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, January 23, 2016

Edward Hutton on Giorgione


I first discovered Giorgione and the Tempest in Edward Hutton's, Venice and Venetia, originally published in 1911.* The book was one of many that Hutton came to write on Italy, its regions, cities, culture and history. I had first encountered Hutton in his enchanting book on Lombardy and soon began to collect as many of his books as I could. In preparation for a trip to Venice in 2005 I opened Venice and Venetia and found this passage in his account of the Palazzo Giovanelli, at that time the home of the Tempest. 



In 1560 Jacopo Sansovino restored the Palace, which, however, did not remain in the hands of the Urbino Dukes but passed to the Dona family by purchase; they in the seventeenth century passed it on to the Giovanelli, who still hold it and its treasures, undoubtedly the greatest of these is the picture by Giorgione, which has passed under various names—the family of Giorgione, or simply the Gipsy and the Soldier—which in itself sums up all that we mean by the Giorgionesque in painting. There we see, in a delicious landscape of green and shady valley, of stream and ruin and towered country town, a woman nude but for a cape about her shoulders giving her breast to her child in the shadow of the trees by a quiet stream. On the other side of this jeweled brook a young man like a soldier—or is it a shepherd?—stands resting on a great lance or crook and seems to converse with her. Close by are ruins of some classical building overgrown by moss and lichen, and half hidden in the trees, and not far off up the stream in the sunset we see the towers and walls and roofs and domes of a little town with its bridge across the stream leading to the great old fortified gate of the place. But what chiefly attracts us in the work is something dreamlike too, though wholly of this our world, an air of music which seems to come to us from the noise of the brook or the summer wind in the trees, or the evening bells that from far off we seem to hear ring Ave Maria. One of the golden moments of life has been caught here for ever and perfectly expressed. Heaven, it seems, the kingdom of Heaven, is really to be found in our midst, and Giorgione has contrived a miracle the direct opposite of that of Angelico; for he found all the flowers of Tuscany and the byways of the world in far-off Paradise, but Giorgione has found Paradise itself here in our world. And we must remember that such a work as this was the true invention of Giorgione. [121]

Hutton understood Giorgione's significance.

For with Giorgione (1478-1510), the pupil of Giovanni Bellini…we have a new creation in Art; he is the first painter of the true “easel picture,” the picture which is neither painted for church not to adorn a great public hall, but to hang on the wall of a room in a private house for the delight of the owner. For Giorgione the individual exists, and it is for him, for the most part, he works, and thus stands on the threshold of the modern world….In these short thirty-two years, however, he found time to re-create Venetian painting, to return it to its origins, and to make the career of his great fellow-pupil, Titian, whom he may be said to have formed, possible.[160]

For the truth is that Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto are each an absolutely new impulse in painting. Fundamentally they owe nothing, accidentally even very little, to their predecessors; and if, as we have said, Titian and Tintoretto were able to find full expression because of the work of Giorgione, it is only in the way that Shakespeare and Milton may be said to owe something…to Spencer;…the work of Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto are absolutely new things in the world, the result of a new impulse and a new vision, individual and personal to the last degree, owing little to any school and making little of tradition. [149]

Hutton was a student of Roman and Italian history and art but he also made it a point to see everything he wrote about. He used every means of conveyance to get about and often covered the ground on foot. His descriptions of his walking tours in both town and country are charming and informative. Here is his description of Giorgione's home town of Castelfranco, and its most prized possession.


This little city…is the happy possessor of what will ever remain, I suppose, the work that is most certainly his very own—I mean the altarpiece of the Madonna enthroned with her little Son between S. Francis and S. Liberale. This glorious picture…is one of the very few Venetian pictures…which possess that serenity and peace, something in truth spellbound, that is necessary to and helps to make what I may call a religious picture. For something must be added to beauty, something must be added to art, to achieve that end which Perugino seems to have reached so easily, and which almost every Sienese painter knew by instinct how to attain. That quality is serenity, the something spellbound we find here. And Giorgione is the last Venetian master to possess that secret. [233-4]
Although a British subject, Hutton seems to have spent most of his life in Italy. During World War II he was with the British army as it made its way up the Italian peninsula. He was an artistic advisor whose role was to point out important cultural sites that should not be bombed. As the armies approached his beloved Florence, he warned that the whole city should be considered a museum and not be bombed at all. Fortunately, the Germans evacuated and the city was spared.

