Northern Italy remains a flourishing artistic center during this period, even as its political and economic stature gradually declines over the course of two centuries. Venice is still a cultural capital of Europe, home to great masters of painting such as Tiepolo and Canaletto and the architect Longhena; it also cultivates a thriving new theatrical form—the opera—and an educational and touristic phenomenon known as the Grand Tour. Meanwhile, Genoa gives rise to a notable school of painting, Turin becomes an important architectural center, and the celebrated Academy in Bologna founded by the Carracci continues to train artists in a classical tradition. In addition, many foreign artists are attracted to Northern Italy for the wealth of commissions its prosperous aristocratic families affords. By the end of the period, Venice—once the region’s supreme power and a giant in European commerce—loses almost entirely its foothold in the Mediterranean and falls, with much of the area, as spoils of the French Revolutionary wars.
The reform efforts of the Carracci family of painters influence a generation of artists in their native Bologna and elsewhere in Italy. At his Accademia degli Incamminati, Ludovico Carracci (1555–1619) and his cousins Agostino (1557–1602) and Annibale (1560–1609) reject the affectations of Mannerism in favor of truth to nature and a renewed appreciation of classical form. At the turn of the seventeenth century, Annibale is in Rome at work on the Galleria Farnese, while the ailing Agostino is active in Parma. Ludovico’s activity is centered in Bologna, where for most of his career he resides as head of a workshop that provides the century with some of its most illustrious masters. Among his students are Guido Reni (1575–1642); Giacomo Cavedone (1577–1660), known for his monumental altarpieces; Francesco Albani (1578–1660), a painter of refined landscapes and lyrical mythological subjects; Domenichino (1581–1641); and the sculptor Alessandro Algardi (1598–1654).
The seaport of Genoa flourishes as a center of mercantilism and artistic production. Foreign artists, including the great Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640; active in Italy 1600–1608) and Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641; active in Italy 1621–27), are drawn into the orbit of aristocratic families such as the Doria, Grimaldi, and Spinola. At the same time, a local school of painting emerges, with Bernardo Strozzi (1581–1644) as one of its chief exponents.
Federico Borromeo (1564–1631) founds the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, following it in 1613 with the Accademia del Disegno (an art academy, no longer extant) and, in 1618, a museum: the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. As archibishop of Milan from 1595 and overseer of ecclesiastical art in the city, Borromeo founds the Ambrosiana with the aim of edifying the faithful through painting and sculpture. The Pinacoteca’s educational and inspirational goals are shaped largely by Counter-Reformation thought and by the demands for directness and clarity of images made by the Council of Trent. For display in the Pinacoteca, Borromeo chooses religious works by Luini, Correggio, and Titian, among others; he also selects landscapes by Flemish artists, valued not only for the virtuosity of their execution, but for the awe they inspire in the natural world.
Orfeo, the first opera by Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), is performed in Mantua, where he resides at the ducal court of Vincenzo Gonzaga I (r. 1587–1612). By this time, Monteverdi is already famous throughout Italy for his ability to write music that is both dramatic and expressive of word and text. Following the death of the duke, Monteverdi moves to Venice, where he assumes the post of maestro di cappella at the Basilica of San Marco and remains until his death. Venice is at this time one of the greatest musical centers in Europe.
While professor of mathematics at the University of Padua, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) constructs the first complete astronomical telescope. With it he observes the Milky Way, the moon’s surface, sunspots, and planets, and in 1610—the same year in which he leaves Padua for the court of Cosimo II de’ Medici in Florence—he discovers four satellites of Jupiter. His studies confirm the Copernican theory of planetary motion, according to which the sun is the fixed center of the universe. In 1633, Galileo will be summoned to the Inquisition in Rome and sentenced for his support of the theory, strongly opposed by Church doctrine.
