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Friday, February 17, 2012

Domenico Veneziano

The St. Lucy Altarpiece, 1445, Domenico Veneziano
The Martyrdom of St. Lucy, 1445,
Domenico Veneziano
As an artist, do you ever pause to reflect as to how your work will be seen five hundred years from now? Moreover, maybe the real question is if it will be seen five hundred years from now. Things happen. Wars, floods, fires, theft, political insurrection--art, being the fragile luxury it is, often suffers. Given the history of human development, it's a miracle we even have any art more than a hundred or two hundred years old. But even during wars, famine, pestilence, and tribulations of other sorts, heroic men and women risk their lives to steal away man's greatest art treasures, hiding them until better times return. We saw this in our century during the Second World War in Europe; but it happened again and again before that. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't come out of hiding. Those responsible for "saving" it die, get killed, or perhaps just plain forget where they hid the stuff.

St. John in the Desert, 1450, Domenico Veneziano
One of the greatest Florentine painters of the early Renaissance was Domenico Veneziano. Though he undoubtedly painted dozens, maybe hundreds of works during his lifetime from 1400 to 1461, only three major works survive and one of them has been split and split again into three or four separate units, spread between Washington, Berlin, Florence, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. That would be the Santa Lucia del Magnoli Altarpiece (top), the central panel of which is now in the Uffizi.  Besides the center panel, there originally were possibly as many as four predellas (side panels), one of which has been lost. The other three are The Martyrdom of St. Lucy (above, right), St. John in the Desert (above, left), and The Adoration of the Magi (below, right)." There is some question as to whether the latter of these, in the Staatlich Museen in Berlin, along with his The Martyrdom of St. Lucy is, in fact, a predella or a separate work. There are others, but they are of doubtful attribution.

Adoration of the Magi, 1440-43, Domenico Veneziano
Veneziano was originally named Domenico, de Bartolomeo di Venezia (no wonder he shortened it).  Born and raised in Florence, where he spent his entire life, indications are  he studied under the great Florentine painter, Masaccio. However there is not in any way the "heaviness" of Masaccio's style in Veneziano's work. In fact his painting is most noted for the lightness, its carefully organized, spacious perspective, and careful attention to the human figure. In a word, there is a "naturalness" about his painting in marked contrast to that which went before and as a strong influence upon that which came after. Leonardo's work bears traces of it. His perspective is letter perfect, though still on the one-point variety, typical of his day. And his backgrounds, carefully rendered landscapes, spawned later attention to this area of painting among Florentine artists.

Carnescchi Tabernaclel,
1435, Domenico Veneziano
Also surviving the ravages of time, is a fresco, The Carnesecchi Tabernacle (left), painted around 1435 (now in London's National Gallery) in which Masaccio's influence can be detected. And that's about it, folks. A lifetime of painting distilled into a few surviving, masterful works (one of which is in rather poor condition). And while you're pausing to reflect upon your work and the odds of it rendering you some semblance of immortality, keep in mind that Veneziano was one of the greatest painters of his time, yet, we barely know him.

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