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Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art

The Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art features distinguished scholars present­ing original research. This annual lecture series offered by the National Gallery of Art began in 1997 and is named after the great specialist of Italian art Sydney J. Freedberg (1914–1997). Professor Freedberg earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1940, where he taught for 29 years until he was appointed chief curator of the National Gallery of Art in 1983.

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Miguel Falomir, head curator of Italian and French painting, Museo Nacional del Prado. In December of 1547, when Titian left Venice for Augsburg to meet the imperial court, he was undoubtedly the foremost painter of the Venetian art scene. When he returned a year later, he found the city enamored of the talent of Jacopo Tintoretto, a painter almost 30 years his junior. Tintoretto’s Miracle of the Slave, painted for the Scuola Grande di San Marco, was receiving unanimous praise from an enthusiastic Venetian public—including members of Titian’s own inner circle, such as Pietro Aretino. In this lecture recorded on November 9, 2014, Miguel Falomir analyzes Titian’s reaction to Tintoretto’s challenge, which was unexpected on two fronts: first, because the two painters had previously enjoyed a cordial relationship, and second, because the Miracle of the Slave represented a considerable improvement in the quality of Tintoretto’s painting. Ultimately, the Miracle of the Slave forced Titian, then in his 60s, to update his style in order to compete with a younger generation of artists—something that he was not always able to do successfully. This is the 18th annual lecture offered by the National Gallery of Art in this endowed series named after Sydney J. Freedberg (1914–1997), the great specialist of Italian art, and presented in the centennial year of his birth.

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Carmen C. Bambach, curator of drawings and prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. A fortuitous rediscovery of documents in the Florentine state archive that have been greatly misjudged in the past led to a reevaluation and affirmation of the central importance of Giuliano de’ Medici (1479-1516) as a patron of the arts. Giuliano, the overshadowed son of Lorenzo de’ Medici “The Magnificent” and brother of Pope Leo X, became Duke of Nemours on his marriage in January 1515. He touched the careers of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, the latter of whom immortalized the duke posthumously in the marble sculpture of his tomb in the Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, Florence. He was the generous, carefree patron of uomini ingegnosi (brilliant men), whom he lavishly maintained in his household, according to the first-hand account of Francesco Vettori, brother to the duke’s maiordomo. In homage to Professor Sydney J. Freedberg who published a book entitled Circa 1600, this talk takes a close look at the year circa 1515 in the careers of these famous artists and their patron. 

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Andreas Henning, curator of Italian paintings, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden Hardly any other Italian Renaissance work is as well-known as Raphael's Sistine Madonna. All the evidence suggests that Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to paint this altarpiece in the summer of 1512. For more than 240 years, the painting hung almost completely unremarked in its original position in the San Sisto Church in Piacenza, Italy. In this 16th annual Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art recorded on November 11, 2012, at the National Gallery of Art, Andreas Henning reveals how the Sistine Madonna only gradually became known to a growing audience after it was acquired for Dresden's Royal Gallery in the mid-18th century. This lecture not only presents Raphael's masterpiece and outlines the conditions that led to its creation 500 years ago, but also considers the many different forms that its reception has taken in art, literature, craft work, and kitsch to popularize the work.

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Carl Brandon Strehlke, adjunct curator, John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1895 Bernard Berenson (1865-1959), American art historian and connoisseur, published a long-awaited monograph on Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto; it was Berenson's first statement about the then relatively new science of connoisseurship. Toward the end of his life Berenson remembered that since writing that book, in which he had tried to regulate every knowable mood of an artist, he had almost never again "taken creative interest in the private, biological, and sociological lives of painters." As part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series, recorded on November 13, 2011, at the National Gallery of Art, Carl Brandon Strehlke explores why Berenson selected Lotto as an artist and as a subject for a study that he described as "an essay in constructive art criticism."

