in the 16th century, venice was a city of spectacle and rhetoric, of theater and illusion. it saw itself as an ideal city as the modern culmination of the ancient city-state with its good life its humane values, its sense of play, even. and it dramatized itself as an ideal city both for its own inhabitants and for the world outside. this civic drama was acted out through processions, ceremonies, and spectacle, and through art and architecture but this grand illusion, whose stage was the city itself, was founded in reality. by the 1500s, venice claimed 1,000 years of history as a free and independent republic.
the chill wind of economic change-- the decline of empire-- had not yet touched its self-confidence. it was still rich in trade and crafts. its imperial possessions still spread out across the mediterranean and into the italian mainland, as here at vicenza. so the theater and the spectacle were props for a powerful empire which had survived for so long by hardheaded business acumen, by skillful diplomacy, and when those failed, by sheer military force. the cast of characters who paraded on this spectacular stage included the gods of antiquity whose attributes the city took as its own. like ancient athens, venice personified itself as a woman-- as serenissima the serene as venus the sensual. the city even claimed a special relationship
with the virgin mary virtuous and pure. behind its spectacular mask the republic used its prisoners of war as slaves employed thousands of prostitutes and preserved the privilege of democracy for a small clique of nobles. compared with tyrannies of princes venice in the 16th century seemed uniquely free. it attracted talent from the rest of italy-- men like jacopo sansovino, who brought from rome a language of architecture and sculpture ideal for venice's desire to impress. david rosand has analyzed the visual language of sansovino. at the foot of the campanile opposite the entrance to the doge's palace sansovino created a loggetta a small porch, whose monumental sculptural decoration and classical architectural form declared the virtues of the republic. the reigning image of the complex
was the figure of venice herself-- venice triumphant, venice personified as justice-- the highest virtue of the state. to that traditional imagery, however sansovino brought a new kind of language from rome-- the language of the olympian gods. the figure of minerva represents wisdom-- the wisdom of the ancients, who were so clever as to have established this constitutional republic. the figure of mercury represents eloquence and eloquence is one of the fundamental political virtues of venice. we must also remember mercury is the god of commerce and that is the real foundation of venice. the figure of peace is, of course, the ultimate virtue that is guaranteed by venice. venice brings peace to the world the way the ancient romans did. and then there is apollo. apollo is, after all god of the sun--
sole in italian. sole also stands for "one"-- that is "solo"-- and apollo is one. apollo is unique. apollo is alone in all this, just as venice is alone-- unique in the world. venetian artists--giorgione, veronese, tintoretto and above all, titian-- transformed these public personifications and made them private, poetic, and desirable-- paintings commissioned by men who were proud of their sophistication. the venus of urbino is domesticated. she's brought indoors. she's put into the context of the bedroom. two handmaids are in the background. one of them kneels over a marriage chest-- a chest that would hold a trousseau. a marital theme is established there
as surely as it is established by the myrtle plant that is silhouetted in the background. the myrtle-- a plant in perpetual bloom-- a symbol of perpetual love. the dog asleep at her feet-- a symbol of fidelity. as overtly sensual as her appeal is this venus invites us to celebrate marital love. the attributes around her make this very clear yet she has lost none of her sensuality. indeed, she will be transformed by titian into a variety of other figures. one of the variations titian produced is the image that includes venus with a cupid. there are a few symbols titian has introduced which are really quite ironic in a way and give us the range of cultural play available in this kind of painting. the partridge is a bird that titian actually used
in a scene of the annunciation because in ancient mythology it is a bird that is so highly sexed that merely the voice of the male or the wind from his beating wings is sufficient to impregnate the female. sotoo, with the glass vase with its rose, the imagery of light passing through glass without breaking it symbolically embodying the passage of the logos of the incarnation through the virgin without destroying her virginity. the dog now is awake. no longer does he seem to stand for fidelity, but rather, seems to activate the scene by his yapping. certainly, it would have been the kind of visual punning that titian's audience would have been responsive to. they would have recognized symbols. they would have recognized the misappropriation of them
and would have perhaps smiled knowingly perhaps have congratulated the painter on his witty invention. woman as goddess and courtesan. titian announced his presence as a master with a grand theatrical gesture. he concentrated the vast space of the gothic church of the franciscans with another image of woman-- woman as madonna. the culture itself had set up the perimeters of interpretive possibility, that is, a scheme that talks about love on a scale of values-- love that, at its basest is mere lust. love on that level being the love of the beast, of the animal. that then rises through a series of progressive stages through culturally licit lust,
which is, of course, marital love. and that eventually arrives at the highest level which is divine love. titian's assumption of the virgin is 20 feet high. in 1518, it was the largest oil painting ever produced on the scale to match ambitious roman artists. titian had never been to rome and he was developing the potential of a new medium. painting on this scale had previously been done in fresco, where the colors are absorbed into the plaster but fresco in venice was vulnerable to dampness. only oils could give the brilliance and permanence that titian needed. ♪ alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia, alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia, alleluia ♪
♪ alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia, alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia, alleluia ♪ ♪ alleluia ♪ titian continued to exploit the spaces of the frari to dramatize them in the next painting that he executed for the church. this was the altarpiece of the pesaro family located to the left of the nave. it was visible to the viewer along a diagonal axis before he reached the altar, and titian's perspective deliberately offers an invitation to the viewer to enter the painting before arriving at the altar. the pesaro madonna altarpiece illustrates vividly the fusion between church and state public and private saint peter and saint francis.