A list of his many books can be found on Wikipedia.


*Edward Hutton, Venice and Venetia,  London, third edition, 1929, first published 1911.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Giorgione: Adoration of the Shepherds

Giorgione: Adoration of the Shepherds (Allendale Adoration)
National Gallery, Washington
96.8cm x 110.5 cm, 35.7" x 43.5"


Note:The following is a slightly modified version of an earlier post. I present it today as a Christmas greeting to all followers of Giorgione et al...

Scholars have expended more time dealing with the controversy that has surrounded the attribution to Giorgione of the so-called “Allendale Adoration of the Shepherds” than they have in trying to understand what is actually going on in the painting. Here I would like to deal with the subject and meaning of this famous Nativity scene that is now in Washington’s National Gallery.

The subject of the painting seems so obvious. It is a depiction of the adoration of the shepherds who have left their flocks to seek out the newborn Savior after hearing the angels’ announcement.

Now when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made know to us..” So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

Luke’s account of the angelic appearance to the shepherds is the traditional gospel at the midnight Mass on Christmas . The actual arrival of the shepherds at the stable in Bethlehem is the passage used for the gospel reading for the Christmas Mass at dawn.

The relatively small size of the painting indicates that it was done not as an altarpiece but for private devotion. Although the subject is clear, there is a deeper meaning.* Why is the infant Jesus lying on the rocky ground and not in a manger or feeding trough? Why is he naked? Where are the swaddling clothes?

Actually the newborn infant is lying on a white cloth that just happens to be on the ends of Mary’s elaborate blue robe that the artist has taken great pains to spread over the rocky ground. Giorgione is here using a theme employed earlier by Giovanni Bellini and later by Titian in their famous Frari altarpieces. The naked Christ is the Eucharist that lies on the stone altar at every Mass. The altar is covered with a white cloth that in Rona Goffen’s words “recalls the winding cloth, ritualized as the corporale, the cloth spread on the altar to receive the Host of the Mass.” In Franciscan spirituality Mary is regarded as the altar.

Clearly, the viewer-worshipper is meant to identify the Madonna with the altar and the Child with the Eucharist. Bellini's visual assertion of this symbolic equivalence is explained by a common Marian epithet. The Madonna is the "Altar of Heaven." the Ara Coeli, that contains the eucharistic body of Christ” Ave verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine.**

The “Adoration of the Shepherds” represents the first Mass. This was not an unusual concept. Many years ago I attended a talk on the famous Portinari altarpiece that now hangs in the Uffizi. The speaker was Fr. Maurice McNamee, a Jesuit scholar, who argued that Hugo van der Goes had also illustrated a Mass in that Netherlandish altarpiece around the year 1475. His argument centered on the spectacular garments of the kneeling angels that he identified as altar servers wearing vestments of the time. He called them “vested angels,” and they are the subject of his 1998 study, “Vested Angels, Eucharistic Allusions in Early Netherlandish Painting.”


Hugo van der Goes: Portinari Altarpiece


His Eucharistic interpretation explained the naked infant on the hard, rocky ground. The infant Christ is the same as the sacrificial Christ on the Cross and on the altar at every Mass. In a study of Mary in Botticelli’s art Alessandra Galizzi Kroegel referred to this connection.

it needs to be pointed out first of all that the Renaissance era saw the spread of practices of individual devotion to be carried out primarily in the home…From the theological perspective attention should then be drawn to the emergence of a new trend that…tended to identify the mystery of the Incarnation with the Redemption itself, focusing on the Passion with much less fervour than in the past: whence the growing popularity of  ‘incarnational’ iconographies celebrating the word made flesh, such as pictures of the Infant Jesus in his mother’s arms…while the demand for images with Christ on the Cross, very common in the fourteenth century was drastically reduced.***

It would appear that Giorgione has used the same motif although his angels have become little putti who hover around the scene. The shepherds represent participants in the Mass who kneel in adoration. 

There are many other iconographical details in this painting that could be discussed. Joseph’s gold robe indicates royal descent from the House of David. The ox and ass in the cave are symbols of the old order that has been renewed with the coming of Christ. So too would be the tree trunk next to the flourishing laurel bush in the left foreground. The laurel is a traditional symbol of joy, triumph, and resurrection.

