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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Venus with a Mirror, about 1555. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.34. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

BOSTON, MA.- Amidst high drama and intense rivalry, the great triumvirate—Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese—dominated the landscape of Venetian painting in the 16th century for almost four decades, propelling the Venetian School to new creative heights. This dynamic relationship has been recreated in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, the first major exhibition dedicated to the competition that developed among these renowned masters, which explores the emergence of the signature styles of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, and the artistic exchange that existed among them. Juxtapositions of related works contribute new scholarship to the discussion of these artists and the influence they had upon one another. The exhibition also looks at the critical transformation of the art world in early 16th-century Venice that occurred with the introduction of oil paint on canvas support and the development of the canvas easel painting.

Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Musée du Louvre, Paris, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese is on view at the MFA from March 15–August 16, 2009, in the MFA’s Gund Gallery, and September 14, 2009–January 4, 2010, at the Louvre.

“Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese created a ‘Venetian style,’ inspired by the counterpoint that arose as one artist responded on canvas to another,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “Fueled by the constant vying for patronage, prestige, and financial rewards, theirs was a highly charged, personal relationship that resulted in some of the greatest paintings of the Italian Renaissance. It is a pleasure to collaborate with our colleagues at the Louvre to offer this exploration of the artistic dialogue that arose among these three Venetian masters.”

Fifty-seven notable works are featured in the exhibition, lent by major museums in Europe and the United States and, significantly, several churches in Venice. Fourteen paintings are coming from Italy, including those from the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. These important loans reflect an ongoing cultural exchange between the MFA and Italy, which includes collaboration in the areas of exhibitions, scholarship, and conservation. An important nucleus of works has been provided by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Musée du Louvre in Paris. A number of paintings have been specially restored for this exhibition. Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese is curated by Frederick Ilchman, the Mrs. Russell W. Baker Assistant Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe, at the MFA; Jean Habert, Conservateur général au département des Peintures du Musée du Louvre; and Vincent Delieuvin, Conservateur au département des Peintures du Musée du Louvre.

The exhibition brings into view the colorful world of 16th-century Venice—one of Europe’s wealthiest, most cosmopolitan cities—a bustling center of international commerce with a flourishing art market, where the demand for exceptional paintings fostered a competitive climate and great innovation. The intersection of the period’s three great masters is explored in seven sections within the exhibition: The Transformation of Venetian Painting around 1500; The Three Protagonists; Sacred Themes; Below the Surface: Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto in the Boston Museum; Mythology and the Female Nude; Portraiture; and Late Styles.

The Transformation of Venetian Painting around 1500
At the turn of the 16th century, Giovanni Bellini was Venice’s leading painter, the master in whose studio the young Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, about 1488–1576) spent his formative years. Schooled at first in the use of tempera on panel, Titian gravitated to innovative media—oil painting on canvas—which offered rich colors, dramatic lighting, and interesting textures, bringing the subject to life. Titian eventually outgrew his master, whose works had a more staged quality, by developing greater naturalism and energy in his religious paintings. The exhibition opens with an example of the changes in Venetian painting around 1500 as seen in the comparison of the Virgin and Child with Saints by Giovanni Bellini and his Workshop (about 1505–08, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Titian’s Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor (about 1513–14, Fondazione Magnani Rocca, Mamiano). This section demonstrates the vivid contrast between the earlier tradition of painting on wood panel and the new possibilities of painting on canvas, and lays the groundwork for the emergence of Titian as Bellini’s successor. Although Titian rose to become the leader of the Venetian School, his supremacy later was challenged by his pupil, Tintoretto, and a newcomer, Veronese. Together, the three artists defined a Venetian style characterized by loose technique, rich coloring, and often pastoral or sensual subject matter.

“Although 40 years separate the birth of Titian from that of Veronese, the careers of the three painters overlapped for almost four decades, and the eloquent record of their artistic dialogue is most apparent when we consider, side by side, the powerful canvases each produced,” said Frederick Ilchman, the exhibition curator in Boston, who is the MFA’s Mrs. Russell W. Baker Assistant Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe.

The Three Protagonists
Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese became Venice’s greatest painters—each one developing a “signature style” so distinctive that it made the practice of signing a picture redundant. In fact, only a handful of paintings in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese are signed. Titian realized the potential of oil on canvas and personalized the manipulation of paint on the textured surface. For the first time in European art, a painter’s unique, expressive brushwork could serve as his signature. By the 1520s, Titian was celebrated throughout Italy for his artistry, in particular his monumental painted altarpieces for churches in Venice, which helped him cultivate an influential clientele, including government officials, corporate patrons such as the Scuole Grandi (confraternities for laymen), and the crowned heads of Europe, above all, Charles V and Philip II of Spain. Titian also achieved renown for his innovations in portraiture, creating bold and direct images of powerful men, as seen in his portrait of Pope Paul III (1543, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples). Titian’s depiction of feminine beauty in his early maturity is evident in Flora (about 1516–18, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), and in his mythological paintings, such as Venus Rising from the Sea (about 1520, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh).

