The century between the advent of Antonello da Messina in 1475 and the death of Titian in 1576 is considered the Golden Age of Venetian painting. What had been a minor regional school achieved international prominence and influenced the future of European art in general for centuries. Central to this achievement was the genius of a succession of painters from Giovanni Bellini and his brother Gentile, Carpaccio, Giorgione, to the great Titian and his younger contemporaries Tintoretto and Veronese. These painters worked in a city undergoing crisis and change: the decline of its maritime empire, the reduction of its monopoly of trade with the East, its near destruction as a state in the early sixteenth century, and the religious turmoil engendered by the Reformation and the reaction of the Roman Church to it.
Governed by an oligarchy of merchant nobles who elected a Doge, Venice remained politically stable throughout this turbulent period and continued to flourish economically. The state, the lay confraternities (called scuole) and private individuals provided sufficient patronage and support for a brilliant school of painting to develop in both secular and religious art. The cultural context and history of this school will be studied in eight lectures, followed by a full-day visit to the National Gallery to consider first-hand its outstanding collection of Venetian renaissance paintings.