My website, MyGiorgione, now includes my interpretations of Giorgione's "Tempest" as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt"; his "Three Ages of Man" as "The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man"; Titian's, "Sacred and Profane Love" as "The Conversion of Mary Magdalen"; and Titian's "Pastoral Concert" as his "Homage to Giorgione".

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Giorgione and Morto da Feltro

Example of grotesque


In his brief life of Lorenzo Luzzo, commonly known as Morto da Feltro, Giorgio Vasari wrote that Morto worked with Giorgione on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Morto was from Feltre in the Veneto, not too far from Giorgione’s hometown of Castelfranco. Although born about the same time as Giorgione, their lives took different paths before they met up again in Venice in 1507-8. Giorgione went to Venice as a young man but Morto wound up in Rome. Vasari says that he arrived there when “Pinturicchio was painting the papal chambers for Alexander VI.”

It was in Rome that Morto developed an interest in antiquities that led him to devote himself to a particular form of the painter’s craft. Vasari writes:

Being a melancholy man he was always studying antiquities, and on seeing some arabesques which pleased him, he devoted his attention to them, while in his treatment of foliage in the ancient style he was second to none. He made earnest search in Rome among the ancient caves and vaults. In the villa of Hadrian at Tivoli he remained many months, designing all the pavements and grottoes… Hearing that at Pozzuolo, ten miles from Naples, there were walls full of grotesques in relief, with stuccos and ancient paintings, he went to study there for several months. At Campana, hard-by, a place full of old tombs, he drew every trifle, and at Trullo, near the sea, he drew many of the temples and grottoes. He went to Baia and Mercato di Saboto, places full of ruins, endeavouring thus to increase his skill and knowledge.*

When Vasari calls Morto “melancholy”, he does not necessarily mean sad or depressed.  Melancholia was one of the famous four humors Renaissance humanists believed formed the essence of any human being. Although all these humors were present in every individual, one would inevitably be prominent. So a person could be characterized as sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic or melancholic.

Albrecht Durer: Melencholia


In his long study of Albrecht Durer’s famous engraving of Melencholia, Erwin Panofsky noted that melancholy had come to be regarded as the characteristic of most great men.

as Aristotle admirably puts it, they may still be subject to depression and overexcitement, but they outrank all other men: “All truly outstanding men, whether distinguished in philosophy, in statecraft, in poetry or in the arts, are melancholics…” ** 

Like many of the artists that Vasari wrote about, Morto has largely been forgotten. Their biographies are often overlooked and even omitted in shortened editions of the “Lives of the Painters.” Nevertheless, Vasari placed Morto on a very high plane and credited him for his studies of the images in ancient Roman caves and grottoes. Morto used this knowledge of the grotesque to become a master of ornamental decorative art.

During the Renaissance grotesque also had a different meaning than it does today. It did not mean ugly or hideous but just referred to the kinds of images found in these newly rediscovered grottoes. As Vasari points out, Morto used these strange devices to decorate or trim the walls of modern buildings. I suspect that Morto did not go to Venice by accident but that he was called there by Giorgione to assist in the decoration of the walls of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Giorgione would do the figures but leave the decorative elements to Morto.

Vasari indicates that like most Renaissance craftsmen, Morto did aspire to do traditional subjects but quickly realized that he could not match the work of Leonardo or Raphael. Nevertheless, Vasari notes that he did try his hand at some Madonnas. He might have even been inspired by Giorgione while working together on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Below is a Madonna and Child that does look Giorgionesque.



In his history of Italian painting during the Cinquecento S. J. Freedberg discussed a painting done by Morto shortly after Giorgione’s death in 1510.

In 1511, at Feltre, Morto signed and dated an altar of the Madonna with St. Stephen and St. Liberale (now Berlin Dahlem). Its style is more advanced than anything on the contemporary Venetian scene except for Titian and Sebastiano…this painting reflects the density of form and something of the tenor of emotion of Giorgione’s later art. ***


Morto came to a sad end. Perhaps his melancholic nature led him to give up painting and seek fame as a soldier in the service of Venice. Without any military experience he was hired as a captain of a 200-man contingent but died in a skirmish outside of Zara in Sclavonia in 1524.

Here is Vasari’s summation.

