Were it not for the Accademia’s Tintorettos, Carpaccios and Bellinis, our own Venetian collection in Trafalgar Square would be much more interesting; and even as it is we have in “The Origin of the Milky Way” a Tintoretto more fascinating than any here; in “Bacchus and Ariadne” a more brilliant Titian than any here; some Bellinis, such as “The Agony in the Garden,” the portrait of Loredano, and “The Death of S. Peter Martyr,” that challenge his best here; two Giorgiones and several pictures notably of his school that cannot be matched here; the finest Catena that exists; a more charming Basaiti than any here; a better Antonello da Messina; and, according to some judges, the best Paul Veronese in the world: “The House of Darius”; while when it comes to Carlo Crivelli, he does not exist here at all.
But it has to be remembered that one does not go to Venice to see pictures. One goes to see Venice: that is to say, an unbelievable and wonderful city of spires and palaces, whose streets are water and whose sunsets are liquid gold. Pictures, as we use the word, meaning paintings in frames on the wall, as in the National Gallery or the Louvre, are not among its first treasures. But in painting as decoration of churches and palaces Venice is rich indeed, and by anyone who would study the three great Venetian masters of that art—Tintoretto, Titian and Paul Veronese—it must not only be visited but haunted. Venice alone can prove to the world what giants these men—and especially Tintoretto—could be when given vast spaces to play with; and since they were Venetians it is well that we should be forced to their well-beloved and well-served city to learn it.
Let us walk through the Accademia conscientiously, but let us dwell only in the rooms I have selected. The first room (with a fine ceiling which might be called the ceiling of the thousand wings, around which are portraits of painters ranged like the Doges in the great council halls) belongs to the very early men, of whom Jacobello del Fiore (1400-1439) is the most agreeable. It was he who painted one of the two lions that we saw in the museum of the Doges’ Palace, the other and better being Carpaccio’s. To him also is given, by some critics, the equestrian S. Chrysogonus, in S. Trovaso. His Accademia picture, on the end wall, is strictly local, representing Justice with her lion and S. Michael and S. Gabriel attending. It is a rich piece of decoration and you will notice that it grows richer on each visit. Two other pictures in this room that I like are No. 33, a “Coronation of the Virgin,” painted by Michele Giambono in 1440, making it a very complete ceremony, and No. 24, a good church picture with an entertaining predella, by Michele di Matteo Lambertini (died 1469). The “Madonna and Child” by Bonconsiglio remains gaily in the memory too. No doubt about the Child being the Madonna’s own.
Having finished with this room, one ought really to make directly for Room XVII, although it is a long way off, for that room is given to Giovanni Bellini, and Giovanni Bellini was the instructor of Titian, and Tintoretto was the disciple of Titian, and thus, as we are about to see Titian and Tintoretto at their best here, we should get a line of descent. But I reserve the outline of Venetian painting until the Bellinis are normally reached.