October 2017 we made a short tour of Florence, Venice and Milano, to have a close look at the Italian renaissance. The order in which the pictures are presented is the order in which we visited them, which means they are not in historical chronology. However, by classifying them in four generations it is easy to understand the timeline. The first generation is that of Bellini, Botticelli, Mantegna and Leonardo, in the second half of the 15th century. In the second generation we find Rafaello, Michelangelo, Tiziano, Giorgione and Corregio, working mainly in the early and middle 16th century. In the third generation there are Tintoretto and Veronese (middle and late 16th century) and the fourth generation is represented by Caravaggio at the end of the 16th century. Some painters lived long, like Bellini and Tiziano, so their life spans several generations. I am not an art historian, my notes with the paintings are personal obeservations. Occasionally I mention a source that I found particularly interesting.
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We are starting with a visit to the Uffizi Gallery
Alessandro Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli painted this arrival of Venus on the shores of Cyprus around 1485. Late medieval painting shows mainly stiff and highly dressed persons in religious scenes. And then we have this. An elegant young woman, weight on het left leg, torso curved the other way and head again - what we call tribhanga in India (the three body sections forming an S). And what a lush landscape, and those flying attendants. Venus is virtually nude, what a departure from the 'primitives'. And strkingly, she is so modern. Not the anorexic photo model, but no way the voluptious or chubby types we come across in a lot of later painting. She is well shaped, unlike Eve in Cranach. And that golden hair that is so long she can cover her pubic hair with it! While his contemporary Bellini had switched to oil painting and became a great master of it, Botticelli continued to use tempera. And he had a point to stick to the old and trusted medium, if you enlarge the picture you will see the colours are great and the general condition has deteriorated much less than most later old painting.
Tiziano Vecellio painted this 'Venus of Urbino' around 1534. Tiziano had perfected oil painting fully. The art was under control: cloth, tissue, skin, hands, hair. Such rendering of matter wasn't possible with tempera or fresco, but then, if you enlarge the image fully you will see the craquelé and that doesn't even start the question of change in colours.
Apart from his incredible technique Tiziano also also overturned content and meaning in painting. Certainly, there were predecessors—the nude Venus of Botticelli and the reclining (Dresden) nude of Giorgione (that was partially done by Tiziano)—but this is not Venus, the title of the painting is a later masking of its original meaning. So is it porn, a pin-up? Laura Mulvey's male gaze? Not quite, if we can believe Rona Goffin (Titian's Women) and Daniel Arasse (The Woman in the Chest in: Take a Closer Look). By the way, sorry for the blueish line—it's a reflection of some lamp in the museum... Anyway, scholars seem to agree that Tiziano created the foundation for eroticism in post-medieaval European art that influenced virtually all artists afterwards. Eroticism, not pornography. Is the woman a sexual object? Well, the model was probably a famous Venetian courtesan who was a friend of Tiziano. Courtesans are known to have wielded great power and often squeezed out their patrons like a lemon. The gaze of this lady is not the gaze of an object, but rather the contrary, she gazes at the onlooker with an air of superiority. She has no adornments, no jewelry besides a simple bracelet, and then there is that magnificent tresse. She doesn't smile or frown, she stares, because she knows no insecurity and she says "You are my slave, because you cannot resist, you surrender". Although she surely is not a Venus she is a goddess, the goddess.