Italian as it is spoken today owes much to Pietro Bembo. In 1525 he published his Prose della volgar lingua, which first established those conventions making Italian a "national" language founded on the writings of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Around the same time in Rome, Michelangelo and Raphael were shaping a new, more universal art which went beyond specific local practices and was based on the grandeur of the art of the ancient world and its timeless perfection. Their works laid the corner stones of what we now call the art of the Italian Renaissance.
The three men knew each other well, and not only because they were at home at the court of Pope Leo X. Bembo was a man of letters but frequented artists; he commissioned and collected their works. But most importantly he discussed and reasoned with them. His ideal of the classic was to permeate the art of his day.
The exhibition will present the paintings, drawings, Renaissance and antique sculptures, small bronzes, medals, incised gems and illuminated manuscripts that Bembo kept in his renowned house in Padua or that he had celebrated in one of his writings, or even that were built around him, as if he were the patron, supervisor or privileged onlooker at their creation.
Through these works and their interconnections with Bembo's writings, the exhibition wishes to invite visitors to reflect on the unusual role that this man of letters had in the development of the figurative arts and architecture in those key years for Western culture from 1490 to the early 16th century. At this time the fragmentation in the various Quattrocento manners was superseded and a supra-regional classical language took root. A few years later in the Lives of the Artists Vasari hailed this language as the maniera moderna in painting, while in architecture it led to the description of the system of the orders. Thanks to the linguistic rules established by Bembo and the new artistic language of Michelangelo and Raphael, Italy became a touchstone of style for the whole of Europe.
The exhibition will feature around 200 works, including paintings and drawings by Mantegna, Michelangelo, Hans Memling, Giorgione, Titian, Raphael, Bellini, Giulio Romano, Perugino, Francesco Francia, Lorenzo Costa, Sebastiano del Piombo.