The Gallerie dell’Accademia is often simply called the Accademia

On the days that we discuss painting, each group will first visit the Accademia. This world famous museum contains the best overview of the Venetian school of painting. We will go there on foot. Via the districts of S. Croce and S. Polo we arrive in the district of Dorsoduro where the museum is located. Its doors open at 9 am. The current museum, officially called the Gallerie dell’Accademia was founded in 1750. The complex comprises several buildings: the original church, Santa Maria della Carità from 1444, the monastery that belongs to it and the Scuola di Santa Maria della Carità from the 15th century. These buildings were merged into one museum in the 19th century.

Accademia entrance
 Galleria dell ’Accademia entrance Venice

picture: netNicholls

The enormous collection of paintings is for the most part arranged in chronological order and starts with the Byzantine and late Gothic periods in the 14th and 15th century in room no. 1, followed by the early Renaissance rooms (room 2 up to and including room 8), the high Renaissance (room 10) and then Baroque and Rococo (room 11 up to and including room 18. The old church, room 23, usually hosts high quality temporary exhibitions. Rooms 20 and 21 are home to cycles of paintings by, among others, Giovanni, Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio. As we enter the building and walk up the stairs, we see the beautifully decorated old hall, the Sala del Capitolo, of the Scuola’s lay brothers (room 1). Its lavishly decorated ceiling, which features gilded cherubs each of which has a different face, dates from 1484 and is still in good condition. Fourteenth century Venetian art was still completely under the spell of Byzantine art. The Sala del Capitolo has many triptychs from the 14th and 15th century.

Sala del Capitolo
room 1

This tour is intended to give you insight in the typical characteristics of Venetian painters. In addition, you will see the development of Venetian painting, which so clearly differs from the rest of Italy and primarily from Florence, which played such a dominant role during the Renaissance. We will, of course, limit ourselves to just a limited number of art works, because the sheer quantity is overwhelming. A famous polyptych, ‘The Coronation of Mary” was painted by the founder of the Venetian school of painting Paolo Veneziano in 1350. This work was strongly influenced by Byzantine art. When we are there, we will be able to see and discuss why this work does not only show clear Byzantine traits, but on the other hand also a number of typically Western characteristics. Paolo Veneziano became the official painter of La Serenissima; he also painted Doge Francesco Dandolo, a painting that we will see later in the Frari church. Paolo and his sons Luca and Giovanni ran a studio where many painters were trained in a tradition, which, in addition to strong Byzantine influences and the use of Byzantine techniques, was also influenced by Giotto’s frescos 30 kilometres north of Venice. Typical of Byzantine art, but also of Gothic art is, among others:

1. Non-naturalistic. It was not important to create an accurate representation of reality, but rather to show a higher, divine world.
2. A strong emphasis on precious materials. Gold leaf and the even more costly blue colour known as
3. Ultramarine that was made from lapis lazuli can be found on many of the altarpieces in room 1.
4. Panels (wood) as a medium.

And here’s a recipe from ‘The Artist’s Manual’ by Cennino Cennini for a very expensive colour, the shade of blue called ultramarine. Cennini wrote a book entitled ‘The Artist’s Manual’ which includes a recipe for making ultramarine, more specifically in chapter LXII entitled ‘On the Nature of Ultramarine Blue and how to make it.’