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Michael Fried, J. R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and the History of Art, The Johns Hopkins University. In this podcast recorded on November 7, 2010, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series, Professor Michael Fried argues that despite what is often assumed about the Caravaggisti—painters who emerged in the immediate wake of Caravaggio's achievements—they created a new paradigm of ambitious painting, one with its own distinct pictorial poetics. Among the artists discussed are Manfredi, Orazio Gentileschi, and Valentin de Boulogne.

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Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Keith Christiansen explores the complex relationship of painting and sculpture in 15th-century Florence, in this podcast recorded on November 8, 2009, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series. Christiansen notes that Ghiberti's contribution has long been overshadowed by Donatello's genius in art-historical literature. Ghiberti has been classified as a transitional figure between the Gothic and Renaissance periods. Christiansen seeks to correct this legacy by explaining that the two principal reference points of Renaissance aesthetics in the figurative arts-nature and classical antiquity-are not fixed concepts, and that such thinking has led to false distinctions and misrepresentations of Ghiberti and the painters of Florence.

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Paul Zanker, professor of art history, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. In this podcast, recorded on November 9, 2008, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series, Paul Zanker explains that for ancient Greeks, myths were stories of gods, heroes, and ordinary people who had religious authority. These stories and their artistic representations served as guides and models for living in varying circumstances. However, myths did not embody religious teaching or moral precepts for human behavior; these stories described fate-the highs and lows of being human-to which everyone could relate, and in which they could take comfort. Despite the cultural shifts of the Roman world, these ancient myths retained their purpose and impact in the art of Pompeii and other sites in Italy. This lecture coincided with the exhibition Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples on view at the National Gallery of Art from October 19, 2008, to March 22, 2009.

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Anna Ottani Cavina, professor of art history, Università di Bologna. Professor Anna Ottani Cavina examines the aesthetic of the Italian landscape as depicted by foreign painters during the first half of the 19th century, in this podcast recorded on November 5, 2006, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series. In the wake of Rousseau, these painters left the atelier and chose to paint en plein air—inevitably modifying painting technique itself, as well as the relationship between painters and nature. As a result, the idea of the Italian landscape dramatically changed: the Arcadian vision traditionally offered by Poussin finally gave way to a new picturesque and modern idea of the Italian countryside.

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Jonathan J. G. Alexander, Sherman Fairchild Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Recorded on November 13, 2005, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series, this talk by Professor Jonathan Alexander explores the manuscript choir books, known as corali, used by Christian churches on the Italian peninsula during the 15th and 16th centuries. This lecture coincided with the Masterpieces in Miniature: Italian Manuscript Illumination from the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition on view at the National Gallery of Art from September 25, 2005, to March 26, 2006.

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Charles Dempsey, professor of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, The Johns Hopkins University In this podcast recorded on November 14, 2004, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series, Charles Dempsey argues that Lombard colorism exemplified by Correggio and Garofalo--ought to be considered the third Italian Renaissance. Giorgio Vasari's 16th-century account of Renaissance and High Renaissance art as bipolar opposites--Renaissance art as the perfect union of Florentine disegno with the legacy of classical art in Rome and High Renaissance art prominent in Venice as a naturalistic style deficient in disegno but worthy in its color-led the art of the Lombard Plain to be unsatisfactorily assimilated into the general history of the period. Dempsey explains that paintings by the Carracci demonstrate their recognition of all three Renaissance styles. In combining these styles, the Carracci made a reform of painting that led to baroque art in the 17th century.

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Paul Barolsky, commonwealth professor, University of Virginia. Paul Barolsky discusses the self-conscious artfulness of Ovid's Metamorphoses and its relation to the visual wit of major European artists. Beginning with a discussion of Ovid's myth of Io and Correggio's rendering of the subject, Barolsky then explores Ovidian threads in the fabric of works by Perugino, Michelangelo, Cellini, Poussin, Rubens, and Velazquez. This podcast was recorded on November 9, 2003, at the National Gallery of Art, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series.

