Venice – The Academy – Hall Of The Ancient Masters

It contains the earliest work of the Venetian Painters. The splendid apartment also retains its original decoration as the Hall of the Scuola. It was adorned with a Renaissance roof at the expense of a brother named Cherubino Aliotti ; but as the rules of the Scuola prevented any member from putting his name on his gifts, he has preserved his memory allusively in the eight-winged cherubs, which form a rebus on his name, (Cherubino Ali-otti,) in the lozenge-panels of the handsome ceiling.

The pictures in this room, though perhaps less interesting at first sight to the ordinary tourist as works of art than the developed masterpieces of later periods, must be care-fully studied by any one who wishes really to understand the development of Venetian painting. They form the starting-point, and strike the key-notes ; without them, you cannot rightly comprehend what comes later.

Begin at the further end of the room, to the R. of the door which leads into the next hall.

I. jacobello del Fiore, 1433. Coronation of the Virgin, altar-piece from the Cathedral of Ceneda. In the centre, our Lord, enthroned, crowns his mother. On either side, clouds of cherubs in blue and seraphs in red. Beneath the throne, the four Evangelists, in niches, writing their Gospels. Below again, angels (perhaps the Holy Innocents) with musical instruments. On the L , a row of Prophets (named on scrolls :) Jeremiah, Solomon, David, etc. Behind them, a row of Saints, headed by St. Christopher ; each saint and prophet attended by an angel. On the R., a row of Patriarchs, headed by Moses. Behind them, a tier of saints again, with attendant angels. To the far L., below, Virgins. To the R., the Bishop of Ceneda, (a Dominican,) the donor of the picture, a small figure, kneeling ; behind him the sainted patron of his diocese ; then, St. Dominic, with the lily, as spiritual father of the donor ; St. Thomas Aquinas, philosopher of the Dominican order, with church and book ; and St. Francis, with the stigmata. A good picture in the hard, dry, early decorative manner.

Compare this at once with a somewhat later version of the same subject (much repainted) by Antonio Murano and Giovanni Alamanno, (John the German,) *No. 33, at the corresponding place to the L. of the doorway. Above, Christ crowns his Mother, in the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Beneath the throne stand the Holy Innocents (proved as such by analogy) bearing the column at which Christ was scourged and the instruments of the Passion. Further below, again, are the four Evangelists with their symbols, the angel, lion, eagle, and bull ; St. Luke, to the R,, holds the miraculous portrait of the Virgin which he painted, and which is now in the chapel of Our Lady in St. Mark’s. To the L., behind St. John, come two of the Fathers of the Church, St. Jerome, with his church and book, and St. Gregory with the Papal tiara ; to the R., behind St. Luke, we see St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, the former holding the bones of St. Protasius and St. Gervasius which he discovered by a miracle. In the back-ground looms a crowd of saints, conspicuous amongst whom are St. Agatha, with her breasts in a dish ; St. Barbara, with her tower ; St. Mary Magdalen, with the alabaster box of ointment ; and St. Catharine, with her wheel, all to the L. Many other saints can be discriminated by their symbols. The painting (1440) marks an advance upon the last example, and shows German influence. This is a good specimen of the manner of the Vivarini, the able founders of the School of Murano. (Perhaps a copy of one in S. Pantaleone.)

Continue down the right wall.

2. Antonio Veneziano. A little altar-piece, with Madonna, St. John Baptist, and St. Jerome ; above, an Annunciation, in two divisions.

3. Michele Giambono, (who designed the mosaics in the Mascoli Chapel at St. Mark’s :) about 1440. Altar-piece for the Scuola del Cristo at the Giudecca. In the centre, Christ, as patron of the Scuola : to the L., St. John the Evangelist ; then, St. Benedict, in black Benedictine robes, grasping the book of his rule ; to the R., St. Michael the archangel, holding the scales with which he weighs souls, and trampling on the dragon ; and St. Louis of Toulouse ; at his feet, the crown which he renounced for the monastic profession.

4. Simone da Cusighe. (and half of 14th century.) Four little scriptural episodes, the Entombment, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost. Notice in the last the tongues of fire.

5. Lorenzo Veneziano, 1357. Fragments of an altar-piece ; two good figures of St. Peter and St. Mark. Observe the conventional types of these two faces.

7. Early School of Siena. Altar-piece for the Dominican Nunnery at Murano, with five Dominican female saints, in Dominican dress, with their proper symbols and their names inscribed ; beneath them, the visitation by which the Redeemer revealed himself miraculously to each.

8. St. Benedict and donors.

9. Lorenzo Veneziano, 1357. Annunciation ; the angel, as usual, to the L., and Our Lady to the R. ; above, God the Father sends out the Holy Spirit and the infant Christ (a rare treatment :) L., St. Gregory and St. John the Baptist ; R., St. James the Greater, (erroneously described in the Catalogue as San Rocco,) with staff and scallop-shells, and St. Stephen, with the stones of his martyrdom. *Io. Lorenzo Veneziano. Splendid altar-piece (for Sant’ Antonio di Castello) in several sections ; centre, Annunciation, with tiny donors—compare it with the preceding ; L., St. John the Evangelist, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Dominic with the lily, and St. Francis with the stigmata, the latter nearest our Lord, this being the altar-piece of a Franciscan church : to the R., St. Antony the Hermit, with Tau-shaped cross on his robe, as patron of the church ; St. John Baptist, St. Paul (sword), and St. Peter (keys). Notice the conventional types of these faces : each apostle has his recognised cast of features. The figure of God the Father, above, sending down the Holy Ghost, was inserted much later, and is by Benedetto Diana. Study this altar-piece closely for its concentrated symbolism.

11. Jacopo Moranzone. Altar-piece of the suppressed church of St. Elena in Isola. Centre, the Assumption of Our Lady, who is being raised in a mandorla, or almond-shaped glory, by six angels ; L, St. Helena, mother of Constantine, and patroness of the church for which this was painted, holding the True Cross which she discovered ; then, St. John Baptist ; R., St. Benedict, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary ; the later identification I think doubtful.

13. Jacobello del Fiore, 1436. Madonna delta Misericordia, sheltering votaries under her robe, a type which will recur frequently in Venice ; she wears the Child like a brooch on her bosom. Notice, above, the little Annunciation in the lozenges. This is a family picture, the votaries representing two nuns and their relations. L. and R., the two St. Johns, Baptist and Evangelist.

14. Maestro Paolo. Virgin and Child, with Pietà above ; on the panels, St. James the Greater, with his pilgrim’s staff, and St. Francis with the stigmata.

End wall, by the staircase: *15, Jacobello del Fiore. A large and beautiful decorative panel from the Magistrates’ Room in the Doge’s Palace ; (Magistrato del Proprio.) In the centre, Venice, (or Justice,) with the sword and scales, enthroned between her lions ; L., the Archangel Michael, with his scales and the dragon ; R., the Archangel Gabriel with Annunciation lily ; the Latin inscriptions are interesting. The appropriateness of the picture to its original place is obvious.

Left wall: 16, Catarino. Very rude Coronation of the Virgin, 1365. Compare all these Coronations.

18. Simone da Cusighe, 1393. Madonna della Misericordia, as before, sheltering under her robe a group of votaries belonging to a religious order, two of them habited as penitents. Around are quaintly naive scenes from the life of St. Bartholomew ; above, he preaches, converts a princess of Armenia, destroys idols, baptises converts ; below, he is condemned by the king, is scourged, is flayed, and beheaded ; angels overhead bear his soul to heaven.

