Venus blindfolding Cupid

IL PADOVANINO (1588-1648)

Venus blindfolding Cupid

c. 1625 Italy

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The Colnaghi painting, a copy of the famous The Three Graces or Cupid’s Education by Titian (Galleria Borghese, Rome), is a paradigmatic work by Padovanino. Eschewing the classicising reforms of the Carracci on the one hand and the revolutionary realism of Caravaggio on the other, Padovanino continued to work in the great tradition of Titian, producing his own versions of some Titian’s most famous compositions which are also show the influence of some of the other great Venetian masters such as Tintoretto and Veronese. These pictures, which included both the present Colnaghi-Bernheimer painting and his well-known copies of the Aldobrandini Bacchanals now in Bergamo (Accademia Carrara) which Boschini in the late seventeenth century regarded as the jewel of his work , were highly esteemed by the great circle of patrons and collectors in Rome who rediscovered Titian’s work in the early years of the seventeenth century. Proof of the continuing high regard with which his work was held is the fact that a second version of the Bergamo copy of The Andrians, which has since disappeared, was acquired by the Czar of Russia in 1850

In the first half of the Seicento, the great enthusiasm for Titian’s paintings among collectors was reflected in a resurgence of artistic interest in Titian’s style, particularly in Rome. Il Padovanino’s contemporary, Nicolas Poussin (circa 1593-94 – 1665), for example is known to have painted a copy of the Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian, which now in the National Gallery and the influence of the Titian Bacchanals on Poussin is also evident in the Poussin’s Adoration of the Golden Calf and Bacchanalian Revel before a Term of Pan both in the National Gallery, London. Other artists who were influenced by the Aldobrandini Bacchanals were Van Dyck, who copied The Andrians while in Rome in the early 1620s, and both Annibale Carracci and Domenichino came under Titian’s spell, Annibale in his Bacchus and Ariadne (Palazzo Farnese, Rome) and Domenichino, in his Hunt of Diana, painted in 1616 for Cardinal Aldobrandini, which was strongly influenced by The Andrian, then in the Aldobrandini Collection. Il Padovanino’s copies after Titian, were, therefore absolutely contemporary with the important Titian revival which took place in Rome in the 1620s and, as an interesting footnote, a version of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne in the Museum of Le Havre, formerly attributed to Nicolas Poussin was reattributed to Il Padovanino in 1984.

The Colnaghi-Bernheimer painting is a work of Padovanino’s maturity and may be placed during his second visit to Rome in 1625. Our sculptural figures herald those of Venus and Adonis in the Collection of Prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, which are dated by Ruggeri about 1630. Venus blindfolding Cupid is typical of Padovanino’s interest in penetrating the secret of Titian’s pictorial technique and it is this, rather than the subject matter, which is Il Padovanino’s primary interest. Both the individual figures and the overall composition are directly borrowed from Titian, but Padovanino does not content himself with imitating Titian’s forms as an academic exercise, but is also interested in evoking his pictorial effects-the subtleties of lighting, skin tones and surface effects. The powerful forms, which seem to turn in the light, are simplified. The warm, reddish, almost unearthly light, invests Venus’s flesh with glowing tints, which are reflected in her diadem and pearls and her headband is twisted in an arabesque. The rendering of the faces of Venus and Cupid and Venus is by means a slavish copy of the Titian prototype, because Il Padovanino invests them with his own individual combination of realism and grace, the figure of Cupid leaning over the shoulder of his mother Venus, being reminiscent the Allegoria in the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, Milano.
The tradition of Venetian painting represented by the early and late work of Titian culminated in the painting of Il Padovanino. His work provides interesting evidence of the role played by the art of the Venetian High Renaissance in the “renewal” of painting by classically minded artists in the early years of the 17th century as well as the enormous appeal of the Venetian cinquecento for seventeenth-century collectors.

