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 30, 2011

Giorgione and the Young Titian

Titian: "The Flight into Egypt." (probably 1507-8), Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum.

In his 2001 study, “Titian to 1518, the Assumption of Genius,” Paul Joannides provided an exhaustive analysis of Titian’s early career that also happened to shed a great deal of light on Giorgione. Joannides included an introductory chapter that covered practically all we know about the life and work of Giorgione. More importantly, his discussion of Titian provided insights that applied to both painters.*

Since we know so little about Giorgione, it is useful to approach him through his contemporaries. What if we were to conduct a little experiment? Suppose that Titian, for example, had died in 1510, at the same time as Giorgione. What would we say about him? What would we say about his work up to that time?

In 1510 Giorgione was about 33 while Titian would only have been about 21. If Titian had been taken by the same plague that claimed Giorgione’s life, today he would be regarded as a second-rate or maybe even a third-rate painter of sacred subjects. According to Joannides,

“Sebastiano [del Piombo] seems to have been further advanced in his career than Titian before mid-1511, and his work more controlled and mature.” (p. 129)

Here is a list of Titian’s early work compiled from Joannides who stressed that attributions are difficult and that dates are usually approximate.

Titian, Flight into Egypt ( probably 1507-8, retouched c. 1510) Oil on canvas 206x336 cm. St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum (p. 36, figure 25).

Titian, Visitation (probably 1507-8), Oil on canvas, 212x150 cm. Venice, Museo Correr. (p. 41, figure 29).

Titian, re-worked by Francesco Vicellio, Adoration of the Shepherds (probably 1507 and 1524). Oil on canvas, 221x174 cm. Houston. (p.44, figure 30).
Antonio Zanetti after Titian, Judith/Justice (1760). Rome, Biblioteca Herziana. (p. 50, figure 33). [From the Fondaco dei Tedeschi]

Antonio Zanetti after Titian, Standing Compagno della Calza (1760). Rome. Biblioteca Herziana. (p. 62, figure 46). [From the Fondaco dei Tedeschi]

Francesco Molo after Titian, Standing Nude Woman (C. 1650). (p. 64, figure 48). [From the Fondaco dei Tedeschi]

Page 66. Figure 51. Antonio Zanetti after Titian, Two Nude Women (1760). Rome. Biblioteca Herziana. (p.66, figure 51). [From the Fondaco dei Tedeschi]

Titian, Virgin and St. Joseph, Adoring the Child (probably 1507–8). Oil on panel, 19.1x16.2 cm. North Carolina Museum of Art. (p. 74, figure 55).

?Titian, St. Jerome (probably 1508). Oil on panel, 45.2x78.4 cm. Formerly Vienna, private collection; present whereabouts unknown. (p.74, figure 58).

Titian, Story of Myrrah and Cinyras and the Birth of Adonis (probably 1509). Oil on panel, 35x106 CM. Padua, Museo Civico. (p.78, figure 62). [Actually figure 63]

Titian, Story of Erischthon (probably 1509), Oil on panel, 35x106 cm. Padua, Museo Civico. (p. 78, figure 63). [Actually figure 62]

Titian, Unidentified Subject (probably 1509). Oil on panel, 46x44 cm. Private Collection, on loan to Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Museum of Art. (p. 80, figure 66). [Three figures in a landscape]

Titian, Risen Christ (probably 1509) Oil on panel, 131x 81.5 cm. (p. 84, figure 70). [private collection]

Titian, Circumcision (probably 1509), 37.5x79.3 cm, Yale. (p. 87, figure 77).

Titian, Christ and the Adulteress (probably 1510). Oil on canvas, 139.2 x 181.7 cm (cut down), Glasgow. (p.88, figure 78).

Titian, Bust of a Young Woman (the 'Courtesan') (probably 1510). Oil on canvas transferred from panel, 31.7x 24.1 cm. Pasadena. (p. 95, figure 83).