In his arabesques Morto approached more nearly to the ancient style than any other painter, and therefore he deserves great praise. What he began was continued by Giovanni da Udine and other artists with great beauty. But their success does not dim the renown of Morto, who was the originator…
###

   
* Giorgio Vasari: The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, in four volumes, translated by A. B. Hinds, ed. With introduction by William Gaunt, London, Everyman Library, 1927, last reprinted, 1970. V. 3, pp. 1-2. Vol. III, Part III, Morto da Feltro, Painter, and Andrea di Cosimo of Feltro (c. 1474—after 1522; 1490=1554)

** Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer, Princeton, fourth edition, 1955, p. 165.

*** S. J. Freedberg:  Painting in Italy, 1500-1600, Yale, third edition 1993, first published 1971, pp. 164-5.






Thursday, June 26, 2014

Giorgione and Marcantonio Michiel


The notes on paintings in sixteenth century Venetian homes made by Venetian patrician and art collector Marcantonio Michiel are perhaps the most important primary source for the works of Giorgione. However, Michiel’s notes indicate how even the testimony of a contemporary eyewitness must be used carefully.

Around 1800 Abate Don Jacopo Morelli discovered the notes among a manuscript collection in Venice’s Marciana library. Written in the early part of the sixteenth century the notes, made by an anonymous writer, concerned “pictures and other treasures contained in various houses, and monuments and works of art in churches, schools and other ecclesiastical buildings in the cities which the writer had visited.” *

Abate Morelli published the notes in 1800 under the title, “The Anonimo, Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy.” Morelli used “Anonimo” because he could not be sure of the author. Today, scholars believe that the notes were the work of Michiel.
The cities visited by Marcantonio Michiel were Padua, Cremona, Milan, Pavia, Bergamo, Crema, and Venice. In Venice the notes recorded visits to fourteen homes of Venetian patricians as well as visits to the church and school of the “Carita” which is now the site of the famed Accademia. The publication of the Notes provided a look into the artistic preferences of some of the greatest families in Renaissance Venice but also shed much light on the artists, especially Giorgione. For example, the notes provided the first mention of the “little landscape on canvas,” now called the “Tempest”, that in 1800 remained largely out of sight in a private home.

Altogether Michiel mentioned 18 works in the homes of seven collectors that were either by Giorgione, possibly by Giorgione, or copies by others based on Giorgione. In an earlier post I provided a list in chronological order. I used the 1903 English translation edited by George C. Williamson and included some of the editors notes.
While Michiel’s observations are invaluable for purposes of attribution, his brief notes rarely attempt interpretation or analysis. For the most part, he seems to be content to point out identifying markers. Even there he can be mistaken about the subjects of the paintings he saw with his own eyes.

A few years ago famed Venetian art historian Jaynie Anderson noted Michiel’s deficiencies in her Giorgione catalog. For example, she believed that in his discussion of a St. Jerome by Antonello da Messina,

Michiel appears to be the passive communicator of received opinions, which he is unable to verify…The fanciful absurdity of his suggestion throws doubt on Michiel’s canonical status in similar statements about other pictures…. **


She also argued that his eyes deceived him when it came to Giorgione’s most famous painting seen in the home of Gabriele Vendramin in 1530.



What are we to make of the famous description of the Tempesta, where a nude female, suckling her infant in an open landscape, is identified as a gypsy—‘la cingana’. …Yet Giorgione’s gypsy looks less like a gypsy than those of other artists;…nor is she engaged in any of the traditional activities associated with gypsies,…What did Michiel mean by his use of the word? Like all connoisseurs, he was not as interested in subject matter as we would like him to have been…Michiel, alas, chose to record only the briefest of impressions. ***


Despite her caveats, even Anderson was led astray by Michiel’s description of a Giorgione in the home of Taddeo Contarini. Here is his note.

In the House of Messer Taddeo Contarini. 1525. The picture on canvas, representing the birth of Paris, in a landscape, with two shepherds standing, was painted by Giorgio di Castelfranco, and is one of his early works.

David Teniers: Copy of a lost Giorgione


This painting has been lost but seventeenth century copies still exist. It gives us a very good illustration of Michiel’s limitations as an observer. He knows that the painting is an early Giorgione but his description does not even mention the two prominent figures on the left: an elderly man with a flute or pipe, and the young woman with arm and leg shockingly exposed.

In my paper on the Tempest I have shown that Michiel’s brief identification of this lost painting was indeed incorrect. The subject of the painting is a “sacred” one: “The Encounter of the Holy Family with Robbers on the Flight into Egypt.” A popular legend of the time explains every detail in the painting including the lounging figures in the middle distance.

Nevertheless, his identification has stuck and led scholars to draw some fanciful conclusions. Anderson, for one, was surprised that Michiel had not seen in Contarini’s home the “notte” mentioned in correspondence between Isabella d’Este and her Venetian agent after Giorgione’s death in 1510. Anderson could only conclude that the “notte” or night scene must have been in the home of another member of the Contarini family. Yet, it is very likely that this lost Giorgione was the “notte.” After all, the sun is setting in the distance.

