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, September 9, 2018

Giorgione's Judith*


Giorgione: Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Although originally given to Raphael, scholars for over a century have agreed that the Hermitage Judith with the Head of Holofernes is an early work by Giorgione. According to recent catalogs, it was a ground-breaking work.

In her 1996 catalog Jaynie Anderson credited Giorgione with the introduction of “the Jewish heroine of the Apocrypha to Venetian painting….” ** Three years later Terisio Pignatti wrote that Giorgione’s Judith introduced “numerous innovations that make the painting fascinating, particularly in the field of iconography... ***  In a 2007 catalog Wolfgang Eller claimed that Giorgione’s figure of Judith “is the first really feminine and the first graceful figure in Venetian art.” #
Characteristically, Giorgione avoided the use of stock or standard iconographical elements. Eller noted that Giorgione’s Judith contains “no optical indication of the events. There is no female servant, no tent, no besieged city, and no waiting figures in the background that illustrate the story.” 
All commentators seem to agree that the most striking element in the painting is the bare leg of Judith.  According to Pignatti, “Giorgione inserts a completely new motif in the garments which reveal the left leg of the woman.” (122)  But they can find no good explanation and fall back on “eroticism” and “sensuality.” Eller regards the bare thigh as highly erotic. 
the raised leg makes an extensive laying bare of the female thigh possible for the painter. In Giorgione’s time, this was considered highly erotic, for a woman to show only her calves was even more daring than a bare bosom. Thus from the aspect of the observer of those times, the depicted figure is identifiable as being erotic. (48)
It would appear, however, that in depicting the “bare thigh” Giorgione was just paying close attention to the biblical account in the Latin Vulgate, the only Bible in use at the time. Chapter 9 of the Book of Judith gives the famous prayer of the Jewish heroine as she prepares for her encounter with the enemy tyrant. Here is verse 2 taken from the Jerusalem Bible.

     Lord, God of my father Simeon,
     You armed him with a sword to take vengeance on the foreigners
     who had undone a virgin's girdle to her shame,
     laid bare her thigh to her confusion,
     violated her womb to her dishonor...
Judith is referring to the story of the rape of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and the sister of Simeon, from the Book of Genesis, 34: 1-3.
Dinah, who was Jacob’s daughter by Leah, went out to visit the women of that region. Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, who was ruler of that region, saw her, carried her off and raped her, and so dishonoured her.
This incident led to the slaughter of the Hivite men after they had been tricked into undergoing circumcision. 
It would appear that Giorgione used an exposed thigh to indicate a woman in danger of sexual assault. In an early work by Giorgione that we only have in a seventeenth century copy by David Teniers, Giorgione used the same motif. He exposed the thigh of another woman in danger of sexual assault. Although the painting is usually called the “Discovery of Paris,” it is actually a depiction of the apocryphal legend of the encounter of the Holy Family with robbers on the flight into Egypt. The young Giorgione had the audacity to depict the bare leg of the Madonna who, according to the legend, escaped dishonor when one of the robbers persuaded the other to let the Holy Family proceed on their journey in peace.  
Giorgione also paid close attention to another element in the biblical account. Chapter 10 of the Book of Judith gives a detailed account of Judith putting on her finery.
There she removed the sackcloth she was wearing and, taking off her widow’s dress, she washed all over, anointed herself with costly perfumes, dressed her hair, wrapped a turban around it and put on the dress she used to wear on joyful occasions when her husband Manasseh was alive. She put sandals on her feet, put on her necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, and all her jewelry, and made herself beautiful enough to catch the eye of every man who saw her.
Judith’s deed is usually seen as an heroic attempt to deliver not just herself but her people from danger. Yet during the Renaissance she was often seen as a prototype of Mary. Perhaps it was this aspect that influenced Giorgione or his patron. Judith’s prayer (9:11) sounds very similar to Mary’s famous Magnificat. 
Your strength does not lie in numbers,
Nor your might in violent men;
Since you are the God of the humble, 
The help of the oppressed, 
The support of the weak,
The refuge of the forsaken,
The savior of the despairing.
The Book of Judith is still included in Catholic bibles today, but it was rejected by Protestants. Nevertheless, the story remained popular after the Reformation and paintings of the subject by Artemesia Gentileschi and Caravaggio are famous although far more graphic than Giorgione’s version.
###

* This post originally appeared on Giorgione et al... on 4/17/2011. Later, on 11/16/2014, I discussed a depiction of Judith on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a Giorgione/Titian collaboration. In that fresco the identity of the helmeted soldier can also be found in the Book of Judith. Here is a link.