Giorgione has moved the main characters off to the right away from their traditional place in the center. Rather than diminishing their importance this narrative device serves to make all the action flow from left to right and culminate in the Holy Family.  Giovanni Bellini had done the same thing in his “St. Francis in the Desert,” and later Titian would use this device in his Pesaro altarpiece in the Frari.

Finally, art historian Mario Lucco has suggested that the long hair of the one indicates a Venetian patrician in shepherd’s clothing.* That may be so but I like to think Giorgione indicated that the Savior, whether present on the ground before the shepherds as a newborn King, or on the altar at Mass, is accessible to all. This King is not protected by armed guards. There is no need to bribe or otherwise court influence with bureaucrats acting as intermediaries. Anyone, even the simplest and the humblest, can approach this King directly and in his or her own fashion. 

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*Two recent catalogs have offered interpretations. See Mario Lucco’s entry in Brown, David Alan, and Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting, Washington, 2006. Also see the very strange interpretation of Wolfgang Eller in Giorgione Catalog Raisonne, Petersberg, 2007.
**Rona Goffen, Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice, Yale, 1986. P. 53.

***Alessandra Galizzi Kroegel, “The Figure of Mary in Botticelli’s Art.” Botticelli: from Lorenzo the Magnificent to Savonarola, 2003. (ex. cat), p. 56.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giorgio Vasari on Giorgione






In his famous Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Giorgio Vasari included a brief account of the life and work of Giorgione, and featured it prominently right after the biography of Leonardo da Vinci.  Born in 1511 Vasari was not a contemporary of Giorgione’s, whose life had been tragically cut short the year before by the plague. Although brief, the Giorgione biography was given much prominence because of Vasari’s high opinion of Giorgione’s work and importance. It began with this introduction.

At the same time when Florence was acquiring so much renown from the works of Leonardo, the city of Venice obtained no small glory from the talents and excellence of one of its citizens, by whom the Bellini, then held in such esteem, were very far surpassed, as were all others who had practiced painting up to that time in that city. This was Giorgio, born in the year 1478, at Castelfranco, in the territory of Treviso… Giorgio was, at a later period, called Giorgione, as well from the character of his person as for the exaltation of his mind…. [227]*

Vasari credited Giorgione with the development of a new style or manner of painting from nature.

He was endowed by nature with highly felicitous qualities, and gave to all that he painted, whether in oil or fresco, a degree of life, softness, and harmony (being more particularly successful in the shadows), which caused all the more eminent artists to confess that he was born to infuse spirit into the forms of painting; and they admitted that he copied the freshness of the living form more exactly than any other painter, not of Venice only, but of all other places. [227]

What was the basis for Vasari’s evaluation?  We know that he visited Venice on at least two occasions, and it is clear that he saw Giorgione’s work on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. He said that in an Ascension Day procession he saw a Giorgione portrait of Leonardo Loredano as Doge that he believed himself “to behold that most famous Prince himself.” He also saw and attributed to Giorgione the famous painting of Christ Carrying the Cross that is still displayed in the Scuola of S. Rocco in Venice.



It is hard to determine what other works of Giorgione’s he might have actually seen with his own two eyes. Most of Giorgione’s work was done for the homes of private aristocratic patrons, and it is hard to determine if Vasari had access to those homes. Vasari often relied on others for descriptions of paintings he had not seen. For example, here is his description of three Giorgione paintings in the home of the Venetian Cardinal Grimani, an avid patron and collector.

In his youth, Giorgione painted, in Venice, many very beautiful pictures of the Virgin, with numerous portraits from nature, which are most life-like and beautiful. Of this we have proof in three heads of extraordinary beauty, painted in oil by his hand, and which are in the possession of the Most Reverend Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia. One of these represents David (and according to common report, is a portrait of the master himself). He has long locks, reaching to the shoulders, as was the custom of that time, and the colouring is so fresh and animating that the face appears to be rather real than painted; the breast is covered with armour, as is the arm with which he holds the head of Goliath.  The second is much larger, and is the portrait of a man taken from the life. In the hand this man holds the red barret cap of a commander; the mantle is of furs, and beneath it appears one of those tunics after the ancient fashion, which are well known; this is believed to represent some leader of armies. The third picture is a boy with luxuriant curling hair, and is as beautiful as imagination can portray. [228]



