National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Venice and the North
Overview

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Many of the works in this tour were painted by artists from northern Italy, areas in modern-day Lombardy and the Veneto that were largely under Venetian control in the sixteenth century. Only one of these painters -- Sebastiano del Piombo, who left for Rome in 1511 -- was actually born in Venice, but most of the others studied or worked there at least temporarily. In some measure, the look of Venetian painting, captured in the rich colors of Titian or the lyricism of Giorgione, remained an important influence on all of them.

Other factors affected their styles as well. In Lombardy in particular, patrons and painters shared a preference for detailed, realistic works. In part this may reflect the conservatism of provincial buyers who were unfamiliar with sophisticated and "progressive" urban styles, or it may simply express a more rural -- literally, a more down-to-earth -- sensibility. People in these areas just south of the Alps were also accustomed to the precise, minute style of paintings from Germany, the Low Countries, and other parts of northern Europe. Engravings of these works, as well as those by artists working in central Italy, were readily available from the many publishing houses that recently had been established in Venice.

Geographic position also put northern Italians closer to the activity of the Protestant Reformation, and this may be reflected in the intensely personal and direct emotional tenor of the region's religious painting. These works must also be considered, however, in light of reforms within the Catholic church itself initiated by the ecclesiastical councils convened between 1545 and 1563 in Trent, northwest of Venice. In these sixteenth-century pictures from northern Italy it is possible to find indications of what Italian Counter-Reformation art would later become.

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