Brescia. The Renaissance in Northern Italy

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).

Madonna of the Pinks (1520 - about 1530) by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio), workshopFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Angel (1501) by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio)Fondazione Brescia Musei

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 (about 1505 - 1506) by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio)Fondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Portrait of a Lady as Salome (about 1537) by Alessandro Bonvicino known as Moretto da BresciaFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

St. Nicholas of Bari presents Galeazzo Rovellio’s students to the enthroned Virgin and Child (Rovellio altarpiece (1539) by Alessandro Bonvicino known as Moretto da BresciaFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Virgin and Child between St. Chaterine of Alexandria and St. Bernardino of Siena, Saints Sebastian, George and Roch (1514) by Vincenzo FoppaFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

The Supper at Emmaus (about 1527) by Alessandro Bonvicino known as Moretto da BresciaFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Passion of Christ and Angel (about 1550) by Alessandro Bonvicino known as Moretto da BresciaFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Christ Carrying the Cross (about 1545) by Girolamo Romani known as RomaninoFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Nativity (about 1545) by Girolamo Romani known as RomaninoFondazione Brescia Musei

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

The Adoration of the Shepherds (1540) by Giovanni Girolamo SavoldoFondazione Brescia Musei

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

Adoration of the Shepherds (about 1530) by Bernardino LicinioFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Christ Carrying the Cross and a Carthusian Monk (1500 - about 1505) by Andrea SolarioFondazione Brescia Musei

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 Adoration of the Shepherds (1530) by Lorenzo LottoFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Christ meets St. Veronica (1530 - about 1540) by Giovanni Busi known as il CarianiFondazione Brescia Musei

Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (1540 - about 1545) by Polidoro De Renzi known as Polidoro da LancianoFondazione Brescia Musei

Portrait of a Young Man with Flute (about 1525) by Giovanni Girolamo SavoldoFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Portrait of a Gentleman with a Letter (1538) by Alessandro Bonvicino known as Moretto da BresciaFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Portrait of a Gentleman (1560) by Giovanni Battista MoroniFondazione Brescia Musei

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

Portrait of a Doctor in Law (The Magistrate) (1560) by Giovanni Battista MoroniFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

Portrait of a Sixty-eight-year-old Gentleman (about 1575) by TintorettoFondazione Brescia Musei

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

Portrait of a Men in Armour (1596) by Pietro Maria BagnatoreFondazione Brescia Musei

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.

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