The exhibition of Italian art occupies over thirty rooms and embraces the period from the 13th to the 18th century. The collection numbers 700 paintings, 160 pieces of sculpture and a great number of objects of applied art. The collection represents diverse artistic schools and trends in Italian art, as well as creative work of many outstanding painters of the time.
Italy was the first European country to set foot upon the path of progressive social and cultural achievement. In Italian cities a new bourgeois culture developed. It was distinguished by its secular, optimistic character and believed in power and potentiality of man. Both art and literature reached a high peak. This new stage in the development of western European culture became known as the age of the Renaissance. The paintings created in the 13th-14th centuries were mostly painted on wooden panels in tempera and are notable for their bright colours and abundance of gold.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who was the originator of the style, which is known as the High Renaissance. He was really a versatile person: painter, architect, musician, engineer, and scientist who made an important contribution in physics, geology, anatomy and other fields. He combined art and his scientific ideas. The gems of the Hermitage collection are two paintings by the greatest master. The Madonna with a Flower or the Benois Madonna was painted nearly 1478 in Florence. The composition is realistic. The smiling, young, loving mother is looking at her child. The Madonna is beautifully dressed according to the Florentine fashion of that time. She is holding a flower in her hands, which is the symbol of the Holy Cross. In 1914 the painting was purchased from the family of architect M. Benois hence the second name of it. The Litta Madonna, which was painted in 1490-91 in Milan and belonged to a later period of his work. The painting comes from the Duke of Litta collection hence the name of it. It is painted in the old tempera technique, which helps to produce this serene atmosphere, excluded subtle gradation between light and shade.
Simone Martini (1283-1344) was a representative of the Siena school of painting; he depicted the Madonna in a scene from the Annunciation in an elegant and poetic manner. The art of the 15th century is so-called early Renaissance. Artists worked out the laws of perspective, developed the theory of the proportions of the human body, acquired new methods of composition and studied the ancient art. In their works they reflected the richness of the world around them; man became the focal point of interest. Religious subjects were widely treated but in the manner of secular scenes and filled with human content.
Fra Beato Angelico da Fiesole (c.1400-1455) and his fresco Madonna and Child with Two Saints. He was a Dominican monk and painted pictures and frescoes for the monasteries.
Sandro Botticelli (1444/45-1510) is one of the greatest masters of the Florentine school of painting, who is represented by two small paintings St Dominic and St Jerome.
Filippino Lippi (c.1457?-1504) is another painter of Florence, who is famous by his refined and elegant manner- the Adoration of the Child and the Annunciation.
Pietro Perugino (1450-1523) is the painter of Umbria, who was the teacher of Raphael, and created St Sebastian and Portrait of a Young Man. The achievements of the fifteenth century are summed up in the works
Raphael Santi (1483-1520) is another outstanding painter of the High Renaissance. Pure and perfect harmony was that which Raphael brought to Italian art. Raphael’s greatest personal talent was based on his ability to summarize different artistic trends of the Italian Renaissance. He borrowed his subjects from the Bible and from mythology, very often used secular subjects; he was a great master of monumental frescos and decorative painting. He is represented in the Hermitage by two early works. The Conestabile Madonna came to the collection from the Conestabile family in 1870. Rafael painted it in his native town Urbino in 1503. The young mother is pensively looking at a book; the pure and delicate Madonna’s image is shown on the background of the lyrical landscape.
In 1504 Raphael went to Florence where he created the Holy Family (1506). He used the traditional composition of the Madonna, child and Joseph, who is depicted in an unusual way-without a beard.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) was the towering genius of the Italian 16th-century art, a man of great versatility, sculptor, architect, painter, and poet. He was born in Florence but spent a great part of his life in Rome, at the Pope’s court. The sculpture Crouching Boy is the only authentic work by Michelangelo in Russia. It was created in the early 1530s and meant for the decoration of the Medici chapel in Florence. The statue was left unfinished but one can feel in it great inner strength. Catherine II bought it as a single object.
Giorgione (1476/78?-1510) is one of the most celebrated and influential of artists whose work began the period of the High Renaissance in Venice. Judith (1502) is the gem of the Hermitage collection. Judith is a biblical character who saved her besieged native town and slew the enemy leader Holofernes.
Titian (1480/5-1576) is one of the most brilliant and famous masters who headed the Venetian school of painting for more than half a century. He is represented at the Hermitage by eight works, belonging to different periods of his life. He drew his subjects from the Bible and from mythology, but his great fame was as a painter of portraits.
Danae (1550s) is an outstanding masterpiece of his middle period. The subject is borrowed from Greek mythology. According to the myth Danae was a daughter of a king who was predicted to be killed by his grandson. He imprisoned his beautiful daughter into a tower. Zeus, in the form of golden rain, visited his beloved. Later she gave birth to Perseus, who accidentally slew his grandfather by the throw of a discus.
Repentant Magdalene (1560s) belongs to the artist’s mature works. He treated biblical subject but showed a real Venetian woman in a very expressive way.
St Sebastian is one of Titian’s latest works. Titian witnessed the collapse of the ideas of the High Renaissance that is why dramatic notes filled his paintings of the late period.
The Italian collection of the Hermitage is exceptionally rich in the works of the Venetian school of the 16th century. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) the Conversion of Saul (1570) and Tintoretto (1518-1594) the Birth of St. John the Baptist (1550).
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571/2-1610) was the founder of realistic art; the Hermitage possesses the only early work by him the Lute-Player (1595). The composition of the painting is built on the contrast of light and shade. This creates the illusion of reality. He introduced objects of still life: fruits, flowers, and music. He influenced upon the development of realism, not only in Italy but also abroad.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1697-1770) is a great Venetian master of decorative art borrowed his subjects from the Bible and mythology, painted a lot of daily life scenes and portraits. Of the six large-scale compositions in the Hermitage collection five were painted by the artist for the Dolphino Palace in Venice, on subjects from ancient Roman history- Fabius Maximus Quintus in the Senate at Carthage, Coriolanus at theWalls of Rome, Mucius Scaevola before Porcenna, Cincinnatus Is Invited to Become a Dictator, and The Triumph of the Emperor.
Antonio Canale (1697-1768), known as Canaletto is one of the Venetian masters who developed the new genre veduta or townscape. He is represented in the museum by one painting the Reception of the French Ambassador in Venice.
Author: Ekaterina Chistyakova
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