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".

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Giorgione Catalogs

 


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 of 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 I 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]
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Saturday, October 30, 2021

Review: 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.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Review: Giorgione 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.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Giorgione and Mantegna: Exceptional Painters

The following review article was first published on Giorgione et al... in 2011 as an attempt to understand the "why" of Giorgione's Tempest. I repost it today with no significant alteration.


In The Art of Devotion Henk van Os argued that Andrea Mantegna deliberately sought to be an “exceptional painter.” As court painter of Mantua, Mantegna worked for an exclusive and well-to-do clientele. Even when his patrons wanted traditional subjects like a Madonna and Child for their homes, they would not be satisfied with a stock or second-rate work. 

 "There are quite a few extant pictures showing devotional scenes in bedrooms and they make it clear that such small paintings on a wall had a different function from the diptychs or triptychs which were opened when one wanted to pray. A Virgin and Child on the wall was more remote. It sanctified the room as a whole, as well as serving if necessary as a focal point for prayer. It had become one of the norms for interior decoration. A second-rate Madonna would have been out of place in a sumptuous room…."

 Mantegna used not only his technical virtuosity but also his uncommon knowledge of antiquity to become an “exceptional” painter. "As an authority on antiquity, and mixing as he did with princes, he regarded each new commission as a new artistic challenge. Whatever he painted…the result was always something entirely and unmistakably his own." 

 Everything that van Os said about Mantegna can be applied to Giorgione. If Mantegna, working in Mantua, had a difficult and demanding clientele, what can we say about the young Giorgione working in Venice in the first decade of the sixteenth century? I like to compare the big three of Renaissance Italian cities to three current day American cities. Florence is Boston, Rome is Washington but Venice is New York, the cultural and financial capital of the world. 


In my interpretation of Giorgione’s Tempest as “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.” I have concentrated on explaining what Giorgione did in this painting. I did not paid too much attention to the “why” of this painting. Why did Giorgione choose to depict this familiar subject in such an unusual and seemingly mysterious manner? There has been much speculation about the “why” of the Tempest in the scholarly literature. Some have argued that Giorgione deliberately chose to “hide” the subject so that only his patron would be in on the secret. More than just enjoying the painting, his patron would also be able to show off in front of his wealthy and influential friends. Even though the small size of the Tempest indicates that it was designed to be hung in a private study or bedroom, some have argued that Giorgione deliberately tried to create a feeling of ambiguity and even discomfort in the mind of the viewer.*



I cannot agree with the advocates of “hidden subject” or ambiguity. Where is the ambiguity in the “lost” Giorgione mistakenly called the “Discovery of Paris?” In my paper on the Tempest I demonstrated that  the copy of this lost painting by David Teniers was an almost literal depiction of an episode on the flight into Egypt taken from the apocryphal “Arabic Gospel of the Infancy.” It is the Encounter with Robbers on the Flight into Egypt. A Venetian patrician, Marcantonio Michiel, simply mis-identified it in 1525 and scholars have fallen in line ever since.

I would like to speculate that it was the desire to become an “exceptional” painter that motivated Giorgione. All commentators have agreed that his technical skills were exceptional. If you look at the Three Ages of Man in the Pitti Palace, you can literally count the hairs in the beard of the elderly man in red. But Giorgione was also exceptional in what contemporaries called “invention.” To possess a Giorgione was to possess a work entirely his own. 

In my paper on the Tempest I wrote that Giorgione was “stretching the envelope” with his depiction of a nude Madonna. Giorgione stretched the envelope in practically all of his paintings. He used traditional sacred subjects and took them to a new and daring level, not to hide their subject but to enhance its artistic quality as well as its devotional power. I agree with those who see the so-called “Laura” as Mary Magdalene, and the so-called “Boy With an Arrow” as St. Sebastian. I agree with those who see the “Three Philosophers” as the Magi, not at the end of their journey but at its very beginning. Even his Nativities depart from the conventional, stock images. He has moved the Madonna and Child out of the center and placed them in the right foreground where they become the focus of the narrative. 



Giorgione lived in the greatest city of his time. Even if he did not apprentice in the famous Bellini workshop, he must have been familiar with its work and resources. Vasari claimed that he learned much from Leonardo but he must also have been familiar with the work of Mantegna and Antonello da Messina. There is even evidence Indicating an awareness of the work of Raphael, and Luca Signorelli. Giorgione’s patrons must also have been aware of these great painters, but we know the great value that they placed on the work of the young master from Castelfranco. Speaking about patrons, when Isabella d’Este, the Marchesa of Mantua, tried to add to her collection she only contacted the best painters of the day. Even though she expected them to use their “invention,” she usually specified the “subject” she wanted them to depict. No ambiguity for her. She never wanted the “subject” to be hidden. 

Note: The quotes in italics above are taken from Henk van Os, "The Art of Devotion, 1300-1500." Princeton, 1994, pp. 132-135. Below are additional notes from this study which could apply to Giorgione as well as to Mantegna. Van Os is discussing Mantegna's Madonna and Child, now in Berlin. 




  "One of the most beautiful ‘paintings on a wall’ for private devotion is Andrea Mantegna’s Virgin and Child of ca. 1465/70 in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. Mantegna was the greatest Early Renaissance painter of northern Italy. As an authority on antiquity, and mixing as he did with princes, he regarded each new commission as a new artistic challenge. Whatever he painted…the result was always something entirely and unmistakably his own. That conscious, erudite communion with the past in order to achieve new creations is one of the most remarkable aspects of his career…." 