the virgin and child are brought together with members of a venetian noble family. the monuments to the pesaro family in the church of the frari are both private burial chapels and public statements of their prominent role in the nobility of the republic. jacopo pesaro commissioned the artist to portray him giving thanks to the virgin for victory at santa maria when the venetians and the pope defeated the turks. pesaro, the venetian was admiral of the papal fleet. the spectacle of state included processions from the doge's palace
to the most prominent churches across the water each designed by andrea palladio as a classical temple transformed for christian celebration. palladio adopted the monumental simplicity of ancient roman buildings to make a new kind of christian church. and he created spaces of unprecedented clarity. a very different light actually suffuses the paintings that tintoretto created for the presbytery of palladio's church. it is not that clear light of a measured and harmonious universe. it's a much more turbulent light,
a light that emerges from darkness. jacopo tintoretto created a symbolic drama with scenes from the old and new testaments. across the altar opposite the descent of manna from heaven, is his version of the last supper. tintoretto organized the perspective so the paintings were best seen from the altar steps by worshipers taking the bread and wine of the mass. christ is shown distributing the bread that will be his body in the mass. up above the great glory of angels-- gossamer forms painted with broad, sweeping strokes-- articulates the darkness as light suffused, a holy presence. down below, dogs play... cats, animals. the hierarchy that is implicit in tintoretto's painting
that is, the hierarchy that runs from the base level of animals, of the dogs, to the level of the angels up above is a hierarchy that's almost inherent in the painting of 16th-century venice a hierarchy from the material to the spiritual. this is almost a game that tintoretto plays in many of his paintings giving us, as it were, footholds of substance footholds of reality just enough to convince us of the reality itself of the painting. and then he takes us into a flight, and we follow. we follow because we've been given that first foundation that we believe in. tintoretto's spirituality is a spirituality that is predicated upon realizing making real, what had been in effect symbolic. painting, in other words gives substance to the spirit.
daniele barbaro personified the venetian union of the spiritual and the actual. he was an ordained churchman venetian nobleman, farmer and classical scholar. together with palladio he translated an ancient treatise on architecture by vitruvius and together with palladio and the painter veronese he gave those ideas form in a villa on the venetian mainland.