Titian, Virgin and Child ('The Lochis Madonna') (probably 1510). Oil on panel, 38x 47 cm. Bergamo. (p. 97, figure 85).

Altogether Joannides attributed 17 different works from 1507 through 1510 and practically all were sacred subjects.

The first one on the list is very interesting because it indicates that Titian’s first painting was a version of the “Flight into Egypt” with the Madonna and Child being followed by Joseph through a wooded landscape. Even more interesting is the fact that x-rays in 2000 revealed that this oil had been painted over a scene of the Madonna and Child with St. Joseph that Joannides at one point called a “Thanksgiving” but then later called, “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.”

Not only does this discovery show that the subject of the “Rest” was popular, but it also provides a note of caution for those who make much of pentimenti or changes of mind. Joannides wrote,

“it demonstrates that the artist's habit of superimposing one composition upon another, amply documented from his later work, is a constant from the very beginning of his career....” (p. 39)

If the young Titian painted over an old canvas in the first decade of the 16th century, shouldn’t we suspect that Giorgione might have done the same thing in the Tempest?

Following the “Flight” we have a “Visitation” and an “Adoration of the Shepherds” that Joannides believed was started by Titian in 1507 but only completed by his brother in 1524. Then we get to a series of later drawings and etchings done from Titian’s fresco work on the famed Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

The story of the Fondaco frescoes, on which both Giorgione and Titian worked, is well known. Vasari saw the frescoes before they were ruined but even then he confessed that he could not decipher their subject. Even today scholars scratch their heads especially since the Venetian weather eventually ruined the frescoes. Today, we have a couple of fragments, and the 17th and 18th century etchings in Joannides list. The prominent place of a Judith with the head of Holofernes certainly indicates a sacred subject.

Venetian records show that Giorgione was commissioned to do the work on the Fondaco, and no mention is made of Titian. Despite Vasari’s story about the popularity of Titian’s contribution, my guess is that Giorgione created the whole iconographic scheme and even did the drawings, and that he employed the much younger Titian as a painting sub-contractor. Joannides argued that even in 1511 when Titian did frescoes in Padua, he lacked basic drawing skills.

Sacred subjects dominate the remainder of the list. In addition to the obvious ones, Joannides speculated that the so-called Bust of a Young Woman (the 'Courtesan') might be Mary Magdalen.

“Perhaps more likely is that she is a Magdalene in a Mary and Martha, the subject represented in Milan in the work of Bernadino Luini and his circle and one that would certainly have appealed to Titian, allowing him to contrast female types. But without further evidence no suggestion can be more than speculative.”
(p. 96)

Finally, Joannides expressed puzzlement about a painting that he could only call an “Unidentified Subject.”

“This little–seen painting, which represents a Standing Soldier and a Seated Woman with a Child,…has been given to various hands, but the attribution to Titian, first proposed and then discarded by Berenson was cogently restated by Hilliard Goldfarb after the panel had been cleaned and restored. It is wholly convincing…. The complex building at the left rear is very similar in type to that which dominates the Visitation and the successive planes of the landscape and the juxtaposition resemble those of the Gypsy Madonna." (p. 78)

Joannides pointed out the similarity of this painting, as well as another one of a soldier standing guard over a woman and children in the Philadelphia Museum, to Giorgione’s famous “Tempest,” and noted that it was also mysterious.

“It too could well be arboreal in its concerns--the woman and child sit under a substantial tree--but until the subject--which cannot be found in the Metamorphoses--has been identified, this cannot be taken as certain.” (p. 79)

Years ago Edgar Wind also noted the resemblance to the “Tempest” but gave this painting to a follower of Giorgione and called it “Fortezza and Carita.” Rather than a follower Joannides claimed that Titian’s painting; as well as the one in Philadelphia; might all share a common ancestor with the “Tempest.”

