After a long period characterized by the domination of Byzantine art, in Venice from the fourteenth century onwards it was possible to witness a gradual approach to Western art, developing what would later become the peculiar Venetian painting.
In this sense, the turning point was given by many parties. The reorganization of the Palazzo Ducale in the early fifteenth century brought together "foreign" artists who gave a significant boost (Pisanello, Michelino da Besozzo and Gentile da Fabriano). Likewise, thanks to its fundamental commercial exchanges with northern Europe, Venice also received a great boost from Flemish artists (to remember are mainly the two trips of Albrecht Dürer to the lagoon, even if at the beginning of the 16th century).
What can be defined as the first artist of Venetian painting is certainly Paolo Veneziano, who combined the old Byzantine models with the new Gothic themes.
Among the greatest exponents of the real Venetian Gothic is Jacobello del Fiore, in which we note the influences of Paolo Veneziano, attenuated by Michelino da Besozzo and with evocations of Gentile da Fabriano.
A pupil of the latter, Jacopo Bellini, with his flourishing workshop will contribute substantially to the consolidation of lagoon painting. Still initially linked to the Gothic culture, but decidedly open to Renaissance innovations, Jacopo contributed to Venetian art by giving birth to two personalities of the caliber of Giovanniand Gentile Bellini.
Especially towards the middle of the 15th century, Venice began its expansion towards the mainland, thus giving a further stimulus to the newborn Venetian art. The Vivarini brothers, Antonio and Bartolomeo, partially assimilated the Paduan novelties and passed them on to the workshop in which Alvise, son of the former, worked for a long time. He knew how to keep up with the times and worked above all for the province and for a less educated client.
Instead, a more refined client turned to the Bellini workshop, asking Gentile above all for canvases for the schools of devotion and for public buildings, still partially linked to the late Gothic. Definitely more important was the figure of Giovanni Bellini, who managed to detach himself from the late Gothic thanks to his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna, and who began to insert his devotional events in a natural background, full of never random elements. His fame led him to be also named official painter of the Republic in 1483.
At the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is the figure of Giovan Battista Cima da Conegliano, famous above all for his altarpieces.
It was during this period that Dürer visited Venice for the first time (1494-95), bringing his engravings and the Nordic style with him.
Also in the last decade there was an ever greater diffusion of pictorial commissions for devotional schools, such as those of San Marco, San Giovanni Evangelista and Sant'Orsola which saw Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio as protagonists. In these works we note how the Flemish influence had influenced the rendering and the importance of the details in the entire canvas. Carpaccio himself subsequently continued to work for other Venetian brotherhoods, becoming the privileged interpreter of devotional narrative canvases.
The first decade of the 16th century saw the dominance of Giorgione da Castelfranco, who died prematurely in 1510. The artist painted mainly for a close circle of patrician intellectuals who required rather complex themes, iconographically and iconologically speaking. Over the centuries, some works attributed to him turned out to be by the young Tiziano Vecellio, whose technique was initially rather similar to that of the master with whom in 1508 he had also frescoed the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
With the death of Giorgione, and a few years after that of Giovanni Bellini, young artists could emerge such as Tiziano Vecellio and Sebastiano Luciani (later known as Sebastiano del Piombo). Titian himself found even more fertile ground as Luciani himself moved to Rome at the request of Agostino Chigi at the beginning of the second decade of the century.
More or less contemporary with Titian is the early work of Lorenzo Lotto, initially active in Treviso and a great traveler for the rest of his life. His works, especially the portraits, were characterized by symbolic allusions, at times almost enigmistic riddles.
Thanks also to Lotto's constant travels, Titian managed to establish himself in Venice as the absolute protagonist, receiving the position of official painter of the Republic. The artist from Cadore also worked for the Italian and European courts, even becoming the official painter of Emperor Charles V and, subsequently, creating a thriving workshop.
Not even Jacopo Negretti, known as Palma il Vecchio, managed to undermine the fortune of those years of Titian, since he died in 1528. Only later, as he approached on the death of Vecellio, the figure of Jacopo's nephew, Palma il Giovane, will emerge.
However, it will be precisely the numerous trips of Titian that will make him fade, at least partially, the fortune obtained in the first decades of the century. On his return to Venice, in fact, new artists of the caliber of Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese were making their way.
Tintoretto will succeed in establishing himself in the Venetian school circuit while Veronese in that of the Venetian villas and Palazzo Ducale. Even the son of Jacopo Robusti, Domenico Tintoretto, had a certain fortune as a portrait painter, but never shone after his father's death.