###

     
*The Anonimo: Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy Made by an Anonymous Writer in the Sixteenth Century, translated by Paolo Mussi, edited by George C. Williamson, London, 1903. Facsimile copy by Kessinger Publishing.
** Anderson, Jaynie: Giorgione, 1997, p. 57.
***op.cit., p. 60.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Giorgione: Three Philosophers





Giorgione’s so-called “Three Philosophers,” that now hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, is one of a handful of paintings universally attributed to him. If there was ever any doubt, it was settled in the year 1800 with the discovery of the notes of Venetian patrician Marcantonio Michiel, a contemporary of Giorgione’s. Michiel had visited the homes of many patricians in Venice and the Veneto and jotted down brief notes and descriptions of the art works he saw.  In 1525 he saw a painting in the home of Taddeo Contarini that he described as follows:

The canvas picture in oil, representing three Philosophers in a landscape, two of them standing up and the other one seated, and looking up at the light, with the rock so wonderfully imitated, was commenced by Giorgio di Castelfranco and finished by Sebastiano Veneziano. *

This description settled the question of attribution and gave the painting its current label, but it did not settle the question of subject or interpretation. Most scholars have accepted Michiel’s identification of the three men in the painting, and have spent much time and effort trying to identify which philosophers they might be. Others believe that Michiel’s identification was mistaken and that the three men are the  biblical "three Kings" or “Magi” as they first behold the Star of Bethlehem.

In earlier posts I added my two cents to the controversy and argued that the colors of the garments of the three men are symbolic of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh offered by the Magi. I know that while gold is almost invariably the color of the eldest of the Magi, there is a no one color scheme for the other two. However, I would like to post here another depiction of the Magi attired in gold, red, and green.

Francia: Adoration of the Magi, c. 1499
Oil on panel, 16x23 inches

This one is by Francesco Raibolini (c. 1450-1517 Bologna) known simply as Francia to his contemporaries. It is a small "Adoration of the Magi" from about 1499 that I believe is in the Dresden Gemaldegalerie. Largely forgotten today, Francia was one of the most famous and respected painters of the late Quattrocentro. Please excuse the poor quality of the image but it is clear that the eldest Magi is clothed in gold, the middle-aged one in red, and the youngest in green. Perhaps Giorgione was not as innovative in this respect as I originally thought. As I mention in my essay, these colors could have been worn by the Magi in the frequent plays and processions that Venetians never seemed to tire of attending.

Giorgione: "Three Ages of Man", Pitti Palace

I also believe that “The Three Philosophers” was not the only instance in which Giorgione used colors symbolically to identify his religious figures rather than resorting to stock symbols. In the so-called “Three Ages of Man” that now hangs in the Pitti Palace, the colors of the garments of the three men are more than enough to identify them as Jesus, St. Peter, and the rich young man. St. Peter, in particular, is identified by his bright red robe, red being the color of martyrdom. Giorgione also used red for the tunic of the young man in the so-called “Boy with an Arrow.” That color should help to identify this mysterious figure holding an arrow as the martyr, St. Sebastian.

Giorgione: "Boy with an Arrow".

  For convenience I append my original essay on the "Three Philosophers" below.

*The Anonimo, Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy made by an Anonymous Writer in the Sixteenth Century: ed. By George C. Williamson, London, 1903, p. 102.


   

                              Giorgione's "Three Philosophers."

The "Three Philosophers" is one of only a handful of paintings that scholars definitively attribute to the great Venetian Renaissance master, Giorgione. It was one of the highlights of the magnificent exhibition, "Bellini, Giorgione, Titian: The Renaissance in Venetian Art," which recently ended at the National Gallery in Washington.

At the symposium which ended the exhibition, one scholar entitled his talk, "The Moment of Giorgione." Another scholar who was given the task of summing up said that despite the greatness of the works by Titian and Bellini, the exhibition was all about "Giorgione." What did they mean?

Besides the universally acknowledged quality of the works attributed to Giorgione, there is an air of mystery about the painter. His death in Venice in 1510 at about the age of thirty cut short an incredibly promising career. Although Giorgio Vasari in his famous work on Renaissance painters devoted a whole chapter to Giorgione, there is little biographical data. Scholars think that he apprenticed in the workshop of the prolific Giovanni Bellini, but then went off on his own. He was either a mentor, colleague, or rival of the younger Titian who apparently completed some of Giorgione's unfinished paintings after his untimely death.

Giorgione was one of the first Italians to work with oil, a medium which enabled him to break new ground especially in landscape. His style, often called Giorgionesque, influenced Titian to such an extent that scholars often attribute the same paintings to one or the other, or sometimes to both. Moreover, there is an enigmatic quality about the works of Giorgione that is part of his fascination. He is the master of what is called "the hidden subject."

