Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Bellini, Titian, Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo" at the Met

Moroni, "Portrait of a Girl"

Some Renaissance masters have taken up residence at the Met while the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo undergoes renovations.  There are only 15 paintings on loan, but what marvelous paintings they are.

Giovanni Bellini, "Pieta"
There's a dead Christ with the Virgin Mary and St. John by the great Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini -- emotional and simply yet subtly colored -- and a mythological scene that some think is an early Titian.  But the excitement in this small show is in discovering great works by artists who are obscure compared to those titans.

Foremost among them is Giovanni Battista Moroni, who worked not in the wealthy cities of Milan and Venice but in the relative backwater of Bergamo.  Even so, Moroni was esteemed by his contemporaries -- Titian is said to have recommended that a couple of Venetians on their way to Bergamo have their likeness painted by him -- and based on the two portraits by Moroni here it is easy to see why.  They are so engaging that for awhile it may be hard to look at anything else in the room.

Moroni combined an aggressive realism -- in his portrait of a young girl, for example, the costume, pearls, and red beads of her bracelet are all meticulously rendered -- with a sympathetic intimacy.  Both the girl and Moroni's portrait of a man have a direct gaze one can't help but return.

Foppa, "The Three Crosses"
Another knockout is "The Three Crosses" by Vincenzo Foppa, which in a virtuoso display shows off the artist's mastery of the male nude, perspective, landscape, and architectural detail (the painting isn't nearly so monochromatic as appears in this image provided by the Met).  Oddly, the Crucifixion occurs immediately beyond a triumphal arch -- complete with portrait roundels -- that springs from Corinthian columns, has floor tiles, and opens onto Jerusalem in the distance.

Lorenzo Lotto is represented by four works: an ingenious portrait in front of a dark moonscape -- how many nighttime portraits were there in the Renaissance? -- and three brightly colored religious narratives that formed part of an altarpiece for a church in Bergamo.

Moretto di Brescia, "Christ and a Devotee"
And there's a lovely, delicate Moretto di Brescia painting of Christ and a devotee whose book tumbles to the ground as he drops to his knees.

The history of Italian Renaissance painting tends to concentrate on works in the cities of power and riches -- Rome, Florence, and Venice.  The art of Northern Italy has its own delights, as these loans beautifully show.

"Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo," Metropolitan Museum of Art, 5th Ave. and 82nd St.  Through September 3.

Images:  Moroni and Bellini (c) 2012 Laura Gilbert.  Foppa and Moretto courtesy the Metropolitan Museum.

Text (c) 2012 Laura Gilbert