Northern Italian Chiaroscuro | The Plan
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Northern Italian Chiaroscuro

Botticini + Facchinelli ARW

Italian writer and journalist Guido Piovene remarked how the city of Brescia combined the mindsets of three different types of community: of plain, hills and mountains, and how this mix informed not only its art and architecture but also its economy. Piovene was also struck by a certain “coyness” of Brescia’s inhabitants in their blasé insistence they were down-to-earth, no-nonsense people - a ploy, he wrote, to conceal, as if a secret to be closely guarded, their real inventiveness and ingenuity. This front of pragmatism and circumspection really concealed something else. Take, for example, the art produced by Brescia, especially by the Renaissance school, starting with Vincenzo Foppa and continued by Moretto, Savoldo and Romanino. As the perspicacious critic Testori noted, none of these artists, each with his own very different poetic, appears to have produced any special innovations. Indeed, at first glance, Brescia’s Renaissance painters appear an amalgam of Venetian tonalism and Lombard naturalism. This, says Testori, is a superficial judgment that fails to take into account their remarkable ability to use chiaroscuro in a completely innovative way, which, from the late 16th through to the end of the 17th century, would be an essential aspect of the new artistic style. It is almost as if the painters of Brescia had made it their task to establish that point of equilibrium between the sharply defined and the nuanced. Although fragile and unobtrusive, it is a point of equilibrium that renders their work wholly unique. It was art historian Roberto Longhi who fully grasped the sense of this Lombard realism, which in the following century Caravaggio was to take to unsurpassed heights. For Longhi, the concern with depicting the poor and disinherited in the full roundness of the flesh that characterized the work of artists practicing between Brescia, Bergamo and Milan, sprang from an unusual religious sentiment: a pietistic yet...

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