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The Golden Age of Venetian Painting 1475–1576 / ​The Altarpiece from Giovanni Bellini to Titia

The century between the advent of Antonello da Messina in 1475 and the death of Titian in 1576 is considered the Golden Age of Venetian painting. What had been a minor regional school achieved international prominence and influenced the future of European art in general for centuries. Central to this achievement was the genius of a succession of painters from Giovanni Bellini and his brother Gentile, Carpaccio, Giorgione, to the great Titian and his younger contemporaries Tintoretto and Veronese. These painters worked in a city undergoing crisis and change: the decline of its maritime empire, the reduction of its monopoly of trade with the East, its near destruction as a state in the early sixteenth century, and the religious turmoil engendered by the Reformation and the reaction of the Roman Church to it. Governed by an oligarchy of merchant nobles who elected a Doge, Venice remained politically stable throughout this turbulent period and continued to flourish economically. The state, the lay confraternities (called scuole) and private individuals provided sufficient patronage and support for a brilliant school of painting to develop in both secular and religious art. The cultural context and history of this school will be studied in eight lectures, followed by a full-day visit to the National Gallery to consider first-hand its outstanding collection of Venetian renaissance paintings.

Despite its secular aspects, Venice was a very religious city and the patronage of religious art remained paramount in the Renaissance. Between the 1470s and the 1520s the nature of the Venetian church altarpiece changed fundamentally. Departing from the gold-leafed polyptychs of the Gothic age, Giovanni Bellini and the Netherlandish-trained Antonello da Messina created a new kind of altarpiece in Venice: the 'Sacra Conversazione', where all the figures were united in a single space, now painted in oil not tempera and with greater naturalism. This paradigm was then itself challenged by a younger generation of artists around 1510, principally Titian, ultimately resulting in the creation of the more dramatic 'narrative' altarpiece, where the action is displayed in the main field and not in a small predella underneath it. These large-scale, public paintings will be contrasted with smaller religious paintings for private devotion in the Venetian home.


Dr Michael Douglas-Scott | talks


Date and Time:

2 October 2014 at 10:45 am


Half Day



The University Women's Club
2 Audley Square

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