Ever since the 15th century, there is a strong art connection between Flanders and Venice. Many prominent Flemish painters, such as Rubens and Van Dyck, were inspired by their Venetian counterparties. At the same time, many works from Venetian painters, such as Titian and Tintoretto, were collected in Flanders. The upcoming exhibition ‘From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections’ is the culmination of this bond. A unique selection of Venetian and Flemish masterpieces will be shown at Palazzo Ducale to give everyone the chance to admire them.
As a Flemish citizen who is passionate about Venice, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without writing a post about it. I will first describe the historic relationship between Flanders and Venice, before I give you more details about the exhibition in Palazzo Ducale and about other Flemish works of art in Venice.
Trade from Flanders to Venice, and vice versa
Starting in the 13th century, Venice was the economic heart of Southern Europe and the gate to the Arab and Ottoman world. Originally, the trade with Flanders took place at fairs in the Champagne region, where Italian merchants bought woollen goods and sold silk, spices or sugar. When the sea route was opened between the Western Mediterranean and the Atlantic, trade with Flanders was carried out by ship. The ports of Bruges, and later Antwerp, became a major center for trade in Northern Europe, acting as a nodal point for merchants from England, the Baltic, Italy, and France.
Ships from Venice would arrive in the port of Antwerp laden with goods, including paintings, which would be replaced with other art works for the return journey. These were intended for the art collections of rich Italian and Flemish merchants and bankers. This mutual influence created a positive vibe for the art in both cities in the 15th and 16th century.
From paintings to music
Flemish artists would make the long journey to Venice to soak up inspiration and to study the works of the famous painters of that time. Peter Paul Rubens for instance spent most of his twenties in Italy. In 1600, he traveled to Venice to study the work of Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. He admired their painting techniques, the use of colours and the vast expanse of the landscapes. As a result, Rubens’ style was very much influenced by Venetian painting. One example is his ‘Tenhemelopneming van Maria’ in the cathedral of Antwerp, which was inspired by the ‘Assunta’ (Assumption) of Titian in the Basilica dei Frari in Venice. Rubens was also an art collector and owned 7 Tintoretto’s as well as several works of Titian. Also Jacob Jordaens and Anthony Van Dyck were inspired by Titian.
Besides paintings, there was a close link between Venice and Flanders in the area of music. ‘I Fiamminghi’, the Flemish polyphonists, included Josquin des Prez, Pierre de la Rue, Adriaan Willaert, Cipriano de Rore, Nicolas Gomber, Thomas Crecquillon, Jacob Clemens non Papa, Philippus de Monte and Roland de (Orlandus) Lassus. The most famous Flemish composer in Venice was without doubt Adriaan Willaert. Originally from Rumbeke, he traveled to Italy in 1515. As one of the most versatile composers of the Renaissance, he became Maestro di Cappello of the San Marco basilica in 1527. Thanks to this highly respected position, he had a large musical impact in Europe. His Venetian School with the typical ‘cori spezzato’ (choirs spread across the basilica) was the start of the early Baroque music. When Maestro Adriano died in 1562, he was succeeded as Maestro di Cappello by Cipriano de Rore, another Flemish composer, from Ronse.
The mutual cultural influence between Flanders and Venice faded in the 17th and 18th century when styles diverged, and Venice lost its role as trading capital. (More information on the history of La Serenissima in ‘A short introduction to the complicated history of Venice’.)
From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections
To celebrate this historical art connection between Venice and Flanders, Rubenshuis Antwerp and MUVE (Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia) organize the impressive exhibition ‘From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections’. It will bring the best of both worlds together in the unique setting of Palazzo Ducale. Approx. 80 paintings, drawings, engravings and examples of Venetian and Antwerp glass and instruments will be on display in 10 rooms. An 11th room will be dedicated to the Flemish composer Adriaan Willaert who became Maestro di Capella of the Basilica di San Marco in 1527.
The magnificent Doge’s apartments will be transformed into ‘constkamers’, rooms filled with exquisite art by artists including Titian, Tintoretto, Maerten de Vos, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. These masterpieces from Flemish collections, both public and private, are rarely lent and some have never been shown in public before. It’s a unique opportunity which you shouldn’t miss. I have already seen 2 of the 3 highlights at the Rubenshuis and I highly recommend you to see these with your own eyes. In combination with the historical setting of Palazzo Ducale, I’m sure these paintings will look even more imposing.
The exhibition opens on September 5 and runs until March 1, 2020. This gives you plenty of time to discover it. The entrance is included in the ticket of Palazzo Ducale. On September 5, there will be a concert in the Basilica di San Marco with music from the ‘Fiamminghi’ who resided in La Serenissima such as Adriaan Willaert, Cipriano de Rore, Jacques Buus and Lupus Hellinck. It will be performed by the world-famous Capella Marciana di San Marco and conducted by Marco Gemmani.
