Italy: 15th century


Venetian painting is characterized by deep, rich colors and a strong interest in the effects of light.

1400 - 1500

Beginner's guide

Venice had everything—a stable republican government led by a Doge (“Duke”), wealth from trade, and a unique location as a gateway between Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire.

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Devotional confraternities (scuole) in Renaissance Venice
Devotional confraternities (scuole) in Renaissance Venice

Brotherhoods lent stability to religious and civic life. These wealthy institutions also commissioned paintings.

Saving Venice
Saving Venice

10 inches—that’s how far Venice has sunk. As sea levels and tourism rise, can this historic city survive?

Giovanni Bellini and Titian,<em>The Feast of the Gods</em>
Giovanni Bellini and Titian,The Feast of the Gods

This canvas was rolled, varnished, reworked, and revised again. A classical scene, it once hung in a study.

Andrea Mantegna, <em>San Zeno Altarpiece</em>
Andrea Mantegna, San Zeno Altarpiece

Now in Technicolor! Mantegna’s saturated paint and vivid illusionism bring the Court of Heaven to life.

Oil paint in Venice
Oil paint in Venice

Their island climate didn’t suit fresco, so the Venetians tried oils instead—these paints blend when wet.

Giovanni Bellini, <em>San Zaccaria Altarpiece</em>
Giovanni Bellini, San Zaccaria Altarpiece

Bellini opens up this painting’s space, but holds the viewer at bay. The mood is calm, solemn, and contemplative.

Andrea Mantegna, <em>Dead Christ</em>
Andrea Mantegna, Dead Christ

Mantegna was fascinated by perspective. His radical foreshortening and realism focus attention on Christ’s wounds.

Giovanni Bellini, <em>San Giobbe Altarpiece</em>
Giovanni Bellini, San Giobbe Altarpiece

With its decorative marble and golden light, this space looks a lot like San Marco. Shall we? St. Francis beckons.

Andrea Mantegna, Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi)
Andrea Mantegna, Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi)

Head’s up—that plant’s about to fall! These Roman emperors may seem grave, but there’s plenty to smile at here.

Andrea Mantegna, <em>Dormition (or Death) of the Virgin</em>
Andrea Mantegna, Dormition (or Death) of the Virgin

Mantegna’s draped figures resurrect classical sculpture, but the landscape was from life—that’s Renaissance Mantua.

Andrea Mantegna, <em>Saint Sebastian</em>
Andrea Mantegna, Saint Sebastian

Roman rubble litters the ground at St. Sebastian’s feet. His nude body also recalls the antique past.

Giovanni Bellini, <em>St. Francis in the Desert</em> (or <em>St. Francis in Ecstasy</em>)
Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in the Desert (or St. Francis in Ecstasy)

Reinterpreting a familiar narrative, Bellini imbues the natural world with symbolism.

Selected Contributors | Venice