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15 October 2015 – 10 January 2016

About the Exhibition

Discover how the splendour of Venice and its shimmering light influenced artists, resulting in compelling portraits, atmospheric landscapes of exceptional beauty and sensuous figure studies.

Venetian art has long been associated with brilliant colours and free brushstrokes, but drawing has largely been written out of its history. This ground breaking exhibition, in collaboration with the Uffizi in Florence, is based on new research. It traces the role of drawing in Venice and its importance over three centuries, dispelling the myth that Venetian artists, including their greatest painter, Titian, had no interest in drawing.

This is the first major exhibition of Venetian drawings in the UK and it includes over 100 magnificent works from the Uffizi, the Ashmolean, and Christ Church, Oxford, by artists such as Titian, Tintoretto and Canaletto.

In a parallel exhibition, Jenny Saville Drawing, one of the UK's most celebrated contemporary artists, Jenny Saville, has produced new work on paper and canvas in response to the powerful qualities of Venetian drawing.

Drawing In Venice

Putting the words 'drawing' and 'Venice' together seems paradoxical. Writing on Venetian art has located creativity and artistic ambition in painting above all, emphasizing the materiality and sensuous effects achieved by Venetian artists. The intellectual and reflective qualities encapsulated in drawing are seen as irrelevant in the artistic world of Venice. The idea that Venetian artists did not use or value drawing was articulated in Florence, in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists of 1568. Vasari's influential statements were repeated and elaborated by later writers, so that in 1770s London, Joshua Reynolds confidently asserted that artists in Venice did not care about drawing with all of its virtues of discrimination and judgement, and that they went straight to working with brushes on canvas. This potent literary tradition had a major impact on the survival of drawings.

Titian to Canaletto presents new research which traces continuities in Venetian drawing over three centuries, from around 1500 to the foundation of the first academy of art in Venice in 1750. The exhibition emphasizes the role of drawing from sculpture and from life in the education and identities of Venetian artists, and it reveals tensions between theory and practice in the activities of artists and of collectors. Venetian artists used drawing for innovating and experimenting, or as a tool for research and observation; a variety of drawings were made and admired as works of art in their own right. The exhibition poses questions about the survival and value of drawings: does the fact that we have so few by Titian mean that he did not draw? Why were many Venetian drawings thought unworthy of collecting?

Ironically, while the story that Venetian artists did not respect drawing was first told in Florence, one of the world's great collections of Venetian drawings is held at the Uffizi where many drawings were acquired in the mid-seventeenth century for Leopoldo de'Medici. Not only are there masterpieces by Carpaccio, Bassano, Titian and Tintoretto, and high-quality works by lesser-known seventeenth century artists, there are also drawings that reveal early attitudes to collecting and connoisseurship. The Uffizi will also lend drawings by Tiepolo that have never been shown before, to be grouped with the Ashmolean's own superb collection. Pioneering collectors in England owned Venetian drawings, and loans of important works by Veronese and Tintoretto will come from the intact early eighteenth-century collection at Christ Church, Oxford, together with the extraordinary Portrait of a man, by Giovanni Bellini.

Images:

  • Canaletto, An Island in the Lagoon, © Ashmolean Museum
  • Giambattista Piazzetta, Head of a Youth, © Ashmolean Museum
  • Titian, Portrait of a young woman, © Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence
  • Jacopo Bassano, Angel of Annunciation, by Permission of the Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford
  • Pordenone, The Martyrdom of St Peter, © Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence
  • Giovanni Bellini, Portrait of a man, by Permission of the Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford
  • Vittore Carpaccio, Head of a Woman, © Ashmolean Museum
  • Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Life study as Hercules with club and lionskin, © Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence

Exhibition Supporters

The exhibition has been generously supported by: The Friends of the Ashmolean; The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; and The Wolfgang Ratjen Foundation.

Titian to Canaletto: Drawing in Venice has been organised by the Ashmolean Museum in collaboration with the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence.