THE NEW ITALIAN ROMANTICISM summons the spirits of Titian, Michelangelo, Botticelli. It calls forth the Roman gods and looks to time past in idyllic and lyrical landscapes. It taps primitive emotions in primordial wastelands.

But the viewpoint of the 16 Italian artists in "A New Romanticism" at the Hirshhorn is a modern one, large in scale and florid in color.

The painters speak to the biblical past with a new language. In Marco Tanganelli's "Arcanarca," animals line up in twos to wait for an Ark that's late. In Stefano di Stasio's self- portrait, "Along the Path," Saint Peter bearing a cross meets the saddened artist in modern dress. Enzo Cucchi's "The Flourishing of the Black Roosters" is at once apocalyptic and existential, where a totem pole of roosters rises, like a tower of phoenixes, from a barren, violent landscape that promises nothing.

The artists are reexamining art history, and restating it. Carlo Mariani's witty neoclassicism shows "The Left-Handed Painter" hard at work on a surprised cherub -- who dangles from the artist's right hand as he paints the putto's back. In Sandro Chia's pastoral, romantic scene, the "Aroused Shepherd Boy" is just that, hugging his sheep. And Patrizia Cantalupo's cool surrealism extends itself to her still life of a pair of worried-looking swordfish; one fish is cut in half and the other grasps the traditional wine bottle with its tail.