** Anderson, Jaynie: Giorgione, 1997.p. 292. According to Anderson the “Judith” was originally a door panel since there is evidence of a painted over keyhole. 
*** Pignatti, Terisio and Pedrocco, Filippo: Giorgione, Rizzoli, NY, p. 52.
# Eller, Wolfgang: Giorgione Catalog Raisonne, Petersberg, 2007, p. 47.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Giorgione Catalogs Revised


The years leading up to the five hundredth anniversary in 2010 of the death of Giorgione, saw the publication of six major Giorgione catalogs. This truly remarkable publishing phenomenon marked an increasing interest in Venice and the Venetian Renaissance, an interest that seemed to revolve around the mystery surrounding Giorgione and his work. At a conference held in Washington in 2006 to mark an exhibition devoted to the Venetian renaissance, one scholar remarked that the conference was all about Giorgione.

Below find brief reviews of the six catalogs, all of them beautifully illustrated. The images below are from the covers of the respective catalogs.

In addition to a brief outline of their contents, I have tried to point out their divergent views on the Tempest and on the David Teniers' copy of a "lost" Giorgione, usually called the Discovery of Paris. The learning and exhaustive research of the various authors has been of great value to me, but I do admit that none of them has been able to see the  Tempest as The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.  Moreover, when they discuss the Discovery of Paris, that only exists in a copy by David Teniers, they invariably follow Marcantonio Michiel's mistaken identification of the painting. They all attach importance to this lost work but none can see it as Giorgione's version of the medieval legend concerning the encounter of the Holy Family with robbers on the Flight into Egypt. For the interpretation of both paintings see my website, MyGiorgione.

Anderson, Jaynie: Giorgione, the Painter of Poetic Brevity,  Paris, 1997.


Giorgione: Boy with an Arrow

Jaynie Anderson’s study is a solo work of almost 400 pages. Seven essays by the author take up the first three quarters of the book. Anderson studies Giorgione’s “poetic style;” his biographers and connoisseurs; the results of scientific analysis of his paintings; his patrons; his imagery of women; his critical fortunes; and his work on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

This comprehensive catalog is broken up into accepted works; controversial attributions; copies after Giorgione; and rejected attributions. All are discussed in varying degrees.

Concerning the Tempest Anderson strongly rejected the Adam and Eve interpretation of Salvatore Settis, as well as all other previous explanations that might be connected with a “story or text.”

For her the “most convincing interpretation” of the Tempest can be found in Colonna’s “Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo.” The painting depicts the encounter of the “young hero Poliphilo” with a deity. Although Anderson does not follow Marcantonio Michiel’s identification of the “soldier and the gypsy,” she does accept his description of the Teniers copy of the so-called “Discovery of Paris.”

A very valuable feature of Anderson’s catalog is the collection of documents relating to Giorgione in the original Italian at the back of the book.

Pignatti, Terisio and Pedrocco, Filippo:  Giorgione,  Rizzoli, NY, 1999.


Giorgione: Trial of Moses

This catalog appeared two years after Jaynie Anderson’s but it obviously represented a lifetime of work on the part of the two Italian authors. A little less than half the catalog is an essay on “The Life and Work of Giorgione,” by Terisio Pignatti. The author discusses the life and background of Giorgione and then devotes about 40 pages to a discussion of the attributed works.

In the second half of the book Filippo Pedrocco provides an invaluable summary of the attribution, provenance, and interpretive history of each work. Especially valuable is the attempt to date the various works from early, through middle, to late career.

Although Pedrocco lists most of the different interpretations of the Tempest, Pignatti concludes that there is an “undoubted presence of an underlying theme” but that the painting still “remains difficult to interpret.” Like Anderson the authors do not contest Michiel’s identification of the Teniers copy of the  Discovery of Paris.

Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, and Nepi-Scire, Giovanna, exh. Cat.:  Giorgione, Myth and Enigma,  Vienna, 2004.


Giorgione: Tempest

If I could only have one catalog in my library, my choice would be  Giorgione, Myth and Enigma,  the exhibition catalog for the groundbreaking 2004 Giorgione exhibition jointly sponsored by the Accademia in Venice and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Both institutions contributed their Giorgione works to the exhibition, and for the first time the Tempest traveled outside of Italy for the Vienna show.

The catalog featured a number of essays by leading scholars highlighted by a brilliant essay on the Castelfranco altarpiece by Salvatore Settis. There were also four essays offering differing interpretations of the Tempest.

The 25 catalog entries were written by a group of world-class scholars including Giovanna Nepi-Scire and Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, the respective curators from the two Museums sponsoring the exhibition. In her essay on the Tempest, Nepi-Scire declined to take sides in the interpretation controversy.

This catalog is especially noteworthy for the appendix that includes three essays on the extensive scientific studies conducted in preparation for the exhibition.

Brown, David Alan, and Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia: Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting, Washington, 2006.


