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, July 23, 2011

Giorgione: Paintings and Patricians

In 1800 Abate Don Jacopo Morelli discovered a series of notes among a manuscript collection in Venice’s Marciana library. Made by an anonymous writer in the early part of the 16th century, the notes concerned “pictures and other treasures contained in various houses, and monuments and works of art in churches, schools and other ecclesiastical buildings in the cities which the writer had visited.”

Abate Morelli published the notes in 1800 under the title, “The Anonimo, Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy.” Morelli used “Anonimo” because he could not be sure of the author. Today, scholars believe that the notes were the work of Marcantonio Michiel, himself a Venetian patrician and collector.

The cities visited by Michiel were Padua, Cremona, Milan, Pavia, Bergamo, Crema, and Venice. In Venice the notes recorded visits to fourteen homes of Venetian patricians as well as visits to the church and school of the “Carita” which is now the site of the famed Accademia. The publication of the Notes provided a look into the collections of some of the greatest families in Renaissance Venice but also shed much light on the artists, especially Giorgione. For example, the notes provided the first mention of the “little landscape on canvas,” now called the “Tempest” but still in 1800 hidden in a private collection.

Altogether Michiel mentioned 18 works in the homes of seven Venetian collectors that were either by Giorgione, possibly by Giorgione, or copies by others based on Giorgione. Here is a list in chronological order. I have used the 1903 English translation edited by George C. Williamson and included some of the editors notes.***

In the House of Messer Taddeo Contarini. 1525.

[1] "The canvas picture in oil, representing three Philosophers in a landscape, two of them standing up and the other one seated, and looking up at the light, with the rock so wonderfully imitated, was commenced by Giorgio di Castelfranco and finished by Sebastiano Veneziano." (p.102)

This brief description of the “Three Philosophers” now in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is characteristic of Michiel. He does not name paintings but provides a description and an attribution whenever he can.

[2] "The large oil picture on canvas, representing Hell with Aeneas and Anchises, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (p.103)

This painting has been lost although scholars today still speculate about its subject. The Italian for Hell is l’inferno but when Aeneas meets his father in Hell the setting is more a peaceful glade than a fiery inferno.

[3] "The picture, representing Christ carrying the Cross on his shoulders, is by Giovanni Bellini."

In a footnote, the editor of the English edition wrote: “This picture may be the one representing the same subject, which was in the house of Countess Loschi dal Verme at Vicenza, but now belongs to Mrs. Gardner of Boston, and is generally attributed to Giorgione.” (103) Today, the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum claims that this painting is by a follower of Giovanni Bellini. They also mention that it was Mrs. Gardner’s favorite painting.

[4] "The picture on canvas, representing the birth of Paris, in a landscape, with two shepherds standing, was painted by Giorgio di Castelfranco, and is one of his early works." 104.

This painting has also been lost but copies exist from the 17th century as the editor noted.

Note 1. “A copy of a fragment of this picture, containing only the two shepherds, who are looking at something which is missing, is to be seen in the Royal Gallery of Buda-Pesth…The value of this fragment is proved by an engraving of Th. Van Kessel recently discovered in Vienna, which represents the whole of the picture, such as it was in the year 1660, when it formed part of the collection of the Archduke Leopold William in Brussels. The picture is thus described in the old manuscript catalogue of the time: “A landscape on canvas, in oil, where there are on the one side two shepherds standing; on the ground a child in swaddling-clothes, and on the other side, a half nude woman and an old man, seated, with a flute. It is seven spans and one inch and a half wide, and nine spans and seven inches and a half long.”

In my paper on the Tempest I have shown that Michiel’s brief identification of this painting was incorrect. The subject of the painting is a “sacred” one: “The Encounter of the Holy Family with Robbers on the Flight into Egypt.”

In the House of Messer Jeronimo Marcello, at San Tomado. 1525.