By the mid 16th century, however, Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti, about 1518–94), the son of a fabric dyer (tintore), also had established himself in Renaissance Venice—challenging Titian’s artistic supremacy and competing for coveted scuole and government patronage. (Tintoretto and his workshop were responsible for the creation of more official paintings for the state of Venice than any other artist, though never matching Titian’s success with European monarchs.) Tintoretto is said to have received some early training in Titian’s workshop, and took as his motto “the draftsmanship of Michelangelo, the coloring of Titian,” often making preliminary drawings directly on canvas in paint using long brushstrokes. But Tintoretto became a determined competitor to Venice’s reigning master, substituting energy and athleticism in place of Titian’s serenity and grandeur. His dramatic Self-Portrait (about 1546–47, Philadelphia Museum of Art) announces a challenge to the status quo. Tintoretto’s arrival on the scene is also exemplified by his Contest between Apollo and Marsyas (1544–45, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford). In response to Tintoretto’s bold new style, Titian accelerated his freer paint handling.

The arrival of Veronese (Paolo Caliari, 1528–88)—nicknamed for his birthplace, Verona— enlivened the dynamics of the Venetian art scene in the mid 16th century. The newcomer began to model himself on Titian and, in turn, the old master sought to promote Veronese at the expense of Tintoretto. As a youth, Veronese made a name for himself as a decorator of private homes in his provincial birthplace, receiving his first important commission at 17 to paint frescoes at the Palazzo Canossa in Verona. His emergence is illustrated by two of his early works, Christ Healing a Woman with an Issue of Blood (about 1548, The National Gallery, London), and Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (about 1549, Barker Welfare Foundation, on loan to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven). He relocated to Venice by the early 1550s. Gaining a reputation as a “master of the grand gesture,” as evidenced in his sweeping allegorical and Biblical scenes, Veronese was commissioned to paint numerous important works, including canvases on the ceiling of the Room of the Council of Ten in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. He established himself with a wealthy clientele, becoming a favorite of several prominent families and religious groups. Dignified in his style, he favored a pastel palette distinct from Tintoretto’s, and their differences were already apparent in the youthful work of both artists.

All three protagonists took part in the exploration of how best to capture the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. Like other Venetian painters, they were interested in the use of artifice to show more than one side of a figure simultaneously. “Renaissance painters set themselves to depicting reflections of a figure in water, a mirror, or in polished metal, creating a sophisticated genre of painting emphasizing reflections,” said Jean Habert, Conservateur général au département des Peintures du Musée du Louvre. “Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese developed this new genre their whole careers, with equal success in sacred and secular painting, creating noble images of warrior saints with sparkling armor or sumptuous figures of women occupied at their toilette before a mirror—pictures that remain one of the glories of Venetian painting of the Renaissance in Europe.”

Sacred Themes
Religion was woven into the fabric of daily life in Renaissance Venice, as it was throughout most of Europe. Virtually all manner of artwork reflected the intertwined relationship between the sacred and secular worlds. Religious themes dominated paintings of the Venetian School and could be seen in houses of worship, private homes, and government buildings. But because of Venice’s geographical location, fresco painting tended to deteriorate in its damp climate, and lacked the permanence found in Italy’s other great centers of art. As a result, both altarpieces and mural decorations adopted the canvas support. This section of the exhibition showcases several altarpieces, including Veronese’s Temptation of Saint Anthony (1552-53, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen), and his Virgin and Child with Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Paul (1562, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk), as well as Tintoretto’s version, Temptation of Saint Anthony (about 1577, Church of San Trovaso, Venice).

Sixteenth-century Venice was famous for the development of large narrative paintings on canvas, in particular festive treatments of religious feasts like the Last Supper. In the exhibition, feast paintings are exemplified by three different treatments of the Supper at Emmaus: Titian’s (1533–34, Musée du Louvre, Paris), Tintoretto’s (about 1542, Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest), and Veronese’s (mid 1570s, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam). Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese also features paintings where the artists tried to outdo each other in the depiction of armor, for example, Saint George, Saint Louis, and the Princess (1552, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) by Tintoretto, and Saint Menna (about 1560, Galleria Estense, Modena) by Veronese. A third category of religious artistry includes the smaller-scale pictures commissioned by connoisseurs, who began to collect works of sacred subjects for their aesthetic appeal.