Vasari’s sources might have included Titian and Sebastiano Luciani, later called Sebastiano del Piombo. Both of these painters had worked with Giorgione at the outset of their careers. Vasari visited Titian in his studio in Venice, and also in Rome, in the company of Michelangelo, during Titian’s brief sojourn in that city. After Sebastiano left Venice for Rome shortly after Giorgione’s death, he developed a working relationship with Michelangelo. Given Vasari’s close friendship with Michelangelo, he must have had frequent contact with Sebastiano. So, although not a contemporary of Giorgione’s, Vasari had seen some of his works and talked with at least two contemporaries who knew the master at the height of his brief career.

In addition to the descriptions of others, Vasari had some drawings by Giorgione in his own collection.

In my book of drawings, also, there is a head painted in oil by his hand, wherein he has portrayed a German of the Fugger family, who was one of the principal merchants then trading in Venice, and had his abode at the Fondaco, or Cloth Magazine of the Germans. This head is wonderfully beautiful; and I have, besides, in my possession other sketches and pen-and-ink drawings of this master. [231]

Finally, it is certain that Vasari saw Giorgione’s famous exterior frescoes on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi with his own two eyes. He saw it more than three decades after Giorgione’s death but it still retained its brilliant colors and original designs. Nevertheless, Vasari confessed that he could not understand the subject or the meaning of much of the work. Giorgione, he wrote,

thought only of executing fanciful figures, calculated for the display of his knowledge in art; and wherein there is, of a truth, neither arrangement of events in consecutive order, nor even single representations, depicting the history of known or distinguished persons, whether ancient or modern. I, for my part, have never been able to understand what they mean; nor, with all the inquiries I have made, could I ever find anyone who did understand, or could explain them to me. [229]

La Nuda: Remnant of a Fondaco fresco

Vasari was an accomplished painter and a skilled observer but by the time he visited Venice, Giorgione had already become a mystery.

Despite these first hand observations and excellent sources, scholars today tend to take Vasari with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, Vasari is the source of most of what we know about Giorgione. He related the story of Giorgione’s tragic death of the plague. He gave us the well-know “paragone” story in which Giorgione rebuffed the advocates of sculpture by showing how he could represent all the sides of the human body on a flat surface.  Vasari also gave us the account of the friction between Giorgione and Titian after their collaboration on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

After Vasari there is no other contemporary source for the life and work of Giorgione. To fill out the story we will have to look at the paintings and try to solve the mysteries by trying to see them as a contemporary Venetian would have seen and understood them. The paintings are the best primary sources for Giorgione.
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* All quotes are from Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, selected, edited, and introduced by Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Volume II, New York, 1967.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hasan Niyazi Correspondence





Hasan Niyazi, the creator of the very popular art history blog "Three Pipe Problem,"passed away at the end of October 2013. He was only in his early thirties. Hasan's family were Turkish Cypriots who migrated to Australia when Hasan was just a boy. I first encountered Hasan in July of 2010 when I came across a blog post he had written about a video analysis of Giorgione's famous and mysterious painting, "The Tempest." The video was by a well known and popular art history personality in England
Hasan Niyazi in Florence

Earlier that year I had presented my paper on the "Tempest" at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America which was held that year in Venice on the 500th anniversary of Giorgione's death.    After reading his post and watching the accompanying video, I felt the video analysis was superficial and off the mark. I commented on Hasan's post and it led to an extensive back and forth. At first, he found it difficult to accept my interpretation of the painting but, characteristically, he was open to it and willing to engage in discussion, especially if the arguments were based on sound evidence and not just feelings.

Eventually, we began to correspond privately. Hasan proved to be a real art history pioneer on the web and his blog would become one of the most popular art history sites online. He was a real believer in the value of the Internet. Here is one of his first emails dated 11/3/2010. As usual, he just signed it "H".

Hi Frank 
I have been working on something that will make it easier for those interested in art and history to find other sites. I myself am disappointed by having to find others sites by image searches and luck. Typing 'Giorgione Tempest' into google doesn't reveal your site straight away because it is based on popularity, not content. 
I have been working on a custom search engine/page/site listing which will be open to anyone to view and search. I would invite you to have a look/try - eg., type 'giorgione tempest' into the search engine on the home page and see your site appear much earlier in the listings than in google, which gets crammed with sites offering posters and reproductions, online galleries etc.

