The Venetian School: 4 tips to look at it in Prado Museum

The Venetian School has a robust influence in everything that happened after. From Rubens to Picasso, there is something Venetian in the way they deal with sensuality or the way they work with the brush. The origin of the so-called Venetian School is in Giorgione (1478-1510). This painter saw that Venice needed something else. How is that? Well, Venice is geographically the centre of the Mediterranean Sea so, if a Spanish boat wanted to trade with Greece, it had to pass by Venice. And that’s how Venice became a rich city. Actually, Venice hasn’t got a Roman past like Rome or Florence, it is essentially a (lovely, great, beautiful) medieval city.

A little bit of Florence

Wealthy families used to live outside the city, nevertheless, the Medici family kind of changed that, moving downtown in Florence. So these plebeian families started to build palaces. Until this point, there were two ways to become rich: 1. Military force. 2. Working. But the Medici were bankers, and that was not precisely well seen by the population. It was far away form being considered a job and even farther from representing any army. That’s why they needed to project a certain image, which is why they started to commission art. Straightaway, they thought those walls inside the palaces needed something: clearly, some fresco paintings!

The purpose of fresco paintings is that you can invite someone to have dinner in your beautiful palace, sit down in the dining room, twelve feet away from the painting, and you can still enjoy it while you are savoring a banquet. Fresco paintings are made on the walls, so you have a really huge painting which is enjoyable to see from anywhere in the room.

The most incredible “but” in Art History

These people were merchants who made a fortune trading (again, this was considered to be far away from working), so they also needed fresco paintings to decorate palaces. And here comes the “but”: Venice is too wet for paintings to get attached to the walls, so it is imposible to do a fresco painting there. Here is the issue: the painting was meant to be visible from anywhere, but it couldn’t be painted on the walls because the oil would just fade away. At the same time, painting on a canvas that was the same size as the wall would be madly expensive. This is the point where Giorgione, the first headmaster of the Venetian School, began its History.


Venice, the centre of the Mediterranean Sea

And now, the four tips to enjoy Venetian School at Prado Museum:

1. Take some distance

When it comes to the Venetian School you must not get that near. If your eyes get too close to the canvas, the image would seem to be undefined. Giorgione invented a new technic that wasn’t based on the academical drawing which firstly focused on the figure’s outline to later colour it, but on the human vision. That’s why if you get really close to the image, it seems to be just a colourful spot. So, when you’re about to see a Venetian painting, imaging that you are in your Venetian palace. You go into your dining room, where you’ve got a wonderful Titian. Sit down in the table with a friend and look. You are between 6 and 12 feet away (depending on the painting’s size), the perfect distance.

2. It’s sexy and they know it

We were in the Cinquecento and everybody had a weakness. Even King Phillip II of Spain, whose nickname was The Chaste, felt. The Venetian technic is based on a pretty fluid brushwork which became the perfect tool to portrait nudes. This is due to how this technic plays with the human eye, becoming the most realistic painting seen so far. All around Europe, great lords built private rooms in the palaces. Nobody could get in without very exclusive permission. How do you think these Lords would decorate their “private rooms”? Well, King Phillip II, The Chaste, who you maybe know for being Mary Tudor’s husband, commissioned Titian’s The poetries, a series about the female naked body.

3. Revisit Greek and Roman mythology before you go

Have you heard about the philosophical topic “ignorance is bliss”? It’s not true. When it comes to analysing Arts we need some background. The bigger the background is, the more we can enjoy Arts. A huge part of classical museums is filled with Greek and Roman myths, then, if you read a little bit about them, you will understand what is happening inside the painting. There’s a whole world to discover when you go in. And, by the way, it’s absolutely enjoyable.

There is a ton of expressions that we use everyday that come directly from mythology. Some examples: when something is aphrodisiac, it’s sexually stimulant. Aphrodite is the name of the Greek Goddess of love… And passion. When something is dionysian, it means it’s so pleasant. Well, Dionysius is the Greek God of wine. Isn’t it incredible that those people had a God just for wine? I mean, wine is a matter so important a God had to take good care of it. One just has to agree.

4. Some Venetian School’s musts in the Prado Museum

In this paragraph we are providing some titles that we think you are going to enjoy. Of course, you can disagree and if you do, please, leave a comment here or in our twitter so we can discuss our tastes! That would be great.

Danaë and the shower of goldby Titian.

This is one of the Titian’s poetries. The version we’ve got in Prado Museum is made between 1560-1565. Take a look at the triangular composition, the sweetness of the brushwork and the desire it represents. To enjoy the best of it, revisit the myth of Danaë and Zeus. And yes, we know about the name. If you know what I mean.

The washing of the feet, by Tintoretto.

Tintoretto is savage. His brushwork is pretty aggressive and his compositions are made to provoque a visual effect that goes beyond the pictorial technic. When we face this work, we have to look at it from different positions to really enjoy what is happening. It’s a changeable thing!

Young man between vice and virtue, Veronese.

The young man who appears in the painting has serious troubles: he has to decide between having so much fun or walk the noble and difficult path of the virtuous men. He doesn’t seem convinced of what he’s doing, don’t you think? This a classic topic retaken by christianity.

Charles V at Mülhberg, by Titian.

We could have a debate: which one is better: this or Danaë…? However, why do we have to choose? This painting is the political image. Titian’s purpose was to show Europe who is the man who rules over this mess of a continent in such a troubled times. Remember: these are the times when religious wars set Europe on fire. It’s like: keep calm and support Charles. By the way, the last part of this article is going to be about this man and his dynasty.

Venetian School: Greco, Rubens and Velázquez’s inspiration

Now that we know the Venetian technic we can see the influence that it had on other artists. Beginning with Greco, who actually moved from Crete to Venice when he was about 25 years old; continuing with Rubens, who became famous working for the Duke of Mantua; ending with Velázquez, who went to Italy and literally bought an incommensurable part of nowadays Prado’s collection. Remember: do not get to close!

Mary of Hungary, a key person to connect the Venetian School with Madrid

María de Hungría, a key person for the Venetian School to get to Spain

María de Hungría, Leoni.

But, how is possible that a Spanish Museum has the best collection of Venetian painting, when Venice is in Italy? That is a great question whose answer is easier than you’d think: because Charles V started to collect Titian’s paintings and then his heirs followed the lead. However, there’s a key person for this to happened: Mary of Hungary, Charles V’s sister. She was the governor in the actual Netherlands and is no one but she who started to collect art with aesthetic criteria.

His powerful brother used to see art just as a way of representation, just like a tool. Consequently, the portraits that Charles V commissioned at the beginning of his reign weren’t seeking any kind of beauty. Mary of Hungary changed this by commissioning herself some paintings according the political image that the Emperor wanted to show but based on taste. Then, she changed his brother’s inclinations, the whole Dynasty of the Habsburg was about to add itself to the image of Magnificence: we were in the Renaissance and, if you haven’t got something extraordinarily beautiful to show, you weren’t that great.

And this is how the Spanish Monarchy acquired such a great Venetian School’s collection and, well, you just need to know that Prado Museum is, basically, the result of this Spanish Kings collecting and collecting art through centuries (which is something that we still celebrate).

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