Youtube Master Pigments (6.13 minutes) 
Ultramarine is a noble colour, beautiful and the most perfect of all colours […] First one obtains some lapis (Wikipedia). And to recognize the good stone, one must choose the one that is richest in blue colour, because they have all been mixed with ashes. […] Crush it [semi-precious stone] in a covered bronze mortar (see the boy in the background in Ostade’s painting), so the dust cannot escape. Then put this on your porphyry stone and crush it further without water. Next take a covered sieve as used by the pharmacist to sift herbs and sift it. And pound it again if you think it necessary. And remember the finer the powder, the finer the blue, but not so beautifully violet in colour. The finer powder is used primarily by miniaturists and for making draperies with highlights. When this powder is ready, take six oncias of spruce resin from the pharmacist’s, three oncias of mastic and three oncias of new wax for each pound (1 pound = 12 oncias) of lapis. Put all the ingredients in a new, small earthenware pot and let it melt together. Take a piece of white linen and sift the mixture into a glazed washing bowl. Take a pound of lapis powder and thoroughly blend it into a well kneaded dough. […] To take out the blue [out of the dough], use the following method: cut two small rods from a sturdy stick […] Then take the dough you have kept in the glazed washing bowl and add one soup plate full of fairly warm lye, and with the two rods, one in each hand, turn and squeeze the dough, and knead it first in one direction, then in the other, like you would knead bread with your hands. […] When the lye has turned quite blue, pour it into another glazed bowl […] But bear in mind, that when the lapis is of good quality, the blue of the first and second extractions is worth eight ducats per ounce, and that the last two extractions are worse than ashes. […] Every day, pour the lye from the soup plates so that the blues can dry out. When they are perfectly dry, store them in leather, either in a bladder or a pouch.

From: Cennino Cennini, ‘The Artist’s Manual’, Contact, Amsterdam/Antwerp, 2001 (originally published late 14th century), page 94-97.

Blue made from lapis is so costly that it is no longer being made. Ultramarine was primarily used in painting important figures such as the Virgin Mary. An example of which is a painting by Paolo Veneziano (room 1 of the Accademia).

Lorenzo Veneziano
Mary with child and two patrons

Lorenzo Veneziano Mary with child and two patrons

We know from surviving contracts that patrons often demanded the artist use ultramarine, specifically demanding the blue had to come from ‘first extractions’. An example of which can be found on the internet with the founder of the Venetian school of painting, under the name Paolo Veneziano. This painter used the precious lapis lazuli for Mary’s robe. In the first room you will see several panels with much gold in the background and also much ultramarine blue, but the latter exclusively in Mary’s blue robe. A comparison between the two Marys with child by Paolo and Lorenzo shows a human element creeping in. In this respect, Lorenzo was clearly influenced by Giotto.

Lorenzo Veneziano 1321
Paolo Veneziano 1371
‘Virgin Mary with child’

Lorenzo Veneziano ‘Virgin Mary with child’

In addition to works by Paolo Veneziano, this big room is also home to works by Jacobello del Fiore, Giovanni da Bologna, Michele Giambono and Antonio Vivarini, who we will later encounter in several churches, and Lorenzo Veneziano who was trained in Paolo Veneziano’s studio.  In rooms 2 to 5 we have arrived in the early Renaissance. Room 2 has three large works that depict a typically Venetian theme, the sacra conversazione, a conversation among saints. The work by Giovanni Bellini has been positioned between two other ‘sacred conversations’, on the right Giambattista Cima da Conegliano’s ‘Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints’ and on the left Vittore Carpaccio’s ‘Presentation of the Virgin’. Giovanni’s work in the centre made an enormous impression and the work, which originally hung in San Giobbe in Venice, became trendsetting for many later painters, as can be seen in this panel by Vittore.