If you like the idea, and want others to be able to find your site by a topic search, please fill in the very simple registration form, which collects no private info. I could have easily done this myself but wanted to give you a chance to have a sneak peek at the site.

I must stress that it isn't directly related to what I am working on with Alexandra but I have a feeling it will come in handy for that in future :)
This is the temporary address of the site - its not publicly listed yet until I change its web address to something easy like ahdb.org
http://arthistorydatabase.blogspot.com/
what do you think??
H
A voluminous correspondence ensued. We did not always see eye to eye and he was not reluctant to criticize, often heatedly. But he was always quick to answer and thorough-going in his responses. He was always a great help in navigating the intricacies of blogging. It is only now, two years after his sudden and tragic death at such an early age, that I have come to realize how much he meant to me. I was more than twice as old as him but it didn't seem to matter that we were of a different generation. His words and comments were an incredible stimulus to a senior citizen inclined to get sloppy or goof off.

More than that, I believe we became good friends. I admired his love of the Renaissance, especially Raphael, and his great energy and enthusiasm. Often, he would respond when I knew it must have been the wee hours of the morning in Australia. I like to think that we learned a lot from each other. We never met in person but he was as good a friend as I have ever had.

One of his last letters to me spoke of his continued admiration for Raphael but now I see that there was also a hint of trouble. Here is an excerpt dated August 28, 2013.

Greetings Frank, 
I hope to find you well. I am doing OK, in case you are curious. I am adjusting to life on my own - but am also meeting with pleasing success with regards to my work, so I am endeavoring to focus on that. Emotionally, things do get a little fraught at times, but contemplating the sublime grace of a Raphael Madonna often has a calming effect. All will be well I sense, I just need to keep working, and allow some time...

He ended his last post at 3PP with words affirming the importance of the Internet fro art history.

The future of art history and the internet is a very exciting prospect. This goes beyond the fact that more art historians and institutions are engaging online, but also expands to include an increased public participation and interest in learning about art and history outside of an institutional and pedagogical content. The web allows quality knowledge, and fascinating images and video to be accessible everywhere, and by everyone—hence the potential for art history online is essentially limitless.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Giorgione: Contemporary Sources



Giorgione is the most mysterious and perhaps the greatest of all Venetian Renaissance artists. Mysterious not only because so little is known about his short life, but also because no other great painter’s work has led to so many questions of attribution and interpretation.
 
Giorgione: Self Portrait?
Giorgione was a “nickname” and contemporary documents refer to the painter as Zorzo da Castelfranco. Castelfranco is a walled town west of Treviso, about an hour away from Venice via modern commuter rail. We do not know how or when the young Giorgione arrived in Venice. In those days it is likely that he traveled down the Brenta to Padua and then on to Venice by canal. We do know that by the time of his death in 1510 at about the age of 33, he had become the favorite painter of the Venetian aristocracy.

The year of his death is one of the few things we know for sure about Giorgione.  On October 25, 1510 Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, asked Taddeo Albano, her agent in Venice, to acquire a Giorgione painting only to be informed that the young master had just died during a recurrence of the plague. The indefatigable collector was not deterred by the news. She told Albano that she had heard that there might be a beautiful “notte” among the late painter’s possessions, and that Albano should do all he could to get it.

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,… 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…[i]

On November 8 Albano informed the Lady that it was too late.

Most illustrious and honoured Madama mia,--
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.

This brief exchange not only tells us the approximate date of Giorgione’s death, but also hints at his status as a painter. Like most Venetian painters of his time Giorgione worked by commission, and his patrons appear to have come from the highest circles of Venetian society. Vittore Beccaro has disappeared from the view of history but Taddeo Contarini was a scion of one of the greatest patrician families. For centuries scholars have disagreed about what Isabella meant by a “Notte” but, whatever it was, it was painted for a leading Venetian citizen and art collector.

Scholars have only found a handful of documents concerning Giorgione in Venetian archives. These documents indicate the works involved and payment details. Most important is the commission to do the exterior fresco work on the newly rebuilt Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the home and commercial center for the German merchants and travelers in Venice. This commission alone indicates Giorgione’s elevated status in the Venetian art world. Only a fragment of his work on the Fondaco remains today.