Giorgione: Three Philosophers



Two years after the 2004 Giorgione exhibition an equally ambitious venture was jointly launched by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the National Gallery in Washington. The resulting catalog reflected the attempt of the exhibition to cover the broad range of the Venetian Renaissance.

The catalog featured works of Giorgione along with those of Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and lesser known artists like Paris Bordone and Lorenzo Lotto. In the catalog these works were arranged according to themes just as in the actual exhibition.

After four introductory essays different scholars each took a theme: Peter Humfrey “Sacred Images;” Mario Lucco “Sacred Stories;” Jaynie Anderson “Allegories and Mythologies;” Sylvia Ferino-Pagden “Pictures of Women—Pictures of Love;” and David Alan Brown, the curator of the National Gallery, “Portraits of Women.”

Of all the catalogs this one is the broadest in scope but since the Tempest was not included in the exhibition, there is no separate catalog item on Giorgione’s most famous painting, or a discussion the Teniers' painting.

Eller, Wolfgang:  Giorgione Catalog Raisonne,  Petersberg, 2007.


Giorgione: Portrait

Wolfgang Eller’s Giorgione, Catalogue Raisonne, was not associated with any exhibition. Subtitled, “Mystery Unveiled,” this solo effort obviously represented a lifetime of work on the part of this scholar.

Twelve introductory essays take up a little less than a quarter of this 200 page volume, but they are packed with information and learning. Especially valuable is his essay, “The Most Significant Stylistic and Painterly Criteria for an Attribution to Giorgione.” No one looks at a painting or describes it more closely than Eller.

It appears to me that his strong point is attribution and he makes some radical departures from the usual. He gives the Pastoral Concert to Giorgione, and also believes that he participated in Titian’s,  Noli Me Tangere.

If Eller is strong on attribution and painterly criteria, I believe that his interpretations are often overly complicated. His interpretation of the Tempest is so involved that it is difficult to follow. He accepts with some puzzlement the identification of the Teniers copy of the lost Giorgione as the  Discovery of Paris.

Finally, his catalog is extremely valuable since, like Anderson, he provides a discussion of every painting that was ever associated with Giorgione—even the false attributions. This feature alone makes this relatively inexpensive, and easily usable catalog a must for any student.

Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo: Giorgione, Milan, 2009.


Giorgione: Portrait of a Warrior

Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo’s book is not so much a catalog as a study of Giorgione and his world. Its monumental size and heft is due primarily to copious and beautifully rendered illustrations, as well as to the extraordinary scholarship of the author. 
In the first chapter dal Pozzolo reviews what little biographical information we have of Giorgione. Chapter two provides the Venetian and humanist background. The bulk of the book is in Chapter three, an extensive tour of all the known works of Giorgione.
The author briefly reviews most of the many interpretations of the Tempest and declines to accept any of them. He hesitates to offer one of his own but suggests that we try to see the mysterious painting as a Venetian visitor to the home of Gabriele Vendramin might have seen it. In that case the description of a soldier and a gypsy found in the notes of Marcantonio Michiel might be feasible
Speaking of Michiel, dal Pozzolo accepts his description of The Discovery of Paris, and attaches more importance to that lost painting than any of the other catalogs. He argues that along with a lost Aeneas and Anchises, it represents the beginning and end of a Trojan cycle.

I disagree with many of dal Pozzolo's interpretations but do agree with his learned final assessment of Giorgione.


 After his extraordinary feat at the Fondaco, the public image of the painter from Castelfranco must have changed, taking on the features of a giant. And that was when Zorzi became Giorgione. His diversity in comparison with all the other artists of the lagoon was proclaimed… From that moment on, the more talented and restless youths stopped emulating Bellini’s harmonic universes, Carpaccio’s neat cosmopolitan sceneries, those brilliant Antonellesque glares that by then were so far-away, to chase after a dream… of a new way of conceiving a painting and of making it come alive. [344]
###


Friday, August 10, 2018

Giorgione: Review of Scientific Examination

In 2004, two famous museums, the Accademia in Venice and the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, worked together to mount a ground-breaking Giorgione exhibition. The Kunsthistorisches agreed to send it’s Giorgione collection that included the “Three Philosophers”, the “Laura”, and the “Boy with an Arrow” to the Accademia. In return the Accademia allowed the Tempest to leave Italy for the first time for the subsequent Viennese showing.  

The exhibition produced a beautiful and valuable catalog with essays and catalog entries by most of the world’s leading Giorgione scholars. In addition, the catalog included two appendices on the scientific or technological examination of some of Giorgione’s works that contained some valuable information that so far has been little noticed.*

The first study, “Giorgione’s Materials and Painting Technique: Scientific Investigation of Three Paintings,” was a joint effort by Elisa Campani, Antonella Casoli, Enrico Fiorin, and Stefano Volpin. The authors examined the newly restored “Castelfranco Altarpiece”, the “Tempest”, and the portrait of an old woman usually called “La Vecchia”. Acknowledging Giorgione’s fame as an innovator, the authors declared that:

The goal of this diagnostic campaign was to determine the extent to which Giorgione’s inventiveness manifested itself in a desire to experiment with new materials and techniques.





