apprentices, the Venetian painting tradition had been firmly established. Their task was to assimilate that tradition and take it to its logical conclusion, and each of them did so in his own way.

Giorgione (1477-1510)

Giorgione (Giorgio da Castelfranco) was one of the tragic young men of art, like Schubert and Keats, who died young because the gods hate anti-climax. Giorgione would certainly have developed had he lived, but he could never in later life have created anything that so perfectly combined worldliness with purity as the small but precious handful of paintings by which he is best known, and the rather more numerous pictures whose authenticity is hotly disputed by art historians. Nonetheless, he remains one of the most enigmatic of all Old Masters produced in Venice. In his painting he seems to embrace pleasure fearlessly, and yet it it pleasure purged of every trace of grossness by the pastoral sweetness of his landscapes and the lyrical grace of his figures.

Common to them all is a mood that we have learned to call the Giorgionesque. It is a mood often achieved in poetry, seldom in painting. We do not 'examine' Giorgione's paintings or look to them for narrative content. We submit to them and let them work their will on us as they did on his contemporaries, to such an extent that during his own lifetime his fame eclipsed that of Titian. What Giorgione added to the mainstream of Venetian painting was something that exactly satisfied the Venetian appetite for the lyrical and musical side of art. The famous Castelfranco Madonna - painted for the little town in which he was born - is quite formal and unadventurous in design, yet it has the unmistakeable introspective, brooding quality we associate with him. The Tempest, his first authentic work, is like the quiet music of a song whose words are too enigmatic to survive analysis. The two figures in the foreground are lost in their own thoughts and pay no attention to each other. The landscape between them is part of their day-dream. The Sleeping Venus (1510, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), naked though she is, has no erotic overtones. Her long, smooth limbs belong to Nature, not to Mankind. The Fete Champetre in the Louvre is more robust, but even here the picture's subject is the expectant pause before music is heard on a summer's afternoon.

There exist plenty of Giorgionesque pictures painted in or near Venice in the early years of the sixteenth century whose authorship will probably never be decided. They are the inevitable sequel to a new personal discovery.


Titian (c.1488-1576)

The only artist who need be mentioned as a follower of Giorgione is Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) - who, in the years immediately following Giorgione's death in 1510, painted one or two masterpieces in the same idyllic vein, of which the most famous is Sacred and Profane Love. Titian didn't have Giorgione's aristocracy, but his stature was greater still. He lived to be an old man, and his vast output is uneven in quality; the best of it is stamped not by aristocracy, but by energetic nobility. There is less refinement but more big-heartedness in it than in Giorgione's. As he grew older his knowledge of the play of light grew more and more profound; he saw his world less and less in terms of contour and more and more in terms of shimmering surface, and his style grew broader and more impressionist. His imagination was seldom of the highest order. It is only rarely that he can bring one face to face with the tense moment when all emotional threads seem to be tied together. He did achieve it once or twice, as in the Entombment in the Louvre, but such pictures are exceptional. It is the whole glowing corpus of his work that counts, not the isolated masterpiece.

Titian was probably, but not certainly, born around 1485-8 in the village of Cadore high up in a Dolomite valley. Some authorities are reluctant to accept an earlier date, presumably because the year of his death, 1576, is known and it seems highly improbable that any artist of the time could survive and retain full possession of his creative faculties beyond a certain point. Whatever the precise chronology, he died a very old man, and, as though he knew that he had no need for precocity, he matured late. He was apprenticed first to Zuccato a master of mosaic art, then to Gentile Bellini, and afterwards to his brother Giovanni. While Giorgione's talents were ripening Titian's seem to have remained latent. It is only after Giorgione's death, in his early youth, that Titian begins to develop. Sacred and Profane Love (1515) is full of Giorgione's spirit - an enigmatic idyll with a meaning that each spectator must extract for himself. Yet it could not be by Giorgione. It is too accomplished, too professional, too serenely beautiful, and at the same time it misses that ultimate haunted mystery that baffles us in the best of Giorgione. It is a picture painted under a temporary spell, as though the painter had been trying to prove that he could, for once, produce a poesia as potent as anything of Giorgione's, but built on more classical lines. [See also the later and equally dreamy Venus of Urbino (1538, Uffizi Gallery, Florence), which was modelled on Giorgione's Reclining Venus (1510). It remains one of the most famous female nudes of the Italian Renaissance.]