Giorgione: Fondaco fragment


Recently a scholar working in the Venetian archives discovered an official inventory of Giorgione’s estate. The inventory, done in 1511, revealed that Giorgione left very little behind after his sudden death. Like other victims of the plague he apparently spent his last days in quarantine on the Lazaretto, a small island in the Venetian lagoon. No artworks, drawings, or possessions of much value were found. One would suspect that they were removed by friends or family before the inventory. The inventory also confirmed that Giorgione died without wife or legitimate children. Apparently, his stepmother was putting in the claim for his estate. Finally, the inventory appeared to indicate that Giorgione’s family in Castelfranco was the Gasparini family, and not the Barbarelli, as was long claimed by later generations of that family.[ii]

The above is all the contemporary, first hand information on Giorgione. However, around the year 1800 a collection of notes by an anonymous writer was discovered in Venice’s Marciana library by Abate Don Jacopo Morelli. The notes, made by an anonymous writer in the third and fourth decades of the sixteenth century, 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.”[iii]

Morelli was not sure of the name of the author of the notes, but later scholars identified him as Marcantonio Michiel, himself a Venetian patrician and collector. In addition to Venice, Michiel visited homes and religious institutions in Padua, Cremona, Milan, Pavia, Bergamo, and Crema. 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 Michiel’s notes provided a look into the collections of some of the greatest families in Renaissance Venice and also shed much light on the artists, especially Giorgione. Altogether Michiel mentioned eighteen works in the homes of seven collectors that were either by Giorgione, possibly by Giorgione, started by Giorgione but completed by another, or copies by others based on Giorgione.

However, there is little biographical information about Giorgione in Michiel’s notes. Only when he mentions a “birth of Paris,” does Michiel indicate that it was done early in Giorgione’s career. Still, his attributions and brief descriptions are one of the bases on which Giorgione scholarship must rest.

For example, in 1530, only twenty years after Giorgione’s death, Michiel saw the painting that would later be called the “Tempest” in the home of Gabriele Vendramin. He attributed it to Giorgio di Castelfranco and described it simply as, “ The little landscape on canvas, representing stormy weather and a gipsy woman with a soldier.” (123) Despite Michiel’s typically laconic description, this painting has been regarded ever since by artists, connoisseurs, poets, and novelists as one of the most beautiful and mysterious paintings in the history of Western art.
 
Giorgione: Tempest
Almost as famous is the “Sleeping Venus”, now in Dresden, a painting that led famed art historian Kenneth Clark to claim that Giorgione was the creator of the Venetian nude. Michiel saw it in the home of Jeronimo Marcello in 1525, and described it as ”representing Venus, nude, sleeping in a landscape with Cupid.” (105) Although he attributed the painting to Giorgione, Michiel claimed that it was completed by Titian. The Cupid is no longer visible.

Giorgione: Sleeping Venus


In the same year Michiel saw three paintings by Giorgione in the home of the above-mentioned Taddeo Contarini. The best known was an oil painting that he described as “three Philosophers in a landscape”. This brief description of the “Three Philosophers”, now in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, is characteristic of Michiel. He did not label paintings but provided a description and an attribution whenever he could. (103)

Giorgione: Three Philosophers


We have practically no other contemporary information about Giorgione. Giorgio Vasari, whose Lives of the Painters is the great source for much of what we know about the Renaissance, was born in 1511, the year after Giorgione’s death. His brief biography of Giorgione was published in the first edition of the Lives in 1558. We will turn to Vasari’s account next.
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[i] Isabella’s correspondence with Taddeo Albano can be found in Julia Cartwright, Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539. London, 1932. For the Italian text see Jaynie Anderson, Giorgione, The Painter of Poetic Brevity, 1997, p. 362.

[ii] Segre, Renata: “A Rare Document on Giorgione”, Burlington Magazine, June, 2011, 383-386.

[iii] 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. Page numbers for citations are in brackets.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Giorgione and Titian: Renaissance Mysteries


 This month marks the fifth anniversary of Giorgione et al... I created the blog at the suggestion of the late Hasan Niyazi, an Australian, whose blog, Three Pipe Problem, was becoming one of the most popular art history sites on the web. Hasan argued that "blogspot" would reach a much wider audience than a website of my own. He was correct and so far Giorgione et al... has attracted over 200000 page views. It is difficult to assess how many of these views represent real interest but it is heartening to see that the site has attracted readers from all over the world.

