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"The image of the European city: From Renaissance to Enlightenment" opens at Museo Correr, Venice
The exhibition presents a range of panels, canvases, engravings, atlases and drawings.

VENICE.- Taking place at the same time as the Fernand Léger show, an exhibition running between 8th February and 18th May 2014 on the second floor evokes the urban landscape of Europe between the 16th and early 19th century. Entitled “The image of the European city from Renaissance to Enlightenment”, it is curated by Cesare De Seta, who has dedicated himself for years to the study of this iconographic theme.

Visitors are thus offered the opportunity to learn of the evolutionary and iconographic changes in the depiction of towns over the course of the centuries, from the Renaissance vision to the dynamic concepts of the early 20th-century avant-garde movements – all in a “single” venue.

Ever since the Middle Ages, towns have been a favoured subject in European painting, serving to highlight the propaganda values of a state’s virtues. The exhibition presents a series of overall images of a town, topographies painted and drawn by highly expert hands, of the greatest impact imaginable. For centuries, these were the only or most persuasive and immediate medium for showing off the beauty and wealth of Europe’s leading towns.

Starting from Italy, which was the first to introduce the ‘imago urbis’ thanks to the invention of perspective as a manifesto of the ambitions of popes, princes or sovereigns, the visitor will go on a chronological virtual tour of towns that have been completely transformed or which largely no longer exist. Thanks to these rare, precious canvases, it will be possible to rediscover their prior form.

The exhibition presents a range of panels, canvases, engravings, atlases and drawings – almost 50 works from major public and private Italian and foreign collections selected by the curator – accompanying the visitor on a voyage full of surprises through time and space, between the capitals of Europe and Italy: from that “monumental woodcut” that is Jacopo de’ Barbari’s Venetie MD to views of Florence, Rome, Naples, Genoa and Siracusa by Gaspar van Wittel, Didier Barra, Alessandro Baratta, Jacob Philippe Hackert; and from the spectacular depictions of Warsaw by Bernardo Bellotto and views of 18th-century London.

The event is thus a mise-en-scène of the extraordinary progress of the urban portrait, a small yet fascinating fragment of a virtual atlas of the city which could be vast.

In this furor urbis, the visitor will pass from the period in which art and science still went hand in hand, between the 16th and 17th century, producing pictures based on new and precise surveys, to a phase of “slow divorce” during the Enlightenment, when topography became a discipline in its own right and passed from a perspective view to what amounts to a “ground plan”.

Van Wittel – who is deliberately well represented in the exhibition – left a trace of this slow shift in his work: he began his career as a topographer when he came to Rome in 1675, and became the father of European vedutismo, followed by many artists who resisted the advance of the ‘scientia nova’ with their talent.

Nevertheless, a painter of towns tells a story through images and his vision, as Cesare De Seta stresses, is always a “half truth”, an invention, because it is impossible literally “really” to depict a city.

“His talent is all the greater for his being skilled in deceiving the observer of his image of a city, even if he is obliged by need to dissimulate his ‘betrayals’ of reality”.

However, the need for a city to have its own ‘imago urbis’ sometimes made resort to ground plans inevitable. One such case was Madrid, as evidenced in the monumental mid-17th century plan by Pedro Texeira (189 x 295 cm), which can be admired in the exhibition, specially brought out of the Museo Correr’s stores and restored for the occasion, and others include the mid-18th century achievements of Giovanni Battista Falda for Rome and of Giovanni Carafa, duke of Noja, for Naples; the splendid copper plates used to print his views are on display in all their impressiveness.

An important catalogue with critical texts by Wouter Bracke, Jean Boutier, Massimo Cacciari, Cesare De Seta, Maria Iaccarino, Fernando Marias, Lucia Nuti, Matteo Palumbo, Bernd Roeck, Daniela Stroffolino accompanies the exhibition. SKIRA-Milan 2014.

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