The "Three Philosophers" is a good example. This painting depicts three men standing on a hilltop overlooking a beautiful valley with the sun setting in the West behind a range of mountains. They are dressed in colorful Oriental robes and face a dark rock formation or cave. They and the cave are illuminated by another source of light. Who are they and what are they doing there?

In 1525 Marcantonio Michiel, a Venetian patrician and connoisseur, catalogued the paintings in the collection of Taddeo Contarini, another Venetian aristocrat, and described this one as "three philosophers in a Landscape." Two hundred and fifty years later the painting had found its way to the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna, its current home. In a 1783 catalog it was called, "Three Magi." Since them scholars have debated whether the men are philosophers, astronomers, surveyors, representatives of the three ages of man, representatives of three religions, or the Wise Men or Magi of the Biblical account.

Today, most scholars accept the "philosopher" interpretation even though they find it difficult to identify which ones. Indeed, the catalog of the National Gallery exhibition and the audio commentary dismissed the "Magi" interpretation. Nevertheless, recent findings suggest that the Magi are making a comeback.

In the catalog of the unprecedented Giorgione exhibition in 2004, a collaboration of the  Kunsthistorische Museum and the Accademia in Venice, one scholar argued that in this painting Giorgione depicted the Magi not at end of their journey but at the beginning, that is, when they first saw the Star of Bethlehem.. His most compelling point had to do with the lighting of the painting. If we look carefully, we can see the sun setting in the West behind the mountains, but the three men and the rock formation in the foreground are being illuminated by another source. According to the medieval legend which Giorgione apparently followed, the light of the Star which rose in the East was even brighter than the sun at midday.

Moreover, at the conclusion of the Symposium which ended the exhibition in the National Gallery another scholar offered a striking piece of evidence in support of the Magi. The exhibition itself had done an excellent job of educating the public on the value of using scientific techniques to evaluate the "underpainting" of some of these Renaissance masterpieces. X-rays and other techniques show many "pentimenti" or changes of mind on the part of the artists. When working with oils, the artists would frequently alter their paintings by painting over the original.

In the original version the old man on the right dressed in gold is wearing an elaborate headpiece crowned with a kind of solar disk. For some reason Giorgione decided to discard it in favor of a simple hood. Nevertheless, when the scholar projected an image on the huge screen of a painting by Vittore Carpaccio of the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, the old man in that painting was wearing the kind of headpiece discarded by Giorgione.

Perhaps both Carpaccio and Giorgione took their inspiration from the elaborate public processions honoring the Magi which were common in the later Medieval world. No where were they more elaborate than in Venice. More than any other city, Venice was aware of the styles and costumes of the Orient.

Finally, I believe that there is one more piece of evidence that so far has eluded scholars but will help to make the case for the Magi. The most obvious feature in the painting is the brilliant color of the costumes. In the ancient legend the gifts of the Magi were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the medieval legend, the oldest of the Magi was the bearer of the gold; the middle aged man carried the myrrh; and the youngest brought the frankincense. The golden garment of the oldest man needs no explanation. In my encyclopedia the color of myrrh is a dark red,  while the color of frankincense can be white or green, the colors of the sitting young man.

Could it be that Giorgione hid his subject by making it obvious? I think it more likely that most Venetians in 1506 would have certainly seen the Magi in this great masterpiece. 

    ###                                                                    








 



















Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Giorgione: Lost Discovery of Paris



In his massive 2009 study of Giorgione, Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo attached great importance to a  seventeenth century copy by David Teniers of a now lost Giorgione painting. Dal Pozzolo accepted the traditional identification of the painting as the discovery of the infant Paris on Mt. Ida, and paired it with another lost Giorgione, the meeting of Aeneas and his father, Anchises, after the fall of Troy.

as we previously stated, the Birth of Paris and the probable flight of Aeneas and Anchises from Troy constitute the beginning and the end of the Trojan saga. These specific subjects had seemingly never been represented in Venetian painting before Giorgione; but they were afterwards, and also in paintings by artists (both anonymous and identifiable) who were bound with the master of Castelfranco’s activity…. (Dal Pozzolo, Giorgione, 2009, p. 264)

I also believe that the Teniers copy is very important but more for its relationship to the "Tempest." The subject of the lost Giorgione has been misunderstood from the time Marcantonio Michiel saw the original in the home of Taddeo Contarini two decades after Giorgione's death to the present. Below see my 2010 essay that claims that the subject of the painting is "The Encounter of the Holy Family with Robbers on the Flight into Egypt." 

 
David Teniers: Copy of a lost Giorgione
A “lost” Giorgione painting which has been misidentified for almost 500 years can shed new light on the work and career of the most mysterious and perhaps the greatest of all Venetian Renaissance painters.

In 1525, fifteen years after the death of Giorgione, Marcantonio Michiel noticed a painting in the home of Venetian patrician, Taddeo Contarini, and described it as a “picture on canvas, representing the birth of Paris, in a landscape, with two shepherds standing.…” Michiel noted that it was one of Giorgione’s “early works.”[i]

This painting has been lost, but copies exist from the 17th century. The editor of the 1903 translation of Michiel’s notes cited a description in an “old manuscript catalog of the time.”

A landscape on canvas, in oil, where there are on one side, a half nude woman and an old man, seated, with a flute.[ii]

One of the copies, made by David Teniers around 1655, is currently in a private collection but was discussed in two recent catalogues. The authors of both catalogues agree that it is a copy of an early Giorgione and also accept, although with some puzzlement, Michiel’s identification of the painting as “the birth of Paris.”[iii] However, details in this early Giorgione indicate that it has quite a different subject than the one imagined by Michiel.

The subject of this “lost” Giorgione comes from a legendary episode on the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. Here is the version from the apocryphal “Arabic Gospel of the Infancy.”

Joseph and the lady Mary departed and came to a desert place, and when they heard that it was infested with raids by robbers, they decided to pass through this region by night. But behold, on the way they saw two robbers lying on the road, and with them a crowd of robbers who belonged to them, likewise sleeping. Now these two robbers, into whose hands they had fallen, were Titus and Dumachus. And Titus said to Dumachus: ‘I ask you to let these (people) go free, and in such a way that our companions do not observe them.’ But Dumachus refused and Titus said again: ‘Take from me forty drachmae and have them as a pledge.’ At the same time he reached him the girdle which he wore round him, that he might hold his tongue and not speak.[iv]

       In Legends of the Madonna Anna Jameson called the encounter with the robbers an “ancient tradition,” and added another detail. After the acceptance of his offer, “the merciful robber led the Holy Travellers to his stronghold on the rock, and gave them lodging for the night.”[v]

The landscape in the background of the painting is commonplace in depictions of the Flight into Egypt. The stream is often seen in versions of the “Rest.” It was used by the Madonna to either bathe, or to wash the swaddling clothes of her Son.

Bathing might explain Mary’s exposed leg and arms but the disarray of her clothing could also be Giorgione’s way of representing her obvious danger from the robbers. In a painting now in the Hermitage Giorgione exposed the thigh of Judith, the famous Jewish heroine whose virtue was also threatened.[vi] In any case Mary sits with her back to Joseph with her eyes intent on her Son, her real protector. Joseph is portrayed as an elderly graybeard as in Giorgione’s well-known Nativities. The infant Christ lies on a white cloth and returns his mother’s imploring look. The white cloth recalls the corporale, used to cover the altar on which the Eucharist is placed.[vii]

The two men on the right side are not shepherds but robbers. A Giorgione shepherd would be kneeling or bending over the Child in adoration. The one with the red jacket has just convinced the other to leave the Holy Family in peace. He has taken off his “girdle” leaving himself somewhat exposed and given it to the other who is in the process of fixing it around his waist. The band of robbers can be seen lounging in the middle ground. Joseph’s flute recalls the well-know verse from Juvenal: “A wanderer who has nothing can sing in a robber’s face.”[viii]

In “The Encounter with the Robbers in the Desert” Giorgione did not attempt to hide the subject of that early work. If no one has recognized its subject from Michiel’s time to ours, it is because the very popular apocryphal legends have largely been forgotten. Early in his career Giorgione was working not on a pagan subject derived from the legend of Paris but on a depiction of an apocryphal legend based on the Flight into Egypt. Moreover, he showed an inclination, even at this early stage in his brief career, to depict the Madonna in a very unusual way.


             Marcantonio Michiel may not have been the first to describe this painting. In 1510, the year of Giorgione’s death, Isabella D’Este, the Marchioness of Mantua and a noted collector, was trying to acquire a work by Giorgione for her camerino. When she was informed by Taddeo Albano, her agent in Venice, that Giorgione had just died, she urged him to try to acquire a “Notte” from his estate:[ix]

we hear that among the possessions left by Zorzo da Castelfranco, the painter, there is a picture of a Notte, very beautiful and original. If this is the case, we wish to have it, and beg your Lorenzo da Pavia or any other person of taste and judgment to go and see if it is a really excellent thing. If it is, I hope you will endeavor to secure this picture for me, with the help of our dearest compare the Magnifico Carlo Valerio, or of any one else you may think fit. Find out the price and let us have the exact sum; but if it is really a fine thing, and you think well to clench the bargain for fear others should carry it off, do what you think best…”

Albano replied,
                                                                                
I have spoken in your interests to some of my friends who were very intimate with him, and they assure me that there is no such picture among his possessions. It is true that the said Zorzo painted a Notte for M. Taddeo Contarini, which, according to the information which I have, is not as perfect as you would desire. Another picture of the Notte was painted by Zorzo for a certain Vittore Beccaro, which, from what I hear, is finer in design and better finished than that of Contarini. But Beccaro is not at present in Venice, and from what I hear neither picture is for sale, because the owners have had them painted for their own pleasure, so that I regret I am unable to satisfy Your Excellency’s wish.

