Alessandro Vittoria, Giulio Contarini (detail), c. 1570-1576, painted terracotta, 74.3 x 61 x 30.7 cm with integral base. Photo: NGC

Masters of Venetian Portraiture: Veronese, Tiepolo, Vittoria

A glimpse into the world of Venetian portraiture through an iconic work from the National Gallery of Canada collection.

Centred around Alessandro Vittoria’s terracotta bust of Giulio Contarini, this Masterpiece in Focus exhibition delves into Venetian portraiture of the 16th and 18th centuries. In addition to art from the National Gallery of Canada collection, the exhibition features works on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and other renowned institutions. Through drawings, sculpture and various media, Masters of Venetian Portraiture explores the idea of paragone (comparison) between the different art forms practised by the most important artists of Venice.


Friday, June 8, 2018 Sunday, September 16, 2018


National Gallery of Canada Gallery C218
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

Workshop Practices

in Clay

Vittoria’s clay portrait of his friend and patron, Giulio Contarini, (c. 1519–75) is the study for a final version in marble. Rather than create a rough approximation of Contarini’s features, however, the artist chose to make it as lifelike as possible, leaving us a terracotta masterpiece that is among Vittoria’s  finest achievements.

To reduce cracking during the drying and firing process, the bust was hollowed out and cut into pieces that were fired individually. The final touch was a thin layer of oil paint, to soften the garish colour of the fired clay and conceal any plaster infill. Vittoria made no attempt, however, to conceal the modelling material — in his day, terracotta sculptures were prized both for their Classical history, and as displays of the sculptor’s skill.

Alessandro Vittoria, Giulio Contarini, (detail) c. 1570-1576, painted terracotta, 74.3 x 61 x 30.7 cm with integral base. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

About the Artists

Alessandro Vittoria

Alessandro Vittoria (1525–1608) is considered one of the foremost Italian sculptors of his time. Born in the Italian city of Trent, Vittoria trained in Venice with sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino, and is said to have been influenced by both Titian, who was a contemporary, and by Michelangelo.

A virtuoso in terracotta, Vittoria often included gilding, bronze and marble in his compositions. Although relatively unknown today, Vittoria is credited with developing a style of Classical portrait bust that was new to Venice at the time. Although he produced medals and full-length figures — as seen throughout the exhibition — he is best known to posterity for busts like that of Giulio Contarini.

Alessandro Vittoria, Saint Sebastian, (detail) c. 1566, bronze, 54.3 x 16.2 x 16.2 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.24)

Paolo Veronese

One of the best-known artists of the Italian Renaissance, Paolo Veronese (1528–88) often changed his name. The son of a stonecutter (spezapreda in old Italian) and his wife, he was born Paolo Spezapreda in Verona. He later changed his name to Paolo Caliari, reflecting the family name of a noble grandfather, then to Paolo Veronese in honour of his hometown, and later back to Paolo Caliari.

Known today as Veronese, he is acclaimed for his rich colour palette, and for large paintings of religious, historical and mythological subject matter. Veronese had a naturalistic style, and was much admired by later artists, including Rubens, Watteau, Tiepolo, Renoir and Delacroix. Today considered one of the greatest colourists who ever lived, Veronese was also one of the first painters whose drawings were sought by collectors during his lifetime.

Paolo Caliari (called Veronese), Alessandro Vittoria, (detail) c. 1570, oil on canvas, 110.5 x 81.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gwynne Andrews Fund, 1946 (46.31)

Giovanni Batista 


Viewed as one of the greatest decorative painters of 18th-century Europe, Giovanni Batista Tiepolo (1696–1770) was born in Venice to a minor shipping merchant. His earliest known works are depictions of the apostles, produced when he was 19 or 20 years of age. At around the same time, he began painting works for the Doge’s palace.

As his reputation expanded across Europe, Tiepolo was commissioned to paint frescoes and large canvases for churches and other public spaces, as well as for the homes of kings and nobles. Although often historical or ecclesiastical in subject matter, his paintings are luminous, lively, elegant and often witty. The red chalk drawings on view in the exhibition also show a remarkably sensitive hand when it came to portraiture.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Head of Giulio Contarini, after a Bust by Alessandro Vittoria, (detail) c. 1743, red chalk heightened with white chalk on blue laid paper, 23.9 x 20.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Installation Views

Featured Video

Step inside the exhibition space in this short video.

Masters of Venetian Portraiture: Veronese, Tiepolo, Vittoria

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