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, November 23, 2022

Raphael: Vision of Ezekiel

 



Scholars still question Vasari's attribution to Raphael of a small painting called, The Vision of Ezekiel.   I will leave the question of attribution to others but I do think that the subject of the painting has been misunderstood ever since Vasari mentioned it in his biography of Raphael.

Raphael: Vision of Ezekiel

Here is what Vasari wrote:

At a later period, our artist painted a small picture, which is now at Bologna, in the possession of the Count Vincenzio Ercolani. The subject of this work is Christ enthroned amid the clouds, after the manner in which Jupiter is so frequently depicted. But the Saviour is surrounded by the four Evangelists, as described in the Book of Ezekiel: one in the form of a man, that is to say; another in that of a lion; the third as an eagle; and the fourth as an ox. The earth beneath exhibits a small landscape, and this work, in its minuteness—all the figures being very small—is no less beautiful than are the others in their grandeur of extent.*

Vasari said that the subject of the painting is “Christ enthroned amid the clouds.” He did mention that Christ was surrounded by the four animals that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Even though the painting called to Vasari’s mind the vision of Ezekiel, the artist, whoever he was, must certainly have had a different vision in mind.

The vision in this painting is the vision of St. John from the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse). Let’s just compare the two visions. Here is the account from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel.

As I was among the exiles on the bank of the river Chebar, heaven opened and I saw visions from God… Ezekiel 1:1 A stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the center a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire. In the center I saw what seemed four animals. They looked like this. They were of human form. Each had four faces, each had four wings. …As to what they looked like, they had human faces, and all four had a lion’s face to the right, and all four had a bull’s face to the left, and all four had an eagle’s face.  Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings that touched, and two wings that covered his body;… Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings that touched, and two wings that covered his body…Ezekiel 1: 4-12
Between these animals something could be seen like flaming brands or torches, darting between the animals; the fire flashed light, and lightning streaked from the fire. And the creatures ran to and fro like thunderbolts.” Ezekiel 1: 13-14.

The animals are in Ezekiel’s vision but there is no God or Christ enthroned among them. Ezekiel’s vision found its way into the Book of Revelation, a book replete with imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures. Here is St. John’s vision (Jerusalem Bible).

My name is John…I was on the island of Patmos for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus; it was the Lord’s day and the Spirit possessed me, and I heard a voice behind me, shouting like a trumpet, “Write down all that you see in a book…" Revelation 1: 9-13. 
Then, in my vision, I saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, the voice like a trumpet, saying, “Come up here: I will show you what is to come in the future.” With that, the Spirit possessed me and I saw a throne standing in heaven, and the One who was sitting on the throne, and the Person sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby….In the center, grouped around the throne itself, were four animals with many eyes, in front and behind. The first animal was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third animal had a human face, and the fourth animal was like a flying eagle. Each of the four animals had six wings and had eyes all the way around as well as inside;… Revelation 4: 1-8.

In John’s vision God the Creator, “the One” sitting on the throne in the midst of the four creatures, is the most prominent figure. Vasari identified the figure as Christ but the figure more closely resembles Michelangelo’s images of God the Father in the Sistine chapel. Only later in John’s account would the Lamb join the One sitting on the throne.

In the Vision of Ezekiel the small figure on the left receiving the vision must then be identified not as Ezekiel but John, exiled on the isle of Patmos. It is hard to tell, but he seems to be on an island facing a broad expanse of sea rather than in a crowd of people at the bank of the river Chebar.

Some scholars have argued that there is a companion piece to the Vision of Ezekiel that did not find its way back to Italy after the fall of Napoleon. In his study of Raphael Jean-Pierre Cuzin discussed a small oil on panel of the Holy Family.


The kinship in style and execution of the small Holy Family and the Vision of Ezekiel in the Pitti Palace at Florence, which have the same dimensions is striking: the rounded, thick-set bodies, strongly modeled by black shadows and lively touches of light, and the vigorous impasto execution, invite one to see an identical hand in both pictures—that of Penni, for Konrad Oberhuber. Others have more often thought of Giulio Romano. The Vision of Ezekiel, unlike the neglected picture in the Louvre, counts among Raphael’s celebrated works; it is identified with a picture described by Vasari at Bologna in the house of Count Ercolani. **

The small Holy Family is also a misnomer. It is actually a depiction of the encounter of Mary and the infant Jesus on their return from the flight into Egypt with her cousin Elizabeth and the infant John the Baptist. With or without St. Joseph, this legendary meeting was a very popular subject since it marked the initial acceptance of the mission of Christ. Usually the Christ child accepts a small cross from the young Baptist but in this case he accepts the Baptist himself.

