Luminaries’ masterworks shine in exhibit that chronicles Vicenza’s Renaissance rise from obscurity
The Porto family has been separated for centuries.
Livia Thiene da Porto and her daughter Deidamia have lived, if not breathed, at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Livia’s husband, Iseppo, and her son Leonidas stayed at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Italy.
Organizers of an art exhibit at Vicenza’s Basilica Palladiana titled “The Renaissance Factory” had intended to reunite the foursome depicted in a pair of majestic, full-length portraits painted by Verona-born Paolo Veronese in 1552.
But it was not to be. Complications stemming from the pandemic prevented shipment of the Baltimore painting, museum officials said, so a digitized version was hung in Vicenza instead.
Despite COVID-19’s hindrance of the Porto family reunion, however, the exhibit nevertheless was unveiled, and it gathers exquisite masterpieces of painting, sculpture and architecture.
Covering a 35-year period, it explores how what had been a sleepy little province in the 1400s became a center of Renaissance art a century later. The title of the exhibit is an allusion to this phenomenon.
All it took was a thriving trade in high-quality silk, along with some grandees who revered the glories of the ancient world and were willing to patronize a group of local artistic geniuses.
Veronese and his friends architect Andrea Palladio, painter Jacopo Bassano and sculptor Alessandro Vittoria would become famous all over the world.
Several of the foursome’s masterpieces are included in the exhibit, which also weaves books, fabrics, precious objects and tapestries from the era — as well as the price tags of some of them — to tell the tale of the exceptional artistic life of Vicenza from 1550 to 1585.
“The Renaissance Factory” is all about Vicenza, in fact, and it gathers artworks from some of the world’s most important museums.
The richly colored Porto portraits were probably painted for the family’s palace in Vicenza, which, like the basilica housing the exhibit, was designed by Palladio.
It’s easy to see how the portraits were deemed revolutionary. The parents and children are posed casually, with the affection between them apparent.
Leonidas holds one hand onto Iseppo’s arm, while the boy’s other hand is entwined with his father’s. Deidamia peeks out from Livia’s fur-lined cloak, her mother’s hand on her shoulder.
The very setting of the exhibit attests to Vicenza’s prominence as a cradle of Renaissance culture, with Palladio as its poster boy. His renown spans both time and place.
He is, of course, a revered figure for Italians. Vicenza has a museum dedicated to him, statues of him are plentiful, and many of the wondrous works he designed are today visitor destinations, which can be toured on curated walks.
Thomas Jefferson modeled Monticello and the University of Virginia on Palladian concepts, as did modern-day architect I.M. Pei in his design for the main entrance of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong.
Palladio even became tangentially associated with a 1990s De Beers advertising phenomenon credited with selling millions of diamond rings.
The commercials used the line "diamonds are forever," coined decades before by Philadelphia copywriter Frances Gerety, who never married, and were set to Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ orchestral work named after the Italian architect.
Vicenza’s Renaissance treasures have proved to be equally enduring and glamorous. Many of them can now be viewed in all their dazzling brilliance in one location — and for much less than the cost of a precious stone.
“The Renaissance Factory” runs through April 28. Vicenza is about an hour’s drive west of Venice.
Address: Palladian Basilica, Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, Italy
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday
Admission: 13 euros.
Information: Phone, +39 0444326418; internet, www.mostreinbasilica.it