Domenico Fetti (1588/89–1623) leaves his native Rome for the ducal court at Mantua. There, in the service of Ferdinando Gonzaga (earlier Fetti’s patron while a cardinal in Rome), he earns great success painting religious subjects and monumental pictorial cycles. His last and perhaps best-known commission, however, is for a series of small-scale works depicting theParables (ca. 1618–22), most existing in a number of versions that were reproduced in Fetti’s workshop. Fetti handles the parables in the manner of genre subjects with the freeness and expressivity characteristic of his oeuvre; he is undoubtedly influenced in many ways by the Flemish painter Rubens, resident at the Gonzaga court in the preceding decade.
Guido Reni (1575–1642) paints Samson Victorious (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale) for installation above a fireplace in the Palazzo Zambeccari in Bologna. Having slain his Philistine enemies with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15), Samson drinks of a miraculous flow of water from the jawbone. The magnificent and solitary towering figure of Samson recalls classical heroic ideals, and the refinement of form and subtlety of palette with which Reni portrays his subject set this master’s work apart from that of his Bolognese contemporaries, and makes clear why he is the preeminent Bolognese painter.
Giovanni Battista Aleotti (1546–1636) builds the Teatro Farnese in Parma. A Ferrarese architect best known for theatrical design, Aleotti fully exploits the capabilities of a frame—or proscenium—around the stage to conceal in scenery the machinery used to fly and to produce other special effects. The proscenium also creates a boundary between performers and audience that allows for experimentation with perspective and contributes to the overall illusionism central to Baroque theater. The Teatro Farnese’s rectangular proscenium and elongated, U-shaped auditorium anticipates modern theater design.
Morazzone (1573–1625/26), Giulio Cesare Procaccini (1574–1625), and Giovanni Battista Crespi, called Cerano (1575–1632) collaborate on a canvas of the Martyrdom of Saints Rufina and Secunda (now Milan, Brera). Lauded as il quadro delle tre mani (“a painting by three hands”), this work brings together three of the greatest Lombard painters of the seventeenth century.
During a period of activity in Genoa, Roman painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639) attempts to earn a position at the court of Carlo Emanuele I, duke of Savoy in Turin. He sends the duke a canvas of Lot and His Daughters (probably the painting now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), a fine copy of an earlier work, in the care of his son Francesco. He follows this in the next year with an extraordinary Annunciation (Galleria Sabauda, Turin) and secures the duke’s patronage. While in Genoa, he also paints a series of frescoes for the loggia of Marc Antonio Doria’s casino in San Pier d’Arena (near Genoa). Though active in Rome for much of his career, Orazio’s refined and poetic compositions win an international acclaim that takes the artist to Paris in 1624 and, two years later, to London, where he dies in 1639.
During his brief reign, Vincenzo II Gonzaga, the seventh and last duke of Mantua from the main line of the Gonzaga family, sells most of the family’s art collection to Charles I, king of England and Scotland (r. 1625–49). Charles’s acquisition of this collection, consisting of sixteenth-century masterpieces by Titian, Correggio, and Raphael, as well as contemporary works by Domenico Fetti, Guido Reni, and Caravaggio, makes him the envy of rival connoisseurs across Europe.
The Venetian senate proposes the raising of a church as a votive offering against plague. In the following year, Baldassare Longhena (1596–1682) is chosen to carry out its construction. The splendid Santa Maria del Salute, rising at the junction of the Giudecca and Grand canals, is not only the most important commission of Longhena’s career, its success establishing him as chief architect for the city of Venice; it is also among Venice’s most important seventeenth-century structures. Consecrated in 1687, five years after the architect’s death, the church employs a central domed octagonal area surrounded by an ambulatory with radiating chapels; it is admired and copied throughout Europe. Flemish-born sculptor Josse de Corte (1627–1679), active in Venice from 1655, produces a sculptural group—the Queen of Heaven Expelling the Plague(1670)—for its high altar. Widely considered Corte’s masterpiece, the dramatically articulated group is influenced not only by Bernini (whose works Corte encountered in Rome), but also by the expressiveness of the Flemish sculptural tradition.