Below the Surface: Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto in the Boston Museum
In addition to offering new scholarship on the relationship among Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, the exhibition also reveals to the public technical discoveries of paintings from the MFA’s collection and discusses the creative processes of these three artists. The section Below the Surface explores surprising hidden aspects of Tintoretto’s Nativity (about 1580, MFA), Veronese’s Jupiter and a Nude (1560s, MFA), and Titian’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria (about 1567, MFA).

A complex investigation was undertaken by MFA conservators for Tintoretto’s large-scale (5 x 12 feet) Nativity. Using x-radiography and infrared reflectography, it was discovered that below the Nativity appears to be the bottom section of another composition. Conservators began their examination by trying to explain inconsistencies visible on the surface: the apparent repainting of figures, stylistic variations to indicate the hand of more than one artist, differences in tonality, and the odd fact that a shepherd was looking away from the central figure, the Christ Child, in a Nativity scene. In fact, these oddities are the result of a substantially different original composition, reworked to produce the Nativity seen on the surface. Employing similar techniques, an examination of Jupiter and a Nude using infrared reflectography indicates that Veronese made extensive under drawings in preparation for this work as well as an unrelated drawing in the lower right hand corner of the painting. An analysis of Titian’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with its unevenness of paint handling, unusual composition, and strange array of attributes, at first suggested that it might have been intended as a depiction of Saint Catherine of Siena. However, recent x-radiography confirmed that the subject was, indeed, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, but that extensive revisions had been made to the painting, in keeping with the practice of Titian and his workshop in his later career.

Mythology and the Female Nude
Though religious works predominated in 16th-century Venice, female nudes drawn from mythology and the Bible, as well as portraiture, were in demand. Evoking classical mythology, goddesses such as Venus and beautiful mortals such as Danaë—even Biblical figures such as Susannah—were favored excuses to depict female beauty. In this section of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese that highlights female nudes, paintings are compared within the context of several themes: Objects of Desire, Nudes at the Mirror, and Allegories of Love. Titian’s Danaë (1544–46, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples) is juxtaposed with other pictures of sensual reclining nudes. In addition, female nudes with a mirror, and the themes of visual delectation and vanity, are seen in Titian’s Venus with a Mirror (about 1555, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), Tintoretto’s Susannah and the Elders (about 1555–56, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and Veronese’s Venus with a Mirror (Venus at Her Toilette) (mid 1580s, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha).

Portraiture
Venetian Renaissance palaces were famous for the quantity of portraits they contained. Titian and his workshop may have produced more than 200 portraits featuring an international clientele of prominent figures, extending to popes and kings. Tintoretto was an even more prolific portraitist, whose patrons included members of Venice’s elite. Along with Veronese, they painted individuals of all ranks. Grouped under the heading of Gentlemen of Fashion are portraits by all three painters showing handsome young men in fur-trimmed robes: Titian’s Portrait of a Man (Tommaso Mosti?) (about 1520, Galleria Palatina, Florence); Tintoretto’s Portrait of a Man aged Twenty-six (about 1547, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo); and Veronese’s Portrait of a Man (about 1551–53, Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest). It is as if Tintoretto tried to improve upon Titian’s prototype only to have Veronese in turn outdo him. Other groupings include Warriors and a charming selection of Children and Families.

Late Styles
As a result of their intense rivalry, which played out within Venice’s vibrant artistic community during the 40 years their careers overlapped, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese had a profound effect on one another. The exhibition offers comparisons of the artists in their later years as seen in select thematic groupings, including Women in Peril, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, and the Baptism of Christ. Women in Peril features interpretations of Tarquin and Lucretia as executed by Titian (about 1568-71, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux) and Tintoretto (1578–80, Art Institute of Chicago), seen alongside Veronese’s Perseus and Andromeda (late 1570s–early 1580s, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes). Another important cluster of works highlights three paintings of Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, since the penitent and introspective saint offered an obvious subject for an aging male artist, as seen in examples by Tintoretto (about 1571–72, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Titian (about 1570–75, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), and Veronese (about 1580, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice).

The artistic dialogue in their later works possesses a certain commonality in the looseness of their brushwork and a more liberated approach to color. Titian’s brushstrokes were more expansive and noticeable, and he began to build up his paintings with numerous layers of paint. Because of the infirmities of advancing age, Titian also reduced the scale of his works and focused on fewer principal characters, relegating large-scale paintings to assistants. After Titian’s death in 1576, Tintoretto and Veronese became official heirs to his legacy and his clientele. Tintoretto’s style continued to reflect his earlier rapid brushwork, using long lines and strong contours. But with Titian’s demise, he sought new patronage opportunities and explored new subject matter. Veronese in his later years developed a more mature style reflecting a darker, more somber mood with a new devotional intensity. Still the master of the grand spectacle, he continued to receive important commissions, and even found favor with Philip II of Spain. Tintoretto outlived him, and Tintoretto’s final Self-portrait (about 1588, Musée du Louvre, Paris) offers a poignant view of the last great man of the Venetian Renaissance. In the end, each artist created his own “signature style,” which would have a lasting effect on the course of European painting.

