Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa, Professor of the history of modern art and musicology, University of Bergamo
Giovanni Battista Cima (1459-1517), born in a small town in Venetia, is one of the leading representatives of Venetian painting in the late 15th and early 16th century. In contact with the greatest artists in Venice, he developed a refined style and perfect technique which distinguish him from all others. His deftly balanced compositions glow with colour and are set in poetic landscapes inspired by his native land. Through more than thirty works, the exhibition traces the chronology of Cima da Conegliano’s career and the evolution in his art. It brings out the fundamental role he played in Venetian and European painting in the late fifteenth century.
Rise to Fame
Nothing in his background predestined Giovanni Battista Cima to fame in Venice. He was not born there, but grew up in the hinterland, in a small town called Conegliano at the foot of the Dolomites. His father was a textile manufacturer so the family was comfortably off and the boy received an excellent education. But an extraordinary destiny awaited Cima in Venice: he quickly made his name as an excellent master, despite fierce competition. Along with Giovanni Bellini (1425-1516) and Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1526), Cima is regarded as one of the great Venetian painters. In the late 15th century, when the city was one of the most brilliant centres of the Italian Renaissance, his painting was appreciated there and sought after by a discerning clientele.
Cima owes his success to the perfection of his art, based on meticulous drawing and his mastery of oil painting (a relatively new technique at the time), as well as the intensity of his palette. His virtuosity gave him exceptional precision in the representation of details: fine work on a piece of jewellery, the shimmering texture of drapery. But it was above all his striking way of depicting faces, expressions and an often melancholic gaze, which make his paintings so deeply human.
A Painter in Phase with His Time
Cima’s success was also due to his receptiveness to new ideas and his extraordinary powers of assimilation. He started his career in the footsteps of Antonello da Messina (1430-1479) and Giovanni Bellini. Later he proposed new models to which artists such as Bellini or Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) were receptive. The masters of the following generation, such as Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556) or Titian (1490-1576), found ideas in them for their own compositions. At the height of his career, Cima influenced Giorgione’s tonal painting and became the master of the generation of Lorenzo Lotto, Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo. There was therefore a constant dialogue between several generations of artists around Cima.
In his painting, Cima explored new compositional effects combining nature and architecture. He introduced asymmetry and unexpected vistas and made surprising openings. His paintings reveal his love of wide-open spaces, bathed in light and surrounded by hills and mountains reminiscent of his native countryside. Never before had anyone painted Venetia so poetically. The exhibition Cima da Coneglianio: Master of the Venetian Renaissance brings together exceptional works, including large altarpieces shown outside Italy for the first time. It gives the public an opportunity to see the work of an artist in phase with his time and to take a new look at the prestigious history of Venice.
Picture : Cima da Conegliano, Saint Sébastien, 1500-1502, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg © RMN-GP / Ste?phane Mare?challe.