A first topic of this research deals with the contributions of German art to the development of Northern and Venetian Renaissance painting, focusing on the years between the last decade of the Quattrocento, when the circulation of German prints increases and Albrecht Durer’s first sojourn in Venice takes place (1494-1495), and the coronation of Charles V, in 1530, an event whose role in the art historical periodisation is well known since it determined an ultimate change in the geopolitical position of the Italian peninsula in relation to the European context.
The historical background and the dynamics of the dialogue between the Venetian and German cultures will be surveyed within this chronology and with specific reference to two crucial points: Venice in the transition from the XVth to the XVIth century, on one side, and the cities of the terra ferma between the second and the third decade of the Cinquecento, on the other.
The literature dedicated to Dürer’s role in Venetian painting is quite vast and should be on one hand the starting point but also a term of verification in order to gain a deeper knowledge of reasons and modalities underpinning this phenomenon. It is very important, at this purpose, to make a clear distinction between the late fifteenth-century and the first decade of the sixteenth, when Dürer undertakes a second trip to Italy (1505-1507). As for the first period, its strong connection with the circulation of Dürer and Schongauer’s prints, which was supported by a network of dealers, traders and collectors, will be further clarified.
This research also aims to identify the graphic models known in Venice with the support of a critical catalogue which will provide the real consistency and the outcomes of these exchanges, rather than simply listing the iconographical motives.
Printed books will be considered not only as instruments of divulgation in the art field, but also with respect to the documented presence in the lagoon of German printers, who will give a fundamental contribution to the city’s advancement in the editorial business, combining market strategies with passion for the humanities, while at the same time encouraging communication among the cultural centres of Northern Italy and Europe.
Apart from the increasing diffusion of German prints, the 1506-1507 context is marked by Dürer’s sojourn in Italy, acting in this occasion also as a painter. His stay in Venice is well documented by the correspondence with the humanist Pirkheimer, while the supposed trips to Bologna and Rome has to be verified. With Dürer’s paintings, a new conception of expressiveness and colour is led into the Venetian scenario, at the same time when the first information on Florentine classicism is reaching the city.
The dialogue between such different elements in relation to the genesis of the «modern manner» in Venice has not been sufficiently highlighted, nor have the rising exchanges on the German side, which determined a significant cultural innovation for Northern Europe.
The new genres of landscape and portraiture will be the object of a specific investigation, since they are very representative of the Venetian contribution to Renaissance classicism. The different achievements of each artist (Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Tiziano, Sebastiano del Piombo, Lorenzo Lotto) will be examined starting from their personal experience and their own sensibility.
In order to gain a proper comprehension of the phenomenon, it will be necessary to consider other Venetian and foreign artists who show a different intelligence in the interpretation of Northern art. Dürer’s art testifies the complex and continuous dialogue with the Italian Renaissance, both after the first and the second trip to Italy, as can be noticed in his pictorial compositions as well as in the new awareness of his intellectual role. On the other side, it is important to consider that Venetian artists are faced with a new season of German art, which flourished from the German Renaissance Humanism after its contact with Italy and soon acquired a proper physiognomy (let’s think, for example, of Jacopo de’ Barbari, who in 1500 moved to the court of the Emperor Maximilian).
The analysis of this subject will be undertaken within a proper historical frame considering the commercial, political and cultural interactions between Venice and the German context. All the significant sources regarding the single personalities and the exchanges between the two countries will be examined, with particular attention towards the «nazione alemanna» settled in Rialto, where important landmarks of this community, such as the church of Saint Bartholomew, were located. With its restoration by «Hieronymus todesco» and its frescos painted by Giorgione and the young Titian, the Fondaco is a perfect visual example of this double identity, Venetian and German.
Scholars have long since recognised the role of the German masters in relation to the expressionist and naturalistic currents which invest the terra ferma cities during the second decade of the XVIth century. The reference is, once again, to Dürer but also to the “Danube school”, which includes painters such as Cranach, Altdorfer, Grünewald, Baldun Grien, whose artistic production, revealing dramatic and visionary aspects, conveys a new religious conception and a different vision of the relationship between man and nature.
In addition to the circulation of prints, which will have to be surveyed, the research aims to consider other means through which the novelties of Northern art reach this area. The results of this encounter have to be examined in the frame of the political and cultural polycentrism typical of these territories, where the German influences come into contact with strong local identities. The trend towards naturalism, previously expressed in the “giorgionismo” and “tizianismo” of terra ferma, ends up in phenomena of diversion from the Venetian models significantly defined with the discussed “anticlassical” etiquette. At the same way, it will be necessary to verify in which measure the contacts with the Northern armies during Italian wars and the rising of the religious debate (the Pre-reformed Catholicism and the suspected Lutheran infiltrations), encouraged this sympathy with the Northern artists.
