In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art in Renaissance Venice

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Catalogues and Encyclopedias
  • Journals and Serials
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Drawing and Prints
  • Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Renaissance and Reformation Art in Renaissance Venice
Tom Nichols, Rose Z. King
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0157


This article concentrates primarily on Venetian art and artists of the 15th and 16th centuries. In this period the achievements of the city’s painters, sculptors, and architects reached unparalleled heights. Though the tradition came back to life in the 18th century, most would agree that the “golden age” of Venetian art occurred in the two Renaissance centuries. The particular visual power of Venetian art in this period was immediately recognized, though it was often seen by outsiders as too naturalistic, sensual, or color based, or as insufficiently concerned with elevating intellectual ideas or forms. Many of the items listed in this bibliography bear witness to a remarkable revival of critical, scholarly, and public interest in the tradition over the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Though this upsurge initially began under the impact of Romantic, and then modernist, values, it has since taken on a new kind of historical objectivity under the impact of the foundation and development of art history as an academic discipline. Since the mid-19th century, study of the art of Renaissance Venice has been founded on close and systematic scholarly study, and to this extent it has represented a concerted attempt to understand the tradition on its own terms or in relation to its original artistic, social, and religious meanings and functions. This broad move toward historical contextualism has offered many new insights into the original material practices, processes, and discourses by and through which Venetian artworks were made and understood in their time. It has delivered a new understanding of just how far such works mirror the unique social, cultural, and physical environment of Venice itself, and of how far they represent an integral expression of the city’s emergent sense of itself.

General Overviews

Rosand 1984, a landmark collection, includes essays by many leading Venetian scholars, covers a broad range of topics, and has a chronology extending over more than five centuries. The essays in Humfrey 2007, published more than a quarter century later, indicate the main ways Venetian art history has developed. Contributions suggest the development of newly rigorous interests in art’s relation to broader social, economic, and geopolitical questions (e.g., the relation between the center, Venice, and its periphery, the terra firma). The brilliant surveys of Huse and Wolters 1990, Brown 1997, and Nichols 2016 are more introductory in nature, but they too reflect the rise of contextualism in Venetian studies, laying great emphasis on the shaping force of nonartistic factors on the development of art in the city. Hills 1999, a subtle study, is rather different in kind but still follows the “cultural” turn, showing that the long-recognized Venetian love of color reflects a kind of totalizing response to the unique physical and cultural environment of the city.

  • Brown, Patricia Fortini. Art and Life in Renaissance Venice. New York: Prentice Hall, 1997.

    Original overview that places Venetian Renaissance art firmly in its unique social and cultural context. Departs from the usual chronological treatment of major artists to explore art’s place within key cultural themes (e.g., “Venezianitá,” “The Art of Public Life,” and “Caste, Class, and Gender”). Also published as The Renaissance in Venice: A World Apart (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1997).

  • Hills, Paul. Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass, 1250–1550. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

    Elegantly written and superbly illustrated account of the artistic, social, and environmental formation of the special Venetian awareness of color. Connection of Venetian colored glass with Renaissance paintings is striking though tendentious. Insight that Venetian painters increasingly rejected bright colors in favor of admixtures with black and white is more important.

  • Humfrey, Peter, ed. Venice and the Veneto. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Well-organized collection of commissioned essays by leading authorities establishing connections between visual art and the state and religious institutions of Venice. Essays in Part 3 offer a useful overview of the relationship between art in Venice itself and the subject cities on the mainland (terra firma).

  • Huse, Norbert, and Wolfgang Wolters. The Art of Renaissance Venice: Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, 1460–1590. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

    Originally published as Venedig, die Kunst der Renaissance (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1986). Rich overview combining survey-style coverage with careful contextualization. Wolters’s chapters on architecture and sculpture are particularly useful, combining analyses of building types and patrons with short accounts of specific works by leading architects and sculptors. Successfully combines accessibility with complexity.

  • Nichols, Tom. Renaissance Art in Venice: From Tradition to Individualism. London: Laurence King, 2016.

    An accessible and well-illustrated introduction to Venetian art and architecture between c. 1440 and 1600, presented in a chronological manner. Overview is primarily concerned with— and neatly describes—the stylistic plurality and progressive transformations of Venetian art in technique, form, and iconography. Subsections on artistic individualism and self-awareness are especially insightful.

  • Rosand, David, ed. Interpretazioni veneziani: Studi di storia dell’arte in onore di Michelangelo Muraro. Venice: Arsenale, 1984.

    Important collection by an international range of scholars that remains unique in its breadth of coverage of artistic media. Papers on many aspects of Venetian art, including architecture, painting, and sculpture. Contributions of Rosand, Debra Pincus, Jaynie Anderson, Philipp Fehl, and Marilyn Perry have proved important for subsequent scholarship.

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