He was about thirty years old when he painted Sacred and Profane Love, leaving him sixty years of productive life ahead of him. During those sixty years he developed as steadily as had Giovanni Bellini in the preceding generation. He was the most truly professional painter in the history of art, with the possible exception of Velazquez and Rembrandt. By the end of his life he had explored most of the possibilities of which oil painting is capable, from burning colour to grisaille, and mastered every kind of subject, including portrait art, sumptuous allegories, pagan mythologies, history painting, as well as numerous forms of ecclesiastical art, including Church mural painting and altar panel paintings - and every mood, ranging from dreamy lyricism, through blithe erotic paganism, dignified nobility, full-blooded rhetoric, dramatic action to, in the end, tragic resignation. Arguably one of the best history painters (note: in the sense of istoria, or narrative), he had certain limitations, the limitations that must accompany such robust strength. But if there is one man whose influence as a master of the full range of expression in colour pigment has been felt by almost every European artist of note, it is Titian. (See for instance: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting c.1500-76.) The heroic Christian energy of the Frari Assumption, as well as the heroic pagan energy of the Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23) and Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5) are typical of his middle years, as is the portrait of reds - Pope Paul III with his Grandsons (1546, Capodimonte, Naples), one of the greatest portrait paintings of the Venetian School. See also: Venetian Portrait Painting (c.1400-1600).

Then comes, with ripening age, a new drama - the drama of light, in which contours lose themselves and colour becomes less brilliant but more vibrant. A mysterious profundity pervades both the religious and the pagan pictures of his later years. Among the latter one could single out the Rape of Europa, wild and abandoned in composition; among the former, his last tragic picture, the Pieta, left unfinished at his death in 1576, in which colour itself has almost been replaced by fitful light, and light has become the brooding expression of an old man's final dream.

Of Titian's minor contemporaries little needs to be said. Palma Vecchio (1480-1528) added a touch of opulence and a softer roundness to the Venetian interpretation of womanhood, and occasionally, as in Jacob and Rachel, painted a full-scale poetic idyll, softer and less heroic than anything by Titian, but full of space and warmth and the full glow of Venetian colour. Jacopo Bassano (1515-1592) introduced a rustic note into those idyllic outdoor scenes that the Venetians loved. With Giovanni Savoldo (1506-48) the grand poetic rhythms begin to run dry. He is a true Venetian in his choice of subject and his delight in colour, but he speaks in prose where his predecessors spoke verse.

Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556)

The most interesting and individual of Titian's contemporaries is Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556) who, though Venetian by birth, broke away from Venice and the strong local influences which might have robbed him of his own strange personality, and painted in Rome, in Bergamo, and in Treviso. He is a haunted artist. There is little of the Venetian's frank acceptance of the joy of life, and none of their inherent grandeur in his work. A sadness, an unease, seems to transpose all his pictures from the major to the minor key, and when he is dramatic, as he can often be, it is an anxious, strained, interior drama in which he specializes. Even his portraits often strike a slightly sinister note.

When Titian died, his fame had become legendary, not only in his native Venice, but throughout Europe. The old man, who for nearly three-quarters of a century had dominated the art of his time, had surely taken its secret with him to the grave. To his admirers it must have seemed that this was the end of the Venetian school, the unbroken cycle of development that had stretched from the bright, youthful pictures of Giovanni Bellini to the dark tragedy of a century later. Yet one more giant, Veronese, was to provide a final climax to Venetian sumptuousness and invent a still more elaborate pageantry. And an even more fiery genius, Tintoretto, was to make a new set of discoveries and open up a dynamic world that had never been adumbrated before in Venetian painting but which, none the less, become recognizably Venetian in Tintoretto's hands.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

Paolo Veronese, a native of Verona, came to Venice in his twenty-seventh year, and there practised his delectable art for the rest of his life. What he achieved during the busy thirty-three years in his adopted city, was something that Venice had been waiting for since the disappearance of Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1525) - a joyous expression of the colour and pageantry of Venetian life at its gayest and its most ceremonious. Veronese's temperament is like that of Carpaccio in that he loved the urban settings of fine architecture with pageantry in the foreground. Since Carpaccio's day a new style (Mannerism) had been introduced into Venetian painting, a more decorous ceremonial, a more luxurious way of life, larger gestures, richer robes, a franker sensuousness. But, allowing for the emerging Mannerist painting, Veronese is Carpaccio reincarnate. No one has ever painted grander festive scenes or more colourful mythologies. Like Carpaccio he was incapable of deep emotion; pathos or tragedy were distasteful to him. Like Carpaccio he was an exquisite colourist. Gold and silver, amethyst and coral, peacock blue and olive green sing in his pictures. On the ceilings of the Ducal Palace he provided sumptuous allegories, and in the little anteroom that leads to the Hall of the Collegio is his version of the story of the Rape of Europa - gracious, carefree, and exquisite, a prophecy of eighteenth-century make-believe, which only reveals its superficiality when compared with Titian's version of the same theme. Along with his enormous celebratory Wedding Feast at Cana (1562-3) in the Benedictine monastery San Giorgio Maggiore, and his Feast in the House of Levi (1573), his greatest achievement in the Ducal Palace is the huge Apotheosis of Venice on the ceiling of the Hall of the Grand Council - the most stylish and the proudest piece of large-scale rhetoric in a city devoted to rhetoric.