I originally interpreted the subject of Giorgione's Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" five years earlier back in 2005. In my naivete I sent copies of my interpretation to various institutions, journals, and most of the leading scholars in the field. Only a handful chose to even acknowledge receipt and of those only one offered any criticism. Miraculously, in May of 2006 the Masterpiece column of the Wall Street Journal published a short version of the Tempest interpretation but that was it until 2010.

In that year my paper was accepted by the Renaissance Society of America for its annual conference to be held in Venice in 2010, the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Giorgione. The conference was a large one and there were many panels devoted to Italian Renaissance art, especially the art of the Venetian Renaissance. My paper was included in one of the many panels lumped under the generic title, "Italian Art." 

I'd like to say it was a great success but it wasn't. Although most of the leading scholars on the Venetian Renaissance were at the conference, none attended my panel, which also included a presentation by two engineers from Turin on sixteenth century drawings of machines. There were only about 15 people present to hear my revolutionary interpretation. They listened politely and asked a couple of questions. Even the moderator of the panel seemed more interested in the machines.

Fortunately, after the conference in Venice, my wife and I traveled to Rome where we had to extend our stay when the eruption of a volcano in Iceland shut down air travel to and from Italy. As a result, we were able to visit the Borghese Gallery where one look at Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love" convinced me that the women were Mary Magdalen.

On our return to the USA I decided to use the web as a means to get my discoveries out there. I created MyGiorgione for the actual papers and then, thanks to Hasan, Giorgione et al... Today, I reproduce the first post on Giorgione et al...

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 Below is an abstract of a paper delivered in April, 2010 at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Venice. Subsequently, the paper was also delivered at the 2011 annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance Conference in St. Louis. The paper itself can be found on my website, MyGiorgione by using the link on the right.


Giorgione: The Tempest


Abstract:This paper identifies the subject of Giorgione’s "Tempest" as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt." This interpretation is the only one that identifies all the major elements in the painting. The nude woman nursing an infant is the Madonna. The man standing at the left functioning as an “interlocutor” is St. Joseph with his staff. The broken columns featured so prominently are commonplace in depictions of the rest on the Flight into Egypt. The city in the background is Judea from where the Holy Family has fled but could also be equated with Padua during the Cambrai war. The scraggly plant in the foreground is identified as a “belladonna” a plant associated with witchcraft and the Devil. No other interpretation of this painting has even attempted to identify the plant.

The great difficulties of this interpretation, the “nude Madonna” and the “young” Joseph are dealt with in the paper. The nude Madonna is Giorgione’s idiosyncratic way of depicting the concept of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, a doctrine of great importance at this time, especially in Venice. If the association with the War of Cambrai is correct, this interpretation dates the painting in 1509, a year before Giorgione’s death.

The paper also does discuss the relevance to the “Tempest” of a heretofore misidentified copy by David Teniers of a “lost” Giorgione. This painting is usually identified as “The “Discovery of Paris,” but it is actually Giorgione’s depiction of an apocryphal episode on the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt which I call "The Encounter with the Robbers on the Flight into Egypt."

David Teniers; Copy of a lost Giorgione

My research on the "Tempest" has led to a number of other discoveries. For example:

1. The Giorgione painting in the Pitti Palace sometimes called the "Three Ages of Man" can now be identified as "The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man." See the  essay on MyGiorgione.

Giorgione: Three Ages of Man


2. A painting attributed to Palma Vecchio that is now in storage in the Philadelphia Museum bears a marked resemblance to the "Tempest," but it has usually been identified simply as "Allegory." This painting is now identified as "the Encounter of the Holy Family with the Infant John the Baptist on the Return from Egypt. See blog post dated November 21, 2010.

Palma Vecchio: Allegory
3. Titian's famous painting the "Sacred and Profane Love" is now identified as "The Conversion of Mary Magdalen." This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance Conference held in 2012 in New Orleans. See the full paper at My Giorgione. http://www.giorgionetempesta.com.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love


4. The "Pastoral Concert" that now hangs in the Louvre has been variously attributed to Giorgione and Titian. Not only do I agree with those who attribute it to Titian but I also believe that it is Titian's "Homage to the Recently Deceased Giorgione." All the Giorgionesque elements in the painting were Titian's way of honoring his deceased friend. For the full paper see MyGiorgione. 