According to Michiel’s notes the only painting in the home of Taddeo Contarini that could be a “notte” would be the “discovery of Paris,” or as we have called it, “The Encounter with the Robbers on the Flight into Egypt.” Scholars have never agreed about what Isabella D’Este could have meant by “Notte.” Some think she was referring to a Nativity but Isabella knew a Nativity when she saw one, or when she requested one from Giovanni Bellini. No, the “Encounter with the Robbers,” indicates that a “Notte” was an evening scene where the sun was setting over a landscape at the end of day.

What about the other “notte”? It is certainly possible that the one done for Vittore Beccaro, the one finer in design and better finished; the one described by Isabella as “very beautiful and original” could have been the Tempesta. In the “Encounter with the Robbers” Giorgione was “stretching the envelope” with a presentation of a disheveled and partially nude Madonna. Later he would go even further in the “Tempesta.” But that is another story.[x]

###











[i] The Anonimo, Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy made by an Anonymous Writer in the Sixteenth Century, ed. George C. Williamson, London, 1903. p. 104.

[ii] ibid. note 1.

[iii] Jaynie Anderson, Giorgione, 1997, p. 317; and Wolfgang Eller, Giorgione Catalog Raisonne, Petersburg, 2007, pp. 171-173.

[iv] Extract from the Arabic Infancy Gospel in Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, English translation edited by R. McL. Wilson, Volume One, Philadelphia 1963. p. 408. On the web a search for the First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus, Chapter. VIII, will give the story with slightly different wording.

[v]  Jameson, Legends of the Madonna, Boston, 1885. pp. 361-362. Mrs. Jameson noted that the encounter with the robbers has been “seldom treated” as an artistic subject but did indicate that she had seen two representations. “One is a fresco by Giovanni di San Giovanni, which, having been cut from the wall of some suppressed convent, is now in the academy at Florence. The other is a composition by Zuccaro.” In a later edition she provided a sketch of the Zuccaro “Encounter,” which shows Joseph assisting the Madonna down from the Ass at the behest of the armed robber.

[vi] In Judith’s famous prayer she recalled her ancestor Simeon who took vengeance on the foreigners “who had undone a virgin’s girdle to her shame, laid bare her thigh to her confusion…” Judith 9:2, Jerusalem Bible.

[vii] For the corporale see the discussion of Titian’s Pesaro Altarpiece in Rona Goffen,  Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice, Yale, 1986, p. 114.

[viii] Juvenal, Satires, X, 22. I thank Dr. Karin Zeleny of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna for the Juvenal reference.

[ix] The correspondence is in Julia Cartwright, Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539. London, 1932. Pp. 390-391.

[x] See Francis P. DeStefano, “Giorgione’s Tempesta,” website address http://www.giorgionetempesta.com.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Giorgione: "La Tempesta"



In “Giorgione’s Tempest”, famed Italian art historian Salvatore Settis discussed practically every important commentary on Giorgione’s most beautiful, famous, and mysterious painting. The book was first published in 1978 but I use the 1990 English version published by the University of Chicago Press. To assist the reader Settis provided a convenient chart that listed 28 different commentators who had produced a total of 25 different interpretations of the subject.

Settis compared the painting to a jigsaw puzzle and argued that any interpretion must identify all the pieces of the puzzle and fit them easily together. In his chart he identified the pieces as the Man, the Woman, the child, the lightning, the pillars, the serpent, the city, and the bather seen only by x-ray. Actually, it would take a great deal of imagination to see a serpent, and it would probably have been better if he had used the prominent plant in front of the woman. Also, he did not include the bird on the roof in the backround as one of the pieces. Obviously, a pentimento like the bather can not be part of the completed puzzle.

Interestingly, hardly any of the commentators tried to identify all of the pieces of the puzzle, much less fit them together. Settis, himself, tried to fit them all together in his interpretation of the painting as Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Perhaps this is why he saw a serpent rather than a plant root in the painting.

