Renaissance Venice at the Gardiner Museum

When we think of Venice we immediately picture canals and waterways. We think of the rich history and the opulence discovered in many of the historical buildings. Even if you’ve never travelled to this iconic city, you would have probably seen it in the many films, shows, and through artwork. Renaissance Venice: Life and Luxury at the Crossroads currently at the Gardiner Museum is the first major exhibition opened to the public since the beginning of the pandemic. It is a timely narrative exploring Venice at a time when it was positioned as a multicultural metropolis. Much like Toronto, the diversity contributed greatly to a variety of cultural creations. The exhibition is not a traditional look at Venetian ceramics but a fresh perspective on how the works connect cultures and where the intersections happened in the Renaissance times.

What’s interesting to discover in this exhibition is how ceramics and artefacts are brought together.Over 110 objects including Chinese porcelain, Islamic metalware, Venetian ceramics and glass are on display. In addition to the Gardiner’s exceptional collection, stunning pieces were brought from across the city including from the ROM, AGO, Bata Shoe Museum, Textile Museum of Canada, Aga Khan Museum, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, and Toronto Public Library, as well as The Met, V&A, Detroit Institute of Arts, Corning Museum of Glass, and other world-class public and private collections.

Bowl and cover, possibly Syria, late Mamluk period, early 16th century. Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Also included are installations in response to the historical works by three contemporary artists — Nadia Myre, Lindsay Montgomery, and Dorie Millerson.

The exhibition’s curator, Dr. Karine Tsoumis tells us the three artists were chosen because their work, or their artistic practices more broadly, have a connection either to the city of Venice, the art of the Renaissance (more specifically its ceramic traditions), or salient themes of the exhibition. “In their own unique way, each brings a feminist perspective on historical objects or popular stories of the time and opens a thoughtful dialogue between past and present,” said Tsoumis. She continues to tell us…

“The installation by Nadia Myre, an Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, is a very important work that invites us to reflect on Venice’s historical ties to the Atlantic world and its role in disseminating European ideas, myths, and prejudice about Indigenous American peoples through a range of printed publications. The multimedia installation, which includes ceramic, beadwork, wallpaper design, and sound, asks us how ideas of origins can shape our shared future. This is the second edition of an installation first presented in an exhibition coinciding with the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Nadi Myre, Damask (Volume 0), Volume 1

Dorie Millerson’s work reinforces a counter-narrative focusing on Renaissance women that runs through the exhibition. A textile artist, Millerson created Cocca Veneta, a Venetian merchant ship sculpted in needle lace, as a response to the historical conditions of lacemaking in the city, the contrast between male and female experiences, and the exploitation of female, domestic labour. While Venetian needle lace was then among the most expensive products made in the city, it was made by the poorest and worn by the wealthiest.

Dorie Millerson, Cocca Veneta

Lindsay Montgomery address the legacies of the past through the medium of maiolica. In her work, Montgomery appropriates the popular stories of the Renaissance as encountered on maiolica to reflect on contemporary issues and experiences. In her piece, Daphnes and Lauras, she offers a feminist re-telling of the myth of Daphne and Apollo as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Montgomery encourages the beholder to reflect on the connections between past and present, including the prevalence of structures of patriarchy and oppression.”

Lindsay Montgomery, Daphnes and Laura, 2020, Tin-glazed earthenware

This exhibition is very special in the way that it brings together objects on loan from some of the city’s most important cultural institution. “You can see ceramics, paintings, carpets, shoes, textiles, books, and more, all in one place,” said Tsoumis. “Our city has such an incredible wealth of culture, and this exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see institutions across Toronto come together and support each other in this way. It feels like a really exciting and joyful moment as we emerge from the pandemic, and our cultural institutions return to life.”

Storage jar with male and female heads, Venice, c 1550-1570. Tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Renaissance Venice: Life and Luxury at the Crossroads also has few special events planned…

Highlight Tour with Dorie Millerson (ticketed event)
Wednesday November 24, 12 – 1 pm
Join Dr. Karine Tsoumis for a special tour in conversation with exhibiting artist Dorie Millerson, Associate Professor, Material Art & Design, Faculty of Design, OCAD University.

Highlight Tour with Karine Tsoumis: From Lacemakers to Courtesans (ticketed event)
Wednesday November 24, 5 – 6 pm
Step into the lives of Renaissance women in this special exhibition tour highlighting select objects created by female artisans, owned by women, or conveying ideals of femininity.

Transcultural Earth: Mimetic earthenware and artisanal knowledge between Italy and Asia in the Long Renaissance (Free online registration)
Thursday November 25, 1 – 2 pm
Dr Marta Ajmar, Head of Postgraduate Programmes at the V&A, will draw on recipe books, treatises, and surviving artefacts to shed light on a little-explored chapter of Italian Renaissance artisanal expertise: pottery glazes.

Virtual Artist Demo with Lindsay Montgomery (Free online registration)
Thursday December 2, 1 – 2 pm
Award-winning ceramic artist Lindsay Montgomery is known for her contemporary interpretations of Medieval and Renaissance imagery. Watch her stream live from the studio and get a peek into her fascinating process.

Questioning Quarantine in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice (Free online registration)
Thursday December 9, 1 – 2 pm
Dana E. Katz, Joshua C. Taylor Professor of Art History and Humanities at Reed College, explores the concept of quarantine as it relates to the enforced residential restriction of the Venetian Jewish ghetto.

Highlight Tour with Dr. Fahmida Suleman (ticketed event)
Wednesday December 15, 12 – 1 pm
Join Dr. Karine Tsoumis for a special tour in conversation with Dr. Fahmida Suleman, Curator of the Islamic World at the Royal Ontario Museum, who will discuss a selection of Islamic artworks featured in the exhibition.

The Gardiner Museum is located at 111 Queen’s Park. For more information on this exhibition and what else is happening, visit




About Sonya Davidson 934 Articles
Covering events, openings and all the deliciousness in Toronto.