Those interested in the very full discussion of the variety of scientific techniques used will have to read the article. In brief, I would just like to highlight some of their results and conclusions. The authors believed that their investigation enabled a “complete reconstruction of Giorgione’s palette in the three masterpieces.” Moreover,

The choice of materials seems to depend on the result which the artist wished to achieve in each work, adapted to his expressive requirements and the evolution of his style. (256)

This conclusion only seems to confirm what everyone has thought of Giorgione and other Venetian painters but it is good to have it confirmed scientifically. Not only does his palette vary significantly but so too does his choice of binding medium. One of the results of the technical examination highlighted,

a significant difference in the painting technique of the three examined works; the choice of egg tempera to apply colour in the Castelfranco altarpiece and of a mixed technique, using walnut oil mixed with egg for La Tempesta and La Vecchia. (260)

The authors draw the following conclusion that so far does not appear to have penetrated the Giorgione world.

Even given the limited number of works investigated, the artist emerges as a figure with a great knowledge of materials and techniques rather than as an innovator and experimenter. One could say that the artistic revolution caused by Giorgione does not necessarily translate into strictly technological innovation. In fact, from this point of view, the analyses have not highlighted any novel resolutions in the three works. Instead there is clear evidence of an ability to utilize the extensive materials available in Venice and of a sound knowledge of the painting techniques accumulated by Venetian workshops during the 15th century.

Sandra Rossi and Paolo Spezziani collaborated on the second technical essay, “Examination via X-Ray and Infrared Reflectography, and Restoration of the Castelfranco Altarpiece.” Although mainly a discussion of the altarpiece, the authors did report on a  2001 infrared reflectography examination of both the “Tempest” and “La Vecchia” in preparation for the 2004 exhibition. This examinination confirmed a pentimento in the "Tempest" that the catalog still regarded as inexplicable:

 investigation enabled a more precise characterization of the figure on the bridge, who wears a long garment and is seen proceeding to the right. The figure holds a staff in his left hand; on his right shoulder is a second stick, from which hangs a container.

Although this figure cannot be seen even in the infrared image provided in the text, Dr. Rossi confirmed the existence of the man on the bridge to me as we both stood in front of the painting in the Accademia in 2010. A man with a staff and a pilgrim’s sack flung over his shoulder fits no other interpretation of the painting than “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.” As so many other painters did, both before and after, Giorgione originally must have intended to portray the actual flight in the background with the “Rest” in the foreground. Why he changed his mind, we will never know. ###

Gerard David: "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" with flight in background.
Metropolitan Museum, NY

*Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, and Nepi-Scire, Giovanna: exh. Cat. Giorgione, Myth and Enigma, Vienna, 2004.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Giorgione, Titian, and a Venetian Humanist***

In my interpretation of Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love” as “The Conversion of Mary Magdalen” I noted that most scholars believe that Niccolo Aurelio, a future Grand Chancellor of Venice, commissioned the painting to commemorate his marriage to Laura Bagarotto,  a young widow from Padua.

     

Aurelio’s coat of arms can be seen in the relief on the fountain above the spigot. Apparently the wedding raised eyebrows. Aurelio held one of the highest position in the state that could be filled by a non-patrician. Although the year of his birth is not recorded, Aurelio must have been in his fifties and had never been married before. He had, however, sired a natural son, Marco.