19. Madonna and Child, by Niccolo di Maestro Pietro.

20. Antonio Vivarini, one of the leaders of the School of Murano. Beautiful little decorative figure of St. Lawrence.

21. Unknown Venetian of the 14th century. Altar-piece In the centre, Coronation of the Virgin—compare with the previous examples ; on the sides, naïve representations, somewhat Byzantine in character, of the life of Christ ; Nativity, in a cave, with Adoration of the Magi, ox, ass, camels, etc.; Baptism in Jordan, with angels holding the Saviour’s clothes ; Last Supper ; Agony in the Garden, with Kiss of Judas, and Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus ; Way to Calvary ; Crucifixion ; Resurrection, with Christ and Magdalen in the garden; Ascension, Christ raised in a mandorla before the Apostles and Virgin, with angels beneath. All these scenes are good typical early examples in the treatment of their subjects, Note for comparison. The small series above represents the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and then the Life of St. Francis :—he receives Santa Chiara ; he strips himself of his worldly goods and clothing, to enter the little oratory at Assisi ; he receives the stigmata from a six-winged red crucified seraph ; his death, with his soul ascending ; and finally, his glory in heaven. These are the conventional St. Francis subjects.

23. Nicolo Semitecolo. Coronation of the Virgin.

24. Michele di Mateo Lambertini. Great altar-piece from the suppressed church of St. Elena, as before. In the centre, Our Lady and Child, with angels ; very charming, and showing already an approach to the peculiar Venetian type of the Madonna. Immediately to her L., the patroness St. Helena, with the True Cross ; next to her, St. Lucy, with her eyes in a dish : R., St. Mary Magdalen, her vase almost obliterated, and St. Catharine with her wheel ; above are the Crucifixion and the four Evangelists with their symbols. In the predella, beneath, is the history of the invention of the True Cross ; St. Helena arrives at Jerusalem ; she enquires as to the True Cross, with a debate of Jews as to its whereabouts (?); the invention of the Cross ; a miracle performed by the True Cross discriminates it from those of the two thieves found with it ; Helena adores the Cross, which puts to flight demons. I do not quite understand all these subjects.

27. Bartolommeo Vivarini, one of the latest of the Murano School. Virgin and Saints, from the Dominican church of St. Peter Martyr at Murano. The saints are all Dominicans, in robes of the order ; L., in the place of honour, St. Dominic ; then, St. Thomas Aquinas ; R., St. Peter Martyr, the patron of the church, with the knife of his martyrdom in his head, and St. Vincent Ferrer, bearing his symbol, the handful of flames.

28. Andrea da Murano, pupil of the last. Ruined altar-piece, a plague-offering (see account of the Four Great Plague-Churches) from St. Peter Martyr at Murano. In the centre, St. Vincent Ferrer, and San Rocco, the latter bearing his pilgrim’s staff, showing the plague-spot on his leg, and attended by his angel ; beneath, one of the donors, kneeling. L., the other great plague-saint, St. Sebastian ; R., St. Peter Martyr, patron of the church, with his knife as before, each of these with a donor. Above, Madonna della Misericordia, with three Dominican saints, Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, and Catharine of Siena, and a royal saint unknown to me ; perhaps St. Sigismund.

29. Quirizio da Murano, about 1450. Charming little Madonna and Child, which strikes a keynote for subsequent half-length Venetian Madonnas. The child is sleeping, as often at Venice; the type of Our Lady has the true Venetian neck and features. The arrangement of the curtain and the landscape background are characteristic.

30. Quirizio da Murano. Ecce Homo.

31 and 32. School of the Vivarini. Two doctors of the Church, St. Jerome and St. Augustine. Note their symbols. (Coarse workmanship.)

34 and 35. School of the Vivarini. St. James the Greater, with his pilgrim’s staff, and St. Francis with the cross and stigmata.

This room gives you a good idea of the general character of Venetian painting before the rise of the Bellini.

Disregarding the official arrangement of the rooms, so as to preserve chronological order, return now to the staircase by which you entered, and pass into the apartment to the left of the staircase, (R. as you now approach it.) ROOM XX.