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Nicholas Penny, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts, National Gallery of Art. For the annual Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art, recorded on November 17, 2002, Nicholas Penny discussed aspects of the relationship between painting and sculpture in the 15th and 16th centuries. In particular, Penny focused on a subject no one has addressed with greater eloquence than Sydney J. Freedberg: the way that figures occupy and define space in early 16th-century Italian art. This contest between the qualities proper to painting and sculpture in the representation of space and linear perspective is explored through works in the National Gallery, London, and National Gallery of Art collections.

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Caroline Elam, editor, The Burlington Magazine, London. In this Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art, recorded on November 11, 2001, Caroline Elam explains the historical actualities of Michelangelo's relationship with the Medici and its effect on his reputation. Unwilling to remain under the authority of Medici dukedom and the republican government in Florence, Michelangelo lived outside his native city for 30 years until his death in 1564. During this absence from Florence, Michelangelo became the greatest living artist in Italy and the preeminent embodiment of an ideal Tuscan cultural supremacy. His status as a Tuscan icon was due in part to Medici propaganda. Duke Cosimo I recognized the importance of cultural politics in controlling the state and needed Michelangelo to that end. Elam explores how Michelangelo was unusually successful at resisting this propaganda, as well as the complexity of his own political beliefs and allegiances.

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Janet Cox-Rearick, distinguished professor of art history, City University of New York. Professor Janet Cox-Rearick reveals the secret of Bronzino's success as the only portrait painter for Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo de' Medici, duke of Florence, in this Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art recorded on November 12, 2000. In the Renaissance, fashion and the act of fashioning could transform the wearer. Following from the Italian proverb that cloth and color lend honor to a man, the choice of clothing and jewels and their degree of traditionalism, innovation, and luxury was dictated by a social hierarchy. After 1537 under Duke Cosimo I, ceremony clothes became a semiological system designed to present the public persona of their princely wearers. In this lecture, Cox-Rearick explains four types of documentary and visual evidence about the ceremonial dress worn by Eleonora di Toledo.

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James S. Ackerman, professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture, Harvard University Leonardo da Vinci was the only artist of his time to have an intense interest in science. Evident in his sketchbooks, this interest led to his detailed biology and nature studies. In this podcast recorded on November 14, 1999, as part of the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series, Professor James S. Ackerman discusses how Leonardo occupied himself by expressing the forces of nature, not just the experience of nature. Leonardo established art as a communication of visual experience and as a means to discover both nature and invention. As Leonardo said, "Painting compels the mind of the painter to transform itself to the very mind of nature—to become an interpreter between nature and art."

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William R. Rearick, professor emeritus, University of Maryland. Following the disastrous Venice floods on November 4, 1966, the Venice Committee of the International Fund for Monuments was established to restore and preserve the artistic heritage of the city. In 1971 Sydney J. Freedberg and John and Betty McAndrew established Save Venice Inc., an American branch of the Venice Committee. Following Freedberg's death in 1997, Save Venice Inc. decided to restore a painting in his honor. Supper at Emmaus (1513), in the Church of San Salvador, was chosen for this project; restoration began in January 1998. In this podcast recorded on November 22, 1998, at the National Gallery of Art, Professor William R. Rearick discusses the ensuing process of attribution from Bellini to Carpaccio, including fitting the painting into the arc of Carpaccio's career.

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Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, professor, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University Little is known about the formative years of Michelangelo's career. Professor Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt discusses the myths of Michelangelo's early life generated by his biographical authors. Citing Vasari and Condivi's narratives, Professor Brandt tracks Michelangelo's professional infancy, revealing cover-ups of the setbacks, mistakes, and failures that plagued his early artistic career. Rather than deceitful omissions, Professor Brandt thinks of them "like other myths, as narratives reconstructed in each epoch to serve their narrators." Recorded on November 23, 1997, at the National Gallery of Art, this program is the inaugural lecture in the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art series.