Venetian Masters Come to Rome

Bellini's Madonna and Child, currently at Rome's I Grandi Veneti exhibit From Titian to Tintoretto, Bellini to Bassano, some of Italy's greatest masters of painting have been Venetian. But without going to Venice, it can be a little tough to get a sense of the various shapes that Venetian art took on during its peak from the 15th to 18th centuries.

That is, until now.

Through January 30, the Chiostro del Bramante is hosting an exhibit called, simply, "I Grandi Veneti" — the Grand Venetians. More than 80 Venetian paintings are on display, set up chronologically, so you can actually feel how art shifted in Venice over the centuries.

For enthusiasts of Renaissance art, the exhibit has some true gems. Pisanello's Portrait of Lionello d’Este (about 1441) revolutionized portraiture, blending Gothic traditions while giving a nod to the shape that Renaissance portraits would take. There's also Bellini's lovely Madonna and Child (about 1460) (at top), with its mixture of serenity and sumptuousness that the artist would be renowned for, and a gorgeous series of Madonnas by masters like Jacobello di Antonello, Marco Marziale, and Bartolomeo Veneto (1505). The exhibit traces the rest of Venice's 15th and 16th centuries, taking in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Lotto along the way. (Below, Lorenzo Lotto's Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine, 1523). Lorenzo Lotto, Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine, at I Grandi Veneti in Rome

The rest of the exhibit — Venice's 17th and 18th centuries' output — has paintings that are probably a little less familiar. That is, except for the ever-ubiquitous Canaletto, whose scenes of the Venetian canals are just as precise and just as lovely in this exhibit as ever. My favorite of this section, though, had to be the simultaneously creepy and tongue-in-cheek Il Ridotto (Maschere Veneziane), done by Pietro Longhi in 1757 — just as criticism of Venice as a "dead" city clinging to her past were ramping up (below). (They still haven't gone away).

Il Ridotto by Pietro Longhi, at I Grandi Veneti in Rome

I Grandi Veneti is at the Chiostro del Bramante until Jan. 30. The Chiostro is at Arco della Pace 5, a stone's throw from Piazza Navona. The exhibit costs €10. For more information, click here.

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Now at the Borghese Gallery: The Other Renaissance

"Venus and Cupid," Lucas Cranach, in the permanent Borghese collection In Rome, it's the Italian Renaissance that gets the glory. In a city filled with paintings and sculptures by the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael, that's how it should be.

But with such larger-than-life pieces, it can — ironically — be easy to forget in Rome just how influential Italy's renaissance was beyond its borders. After all, the importance of the art isn't just that every tourist flocks to the Sistine Chapel to stare at more than 10,000 square feet of fresco. The real question is: Why do they? And, in no small part, it's because the Renaissance launched in Italy would go on to shape art both up until today — and across the entire European realm.

Unless you're stopping in Germany and the Netherlands and England along with Italy, that can be tough to get your mind around on one trip. Until now.

The Galleria Borghese is showing an excellent exhibit on the work of Lucas Cranach. Appropriately titled "Cranach: The Other Renaissance," it brings together, in one space, the pieces of one of the foremost artists of the German Renaissance with Italian Renaissance masterpieces… and the ancient sculptures that inspired both.

Born into the same era as Michelangelo and Raphael, Cranach became a court painter to Saxony's Frederick the Wise in 1504. He would remain a court painter until his death in 1553. With his status, he had access not just to the rulers of the realm, but also to their art — which included pieces from the Italian masters. 

The relationship between his art and that of his Italian peers (or, in many cases, predecessors) is highlighted again and again. There's no looking at his "Primitive Man (The Golden Age)," for example, and not seeing the Florentine Botticeli's "La Primavera," executed some fifty years earlier. (Sadly, Botticelli's piece isn't in the Borghese exhibition, so you'll still have to go to Florence's Uffizi Gallery to get the full picture).

Primitive Man (The Golden Age) by Lucas Cranach, currently in the Galleria Borghese "Primitive Man (The Golden Age)," Lucas Cranach, 1530

Primavera by Botticelli, in Florence "La Primavera," Botticelli, 1482

Even while Cranach drew on Italian models, though, his style was all his own. His figures are less proportionate, the clothing more sumptuous, the messages more moralizing. And his Protestantism — a close friend of Martin Luther, he introduced Luther to his future wife and painted a widely-reproduced portrait of the couple (included in the exhibit) — significantly influenced his paintings, too.

Just take his "Centurion at the Cross," a stark contrast to Pinturicchio's crucifixion scene. Hung side-by-side in the exhibit, the two paintings highlight the widening divide between Luther's followers and the Roman Catholics. Cranach's crucifixion scene is stark, bare, the centurion's sighting of Jesus unmediated by anyone — or anything — else. His conversion is a lonely one, undertaken because of inner faith alone.

The Centurion at the Cross, Cranach, in the exhibition at the Borghese"Centurion at the Cross," Lucas Cranach, 1539

Not so in Pinturrichio's piece. Here, the saints Jerome and Christopher mediate, praying both with — and on behalf of — the viewer. That's exactly what the Protestants rejected.

Crucifixion, Pinturrichio, in the permanent Borghese collection "The Crucifixion," Pinturrichio, 1473

The exhibit isn't perfect. Some of the rooms seem to be reaching: While you could certainly have a conversation about various types of Renaissance portraiture from looking at a line of unrelated portraits of unrelated men, for example, the resulting jumble overwhelms. The exhibit is far clearer, and more effective, when it picks more precise themes to compare.

Still, it's a treat even to just see so much of Cranach's work in one place. You can see both his style developing, and can tell when he hits on a marketable idea — like his "Ill-Assorted Couples," a humorous but moralizing theme he repeated more than 40 times in his workshop's output.

