Friday, June 5, 2009

Rivals in Venice

Randall J. Stephens

Theodore K. Rabb reviews the Boston MFA exhibit—Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese: Revivals in Renaissance Venice—in the May 27 issue of the TLS. ("Old Masters
at War: Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese—Great Venetian Artists, but also Great Rivals, Full of Venetian Ruthlessness")

The March 15-August 16 show is stunning and well worth the fee. It's also a fascinating window on 16th-century Venice. "Venice is the ultimate Darwinian city," Rabb remarks. "Sharp elbows were second nature to its Renaissance patricians, and throughout the society animosities and feuds were endemic. Even a distinguished man of letters and a cardinal, Pietro Bembo, lost the use of a finger in a street fight over a lawsuit." These paintings bring that colorful world to life in exquisite detail.

Rabb summarizes the exhibit:

The purpose of the remarkable exhibition Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is to elucidate this context: the competitiveness that inspired the achievements of even the greatest artists. An adroitly positioned display of fifty-four canvases convinces us that, in this respect, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese were unmistakably Venetian. What is astonishing is that this is the first exhibition to approach them in this way, despite Vasari and modern accounts such as Rona Goffen’s pioneering Renaissance Rivals (2002). We know about the protean Picasso, and his uneasy connections with Braque, Matisse and others. But the old masters? >>>

For more, read Holland Cotter's review in the NYT: "Passion of the Moment: A Triptych of Masters," NYT, 12 March 2009.

See also Rabb's recent essay "Teaching World History: Problems and Possibilities," Historically Speaking (January 2009).

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