Sculptor and architect Alessandro Algardi (1598–1664) is commissioned by the influential Spada family to execute a freestanding sculptural group for Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s high altar at San Paolo Maggiore in Bologna. The monumental sculptural group, a Martyrdom of Saint Paul(completed 1644), is among Algardi’s masterpieces, achieving great tension in the static poses and swirling drapery of Paul and his executioner, whose arm is poised to strike. It is, however, primarily for relief and portrait sculpture that the artist is known. A bronze tondo relief of 1648 depicting the Beheading of Saint Paul appears on the same altar, its narrative drama effected by illusionistic carving, gesture, and expression. Algardi’s activity from 1625 is centered in Rome where, with his contemporary and sometime rival Bernini, he becomes one of the most important sculptors of the mid-seventeenth century. His work is nevertheless suffused with a classicism influenced by other painters of his native Bologna, especially Guido Reni (1575–1642), and learned in his own training as a painter at Ludovico Carracci’s Accademia degli Incamminati.
The first public opera house opens in Venice. Cultivated within a group of Florentine poets, scholars, and musicians known as the camerata, opera comes into being around the turn of the seventeenth century. It is the supreme exemplification of the Baroque ideal of unity among the arts, necessitating the collaboration of poets and writers, composers, musicians, painters, and architects.
Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) undertakes an apprenticeship with Nicolò Amati (1596–1684), an accomplished luthier (craftsman of stringed instruments) working in the tradition of his grandfather, Andrea Amati (ca. 1511–1580). Active in Cremona, a city already renowned for a century as Italy’s leading center for the manufacture of musical instruments, the Amati workshop produces violins of exceptional beauty of form and sweetness of tone. In his own long career, Stradivari surpasses even his illustrious masters in crafting over a thousand instruments of unparalleled quality. Also working with the Amati in his early years is Andrea Guarneri (ca. 1626–1698), founder of a successful family workshop; his grandnephew Giuseppe Guarneri (1698–1744) achieves great fame as a craftsman of instruments after Brescian models.
Guarino Guarini (1624–1683) arrives in Turin to take over the construction of the Church of San Lorenzo, already underway. Two years later, he is officially named architect of the church, and work begins to Guarini’s completely new design. The resulting structure—with an interior characterized by profound intricacy of geometric design—exemplifies Guarini’s rejection of a strictly classical, Vitruvian architectural vocabulary, as he turns instead to medieval models. His treatise, Architettura civile, is published posthumously in 1737 and gives a detailed analysis of medieval architectural structures. Also among Guarini’s chief inspirations is the work of the great Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini (1599–1667).
Crete, a Venetian possession since 1204, falls to the Ottoman Turks; Peloponnesos meets the same fate in 1715. The loss of these Mediterranean territories is symptomatic of the decline of Venetian power that occurs throughout this period.
The Voyage of Italy, a guidebook by British scholar Richard Lassels (1603–1668), is published posthumously. In it Lassels asserts the necessity of a “Grand Tour” through France and Italy to a truly serious student of classical antiquity, art, and architecture. He is the first to use this enduring term for a practice that begins in the middle years of the seventeenth century and peaks in the last years of the eighteenth. Undertaken by well-born, educated men, the journey (usually completed over several years) is intended to acquaint the traveler with the language, culture, politics, and history of other regions, while presenting opportunities for the study and collection of antiquities and art objects.
Carlo Cesare Malvasia publishes the Felsina pittrice, a history of Bolognese painting with artists’ biographies. In it he extolls the excellence of the Bolognese school, suggesting that it surpasses even Florence in the merit of its artistic output.
Giuseppe Maria Mazza (1653–1741) executes a stucco Madonna of the Mystery of the Rosary (no longer extant), framed by fifteen narrative medallions in terracotta, for the altar of the Fontana Chapel, Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna. This work secures his reputation as the foremost Bolognese sculptor of his time. In 1710, Mazza is the founding director of the Accademia Clementina, the city’s first official art academy.
