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Il Bellissimo Panarama: Views of Italy at the Art Gallery of Hamilton
James Wilson Morrice (1865-1924), Corner of the Doge's Palace, Venice c. 1901, oil on wood. Bequest of Miss Margaret Rousseaux, 1958. Photo: Cheryl O'Brien.
HAMILTON, ON.- Through many centuries the towns and countryside of Italy have been singularly cherished as a subject within Western art. For instance, in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, a fundamental component of artistic training was the voyage to Italy, where young artists steeped themselves in studying, copying, and imbibing the spirit of ancient Roman and Renaissance architecture, monuments, sculptures, and other art forms. By the nineteenth century, many international students completing the required Italian pilgrimage found just as much inspiration in the idyllic charm and natural beauty of living towns and landscape, as well as the colourful life and dress of folkloric types like peasants of the Roman Campagna or Neapolitan fishers.

Ushering in the Gallery’s 2009 Vista Italia celebration of Italian art and culture, the inaugural exhibition of Il Bellissimo Panorama features a fresh and poetic assortment of approximately forty Italian views from the AGH holdings — created by diverse European, Canadian, and American artists, and ranging in time from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Subjects include scenic sketches of named and unnamed Italian hill and mountain towns; prints representing Assisi and Siena; a large watercolour of an antique terrace on the hills outside Florence; and a dramatic oil by the French artist Jean Charles Joseph Rémond of Neptune’s Grotto in Tivoli. The exhibition also offers several views of figures outdoors, ranging from ancient Roman gods and goddesses to Italian peasants. Not surprisingly, one of the most recurring themes is Venice, christened La Serenissima (It.: “most serene”). Among the Canadian works depicting this queen of cities are two lively graphite sketches by A. Y. Jackson, three evocative oil paintings by James Morrice, and three crisp black-and-white photographs of Venetian canals by contemporary artist Jeff Nolte.

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