3 Venetian masterpieces return to Venice
The highlight of the exhibition will be Titian’s ‘Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter’. This painting returns to Venice for the first time in almost 500 years. You will easily recognize it, and never forget it, as Mila and Emilia will welcome you from billboards all over the city. The painting of Titian’s mistress and their daughter has long been known as ‘Tobias and the Angel’. After Titian’s death, his son Pomponio had overpainted the 2 women, either to hide his father’s mistress or because a religious subject was more likely to sell than an anonymous portrait. The art work was part of the famous collection of Cristoforo Barbarigo in the Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza on Canal Grande until 1850, when it was acquired by Tsar Nicolas I. In 1948, an X-Ray at the Courtauld Institute of Art revealed the portrait of a young girl tenderly looking up at her mother, which was hidden beneath Tobias and the angel. After twenty years of scraping down, removing the overpaint millimeter by millimeter, the portrait which had been concealed for centuries finally emerged. It has been exhibited at the Rubenshuis since 2017, but it will remain at Palazzo Ducale after the exhibition as a long-term loan.
INSIDER TIP: You can watch a short video about this masterpiece on the website of Sotheby’s.
”This unfinished Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter is one of Titian’s masterpieces. His tender representation of the relationship between a mother and daughter, which is apparent from the gaze which the girl directs at her mother, is simply unmatched.”
Ben van Beneden, Director of the Rubenshuis in Anwerp and curator of the exhibition ‘From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections’
The second highlight will be Tintoretto’s ‘Angel Foretelling the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria’, which is widely known as ‘David Bowie’s Tintoretto’. This alterpiece was commissioned by the Scuola di Santa Caterina in the 1560s for the church of San Geminiano on Piazza San Marco. Anthony Van Dyck sketched it during his time in Italy (1621–27) in his ‘Italian Sketchbook’, which is now in the British Museum in London. The Tintoretto remained there until the church was demolished in 1807 during Napoleon’s occupation. It was one of the few Old Master paintings that the British rock icon David Bowie purchased. He was such a huge fan of the Venetian painter that he named his record label ‘Tintoretto Music’. After his death, it was exhibited at the Rubenshuis since 2017. This masterpiece will also stay at Palazzo Ducale after the exhibition as a long-term loan (see also ‘Where to find the most stunning masterpieces of Tintoretto’).
INSIDER TIP: You can see a plaque for the San Geminiano church on the floor beneath the arcades, next to the entrance of Museo Correr.
The third Venetian masterpiece to return to Venice is Titian’s ‘Jacopo Pesaro presenting Saint Peter to Pope Alexander VI’. This painting was commissioned by Bishop Jacopo Pesaro as an ex-voto for the Venetian naval victory leading to the retaking of Santa Maura (Lefkada) from the Ottoman Turks in August 1502. It is one of the major examples of the early Titian. There is a clear, indirect, influence of early Flemish painters in the conception and integration of landscapes, as well as in the realism of the depiction. Anthony van Dyck also made a drawing of this painting when he was in Venice in 1623. The Titian belonged to the Pesaro family until the early 17th century. It is now part of the collection of KMSKA in Antwerp. For the first time in more than three centuries, this work of art returns to its city of origin.
Art from Flanders to Venice
There are only a few works of Flemish masters which are permanently exhibited in Venice. The majority of the collection of Flemish paintings at Museo Correr was acquired during the 19th century by Teodoro Correr. Examples are ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, ‘Madonna and Child’ which is tentatively attributed to Dieric Bouts and ‘The Revels of the Prodigal Son’ by the circle of Paul Coeck. At Ca d’Oro, you can admire 2 Flemish works: the ‘Portrait of Marcello Durazzo’ by Anthony Van Dyck and a small ‘Crocifissione’ attributed to Jan Van Eyck. Finally, you can find ‘Madonna and Child with the Young St John’ by Rubens in the Santa Maria del Giglio church. The exhibition ‘From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections’ is therefore a unique opportunity to admire the Venetian influence on Flemish art.
Even in more recent times, there is a strong (contemporary) art link between Flanders/Belgium and Venice. In 1907, Belgium was the first country to build a national pavilion in Giardini to participate to the Art Biennale. This year, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys present Mondo Cane in this pavilion designed by Léon Sneyers. You can also visit Luc Tuymans’ exhibition ‘La Pelle’ in Palazzo Grassi until January 6, 2020.
If you want to admire the art works shown at ‘From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections’ at home and read more about it, you can buy the catalogue of the exhibition, a new edition of ‘David Bowie’s Tintoretto’ or the publication of ‘Titian’s Hidden Double Portrait’. You can also listen to the music of the Flemish composers on the cd of the Cappella Marciana di San Marco. The majority of this music was never recorded before.
Enjoy your visit!
(Picture in the banner: Detail of Titian’s ‘Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter’ – © KIK-IRPA)
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