ART IN VENICE: Part 2, the Accademia Gallery

ART IN VENICE: Part 2, the Accademia Gallery

ART IN VENICE: Part 2,  the Accademia Gallery
Accademia Gallery, Venice, Italy

Note: This report is based on our visit to Venice in September 2019, before the
devastating high tides that inundated many of the historic sites of the
city. Luckily the collections of the Accademia Gallery were not damaged.

The Accademia Gallery is a treasure trove of Venetian art. Look up and you see the elaborately carved and painted ceilings; look down, and you walk on beautiful variegated marble tile floors; and on the surrounding walls you will find scenes crowded with endless details revealing the wealth and glory of Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it dominated trade and commerce in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Annunciation by Lorenzo Veneziano 1376-1372, center of a large altarpiece

On our recent visit to Venice, we visited the Accademia Gallery, located on the Grand Canal at the foot of the Accademia Bridge. My guidebook admonished visiting in the
afternoon to avoid the crowds and long ticket lines (during high
season.) We went in the morning and didn’t have to wait at all. After purchasing our tickets we climbed the grand staircase to the second floor where the exhibits began. I was overawed just by the elegance of the rooms–
the ceilings and floors are amazing–and by the scale of the paintings. The art ranges from golden Byzantine altarpieces to grand paintings documenting daily life in Venice and much more.

Madonna with the Red Cherubs, Giovanni Bellini 1485-1490

In a whole room of paintings by Giovanni Bellini, my favorite was the one with the red angels.  Bellini was a member of a well-known Venetian painting family. His sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great
effect on the Venetian painting school, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.
In the large paintings with dozens of figures, I was struck by how the painting as a whole functioned in the same way as today’s graphic novels, with each figure and detail playing its own part in telling the larger story.

Detail from the Sacred Conversation by Giovanni Bellini, 1487

Throughout the museum I loved the glimpses of daily life revealed in the paintings–even when the main subject was religious or classical– and was particularly charmed by the depictions of musicians and their instruments, as in Bellini’s Sacred Conversation. In another painting, by Vittore Carpaccio, gondoliers crowd the canal–just as they do today, although in different costumes. Notably, one of the gondoliers is black, a reference to the fact that even in the 15th century Venice was an international center.

Detail of gondoliers, The Miracle of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto, also known as The Healing of the Madman by Vittore Carpaccio, 1494.

Procession in Piazza San Marco, Gentile Bellini, 1496.

The Basilica San Marco has always been a focus of Venetian life. The grand
scene in St. Mark’s square,in the painting by Gentile Bellini (brother of Giovanni) show that the square was just as crowded then as it
is today with tourists.

Detail from the Marriage of Saint Catherine by Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese, 1565-70.

As a center of trade, Venetians had access to goods from around the world, especially from the Orient. The colors and luxuriousness of the fabrics of
people’s clothing as depicted in the paintings is typically Venetian.

Annunciation by Paolo Veronese

I was interested to see how
certain religious themes, such as the Annunciation, were treated
differently by different artists.

Annunciation, Giovanni Bellini, 1490

In some, Mary is quite docile, in
others, visibly surprised. In all, the angel arrives carrying lilies.

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

Paolo Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi fills a whole wall in one of the galleries, dwarfing onlookers. It is one of the museum’s most well-known paintings. Originally titled The Last Supper, the name was changed after Inquisition leaders objected to the depiction of dogs and drunkards cavorting with the Apostles. Rather than making changes to the art, Veronese simply changed the title.

Detail from Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

My favorite part of the painting is the detail of the dog and cat under the table. The cat has the bone and the dog looks wishful. Note the detail in the fabric of the tablecloth.

Billboard along the canal just outside the entrance to the Accademia Gallery.

The paintings in the Accademia Gallery truly are a feast for the eyes. And these are just a few! The paintings are all well-labelled in both Italian and English and we found it easy to navigate around the museum.

Poster for Baselitz Academy Exhibit, part of the Venice Biennale

In a separate wing of the museum we saw a
retrospective exhibit of the living artist Georg Baselitz, whose signature
style is to paint his figures upside down. His stated goal in turning the figures upside down was to separate art from life, changing the relationship between viewer and subject.

Georg Baselitz is a German artist who began working at the Villa Romana in Florence in 1965. This exhibit examines the influence of Italian artists and Renaissance traditions on his work over the course of his career.

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