For other types of art in Venice, during the mid-sixteenth century, please see Venetian Renaissance Architecture.

Tintoretto (1518-94)

The emergence of the movement known as Baroque art occurred about the beginning of the seventeenth century. In Tintoretto , one is getting very near to it. Far more than Titian he is a link between Renaissance art and the more turbulent Baroque painting. In him both light and colour are almost independent of structure. Tintoretto will boldly throw a whole group of figures into deep shadow, or allow the light to pick out and isolate a hand or knee. His composition no longer follows the contours, but builds itself up in masses of tone and colour. He breaks away from the Renaissance system of symmetry and frontality and permits himself to paint a Crucifixion from the side or to visualize a Last Supper in which the table is seen in diagonal perspective. He anticipates Rubens in his tumultuous rhythms and Rembrandt in his preoccupation with light.

Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) was apprenticed as a boy to Titian, but was expelled from his studio after ten days owing to Titian's jealousy, according to the account of Ridolfi, his earliest biographer. The incident is significant, since it left Tintoretto without a master in an age when studio apprenticeship was almost essential to a young artist's career.

The young man at once set about teaching himself, inventing new devices for training himself as a painter, using small figures of day arranged in artificially-lit settings like model theatres. The result is immediately visible even in his earliest work, in which a sense of deep space combined with surprisingly dramatic effects of light open up a new set of pictorial possibilities. But apart from these innovations, Tintoretto's dynamic character, his passion for figures in movement, and the furious speed at which he worked introduce a new and turbulent note into Venetian painting. His art is no longer the carefully arranged tableaux of High Renaissance tradition. The spectator is, as it were, dragged into the thick of the action like an eye-witness. The essence of Tintoretto is to be found at the Scuola of San Rocco in Venice which contains what is probably the largest collection of works by one artist in any single building; and as a prearranged iconographical scheme runs through the whole series the effect of the three great rooms is one of immense cumulative power.

At first sight the rhetoric, the dark and passionate seriousness and the violent movement of this religious art are almost uncomfortably overpowering, but behind the turbulence is an unusual depth of feeling and an understanding of the narrative content. The great Crucifixion of San Rocco is crowded with action and incident on a Shakespearean scale and of a Shakespearean kind. Each of the New Testament narratives expresses the state of mind of a man who has projected himself imaginatively into the story of the Gospels and relived it in his own terms. The Annunciation in the Lower Hall of the Scuola is an unforgettable conception. The angel Gabriel arrives at full speed, flying through the door at the head of a crowd of attendant angels, while the Virgin leans backwards under the impact of the fiery, airborne messengers. Equally inventive and equally freed from the bonds of tradition are the dark Agony in the Garden, the Temptation with its Miltonic figure of Satan, and the Flight into Egypt in a landscape that is outstanding even in this city of potential landscapes.

Tintoretto was not always a painter of dark turbulence. The four allegories of Venice in the Ducal Palace are among the most optimistic and radiant of Venetian mythologies. As paintings of the nude figure even Titian never surpassed them. The Bacchus and Ariadne is perhaps the most memorable picture in the long line of Venetian poesie.

For details of drawings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, see: Venetian Drawing (c.1500-1600).

Venetian Painting Compared to Florentine Painting

So ends the succession of giants in Venetian painting. It would be as futile to discuss whether Venice or Florence produced the greater masterpieces as to discuss whether reason or instinct is the more potent arbiter in human affairs. One factor - a technical one - makes Venetian art seem closer to our own than Florentine, namely, the changeover from tempera to oil as the normal medium for paint. Love of surfaces as opposed to love of contour was doubtless a Venetian characteristic, and the oil medium encouraged the development of that side of the artist's vision. Perhaps Florence would have rejected oil painting as unsuitable to her needs, or perhaps she would have adopted it but ignored its possibilities, or perhaps, had it been adopted earlier, it would have revolutionized Florentine painting.