[5] "The portrait, in half-length, of the same Messer Jeronimo armed, back view, with his head turned, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (105)

Note 2. It is not known what has become of this picture. Despite the editor's note, some think it might be the image to the left now in Vienna.

[6] "The canvas, representing Venus, nude, sleeping in a landscape with Cupid, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco; but the landscape and the Cupid were finished by Titian." (105)

“Note 3. Ridolfi in 1646, saw it in Marcello’s house, and described it in his book as a work of Giorgione: ‘In Marcello’s house there is a lovely nude Venus sleeping, with Cupid at her feet holding a bird in his hand, which (cupid) was finished by Titian.’ The Venus is now alone in the landscape, for the Cupid was so badly damaged that it had to be effaced.”

[7] "The half-length picture of St. Jerome, reading, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (106)
A missing "sacred subject."

In the House of Messer Giovanantonio Venier. 1528.

[8] "The half-length of the soldier, armed, but without his helmet, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (114)

In the House of Messer Giovanni Ram at S. Stefano. (1531)

[9] "The head of the young shepherd holding a fruit in his hand was painted by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (121)

[10] "The head of the boy holding an arrow in his hand is by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (121)

Note. 2. This last picture has already been mentioned amongst the objects of art in the house of Messer Antonio Pasqualino.

In the House of Messer Gabrieli Vendramino. 1530

11] "The little landscape on canvas, representing stormy weather and a gipsy woman with a soldier, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco." (123)

This is the painting that everyone now calls the “Tempest.” Practically all scholars agree that Michel was wrong in calling the two primary figures “a gipsy woman with a soldier.”

Although Michiel saw the painting in the home of Gabriele Vendramin, we cannot be sure that Vendramin originally commissioned the painting. Michiel’s notes indicate that Venetian patricians bought and sold and traded just as collectors do today. It was also common for estates to be broken up and sold on the death of the owner.

[12]"the dead Christ in the Sepulchre, with the Angel supporting Him, is by Giorgio di Castelfranco, but was repainted by Titian." (123)

Note. 3. This picture must be considered lost.

In the House of Messer Antonio Pasqualino, January 15, 1532

[13] "The head of a young man holding an arrow in his hand is by Giorgio da Castelfranco, and was obtained from Messer Giovanni Ram, who possesses a copy of it, which he believes to be the original." (93)

[14] "The head of St. John with the staff is either by Giorgio da Castelfranco, or by a pupil of his, from the Christ of San Rocco." (93)

In the House of Messer Andrea di Odoni, 1532

[15] "In the portico…The St. Jerome, naked, sitting in the desert by moonlight, was painted by…, from a picture on canvas of Giorgio di Castelfranco." (101) Perhaps a copy of the lost Jerome.

In the House of Messer Michel Contarini at the Misericordia August, 1543.

[16,17] "the pen-and –ink drawing representing a nude figure in a landscape is by Giorgio, and it is the same nude figure which I have in colours by the same Giorgio." (128)

In this instance Michiel does not indicate if the Giorgio is the one from Castelfranco.

In the House of Messer Piero Servio. 1575.

[18] "A portrait of his father by Giorgio di Castelfranco." It is difficult to know what to make of this note since it was added long after Michiel’s death.

Addendum: In his notes of the large collection of Pietro Bembo in Padua, Michiel mentions a miniature by Giulio Campagnola of "a woman, nude, lying down with her back turned, and is from a picture by Giorgione."

There is little biographical information in Michiel’s notes. Giorgio was from Castelfranco, a walled town west of Treviso that was about a 40 kilometer river voyage down the Brenta through Padua to Venice. Some of his works were completed by others or were copied by others. Only when he mentions the “birth of Paris,” does Michiel indicate that it was done early in Giorgione’s career. Still, his descriptions and attributions are one of the bases on which Giorgione scholarship must rest.

***"The Anonimo: Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy Made by an Anonymous Writer in the Sixteenth Century," translated by Paolo Mussi, edited by George C. Williamson, London, 1903. Facsimile copy by Kessinger Publishing.

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