Closely linked with the educational phenomenon of the Grand Tour, two compositional types—the veduta and capriccio—gain widespread popularity, particularly in Venice and Rome. The painted, drawn, or printed veduta depicts a landscape or urban view that is usually topographically correct, while the capriccio combines the real with fantasy elements (often of classical architectural ruins) to picturesque effect. The earliest vedutisti active in Venice are Northern artists, and foremost among them for his descriptive abilities and adherence to a realistic perspective is Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli (1652/53–1736), who arrives in the city by 1697. The Northerners are largely eclipsed in the eighteenth century by native painters Canaletto (1697–1768), whose luminous, sweeping townscapes champion the Venetian veduta; his nephew Bernardo Bellotto (1722–1780); and Francesco Guardi (1712–1793).
Giuseppe Lorenzo Briati (1686–1772) creates magnificent centerpieces, chandeliers, and mirrors to adorn the palaces of doges and the wealthy elite. This glassmaker’s innovations in the design and production of objects allows the Venetian glass industry centered in Murano—once the prevailing glass center for all of Europe— to compete with newly established rival centers in Northern Europe.
Bolognese artist Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665–1747) paints a series of canvases depicting the Seven Sacraments (now Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister). Among the the first Italian masters to seriously treat genre themes, Crespi imbues the sacramental subject with the intimacy and quiet dignity of everyday occurrences. In other works, including a set of illustrations for the popular stories Bertoldo e Bertoldino by Giulio Cesare Croce (ca. 1550–1609), he uses the genre theme to highly comic effect.
Filippo Juvarra (1678–1736) is appointed architect to Victor Amadeus II, fifteenth duke of Savoy (r. 1675–1730) and king of Sicily (r. 1713–20), and moves to Turin, where he works for two decades. One of his first commissions there is for a votive church and monastery at Superga, overlooking Turin. The domed, central-plan structure with a temple portico and flanking towers is markedly inspired by classical models as well as contemporary Roman structures by Bernini and Borromini. The interior of the church is richly decorated with stuccowork and carving. Juvarra is prolific in Turin, designing over twenty structures, most of which are palaces.
The house of Savoy unites Piedmont, Savoy, and Sardinia to create the kingdom of Sardinia.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) is born in Mogliano in the Veneto region of northern Italy. He spends the first decades of his life in Venice and studies under various masters; the wide scope of his education includes engineering, theatrical set design, and engraving. During his formative years, he also develops a keen interest in architecture, particularly that of classical antiquity. The young Piranesi leaves the Veneto in 1640 for Rome, where he produces the imaginative yet meticulously studied etchings of architectural monuments that place him among the greatest topographical engravers of all time.
Some of Venice’s best artists collaborate on a series of paintings—each by a different artist and representing one of the twelve apostles—to adorn the spandrels of Andrea Stazio’s parish church of San Stae. The finest of these works is the Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770), a young painter active as an independent master since 1717. The great success of this grandly dramatic composition is among the first in a career marked by even greater triumphs.
Venetian painter and pastellist Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757) is invited to the Este court at Modena to paint likenesses of the daughters of the ducal household. Carriera’s sensitive and refined portraits—both miniature and lifesize—earn her great renown throughout Italy and much of Europe. During her long career, she is admitted to academies in Rome, Bologna, and Paris, and numbers among her illustrious clientele the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici and Frederick Augustus II, elector of Saxony (an avid collector of her pastels), as well as members of the British and French aristocracy.
Tiepolo, only thirty years old but already famed and considered the most promising artist in Venice, executes ten canvases of Roman battles and triumphs for the salone of the Ca’ Dolfin. Three of these monumental works, The Triumph of Marius, The Capture of Carthage, andThe Battle of Vercellae, are now in the Metropolitan Museum.
Tiepolo provides notable decoration for three secular structures: the ceiling fresco Chariot of the Sun (1740) for the Palazzo Clerici, Milan; a series of scenes entitled The Family of Darius before Alexander and The Magnanimity of Scipio (1743) for the Villa Cordellina, Montecchio Maggiore; and (with the collaboration of Girolamo Mengozzi Colonna), The Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra and The Banquet of Cleopatra (ca. 1744) for the Palazzo Labia, Venice. The painter’s style matures as he handles these subjects from ancient history, particularly the Palazzo Labia frescoes, which effect a serious grandeur and great dramatic tension.