Such speculations are vain. The two schools are distinct both in outlook and in technique. Florence had always been a city of philosophers and intellectuals, Venice of poets and musicians, and her lyric genius overflowed into her art. But there was another deciding factor in the difference between the two cities. Florence never had the same kind of civic pride as Venice. She was an art-producing centre, and as such supplied the needs of the Church and to a lesser extent of the noble families. Venice, on the other hand, was a city of merchants and palaces and great civic buildings, and the artists of Venice were called upon to serve the city as much as the Church. The palace of the Doges contains some of the major examples of Venetian painting, and the theme of most of them was Venice herself. Veronese paid homage to her in the great oval Apotheosis of Venice, but even his huge pseudo-religious paintings - the Feast in the House of Levi, and The Wedding Feast at Cana, for example - are really tributes to the extravagantly colourful texture of Venetian life. There was nothing in Florence to correspond to this aspect of civic pride - no parallel, for instance, to the ceremony in which the Doge celebrated the marriage of Venice to the Adriatic by throwing a ring into the sea from the state barge, the Bucentaur, that appears in so many Venetian paintings.

There was a third factor in determining the distinctive flavour of Venetian art. Venice looked eastwards; her trade was with the Near East. Constantinople supplied her with some delicious material loot, but the loot was not entirely material. Venetian taste had an Oriental tinge. The city that could erect the half-Oriental Basilica of St Mark, pale and glittering like an opal, was bound to develop a very different kind of painting from the city that approved of the stern proportions of young Brunelleschi's dome in Florence.

One might have expected the death of Tintoretto, in the last decade of the sixteenth century, to mark the end not only of the Golden Age of Venetian painting, but also the end of Italy's contribution to the mainstream of European art. Yet, a century after Tintoretto's death, just when the Italian mainstream seemed to have become too sluggish to be interesting, Venice again gave birth to a generation of painters who cannot be ignored even in the briefest of surveys.

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770)

By far the greatest of them was Tiepolo, the most audacious and brilliant painter of his time, who could perhaps best be described as an eighteenth-century reincarnation of Veronese. If pageantry was the keynote of Veronese, swagger of the most dazzling kind was that of Tiepolo. In all his work, but especially in his vast ceiling paintings, there is an airy stylishness. He inherited all the pictorial illusionism of the preceding era of Baroque art (notably trompe l'oeil, quadratura and other similar mannerisms) including the conception of a ceiling as a hole punched in the roof through which could be seen a sky filled with flying and floating creatures, and the wild rhetoric of gesture for gesture's sake. His immense virtuosity and his elegant, acid colour make him the outstanding figure in this late flowering of Venetian art. See in particular his Wurzburg Residence frescoes (1750-3) in Germany, and the Apotheosis of Spain fresco (1763-6) on the ceiling of the throne room in the Royal Palace at Madrid. He was influenced by his fellow citizen, Piazzetta (1683-1754), who had already pointed the way towards this new kind of colourful rhetoric, but in playful exuberance Tiepolo far exceeded Piazzetta.

Canaletto (1697-1768)

Simultaneous with this outburst of rhetoric was the school of Venetian painters of vedute, artists who delighted the rich travellers engaged in the Grand Tour of Europe by producing views of Venetian life and architecture that combined a more or less documentary account of Venetian topography with a great deal of Venetian fantasy and magic. Through the painting of Canaletto, his nephew Bernardo Bellotto (1721-80) and Francesco Guardi (1712-93) the palaces of Venice, the Piazza of St Mark, the busy pageantry of the Grand Canal and the picturesqueness of the smaller canals became familiar images in every part of Europe, but especially in the houses of English noblemen. One of the best landscape artists in Italy, Canaletto's views of Venice became so popular that his studio took on the functions of a factory and his style eventually lost its earlier vitality. Guardi's Venice is more romantic and more restless than Canaletto's, and his pictures, enchanting though they are, contain more than a hint of the Chinoiserie that was seeping through into Europe from the Far East and giving a new accent to European furniture and interior decoration.

Note: Canaletto's final years coincided with the erection of the new Venetian Academy of Fine Arts and the founding of the collection of the Venice Academy Gallery.

One might also mention one of Venice's best miniaturists, the popular painter Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), who pioneered the use of ivory as a ground for limners, which offered a much more luminous painting surface, and triggered a revival of miniature portrait painting during the late 18th century. Carriera was - along with Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) and Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842) - one of the best portrait artists (female) of the 18th century.

One more artist is just worthy of mention in this group of Venetians. Pietro Longhi (1701-85) is a minor artist, but he added a rather more intimate note to this cumulative record of Venice by painting little genre pictures of Venetian life and incident. He is, one might say, the Hogarth of Venice, but a small-scale, emasculated Hogarth.

Works of Venetian painting can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe and America.

• For the meaning of important oils, frescoes and tempera pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.
• For information about painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

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