Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour
February 5-May 12, 2002
At the J. Paul Getty Museum
Press Preview: Tuesday, February 5, 2002, 9-11 a.m.
Los Angeles--A new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour, celebrates vedute, or expansive views, and gathers work by the most sought-after view painters of the day. It is offered along with two other exhibitions that focus on aspects of the Grand Tour--Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour (through March 24, 2002) and Rome on the Grand Tour (through August 11, 2002)--on view at the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery and the J. Paul Getty Museum, respectively.
Independently and collectively, these exhibitions explore a tradition in which young, 18th-century European (mainly British) aristocrats traveled across Europe to reach Italy. There at the center of the former Roman Empire, they sought sources of the classical culture in which they had been educated, and manifested this quest by collecting antique and contemporary works of art.
"This exhibition attests to the strength of the collections and scholarship at the Getty," says Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "We invite visitors to reflect on this important phenomenon of European travel and enjoy the numerous ways in which tourists sought to commemorate and replicate their impressions of 18th-century Italy."
Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour
The legacy of Italy, once the heart of the Roman Empire, and the physical beauty of the country's separate and geographically diverse states attracted travelers throughout the 1700s. This was the age of the Grand Tour, when the voyage to Italy was deemed fundamental to the education of refined European aristocrats. Grand Tourists made an indelible impact on local artistic practice. Their shared passion for the country's topography spurred the development of a new genre of expansive views of Italy known as vedute, an art-historical term used for drawings, paintings, and prints capturing landscape views.
"Throughout the 1700s, travelers flocked to Italy in search of inspiration, enlightenment, discovery, and adventure," says Allegra Pesenti, curator of the exhibition and assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Drawings. "They encouraged the production of portable visual records of the country in the form of drawn, painted, or printed landscapes and cityscapes."
Drawings of the Italian countryside were no longer used solely as backdrops for human action. With the emergence of vedute in the early 1700s, the depiction of Italy's landscapes and cityscapes was acknowledged for the first time as an independent art form. Reaching their peak as a genre in Italy during the age of the Grand Tour, vedute served as visual records of the sites encountered by Grand Tourists, as well as status symbols on the walls of the Grand Tourists' homes.
Spontaneous sketches made outdoors reflected the new, boundless world of the traveling artist. The basis of much of view painting was formed by artists' excursions into the countryside, often made in the company of a patron or sketching companion. These elaborate views on paper appealed to the Grand Tourist, not only for their portability, but also for their capacity to capture the subtle tones, textures, and illumination of nature.
Ancestors of the modern-day postcard, vedute were also vehicles for the artist's creative and illusionistic vision of nature and architecture. The greatest view painters--Giovanni Antonio Canal (called Canaletto), Giovanni Paolo Panini, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, among others--began their careers as stage-set decorators, and they continued to create theatrical and festival designs throughout their careers. Vedute exploited similar skills, including the use of oblique perspective and dramatically focused light and shade for enhanced optical illusion. From the imaginary settings of capricci (architectural depictions popularized by artists such as Francesco Guardi and Marco Ricci) to the improvised acts of the commedia dell'arte, both forms continually shift between reality and invention.
The exhibition encompasses a range of images by some of the most important view painters, including a portrayal of contemporary street-life and architecture in Venice by Canaletto, a theatrical performance by Francesco Guardi, and an imaginary antique port by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The Italian states are also witnessed through the eyes of foreign artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Claude-Joseph Vernet. Like Grand Tourists themselves, they traversed the routes of Italy's rich and diverse lands.
A more scientific and archaeological form of vedute was particularly popular among French and German artists. Jean-Pierre-Laurent Hoüel's gouache drawings capture the exact topography of the island of Sicily. To this realistic trend also belong the Venetian views of Canaletto. These apparently faithful renderings are in fact sometimes skillful manipulations of specific sites. Canaletto used an optical tool, the camera obscura, to help him draw buildings with architectural accuracy; after so doing, however, he proceeded to alter the preliminary sketch according to his own visual aesthetic.
Some of the works document the lure of Italy's ancient sites, such as the rediscoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and witness the age's increasing concern with observing the natural world. Schools specializing in the depiction of specific cities and landscapes emerged, with major centers in Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. For the first time, vedute became the primary vehicles for an artist's creative observation of nature and architecture.
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