Rediscovering a Renaissance Master

Painting of winged lion resting one paw on an open book. Part of the Venetian skyline is visible behind him.
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A major retrospective of Venice’s beloved artist Vittore Carpaccio is now open at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The exhibition, Vittore Carpaccio: Master Storyteller of Renaissance Venice, is the first retrospective of his work outside Italy and runs from November 20, 2022 – February 12, 2023. 

Carpaccio is famous for being an innovative visual storyteller at a time when Venice was a major power and the main crossroads between East and West. He specialized in small-scale religious scenes for personal devotion as well as enormous, colorful depictions of stories from the Bible and lives of the saints, many of which are displayed here. Two of these large works, Saint Augustine in His Study and Saint George and the Dragon were conserved in preparation for the exhibition with the support of Save Venice Inc, an organization dedicated to preserving the artistic heritage of the city. 

Among the guests at the press opening was Frederick Ilchman, chairman of Save Venice. When asked if conservation efforts revealed any surprises, he answered, “We have a much better idea of the actual colors. The paintings had been under a yellowed varnish and lots of surface grime from dust and candle smoke, et cetera. It turns out there is a lot of limpid, clear, delicate detail.”  He also pointed out that conservation showed a late change in the Saint Augustine. A small dog that sits neatly on the left side of the composition had originally been an ermine. Uncovering changes like this provides great insight into the working process of the artist. 

Ilchman noted that although conservation work takes a very long time, it secures artworks for the future and allows them to travel. He stated that Save Venice is “committed to doing all we can to preserve the great art of the past and Carpaccio is one of our artists.” 

The show features more surprises, like the Gallery’s revelation of a hidden Jesus and the reunion of two panel paintings that form a single image not seen together since the 1700s. 

Vittore Carpaccio: Master Storyteller of Renaissance Venice was organized with the partnership of the Musei Civici di Venezia and will move to the Palazzo Ducale in Venice next year where it will be on view March 18-June 18.  

A pale-skinned young woman sits outdoors facing our left and looks down at the open book she holds.
Vittore Carpaccio, The Virgin Reading, c. 1505, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1939.1.354
Four shallow boats filled with young men dressed in tunics and leggings float on a lagoon. Some steer the boats with poles while others aim bows and arrows at birds in the water.
Fishing and Fowling on the Lagoon, c. 1492/ 1494, oil on panel. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.
Two women with upswept hair wearing elegant gowns sit facing our left in a corner lined with balustrades. They are accompanied by dogs, animals and a small child.
Two Women on a Balcony, c. 1492/1494, oil on panel. Musei Civici Veneziani, Museo Correr, Venice.


National Gallery of Art, Washington DC November 20, 2022-February 12, 2023

Palazzo Ducale, Venice March 18-June 18, 2023

FEATURED IMAGE: Lion of Saint Mark, 1516, oil on canvas, Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

All images courtesy of the National Gallery of Art Department of Communications.

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