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Room 10

The sacred and profane in sixteenth-century Italian art

Representing some of the leading artists working in central and northern sixteenth-century Italy, the paintings in this room show the growing interest in this period for using art as a means of creative and intellectual expression. The prominence of sacred images for inspiring devotion remained hugely important, but artists also embraced the visual possibilities of secular subject matter drawn from mythological and classical sources. In this room, examples of both types of art can be seen by artists such as Bronzino, Correggio and Titian.

Commissioning art based on complex allegory and obscure literature enabled wealthy patrons to demonstrate their cultural, political and intellectual acuity. The mythologies in this room – Bronzino’s enigmatic An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, Titian’s celebrated Bacchus and Ariadne, and Tintoretto’s The Origin of the Milky Way – are the result of artists cultivating relationships with an educated elite, whose tastes for these subjects provided an exciting new means of artistic experimentation beyond the realm of religious art.