Titian: Pastoral Concert



Dr. Francis P. DeStefano holds a PhD in History from Fordham University but he is not associated with any educational institution. Although early in his career he taught History at a university in Fairfield, CT, he left teaching to build a financial planning practice. He retired in 2008 and now devotes himself to writing and lecturing on History, especially Art History.

Dr. DeStefano currently resides in Fairfield, Ct. His email address is drdestefano@mac.com.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Michelangelo Doni Tondo: A Further Note on the Nudes

Michelangelo: Doni Tondo


In three previous posts on Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo I have argued that in the foreground the Madonna elevates her child in the same manner as the priest elevates the Host at the Consecration of the Mass. Joseph, who represents the Church, participates in the Eucharistic sacrifice by genuflecting or kneeling at the moment when Renaissance Christians believed the Host was changed into the Body of Christ. The young John the Baptist is there, not so much as a symbol of Baptism, but as the one who announced the mission of Jesus years later on the banks of the Jordan, where he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” In the background, I suggested that the five nude young men were the Nephilim or Giants whose sins were believed to have been the cause of the Flood at the time of Noah.

The biblical account only mentions these, but Christian and Jewish legends both claimed that the Nephilim were the offspring of angels and wicked women descended from Cain. Indeed, the Jewish legends seemed to contain more detail than the Christian and I speculated that, given the interest in Hebrew language and lore in Renaissance Florence, Michelangelo might have been aware of the Jewish legends.

Since that post I have found some very relevant information in David Whitford’s study, The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era, published by Ashgate in 2009. In his analysis of the impact of the story of the drunkenness of Noah, and Noah’s subsequent curse of his son Ham, Whitford devoted a chapter to the Giants or Nephilim whose sins were thought to have been the cause of the Flood.

In particular, Whitford discussed the Commentaria of Annius of Viterbo, a Dominican friar. Here is the Wikipedia notice on Annius.

He is best known for his Antiquitatum Variarum, originally titled the Commentaria super opera diversorum auctorum de antiquitatibus loquentium (Commentaries on the Works of Various Authors Discussing Antiquity) and often known as the Antiquities of Annius. In this work, he published alleged writings and fragments of several pre-Christian Greek and Latin profane authors, destined to throw an entirely new light on ancient history.

Alleged is a nice way of saying that the Antiquitatum Variarum or Commentaria was an outright forgery. Nevertheless, even though contemporary humanists suspected a forgery, the Commentaria, originally published in 1498, became very popular in its time. Annius claimed linguistic knowledge that he did not possess, and even planned a fake archaeological discovery. The book was reprinted in 1515 with only minor corrections.

Here is Whitford’s account of Annius on the Nephilim.

Book One begins by stating that before the “famous catastrophe of the waters, by which the entire world perished, many ages passed.” In these ages, giants ruled the world from their great city, Enos. The giants were corrupt and prone to tyranny, lechery, and debauchery. They devoted themselves to sexual immorality such that, “they had intercourse with their mothers, their daughters, their sisters, with other men and with wild beasts.” They also despised religion and the gods. Despite warnings and prophecies that the world would be destroyed because of this wickedness, the giants continued their impiety. Only one giant, who was more “reverential to the gods and wiser than the rest,” paid any attention to the prophecies; because of this he survived. His name was Noa “and he had three sons, Samus, Japetus, and Chem.” Noa (or Noah) survived because he could read the stars and foresaw the deluge to come. Thus, beginning 78 years before the Flood, he built an ark. When the floods came, the whole human race was drowned, except for Noa and his family. From this family sprang all the peoples of the earth. (50-51)

Despite the spurious nature of the Commentaria, it would appear that the story of the Nephilim was in the air even before its publication in 1498, and that the Commentaria of Annius only added to its popularity.
Signorelli: Medici Madonna


Scholars have often seen a resemblance between the nudes in Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, and those in Luca Signorelli’s Medici Madonna. In both paintings the postures of the young men remind me of lazy idlers or street-corner troublemakers. Moreover, in the Signorelli painting the four scantily clad young men seem quite oversized and they tower over the horse that seems to occupy the same plane. Maybe I fail to understand the use of perspective but the men do appear to be gigantic. ###