by Liza Roberts
When N.C. Museum of Art curator of European art David Steel and his colleague Lyle Humphrey began work on the extraordinary Glory of Venice: Renaissance Paintings 1470–1520 exhibit secured by NCMA director Larry Wheeler, they knew the art was spectacular. Major altarpieces, private secular and devotional paintings, and portraits – including 20 masterpieces on loan from Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia and several from North American institutions, including the NCMA – are remarkable to behold. Together, they represent the South’s first exhibition of paintings from the hub of Renaissance art in a key period of cultural growth for the city.
Steel and Humphrey wanted to tell that broader story, putting the art in the context of Venice’s emergence as a robust center of intellectualism and trade, with flush capital sources and a booming entrepreneurial climate that enabled the new technology of printing to flourish. As printed books and typography turned Venice into a center of printing, Steel and Humphrey say, painting followed.
“You can’t show Venetian Renaissance painting and not show the development of printing,” Humphrey says. Steel agrees: “It’s the means by which humanism spread.” Printing made knowledge of the ancient world, myths, philosophy, and the works of greats like Ovid and Dante accessible as well as portable. “This is what people were talking about,” Steel says. “This became the subject matter of art.”
And so the show will display leaves of ancient books that inspired Renaissance painters alongside the paintings themselves. “We fleshed out the culture that produced the paintings,” Steel says. Humphrey says the harmony makes for a greater whole: “I love the dialogue between paintings and books.” But the incandescent art necessarily steals the show: “The paintings are still really the stars,” Steel says.
March 4 – June 18; 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesdays – Sundays except 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Fridays; $18, $12 ages 7 – 18, free for ages 6 and under; 2110 Blue Ridge Road; ncartmuseum.org/exhibitions