My wife and I visited the exhibition on opening day and found it to be a fine but modest offering housed in a relatively small room. Though limited to one room, the room is right in the middle of the Met’s great collection of Renaissance art, and so it is easy to place these paintings in a broader context.
The title of the exhibition is a little misleading. There is only one painting, a Pieta, by Giovanni Bellini although many of the others showed his influence. Moreover, the only Titian is a very small version of the story of Orpheus and Euridice. The catalog calls it a very early Titian but admits that the attribution is questionable.
The real star of the show is Lorenzo Lotto with four representative works. The first three are predella pieces separated in the nineteenth century from his magnificent altarpiece that was originally in Bergamo’s church of Saints Stephen and Dominic, but that is now in the church of St. Bartholomew. One piece depicts a story from the life of St. Dominic while another depicts the stoning of St. Stephen. In the middle is an Entombment that, like the others, exhibits the life, emotion, and vivacity that Lotto brought to all of his work. These predella pieces are also full of naturalistic detail including very detailed contemporary costumes.
Lotto is also represented by a portrait of Lucina Brembati, a granddame from Bergamo, in all her finery. The exhibition catalog quotes Bernard Berenson’s appraisal of Lotto’s portraits. "They all have the interest of personal confessions. Never before or since has any one brought out on the face more of the inner life."
However, the exhibition also serves to introduce the viewer to some lesser-known artists who were working in Northern Italy at the time of Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian. Vincenzo Foppa is represented by the “The Three Crosses,” a Crucifixion scene of the mid fifteenth century that demonstrates a remarkable use of perspective.
There are two religious works by the Milanese painter styled Bergonone including a very striking nursing Madonna from around 1485. Also represented are Bartolomeo Montagna, Giovanni Cariani, Moretto da Brescia, Andrea Previtali, and Giovanni Battista Moroni. Most of their contributions are sacred subjects but there are also a few outstanding portraits.
Previtali, for example, combined a sacred subject with two very realistic portraits of the Bergamo donors in “Madonna and Child with Saints Paul and Agnes, and Paolo and Agnese Casotti.”
All the paintings are on loan from Bergamo’s Accademia Carrara currently in the midst of renovations that will be completed in 2013. In the catalog, M. Cristina Rodeschini, the Head of the Accademia Carrara, provided an overview of the storied history of the collection including the contribution of Giovanni Morelli, one of the great figures in the nineteenth century revival of interest in the art of the Renaissance.
Andrea Bayer, who participated with Dr. Rodeschini in putting the exhibition together, also contributed essays on the history of the Museum, as well as on the individual paintings in the Met exhibition. Her introduction should make anyone want to visit Bergamo and the Accademia Carrara after the completion of the renovation in 2013.
Arriving at the Accademia Carrara is a memorable experience, especially if traveling to Bergamo by train from Milan. Greeted upon arrival by the lower part of the town, the visitor follows a route past the historic Teatro Donizetti before beginning the climb toward the great medieval neighborhood of Bergamo Alta perched on the hills above. Along the way, one passes a number of the city’s most important churches, home to some of Lorenzo Lotto’s greatest paintings, as well as the twisting Via Pignolo, lined by noble Renaissance palaces. Finally, the great fortifying walls of the upper city appear, and there on an irregular piazza stands the neoclassical building that houses the city’s extraordinary art collections, the result of more than two hundred years of collecting and a direct outgrowth of the local culture embodied in these very streets, churches and homes. ###