Venetian Painting and the Rise of Landscape

I sketched out the crucial role which pagan mythology played in the development of Western painting at the time of the Renaissance. The rising popularity of the stories of the pagan gods and goddesses among the ruling elites of Italy can be seen as a deliberate attempt to counterbalance the dominant Biblical vision of the time. Surely, no two subjects could be further apart than the Passion of Christ and the loves of Zeus.

Venice played a crucial part in this development. Venetian art owed much of its greatness to several unique factors: Venice’s geopolitical location, its republican institutions, its character as a great and wealthy trading empire, and its inheritance from the older Byzantine civilization. But most importantly, the natural atmosphere of Venice taught artists one of the essential lessons of painting: that light and air transform everything visible, dominating our moods and perceptions.

Venetian painting begins with Giovanni Bellini. No other great school of painting is to such an extent the creation of one man. In the course of his long and productive career, he introduced new modes and orders into painting, capturing a new vision which captivated his students, Giorgione and Titian, and influenced painting throughout Europe.

What was this new vision? Out of Bellini’s workshop came endless variations on the most popular religious themes of the time: the Madonna and Child and the Crucified Christ. But these paintings were different from other Italian or Northern works with these subjects. Bellini was in love with light and the natural world, and found a way to introduce them into his paintings gradually, offering a glimpse of landscape and a suggestion of sky behind his sacred figures. In this way he encouraged a taste for these things in his audience, making them eager for further innovations.


~ by suntravel on July 27, 2007.

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