palladio's designs for villas and churches dominated the taste of subsequent generations. his influence can be seen in country houses built in europe and the americas over the next 400 years. palladio wrote himself "this fabric is in maser "the castle belonging to "the magnificent barbaro brothers. "there is a fountain behind the house "with infinite ornaments of stucco and paintings. "this fountain forms a small lake "which serves for a fish pond. "from this place the water runs into the kitchen, "thence waters the gardens full of the most excellent fruits." "city houses are certainly "of great splendor and convenience to a gentleman "but perhaps he will not reap less utility and consolation
"from the country house, "where the remaining time "will be passed in seeing his own possessions, "and by industry and the art of agriculture "improving his estate. "where also by the exercise, which in a villa "is commonly taken on foot and on horseback "the body will more easily preserve "its strength and health "and finally where the mind "fatigued by the agitations of the city, "will be greatly restored and comforted, "and be able quietly to attend the studies of letters and contemplation." paolo veronese gave full pictorial expression to the harmonic values that informed daniele barbaro's conception of the ancient villa. under the aegis of the ancient olympian deities of the seasons of the elements,
he placed members of the barbaro family, actual portraits. the landscapes evoked those of ancient roman villa decoration but at the same time they reached into the surrounding territory of the veneto to the actual barbaro lands. veronese invented landscapes based on descriptions by ancient roman writers yet he placed among his fictional ruins and temples a portrait of the villa itself. and the barbari and their servants took their place among the gods. the barbaro family itself-- the clan, its villa, its land-- its own small world becomes a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm of the larger order. palladio's plan for the villa very clearly marks each room with a number. the numbers themselves fall into very particular relationships,
that is, these are harmonic relationships harmonic proportions. the numerical representation of musical harmony-- musical harmony seen metaphorically on the largest scale as the harmony of the universe. so that in effect the barbaro family was living in tune with the universe. so in the villa at maser veronese reenacts the role of a painter from ancient times. palladio becomes a new vitruvius, and barbaro a new pliny, a patron in the roman tradition. but of course these scholarly games were being played out in a real world of political and economic change. the stability of the venetian empire was being undermined throughout the 16th century. by the late 1500s, the land holdings of the veneto
had become more and more important to the venetian nobility. they invested in land reclamation which would feed them in the short term, but also protect them from the full consequences of a decline in their status as traders. as the century progressed, so did the threat to venetian trade from the ottoman turks in the east and the new empires in the west. the crisis in the church reformation and counter reformation, added a further burden of uncertainty. the gap between rhetoric and reality was widening. yet as the century moved to a close the investment in the theater of illusion if anything, increased. the citizens of vincenza one of the leading cities of the venetian mainland commissioned palladio to create an actual theater in the imagined manner of the ancient greeks. in the teatro olimpico, they demanded the erection of statues of themselves as lasting monuments to their dignity wisdom, and wealth.
for their first production of oedipus the tyrant by sophocles andrea gabrielli attempted to compose the music of classical greece, and veronese designed the costumes. painting, too, became ever more theatrical, and in the case of veronese's version of the last supper, gave cause for a drama in which the artist became the main character in conflict with the inquisition. veronese was called before the inquisition to answer questions about his painting of the last supper, a painting that was filled with all sorts of offensive details. there were to be found dwarfs jesters, animals, and perhaps above all, german soldiers. in the age of the counter reformation german soldiers could hardly be accepted with equanimity. what is the significance of those armed men dressed as germans
each with a halberd in his hand? we painters take the same license the poets and the jesters take. the two halberdiers are placed here to be of service because it seemed to me fitting that the master of the house should have such servants. that man dressed as a buffoon with a parrot on his wrist why did you paint him? for ornament as is customary. just tell us who are at the table of our lord? the 12 apostles. what is saint peter, that first one, doing? carving the lamb in order to pass it to the other end of the table. what is the apostle next to him doing? holding a dish to receive what saint peter will give him. who do you really believe was present at that supper?
i believe one would find christ with his apostles, but if in a picture there is some space to spare i enrich it with figures according to the stories. did anyone commission you to paint germans and buffoons? no, my lords but i received the commission to decorate the picture as i saw fit. it is large, and it seemed to me it could hold many figures. the judgment of the inquisition demanded that veronese change the content of his painting. instead, he changed its title so for subsequent centuries, veronese's last supper has been known as the feast at the house of levi. in this one instance we see the assertion of venetian independence the republic defying the roman church but also its vulnerability to an outside world, political and economic enemies.
floating on its islands and lagoons, venice has always been different. the age of titian, tintoretto, and veronese was its last period of political greatness. the 17th century would see the decline of its empire, just as the economic center of gravity of the west was beginning to shift away from the mediterranean to the atlantic and the new seaborne empires of antwerp and london. in its image of itself venice left behind a myth which endured its loss of real power-- the myth of the ideal state-- for it came to personify the best kinds of government united in one body politic. and venetian art is uniquely bound up with that history and that myth, above all in its expression of the harmony between human beings the state, nature, and of course the artist.
"though sirenlike on shore and sea "her face enchants all those whom once she doth embrace. "nor is there any can her beauty prize "but he who hath beheld her with his eyes. "these things display, if well observed "how she so long her maidenhead preserved. "how, for sound prudence she still bore the bell, "whence maybe drawn this high fetched parallel-- "venus and venice are great queens in their degree. venus is queen of love venice of polity." captioning performed by the national
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and sophisticated. this eveevol ctu cit out of the primordial forest and sunk its roots into the soil. today, we know the region by its countries-- mexico honduras el salvador, belize and guatemala. but long ago it was the world of the maya. not an empire, nor a country the classic maya culture flourished from the third to the ninth century in a far flung collection of city-states. at palenque, tonina bonampak and other cities, dynastic kings ruled absolutely, controlling trade and tribute.