 "The innovative nature of the work is immediately apparent from the technique employed. It is not on panel, but canvas, and the medium used was not egg or oil, but glue. Mantegna painted directly on to the canvas, with no intermediate ground. …   So even with the technique Mantegna was proclaiming his originality. He wanted to be different, exceptional, although that desire should not be associated with romantic notions of artistry. Mantegna broke with accepted craft practice because he served patrons who sought exceptional artists partly in order to enhance their social status…." 

 "Renaissance artists who wanted to display their exceptional qualities often did so by a radical individualization of stereotypes, in this case the Virgin. She does not follow the fixed type, nor does she present her Child in accordance with the rules developed in Byzantine art. There was a programme for the Virgin cheek to cheek with the Child, the so-called eleousa Madonna, but Mantegna leaves it so far behind that it becomes almost irrelevant. The spatial conception gives both figures a new presence. The rectangular format is turned into a window at which Mary displays her baby, but without making a point of presenting it to the viewer. Her relationship with Jesus brings them very close to us. The Mother of God is an ordinary girl who has no need of a halo to idealise her. She gazes pensively ahead, caressing her sleeping Child…." 

 "With his Virgin and Child, Mantegna brought the veneration of the famous Padua Madonna into the home. By an artifice he removes the costly cloth, revealing Mary displaying her sleeping baby wrapped in swaddling bands. Art exposes Salvation. The essential feature is still the proximity of the sacred, but the ingenuity of the artist has taken on a different dimension. From craftsmanlike fabricator he has manifestly become a creator."



###


###

* See, for example, Tom Nichols, Giorgione's Ambiguity. London, 2020.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Review: Leo Steinberg on Renaissance Nudity

Leo Steinberg:The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion.


In his controversial and ground-breaking 1983 study, famed art historian Leo Steinberg explored the theological basis for the use of nudity in depictions of the infant Jesus, as well as the crucified Savior. In all honesty I must acknowledge that Steinberg never stated that his arguments could extend to the Virgin Mary. Neither did he ever see the nude Woman of Giorgione's Tempest as the Madonna.  Nevertheless, in my paper on the Tempest I argued that the nude Woman nursing her child is the Madonna, and I fail to see how the following passages from Steinberg's study cannot apply to Giorgione's Woman. 

Michelangelo: Risen Christ
S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

My third consideration concerns Christ in the character of Redeemer. His manhood differs from that of all humankind in one crucial respect, which once again involves the pudenda: he was without sin—not only without sins committed, but exempt from the genetically transmitted stain of Original Sin. Therefore, applied to Christ’s body, the word “pudenda”…is a misnomer…For the word derives from the Latin pudere, to feel or cause shame. But shame entered the world as the wages of sin. Before their transgression, Adam and Eve, though naked, were unembarrassed; and were abashed in consequence of their lapse. But is it not the whole merit of Christ, the New Adam, to have regained for man his prelapsarian condition? How then could he who restores human nature to sinlessness be shamed by the sexual factor in his humanity? And is not this reason enough to render Christ’s sexual member, even like the stigmata, an object of ostentatio? [p. 17] We are faced with the evidence that serious Renaissance artists obeyed imperatives deeper than modesty—as Michelangelo did in 1514, when he undertook a commission to carve a Risen Christ for a Roman church. The utter nakedness of the statue, complete in all parts of a man, was thought by many to be reprehensible. ... But the intended nudity of Michelangelo’s figure was neither a licentious conceit, nor a thoughtless truckling to antique precedent. If Michelangelo denuded his Risen Christ, he must have sensed a rightness in his decision more compelling that inhibitions of modesty; must have seen that a loincloth would convict these genitalia of being “pudenda,” thereby denying the very work of redemption which promised to free human nature from its Adamic contagion of shame... 
We must… credit Michelangelo with the knowledge that Christian teaching makes bodily shame no part of man’s pristine nature, but attributes it to the corruption brought on by sin. [p. 18] 

The candor of Michelangelo’s naked Redeemer consummates a development traceable through two and a half centuries of devotional art. I reproduce a sampling of representative instances. But I should feel defeated were these works taken as illustrations of texts, or as theological arguments. On the contrary: the pictures set forth what perhaps had never been uttered. They are themselves primary texts... [p. 23]

 The pictures tell us to reverse the priorities. Their chronology demonstrates that the conspicuous display of the privates, instead of resulting incidentally from the Child’s total nudity, is more likely the motive that prompted this nudity. [p. 28]

 No longer was it conceivable that Christianity had once, during the Renaissance interlude, passed through a phase of exceptional daring, when the full implications of Incarnational faith were put forth in icons that recoiled not even from the God-man’s assumption of sexuality. [p. 45] 

And because Renaissance culture not only advanced an incarnational theology... but evolved representational modes adequate to its expression, we may take Renaissance art to be the first and last phase of Christian art that can claim full Christian orthodoxy. Renaissance art… harnessed the theological impulse and developed the requisite stylistic means to attest the utter carnality of God’s humanation in Christ. It became the first Christian art in a thousand years to confront the Incarnation entire, the upper and lower body together, not excluding even the body’s sexual component. [p. 72] 

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Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, NY, 1983.