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".

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Giorgione and Cima da Conegliano

In the Tempest Giorgione raised the iconography of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt to a new level. He took the Madonna off of her interior throne and placed her outside on the ground nursing her infant Son. Both her pose and the setting are very naturalistic.



Giorgione’s depiction of a nude Madonna was unprecendented but his placement of her in a landscape can find an antecedent in the work of Cima da Conegliano. At least two works by Cima can be considered as versions of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Each portray a Madonna in a landscape with St. Joseph and other figures. In the first, the Madonna dell' Arancia, Joseph is barely visible in the background with the Ass. In the second, now in the Calouste Gulbenkian collection, Joseph has a much more prominent role. In both cases the Madonna sits on a rocky earthern throne that could well be Cima's way of depicting the remains of the Egyptian idols and temples that crumbled after the arrival of the infant Jesus into Egypt. In his study of Correggio, David Ekserdjian noted the innovative character of Cima's work.

Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano
Madonna dell' Arancio
Accademia, Venice


The North Italian who comes nearest to the concept of the sacra conversazione in a pure landscape is Cima da Conegliano… the two monumental examples in his work are not straight forward Madonnas with Saints, but rather Rests on the Flight into Egypt. The earliest is probably Cima’s famous Madonna dell’Arancio. It is evidently an altarpiece, and the earliest reference to it records its presence in the church of the Franciscan convent of Santa Chiara on Murano, presumably its original location,…It departs radically from what was by this time the accepted way of showing the Virgin and Saints in Venice, to which Cima normally adhered. …this innovation is linked with the fact that the painting is strictly speaking a Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Although he is generally ignored, the figure of Joseph with the ass is included in the background, and alerts us to the fact. The rejection of the usual architectural surround for the saints is a notable step forward, and the Virgin’s throne has become a rocky knoll with the tree behind her providing a strong vertical accent.*



Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano
Sacra Conversazione (Rest on the Flight into Egypt)
ca. 1500

Rona Goffen described a later "Rest" by Cima in her study of the Calouste Gulbenkian collection. She noticed that Cima again used the rocky throne for the Madonna, and that Joseph now has been brought prominently into the foreground. Also, note that the two angels standing on either side of the Madonna are often portrayed in versions of the Rest as guides and providers.


Cima’s Sacra Conversazione is set in an expansive mountain landscape, evoking his native city of Conegliano (on the mainland near Venice), suffused with light and air, and permeated with a sense of the harmonious existence of man in nature. The Madonna is enthroned, so to speak, on a platform of rocks. Above her, a tree punctuates her central position and suggests the canopy of an earthly monarch’s throne. Thus Cima represents at once two apparently contradictory themes: the Virgin enthroned as Queen of Heaven and also as the Madonna of Humility, seated upon the rocky ground. Graciously, and yet with an air of abstraction, Mary inclines her head to her right, toward St. John the Baptist with his cross. The saint closes the composition at the left by turning inward and pointing toward Christ, that is, identifying Him as the Lamb of God. Meanwhile, the Infant bends in the opposite direction, toward his left and St. Lucy, identified by her martyr’s palm (in her left hand) and by her burning lamp.

Cima’s famous altarpiece, the Madonna dell’Arancio (Venice, Accademia), dating from the mid- 1490s, is the prototype of his Madonna in the Gulbenkian collection. There are several significant changes, however. The vertical emphasis of the altarpiece is replaced in the Gulbenkian panel by the horizontal format favored by Venetian artists in the early sixteenth century, and suggests a date of around 1500. Moreover, in translating his compositional ideas from a large altarpiece to a small image for private devotion, Cima appropriately represented a more intimate scene of the Holy Family, in which Joseph appears with Mary and the Child, rather than in the background. Such a representation of the complete group very likely appealed to the personal piety of the private household for which Cima would have painted this image. **

I question the contradiction that Goffen pointed out between a Queen of Heaven and a Madonna of Humility. I don't believe that a Renaissance artist ever set out to portray a Madonna of Humility. This phrase is a later invention that was employed to describe a Madonna sitting outdoors in a landscape. It would be better if every so-called Madonna of Humility were understood as some episode from the flight into Egypt.

