Saturday, March 14, 2009



Dependence leads to emulation,
but sadly creativity
demands thereafter separation,
with hypersensitivity
the reason often for defection
of emulator, who betrays
his master by his rude rejection.
Disengaged like divorcés,
regretting the dependence that
had once inspired them both, they lose
their symbiosis, and combat
each other with conflicting views,
and claim they always had suspected
the other was far less inspired
than they, and ought to be rejected,
the sell-by date now long expired.

Inspired by an article Holland Cotter on an exhibition of the art of Titian, Tintoreeto and Verones at the Boston Museum of Fine Art (Passion of the Moment: A Triptych of Masters, NYT, March 12, 2009):

The show is about three such personalities: Tiziano Vecellio, or Titian; Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto; and Paolo Caliari, called Veronese. All three shot off sparks as they reforged painting as a medium. And all three had feverishly competitive overlapping careers. These masters of 16th-century Venetian painting were no Holy Trinity. They were a discordant ménage-a-trois bound together by envy, talent, circumstances and some strange version of love. This is the story the exhibition tells through 56 grand to celestial paintings — no filler here, not an ounce of fat — sorted into broad categories (religious images, portraits, belle donne) and arranged in compare-and-contrast couplings and triplings to indicate who was looking at whom, and why, and when. And that story is set against a larger historical narrative that goes something like this. Before the 16th century Italian art was dominated by two cities, Florence and Rome, and by two kinds of painting: fresco and egg tempera — water-based, fast-drying, smooth-surfaced — on wood. Venice lay outside this mainstream. Fresco wasn’t viable in the city’s humid atmosphere; tempera had problems too. Then, at the end of the 15th century, oil painting, still little known in the rest of Italy, was introduced, and Venetian art caught fire….Finally into the arena strode a third giant, and a somewhat gentler one, Veronese (1528-88). Named for his native city and still in his teens when he hit Venice, he was quickly acknowledged to be a prodigy, fully formed. Titian became the artist he was through long growth, Tintoretto by sifting and synthesizing influences. Veronese was Veronese from Day 1. Ingratiating in manner, he was a painter of fine texture, sweet color and courtly reserve. Patrons who found Tintoretto too outlandish gave Veronese their business; the elderly Titian took him under his wing. And from the 1540s to the 1580s Venetian painting became a three-way dance among these three men, a tricky choreography of emulation and rejection, dependence and separation. You can follow the moves in a cluster of steamy paintings of nudes at the center of the show, installed in a gallery with crimson walls and tasseled curtains. The Titians — the “Danae” from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, “Venus with an Organist and Dog” from the Prado, “Venus With a Mirror” from the National Gallery of Art in Washington — are stop-and-stare fantastic.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 3/13/09

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