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".

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Giorgione: Christ Carrying the Cross

This famous painting was originally done as an altarpiece for the small chapel of the Cross in the church of San Rocco in Venice. Although the chapel no longer exists the painting can still be seen in the famed Scuola of San Rocco.
Early documents and engravings note the presence of the painting but fail to name the painter. In the first edition of his “Lives” Giorgio Vasari noted that that this seemingly miraculous painting was by Giorgione.

“Giorgione likewise executed a picture of Christ bearing his Cross, while he is himself dragged along by a Jew. This work was subsequently placed in the church of San Rocco, where it is held in the highest veneration by many of the faithful, and even performs miracles, as is frequently seen.”

(Giorgio Vasari, ”Lives of the Most Eminent Painters,” selected, edited, and introduced by Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Volume II, NY, 1967.)

However, in his second edition Vasari’s chapter on Titian gave the painting to Titian even though he noted that many people still believed it was by Giorgione. Vasari complicated things by failing to remove the attribution to Giorgione from his life of that artist. It should be noted that Vasari’s first edition did not have an essay on Titian.

Today, most scholars and catalogs give the “Christ Carrying the Cross” to Giorgione. In addition to documents that hint at Giorgione’s authorship, stylistic grounds seem to favor him over Titian. At the 2010 meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, a well-known scholar gave an extended presentation on the results of years of research in Venetian archives in hope of resolving the question of attribution. She had to admit that the results were inconclusive.

The “Christ Carrying the Cross” appears to have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant, but it was always intended for public and not private devotion. Indeed, its reputed miraculous powers made it one of the most famous paintings in 16th century Venice.

It does not appear that Giorgione painted scenes of the Passion and Death of Christ for his private patrons. It is true that his career was prematurely cut off around the age of 33, but there might have been another reason. In a discussion of Botticelli’s depictions of the Madonna, Alessandra Galizzi Kroegel noted that images of the Madonna and Child with their subtle indications of the Passion and Death were favored.

“ it needs to be pointed out first of all that the Renaissance era saw the spread of practices of individual devotion to be carried out primarily in the home…From the theological perspective attention should then be drawn to the emergence of a new trend that…tended to identify the mystery of the Incarnation with the Redemption itself, focusing on the Passion with much less fervour than in the past: whence the growing popularity of ‘incarnational’ iconographies celebrating the word made flesh, such as pictures of the Infant Jesus in his mother’s arms…while the demand for images with Christ on the Cross, very common in the fourteenth century was drastically reduced.”

Alessandra Galizzi Kroegel, “The Figure of Mary in Botticelli’s Art.” Botticelli: from Lorenzo the Magnificent to Savonarola, 2003. (ex. cat), p. 56.

In my paper on the Tempest I have argued that the painting depicts the Madonna nursing the Infant Savior on the Flight into Egypt. The storm clouds in the background of the Tempest reflect the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod. While the Holy Family has temporarily escaped the danger, we know that the Child will return to endure His Passion and Death.
Below is the last paragraph of my paper.

In the “Tempest” Joseph stands on a plane beneath the Madonna and draws our attention to her. There "clothed with the sun" she sits on a raised earthen throne nursing her innocent Child who is destined to return to Judea and face the same fate as the Holy Innocents slaughtered by King Herod. The Madonna looks out and invites the viewer to enter the picture and follow her Son on His journey.

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