*David Ekserdjian, Correggio, Yale, 1997. p.200.

**Rona Goffen, Museums Discovered: The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 1982. p. 60.

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20 comments:

  1. Hello Frank. Again, a very interesting post - but I would like to tease out your point on the Madonna of Humility being a 'later invention'

    Looking at Medieval sources, one can go back to St Bernard of Clairvaux(12thC), and his descriptions of the 'humlilitas' of The Madonna - in particular in the sermon "In Dominica infra octavam Assumptionis" where it is stated "The Virgin Mary is an admirable example - she esteemed herself lowly and at the same time was magnanimous to believe in divine promises"

    Then we have the examples creeping into illuminated manuscripts in the mid 1300s, a concept further explored in the 2009 Book "The Madonna of Humility: Development, Dissemination and Reception, c. 1340-1400" By Beth Williamson
    New York: Boydell Press.

    Bringing it to the Renaissance, what better example of a Renaissance artist depicting the Madonna Humilitas than Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera looked at as a series? The Venus Pudica reference is obvious in the Venus Panel, with the accompanying central figure in the Primavera panel being also painted with the very same head tilt you observed - not to mention the hand gesture. It is such a wonderful suggestion of an overriding sacred theme amidst classical iconographic markers - one only need replace the central cupid with a dove in Primavera and you have your outdoors 'Madonna Humilitas'

    I'm pretty sure I have already sent you the article by David Bellingham on 'Deconstructing Aphrodite' which explores this in further detail.

    Since resolving to learn more about Medieval iconography, so much of Renaissance symbolism has made more sense. Again, I blame my formal education in art history for this - the syllabus I was handed so was so laden with Vasarian biases that we did not look at Medieval art beyond its architecture and stained glass :(

    Williamson's book is definitely worth tracking down, I have encountered it in my travels before(when researching Botticelli), but do not own a copy unfortunately.

    I'm also not sure what the contradiction Goffen is referirng to - I have a feeling she is applying a politicised, internal set of beliefs to her readings, rather than looking at the historical antedecents of these depictions. Her area of expertise takes her back to Giotto/1300, which in my opinion is not far back enough!

    Kind Regards
    H

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  2. H;

    Thanks for the comments and the references. I will try to get Williamson's book and be willing to correct myself if necessary. My idea that no Renaissance painter or patron used the phrase "Madonna of Humility" is only an educated guess at this time.

    I have read Michiel's notes over and over and have never seen him describe a painting as a "Madonna of Humility." He uses " Our Lady with the Divine infant," or "Our Lady on the way to Egypt." Isabella d'Este never uses the phrase either.

    I agree that it has theological roots in the Middle Ages but think that as a descriptive term for a work of art, it only is employed later when critics and connoisseurs can't think of the real subject.

    Did Leonardo ever think that he was painting a "Virgin of the Rocks?" I don't think so. It's only because later historians were unfamiliar with the legend that claimed that the Madonna and her child met up with the child Baptist on their return from Egypt. According to one of the legends, Elizabeth and her son hid in a cave to escape Herod's soldiers.

    Frank

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  3. Hello Frank.

    I think there is a major difference between a descriptor such as "Virgin of the Rocks" and a tradition inherited from theological depictions in Medieval texts and images, which of course filtered into the Renaissance in a way that not enough art historians often give credit to (except Medieval art historians perhaps!)

    It's interesting to note the concept of humilitas is also something you will encounter when reading about Carpaccio's Knight - it being applied in that case to the noble youth portrayed in the enigmatic work. (See Cohen reference for more details).

    'Humilitas' applied to depictions of the Madonna and of virtuous Christians in general is not some 17th Century descriptor for Grand Tourists, such as "School of Athens" or "Virgin of The Rocks" This goes far deeper than that - one only needs to look at the Medieval antecedents, and dare I suggest the visual traditions of Byzantine and Coptic sacred art as well, which had a profound influence on Early Italian Renaissance art - Lippi's woodland Adoration being one of the more famous examples.

    H

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  4. H:

    ok, I stand corrected and thank you for taking the time to research the Madonna of Humility for me. It is a legitimate subject but I still believe that the title has often been used incorrectly to describe scenes from the flight into Egypt.

