D23-24 Rise of Naturalism

D23 – Venetian Naturalism

We continue our journey through the Uffizi, coming upon more works by Titian, including his Portrait of Caterina Cornaro as St. Catherine of Alexandria (1542).

Caterina Cornaro was the last monarch of the Kingdom of Cyprus. She was descended from an influential Venetian family and at age 14 was married to a claimant to the Cypriot throne to strengthen Venetian ties with the Island. After her husband and son died, she became Queen Regent of Cyprus until the Island was annexed by Venice. Upon her return to Italy, she became a great patron of the arts and was painted by Titian, Bellini, and Dürer, among others. Titian chose to portray her as St. Catherine of Alexandria, a royal saint identifiable via her attribute of the wheel on which she was going to be tortured, but which broke at her touch. Catherine is dressed in Turkish silk, a testament to Venice’s commercial interests in the east, and some scholars have identified the gauze she wears on her headdress as Cyprus lawn, a fabric for which Cyprus was known. Her dress is also studded with pearls, another export for which Cyprus was famous. The work, therefore, is a celebration of Caterina as an individual, but also a celebration of Venice and its commercial power.

Another work latching on to the trend of depicting real women as mythical or spiritual models is Jacopo Negretti’s (Palma il Vecchio) Judith with the Head of Holofernes (c. 1525 – 1528).

The life of the Biblical heroine Judith is told in the deuterocanonical (i.e. considered canonical by the Catholic church but not by the Protestant church) Book of Judith. Judith is a Hebrew widow, known for her beauty and virtue, and when the Assyrian troops threaten Israel, she and her maid servant confront the Assyrian general Holofernes. Using her beauty and charm, Judith manages to trick Holofernes into drinking too much so she can behead him and save Israel from his army:

16. Now when Judith came in and sat down, Holofernes his heart was ravished with her, and his mind was moved, and he desired greatly her company; for he waited a time to deceive her, from the day that he had seen her.

17. Then said Holofernes unto her, Drink now, and be merry with us.

18. So Judith said, I will drink now, my lord, because my life is magnified in me this day more than all the days since I was born.

19. Then she took and ate and drank before him what her maid had prepared.

20. And Holofernes took great delight in her, and drank more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born.

Chapter 13

1. Now when the evening was come, his servants made haste to depart ...

2. And Judith was left alone in the tent, and Holofernes lying alone upon his bed: for he was filled with wine.

3. Now Judith had commanded her maid to stand without her bedchamber, and to wait for her. Coming forth, as she did daily: for she said she would go forth to her prayers ...

4. So all went forth and none was left in the bedchamber, neither little nor great. Then Judith, standing by his bed, said in her heart, O Lord God of all power, look at this present upon the works of mine hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem.

5. For now is the time to help thine inheritance, and to execute thine enterprises to the destruction of the enemies which are risen against us.

6. Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes' head, and took down his fauchion from thence,

7. And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day.

8. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.

9. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid ...

KJV Chapter 12-13.

Some believe the model in Palma il Vecchio’s Judith could be the same woman as depicted in Palma Vecchio’s Blonde Woman, held in the National Gallery in London.

This woman was considered the height of Venetian beauty: blond hair, pink cheeks but pearly skin, and voluptuous. Whoever this model was, she fulfilled the idealized checklist, making it more likely that Palma did in fact paint her multiple times.

Another so-called bella donna in this room is Alessandro Varotari’s (Padovanino) Lucretia (1620 – 1625).

This work is a copy of Suicide of Lucretia, attributed to Titian and held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Lucretia was another heroine revered by the people of the Renaissance. She was the wife of depicts Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, a member of the royal Roman family. While Collatinus was away from home, his cousin, the Roman prince Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia. When her husband came home, she told him what the prince had done and then subsequently killed herself. It was this incident that was the straw on the camel’s back, aggravating simmering tensions against the Roman monarchy. Collatinus and his more famous co-counsel Lucius Junius Brutus (ancestor of Brutus, yes the “et tu Brute” Brutus) started the revolution that created the infamous Roman Republic that lasted until Caesar.

Here, Lucretia is depicted the moment before she kills herself with her husband attempting to restrain her by grabbing her left arm (although some scholars identify him as her rapist, Sextus Tarquinius). She does not seem to notice him, instead looking heavenly in anticipation of redeeming herself (or so those in the Renaissance would have interpreted it; to the modern viewer, the story reeks of victim-shaming). The Envelopment of Lucretia in a bright light coupled with her spiritual expression transform the “pagan” story from ancient Rome into a Christian morality tale. Lucretia almost becomes a Christian martyr, thus allowing the Christian audience to revere her like a saint without any “stain” of promoting paganism.

