The Accademia collection, Venice, Part 3. Also, the Stendhal Syndrome and me.

By the time I visited the Accademia collection in Venice in early February of this year, I was already suffering a bit from the Stendhal Syndrome, or an overload of beauty. This happens to me all of the time when I’m visiting Italian cities, or London, or Paris, or New York. Overstimulation of my senses.

As I am writing this post a week after my visit, I can actually see where the overload begins, as my photographs begin to take on a more random nature. Clearly I am walking into a space and experiencing it with all my senses; looking up at the ceiling, down at the pavement, and like a magpie, my eye is caught by shining things. Usually when visiting an art exhibition, I will take a photo of a label describing the work of art for later use as an aide memoire. When I’m later writing a post and don’t find any pictures of labels, I know Stendhal had kicked in!

Case in point. Look at this ceiling and reliquary in the Accademia. With no picture of any label! I mean, it’s impressive! But, how about some details? Who made it? When? Why? As an art historian, my brain needs to ask these questions.

And then, I presume, the painting below caught my eye and I took a picture. It’s an odd presentation of some feminine church related figure riding a very strange beast. I’m sure that’s why I took a picture, but where’s the label? Presumably it was right beside the work. We may never know.

Ah, but then my senses focus again upon encountering this masterpiece by Carpaccio! OMG. So gorgeous!

And, next to the first magnificent painting by Carpaccio above, is this second one, depicting the presentation of Christ in the temple.

I know for a fact that what initially took my attention to these 2 Carpaccio altarpieces were the musician angels at the bottom, right at eye level. Plus, look how Carpaccio signed this latter work. Right on the virtual marble plinth on which the angel props his right foot. Charmed, I’m sure! Dated 1510.


Originally on the 3rd altar on the right in the church of San Giobbe and dedicated to the Purification of the Virgin, the altarpiece, signed and dated 1510, was probably commissioned by Pietro di Matteo Sanudo, whose coat of arms is still visible on the marble frame in the church. Carpaccio portrays an apsed chapel decorated with polychrome marble and golden mosaics, and depicts the episode of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple forty days after his birth.

He is being presented to the High Priest Simeon, symmetrically juxtaposed to the Virgin. Following the format of Giovanni Bellini’s nearby San Giobbe Altarpiece, which was originally to the right of the altarpiece in question, the artist redeploys its pyramidal scheme, the suspended lamp, the group of angels playing instruments, the relationship with real architecture, and a smaller number of figures.

The typology, however, doesn’t quite suit him, which is evident if we compare this piece with his better and much livelier narrative cycles for the Scuole. The originality of the episodes taken from Genesis and the Apocalypse and depicted on Simeon’s cape is contrasted with the repetitive nature of the Perugino-like female faces, which recall those of the kneeling martyrs in the Apotheosis of Saint Ursula, which probably shares the same preparatory drawing, now held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (WA 1977.17, recto).

And, then once again, my eyes travel up to the beautifully decorated ceiling. If you have to have wooden beams in a room, why not decorate them like this?!

I will finish this post with works by 2 of my favorite northern Italian painters, Piero della Francesca and Andrea Mantegna.

Oh, and I’ll throw in this painting too, which obviously I photographed because it relates to the 2 Carpaccio paintings I love above.

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