Nudes of the Renaissance Masters Come to the Upper East Side
The showstopper is a monumental ceiling painting by Tintoretto.
Prudes beware: a truly impressive grouping of Old Master paintings are on display in an exhibition at New York’s Otto Naumann Gallery, including canvases by such Renaissance greats as Vittore Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and Tintoretto. As expected, many works feature nudes in a variety of forms.
Hosted jointly with Robert Simon Fine Art, “In Light of Venice: Venetian Painting in Honor of David Rosand” is a celebration not only of northern Italian Renaissance art but of the late art historian and Columbia University professor David Rosand, who taught both gallerists.
A portion of the exhibition’s sales will go toward the David Rosand Tribute Fund, which will be put toward the endowment a professorship in Italian Renaissance painting at the university, as well as supporting Casa Muraro, Columbia’s outpost in Venice, that Rosand, who died in 2014, founded.
“Between the two of us [dealers] and some really spectacular loans from private collectors, we were able to present something of a history of Italian painting here,” Robert Simon told artnet News during a private tour of the exhibition. “If anything gets sold it will be very good for Columbia.”
It’s the second time the two galleries, which are located in the same building, have teamed up. “Some dealers are highly competitive,” said Simon. “We’re highly collegial. I’m a refugee from academia, and Otto is too.”
The showstopper, which was still being installed (a painstaking, all-day affair) during artnet News’s visit, is undoubtedly Tintoretto’s Allegory of Music, a monumental ceiling painting that currently belongs to a family in Riverdale. “It’s been hanging over the dining room table for 45 years,” said Simon.
“For a picture not to be in a museum of this period, of this scale, that’s very, very rare,” he added. “It’s a hard fit because it’s a ceiling painting; it doesn’t look very nice on a wall.”
“That’s where every museum has extra space,” Otto Naumann chimed in. The duo are hopeful that a museum will buy the $2.5 million piece, although Simon allows that it might also appeal to “someone with a really big house.”
Some works in the show have never been publicly exhibited before. One such highlight is Carpaccio’s Christ Blessing (Christ as Salvator Mundi), circa 1510, a small painting that Simon purchased from a private collection in Italy.
The work was only definitively identified as a genuine Carpaccio after a recent cleaning and a battery of infrared imaging tests. “Use a little bit of science, a little intuition, and put it together,” said Simon of the authentication process, which was confirmed by outside experts. (Simon was also involved in the rediscovery and subsequent $75 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s long-lost Salvatore Mundi.)
“It’s not a very religious picture,” said Simon of a portrait of a scantily-clad St. Sebastian painted by Titian that is selling for $4 million. “It’s sort of a sensual male nude. The Renaissance was about sort of conflating the secular and the sacred.”
It’s a theme that resurfaces several times in the exhibition. Simon also pointed out Jacopo Bassano‘s Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (circa 1570). “You can hardly find the religious part about it,” he admitted, taking a few seconds to identify Jesus in the painting’s massive crowd. “It’s a scene of country life, almost.”
Other paintings, like a Palma il Vecchio canvas of a man with two woman, one reaching seductively into the other’s shirt, are more difficult to definitively identify. “It may have been just done as an erotic picture to titillate a male audience,” said Simon. “There’s been some suggestion that it’s a religious painting, the prodigal son among the harlots, but I don’t think so.”
Moving on to Bellini’s Venus at her Toilette (1510–15), Simon added, “This is probably the rarest thing here.” The Bellini painting could sell for $4.5 million. (A second version of the canvas is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.)
“It’s an officially mythological subject,” said Simon of the painting of Venus, a popular subject among Venetian painters of the time. “But in a way, it was an excuse to show the female nude.”
“There’s a degree of sensuality that you get in Venetian painting that I don’t think you get in other regions,” Simon added. He then proceeded to go from painting to painting, pointing the many instances of nudity.
Playing up this sense of excess, Simon and Naumann have outfitted a 19th-century marble sculpture of Hagar and Ishmael, too heavy to remove for the exhibition, with a pair of gaudy Carnival masks. “We made them Venetian,” said Simon, “for the occasion.”
“In Light of Venice: Venetian Painting in Honor of David Rosand” is on view at Otto Nauman Ltd., 22 E 80th Street, New York, January 11–February 12, 2016.
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