Another artist following in Titian’s footsteps is Bernardino Licinio and his work known as La Nuda (1540), which was completed only two years after Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

Like Titian’s Venus of Urbino, nothing in this work overtly identifies the sitter as Venus, hence her title as “la nuda.” Some scholars, however, have pointed to the pair of doves in the lower left-hand corner as evidence that this work is in fact a picture of Venus. A pair of doves traditionally symbolized love, yet this could just be a reference to love itself and not the goddess.

Unlike Titian in his Venus, however, Licinio fills the entire space with his reclining nude, abandoning any pretense of a background. To further emphasize the body, Licinio surrounds the vicinity nearest to the body in cold-toned fabrics while coating the rest of the piece in warmer tones.

A non-bella donna work in this room is known as Two Dogs (1555), painted by Jacopo da Ponte (Jacopo Bassano).

Courtesy of By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70692966

During the 16th century, dogs became protagonists of works, no longer just the faithful companion. The trend was likely started by Bassano, who included dogs in almost all of his works, with Tintoretto and Veronese copying him. The trend arose at the same time as wealthy Venetians were starting to build country villas on the mainland, increasing demand for art of the countryside genre to decorate those country villas. In the background of this work is a depiction of Bassano’s hometown Bassano del Grappa.

D24 – Tintoretto Gallery

Room D24 is dedicated to the artist known as Tintoretto, although there are several works by Carlo Cannovaro Caliari (the youngest son of Veronese) located within this room as well. Tintoretto was known for his association with an intellectual group know as the poligrafi, the members of which took sardonic view of high classical culture. This association with the poligrafi comes through in many of Tintoretto’s mythological works, including his Leda and the Swan (c. 1550).

Leda and the Swan depicts the mythological tale wherein Zeus, the king of the gods, lusted after Leda, queen of Sparta. To slake his lust, he transforms himself into a swan and rapes Leda. The result of this copulation was the infamous Helen of Troy. Yet, Tintoretto takes this classical tale, depicted multiple times for wealthy patrons, and twists it into something ridiculous. Here, the Zeus-Swan has to compete with a yappy lap dog for Leda’s attention. Meanwhile to the left of the work is a wicker basket, implying that Leda keeps the swan in a wicker cage when she isn’t using him. Tintoretto uses realism to demonstrate the fallacy of the increasingly eroticization of art.

Turning to Tintoretto’s religious works in this room, we come to his Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1550-1555).

The Sacrifice of Isaac was a common subject painted by Renaissance artists. The story is found in the Old Testament wherein God asks the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his only son, only to stop Abraham prior to the knife strike:

1. And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

3. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. ...

9. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

The other Biblical painting by Tintoretto in this room is The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (c. 1550).

By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93701357

This work was commissioned as part of a series by the Scuola della Santissima Trinità in Venice. Only three other works that made up the series remain and are located in the Accademia in Venice. Those depict the Creation of animals, Original sin, and Cain and Abel. Therefore, the work in the Uffizi would have been the third of the series, to be placed after Original Sin and prior to Cain and Abel. In all of the works making up this series, Tintoretto used simple narratives involving only the necessary actors and filled in the details in the background. Here, in the foreground are Adam and Eve, covering themselves in shame while God the Father stands behind what appears to be the Tree of Knowledge.

Tintoretto’s Expulsion is complemented by a series of works on the same subject by Carlo Caliari (c. 1585), including Carlo’s Creation of Eve, Original Sin, the Expulsion from Eden, and the Toil of Adam and Eve.

Carlo’s Creation of Eve includes more compositionally complex than Tintoretto’s Expulsion due to the increase of forms and figures he chose to portray, including animals in addition to the central figures of God, Adam, and Eve.

Here, Eve emerges from behind Adam in a rather awkward posture with God watching on. Rather than idealized classical forms, the Adam and Eve are depicted in a more naturalistic manner, typical of later Venetian style. Like Bassano, discussed above, Carlo includes a multitude of dogs in the work, demonstrating their increasing importance and symbolism in Venetian naturalist art.

The next image in the series depicts the moment of Original Sin, wherein Eve tempts Adam with an apple.

This work is simpler than the Creation of Eve with only a couple of animals scattered in the foreground, but the same lush background is present. Also innovative for the period was displaying nude bodies from the back, as Eve is displayed here.

Next in the series is the Expulsion from Eden.

Unlike in Tintoretto’s version, Carlo’s work does not include God the Father as part of the expulsion, instead he depicts an angel doing the actual expulsion – keeping God at a distance from the whole affair. Once again, Carlo includes naturalistic looking animals in his scene alongside Adam and Eve, whom he has reserved postures, showing us his skill in painting a male back and a female front.

The final piece in the series is The Toil of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve are now accompanied by their two children, Cain and Abel, but their landscape is no longer as lush, and they must now work for their food.

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