Since 2010 I have been using this site to discuss my interpretations of famous Renaissance paintings including 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"; Titian's "Pastoral Concert" as his "Homage to Giorgione", and Michelangelo's"Doni Tondo." The full papers can now be found at

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Giorgione's Apprenticeship at Padua?

In my interpretation of Giorgione’s "Tempest" as the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt", I argued that the city in the background represented Judea from where the Holy Family had fled to escape the massace of the Innocents. However, on another level I also agreed with those scholars who have argued that the city in the background of the painting is Padua. On a metaphorical level the city could represent Padua under siege in 1509 during the war of the League of Cambrai. In my paper, I wrote:

There is a faint emblem of Padua's Carrara family on one of the buildings, and the domed building (which could be Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock) could be Padua's Carmine. There is no agreement on a date for the painting, but in the spring of 1509 the forces of the League of Cambrai inflicted a disastrous defeat on Venice at the battle of Agnadello. As a result the Republic lost all of its possessions on the mainland, which it had worked so hard to acquire over the preceding hundred years. Padua, its crown jewel, fell but then was retaken two months later only to be besieged over the summer by the forces of the enemy. Just as in Giorgione's painting storm clouds were raging over Padua, 25 miles in the distance.

Could Giorgione have had first hand knowledge of Padua? Other than the Tempest there is no document linking him with the city, but during his short career, he could easily have traveled by canal to the city with its famed churches and outstanding university. I would like to speculate, and it is only speculation, that Giorgione might have served his apprenticeship in Padua.

Two years ago when my wife and I were in Venice on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Giorgione’s death, we took a commuter rail trip to Castelfranco Veneto, Giorgione’s hometown. It was a short easy trip of about one hour by modern rail. But how would Giorgione have gotten from Castelfranco to Venice in the late fifteenth century? I would like to propose a journey that as yet is still only a product of an informed imagination.

The Brenta

Perhaps escorted by some family member, he walked the 14 kilometers to nearby Cittadella, and then boarded a barge downriver on the Brenta. Travel along inland waterways was common. On the way he would have passed the large Contarini estate at Piazzola sul Brenta. The Contarinis were one of the great patrician merchant families in Venice and although the magnificent villa that still exists today was only constructed in 1546, they had taken possession of the huge estate almost a hundred years before. We know that Taddeo Contarini, one of the scions of the family, owned Giorgione’s “Three Philosophers” as well as a lost painting that has been known as the “Discovery of Paris”.

Giorgione: Three Philosophers

A few kilometers downriver Padua would certainly be a likely spot to disembark. The city’s relation to Venice was similar to the relationship of Oxford and Cambridge to London. It has been said that although Venice conquered Padua, Padua and its famed university had conquered Venice. There was no university in Venice but patrician families ordinarily sent their young scholars to Padua to study. I’m not saying that Giorgione studied at the university but I am saying that he was just as likely to apprentice in Padua as in Venice.

Why go to the “Big Apple” of Venice when there was plenty of opportunity for a young man to apprentice in Padua? In mid-century the artist  Squarcione had established his school in Padua. Andrea Mantegna was his most famous pupil and even Giovanni Bellini was influenced by the Paduan style. Padua was also the home of Giotto's work in the famed Scrovegni chapel, a veritable school for many of the great artists of the Renaissance.

Scholars have often assumed that Giorgione apprenticed in the Bellini workshop but in his biography of Giovanni Bellini, Vasari only reported as hearsay that Giorgione served an apprenticeship under Giovanni. In the  biography of Giorgione Vasari only said that the young painter from Castelfranco quickly surpassed the dry and arid style of Giovanni Bellini and his brother, Gentile.

Padua could lay claim to being the home of Venetian humanism but it was also a major artistic center. Below find a list of works seen in Padua by Marcantonio Michiel in the early part of the sixteenth century.*

In the Church called “Chiesa del Santo.”

In the “Chiesa del Santo,” above the main altar, the four bronze figures in high relief surrounding Our Lady, and Our Lady herself, are by Donatello,…(3)

The design for the six figures of saints in the Sacristy were prepared by Francesco Squarcione, though the actual work was executed by the Canozzi….the many pictures executed for this church by that talented Paduan artist (5 note)
The Coronation of Our Lady, a fresco on the first pillar at the left, on entering the church and above the altar of Our Lady, is by Fra Filippo. (7. n.1) (1434) 
 “the altarpiece is by Giacomo Bellini and Giovanni and Gentile, his sons, as shown by the signatures.” (7)

Above the portal of the church the picture representing St. Francis and St. Bernardino kneeling and upholding the monogram of Jesus is by Mantegna, as shown by his signature. [12. n. 3. Early work 1452]

In the School of the Third Order in the churchyard of the Basilica “del Santo—,” Montagna, and Titian painted there… (13)
Note 1. The first floor of this building is decorated with sixteen frescoes, representing the life and miracles of St. Anthony by Montagna, Titian, and Campagnola.

Church of San Francesco

The main altarpiece was made byBartolommeo and Antonio (Vivarini) of Murano, brothers, in 1451, and it contains in the center niche St. Francis;… (16)

In the House of Messer Pietro Bembo.

The small picture on two panels representing on the one side St. John the Baptist dressed, seated, with a lamb, in a landscape; and on the other side, Our Lady with the Child, also in a landscape, was painted by John Memlinc, probably about the year 1470. (21)
Note 2. In the Royal Gallery of Munich, there is a small panel representing St. John, seated, with the lamb, in a landscape, which is ascribed to Memlinc…

The picture, on canvas, representing St. Sebastian, over life size, fastened to a column and shot at with arrows, is by Mantegna. (24)

The two miniatures, on vellum, are by Giulio Campagnola: one represents a woman, nude, lying down with her back turned, and is from a picture by Giorgione:…

*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.