Among the privileged contexts are Brescia, with Girolamo Romanino as one the main protagonists of the new current, dragging the young generations with him, and Bergamo, which hosts for nearly ten years the intense spirituality of Lorenzo Lotto, and where Giovanni Cariani and Andrea Previtali are also exposed to the Northern inspiration. Another important figure is the Paduan Domenico Campagnola, who reveals in the contemporary drawings and prints his familiarity with the outcomes of the Danubian graphics. Close for geography and culture to the mentioned cities, Cremona and Ferrara cannot be left out; the first, appearing as one of the main crossroads of this season, the latter, as the city where very specific cases of “eccentricity” are found in artists such as Dosso and Mazzolino.
In the end, though focusing its attention on the relationship with German art, this research has to take account of the strong attraction exerted in the same years by Netherlandish paintings and artists. It is well known that documents and art-historical sources of the XVIth century not always define clearly the terms «fiamengo» e «todesco», using them indistinctly with reference to «Northern». It will be of great interest to point out the cases showing the sense of this distinction.
A second research topic will investigate the complex relationship between Venice and Europe from the opposite point of view, concentrating on Venetian painting’s contribution in the Cinquecento to the wider scenario of Renaissance Europe. This phenomenon has been analysed in depth by scholars who have clarified how many different aspects of Sixteenth-century European painting are deeply indebted with the art of Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and their colleagues. More recently, researches on patronage and art collection have been conducted with reference to this subject. In the last decades, scholars have pointed out, with the help of numerous documents, some of the most significant episodes of patronage which contributed to the growth of Titian’s fame abroad, together with Venetian painting. This is clearly demonstrated by the Habsburg patronage, with Charles V as protagonist during his stay in Bologna (1530), as well as by the shipping of works of art towards Madrid and by the trips to Augusta. Philip II inherited this tradition when he was still a prince and continuing on the same line other members of the family asked for works of art: it is the case of Maximilian II and Mary of Hungary (the inventories of their collection have been recently republished) and of the broad court entourage: from the captains taking turns at ruling the main imperial dominions, to the ambassadors and the hombres de negocio at the service of the Spanish court.
The case of Titian is well known and for this reason may serve as a useful guide, even though some aspects of his story still need to be investigated. However, the moment of favour for Venetian art does not end with him.
In the second half of the XVIth century, Venetian painting is living a very vital season, thanks to the concentration in the city of important masters, who are giving original responses to the suggestions coming out from the courtier dimension of the neo-feudal society and from the Counter-Reformation period.
Many active and well organized workshops attended also by “foresti” appear within this frame, contributing to the acknowledgment of their masters’ style. In the Northern countries, from Fontainebleau to Prague, the demand for Venetian paintings is increasing and new protagonists are emerging next to Titian: Paris Bordon, Tintoretto, Veronese and Bassano all deserve a specific analysis. In the case of Paris Bordon, there are some unsolved problems, like the sojourns to Augusta and Fontainebleau, as well as the patronage in Milan at the time of the Spanish dominion. As for Tintoretto and Bassano, the research conducted in the occasion of the recent monographic exhibitions and international conferences, have pointed out early episodes of Spanish patronage, while in the case of Veronese it will be necessary to reconsider the so-called “Rudolphine” moment in the light of the recent acquisitions, with particular attention for royal commissions, and for antiquarians and traders active in Venice and in the European courts. The career of each artist will be re-considered within this new perspective in order to gain a reliable picture of the most important works of art involved in the European scenario and of the relationships among patrons, dealers and other intermediaries. Different types of documents (contracts, correspondence, inventories, literature of travel) will be analysed within the historical and political context.
The research will pay attention also to art treatises which promoted an early appreciation of Venetian painting, considering their European diffusion. Another important factor to be examined is the circulation of translating prints of paintings (new research instruments and repertories are now available in this sense The Illustrated Bartsch; the works by M. Bury, D. Landau, E. Borea and others).
The elaboration of all this data will provide a more reliable basis for the analysis of the cultural reasons that explain the diffusion and the success of Venetian painting in this period. Compared to the great royal collections of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, which can count on a more settled knowledge and therefore will constitute an important reference, this germinal season of art collecting still has to be explored in depth.
It is necessary to concentrate on the changes that occur in the most representative genres of Venetian painting, as a consequence of these contacts with the European context: involving portraiture, as well as profane paintings and landscapes paintings in its different declinations including mythological and biblical subjects. The biblical-pastoral painting is one of the most original chapters within the history of Venetian art’s re-elaboration of themes inspired by Northern tradition.
The depiction of markets and cycles devoted to the Elements, and Seasons must be considered as well. The European patrons are particularly attracted by this production since the last decades of the Cinquecento, as some of the less investigated episods around Jacopo Bassano and his workshop demonstrate.
From this point view the question of the strategies adopted by Venetian workshops in order to satisfy the increasing market’s demand, both in Italy and abroad, is definitely relevant. Whether documents and significant material is available, it will be useful to examine the workshops’ organisation, their graphic production (drawings, cartoons, “pitture abbozzate”) and, more generally, the use of replicas.