Palma and the Reasons for the Exhibition
“Palma Vecchio, along with Giorgione and Titian, shared the honor of modernizing and revitalizing Venetian art” said Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle in 1871, demonstrating how the pictorial quality, excellent technical skills and intuitive color palette of the paintings of Jacopo Negretti, known as Palma Vecchio, made him the painter most favored by private Venetian clients in the first decade of the 16th century. This interest in collecting paintings would soon expand to the entire leading class of European nobility.
Born around 1480 in Serina – the same year as Lorenzo Lotto and Cariani – Palma left for Venice early on, and from documents researched for the exhibition it is clear that his role there was fundamental. He was able to combine the art of Giovanni Bellini and Cima da Conegliano with meditations on the lessons of Giorgione and a continuing conversation with Titian’s works.
In the second decade of the 16th century, Venice was in the midst of a new aesthetic, both in painting and in literature, and Palma Vecchio’s role was essential for satisfying these new styles. He invented and created a standard for female beauty, both in his idealistic and poetic “portraits” and in his saints, favored by private clients more interested in the pleasure of artistic contemplation than in religious devotion. His sense of naturalism, both in landscape and in the saints’ faces, corresponded perfectly with this new season and with the desire for poetry, for an escape from history and a return to nature as a place of serenity and intimacy. This concept extends to the various “nymphs” that Palma places in natural settings quite different from that of the Venetian tradition: the triumph of Sannazaro’s Arcadian world.
Palma Vecchio’s poetic and extraordinary paintings are celebrated in a monographic exhibition for the first time, bringing together almost forty masterpieces by the artist in his hometown of Bergamo. Some of Palma Vecchio’s most important altarpieces and paintings, in many cases never before moved from their original sites, will be presented in Bergamo for 100 days: from the Assumption of the Virgin (Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice) to the polyptych Presentation of the Virgin (Serina), to the Madonna on the throne with Saints George and Lucy (church of Santo Stefano, Vicenza) to the stunning Polyptych for the Scuola dei Bombardieri (church of Santa Maria Formosa, Venice). Along with these masterpieces, visitors can further appreciate Palma Vecchio’s advanced pictorial quality, excellent technical skills and rich, intuitive color palette in the Sacred Conversations on loan from museums in Belgrade, Moscow, Madrid, and Genoa, and perceive the epiphany of painting through his sublime portraits, which capture the very essence of painting. From Alnwick Castle’s Lady with a Lute with her elegant, soft, billowing white linen blouse, eyes gazing into the distant sky and luscious, flowing blond locks; to the sumptuous dress of Young Woman in a Blue Gown (Vienna); or the glorious folds of fabric in Portrait of a Woman (La Bella) (Thyssen-Bornemisza); to the intimate essence of man in the male portraits on loan from St. Petersburg and London.
These masterpieces are brought together in an exhibition in which the array of educational tools and the striking exhibition layout will allow visitors to feel the pleasant surprise voiced by Giorgio Vasari. In 1568, he sealed the praise Palma Vecchio had received from the Serenissima by applauding the Burrasca infernale (Tempest), the enormous painting commissioned by the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice: “Why say more? I, for my part, do not remember to have ever seen a more terrible painting than this, which is executed in such a manner, and with such care in the invention, the drawing, and the coloring, that the picture seems to quiver, as if all that is painted therein were real. For this work Jacopo Palma deserves the greatest praise, and the honor of being numbered among those who are masters of art.”
Giovanni C. F. Villa, exhibition curator
The exhibition scientific committee is composed of: Irina Artemieva, Luisa Attardi, Margaret Binotto, Massimiliano Capella, Matteo Ceriana, Emanuela Daffra, Sylvia Ferino, Maria Cristina Rodeschini, Giovanni Valagussa e Giovanni C.F. Villa.