Brescia. The Renaissance in Northern Italy

Fondazione Brescia Musei

It is now available to an international public the itinerant exhibition of the Tosio Martinengo Gallery’s most significant Renaissance works, that has been presented at the National Museum of Warsaw (01.06.16 - 31.08.16), the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki (22.09.16 - 15.01.17) and at the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede, Holland (22.02.17-18.06.17).

Renaissance works in Paolo Tosio’s collection
The founder of the Brescia Pinacoteca is remembered at the beginning of the exhibition by a small selection of paintings that document the classicist tastes of this collector, who was able to buy three works by Raphael for his collection.

An example of his classicist taste is Raphael's Angel. The painting was part of a larger altarpiece produced by the artist for the church of Sant'Agostino in Città di Castello.

The form of the face shows the influence of Perugino, the artist's master. Soon Raphael found his own style, with the ability to combine gentle facial expressions with careful attention to the spatial construction of scenes.

Christ Blessing was one of Count Tosio's first purchases. The figure of Christ is placed in the foreground, against a barely visible landscape; the physicality of his naked torso is emphasized by the clear light that floods down from the sky, enveloping the Redeemer’s body.

Paolo Tosio’s liking for classicism extended to the works of Alessandro Moretto, considered a purist and indeed the Brescian Raphael by contemporary Brescian art enthusiasts.

The protagonist of this panel by Moretto is an elegant lady, portrayed with a melancholy expression. Scholars have identified the woman as the poetess and courtesan Tullia d'Aragona, wearing a mask of Salome perhaps at a carnival.

The Renaissance in Brescia
The distinguishing characteristics of the fourteenth-century Brescian school may be seen in the distinctive styles of its most illustrious members: Foppa, Romanino, Moretto and Savoldo. Their painting combines close attention to lighting and colour with particular care in realistic representation.

Vincenzo Foppa, the school’s earliest exponent, uses here a perspective space pervaded by natural luminosity that differs from the unifying conception shared by central Italian painting and Venetian tonalism.

Foppa’s work was fundamental for the mid-fourteenth century Brescian painters, considered by art historians to be the precursors of Caravaggio.

In Moretto’s Supper at Emmaus, Christ’s miraculous appearance is depicted as an almost domestic scene, with imposing figures in the foreground who emerge from a gloom that grades into complete darkness.

In the later Christ’s Passion and the Angel, the painter experiments with a colour palette that verges on the monochrome.

The dominant grey tones match the powerful facial expressions.

Another great protagonist of fourteenth-century Brescian painting was Girolamo Romanino.

Romanino’s investigation into light and colour is finely demonstrated by the silver reflections on the clothing of Christ Carrying the Cross.

In the great Nativity altarpiece, the Madonna’s silver cloak assumes the role of the composition’s centrepiece.

Research into illumination unites Romanino’s work with that of Giovan Girolamo Savoldo, the third great master of Brescian Renaissance painting.


Great fourteenth-century masters from Milan and Venice
In order to understand Brescian painting, it is necessary to compare it with Renaissance achievements elsewhere in Lombardy and in Veneto. Brescia’s relations with both Milan and Venice here were of great importance, as well as in history and politics. At the start of the fourteenth century the main point of reference was Milan, from which the influences of Leonardo da Vinci and Bramantino arrived. With the definitive inclusion of Brescia in the Venetian Republic, its painters also came under the influence of the great Venetian masters. The foremost of these was Titian; the city is home to one of the most important works of his youth, the Averoldi Polyptych.

The work by Andrea Solario was probably produced following a period spent by the Milanese painter in Venice. The scene takes place in a dark, sparsely depicted environment.

This small panel combines a severity of design that shows Bramantino’s influence with a high pictorial quality, evident in the chromatic portrayal of the figures.

The importance of Lorenzo Lotto should not be overlooked, especially for Savoldo and Moretto; he chose to leave Venice to follow his own personal path, as shown by this beautiful Nativity painted in 1530.

Portraits – from Savoldo to Tintoretto
In the section dedicated to portraiture Brescia painters are compared with artists active in Veneto and Lombardy.

Lorenzo Lotto’s portraiture contributed – together with references to Giorgione – to the style of Savoldo; his famous Flautist, standing out against a darkened room, seems absorbed in melancholic amorous meditations, immersed in psychological introspection.

A more aristocratic detachment distinguishes these gentlemen, depicted with meticulous attention to detail by Moretto.

The painting thrives on its combination of two basic trends: on one hand the setting’s Venetian style, evident in the position of the imposing figure, and on the other the typically Lombard use of light, brightly reflected from the surfaces and atmospheric in the background.

Moretto’s style was developed, with even greater realism, by his Bergamo-born pupil Giovan Battista Moroni.

In this portrait of a magistrate we see, as in Moretto, the technique of a band of natural light from above that illuminates a grey wall in the background, giving rise to subtle tonal variations.

In this portrait Tintoretto concentrates on the face and its expression, even using thin lines of white lead to make the eyes look glassy.

The portrait by the Brescian painter Pietro Maria Bagnatore shows the three-quarter-length figure of a man slightly obliquely; his position is accentuated by the light shining on the breastplate of his armour.

In the late fourteenth century the artistic quest of painters from Brescia and Bergamo seems to have taken second place to the pre-eminence of the subjects’ social position and their representation in a dimension of timeless composure.

Credits: Story

Comune di Brescia, National Museum of Warsaw, National Museum of Finland in Helsinki, Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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