This exhibition was held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 15 May to 3 September in 2012. Its title was Bellini, Titian, and Lotto North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. It showcased the works of such painters as Andrea Previtali, Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, and Bergognone and other artists who lived mostly in northern Italy (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, unpaged). I did not have an opportunity to visit this event in person, so I had to access its website1. Overall, this exhibition differs from other displays organized in this museum. For instance, one can mention the exhibition of American Indian Art, contemporary Iranian paintings, or the collection of Ellsworth Kelly’s drawings. On the whole, the artworks displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art differ in terms of artistic period, genre, or country. From the very beginning, the paintings produced a long-last impression on me, and I was fascinated with the mastery of these Italian artists, especially their realism.
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There are several attributes that the exhibited works have in common. First, the majority of artists, whose paintings were displayed, lived and worked in Northern Italy. Such artists as Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, or Giovanni Bellini are usually associated with such northern Italian cities like Milan, Venice or Bergamo (Zuffi, 2006, p. 292). According to Andrea Bayer who is the curator of the European painting department in the Metropolitan Museum, these pictures have been chosen because the art of this region is less familiar to American audience (Bayer as cited in Kantowitz, 2012, unpaged). Secondly, the exhibited painting can be divided into large groups. One of them includes paintings that explore religious themes. For instance, one can mention Christ and a Devotee by Moretta de Brescia or Madonna and a Child by Bergognone (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, unpaged). The second group represents portrait painting of the Renaissance Italy, for instance, one can refer to such pictures as Portrait of a Twenty-Nine-Year-Old Man by Giovanni Moroni and Portrait of Lucina Brembati by Lorenzo Lotto (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, unpaged). To some extent, these artworks show that the Italian culture of that period was influencing by two factors, namely religion and rising secularism (Thackeray, 2012, p. 7). This is why painters often depicted either religious scenes or portrayed people who had high status in the society. So, region and social life were important themes of the artists who worked in northern Italy.
Overall, one can refer to the works of Giovanni Moroni and his portrait of an unidentified young man2, because this painting can give viewers a good idea about the style and techniques used by Italian painters of that period. The sitter has a straightforward gaze and one can see that this person exudes strength and self-confidence. One can assume that he was either a courtier or a merchant and had a privileged position in the society of that period. Giovanni Moroni depicts his face in a very realistic and meticulous manner. These characteristics are typical of the Renaissance portrait painting in Italy.
In turn, there is one painting that does not quite fit within the exhibition conceptually. In particular, one can mention Orpheus and Eurydice3. It should be noted that the authorship of this painting can be disputed, but it is usually attributed to Titian (Bogue, 1994, p. 231). As it has been said before, the majority of artists focus either on religious themes or the social life. Yet, in this case, Titian draws his inspiration from Greek mythology and the legend of passionate, but tragic love of Orpheus for Eurydice. This artist focuses on the story that existed in the pre-Christian world, and in this way, he emphasizes the influence of Greek and Roman culture on the Renaissance painting. These themes are not explored in other artworks that were exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum.
My initial impression did not change too much after I reviewed the articles describing this exhibition. The scholars and critics, who examine the Italian paintings, agree that the painters of northern Italy were influenced by the religious culture of that period. For instance, in his review Ken Johnson (2012) also discusses how the themes of religion and secularism affected the works of northern Italian painters. I can agree with this perspective became many artists of that period painted the portraits of aristocrats or merchants who began to obtain more power and authority in the Italian society of that period. Yet, they also explored religious themes in their works.
In my opinion, this exhibition is aesthetically pleasing because the artists whose works were exhibited employ the best techniques typical of Renaissance painting. Their realism and skillful use of contrasting colors have always appealed to me. Moreover, this exhibition is conceptually engaging because it illustrates the conflicting cultural forces in the Renaissance Italy.
- Artist: Giovanni Battista Moroni
- Title: Portrait of a Twenty-Nine-Year-Old Man
- Media: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 56.9 x 44.4 cm.
- Year of production:1567
- Artist: Titian
- Title: Orpheus and Eurydice
- Media: Oil on wood
- Dimensions: 36.6 x 53 cm.
- Year of production: circa 1508-1512
Bogue, R. (1994). The Play of the Self. New York: SUNY Press, 1994.
Johnson, K. (2012, July 15). In Faces of the Past, Modernity Looms ‘Bellini, Titian and Lotto’ at the Metropolitan Museum. The New York Times, Web.
Kantowitz, J. (2012). The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Bellini, Titian and Lotto: North Italian Paintings. Web.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2012). Bellini, Titian, and Lotto North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. Web.
Thackeray, F. (2012). Events That Formed the Modern World: From the European Renaissance to the War on Terror. New York: ABC-CLIO.
Zuffi, S. (2006). European Art of the Sixteenth Century. London: Getty Publications.
- Please, refer to the Appendixes, Picture 1.
- Appendixes, Picture 2.