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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Flora, about 1516-18. Oil on canvas. Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence. Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY

Titian began his career in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, a master of late medieval style. By the early 1500s, a sea change was occurring in painting, leading to the development of the Renaissance style. Titian emerged from Bellini’s workshop to become a master of this style, imbuing it with a uniquely Venetian character. Here, he paints his mythological subject with soft colors and delicate brush strokes.

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Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), Self-Portrait, about 1546-47. Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Marion R. Ascoli and the Marion R. and Max Ascoli Fund in honor of Lessing Rosenwald, 1983. Photo by Graydon Wood

Tintoretto came onto the scene a generation after Titian and, like fellow rival Veronese, was forever playing off of the master. This early self-portrait was done when he was emerging as a noteworthy challenger to Titian. His intense, challenging gaze and concern with movement foreshadow his later dramatic compositions.

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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Supper at Emmaus, 1533-34. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France. Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

In this scene from after the Crucifixion, two disciples journeying to Emmaus are joined by a stranger. When the stranger blesses and breaks the bread at supper, the disciples recognize him as Christ. Painted in a sumptuous interior, this scene from the Gospel of Luke shows Titian’s interest in textures: the folds of a tablecloth or light reflecting off a wine glass.

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Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), Supper at Emmaus, about 1542. Oil on canvas. Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest. Photo: Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Though it is rumored that Tintoretto apprenticed in Titian’s studio in his youth, this version of the Supper at Emmaus shows a mature artist forging his own dynamic style in a bid to outdo the established master. Tintoretto’s handling of the scene is turbulent. The disciples gesture wildly, and the composition is angular rather than serene. Even the paint is applied with energetic strokes.

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Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari), Virgin and Child with Angels Appearing to Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Paul the Hermit, 1562. Oil on canvas. Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler, 71.527. Photograph taken before cleaning and restoration. Photo: The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA

Veronese, like Tintoretto, entered the Venetian scene a generation after Titian. With this third protagonist entering our rivalry, we begin to see that not only did the younger artists play off the older, but all three were influenced by each other. This scene shows Veronese’s classically elegant depiction of human figures as well as his great interest in incorporating careful details.

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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Portrait of a Man (Tommaso Mosti?), about 1520. Oil on canvas. Galleria Palatina, Florence. Inv. 1912: n. 495. Photo: Scala/Art Resource,

The popularity of individual portraits grew remarkably in the sixteenth century. Here, Titian depicts his subject in a classic portrait composition, shown from the torso up in a pyramidal composition. Titian’s palette is luxurious but sober, capturing textures such as the fur lining of the cloak and the supple leather gloves.

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Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), Portrait of a Man Aged Twenty-Six, 1547. Oil on canvas. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands KM 108.448. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands

In this work, Tintoretto expands the portrait format to nearly full length, depicting this well-possessed young gentleman almost from head to knees. Tintoretto’s brushwork in portraits ranges from careful and detailed—rivaling Titian as a painter of fur and leather gloves—to reckless and exciting.

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Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari), Portrait of a Man, about 1551-53. Oil on canvas. Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest. Inv. no. 4228. Szépmúvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

In Veronese’s portrait of a Venetian gentleman, a curtain is pulled back to reveal a view of a landscape with ancient ruins. The stylish young man rests a gloved hand on his hip in a gesture of nonchalance. These details may have been intended to express the sitter’s status. Veronese also painted Titian’s portrait, a work that has been lost.

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Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari), Venus with a Mirror (Venus at Her Toilette), mid 1580s. Oil on canvas. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska. Joslyn Endowment Fund Purchase, 1942.4. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska

This version of Venus with a mirror showed that Veronese was not only looking at Titian’s work but was clearly influenced by it. Veronese’s Venus is elegantly outfitted with rich fabrics and jewels and is depicted from behind. The apparent modesty of this view is compromised by the mirror, which offers in its reflection what is hidden from sight.

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Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), Susannah and the Elders, about 1555-56. Oil on canvas. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Vienna GG. Inv. Nr. 1530. Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

Tintoretto’s painting of a woman with a mirror shows a scene from the Book of Daniel in which Susannah is observed bathing by two elderly men with lecherous intent. The mirror’s reflection offers Susannah the view denied to the men, who seek to invade the private garden space.

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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Danae, 1544-1546, Photo: Museo Di Capodimonte, Naples/Scala, Art Resource

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Giovanni Bellini (1431-1516),  Virgin and Child with four saints, 1505. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), Saint George, Saint Louis, and the Princess, 1546. Photo: Gallerie dell'Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice/Art Resource

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” opens on Sunday and remains on view through Aug. 16 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Ave