    Frank

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  5. Hello,

    Please look at my blog dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
    You'll find some nice surprises...

    On this blog:

    http://marie-madeleine.over-blog.net/

    Sincerely,
    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  6. Madeleine:

    I looked at your blog but my French is not good enough to really explore your views. Please correct me if I am wrong but I think you place undue emphasis on the role of the Magdalen after the Resurrection. I will follow your blog because I am very interested in depictions of MM in the Renaissance.

    I am planning a post on her in the near feature, You may have seen that I believe Giorgione's "Laura" is Mary Magdalen. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Frank

    Thank you for

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, Frank: look at the "queen mage" who was Mary Magdalene in the "Adoration of the Magi" painted by Giorgione. And you will find your Laura:

    http://a34.idata.over-blog.com/200x331/1/00/82/27/000/reine3.jpg

    Thank you for looking too the "head of Christ" and compare it with Mary Magdalene, two paintings by Leonardo da Vinci (this is a personal discovery):

    http://a10.idata.over-blog.com/340x214/1/00/82/27/Christ/christMM1.jpg

    Regards,
    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  8. Madeleine:

    You raise a very interesting point about the resemblance of the young magus in the Adoration to the woman of the Laura. Are you saying that
    Giorgione painted MM into the Adoration of the Magi? I never looked at this painting too closely before but two of the Magi are kneeling close together. Th eldest one points to the youngest who still holds his gift, At first glance one would think that the standing man in green with the elaborate headpiece is one of the Magi but he has no gift.

    Or are you just saying that Giorgione used the same female model for the young magus that he did for the Laura? I certainly see the resemblance.

    By the way, the 2006 Bellini, Giorgione, Titian catalog gave this painting to Giorgione but in a 2007 catalog Wolfgang Eller said it was not by Giorgione but more likely by Catena.

    About the Leonardo I do not see as much of a resemblance as you do.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  9. Frank,

    Yes, I affirm that the queen mage "is" Mary Magdalene, the carrier of myrrh, and it was painted by the painters of the 14th century without a problem, apparently.

    On my blog you will find Mary Magdalene, painted by Giorgione. Note the green dress with a white border and you see this also on the queen mage just below at the right. Note also that the attitude is the same and the fact that this queen mage is one that will be replaced later by Balthazar, who offers the "myrrh" to Jesus (as Mary Magdalene). That's a lot of coincidences:

    http://marie-madeleine.over-blog.net/article-le-baume-de-la-reine-69023940.html

    But it's not just that Giorgione painted a queen mage (not a young mage, a woman). Until the year 1450, almost all the painters paint the queen, you will find many links on my article, like this:

    http://www.wga.hu/art/l/lorenzo/monaco/2/44monaco.jpg

    Why the white queen has been replaced by a black king? And why no one ever noticed this fact before me? And it is clear that this queen is joint with one of the kings (her husband?), and sometimes she has the same clothes as the Virgin, like this:

    http://www.wga.hu/art/g/giotto/assisi/lower/ceiling/03christ.jpg

    What intrigues me in the Adoration of Giorgione, is that the characters all seem to look at something on the floor but, alas, the reproduction is cut below:

    http://www.lib-art.com/artgallery/10637-adoration-of-the-magi-giorgione.html

    Please excuse my English,
    Magdalene

    ReplyDelete
  10. Madeleine,

    My focus is on the Tempest and you obviously know much more about Mary Magdalene than I do, but in all the legends I have seen, I have never come across MM as one of the Magi. I have found a way to translate your blog so will take a closer look.

    In the meantime, you might be aware that I agree with those who believe that Giorgione's Three Philosophers are the three Magi at the outset of their journey. In that painting the youngest is dressed in green and white, the natural colors of myrrh. Why would Giorgione have taken such a different approach in this version?

    I took a good look at the National Gallery painting on the google Art project and it would appear that they are not all looking at the same thing. The standing man in green is looking at the youngest of the Magi. The one in the process of presenting his gift looks at the child. The others look down in reverence.

