Analysis: Denver exhibit worth the drive


In Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Old Colorado City and much of the Pikes Peak region, our artistic renaissance shows no signs of slowing down.

First Fridays have become delightful, with TMA (Too Much Art) — there are so many shows, openings and ongoing exhibitions that even the most crazed art lover can’t go to every one. Manitou’s solution was to change its event to third Fridays.

But in focusing on regional wonders, it’s easy to forget that there’s a world-class art museum 70 miles to the north. And as it happens, the Denver Art Museum has just opened a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of paintings by the great masters of the Venetian Renaissance.

“Glory of Venice: Masterworks of the Renaissance” was organized by the DAM. The exhibition includes more than 50 significant works, including important loans from Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia, which houses one of the greatest collections of Venetian Renaissance art in the world. The exhibition also features four Titians, two Giorgiones and six Giovanni Bellinis.

“We are pleased to present extraordinary paintings from the Gallerie dell’Accademia which has rarely lent such a significant group of work,” said DAM Director Christoph Heinrich.

“By bringing these works together with signature paintings in DAM’s collection, the exhibition engages audiences with the extraordinary creativity and artistic contributions of Venetians to the Renaissance movement.”

Nineteen museums and an unnamed private collector contributed works to this show, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford.

Forget the descriptions — masterpieces can do without them them. You don’t need expertise to appreciate the work. You only need your eyes.

Consider Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano’s “Madonna and Child in a Landscape.” Dated about 1496-99, Cima depicts the Virgin as a richly attired, strikingly beautiful young Venetian woman looking tenderly at the Christ Child, an adorable curly-headed little boy. Departing from the hieratic images of earlier Renaissance paintings, Cima’s Christ — as co-curator Angelica Daneo explained in a lavishly illustrated catalogue of the exhibition — has little in common with the hieratic images of earlier Renaissance paintings.

“His animated stance in the arms of a pensive Madonna and the predominance of the naturalistic setting,” Daneo wrote,  “emphasize the human significance, rather than the sacred relevance, of this composition.”

By the late 15th century, Venice was a city of unmatched beauty, wealth and refinement. It was a place where one  “could find any luxury good or exotic product imaginable resulting in incredible wealth being exchanged on a daily basis … A thriving economy resulted in a taste for sumptuousness and splendor that became almost synonymous with the city itself. Felix Faber, a German Dominican priest, visited in 1480 on his way to the Holy Land and remarked in his diary: ‘As we sailed further on, we found before our eyes the famous, great, wealthy and noble city of Venice, the mistress of the Mediterranean, standing in wondrous fashion in the midst of the waters, with lofty towers, great churches, splendid houses and palaces.’”

Images of Mary — and especially the Annunciation — were particularly relevant to the wealthy Venetians whose commissions supported their great artists.

“The mythical date of the city’s founding, and the beginning of its calendar year, was March 25, the feast of the Annunciation,” Daneo pointed out. “Comparisons between the impregnable republic and the unviolated Virgin were a recurring theme in writings of the time. Francesco Sansovino famously wrote in 1581 that ‘Venetia Vergine … with her uncorrupted purity defends herself from the insolence of others.’”

Giovanni Bellini’s two-panel “Annunciation,” like all great masterpieces, overpowers the viewer. Each panel is 88 inches tall and 42 inches wide. These were the outer wings from the organ in the chapel of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, removed from the church in 1907. Inside were the now-lost images of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In the left panel, the annunciating angel enters Mary’s chamber, bearing a stalk of white lilies. In the right panel, the Virgin kneels at a prie-dieu, her face bathed in golden light from an open window. The room is sumptuous but simple, the colors rich. One wonders whether Jan Vermeer, working a century and half after Bellini, ever visited Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

The exhibition, which opened Oct. 7, will be on view until Feb. 12. Go. It’ll cost you gas money and a few dollars for parking and museum admission. Otherwise, you can go Venice. It may no longer be “the Mistress of the Mediterranean,” but hotel rooms have gotten a lot more expensive since 1500. n CSBJ