“in fact since the Philadelphia and the ex-Northampton paintings are inseparable in subject matter, one might wonder whether their relation to the Tempest should be reformulated. Might it not be the case that Giorgione, aware of the narrative illustrated in those two paintings, merely adapted it to his own purposes from some visual model common to both?” (p.82)**(See below for a longer excerpt)

I have argued that the “Tempest” is a depiction of “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” Given their similarity, Titian’s “Unidentified Subject” could also be a version of the “Rest.” We have a man, woman, and child in a landscape. We only have to try to discover why Joseph is portrayed as a young, virile, armed soldier.

"Allegory" Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Despite the compositional similarity no one has ever claimed that the Titian “Rest” is in the same league as the “Tempest.” Even the more impressive Philadelphia version, labeled “Allegory” and cautiously attributed to Palma Vecchio, is hidden away in storage. If Titian had died in 1510 no one would have ever compared him to Giorgione. Even though Joannides found traces of Titian’s later genius in these early works, they are only of interest today because of what we know of the later Titian.

According to Joannides it was only after Giorgione’s death that Titian began to appreciate and study the craftsmanship of Giovanni Bellini and Central Italian painters like Raphael. Only then would Titian work on the Gypsy Madonna and the Concert Champetre. Indeed, Joannides dated the Concert Champetre to 1511 but agreed with those who claimed that Titian only finished it in 1530.

Joannides believed that the brief period during which Giorgione and Titian both worked in Venice constituted a special moment in time.

“It is evident that around 1500 a fashion arose in Venice for the visual representation of novel literary and mythological subject matter. This fashion was relatively short-lived and, since many of the subjects treated at this time were not taken up by later artists, it has left behind a number of paintings that are inherently difficult to identify. (p. 81)

Neverheless, the period also saw novel attempts to represent traditional sacred subjects. During this time Giorgione was in his prime and led the way in bringing sacred subjects to a new level; something that Titian would eventually build on to become the greatest painter of the 16th century.

*Paul Joannides, Titian to 1518, the Assumption of Genius, Yale, 2001.

**"this consideration might return us for a moment to the ex-Northampton panel. It is immediately obvious that, although their styles differ, there is a close compositional relation between it and Giorgione's Tempest. In the former the male figure clad in a breastplate and carrying a halberd, is clearly a soldier. The corresponding male figure in the Tempest carries no weapon and wears no armor, although he too is described as a soldier by Michiel. But perhaps Michiel, aware of works such as the ex-Northampton panel or another, larger, painting in Philadelphia which is very similar in arrangement, simply jumped to the conclusion that the man in the Tempest was also a soldier. in fact since the Philadelphia and the ex-Northampton paintings are inseparable in subject matter, one might wonder whether their relation to the Tempest should be reformulated. Might it not be the case that Giorgione, aware of the narrative illustrated in those two paintings, merely adapted it to his own purposes from some visual model common to both?… But it might be, in contrast, that the Tempest represents an eccentric utilization of a compositional formula devised for some quite unrelated subject." (p. 82)


  1. Hello Dr F, You have made much of a work by Mr Joannides with whom I am not familiar. I am a little more familiar with the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, and feel compelled to ask: from which source do you re-assert the claim that the woman is Judith, and the severed head belongs to Holofernes? From what iconographical considerations (when looking at the Zanetti's)do you conclude those attributions to be correct? Vasari said: 'who knows what it all means..'. (or something like that.)

    As for the tight fisted old man that Titian became, it is right that you say he may not have been that way in his youth. Still, I see the young Titian as a talented, precocious and competitive upstart who has (in my conclusions)made a calculated advantage from anothers misfortune.
    Again, good stuff Dr F, regards, Paul. (

  2. Paul,

    The Zanetti etching can be found on the web. I believe it is in the British Museum. The Joannides book cited above is my source for the Judith id but the Zanetti copy certainly looks like a Judith and Holofernes. I believe the bare leg is a clincher given the bare leg of the Judith in the Hermitage. See my Judith post.

    thanks for the comment.