John McEwen

Scotland’s Italian connection

John McEwen applauds the ‘Age of Titian’ in Edinburgh, and other Festival treats

John McEwen applauds the ‘Age of Titian’ in Edinburgh, and other Festival treats

Sir Timothy Clifford celebrates the completion of the Playfair Project, uniting the 19th-century architect William Playfair’s two art temples on Edinburgh’s Mound, with an exhibition that is both a witty deceit and appropriately self-congratulatory. The Project gives Edinburgh an ‘exhibition complex’ that vies for charm and technological sophistication with any in the world. Obviously, the show celebrating such a milestone had to be something special: a ‘blockbuster’ that would not only attract sponsorship and pull in the punters, but would also draw specific attention to the significance of the Project. And, because all the money has not yet been found, it would also have to be economical.

The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art in Scottish Collections (Royal Scottish Academy Building, until 5 December) is the canny solution. The sponsorship of Lloyds TSB Scotland, the billing, and the thumping catalogue with its Titian cover, combine to suggest that a Titian blockbuster it is; but it is not. Titian represents only the kernel of a scholarly show that is the very opposite of blockbusting sensationalism but which, by concentrating on works that are (or were) in Scottish collections, none-theless beats the big drum for tourism while keeping expensive foreign loans to a minimum.

Equally, the emphasis on Titian fulfils the exhibition’s main purpose — visitors are thereby reminded of the superlative quality of the several masterpieces by him on semi-permanent loan from the Duke of Sutherland, which are the cream of the National Gallery of Scot-land’s wonderful collection.

A contextual show is apt. Scotland is peculiarly indebted to Venice. There is the demonstrable range of Venetian art in Scottish collections, thanks to the perspicacity of a few 18th- and 19th-century Scottish dealers and aristocrats; and, as Sir Timothy surmises, how would such architects as William and Robert Adam, Chambers and Mylne have developed without Palladio? Finally, there is Titian’s own significance, not just as a great innovator of oil painting but as a man whose long life witnessed the beginning of Western Christendom’s slow evolution from a religious to a secular society.

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