The Adam and Eve interpretation met the same fate as all the other interpretations mentioned in the book. It was rejected by leading scholars and has never gained wide acceptance. Since the book’s publication many other interpretations have been proposed especially after Giorgione’s fame grew immensely as the five hundredth anniversary of his death approached in 2010. In 2004 a groundbreaking exhibition jointly sponsored by the Accademia in Venice and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna produced a catalog that offered at least three competing interpretations of the Tempest. The editors of the catalog had to admit that the painting was still as mysterious as ever.

One of the interpreters listed by Settis was Robert Eisler, an outsider to the art history world. In 1935 Eisler tried to identify the subject of the painting as the discovery of the infant Paris by a shepherd and his wife. Settis described the attempts of Eisler to penetrate the world of Art History.

It is impossible not to feel a certain sympathy for this scholar (1882-1949), who never taught and never managed to publish his book New Titles for Old Pictures, part of which was devoted to Giorgione. (After Richter dated it with a reference ‘London, 1935’ it was quoted by a long line of scholars as though it were a published work!) After various adversities, one of which was a long imprisonment in Nazi camps, Eisler discovered that some of his ideas on Giorgione were beginning to circulate through Richter’s book and attempted to draw attention to this fact in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (1946). He corrected the proofs but only a third of his letter was finally published… regarding the Tempest, while the rest, on the Three Philosophers, is still unedited… The proposition quoted here is not included in the typescript of the book, and is only formulated in the letter to the Times Literary Supplement. (The Eisler Papers are preserved in the Warburg Insitute, where I was permitted , with a customary perfect courtesy, to examine them at my leisure.*

I also feel a certain sympathy with Eisler and his efforts. Like Eisler I had a long and successful career in another field but lacked the credentials and a certain amount of scholarly expertise. I earned a PhD in History long ago in the area of eighteenth century British politics. I taught European history at a local college but left to pursue a career as a financial advisor. Only as I neared retirement in 2005 did I return to History and come upon Giorgione’s "Tempest" in an old travel book. It was primarily intuition that led me to see the painting as an idiosyncratic version of “The Rest of the Holy Family on the Flight into Egypt.”

Subsequent investigation showed that this interpretation provided an explanation for all the pieces of the puzzle and fit them together nicely. I sent my interpretation to most of the leading scholars and institutions in the field but received little response. Professor Settis was one of a handful who had the kindness and courtesy to at least respond and offer words of encouragement.

In 2006 I did send an abbreviated version of the "Tempest" essay to the Wall St. Journal for possible publication in their new weekend Masterpiece column. It was published there on May 13, 2006. Attempts to publish an expanded version in scholarly journals came to nothing. In 2010 I did read the paper in a small panel at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America held that year in Venice.

It was a nice experience but I realized that I would have to find another way to get my work out there. It was then that I decided to create my blog, Giorgione et al… The blog has been relatively successful in that I have met with and corresponded with interested parties all over the world. However, there is still a great reluctance on the part of many scholars to use the Internet. Some have told me that they won’t read anything that appears there. I can understand a certain level of concern but I imagine the same fears were present 500 years ago after the advent of the printing press.

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the publication of my initial brief explanation of the "Tempest" in the Wall St. Journal.  The editor cautiously added the sub-title, "A Renaissance Mystery Solved?" I reproduced it last year on this site. For the full essay and other papers that have flowed from the realization that the painting had a "sacred" subject, please visit my website, MyGiorgione.

###

* Salvatore Settis, Giorgione's Tempest, 1990, c. 5, n. 45.


   


















Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Durer in Venice



Albrecht Durer traveled to Venice in the latter half of 1505 and stayed until early in 1507. It seems that he had planned this journey for a while but an outbreak of plague in Nuremburg apparently hastened his departure. Erwin Panofsky devoted a whole chapter to the Venetian sojourn in his magisterial study, “The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer.” Panofsky entitled the chapter, ‘The Second Trip to Italy and the Culmination of Painting, 1505-1510/11.’***

Panofsky points out that Durer had achieved a high degree of fame even before this visit to Venice. In Panofsky’s words,
The young beginner who had visited Venice eleven years before was now a world-renowned master whose inventions were copied and imitated everywhere. Also, he was no longer poor….Thus he did not walk about the city as an unknown and insignificant tourist but plunged into its colorful and stimulating life as a distinguished guest. He became acquainted with ‘intelligent scholars, good lute-players, flutists, connoisseurs of painting and many noble minds’ who honored and befriended him. [107-8]
Despite his mastery in wood-cut and engraving, Durer turned exclusively to oil painting while in Venice. Panofsky indicates that Venice and its painters had a great impact on the German master. From his correspondence we know that Durer regarded the aged Giovanni Bellini as still the greatest of painters, but in a letter dated February 7, 1506, Durer mentioned that he had also found “many painters much superior to Jacopo de’ Barbari,” an artist already well-known to Durer before the Italian trip.

