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My first serious exposure to art was a class in Venetian Renaissance painting taught by Terisio Pignatti. The former director of the Museo Correr was such a staunch partisan of Venetian colorismo, however, that it later came as something of a shock that for some folks the Italian Renaissance was dominated by artists other than the Bellinis, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. It turned out, of course, that Pignatti’s was a minority view, albeit the largest one. Not only Venice, but such centers as Milan, Siena, Naples, and Padua in standard histories find themselves overshadowed by Florence and Rome. That they rectify this oversight is but one of the achievements of John T. Paoletti and Gary M. Radke. In their fascinating new book, Art in Renaissance Italy, the art historians also insist on placing masterworks in the context of the societies that produced them, peppering the text with boxes containing historical asides and contemporary writings. The latter often illuminate the exigencies of patronage, as in Isabella d’Este’s almost comically specific instructions to Perugino concerning the depiction of “a battle of Chastity against Lasciviousness” and Marino Contarini’s equally detailed if somewhat less poetic prescription for the gilding and painting of the Ca’ d’Oro. In tonight’s Smithsonian Associates slide talk, perhaps Paoletti and Radke will discuss such enlightening curios as this plate depicting the birth of Hercules, letting drop such details as “until the early 16th century, women often sat on one another’s laps to give birth.” At 8 p.m. at the Ripley Center Lecture Hall, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. $13. For reservations call (202) 357-3030. (Glenn Dixon)