Artibus et Historiae no. 70 (XXXV)

2014, ISSN 0391-9064

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LINDA BOREAN - The Artist and His Double. Portraits of Artists in Seventeenth-Century Venice (pp. 61–82)

Painting in seventeenth-century Venice is little studied in comparison to that of the previous and subsequent centuries, but it has nonetheless attracted scholarly attention since Rodolfo Pallucchini’s 1981 survey: a number of recent monographs and catalogues raisonnés permit us now to conduct a re-examination of the art of the period, especially of portraiture in terms of its social, cultural and artistic issues. In studying this material, we must take into account factors like the increasing cult of personality and the establishment of portraiture as a ‘genre’ practised by artists specializing in the field. This essay focuses on artists’ portraits by others and on their self-portraits – and deals mainly with painters: these images affect and concern both the posthumous memory of the sitter and his social and professional status.

The history of Venetian seventeenth-century painting is influenced by the legacy of the golden age of Venetian art in terms of style and composition; the powerful legacy of Titian (d. 1576), Veronese (d. 1588) and Tintoretto (d. 1594) exerted an overwhelming artistic influence on the new generation of artists and their desire for novelty, which was nurtured by increasing artistic exchanges. In fact, after the ongoing dissolution of the ateliers of Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, Venetian art boasted a wide range of local and foreign painters, whose aim was to succeed on the art market.

The corpus of portraits of artists active in Venice in the period in question spans the entire century. These images – ranging from the portraits of artists with minimal allusion to their profession and to representations of artists at work – allow us to analyse the different stages of change and the extent to which they represent the artists as human beings reflecting their awareness of rank and social position. In this regard, it is vital to remember that Venice, unlike other cultural centres, did not witness the establishment of the Accademia delle Belle Arti until 1756, even if a rudimentary association – the Collegio dei Pittori – had been founded in 1682 in order to improve the professional status of painters and to promote painting as a ‘liberal art’.

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