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".

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Giorgione: "Virgilian" Tempest 2

Recently I received a response from Dr. Rudolph Schier to my critique of his interpretation of the Tempest. Instead of showing it as a comment to my original post of 1/11/2011, I have decided to reprise the original post here and follow with his full list of itemized comments. His remarks will appear in italics.

In my interpretation of Giorgione's "Tempest" as the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt," I did not address the many other interpretations. Not only did I want to concentrate on the actual painting, but also I believed that all the other interpretations had already been demolished by other learned scholars. As I said in my paper, not one interpretation remains standing. However, I decided to use "Giorgione et al" to post critiques of a few recent interpretations.

Below find my critique of Dr. Schier's interpretation that appeared in "Renaissance Studies" in 2008.

In Rudolf Schier’s “Giorgione Tempesta, a Virgilian Pastoral,” (Renaissance Studies, 22, Issue 4, 2008, pp. 476-506) we have another attempt to find the subject of the Tempesta in the writings of a Roman poet. Schier argues that the source of the Tempesta can be found in the Eclogues of Virgil, specifically the 1st and the 4th.

In his paper Schier takes issue with other scholars but his own interpretation has serious omissions. Most importantly, Schier fails to explain the nudity of the Woman of the Tempesta. He also does not even attempt to discuss the white cloth draped over her shoulder, or the plant prominently featured right in front of her.

Schier’s interpretation centers on the Man in the painting who he claims is the poet/shepherd of the Eclogues. For him the disparity between the simple shirt and jacket of the Man, and his fancy leggings indicates that Giorgione was making reference to the poet/shepherd represented in the Eclogues. I don’t think he does such a good job in this respect. First of all, it has been pointed out that the leggings are the dress of contemporary young Venetian patricians, and not that of a poet. Moreover, the Man is holding a staff and not a shepherd’s crook. Also, the Man in the Tempesta is young and virile but, as Schier himself points out, the shepherd of the 1st Eclogue is an old man.

Schier maintains that the Woman and Child represent a “vision” of the poet based on the famous reference in the 4th Eclogue to a virgin giving birth to a son destined for great things. To portray the vision Giorgione “deconstructs” the traditional image of the Madonna of Humility into a Pagan virgin. Like others he sees the Madonna in the painting but can’t believe that Giorgione would actually portray her in such fashion.

Besides his failure to deal with the “nudity” of the Woman, Schier seems to imply that in the poet’s “vision” she has just given birth. Yet the Child in the Tempesta is obviously not a newborn. He supports himself upright, something a newborn could not do, while nursing at his mother’s breast.

Schier views the other elements in the painting in a similar complex fashion. The broken columns are first a sign that the poet is in “Arcadia,” but later come to symbolize the passing of the Pagan world and the coming of the Christian. He disputes Paul Kaplan’s identification of the city in the background and claims it is Jerusalem rather than Padua. But what does Jerusalem have to do with Virgil? He also disputes Kaplan’s dating of 1509 on questionable stylistic grounds.

Finally, Schier includes a long discussion of the bathing woman in the underpainting. He regards her as a Roman fertility goddess mentioned in the Eclogues but removed by Giorgione because the Woman in the painting had already given birth. It is strange that he gives such attention to this “pentimento” while completely omitting any discussion of the other “pentimento,” the man on the bridge carrying a pilgrim’s sack over his shoulder.

Schier is obviously well versed in his Virgil but his whole essay is based on the “assumption” that Giorgione’s knowledge of the Roman classic was as good as his own. Like so many other scholars, Schier views the young Giorgione more as an art historian or humanist scholar than as an artist. There is no evidence that Giorgione knew Virgil or Lucretius.

Below find Dr. Schier's response.

I appreciate your interest in my article, though I find it disappointing that you concentrate exclusively on omissions and unexplained items. I don't think that there exists a single interpretation of any painting (including yours on your website which of course I have seen) where one could not find items that were left unexplained for the sake of conciseness and readability. Nevertheless, I shall respond at least briefly to each one of the items you list, though some would need a more detailed reply. In some cases the explanation is already in the article itself, and I shall then only refer you to the page of the article.

-- Nudity: Giorgione's picture derives its strength from the contrast between the young man and the nearly naked female. I argue that she is a vision which the young man has, and the maximum disparity between them is intended to make this clear. The poet-shepherd is located in reality and dressed accordingly, the woman is not. Moreover, in visions, as in dreams, especially when young men are dreaming or having a vision of a woman, they more often than not see them in the nude.

-- White cloth: Common to visions and dreams is the fact that elements of the seer's reality are incorporated in them. The white cloth mirrors and contrasts with the young man's red cloak: it has the same shape and is draped over the woman's shoulders in the same way his cloak is on his shoulders. It reinforces the fact that she is the poet-shepherd's vision.

-- As for the remark that she would have had enough time to get some better clothes: the ten months of weariness refer to the woman's pregnancy, not to the months after the birth.

-- In the fourth eclogue the vision is of a child at several stages of development, and not of a newly born baby. Even new-born babies at the time were rarely depicted the way a new-born baby looks in reality..

-- The plant has its origin in lines 18-20 of the fourth eclogue and is either a valerian or hog weed. Its function is to cover the woman's private parts, common in paintings of this and other periods, e.g. Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve.

-- Leggings: I discuss this in detail on p. 483, second paragraph.

-- Staff without crook: See footnote 24 and also several pictures in Settis's book.

-- Young and virile man vs. the old shepherd in eclogue one. I specifically explain that the painting does not relate to the first eclogue but to the fourth. The first illustrates the setting and the structure (see p. 492). The poet-shepherd of eclogue four is young; see line 53.

-- Pentimento "pilgrim" on the bridge. This man is not a pilgrim but goes back to Meliboes of the first eclogue, who was forced into exile. He was eliminated when Giorgione moved from the first to the fourth. (This would need a more detailed explanation).

-- Kaplan: I do not dispute Kaplan on stylistic gounds but for historical reasons (see p. 490).

-- Arcadia and the passing to Christianity: there is no contradiction here. The point is that the Arcadian columns are disintegrating.

-- Jerusalem ties in with the half-Christian allusions in the picture, especially with the birth of the Christ child.

-- As for Giorgione's knowledge of Virgil, see p. 479.

I believe this responds to all of the items you list and I hope that you will be convinced by these answers.


Rudolf Schier

1 comment:

  1. I have re-read Dr. Schier's paper and I stand by my original criticism of his paper. I do not believe that his thesis of a Virgilian poet-shepherd having a vision has been demonstrated. Indeed, I believe that his discussion of the Madonna of Humility at the end of his paper supports my interpretation of the Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" more than his.

    I appreciate his comments and hope readers will consult his work and judge for themselves.