Venetian painter Pietro Longhi (1702–1785) turns from large-scale religious works to the genre scenes for which he is chiefly known. A skilled draftsman, Longhi’s renderings of domestic interiors capture in their precision and delicacy of detail an intimacy that may take the work of Dutch masters as inspiration.
A worldly scholar, collector, and critic, Francesco Algarotti (1712–1764) publishes a treatise on painting, Saggio sopra la pittura. Though presenting detailed instruction to the artist regarding matters of composition, perspective, and anatomy, the learned author’s field of authority extends far beyond the realm of the visual arts to include the sciences (particularly the recent discoveries of British physicist Isaac Newton), architecture, and philosophy—subjects which he often elucidates in witty essays written throughout his career. His travels in Italy and to England, France, and Germany set him in the orbit of illustrious contemporaries and Enlightenment thinkers such as French writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778) and Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740–86).
The young sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822) studies in Venice and produces his first independent works. He wins second place in a competition at the Accademia (1775) with a small terracotta group, about the same time also winning the patronage of Senator Giovanni Falier. Canova produces statues of Orpheus and Eurydice (1775–77) for Falier’s garden at Pradazzi di Asolo (now Venice, Museo Correr). The works earn him great acclaim and further commissions, including one from procurator Pietro Pisani. The nude marble figures of Daedalus and Icarus, Canova’s work for Pisani carved 1778–79, take profound inspiration from classical sculpture. In the following decade, Canova travels to Rome, where he becomes one of the chief proponents of Neoclassicism and one of the greatest artists working in this style.
The Teatro alla Scala is built in Milan. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini (1734–1808) and financed by the theater patrons of the city, the Neoclassical exterior houses a U-shaped auditorium with six tiers of private boxes. By this time a standard feature of Baroque theater design, the private box came into use early in the previous century and can be found in Alfonso Rivarola’s (1607–1640) tournament theater in Bologna. La Scala, though greatly altered and redecorated since its opening, is still in use today.
Felice Giani (1758–1823) executes his earliest known commissions in the city of Faenza (Emilia-Romagna). The first is a Triumph of Titus (1786) for the Galleria dei Cento Pacifici, and the second, a series of scenes from ancient history and myth (1787) for the Palazzo Conti Sinibaldi. Giani’s strongly Neoclassical style is influenced in part by study of classical art in Rome, where he resides in 1785 and 1787–93. He returns to Faenza in 1794 and for two years works on a decorative prgram, centering on the mythological tale of Psyche, for the Palazzo Laderchi. For the painting and stuccowork involved in this and later large-scale projects, he gathers a team of artists that includes decorative painter Gaetano Bertolani (1758/89–1856) and sculptor Antonio Trentanove (ca. 1745–1812). The artists execute other commissions in Emilia-Romagna as well as in Rome, Venice, and the Veneto. Giani is also an accomplished and prolific draftsman.
The Republic of Venice falls at the hands of French general Napoleon I (1769–1821). Entering Northern Italy the previous year in an early phase of the French Revolutionary wars, Napoleon triumphs in battle against Austrian forces at Lodi, Milan, Mantua, Arcole, and Rivoli. From the conquered territories, including the former duchies of Milan, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, and the Romagna, he forms the Cisalpine Republic (uniting two republics, the Transpadane and Cispadane, formed the previous year), with Milan as its capital. Napoleon’s progress across the Alps to Vienna is arrested by several threats, and he arranges the Treaty of Campo Formio, signed with Austria in October 1797. By this treaty, the region of Venetia east of the Adige River, as well as Istria and Dalmatia, are ceded to Austria; the Ionian Islands (Venetian possessions in present-day Greece) are taken by France; and Bergamo, Brescia, and the duchy of Mantua are incorporated into the Cisalpine Republic.
“Venice and Northern Italy, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=eustn (October 2003)