On the other hand, Laura Bagarotto was a woman with a checkered past. Her father, Bertuccio Bagarotto, a professor at the famed university of Padua, as well as her husband, Francisco Borromeo, had been accused of treason by the Venetian government for collaboration with the enemy during the War of the League of Cambrai. The husband most likely died during the war and later in 1509 the father was publicly hanged in the Piazza di San Marco, an execution that his wife and daughter were forced to witness.
Laura’s goods, including her substantial dowry, were confiscated. Subsequently, she maintained her father’s innocence and campaigned for the restoration of the family’s good name as well as for the restoration of her dowry, estimated at over 2000 ducats. Her marriage to Niccolo Aurelio in 1514 must have been an important step in her rehabilitation since her dowry was only restored the day before the marriage. One would like to think that Niccolo was honoring his new wife, or seeking to aid in her rehabilitation with a painting depicting Mary Magdalen as both a courtesan seeking to mend her ways, and as a repentant sinner. 
Some think that Aurelio married Laura for her money but I think that there was more to it than that. In her contribution to the catalog, “Titian 500” the late Rona Goffen reproduced the last will and testament of Niccolo Aurelio along with two codicils.* Reading the will gives the impression that Aurelio married the much younger widow not for her money but in an attempt to perpetuate his family’s name. [portions of the Will are reproduced below]
Despite the prominence of his position, little is known about the life of Niccolo Aurelio, but a look at his father, Marco Aurelio, a prominent Venetian humanist, might help to shed some light on his illustrious son.
In “Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance”, a 1986 study published by Princeton University, Margaret L. King examined the correspondence and writings of practically every prominent Venetian humanist of the Fifteenth century.**  Not only did she give a brilliant overview of the nature of the Venetian movement but she also provided profiles of all the humanists. One of the most prominent was Marco Aurelio, the father of Niccolo.
The Aurelio family seems to have been originally from the Venetian colony at Negropont in Greece. It would appear that they left Negropont early in the Fifteenth century before the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and the subsequent fall of Negropont in 1470. Here is King’s brief summary.
Aurelio’s family stemmed ultimately from Negropont….Marco and his brothers Paolo and Pietro were sons of Niccolo Aurelio and a daughter of Niccolo Sagundino. “The emigration had seemingly been recent, as our Sagundino refers to himself (foreign-born) along with the native-born Marco as ‘new men.” The Aurelio family had with Marco’s father already established itself in the Venetian bureaucracy. Marco’s brother Paolo was also a secretary, as was his father Niccolo and his son of the same name, subsequently grand chancellor;… (p. 315)
King makes clear that humanists in Venice were not merely scholars. They constituted a caste employed by the Republic to serve its civic purposes. In other words a secretary was a civil servant, scribe, or lawyer employed in the service of the Republic. They were a separate class definitely barred from entrance into the exclusive patrician class but well above the ranks of the lower orders. The word “mandarin” comes to mind when reading King’s analysis.
Although a class unto themselves, they associated and corresponded with similar humanists in other cities and countries. King notes correspondence between Marco Aurelio and Marsilio Ficino who dedicated six opuscula to Marco. In addition,
Learned men addressed works to him Giovanni Calfurnio his editions of Horace and of Plutarch’s Problemata…and his commentary on Terence…Francesco Diedo his translation from Boccaccio; Janus Pannonius his translation of Plutarch’s De capienda ex hostibus utilitare and De curiositare; …poems by Sebastiano Bursa…Christophorus Lanfranchinus…and Aurelius Trebanus…Domizio Calderini wrote in the dedicatory letter to Giuliano de’ Medici that Aurelio had urged him to publish his commentary on Juvenal…Aurelio borrowed Gregory of Nyassa’s Life of Moses, translated by George of Trebizond, from the library of Girolamo Molin in 1458… (pp. 315-316)
Marco Aurelio introduced his son Niccolo into the Doge’s chancery at an early age. By the time of his marriage in 1514 Niccolo was one of the four Secretaries to the Council of Ten. In addition to his other duties, it appears that he was responsible for the public building programs so important in Venice. We know that he signed the contract with Giorgione for the frescoes on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Eventually, in 1523 he became Grand Chancellor, the official head of the caste of humanist scribes, and one of the leading figures in the Venetian government. As such he would be present alongside the Doge at all meetings of the Senate and Council. He would function as a kind of Attorney General. 
As long as he held these important positions Niccolo Aurelio would have had no financial worries. His will is evidence that only when he somehow lost the position of Grand Chancellor, normally a lifetime appointment, in 1525 did his finances become precarious. Until then he was a well-placed civil servant of the cittadino class. Neither he nor his descendants would have dreamed of entering or marrying into the patrician class. On the other hand, it would have been unseemly for them to marry beneath themselves. They were like characters in a Jane Austen novel whose range of marital partners was severely limited.
Niccolo Aurelio’s marriage to Laura Bagarotto in 1514 would appear then to have little to do with her dowry. By 1523 his Will indicates that her dowry was completely intact. He allocated 1500 ducats of his own money for the dowry of their young daughter, and had even made substantial improvements to Laura’s properties in Padua at his own expense. Moreover, in his home he also supported his natural son, Marco, as well as the two children of his deceased brother.
Why hadn’t Aurelio married before?  He loved his natural son, but Marco does not appear to have been the result of a long-term relationship with a mistress. After providing for Laura and their daughter, Niccolo left the balance of his possessions to Marco who,
even if illegitimate [naturali], I do not consider or hold to be otherwise than if he were my legitimate son, because he has always been obedient to me; and I am most certain that he comes from my viscera, as can be seen clearly from his appearance and habits…
I suspect that given his elevated status in the narrow caste of humanist scribes and lawyers Aurelio had deliberately avoided marriage until Laura Bagarotto came along. She was a different story. Her father, Bertuccio Bagarotto, had been a renowned professor at the University of Padua. Despite his death in the hysteria following the loss of Padua in the aftermath of the military defeat at Agnadello, the end of the war had led some to believe that his execution had been a travesty of justice. 
Bagarotto’s name was finally cleared and in 1519 the Venetian government admitted that his execution had been a mistake. Even so, Venetian humanists believed that character, status and ability were inherited.  The daughter of a famous professor would certainly be a suitable match for Niccolo Aurelio. I expect that one day a student will discover a relationship between Bertuccio Bagarotto and Niccolo's father, the humanist Marco Aurelio.
Subsequent events caused Aurelio to amend his will. In 1525 he was somehow disgraced and lost his position. Despite the drastic change in his fortunes, he still would not touch Laura’s dowry but only stipulated that now most of it would have to be used to dower their daughter. Two years later Laura provided Niccolo with a male heir and wholesale changes were made. According to custom the new son became the principal beneficiary not only of his estate but also of his humanist heritage.
I wish that he, Antonio, be the residual heir of all my property, whether personal or real estate…And being open to learning letters, appearing thus to his mother, have him study either in this land or in Padua…so that he not fall from his [condition] and that he make himself a worthy man, having a great many books as he will find at home. (p. 138)
###

 *Goffen, Rona: “Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love: Individuality and Sexuality in a Renaissance Marriage Picture ,” in Titian 500. ed. Joseph Manca, Washington, 1993. Pp. 121-147.
**Margaret L. King, Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance, Princeton, 1986.

*** This article was originally posted on this site on 12/23/2011.
Below are excerpts from the Will taken from "Titian 500"
 Holograph will of Nicolo Aurelio, dated 20 January 1523, with codicils of 26 April 1525 and 28 June 1527.
Jesus Mary. 1523 January 20 in Venice.
I Nicolo Aurelio, Grand chancellor of Venice…have deliberated…that this be my testament and last will. And first, recommending my soul to God Most High and to his glorious mother, the Madonna, Blessed Mary Immaculate Virgin, and to all the celestial court, I want my body to be interred in San Giorgio Maggiore in our [family] tomb,…
I leave to my most dear and beloved consort [Laura] and daughter [Giulietta], aside from her [Laura’s] dowry fund of the property in Lissaro and of Villa Torta in the Padoana, on which property I have spent no small sum of money in buildings and other improvements,…all these buildings and improvements made by me are to be hers [Laura’s] freely, and she can dispose of these as her own, if she does not wish to remarry, and remains a widow, as I deem she would be for doing, given her most honest life, such as she has always led, and the great love she bears for Giulietta, our one and only child. Aside from this, I bequeath her [Laura] all her garments, whether of silk, as of wool, and others which I have had made, and her gold chain, which likewise I have had made, and 100 ducats from my estate, that she have to use and to do with as she pleases. I leave her likewise her pearls that she brought with her when she came to my household….
In the event that my said consort wishes to marry, I want her to have her entire dowry, that is, the property of Lissaro and Villa Torta, in the condition in which they were consigned to me, that is, without walled buildings of any sort, and her pearls, and further that she have all her garments of silk and other which I have had made for her: these I give her. But the stone buildings [constructed] by me…are to remain in my estate, and likewise the gold chain and the 100 ducats, which are to be for Giuietta, my most gentle and only child, for her dowry…Declaring and thus it is my wish that my said consort, remaining a widow, and wishing to remain in this land in company with Marco, my son, in the house where we live, she, my consort, is to have possession of said house together with the said Marco, in that part which belongs to me, as though it were her very own, and she may use all my personal property as she does ands may do while I am alive.
In addition, I leave to the said Giulietta,…1500 ducats of the monies in my estate for her dowry…But because I am most certain, since her mother has no other child but this, she is not going to be found wanting in dowering her honorably…
if he, Francesco, is willing to remain in company with Marco, my son, and with my consort, whom I should have mentioned first, and Giulietta, my most gentle daughter, he and Marietta, his sister, are to have their expenses, as at present, and I want them treated in every regard as though they were my own children, leaving the burden to my most cherished consort to dower Marietta,…if her brother [Francesco] does not have the means to do so.
the balance of my possessions,…I likewise bequeath entirely to the said Marco, my son, whom, even if illegitimate [naturali], I do not consider or hold to be otherwise than if he were my legitimate son, because he has always been obedient to me; and I am most certain that he comes from my viscera, as can be seen clearly from his appearance and habits;…And I order him always to hold my most beloved consort in greatest reverence and respect, being as good a companion to her as if he had been born of her;… 
Codicil: Jesus Mary. 1525 on 26 April in Venice.
It having been my hard lot, and not because of any failing on my part, that my fortune has changed and that in a moment I have lost all my efforts and vigilance sustained by me since I was a child in serving this most excellent state,…
Codicil: 1527 on June 28.
Because it has pleased our Lord God to concede to me a little son by my wife, to whom I have given the name Antonio in memory of my deceased brother Antonio, 137
[to Marco] I wish that every year of thy life…that thou will have this office, that thou must give half of the earnings that thou will receive from that office to my said consort and to my other children for their subsistence…138…knowing my said consort to be prudent and wise and that she knows very well how to submit to the adversities of this world…
I wish that he, Antonio, be the residual heir of all my property, whether personal or real estate…And being open to learning letters, appearing thus to his mother, have him study either in this land or in Padua…so that he not fall from his [condition] and that he make himself a worthy man, having a great many books as he will find at home.
Goffen, Rona: “Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love: Individuality and Sexuality in a Renaisance Marriage Picture ,” in Titian 500. ed. Joseph Manca, Washington, 1993. Pp. 121-147.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Margaret King: Venetian Humanism

I do not know how Margaret L. King’s, Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance was received when it first appeared in 1986, but it was a real eye opener for me more than 25 years later. I originally looked into it for the profiles in the last section of her study of all the ninety-two humanists that she found in Venice in the fifteenth century.*




Ninety-two was not a capricious or arbitrary number. Although a literary scholar, King’s methodology resembled that of a trained sociologist.  She studied the three generations of fifteenth century Venetian humanists and developed specific criteria for inclusion in the group. Speaking of her study, she wrote,

It has not argued that Venetian humanism mimicked humanism elsewhere, but that a particular society will generate a characteristic form of any intellectual movement. It…has spoken of ninety-two concrete personalities named by plausible guidelines as members of the humanist circle. It has not simply asserted that social origin affected the behavior and production of intellectuals engaged in humanism, but has pointed to documented cases of such influence. It has not put faith in conclusions drawn from the reading of a few works but has tested them in many drawn from the whole of humanist production. (245)

She found a remarkable unanimity through the three generations; the first born between 1370-1400, the second from 1400-1430, and the third from 1430-1460.  In the first place, the great majority (64 of 92) were patricians.

Not only are the patricians the largest social group among the society of Venetian humanists. They also come overwhelmingly from the most privileged sector of that class. (277)

It is hard not to stress the importance of this finding. Although titles of nobility had never been permitted in the Venetian republic, the Venetian patriciate was the most exclusive class of nobility in all of Europe. Except for one exception in the fourteenth century no new members or families were ever admitted to this class. Unlike England where the King could grant titles, the Venetian Doge or government had no such power.

As a result of this patrician involvement Venetian humanism developed along quite different lines than elsewhere. King’s first chapter is titled “Unanimitas,” and it develops three distinct and characteristic traits of Venetian humanism. In the first place, practically every fifteenth century humanist was involved either directly or indirectly in service to the State. Many of the patricians, of course, held some of the highest offices in the Republic, and even the non-patricians either served the patricians or were employed by the government as secretaries. Not only did they work for the state but their writings also reflect a concern to glorify and perpetuate the Serenissima.

Secondly, in the fifteenth century there was no philosophical disagreement. The Aristotelianism propounded in the nearby University of Padua reigned supreme. Even though Venice had conquered Padua, intellectually Padua had conquered Venice.

Aristotelian political, metaphysical thought provided, in brief, legitimation for Venice’s highly stratified, rigid, and authoritarian society. The humanists, who in large measure profited from that social order, happily wedded their humanism to that philosophical vision. (184)

After a thorough examination of seven major humanist works, as well as a host of minor ones, King found no hint of Neo-Platonism throughout the fifteenth century.

Thirdly, she did not find any hint of secularism or deviation from religious orthodoxy. What she writes about the second generation applied to the others.

At the same time, they defended orthodoxy, religious and philosophical, respected the authority of the church, feared and respected outsiders, feared and condemned immorality. This conservative component of Venetian humanism coexisted with its other main purpose: the celebration of Venice. (230)

King cites many individual examples of Venetian piety and orthodoxy and concludes with this summary.

Concerned, even anxious, about the welfare of their souls and of their city, these humanists selected from the writings of antiquity not those values which displaced, but those which complimented a traditional piety. (37)

Not only did these humanists compose and copy many religious works, but sometimes their devotion could see strange meanings in some of the ancient pagan texts they studied. In his Concordance of Poetry, Philosophy and Theology, Giovanni Caldiera found moral or spiritual analogues in many ancient myths.

Where Paris, asked to judge among three goddesses, awards the golden apple to Venus, Caldiera sees the apostle Paul presented with the three theological virtues, choosing love…Jove’s seduction of Leda, wife of King Tyndar, is seen as Christ’s wresting of the holy church of God from its union with the Old Law. (114)

To summarize, there was no conflict between faith and reason in fifteenth century Venetian patrician humanist circles. Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy went hand in hand in support of the Venetian state and its hierarchical class system. King notes one historian’s very apt comparison of Florence and Venice. Florence is Athens and Venice is Sparta.

Initially, I wondered why King confined her study to the three generations of fifteenth century scholars. Didn’t humanism flourish and grow right into the next century? It could be that she had more than enough material here, and that she planned future studies. However, it soon became clear that she believed that a striking development took place in the fourth generation of humanists, those born between 1460 and 1490. At the very outset of what we call the High Renaissance, Venetian humanism developed offshoots that would challenge and weaken the old unanimity.

King’s statistical analysis showed a swelling of the ranks at the dawn of the sixteenth century caused in large part by the remarkable growth of the printing industry in Venice.

Humanists and related members of Venice’s intellectual circles born in the generation immediately following the third of our core group…are multitudinous; for the ranks of humanist circles are swelled by amateurs, patrons, collectors, printers’ assistants editors, translators, teachers of all kinds in the last decade of the century. (270)

Much of this activity centered on the press opened by Aldo Manutius after his arrival in Venice in 1491. It quickly became a center for humanist activity.

Around him and his assistants flocked the humanists of Venice, pedagogues and secretaries, university professors and physicians, young or leisured noblemen. (238)

The synthesis of humanism and the values of the Venetian aristocracy was weakened by this development as scholars focused more on their texts and translations. For many of them involvement in the affairs of the Republic was replaced by a sterile philological pedantry. 

Nor was that movement fully successful; it lacked not energy but a moral dimension. There seemed to be embedded in the intellectual movement of those dissectors and correctors of words no broad conception of the world, of society, of the place and depths and stature of the human being. Though they produced useful work…their zeal was sterile. Their words, bloodless, do not live. (236)

Other humanists began to drop out in order to find personal religious and philosophical fulfillment. Venice was not immune to the great religious reform movement that was sweeping over Europe in the fifteenth century decades before the Protestant Reformation.

King tells the tragic story of Ermolao Barbaro, a humanist from one of the most prominent patrician families, who was ostracized for accepting a bishopric from the Pope that the Signoria wanted for its own candidate. Barbaro was not interested in being a prince of the Church but defied his city because he believed that as a Bishop he would be free to lead a quiet life of study and contemplation.

Another scholar wrote a treatise advocating celibacy, not for religious reasons but as a means of detaching oneself from the cares of the world. A wife and children meant a family, and a family inevitably in Venice involved participation in the political and economic life of the City. How could someone be free to study and learn with such concerns? 

Some dropped out for purely religious concerns. The most striking example is that of Tommaso Giustiniani who, like the rich young man in the Bible, gave up all his possessions, including his art collection, to live as a hermit in a Camoldolensian monastery.

In her concluding chapter, King describes the decline of Venetian humanism and the coincident rise of its artistic renaissance. 

Thus patrician humanism survived into the sixteenth century, marked by its peculiarly Venetian balance of the universal vision and local civic responsibility, and by its expression of the themes of unanimitas fundamental to the city’s myth. Yet it constituted but one tendency of sixteenth-century humanism, which included, as well, the technical and routinized culture of the philologists and encyclopedists, the mediocre classicism of teachers and secretaries, the book talk and trading generated by the presses. And it constituted but one strand of Venice’s intellectual culture…and neither the primary nor most characteristic one. For the foci of Venice’s culture in the sixteenth century, and perhaps the true glories of her Renaissance, were not in humanism at all, but in vernacular literature and the arts. (242)

In King’s analysis Venetian patricians who came to maturity around 1500 did not share the outlook of their fathers.

They shed at the same time other restraints operative in Quattrocentro humanism. The sensuality prohibited by humanist arbiters of taste exploded into view. A diversity of themes and sentiments appeared that had not been possible within the contours of humanist culture neatly dictated by the assumptions of scholastic philosophy and Christian orthodoxy….In a parallel development, the visual arts at about this time abandoned the conservative canons of form followed strictly during most of the fifteenth century and embraced the language of color. (243)

One of the prominent humanists profiled by King was Marco Aurelio, the father of Niccolo Aurelio, who would succeed his father in the Venetian secretariat and go on to become Grand Chancellor, the highest rank that a non-patrician could hold. Niccolo’s coat of arms can be seen on Titian’s famous “Sacred and Profane Love,” a striking example of the Venetian language of color. ###


*All quotes are from Margaret L. King, "Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance," Princeton, 1986. Page numbers in parentheses. This review article was originally published at Giorgione et al... on 1/12/2013.