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one of the main Italian schools of painting. It was at its apogee in the second half of the 15th century and in the 16th century, during the Renaissance when Venice was a wealthy patrician republic and a large Mediterranean trade center. The sensuous, earthy opulence and color inherent in the Renaissance found vivid artistic expression in the Venetian school. The school was marked by excellent painting technique, complete mastery of the expressive possibilities of the oil medium, and a particular concern with problems of color.
The Venetian school of painting began to develop during the 14th century, when it was characterized by the interweaving of Byzantine and Gothic traditions. Paolo and Lorenzo Veneziano painted flat pictures against abstract golden backgrounds in a decorative ornamental style. But even their works were distinguished by a rich and festive range of pure colors. In the middle of the 15th century the Venetian school developed Renaissance tendencies, which were intensified by the Florentine influences that had penetrated through Padua. The works of the masters of the early Venetian Renaissance (the middle and second half of the 15th century)—the Vivarini brothers, Jacopo Bellini, and particularly Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio—evinced their worldly characteristics and an intensified striving toward a realistic representation of the environment, space, and volume; traditional religious subjects became a pretext for an animated and detailed narrative about the colorful daily life of Venice. A special place was held by the refined decorative art, which was of gothic inspiration, of C. Crivelli. The work of Antonello da Messina, who brought oil-painting technique to Venice, and particularly of Giovanni Bellini, began to reveal a shift to the art of high Renaissance. Naïve narration gave way to the striving to create a universalized synthetic image of the world, in which majestic human images, imbued with moral meaning, are seen in natural harmonious relationship with nature that is poetically endowed with life. A certain graphic dryness in the painting of the middle of the 15th century was superseded jn the work of Giovanni Bellini by a softer and freer painting manner, a harmoniously integrated color scale based on the finest gradations of light and color, and an ethereal use of light and dark. The classic forms of Renaissance altar composition developed in the work of Giovanni Bellini.
The Venetian school reached its apogee in the first half of the 16th century in the work of Giorgione and Titian, who raised the artistic achievements of the 15th-century Venetian masters to new heights. Giorgione’s works gave classic expression to the theme of harmonious unity of man with nature. His genre and landscape easel compositions, lyrical and contemplative, contain ideally beautiful, harmonious images of men, a soft and luminous color scale rich in diaphanous transitions of tones, and fluid and musical composition and forms that create a mood of exalted poetry and sensuous fulfillment. Titian’s work, diverse and full of courageous vitality, gives the fullest expression to colorful and joyous images by means of a lusciously sensuous painting manner, typical of the Venetian school. His religious and mythological compositions and landscapes, marked by stormy and vital dynamism, have an exceptionally rich, clear, sonorous, and emotionally saturated color scheme, harmoniously unified by a warm golden tone. Titian’s portraits, with their keen delineation of inwardly complex but integrated human characters, occupy a place all their own.
The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 led to the gradual decline of the commercial power of Venice. From the middle of the 16th century the encroachment of feudal-Catholic reaction spread throughout Italy, bringing on a crisis of the life-affirming Renaissance outlook. Titian’s later works began to show elements of drama, revealing complicated psychological conflicts with keen insight: the somber color scale, with a hidden inner fire, and the free, expressive impasto painting manner had an exceedingly emotional eloquence. Nonetheless, the traditions of Renaissance art endured longer in the Venetian Republic, which was still independent and rich, than in other parts of Italy. In the works of the masters of late Venetian Renaissance (second half of the 16th century), the virtuosic re-creation of nature’s wealth of color, the love of splendor and festivity, and the depiction of richly appareled crowds go hand in hand with the dramatic apprehension of the dynamics and boundlessness of nature, full of natural cosmic forces, and the effulgence of spiritual outbursts of great masses of men (immense decorative canvases and frescoes of Paolo Veronese and the painting series of Jacopo Tintoretto). In his scenes of rural life, the greatest master of Venetian terra firma (areas of the mainland adjacent to Venice), Jacopo Bassano, affirmed the beauty and importance of the peasants’ life of labor. Typical of the works of Venetian masters of the late Renaissance are the exceptional diversity of painting styles, the complexity and refinement of color combinations (the richly refined cold and silvery palette of Veronese, full of subtle iridescence, the dramatically severe tones of Tintoretto with tense, brilliant color spots that burst out of the darkness, the luscious tangibility and sonority of the color cadences of J. Bassano). The complex and contradictory seekings of the Venetian masters of the second half of the 16th century led to new artistic forms and principles that had an enormous impact on the development of 17th-century art in Europe. New styles were generated—historical, battle, and genre painting, and the group portrait.
During the 17th century the Venetian school entered a period of creative decline. The religious and genre compositions of D. Fetti, B. Strozzi, and I. Lissa contained the baroque painting methods that had become widespread in Italy, some evidences of realism, and the influence of Caravaggio as well as the traditional Venetian interest in problems of color. On the eve of the 18th century S. Ricci painted effective compositions in the baroque style. The landscapes of M. Ricci, full of dynamism and drama, manifest an affinity with the “romantic” art of S. Rosa and A. Magnasco.
The Venetian school had a revival in the 18th century when the Venetian Republic, which had preserved its state sovereignty, became one of the principal centers of Italy, partitioned by aliens. This period is connected with the flowering of Venetian mural painting, which combined in the work of G. B. Tiepolo a joyous festive quality with baroque spatial dynamism and rococo-like refined lightness of color. Genre painting developed, full of poetic elation in the work of G. B. Piazzetta and full of keen qualities of observation and light irony in the work of P. Longhi. The architectural landscape became widely popular. It derived from L. Carle-varis’ work (so-called veduta), which represents the unique image of Venice with its patterned palace facades, canals, and colorful crowds (Antonio Canaletto, B. Bellotto) in a documental and accurate but subtle manner. The “view” landscapes of F. Guardi are intimate and lyrical, with light gradations of light and color, and a translucent color scale, which finely re-create the unique poetic quality of Venetian daily life. The concentrated interest of 18th-century Venetian artists in problems of representing light and air anticipated the plein-air seeking of 19th century painters.
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Kolpinskii, Iu. D. Isskustvo Venetsii, XVI vek. Moscow, 1970.
Pallucchini, R. La pittura veneziana del cinquecento, vols. 1-2. Novara, 1944.
Pallucchini, R. La pittura veneta del quatrocento. Bologna, 1956.
Pallucchini, R. La pittura veneziana del settecento. Venice-Rome .
Berenson, B. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: VenetianSchool, vols. 1-2. London, 1957.