- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

Four Supreme Court justices do not a quorum make, but their presence certainly added cachet to Wednesday’s black-tie preview of “Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting” — the latest star-studded National Gallery of Art exhibit, opening to the public Sunday under sponsorship of the Bracco Group, an Italian pharmaceutical and diagnostic-imaging firm.

The “stars” in this case are magnificent 500-year-old paintings — one-third from the gallery’s collection — that in many ways reflect the history, drama and excitement of Venice itself.

The evening was only one of several recent celebratory events to make that fabled Italian city the center of attention locally, beginning with the Washington National Opera’s Friday ball, titled A Venetian Ball at Villa Firenze, at the home of Italian Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta and his wife, Lila.

“This week in Washington is a very happy week for an Italian ambassador,” Mr. Castellaneta said at Tuesday morning’s press conference in the gallery. “We have an opera ball on one side and arts on the other … A great change from dealing with weapons of mass destruction.”

Monday evening there was a private dinner in the home of Cafe Milano owner Franco Nuschese; Tuesday morning, a private tour of the exhibit by first lady Laura Bush with Mrs. Castellaneta and Diana Bracco, a Bracco Group executive who is one of few female industrialists in Italy. It was followed that evening by a reception at Villa Firenze and, Wednesday, a fundraising dinner for Save Venice patrons at Teatro Goldoni restaurant (created by Venetian-born chef Fabrizio Aielli, whose Summer in Venice menu will be available through Sept. 17, the show’s closing date, in the National Gallery’s Garden Cafe).

Both Justice Samuel Alito and his wife have visited Venice, although at different times. “I love the color,” said the more effusive Martha Alito, admiring the works on the walls.

“I’m surprised the Ufizzi let this go,” Justice Antonin Scalia said while admiring Titian’s “Flora,” a ravishing portrait of a woman in the full bloom of life. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg also came early and stayed for a buffet of Italian specialties. Sen. Patrick Leahy was more taken by Giorgione’s portrait called “La Vecchia,” a portrait of an aging older woman that he said reminded him of his Italian-American grandmother.

Artistic treasures on display were complemented by an entire room highlighting technical devices used to see behind surfaces, the better to understand painters’ methods and motives and to help restoration experts with their job.

Ann Geracimos

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