 Click here for the floorplan of the Gallerie dell’Accademia rooms
1.          Gothic, but with strong Byzantine influences, 14th and 15th century. Paolo Veneziano, Antonio Vivarini and others.
2-5.    Early Renaissance, three Sacra Conversazione [holy conversations] Giovanni Bellini, Cima da Conegliano, Vittore Carpaccio and del Piombo.
3-6.    Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni and Jacopo Bellini, Turà, Hans Memling, Piero della Francesca and Giorgione.6-9.
7-8.   Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, Vasari, Jacopo Negretti a.k.a. Palma il Vecchio and others.
10.     High Renaissance and Mannerism: Titian, Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese.
11.     Baroque: Veronese, Tiepolo, Strozzi, Tintoretto and others.
12.     Landscapes, primarily 18th century.
13.     Portraits from the 16th century, including Bassano.
14.     Baroque.
15.     Late Baroque and Rococo.
16.     Tiepolo and Rococo.
17.     18th century (Canaletto and Pietro Longhi).
18.     18th century.
19.     16th century
20.      Cycle of paintings by, among others, Gentile Bellini: ‘The miracle of the Cross.’
21.      Vittore Carpaccio cycle of paintings: ‘The Legend of S. Ursula’.
22.      corridor
23.      Exhibition room and works from the late Gothic period.
24.     Titian: ‘The Presentation of the Virgin Mary’.
Giovanni Bellini
Youtube S. Giobbe Khan Academy (6 minutes)
S. Giobbe altarpiece big size c. 1478
 Giovanni Bellini S. Giobbe altarpiece Accademia

Vittore Carpaccio
Presentation of Christ 1510 big size

Vittore Carpaccio Presentation of Christ 1510

Rooms 4 and 5 have famous works by Andrea Mantegna, Piero della Francesca and once again Bellini and the mysterious Giorgione. A painter we now next to nothing about, but who had a profound influence on the Venetian school of painting. His painting ‘La Tempesta’, The Storm, is unique in the history of painting. Even though many explanations, articles and books have been written about this painting with just as many interpretations, its meaning is still shrouded in mystery. Room 4 is home to a small portrait – 26 x 20 cm – by Hans Memling. The Flemish Primitives exerted a strong influence on Italian art, including Venice.

1. Youtube Khan Academy: oil paint and fresco (4. minutes)
2. Youtube tempera and oil paint National Gallery (2.19 minutes)

Hans Memling
Portrait of a young man around 1480
Hans Memling Portrait of a young man around 1480

The painters from Flanders, including Memling, and their painting techniques, the refined use of oil paint, the atmospheric perspective, the vista and the portrait in which the face is not represented frontally but slightly turned away, deeply impressed the Italian painters. The ravages of time have turned the young man’s red cloak black.

La Tempesta big size
Youtube La Tempesta Khan Academy (5.55 minutes)
Giorgione La Tempesta

Rooms 7 to 10 feature paintings from the high Renaissance and Mannerism. Room 7 is home to a portrait by Lorenzo Lotto entitled: ‘Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study’. This portrait is considered his finest work. Lotto is known for not only beautifully representing the exterior, but also the subject’s state of mind: in this case a melancholy man ‘caught’ in a moment of introspection.

Lorenzo Lotto
Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study big size
Lorenzo Lotto Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study

room 10
zoom in
Galleria dell ’Accademia Sala 10 Venetië

The large room, 10, in particular contains well-known highlights from art history. The huge canvas – 560 x 1309 cm – painted by Paolo Veronese in 1573 covers a whole wall, on the right when you enter room 10. The original title, ‘The Last Supper’ was rejected by the inquisition, the ecclesiastic court that investigated heresy.

Paolo Veronese ‘Christ in the house of Levy’ 
Video Khan Academy (6.09 minutes)
big size
Paolo Veronese 'Christ in the house of Levy'  Accademia Venice
Paolo Veronese ‘Christ in the house of Levi’ 
Paolo Veronese 'Christ in the house of Levi'  detail

Veronese had to provide an explanation for all kinds of non-religious ‘fandangles’ he had painted. When we are standing before this enormous canvas, you will see what  the monks of the inquisition took exception to. The inquisition interviewed Paolo Veronese on Saturday 18 July 1573. In the minutes of the session we read:

Summoned to the Holy Office before the Holy Tribunal Mister Paulus Caliarus from Verona, resident of the parish of Sanctus Samuel was asked for his name and nickname […] When asked about his profession, he answered: I paint and make pictures. […] They said to him: Did you include servants in that painting of the Lord’s Last Supper?
Answer: Yes, your lordships [the subject was indeed the Last Supper, but Veronese received a tip to change the subject to the Supper at the house of Levy].
They told him: Tell us how many servants and what they are doing.
Answer: The Innkeeper, Simon. And below that figure I also painted a carver, and I pretended he went there for his entertainment, to see what was happening at the table. […] They told him: What is the meaning of the painting of that man with the blood coming out of his nose in the Supper you painted in the Sant Giovanni e Paolo basilica [now in the Accademia]?
Answer: That is the servant, blood may come out his nose as the result of some accident or other.
They told him: What is the meaning of those men who are dressed like Germans (Lutherans) with halberds in their hands?
Answer: I would need at least 20 words for that!
They told him to use them.
Answer: We painters take liberties, the way poets and lunatics do, and of the two halberdiers I painted one who is drinking, and the other is eating, on a stair, and they are standing there as if they could do some work, which I thought was fitting, because the owner of the house, who was so great and so rich, so I was told, must have had such servants. […] They told him: And that man in the clown’s suit with the parrot on his wrist, with what intent did you put him on the canvas?
Answer: For decoration, the way people often do. […] They told him: And what can be said about the person sitting next to that one:
Answer: He is cleaning his teeth with a fork.
They told him: So what did your predecessors do? Did they do something comparable?
Answer: Michelangelo from Rome has painted our Lord Jesus Christ in the Papal chapel, and also his Mother, and St John, the Holy Peter, and the Heavenly Garden, and all nude, starting with the Holy Virgin, in various positions which are not very respectful.

From: Rene van Stipriaan, The Hunt for the Masterpiece, Eyewitnesses of Twenty Centuries of Art History, Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2010 page 77-80

Veronese did not resolve his dispute with the ecclesiastic court by painting over his strange fandangles, but simply by giving it a new title: ‘Christ in the house of Levy’. He did this by referring to LVCA. CAP. V.; St Luke, chapter five. This changed the Last Supper to a feast at Levi’s house as can be read in the gospel according to Luke. The way in which Veronese depicted the meal at Levi’s house is typical of the Venetian school of painting. The Venetians loved to please the eye with beautifully elaborated details such as brocade, silk, satin, Murano glass, architecture, a lively audience, including a busily gesticulating young man who leans over a balustrade and a dog and a cat enjoying the leftovers under the table. In Bellini’s works and those of many other painters from La Serenissima you can see their preference for just simply painting beautiful things even when they add little to the story. ‘The Last Supper’ must have impressed the inquisition as a merry banquet in a Venetian palazzo where Jesus accidentally makes an appearance as an extra.

On the left wall hangs Titian’s last work, entitled: ‘Pietà’. In this large canvas he portrayed himself kneeling by the dead Jesus. The painting was, as can be seen on the canvas itself, completed by Palma il Giovane. The canvas on which the Pietà was painted measures 353 x 347 cm and comprises seven pieces of linen sown together.

Titian ‘Pietà’’
detail   big size
Video Khan Academy (5.02 minutes)
Titian 'Pietà'’ Accademia Venice

photo: HEN-Magonza 

The Venetians probably invented painting on canvas because of the unfavourable effect that the salty air had on frescos. Vasari describes this in 1568 as follows and enumerates the big advantages of canvas:

“[…] applied on canvas, as was almost always customary in that city [TG: Venice], because in contrast with other cities people don’t often paint on panels made of the wood of the tree that many call poplar and some white poplar, […] So it is quite normal in Venice to paint on canvas because it does not crack or become worm-eaten, or because this allows one to create a painting of any size one wants, or also because it is easier, as I have already stated elsewhere: one can easily ship them wherever one wants, at little cost and effort.”

Giorgio Vasari, ‘The lives of the greatest painters, sculptors and architects’ Amsterdam, Contact, vol. 1 [original edition 1568] 1992, page 237.

Click here for the continuation of the Accademia (Day 2)