It's neat, too, to see the influence he and other German Renaissance painters may have had on other artists in the collection. Take one of Cranach's "Ill-Assorted Couples," for example, and then take a look at Gerrit van Honhorst's "The Concert" (in the Borghese's permanent collection). Yes, van Honhorst's piece is explicitly Baroque, not Renaissance. Yes, it's Caravaggesque in its realism and dramatic lighting.

But van Honhorst also seems to draw something from his fellow northern painter — particularly in showing a joyful scene debased and warped, both humorously and with a moralizing intent. In Cranach's piece, is the old woman paying off the young man for love? In Honthorst's, is the young woman stealing the man's earring and about to pass it to the old woman behind her? How else are the scenes similar… and how, separated by 100 years and their respective art movements, do they differ?

"Ill-Assorted Couple" by Cranach, at the Borghese exhibit "Ill-Assorted Couple," Lucas Cranach

07concer "Concert," Gerrit van Honhorst, 1623

It's exactly those kinds of conversations you can have at the Borghese's newest exhibit.

"Cranach: The Other Renaissance" is on at the Borghese Gallery until February 13. For more information about the exhibit, click here. For more information on the Borghese, including how to book (you must book in advance), click here. All Borghese tickets include entrance to the Cranach exhibit; the price for a ticket is now €13.50.

 All images above except for "La Primavera," "Venus and Cupid" and "Concert" courtesy of the Borghese Gallery. Images of the other pieces courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.

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The “Night of Raphael” at the New Palazzo Barberini

La fornarina by Raphael, Palazzo Barberini

After two years, the €5 million restorations at the Palazzo Barberini have finished. To celebrate, the museum is opening its doors to visitors for free on Sunday, September 19.

Called "La Notte di Raffaello" in honor of one of the collection's most famous paintings, Raphael's portrait of La Fornarina or "baker's daughter" (above), the inaugural event should include free guided tours to the public. The event begins at 6pm Sunday, September 19; the exhibit will also be open on Monday, September 20. (It's usually closed Mondays). If you go, particularly make sure to check out the newly-restored fresco by Pietro da Cortona on the ceiling of the Grand Salon.

As of late August, the Palazzo Barberini folks still weren't sure exactly what the opening hours or when the guided tours would be, since they said (apologetically) that work is still continuing on the building. So stay tuned. I'll keep updating this post here as I get more information.

Update, 9/13: The Palazzo Barberini will definitely be open from 6pm till midnight on Sunday, and the Grand Salon will be open. However, they're still unsure about tour times.

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Palazzo Barberini, Rome’s Most Underrated Art Museum

Palazzo Barberini in Rome

Rome’s Palazzo Barberini is one of the best places to go if you’re tired of Rome’s overwhelming art collections (think: Vatican museums), but want to see more of what Rome has to offer. A stunning art museum in a Renaissance palace, it’s an often-overlooked gem in the heart of the city.

Palazzo Barberini boasts works by some of Italy’s best painters: Caravaggio, Raphael, Tintoretto, Bronzino. Its stars include the lush and moving “La Fornarina,” Raphael’s portrait of his lover (and possibly secret wife), the baker’s daughter; Hans Holbein’s famous portrait of King Henry VIII; and Caravaggio’s startlingly realistic — and frightening — Judith Beheading Holofernes (above).

(Note: This post was last updated with current information in April 2017).

For fans of Baroque art, the building alone merits a visit. Started in 1627-1633 by Carlo Maderno with his nephew Francesco Borromini, construction was handed over to Borromini and his soon-to-be-rival Bernini. (Yes, that Bernini. Some of his sculptures are also inside). The palace’s frescoes include Pietro da Cortona’s famous “Allegory of Divine Providence”; a triumph of trompe l’oeil, it literally “tricks the eye” into thinking that the ceiling opens up to show the heavens and tumbling figures. But it’s also a political piece, a tribute to the Barberini family — the powerful clan whose Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII (and started construction on the building).

Palazzo Barberini, an art gallery in the heart of Rome, Italy
An underrated art museum: Palazzo Barberini

But the piece-de-resistance is Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of Divine Providence, the fresco on the ceiling of the Grand Salon, mind-boggling for its size, its spot-on execution of trompe l’oeil, and its sheer over-the-top-ness — which benefited from a months-long restoration in 2010 and is now on full and stunning display.

The Palazzo Barberini is located just steps from the Barberini metro at Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13. It’s open every day but Monday from 8:30am-7pm, making it an ideal early-evening stop. The entrance price is currently €10. For more on Palazzo Barberini, click here.

Also: why the Borghese Gallery should also be on your list, the best places for gelato and Rome’s most fascinating archaeological museum.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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La Notte di Caravaggio: On Saturday Night, Art for Free

Boy with basket

There may be no artist better suited to the night than Caravaggio — the tormented Baroque painter famous for his dramatic, almost theatrically-lit paintings.

And on Saturday night, Rome is offering up its Caravaggios to the public. From 7pm on Saturday, July 17 until 9am on Sunday morning (yes, all night), four different sites will be open and free: the Borghese Museum (right now, ordinarily a €10.50 entrance), with its "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" (above), "Sick Bacchus," and "Madonna of the Snakes," among other pieces; the Church of San Luigi in Francese, home to Caravaggio's first major commission, the three frescoes of St. Matthew; the Basilica of Saint Augustine, with its Madonna of Loreto; and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul (open only until 1am).

Just be prepared for a queue at the Borghese, where Romans are most likely to flock… although the later you go (or the earlier Sunday morning), the more likely you are to to have the museum to yourself.

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