Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto: works by some of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance will go on display in Enschede until 16 June 2017. In a unique collaboration with the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia, Rijksmuseum Twenthe is organising an exhibition of forty-five masterpieces of sixteenth-century Italian painting. Alongside works by famous artists from Rome and Venice, there will be a wide range of less well known but equally irresistible pieces by masters from northern Italy. This is the first time that a group of Rensaissance paintings from that region has been shown in the Netherlands.
The Italian Renaissance is rightly regarded as the cradle of modern Europe. An unprecedentedly rational approach to reality had grown up on the Apennine pensinsula, and a new, classically inspired world view was manifesting itself in such fields as philosophy, history and politics. The learned humanism of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries ushered in a different perspective on man as a confident individual with a critical relationship to the world, God, and himself.
Moretto, St Nicolas presenting Rovelli’s pupils to the Madonna and child (detail), 1539, Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia
The visual arts offer a fascinating window on these innovations. Shortly after 1500, early experiments with classicism and realism by fifteenth-century sculptors and painters reached their culmination with the brilliant young painter Raphael. His work is distinguished by its harmonious compositions, idealised figures and human empathy. Together with that of Venetians such as Bellini and Titian, it formed the basis of Italian painting of the late sixteenth century.
Renaissance painting spread from Florence and Rome across northern Italy to cities like Venice and Milan and towns such as Bergamo, Cremona and Brescia. Here, artists began producing versatile work of exceptionally high quality. Masters such as Lorenzo Lotto, Alessandro Moretto and Giovani Battista Moroni combined a sense of detail with a mastery of colour and light, and a feel both for everyday reality and religious scenes.
One highlight of the exhibition is a work by Raphael, none of whose works are in Dutch collections. Around 1505, he painted a small panel with a striking half-length depiction of Christ. Also unrepresented in this country is Raphael’s older contemporary Giovanni Bellini, with an intimate and static Madonna and child, and there are imposing portraits by Titian and Tintoretto.
There are no fewer than four works by sixteenth-century Lombardy’s greatest portraitist, Giovanni Battista Moroni, of Bergamo. These including magnificent full-length lifesize portraits of Gian Gerolano Grumelli and his wife Isotta Brembati. With their references to the architecture and sculpture of antiquity, these give an idea of the classically influenced humanistic Renaissance culture that grew up in sixteenth-century northern Italy.
One of the most striking features of Moroni’s portraits is their lively and natural depiction of the beautiful (and sometimes less beautiful) sides of reality. This realism is typical of many of the northern Italian paintings in the exhibition. A magnificent painting by Lorenzo Lotto, for example, shows the infant Christ being worshipped by two noblemen disguised as shepherds. Their faces and clothing, and the fleece of the lamb they present to the child, are almost tactile.
Sixteenth-century northern Italian painters are justifiably regarded as precursors of the realism and dramatic light-dark contrasts of Caravaggio around 1600, and he himself came from the region. The Lombardy Renaissance made itself felt to the north and south, and northern Europe exerted influences of its own. As a result, the area between the Alps and Apennines is a fascinating crossroads of the Renaissance.
The book being published to coincide with the exhibition (Uitgeverij Waanders, €22.50) provides an accessible introduction to the subject. It is written by art historian Bram de Klerck of Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, a expert in the Italian Renaissance.This exceptional event is a must-see for lovers of Italian and Renaissance art. Tickets are only on sale at www.rijksmuseumtwenthe.nl.