The Portland Art Museum’s first major exhibition of 2014, “Venice: The Golden Age of Art and Music” (Feb. 15 – May 11, 2014) brings a trove of great Old Master paintings to Portland, all of them by painters who lived in or were connected to the great imperial city of Venice, La Serenissima, “the most serene.”
But the exhibition aims to link these great painters — Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Canaletto, and Guardi — to the music and public life of Venice between the 16th and late 18th centuries, not just pluck them out and drop them down into 21st century. So the paintings selected are full of musicians and instruments, even when their subjects involve mythology, and they include sweeping canvases of Venice’s great civic celebrations, such as Canaletto’s The Bucintoro Returning to the Molo on Ascension Day 1760.
Venice, which became the richest city state in Italy during the Renaissance because of its control of trade in the Mediterranean, was also the birthplace of opera and modern music publishing, and the Venetian Republic supported such composers as Willaert, Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Vivaldi. And that music rang out in various ways, some sacred and some profane, in the paintings of the masters. Pietro Longhi’s depictions of the drawing room dancing lessons of Venetian society are delightful, though maybe the most representative painting in the show is Giovanni Battista Piazzetta’s The Singer (pictured above), which captures the intensity and skill of the vocalist. The interpenetration of music and art occurred most prominently at the opera, where the set designs and costumes created by artists and the composers’ musical narratives met. We imagine The Singer rehearsing for just such an event.
Along with the paintings, the exhibition includes prints, drawings, illuminated manuscripts and sculptures along with original period instruments and early music texts. Period music will be played in the galleries to enhance the experience. A full slate of lectures is also scheduled. “Venice: The Golden Age of Art and Music” was organized originally for the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, but its 109 objects were drawn from 48 lenders around the world.
The museum has joined with local music groups to schedule several concerts connected to the exhibition.
The celebrated Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana will perform a program of music by Baldassare Galuppi, who also served Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg and created an oddly sublime combination of the musics of the two cities (7 p.m., March 22).
Members of the Oregon Symphony will play Vivaldi’s justly famous The Four Seasons (2 p.m., March 1).
And both the Allora Baroque Ensemble (2 p.m., March 23) and Arnica String Quartet (2 p.m., April 5) will perform programs of more intimate music by Cavalli, Castello and Vivaldi as well as Benjamin Britten, who composed his Third String Quartet in Venice.