An exhibition of the sixteenth-century master reveals an artist uniquely committed to art, wealth, and aristocracy.
A visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, feels nothing like a visit to Venice, Italy. Both cities, it is true, are on, in, or beside a large body of water, but beyond that fact there is little comparison. Because of the complex form of the Lagoon of Venice, one experiences an intimate interaction between its waters and the palaces and campos of the Rialtine archipelago. By contrast, the campus of the Ringling Museum opens out onto the majestic spectacle of Sarasota Bay, which is separated by the thinnest sliver of keys from the massive Gulf of Mexico.
And yet, somehow, the spirit of Venice reigns at the Ringling. It inspired the architecture of the Ca d'Zan, the Byzantine folly designed by Dwight James Baum and completed in 1925 that was the winter home of John and Mable Ringling: its ogival architecture was partially based on the Ca d'Oro on the Grand Canal. At the same time, the cloister-like structure of the museum itself (Figs. 1, 3), with its stunning collection of Old Master paintings and much besides, recalls to this writer the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, planted on an island opposite the Piazza San Marco.
Given such Venetian precedents, and the fact that John and Mable Ringling loved Venice above all other cities, there seems to be something appropriate in the museum's decision to devote an exhibition to Paolo Veronese, the great sixteenth-century Venetian painter. This choice is doubly appropriate because a quarter of a century has now passed since the last American exhibition of this illustrious master, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1988.