Masters of Venice at the De Young, Art Practical

Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power, composed of work on loan from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, provides a small but potent display of both the flights of inspiration and technical advancements that made fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venice an artistic hub. The exhibit is entirely devoted to depictions of people famous, anonymous, and mythological, and is refreshingly light on religious subject matter for a show of Italian Renaissance art. The collection not only offers insight into the artistic foment of the time, it is also a cumulative portrait of a city of robust appetites—for power, wealth, status, beauty, and sensual pleasures. The patronage of the city’s rich supported dynasties of painters, and the cache of commissioning portraits, private erotic artwork, or paintings made with expensive innovations of the time, such as exotic pigments, not only furthered the careers of the artists but altered the characteristics of the art they created. Color, previously considered the sensual, “feminine” element subordinate to the intellectual, “masculine” compositional balance favored by fifteenth-century Florentines, came to dominate the art of the Renaissance.1 Venice was the center not only of the pigment trade between the East and Northern Europe, but of the development of its usage, creating the distinctive richly colored Venetian style. The snug relationship between art and money, status and sensuality, and the masculine and the feminine, is hard to ignore while examining Masters. (continue reading)

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