One of the major pieces in the puzzle that is Giorgione’s “Tempest” is the young man prominently featured in the left foreground. In my interpretation of the famous painting as “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” I argued that the virile young man must be St. Joseph. In my previous post I provided examples of other virile young Josephs from contemporaries of Giorgione. In this post I would like to bring together some other young Josephs that have gone unrecognized in the scholarly literature.
|Lorenzo Lotto: Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine|
First, shortly after the death of Giorgione, Lorenzo Lotto painted a version of the “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine”. Entitled, “Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Thomas”, it is in the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna where it was featured in the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian exhibition of 2006/7. Here St. Joseph, sporting a full dark beard, kneels next to St. Catherine who gazes at him and not at the infant Christ. They are obviously exchanging vows. Just as in another version of the Mystic Marriage by Paris Bordone that was featured in the same exhibition, Joseph acts a proxy for the marriage of the infant Child and the legendary Queen. Joseph is shown with his traditional pilgrim’s staff but his virile good looks and the spear-point at the end of the staff have led scholars astray.
In his work on Lotto, Bernard Berenson identified the kneeling man as St. James the Greater but provided no explanation. In the catalog of the 1997/1998 Lotto exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Peter Humfrey accepted the identification as St. Thomas because of the spear-point. A decade later in the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian exhibition in Vienna, however, the man was still called St. James.
There is no good reason for either St. James or St. Thomas to be in the desert participating in the mystic marriage of St. Catherine. During that era if any male saint is in a Mystic Marriage, he is invariably St. Joseph. True, Lotto does not depict him as a doddering old man but during the Renaissance, as the role and status of St. Joseph became more important, artists followed the lead of theologians and preachers and began to depict younger and more virile Josephs. Perhaps Joseph’s role as protector of the Madonna and Child as well as protector of the Church led artists to give him a more martial aspect. This might explain the spear-point at the end of his traditional staff.
An armed Joseph can also help to explain two other paintings that have long been associated with Giorgione’s “Tempest”. I have discussed both paintings in a post dated Nov. 21, 2010 but will just present brief descriptions here.
|Follower of Palma il Vecchio: "Allegory"|
In the first painting, now in storage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, scholars have recognized a striking resemblance to Giorgione’s “Tempest,” even though there is no trace of a storm. On the Museum website the painting is simply given the title “Allegory,” and is attributed to “a follower of Palma il Vecchio.” It is dated 1510. Upon request a curator at the Museum very kindly allowed my wife and I to view this spectacular painting. It is a very large canvas, much larger than the “Tempest”, and despite the need for restoration it is still a beautiful painting.
I have interpreted this painting as a depiction of the Encounter of the Holy Family with the young John the Baptist on the return from the sojourn in Egypt. This subject, featuring four figures in a landscape, was very popular. Whether taking a small cross from His slightly older cousin or embracing him, the infant Savior is accepting his destined role. In this painting there is even a lamb in the background to help identify the Lamb of God.
In my opinion it is the attire of Mary and Joseph that has led scholars astray. Mary’s humble garb makes her resemble a gypsy woman, and St. Joseph is dressed as a heavily armed young Venetian patrician. He is standing watch over the woman and children and his staff has changed into a halberd.
A similar painting, now on loan to the Fogg Art Museum in Boston, was attributed by Edgar Wind to a “Follower” of Giorgione. As in the Tempest" there are three figures in a landscape. In the foreground a fully clothed plainly dressed woman sits on the ground with her infant son standing beside her supported by her arm. She is left of center and looks to the right in the direction of an armored soldier standing guard. He leans not on a staff but on another formidable looking halberd. For Wind the subject of the painting was also an allegory, “Fortezza and Carita,” the same subject he claimed for the “Tempest”.
It would seem that scholars invariably call something an allegory when they can think of no other subject. I agree that the painting has the same subject as the “Tempest” but the subject is “the Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” and the armed soldier must be St. Joseph.
|Titian: Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine|
Finally, I would like to point to a depiction of the “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” done by Titian while he was still in what scholars call his Giorgione phase. The painting is most commonly known as the “Madonna of the Rabbit.”
This small oil on canvas (71 x 87 cm) in the Louvre was discussed extensively by the Louvre’s Jean Habert in a 1990 exhibition catalog . Like every other observer Habert identified the man on the right as a shepherd, but no ordinary shepherd. “The noble shepherd in contrapposto on the right is composed of the same hues, diminutively mimicking the main group.” Moreover, Habert pointed out that scientific examination of the painting indicated that the Madonna’s face was originally turned toward the man.
In an earlier version the Virgin turned her face toward the shepherd, which would tend to confirm the elevated status of this figure who from the beginning was crowned with laurel.*
The shepherd mimics the main group, the Madonna originally gazed in his direction, he wears a laurel wreath, and has an exalted status.
Some questions arise. What is a shepherd doing in a mystic marriage in the first place? Why does he have such a prominent position? Why give him an exalted status?
Although depicted without his staff, Titian’s man is very likely a young, virile St. Joseph. We have seen in other contemporary versions of the Mystic Marriage that Joseph plays an important, even a central role. More to come on the “Madonna of the Rabbit” in a subsequent post. ###
*Titian. Prince of Painters, Venice, 1990. p. 210.
*Titian. Prince of Painters, Venice, 1990. p. 210.