Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Through Aug. 16

“Jacopo Tintoretto’s timing was off,” said Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe. Though the inventive Venetian was “one of the most lavishly gifted painters of all time,” he wasn’t even the best one in his own hometown. Born in 1518, Tintoretto came of age in a Venice dominated by Tiziano Vecellio, “otherwise known as Titian.” Titian detested his younger rival, and did what he could to boost the career of an equally talented contemporary, Paolo Veronese. A “revelatory” exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts chronicles this decades-long, “three-way rivalry.” Veronese’s classically restrained canvases contrast sharply with the “nervous, vibrating” contours of Tintoretto. Yet the effortless variety of Titian’s effects often makes works by both “seem clunky” by comparison.

The “dazzling glory of Venetian Renaissance painting” was made possible by technical advances they were the first to explore, said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. In 16th-century Venice, artists began using oil paint—rather than egg tempera—and painting on stretched canvas rather than wood panels. (To this day, almost all serious painters still work this way.) By building up layers of oil paint in a work such as Venus With a Mirror, Veronese could create a remarkably realistic “panoply of textures—lace, linen, silk, cotton, satin, metallic thread, fur, and velvet.” In his Supper at Emmaus (1542), Tintoretto lets us see individual brush strokes. “The painting almost looks unfinished,” and in certain parts solid objects seem to be breaking down into vibrant wisps of paint.

“For the first time in European art, we see paint itself used as impassioned material, the instrument of fervid hands and inflamed personalities,” said Holland Cotter in The New York Times. But Titian remained the dominant personality, judging from the exhibition’s side-by-side comparisons. “In a cluster of steamy paintings of nudes at the center of the show,” we see Veronese’s Venus next to Tintoretto’s take on the mythological tale of Danae being romanced by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold. But both seem mere footnotes to the “stop-and-stare fantastic” versions of the same subjects by Titian. These world-famous works, drawn from museums around the globe, are rarely shown in one place. In fact, given the current economy and the cost of mounting exhibitions on this scale, “you can pretty much kiss goodbye” the chance to ever see them together again.