The wistful young man in a red tunic, with frizzy brown hair encircling his face like a halo, holds an arrow in his right hand, feather-end up. Is he a soldier’s page? Cupid?
Next to him a serious young woman, hair parted severely in the middle, looks to one side as she opens her rich fur-lined coat to reveal her breast.
The two enigmatic portraits by Giorgione from the early 1500s are highlights of “Masters of Venice,” a remarkable exhibition of Renaissance art now on view in San Francisco. They demonstrate the hallmarks of the Venetian style: soft-focus brushwork, theatrical flourish and gorgeous color.
The paintings, on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, include works by Titian, Tintoretto, Mantegna, Veronese and others. (Pictures by Bellini are too fragile to travel.) Along with portraits of elegantly dressed aristocrats and stern generals in glittering armor, there are religious and mythological scenes and no shortage of fleshy female nudes.
Mantegna’s famous “Saint Sebastian” (1457-59), with the martyr tied to a marble column and pierced by arrows, has the crisp physicality of a piece of sculpture. It represents the old school of Florentine-influenced painting.
Giorgione and his pupil Titian, and the younger generation of Tintoretto and Veronese, created an art of drama and movement. Titian’s “The Bravo (The Assassin)” captures the moment when Bacchus, wearing a crown of grape leaves, is arrested by a sinister figure holding a dagger behind his back.
Tintoretto’s “Portrait of a Man in Gold-Trimmed Armor” presents the sort of figure who made the Venetian Republic a dominant military and economic power.
Camille Pissarro, best known for his Impressionist landscapes and colorful views of Parisian boulevards, is presented in a different light in “Pissarro’s People” at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor museum.
The show, featuring more than 100 paintings and drawings from museums and private collections around the world, includes portraits and domestic scenes of his large family, three striking self-portraits, and studies of servants, working women and rural laborers that underscore the artist’s left-wing politics before and after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune of 1871.
In “Jeanne Pissarro, Called Cocotte, Reading” (1899) the artist’s daughter wears a long black dress covered by a full- length apron as she sits on a sofa reading her book. It’s a quiet scene that gains visual energy from the contrasting colors and textures of the upholstered furniture, oriental rug and busy wallpaper.
In “The Marketplace” (1882), one of Pissarro’s many images of the rural working class, the figures are jammed together in a deep perspective, yet they retain a monumental, almost heroic quality as they go about their ordinary business.
“Pissarro’s People” was co-organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and runs through Jan. 22 at the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., Lincoln Park. Information: +1-415-750-3600; http://www.famsf.org/legion.
Richard Serra, who makes gigantic rusted-steel sculptures that play tricks with the viewer’s sense of space, is also a prolific draftsman. About 70 of his drawings (along with a few related sculptures) are on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The works convey Serra’s love of the grand gesture -- big black circles, wall-size rectangles of thick black paint --while some of the smaller drawings are obsessively filled with handwritten words about making art (“to roll, to crease, to fold ...”). Some are studies for sculptural works in progress, and all proclaim their status as Important Art.
“Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective” runs through Jan. 16 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. Information: +1-415-357-4000; http://www.sfmoma.org. Organized by the Menil Collection in Houston, where it opens March 2.
“Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts,” at the Asian Art Museum, depicts the princely lifestyle in almost 200 works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, furniture, clothing, musical instruments and jewelry. The show is full of exuberant energy, bright colors, sumptuous textures and an aesthetic in which more is more, and even more is even better.
Among the jam-packed paintings is “Procession of Maharao Ram Singh II of Kota” (about 1850), in which the bejeweled leader is accompanied by a pair of elephants, dancing girls and a well-dressed honor guard toting both swords and rifles.
(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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