Son of a little-known painter and architect called Dario Varotari and of Samaritana, the daughter of Giovan-Battista Ponchino, Alessandro Varotari achieved wide success, fame and recognition in the early Seicento under the nickname Il Padovanino, derived from his home town of Padua. Although contemporary sources suggest that he received his earliest training from his father, this is unlikely given that he was still an infant when his father died, but he may have received lessons from Gerolamo Campagna, a friend of his father’s, and he seems from an early period to have been exposed to the work of Titian, an artist for whom he was to have a life-long admiration. In this he was probably encouraged by Damiano Mazza, an artist who painted in the style of Titian and had a studio in Padua. According to Boschini in his Breve istruzione (Venice, 1674) Il Padovanino studied painting through by copying Titian’s frescoes in the Scuola di San Antonio, Padua as well as other works by the master, above all those of his youth and early maturity and the influence of Titian remained fundamental to Padovanino’s art. Throughout his career Il Padovanino remained remarkably faithful to the great Venetian master and Titian’s influence is evident in his civic and ecclesiastical commissions and, above all, in his notable mythological paintings. His first dated work, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1610; Padua, San Lucia) is a faithful imitation of Titian and some of his other youthful works, such as The Pentecost (Venice, Accademia) and The Virgin and Child (Padua Cathedral), are direct copies; but he also painted pictures which were free interpretations, rather than imitations of Titian, such as the masterly S. Eligio altarpiece in Agordo, Belluno and other pictures, such as Penelope with the bow of Ulysses (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), where Il Padovanino reworked a composition by Primaticcio in the manner of Titian. Il Padovanino also painted a number of copies and free interpretations of some of the other important Venetian sixteenth -century masters, such as Veronese and Giorgione.

In 1614 Il Padovanino left his native Padua, and, after spending some time in Venice, paid an early visit to Rome, probably between 1615 and 1618, the date of his vast canvas showing the Victory of the Camotesi over the Normans, now in the Brera Gallery, Milan. The direct quotations from Annibale Carracci evident in this painting, suggests first-hand acquaintance with the Carracci frescoes in the Farnese Palace in Rome and indicate that it was probably painted soon after his first Roman visit. During Padovanino’s stay in Rome he also copied the three Aldobrandini Bacchanals by Titian. These copies (Galleria Accademia Carrara, Bergamo,) reveal in their warm colouring the influence of Palma Giovane, one of the last of the immediate followers of Titian and a leading exponent of mannerism, who was active in Venice in the last decades of the 16th century and the early years of the 17th century. Il Padovanino returned to Venice in 1618 and remained there until his death in 1648.

Il Padovanino was enrolled in the Venetian Guild of painters, the Fraglia, from 1615 to 1639, and enjoyed many public commissions, of which the first major work was the Wedding at Cana in the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice, which is signed and dated 1622. Payments made to Il Padovanino in Rome in 1625 suggest that he visited the city a second time, and Roman influence can be detected in several of his works up until about 1630, although he also adhered with increasing purity to the traditions 16th century Venetian art, above all that of Titian. Around this time he grew away from his dependence on Palma Giovane. With the Death of Procris (1631, Florence, Donzelli private collection), Padovanino developed a subtle decorative quality, which was to characterize many of his later works. In these late works the artist still remained indebted to Titian, but his relationship with the master and his colour harmonies became richer. Padovanino’s successful revival of 16th century Venetian art was inherited by such disciples as Pietro della Vecchia and Giulio Carpioni. He brought to a whole new generation of painters in Venice a feeling for the great age of Venetian painting, above all the work of Titian, which he set up in opposition to the prevailing late mannerist style of his Venetian contemporaries, as represented by Palma Giovane.

Exceptional in its strength and modelling, the Colnaghi painting is a particularly fine example of the work of an artist who, far from being a mere copyist, painted pictures which evoke the spirit, not just the forms of the great Venetian sixteenth-century master whom he admired so much, and provide an important bridge between the Golden Age of Venetian painting and the revival of classicism in Rome in the seventeenth century.
Private collection, Sweden
Height 117.50 cm (46.26 inches)
Width 182.00 cm (71.65 inches)
With a label on the reverse: N°B256
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