From June 13 to September 16, 2018, the National Gallery of Canada presents Masters of Venetian Portraiture: Veronese, Tiepolo, Vittoria as part of its Masterpiece in Focus series. Featuring 17 works – including three sculptures, 12 works on paper, one book and one painting – the exhibition looks at how portraiture played a key role in elevating and celebrating social status during the late Baroque and Renaissance periods.
At the centre of the exhibition is a terracotta bust sculpted in the 1570s by Alessandro Vittoria (1525-1608), one of the greatest portraitists working in three dimensions in sixteenth-century Italy. The bust marked the first Vittoria work acquired for a Canadian public collection when it was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 2002. This work, one of possibly only two autograph busts by the famed sculptor currently residing in the Western Hemisphere, was carefully restored by the Gallery’s Chief of Conservation and Technical Research Doris Couture-Rigert in 2005.
Sitting 74.3 cm tall, the terracotta bust depicts Vittoria’s close friend and patron, Giulio Contarini (1500-1580), who held the notable position of procurator at St. Mark’s Basilica for more than 40 years. Portraying a remarkable resemblance to Contarini – from the fine detail of his hair and beard to the soft lines on his face and delicate folds of his clothing – the terracotta bust served as an accurate model for a separate marble version that sits on Contarini’s funerary monument in the church of Santa Maria del Giglio in Venice. Even more remarkable is that the terracotta bust has survived some 450 years – a rarity for a sculpture of its kind.
“The terracotta bust of Giulio Contarini is a magnificent Renaissance sculpture with a fascinating story,” said National Gallery of Canada Director and CEO, Marc Mayer. “I was interested to learn that the great Tiepolo, for example, made a series of chalk studies after it more than a century and a half after it was created. This jewel of a show places Alessandro Vittoria’s bust in conversation with other remarkable works from the period.”
Complementing Vittoria’s bust are other works on view from the Gallery’s permanent collection, as well as exclusive pieces on loan from North American Institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the highlights are a painting of Vittoria by the greatest Venetian painter of the period, Paolo Veronese (1528-1588); and North America’s only collection of studies on Vittoria’s terracotta bust by Venetian Rococo artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). These studies were done almost 200 years after the completion of Vittoria’s terracotta bust, which Tiepolo used as a teaching prop in his family’s studio.
“Long before the era of selfies and social media, portraiture held an important social role in Renaissance Venice,” said Sonia Del Re, the Gallery’s Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, who organized the exhibition. “The history of the bust gives us a unique opportunity to propose a focused display that sketches the social and material context in which the work was created, and in which it was then circulated.”
Together the works on view in Masters of Venetian Portraiture: Veronese, Tiepolo, Vittoria speak to the mastery of Vittoria as a portraitist, and the magnitude of his influence on Venetian artists and patrons across time.
Meet the Expert
On Thursday, June 14 at 6 pm, visitors are invited to join Sonia Del Re, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings and curator of Masters of Venetian Portraiture: Veronese, Tiepolo, Vittoria, for an insider’s look into the exhibition. Del Re will explore the works on view and discuss how portraiture was used by celebrated Venetian artists to raise their status and that of their patrons. In Gallery C218 (second level). In English with bilingual question period. Free admission.
Lecture: Hidden Clues in Vittoria’s Bust of Giulio Contarini
On Saturday, June 23 at 2 pm, visitors are invited to join Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief, Conservation and Technical Research, as she explains how technical examination and analysis have helped to reveal hidden clues to the past of Vittoria’s masterful portrait bust of Giulio Contarini. In the Lecture Hall. In French with a bilingual question period. Free admission.
Hours of operation
Until September 30, 2018, the Gallery is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, and on Thursdays from 10 am to 8 pm. Holiday exceptions apply, and hours are subject to change without notice. For more information, visit gallery.ca.
$15 (adults); $13 (seniors); $7 (age 24 and under and full-time students); $30 (families: two adults and three youth, 17 and under). Admission is free for children under the age of 11 and for Members. Includes admission to the national collection, and all exhibitions excluding Impressionist Treasures. Free admission on Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm. To find out more.
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The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada’s premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st centuries, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada established the Canadian Photography Institute, a global multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. For more information, visit gallery.ca and follow us on Twitter @NatGalleryCan
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