Panofsky indicates that Durer turned to painting to show that he could work with color as well as any Venetian, but also because of the desires of his patrons in Venice. Almost immediately on his arrival Durer was welcomed by the prosperous German merchant community. It would appear that connections in Nuremberg and Augsburg had paved the way for him and even arranged a lucrative commission to paint an altarpiece for S. Bartolommeo, the German church in Venice. In a letter to a friend about the altarpiece, usually called the “Feast of the Rose Garlands,” Durer claimed that the commission was an effective way to “silence those who said I was good as an engraver but did not know how to handle the colors in painting.” [109-110]


On the completion of the “Feast of the Rose Gardens” Durer, himself, bragged, “I herewith announce that there is no better image of the Virgin in the country.” This claim might be exaggerated but the painting did gain much acclaim.
Old Giovanni Bellini…visited his studio and expressed the wish to acquire one of his paintings…When the “Feast of the Rose Garlands” was completed it was admired by the whole Venetian aristocracy, including the Doge and the Patriarch, and finally even by Durer’s colleagues….” [109]
Panofsky agrees with this contemporary evaluation despite the very poor condition of the painting today. “In one propitious moment he succeeded in synthesizing the force and accuracy of his design with the rich glow of Venetian color.” Panofsky acknowledges Durer’s debt to Bellini
The balanced grandeur of this composition would not have been attainable to Durer without the study and complete understanding of the style of Giovanni Bellini whom he so frankly admired…(112)
The painting was inspired by the increasingly popular devotion to the rosary, especially among the Dominican friars, whose founder was considered to have been the creator of the devotion. The rose garlands in the painting actually represent the decades of the rosary, and in Panofsky’s opinion the painting should actually be titled, “the Brotherhood of the Rosary.”

While working on the altarpiece for S. Bartolommeo, Durer also completed two smaller paintings of sacred subjects. The first was the so-called “Madonna of the Siskin”, now in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. The second was a version of “Christ Among the Doctors” that is now in the  Thyssen Bornemisza collection in Madrid.




The “Madonna of the Siskin” derives its popular name from the bird on the arm of the infant Jesus. However, it is actually a representation of the meeting of the young John the Baptist with the Holy Family on their return from the sojourn in Egypt. Panofsky notes that the young Baptist is the most significant iconographical feature in the painting.
The inclusion of this figure…was an utter novelty in Northern art which…knew only the triad of the Holy Family and the complete circle of the Holy Kinship, but not the “Virgin with the Infant Jesus and the Little St. John.” This theme was Central Italian rather than Venetian, but that compositions not unlike Durer’s…existed in Venice and the “Terra Firma” is demonstrated… [113]
In Panofsky’s opinion, Durer took this traditional subject to a new level. He “surpassed this and similar prototypes by enlivening the entire composition and by endowing the little St. John with a Leonardesque or even Raphaelesque vitality which had been foreign to the earlier Venetian and Venetianizing schools.”... [114]


While the Madonna of the Rose Garlands took months to complete, it would appear that “Christ among the Doctors”, the final painting in the Venetian triad, was done in a matter of days. Yet, Durer considered this painting as “something new and extraordinary” and Panofsky concurs.
The emphasis on manual gesticulation, and even the specific gesture of arguing by counting fingers is unquestionably Italian, as is also the compositional form as a whole. The idea of presenting a dramatic incident by half-length figures so that the whole effect is concentrated on the expressive quality of hands and faces had been sanctioned by Mantegna…and had gained favor in all the North Italian schools, particularly in Venice and Milan. [114]
Panofsky’s description of this painting reminds me of the so-called “Three Ages of Man” usually attributed to Giorgione. I have interpreted that painting as a dramatic incident also from the life of Christ: the encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man. Giorgione, who was working in Venice at the same time as Durer, also used the expressive hands and faces of half-length figures to create an effect. In both paintings the half-length treatment provides a kind of close-up or zoom effect.

Giorgione: "Three Ages of Man"
Pitti Palace

In the year after Durer left Venice, Giorgione was given the commission to fresco the exterior walls of the newly rebuilt Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the center of German community in Venice. Over the years scholars have tried to find some northern influence on Giorgione’s work, but Panofsky never mentions Giorgione. Instead, he argues that Durer was greatly influenced by what he saw in Venice. After his return to Germany, Durer eventually gave up painting and went back to his wood cuts and engravings. But they would never be the same. His stay in Venice had brought his work to an even greater level.

I like to think of him and Giorgione both trying to satisfy the demands of their patrons for sacred subjects while at the same time working to a make their work exceptional and innovative. 

###

***Erwin Panofsky: The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer, Princeton, 1955. Page citations are in brackets.