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, June 12, 2011

Giorgione and Titian

Titian: "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt," Longleat, Marquesse of Bath collection, oil on wood, 46.3 x 61.5 cm, c. 1510.

This version of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt received much notoriety a few years ago when it was stolen from the home of the Marquess of Bath in Wilshire. It was recovered in 2002 after a seven year search. At that time the painting was valued at 5 million pounds.

Lately I have been posting about various versions of the “Rest” by both Flemish and Italian artists to support my interpretation of Giorgione’s “Tempest” as a “Rest on the Flight into Egypt.” Perhaps no version comes closer in time and location than this one usually given to the young Titian.

However, in “Giorgione, Catalog Raisonne” (Petersberg, 2007) Wolfgang Eller attributed the painting to Giorgione. I find it difficult to agree with and sometimes even follow Eller’s overly complex interpretations, but no one looks at a painting better than him or explores painterly technique better in matters of attribution.

In catalog entry # 27 Eller wrote,

“Due to its high quality, especially of the figures and a number of stylistic characteristics and also when compared to other secured works by Giorgione, this painting is attributable to him.”

Eller argued that the “composition of the picture, the execution, and the expression of the figures” pointed to Giorgione. The treatment of the landscape also pointed to Giorgione.

“Titian’s landscapes look like a striped background decoration added on to the scenario…The feeling of space and the merging of the figures into the landscape as experienced in Giorgione’s works is missing with Titian.”

Eller also argued that a comparison with other Giorgione works supports his view. For example, the seated position and the expression of the Madonna can be seen in other Giorgione women including the one in the “Tempest.” “A Madonna of such figural and facial style and detail does not appear in Titian’s early works.”

The figures of St. Joseph and the infant also appear closer to Giorgione’s work. Even the trees bear witness to Giorgione. “The tree looks like the trees Giorgione painted in the “Tempesta”, the “Sunset/Tramonto”, and in the Allendale “Adoration of the Shepherds”…

Finally, Eller concluded by expressing his surprise that the painting is still given to Titian. “In the exhibition in Venice in 1990, the painting was hung in such a manner that the differences to Titian’s painterly technique were easy to recognize.”

I must confess that questions of attribution are somewhat beyond me. I am usually content to defer to the experts. If this painting is by Giorgione, it certainly establishes his familiarity with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Even if it is by the young Titian, it demonstrates the popularity of the subject in Venice during the years when both he and Giorgione were establishing themselves as Venetian masters.

Actually, Vasari indicated that Titian painted more than one version of the Rest. Here are two excerpts from his life of Titian.

At the time he first began to paint like Giorgione, when he was no more than eighteen, Titian did the portrait of a friend of his, a gentleman of the Barberigo family…Meanwhile, after Giorgione himself had executed the principal fa├žade of the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi, through Barbarigo Titian was commissioned to paint some scenes for the same building, above the Merceria. After this he painted a large picture with life-size figures which is now in the hall of Andrea Loredano, who lives near San Marcuola. This picture shows Our Lady on the journey to Egypt in the middle of a great forest, and it contains several landscapes. These were beautifully executed because Titian had studied this kind of painting for many months, when he gave hospitality for that purpose to some German painters who specialized in depicting verdant scenes and landscapes. In the woods he painted a number of animals, drawn form life, which are truly convincing and realistic. Pp. 444-5.

In the house of the lawyer Francesco Sonica, a crony of Titian’s, there is a portrait by Titian of Francesco himself, along with a large picture of Our Lady on the journey into Egypt. The Blessed Virgin has dismounted from the ass and is seated on a rock by the wayside; near at hand is St. Joseph and the little St. John, who is offering the Infant Christ some flowers gathered by an angel from the branches of a tree, which is in a wood full of animals; and in the distance the ass is grazing. All this forms a most graceful picture, which has been placed by the gentleman I mentioned in the palace he has built near Santa Justina in Padua. P. 460.

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, Volume I, a selection. Translated by George Bull, Penguin Books, London, 1987.


  1. Interesting post Frank. I really must track down this Eller volume at some time, simply to appraise how he approaches attributions. From your description of it, he seems to use a lot of the terms favoured by the connoisseurs of old, such as "quality".

    This is not a reproducible objective technique, and very much falls into the same type of attributions made on intuition and feeling. I wont press you for the technical details because I know you are more interested in themes than microscopic analysis of wood panels(!), but thank you for clarifying Eller's attribution - which we must add none of the scholars who have poured over Titian's catalogue and documentary sources have attributed to Giorgione in this case - at most there is perhaps a case of dual authorship, a common fallback position when dealing with this period in Titian and Giorgione's careers.

    A consensus of one, based on intuition as opposed to several modes of evidence, is really not much to stand on.

    Kind Regards

  2. Forgive me if I gave the impression that Eller relied on intuition. His attribution analyses are usually based on close observation of stylistic details, and comparison with other paintings.

    I think you would enjoy his catalog. Thanks for the comment.