Tiziano and the image of women in the Venetian sixteenth century, from 23 February to 5 June 2022 at Palazzo Reale, Milan
The latest exhibition resulting from the solid collaboration between the Municipality of Milan, Palazzo Reale and Skira – with the support of the Bracco Foundation – is dedicated to the genius of Tiziano and his contemporaries, among which illustrious names stand out: Jacopo Tintoretto, Giorgione, Lorenzo Lotto, Veronese, Palma il Vecchio, Giovan Battista Moroni, among others. The exhibition is of extraordinary richness, and of great emotional impact, with over a hundred works on display, including 47 paintings, as well as sculptures, ancient books, engravings and jewels.
The curator Sylvia Ferino, former director of the Pinacoteca of the prestigious Kuntshistorisches Museum in Vienna, where the exhibition was exhibited in its first stage, underlined the particular relationship between Titian, who dedicated a considerable part of his work to the female figure, and women.
Ferino writes, in the volume accompanying the exhibition:
Tiziano always places his paintings in a sophisticated poetic narrative context to further enhance the human value and the philosophical meaning of love and beauty. From his works, the recognition and dignity of the characters he depicts transpire each time; indeed, better said, Titian elevates every female representation to a glorification of woman
The eleven sections of the exhibition develop the theme of the female figure in its various declinations: it starts from the sacred theme, with two biblical figures (Eve, represented by Jacopo Tintoretto when he offers the apple to Adam, and the “Madonna and Child” by Tiziano, a painting that recalls the setting of Bellini, his teacher) and we immediately move on to the realistic portrait, a genre that Tiziano paints mostly outside Venice, where instead, as can be seen in the next section of the exhibition, portraiture is preferred that does not it celebrates the person but his virtues: above all, that of fidelity, represented by the “twin rings” worn in the portraits.
As in the previous room, where necklaces similar to those painted around the neck of noblewomen were exhibited, in this room dedicated to the “Venetian Beauties” a case exhibits an example of a “binary ring” with precious gems, while another case displays various fountain pens by Cesare Vecellio dating back to 1590 which portray Venetian women and their costumes according to status.
In the following room are exposed the bare-breasted portraits which for a long time were considered to be “courtesans”, but which, as the captions clearly explain, rather indicate an attitude of sincerity of the woman, who shows herself “with an open heart”.
The concept is expressed in a Renaissance “encyclopedia of gestures” by Giovanni Bonifacio, a seventeenth-century copy of which is exhibited in this room: under the heading “Show the open chest”, you can read “Because the chest is the seat of the heart, and speaking truly and sincerely is said by us to be done with the heart, which the Latins say open pectore: therefore opening one’s clothes in front of the chest will be a gesture of wanting to show the heart, and thus of reality, and sincerity… “.
After a room showing portraits of couples of men and women, the exhibition continues, opening towards still different expressions of the female figure: saints and biblical figures such as Mary Magdalene, Judith, Salomé, the splendid Susanna in Jacopo Tintoretto’s canvas, but also the Roman heroine, Lucrezia. Tiziano first portrays her, in 1515, with her husband, just before taking her life, with her serene face; exhibited on the side wall we find a painting of the late phase of his artistic production, characterized by brushstrokes of color with more uncertain features which however do not compromise the expressiveness, rather they enhance it: it is always Lucrezia, but in the moment of the aggression of Tarquinius.
The scene is dynamic, frightening in its realism. A room follows in which writers who write about women are approached by erudite women, who themselves write dialogues and treatises, but also novels and poems.
These books, coming from Milanese collections, are exhibited in a display case. On the surrounding walls you can see engravings and canvases depicting, among others, Pietro Bembo, Veronica Franco and Gaspara Stampa. The two final sections depict pagan divinities and allegories: beautiful nymphs, Leda and Europe, but above all the goddess Venus, painted by Tiziano with both Mars and Adonis, by Palma the Elder stretched out, by Paris Bordon and Paolo Veronese again with Adonis, and also represented by statues from both the Roman and Hellenistic periods and Renaissance bronzes, once again demonstrating the renewed interest in the mythological subject in the sixteenth century.
The exhibition ends with the Allegory of Wisdom, which Tiziano painted for the ceiling of the Marciana Library, and the canvas “Nymph and shepherd”: the nymph’s gaze is not directed to the shepherd who is next to her, but seems to consciously go beyond the painting to look at the viewer and invite him to reflect. For those who have just concluded their visit, it is inevitable to reflect on the strength and beauty of these women.
As already mentioned, the exhibition not only makes use of descriptions that explain the cultural and historical context in which the works of art present in the rooms are inserted, but places next to them other objects that help immerse the visitor in the Renaissance world reproduced by the paintings: to give another example, next to the beautiful “Susanna and the Elders” by Tintoretto there are a mirror and three ivory combs dating back to the mid-16th century and very similar to the one depicted at the feet of the beautiful Old Testament heroine.
This historical context is deepened in the book published by Skira on the occasion of the exhibition, a volume that not only serves as a catalog of the exhibition but presents essays by Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, Charles Hope, Amedeo Quondam, Anna Bellavitis, Silvia Gazzola, Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo and Jane Bridgerman.