    Please don't ever apologize for your English.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've never read either of "legends" about a queen mage who would Mary Magdalene. But I am obliged to note that this is really a queen mage, whether or not Mary Magdalene, on the paintings which I gave links. So it is a great mystery: why the painters between 1300 and 1450 were about all they painted a mage queen, a woman ? As these paintings were intended to be viewed by the clergy and the general public (including frescoes by Giotto) it seems that the Queen mage was known and officially accepted in their time! Why is she then became a black king, Balthazar? What do we want to hide?

    I hope not to have invaded your item with this unexpected topic of a queen mage but I thought it might interest you. And besides, if you want to develop a formal way, you are better placed than me to do and it is with great pleasure that I offer.

    Forgive me but I do not think the Three Philosophers are the three Magi: the philosopher standing in the middle did not match any of the Magi. There are two kings almost "Janus with two heads" with old beards + the queen mage. None of them is the philosopher with his red coat. See this:

    http://idata.over-blog.com/1/00/82/27/000/giorgioneCompare.jpg

    Also, I do not understand that this Adoration can be attributed to Catena.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Franck,

    A syllogism: if Laura is Mary Magdalene and if Mary Magdalene is the queen mage, then Laura must be painted the same as the mage queen! For me there is no doubt:

    http://idata.over-blog.com/1/00/82/27/000/lauraMM.jpg

    ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. What happened to my previous comment? I repost here:

    I've never read either of "legends" about a queen mage who would Mary Magdalene. But I am obliged to note that this is really a queen mage, whether or not Mary Magdalene, on the paintings which I gave links. So it is a great mystery: why the painters between 1300 and 1450 were about all they painted a mage queen, a woman ? As these paintings were intended to be viewed by the clergy and the general public (including frescoes by Giotto) it seems that the Queen mage was known and officially accepted in their time! Why is she then became a black king, Balthazar? What do we want to hide?

    I hope not to have invaded your item with this unexpected topic of a queen mage but I thought it might interest you. And besides, if you want to develop a formal way, you are better placed than me to do and it is with great pleasure that I offer.

    Forgive me but I do not think the Three Philosophers are the three Magi: the philosopher standing in the middle did not match any of the Magi. There are two kings almost "Janus with two heads" with old beards + the queen mage. None of them is the philosopher with his red coat. See this:

    http://idata.over-blog.com/1/00/82/27/000/giorgioneCompare.jpg

    Also, I do not understand that this Adoration can be attributed to Catena.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Franck,

    If you fold up the collar, even the cloak is the same:

    http://a34.idata.over-blog.com/1/00/82/27/000/lauraMM.jpg

    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  15. Madeleine:

    I welcome your comments. I will be away until Tuesday but will get back to you then.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  16. then Tuesday, Franck.

    I read your article on Laura and I want to make one small clarification: the laurel is a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_Laurel#Symbolism

    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  17. Madeleine:

    I have looked at the Adorations by Giotto, Lorenzo Monaco, and Giorgione (Catena) and can see how you could identify the youngest of the Magi as a Queen. However, I am not convinced. In an age when men wore long hair it is possible that a beardless, young man could resemble a woman, especially if he was a saintly figure in biblical dress. I am not an expert on the subject of facial depictions but will try to look into it further.

    In my writings I say that I agree with those who identify the "Laura" as Mary Magdalen. I did not invent the interpretation. Thanks for your input on the laurel as a symbol of the Resurrection. In one of my sources the laurel is a "symbol of eternity, being evergreen, and of chastity since its leaves never decay."

    I do not agree with your syllogism since it is by no means clear that the third Magi is Mary Magdalene. By the way, Wolfgang Eller in his Giorgione (2007) is the one who attributes the "Adoration of the Magi" to Catena. It might please you to know that Eller gives the "Noli me Tangere" to Giorgione.

    Finally, I agree with scholars like Salvatore Settis and Mino Gabriele who argue that the "Three Philosophers" are the Magi. Even if Giorgione did paint the "Adoration", there is no reason why he couldn't have painted a different version.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  18. All the best, Franck.

    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello Frank,

    New developments on my blog, if you're interested:

    http://marie-madeleine.over-blog.net/

    Madeleine

    ReplyDelete
  20. Madeleine:

    I looked it over and will comment there.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete