Venetian Wares

For those stranded in Boston over break, I’d recommend a visit to the MFA’s new exhibition, “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese:  Rivals in Renaissance Venice”.  Unless you have a real fondness for well-behaved Renaissance painting, the show’s not as electric as some reviewers have promised —  with their ominous warnings that museum loans like this won’t happen again — but it’s very, very well-curated.

Tintoretto, “Susannah and the Elders” (oil on canvas, 1560-62), in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

In terms of structure, the collection treads a comfortable line between the thematic and the chronological.  The curators made a lot of smart choices, like restoring one of Tintoretto’s frescoes to — guess where? — the ceiling, when it’s been hanging on a wall for ages.  And in one of the exhibition’s highlights, the MFA guides the visitor through their restoration work on Titian’s “Nativity”, revealing how the canvas had started life as a crucifixion set in the heavens — how Jesus’ legs were transformed into a pillar, clouds into rocks, and angels into wise men.

The aim of the curators was to show the three Venetian masters in dialogue with each other — which the exhibition does — but in the end, it’s Tintoretto who emerges as the star.  Even with some big-deal Titians (the Prado’s “Venus with an Organist and Dog”), works like Tintoretto’s “Susannah with the Elders” (above) offer more for the viewer to discover within their frames.

As an added bonus, there’s a comfortable couch in almost each room, so visitors can take the time to mull over the larger canvases.  So hats off the MFA which — even in the midst of reconstruction — still turned out a great show.



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