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".

Monday, October 4, 2010

Giorgione: "Laura"

Could Giorgione's famous "Laura" be Mary Magdalen? Scholars have not been able to agree on the subject of this painting of a partially nude young woman. Most agree that the name is a misnomer and that the painting has nothing to do with Petrarch's lover. I believe that I am not the first to suggest Mary Magdalen but recent catalogs do not even consider the possibility. All do point out the paradoxical iconographic symbols. On the one hand, the dress of a Venetian courtesan and the bared breast, but on the other, symbols of chastity and conjugal love such as the laurel leaves and head scarf.

Only one person fits this description and that is Mary Magdalen. This most famous female saint of the Middle Ages was generally regarded in the Renaissance as a prostitute who after her encounter with Jesus became a true and virtuous bride of Christ. After her conversion she is often portrayed with breasts bared.

Correggio's version of the saint bears a striking similiarity to Giorgione's, "Laura." Her breasts are bared but the rest of her is covered with a sumptuous blue robe, She is easily recognized by her jar of precious oil, a stock symbol that Giorgione characterisically omitted.

See below for comments on the Laura from the 2004 exhibition catalog, Giorgione, Myth and Enigma.

"Her sumptuous fur-lined red garment is, more than an item of male attire, the winter dress of Venetian women of pleasure…However, as noted by Goffen (1997), the thin white veil that partly covers her hair and falls over her breast is a typical accessory of married women….

The paradox that accompanies the interpretation of this painting lies in the fact that laurel is also a symbol of conjugal virtue…

Giorgione’s Laura—regardless of whether she is a learned courtesan or a virtuous wife—is characterized by the extraordinary charge of sensuality and eroticism that makes this image unique in the painting of the early 16th century."

Giorgione, Myth and Enigma: edited by Sylvia Ferino-Pagden and Giovanna Nepi Scire, Vienna, 2004, pp/ 197-8.


  1. Very interesting Frank. Where do you get these amazing reference articles from. Alas, here in Oz, access to such things is limited, or at the very least quite expensive.

    Through reading your research, I am fast accepting that Giorgione was just like other artists of the day, carefully balancing the sacred and profane, though not doing it an as obvious a fashion as Botticelli for example. Unlike Botticelli's works for his well-known patrons, Giorgione's symbolism does not give up as much about his patrons.

    Even in the Tempesta, I cant see anything that deliberately insinuates the Vendramin... do you?


  2. H:

    That's an excellent comment on Giorgione's subdued symbolism.

    I'm not sure I understand your last sentence--"insinuates the Vendramin." Gabriele Vendramin owned the Tempesta but I'm not sure that he was the original patron. I lean toward Vittore Beccaro but no one knows anything about him. In a future post I will publish the Vendramin inventory.

    About the articles. I'm fortunate to live in a town with two small universities and each has a good art history collection. Also, their librarians have ben very helpful in getting me copies of journal articles.

    I have also acquired over the years a good collection of my own.I especially think that exhibition catalogs are a great value for the money. Besides great images, often with great detail images, they usually feature a number of fine research articles. The catalog, Giorgione, Myth and Enigma, of the 2004 exhibition is a real gem.

    I like your contest but I don't understand why you would give away a book which you might use again someday.

    Thanks for checking out my blog. I look at yours every day.


  3. Interesting to know that the Vendramin may not have been the original patrons!

    Unfortunately Giorgione did not leave buzzing bees(Vespucci) or linked rings(Medici) like Botticelli to tell us who the Patron is.... unless perhaps the Grey Heron also has a secular meaning as well?!