Housed at the Museo Correr in the heart of the city and in one of its iconic locations, the exhibition opens with the drawings of leading Renaissance masters: Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio, who is represented here also with a Sacra conversazione in a landscape of great lyricism, a significant example of the artist’s work on paper.
This is followed by an extraordinary sheet showing an imagined Oriental emperor, executed by Dürer during his stay in Venice, and then by the drawings of Giorgione – who introduced the so-called Poesie (Poetry) genre to Venice – Domenico Campagnola and Gerolamo Romanino.
Born in Brescia but Veneto by adoption, the artist will be represented by an exceptional signed drawing in a magnificent combination of tone-on-tone effects flooded with an extraordinary light: his Madonna and Child with Saint Anthony Abbot, Saint Francis and a donor, which is considered the artist’s benchmark work on paper, both in terms of authenticity and simply in terms of its great quality.
An exhibition of this kind could not fail to include drawings by Lorenzo Lotto and Titian, but it also boasts a magnificent drawing showing an angel and prophet by Sebastiano del Piombo, which has been acclaimed as one of the artist’s great masterpieces since it first emerged at auction in 1977 and one of the most refined drawings of the Venetian Renaissance.
In this case, the adjective “Venetian” refers to that almost unique combination of Venetian sensitivity and Roman form that is characteristic of Sebastiano’s mature style, and is exemplified by the drawing in question, executed between 1517 and 1519 for the decoration of the Borgherini chapel of San Pietro in Montorio, and based on a sketch by Michelangelo.
A sublimely pictorial work and evocative of the Venetian origins of the artist even in the selection of a blue paper, Sebastiano “painted” rather than “drew” on this sheet, arriving at a finished work that is even more complex and dramatic than the one he subsequently painted on canvas.
Another key work is the extremely rare coloured chalk drawing by Jacopo Bassano, which introduces the selection of late 16th-century items. His Mocking of Christ is one of the most refined of the six drawings dedicated by the artist to the life of Christ: all are unusually large and executed in polychrome chalk on Venetian light-blue paper; they date from the late 1560s or early 1570s. Divided between Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Ottawa, Malibu and Washington, and revealing an extraordinarily powerful line, these drawings show Jacopo’s talent and originality in the use of colour to best effect.
The exhibition continues with admirably fine figure studies and compositions by Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Palma il Giovane.
The fruitful Venetian 18th century is documented in all its aspects through examples of high quality, most of which never before displayed in Italy.
Masters of the rococo, like Sebastiano Ricci, Antonio Guardi and Antonio Pellegrini (represented here with a newly attributed work) all appear in the exhibition with drawings marked by a dancing lightness of touch.
These are counterbalanced by the “character heads” of Giambattista Piazzetta, drawn in chalk: images of a melancholic intimacy and among the first drawings to be perceived as finished works of art in their own right: contemporaries were already displaying them on their walls, protected by a glass pane.
The drawings displayed at the Museo Correr offer some other significant examples, and in particular the astonishing Young man embracing a girl of circa 1743 (in which Piazzetta probably portrays his daughter, Barbara), executed in charcoal – as has been made clear by studies undertaken very recently – and in white chalk; a work of extraordinary power and grace.
Also on show are no less than 12 works by Giambattista Tiepolo, a simply imposing selection covering almost the full timespan of his career, documenting every aspect of the artist’s graphic production: compositions in pen, life studies, caricatures, and a special section devoted to landscapes.
Here we can admire some gouaches by Marco Ricci and Francesco Zuccarelli, together with views of canals, lagoons and palazzi drawn by the leading exponents of Venetian vedute: Francesco Guardi, Bernardo Bellotto and Canaletto (the latter represented by two drawings from the Fasti dogali series, showing public celebrations in Venice), together with a notable series of architectural “renderings” and fantastic images by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, of whom the National Gallery of Art of Washington has one of the most important collections in the world.
While the finest period in the history of Venetian art is generally perceived to end with the fall of the Republic in 1797, during the course of the 19th century the city, with its canals and its calm, evocative lagoon atmospheres, became the source of inspiration for foreign artists during the Romantic and Impressionist years.
The final part of the exhibition draws us into Venice the myth, the dreamlike vision that has constructed and spread the romantic image of Venice around the world: no longer the redoubtable Serenissima, but nevertheless unique.
Not by chance, the exhibition concludes with some attractive drawings by James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent, both of whom friends of Henry James, with whom light becomes poetry.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an important and timely catalogue to be published by Marsilio.