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The development of landscape in Venetian Renaissance painting 1450-1540 Tresidder, Warren David

Abstract

The landscape in Venetian Renaissance painting makes its first important appearance in the Sketch-books of Jacopo Bellini. These landscapes depend little on the observation of nature. They are not drawings done from life, but imaginary landscapes which show that Jacopo was far more interested in creating form and space than in giving the landscape a particular mood. The landscapes of Giovanni Bellini are far more dependent on the observation of natural phenomena than those of Jacopo. Giovanni's landscapes usually depict the undulating and broken topography of the Veneto, but he did not paint particular views of this area. There is always much evidence of man's activity in Giovanni's landscapes. In these paintings the human figures are sometimes small, but never insignificant. The relationship of figures to the landscape is of great importance to the formal design, the emotional appeal and the spiritual significance of the whole. The dominant mood of Giovanni Bellini's landscapes is that of quiet religosity. From whom Giovanni learnt the use of the oil technique could not be accurately determined, but the fact that he did adopt the oil medium was of great importance to the development of Venetian landscape painting, as it enabled painters to capture the subtleties of light, colour and texture in their paintings. The landscapes of Giorgione are dependent upon the technical achievements of Giovanni Bellini, but while Bellini's landscapes are predominantly religious in character, those of Giorgione were closely connected with the new humanist culture of early sixteenth century Venice. Giorgione sought a direct and sensuous portrayal of man and nature in gentle and harmonious union. His landscapes appear to be physically softer than those of Bellini and he devoted greater attention to atmosphere. The forms in a Giorgione landscape are less precisely defined than those of a Bellini work, and contours are often blurred as Giorgione was concerned with painting a general visual impression. Nature in a Giorgione landscape is tamed and ordered, but seldom cultivated as his landscapes are primarily Arcadian. Despite the fact that Titian came from a mountainous region, his early landscapes are not mountainous but Giorgionesque. While Titian's early frescoes in Padua show a more active and dramatic relationship between man and nature, than was shown by either Giovanni Bellini or Giorgione, they are unlike his other early landscapes. After Giorgione's death Titian painted many bucolic landscapes in the manner of Giorgione. With the mythological paintings done for Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, Titian's forms become more plastic and assertive, and his landscapes more joyous and Pandean in mood. While Titian made less use of landforms as a compositional device, he exploited clouds and foliage to a far greater degree. His use of foliage as a means of expression, to amplify and intensify the human action of the painting, reached its fullest development in the Murder of St. Peter Martyr. Titian's mountain landscapes, wilder than anything in previous Venetian painting, represent one climax in the development of Venetian landscape painting, at the same time that he was reworking idyllic Giorgionesque motifs in his Venus del Pardo. As far as is known, not one of the Venetian Renaissance painters painted a landscape as an end in itself. That development took place in the seventeenth century. It was the Venetian Renaissance painters who played the major role in the process which led to its acceptance as a legitimate mode of artistic expression.

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