If the two paintings are companion pieces, they would then represent the beginning and the end of Christ’s mission. The meeting of the two infants in the Judean desert recalls the words of the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and in the vision from the Book of Revelation, the Lamb who was sacrificed will join “the One seated on the Throne.” 

###

*Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, selected, edited and introduced by Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Volume II, New York, 1967. p. 41.

**Jean-Pierre Cuzin: Raphael, His Life and Works, New Jersey, 1985. p. 226.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Renaissance Discoveries

 

I originally published this post on September 15, 2015. It detailed the interpretive discoveries I had made over the previous 10 years. I repeat it here for new readers, and include an abstract of my later interpretation of Michelangelo's Doni Tondo. In addition to the websites mentioned below, I have also published these findings at academia.edu.


I originally interpreted the subject of Giorgione's Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" back in 2005. In my naivete I sent copies of my interpretation to various institutions, journals, and most of the leading scholars in the field. Only a handful chose to even acknowledge receipt and of those only one offered any  criticism. Miraculously, in May of 2006 the Masterpiece column of the Wall Street Journal published a short version of the Tempest interpretation but that was it until 2010.

In that year my paper was accepted by the Renaissance Society of America for its annual conference to be held in Venice in 2010, the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Giorgione. The conference was a large one and there were many panels devoted to Italian Renaissance art, especially the art of the Venetian Renaissance. My paper was included in one of the many panels lumped under the generic title, "Italian Art." 

I'd like to say it was a great success but it wasn't. Although most of the leading scholars on the Venetian Renaissance were at the conference, none attended my panel, which also included a presentation by two engineers from Turin on sixteenth century drawings of machines. There were only about 15 people present to hear my revolutionary interpretation. They listened politely and asked a couple of questions. Even the moderator of the panel seemed more interested in the machines.

Fortunately, after the conference in Venice, my wife and I traveled to Rome where we had to extend our stay when the eruption of a volcano in Iceland shut down air travel to and from Italy. As a result, we were able to visit the Borghese Gallery where one look at Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love" convinced me that the women were Mary Magdalen.

On our return to the USA I decided to use the web as a means to get my discoveries out there. I created MyGiorgione for the actual papers and then, Giorgione et al... Today, I reproduce the first post on Giorgione et al...

###

 Below is an abstract of a paper delivered in April, 2010 at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Venice. Subsequently, the paper was also delivered at the 2011 annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance Conference in St. Louis. The paper itself can be found on my website, MyGiorgione by using the link on the right.


Giorgione: The Tempest


Abstract:This paper identifies the subject of Giorgione’s "Tempest" as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt." This interpretation is the only one that identifies all the major elements in the painting. The nude woman nursing an infant is the Madonna. The man standing at the left functioning as an “interlocutor” is St. Joseph with his staff. The broken columns featured so prominently are commonplace in depictions of the rest on the Flight into Egypt. The city in the background is Judea from where the Holy Family has fled but could also be equated with Padua during the Cambrai war. The scraggly plant in the foreground is identified as a “belladonna” a plant associated with witchcraft and the Devil. No other interpretation of this painting has even attempted to identify the plant.

The great difficulties of this interpretation, the “nude Madonna” and the “young” Joseph are dealt with in the paper. The nude Madonna is Giorgione’s idiosyncratic way of depicting the concept of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, a doctrine of great importance at this time, especially in Venice. If the association with the War of Cambrai is correct, this interpretation dates the painting in 1509, a year before Giorgione’s death.

The paper also does discuss the relevance to the “Tempest” of a heretofore misidentified copy by David Teniers of a “lost” Giorgione. This painting is usually identified as “The Discovery of Paris,” but it is actually Giorgione’s depiction of an apocryphal episode on the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt which I call "The Encounter with the Robbers on the Flight into Egypt."

David Teniers; Copy of a lost Giorgione

My research on the "Tempest" has led to a number of other discoveries. For example:

1. The Giorgione painting in the Pitti Palace sometimes called the "Three Ages of Man" has been identified as "The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man." See the  essay on MyGiorgione.

Giorgione: Three Ages of Man


2. A painting attributed to Palma Vecchio that is now in storage in the Philadelphia Museum bears a marked resemblance to the "Tempest," but it has usually been identified simply as "Allegory." This painting is now identified as "the Encounter of the Holy Family with the Infant John the Baptist on the Return from Egypt. See blog post dated November 21, 2010.

Palma Vecchio: Allegory
3. Titian's famous painting the "Sacred and Profane Love" is now identified as "The Conversion of Mary Magdalen." This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance Conference held in 2012 in New Orleans. See the full paper at MyGiorgione.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love


4. The "Pastoral Concert" that now hangs in the Louvre has been variously attributed to Giorgione and Titian. Not only do I agree with those who attribute it to Titian but I also believe that it is Titian's "Homage to the Recently Deceased Giorgione." All the Giorgionesque elements in the painting were Titian's way of honoring his deceased friend. For the full paper see MyGiorgione.

Titian: Pastoral Concert





 

Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo is one of the greatest masterpieces of the High Renaissance. It is his only surviving panel painting and now hangs in the Uffizi in its original frame. Most scholars date it somewhere between the completion of the David in 1504 and Michelangelo’s departure from Florence to Rome in 1506. At first glance, it appears to be simply a traditional rendering of the Holy Family but, on closer inspection, it raises a number of questions.

 

In the foreground Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus are situated in a landscape. But what is going on? Is Mary handing the Child to Joseph, or is Joseph handing the Child to Mary? Why does Mary look as she does with muscular arms shockingly uncovered? What is Joseph doing in the painting? Why, despite artistic tradition, has he been brought so prominently into the center to play an apparently key role? What is the young John the Baptist doing behind a parapet or wall in the midground? Finally, who are the five male nudes in the background, and why are they there?

 

This paper seeks to answer all of these questions. It argues that Mary is offering her Son as a priest does at the Consecration of every Mass. Seeing the painting in this manner, we can then explain the prominent position of Joseph, as well as the role of the young John the Baptist in the mid-ground. Finally, the paper identifies the nudes in the background as the Giants in the Earth or Nephilim found in the biblical story of Noah.


###


Note. Dr. Francis P. DeStefano holds a PhD in History from Fordham University but he is not associated with any educational institution. Although early in his career he taught History at a university in Fairfield, CT, he left teaching to build a financial planning practice. He retired in 2008 but now at age 83 his art history work is largely done. He currently devotes himself to blogging, film noir, and chess.

Dr. DeStefano currently resides in Fairfield, Ct. His email address is drdestefano@mac.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Durer in Venice


Albrecht Durer traveled to Venice in the latter half of 1505 and stayed until early in 1507. It seems that he had planned this journey for a while but apparently an outbreak of plague in Nuremburg hastened his departure. Erwin Panofsky devoted a whole chapter to the Venetian sojourn in his magisterial study, The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer. Panofsky entitled the chapter, ‘The Second Trip to Italy and the Culmination of Painting, 1505-1510/11.’



Panofsky points out that Durer had achieved a high degree of fame even before this visit to Venice. In Panofsky’s words,
The young beginner who had visited Venice eleven years before was now a world-renowned master whose inventions were copied and imitated everywhere. Also, he was no longer poor….Thus he did not walk about the city as an unknown and insignificant tourist but plunged into its colorful and stimulating life as a distinguished guest. He became acquainted with ‘intelligent scholars, good lute-players, flutists, connoisseurs of painting and many noble minds’ who honored and befriended him. [107-8]
Despite his mastery in wood-cut and engraving, Durer turned exclusively to oil painting while in Venice. Panofsky indicates that Venice and its painters had a great impact on the German master. From his correspondence we know that Durer regarded the aged Giovanni Bellini as still the greatest of painters, but in a letter dated February 7, 1506, Durer mentioned that he had also found “many painters much superior to Jacopo de’ Barbari,” an artist already well-known to Durer before the Italian trip.

Panofsky indicates that Durer turned to painting to show that he could work with color as well as any Venetian, but also because of the desires of his patrons in Venice. Almost immediately on his arrival Durer was welcomed by the prosperous German merchant community. It would appear that connections in Nuremberg and Augsburg had paved the way for him and even arranged a lucrative commission to paint an altarpiece for S. Bartolommeo, the German church in Venice. In a letter to a friend about the altarpiece, usually called the “Feast of the Rose Garlands,” Durer claimed that the commission was an effective way to “silence those who said I was good as an engraver but did not know how to handle the colors in painting.” [109-110]


On the completion of the Feast of the Rose Gardens Durer bragged, “I herewith announce that there is no better image of the Virgin in the country.” This claim might be exaggerated but the painting did gain much acclaim.
Old Giovanni Bellini…visited his studio and expressed the wish to acquire one of his paintings…When the “Feast of the Rose Garlands” was completed it was admired by the whole Venetian aristocracy, including the Doge and the Patriarch, and finally even by Durer’s colleagues….” [109]
Panofsky agrees with this contemporary evaluation despite the very poor condition of the painting today. “In one propitious moment he succeeded in synthesizing the force and accuracy of his design with the rich glow of Venetian color.” Panofsky acknowledges Durer’s debt to Bellini
The balanced grandeur of this composition would not have been attainable to Durer without the study and complete understanding of the style of Giovanni Bellini whom he so frankly admired… (112)
The painting was inspired by the increasingly popular devotion to the rosary, especially among the Dominican friars, whose founder was considered to have been the creator of the devotion. The rose garlands in the painting actually represent the decades of the rosary, and in Panofsky’s opinion the painting should actually be titled, “the Brotherhood of the Rosary.” 

While working on the altarpiece for S. Bartolommeo, Durer also completed two smaller paintings of sacred subjects. The first was the so-called Madonna of the Siskin, now in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. The second was a version of Christ Among the Doctors that is now in the  Thyssen Bornemisza collection in Madrid.




The “Madonna of the Siskin” derives its popular name from the bird on the arm of the infant Jesus. However, it is actually a representation of the meeting of the young John the Baptist with the Holy Family on their return from the sojourn in Egypt. Panofsky notes that the young Baptist is the most significant iconographical feature in the painting.
The inclusion of this figure…was an utter novelty in Northern art which…knew only the triad of the Holy Family and the complete circle of the Holy Kinship, but not the “Virgin with the Infant Jesus and the Little St. John.” This theme was Central Italian rather than Venetian, but that compositions not unlike Durer’s…existed in Venice and the “Terra Firma” is demonstrated… [113]
In Panofsky’s opinion, Durer took this traditional subject to a new level. He “surpassed this and similar prototypes by enlivening the entire composition and by endowing the little St. John with a Leonardesque or even Raphaelesque vitality which had been foreign to the earlier Venetian and Venetianizing schools.”... [114]


While the Madonna of the Rose Garlands took months to complete, it would appear that Christ among the Doctors, the final painting in the Venetian triad, was done in a matter of days. Yet, Durer considered this painting as “something new and extraordinary” and Panofsky concurs.
The emphasis on manual gesticulation, and even the specific gesture of arguing by counting fingers is unquestionably Italian, as is also the compositional form as a whole. The idea of presenting a dramatic incident by half-length figures so that the whole effect is concentrated on the expressive quality of hands and faces had been sanctioned by Mantegna…and had gained favor in all the North Italian schools, particularly in Venice and Milan. [114]
Panofsky’s description of this painting reminds me of the so-called Three Ages of Man usually attributed to Giorgione. I have interpreted that painting as a dramatic incident also from the life of Christ: the Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man. Giorgione, who was working in Venice at the same time as Durer, also used the expressive hands and faces of half-length figures to create an effect. In both paintings the half-length treatment provides a kind of close-up or zoom effect. 

Giorgione: "Three Ages of Man"
Pitti Palace

In the year after Durer left Venice, Giorgione was given the commission to fresco the exterior walls of the newly rebuilt Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the center of German community in Venice. Over the years scholars have tried to find some northern influence on Giorgione’s work, but Panofsky never mentions Giorgione. Instead, he argues that Durer was greatly influenced by what he saw in Venice. After his return to Germany, Durer eventually gave up painting and went back to his wood cuts and engravings. But they would never be the same. His stay in Venice had brought his work to an even greater level.

I like to think of him and Giorgione both trying to satisfy the demands of their patrons for sacred subjects while at the same time working to a make their work exceptional and innovative. 

###

Note: This essay originally appeared as a post on Giorgione et al... five years ago, on April 28, 2014.

*Erwin Panofsky: The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer, Princeton, 1955. Page citations are in brackets. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Grimani Breviary and Giorgione

 







In my interpretation of Giorgione's Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" I argued that Giorgione depicted the Madonna as nude because of her Immaculate Conception. In researching I was surprised and emboldened when I discovered that the last two images in the famous "Grimani Breviary" juxtaposed the Immaculate Conception with a version of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. There they are. On the left the artist has placed the "Woman, Clothed with the Sun" from the Book of Revelation in the sky, and symbols of the "Woman, without stain or blemish" from the Song of Songs on the ground below. In the next image the Madonna sits with her child in a landscape always used in depictions of the Rest. Joseph and the Ass can be seen in the background.




The Grimani Breviary is famous for its depictions by Northern Renaissance miniaturists of ordinary life. Nevertheless, the last two images depart from that scheme and depict Mary. The owner of the Breviary was Cardinal Domenico Grimani, not only an important figure in the life of Venice and the Church but also one of the major art collectors of the early sixteenth century. Was there a connection between the owner of the Breviary and Giorgione? The editor of the beautiful facsimile edition of the Breviary  published by Levenger Press raised the possibility. 



"Outside Flanders this manuscript could not have found a more suitable home than Venice. The natural world is depicted in the Grimani Breviary with a care paralleled only in Venetian painting, which at this time was turning to an ever deeper study of nature, and this Flemish masterpiece must have aroused the curiosity of the Venetian painters, whose formation and sensitivity were quite different from those of their Tuscan counterparts. Certain of it meticulous landscapes must have aroused the interest of masters such as Giorgione and the young Titian…" ["The Grimani Breviary": Levenger Press, DelRay Beach, Florida, 2007, p. 38.]

In the catalog of the 2010 Giorgione exhibition in the artist's hometown of Castelfranco Veneto, Enrico dal Pozzolo also speculated about the connection between Grimani and Giorgione. After summarizing Cardinal Grimani's collection, Pozzolo wrote:

"here we have a number of elements that would lead us to wonder whether behind this manifest connection between Cardinal Grimani’s interests and some of the themes developed by the artist there were an actual, if unrecorded, patron-artist relationship—which might have been at the root of the mix of cultures that defined the young artist."[Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo: "Giorgione", Milan, 2009. pp. 210-212]

In an earlier post I have written about the connection between the work of Luca Signorelli in the S. Brisio chapel in Orvieto's cathedral and Giorgione's Tempest. On a visit to Orvieto I discovered that Signorelli's broken columns in his depiction of the end of the world bore a close resemblance to the ones Giorgione depicted in the Tempest.




In a study of the S. Brisio chapel Creighton Gilbert argued that Grimani played a key advisory role in its iconography.

"Grimani too visited Orvieto in 1493 and 1495 with Farnese, Borgia, and the rest. More of interest is that in 1505 he built himself a vacation house below the city walls, at the abbey of Santa Trinita.”
[Gilbert, Creighton E.: "How Fra Angelico and Signorelli Saw the End of the World", Penn State, 2003. p. 81.]

Below find notes from the introduction to the Levenger Press beautiful facsimile edition of the Grimani Breviary.

p. 10. The Breviary is for Franciscan use and consists of some 832 parchment folios.

p. 10. Some hold that work on the manuscript started some time after 1480 and continued until about 1520; as far as we can see, however, it was completed in about a decade.

p. 13. The naturalism in the Grimani Breviary clearly derives from the Ghent and Bruges masters of the latter half of the fifteenth century.

p. 23. …the last miniature in the manuscript, the symbols of the Virgin.

p. 27. …while in the penultimate miniature in the manuscript the Madonna and Child are akin to the graceful figures of David’s Von Pannwitz Virgin and the landscape recalls the later manner of the first illuminator.

p. 29. Later the broad dating of 1481 to 1520 was narrowed down to the decade 1510 to 1520, and the predominant presence of three major illuminators was clarified.

p. 35. …the Breviary is the product and the expression of a stage in the history of Flemish miniature-painting, a lofty synthesis between the school of Ghent…and the school of Bruges.

In the opening pages of this introduction we emphasized how exceptional was the fact that the Grimani Breviary had been purchased in Italy by an Italian, even though the purchaser was a member of an illustrious family and himself high up in the Church….So Flemish paintings found their way into Italy to embellish the castles and palaces of the various ruling families…In addition, rare works came to decorate bourgeois homes—especially in Piedmont, Liguria, and Venice.

###

Levenger Press, fascimile edition published in 2007, Delray Beach, Florida.





Thursday, September 15, 2022

Signorelli and Giorgione

The broken columns and ruins in Giorgione's Tempest must be discussed in any plausible interpretation. In my interpretation I showed that they were commonplace in depictions of the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt." After delivering my paper at a conference in Venice in 2010, my wife and I stopped over in Orvieto before proceeding on to Rome. We wanted to revisit the famous cathedral of the beautiful hill-top city. In particular, we wanted to see the St. Brisio chapel with its frescoes by Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli. 


Imagine my surprise when I noticed the columns depicted in the above image. Scholars have pointed out the connection between the work of Luca Signorelli in the S. Brisio chapel in Orvieto and the work of Michelangelo and Raphael. Perhaps, there is also a connection between Signorelli and Giorgione. Begun in the middle of the fifteenth century by Fra Angelico, the frescoes of the famous chapel were completed by Signorelli between 1499 and 1504. The “outer bay” of the chapel contains Signorelli’s version of the end of the world. 

Among the many iconographical details in this section are three prominent broken columns that bear a striking resemblance to the broken columns in the Tempest. Here is Creighton Gilbert’s description of this section:

 “One may take these to be the tribulations that Luke had described just before in the same chapter, where people are told to flee and are led away as captives, while no stone is left on another. These are precisely the motifs Signorelli shows us, with people running from a ruined colonnade, a nearby building showing cracks, and soldiers tying people up.” p.139. 

The ruined colonnade is actually three truncated white columns standing erect surrounded by rubble. In his book on the Tempest Salvatore Settis provided a number of broken column images but none were as similar to Giorgione’s or as close in time as the ones in the S. Brisio chapel. Signorelli’s use of the broken columns could not be clearer. It indicates the destruction of the World.

In "How Fra Angelico and Signorelli Saw the End of the World" Creighton E. Gilbert tried to identify the sources for Signorelli’s whole iconographic scheme in the S. Brisio chapel. He argued that two prominent churchmen, both associated with Orvieto, might have played pivotal roles. One was the young Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paul III, and the other was a famous Venetian cardinal.

 "In this scenario a second powerful name should be mentioned, that of Cardinal Grimani, whose connection both with connoisseurship and with the Borgia group in control of Orvieto have been observed. It would be logical to see him seconding a proposal by Farnese." p. 115. 

Domenico Grimani was the son of the famous Doge as well as the Patriarch of Aquileia. He was also an avid art collector who is perhaps most well known for the magnificent illustrated Grimani Breviary. Gilbert points out that Grimani had strong ties to Orvieto.

 "Grimani too visited Orvieto in 1493 and 1495 with Farnese, Borgia, and the rest. More of interest is that in 1505 he built himself a vacation house below the city walls, at the abbey of Santa Trinita." p. 81.

 Signorelli’s work was completed in 1504 and the Tempest painted in 1509. It is not difficult to imagine Grimani describing Signorelli’s justly famous frescoes to eager Venetian hearers. Certainly, Giorgione’s use of the broken columns to symbolize the Fall of the Egyptian idols on the Flight into Egypt is strong evidence for the Grimani connection. On the other hand, the idea could have been conveyed to Signorelli by Grimani. 

Another sign of the connection between Signorelli and Giorgione is in the use of nudity. The following quotes from Gilbert’s work point out the novelty of Signorelli’s approach to nudity, 

“These saved are innovative in their nudity, surely unlike what Angelico had projected. All previous Judgments in this tradition contrasted the clothed saved with the naked damned,…This innovation, as such, seems not to have interested writers. Perhaps they found it only what one would expect in 1500, in the emerging High Renaissance, especially from a painter praised as an anatomist. Yet a closer look is surely warranted. At this period the saved appeared nude, outside a High Renaissance context, in the great sequence of Judgment paintings in northern Europe. …This was a time when the theme did not flourish in Italian painting. The nudity was logical in that the souls were regularly seen emerging naked from their tombs… Mainstream theology always affirmed that they would then be perfect bodies…." p. 80. "The nude saved do appear in Italy before Signorelli in various less noticeable contexts, presumably under northern influence…. The saved appear nude more conventionally in a large Venetian woodcut around 1500, possibly later than Signorelli…" p. 81. 

In the S. Brisio chapel Signorelli also depicted a nude Judith. This famous Jewish heroine was commonly regarded as a precursor of the Virgin Mary. Gilbert noted this unique portrayal as well as a northern equivalent.

 "Also about 1508, he [Niccolo Rosex da Modena] engraved a nude Judith, inscribed with her name. She is the only one in Italy of this period other than Signorelli’s monochrome found in this same outer bay of the chapel." p. 147. 


About five years after Signorelli completed his work in the S. Brisio chapel, Giorgione painted a nude woman nursing her child in the Tempest. Is it really that unimaginable to consider that she might be the Madonna?

###

Gilbert, Creighton E.: How Fra Angelico and Signorelli Saw the End of the World, Penn State, 2003.

Note: This post is slightly revised from the original posted over 10 years ago.