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

Friday, January 9, 2015

Giorgione, Titian, and the Venetian Renaissance

Since 2005 I have made what I consider to be four “major” discoveries in the field of the Venetian Renaissance. I list them below along with some “minor” discoveries that have flowed from my initial intuition that Giorgione’s Tempest has a “sacred" subject. Essays on the major discoveries can be found on my site, MyGiorgione.

Major Discoveries: (click on images to enlarge)

Giorgione: The Tempest. In this paper the subject of the Tempest is identified as The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The nude woman nursing an infant is the Madonna. The man is St. Joseph with his staff. The broken columns are commonplace in depictions of the “Rest.” The city in the background is Judea from where the Holy Family has fled but could also represent Padua during the war of the League of Cambrai. The scraggly plant in the foreground is “belladonna” a plant associated with witchcraft and the Devil. The source of the lone bird on the distant rooftop is found in the Psalms. The paper included a new interpretation of a “lost” Giorgione heretofore mistakenly called The Discovery of Paris.

Giorgione: Three Ages of Man. In this essay the subject of this painting of three half-length figures that now hangs in the Pitti Palace is identified as the Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man. The subject derives from an episode in the Gospel of Matthew. The young man in the center, whose clothing indicates his wealth, has just asked how he can achieve eternal life. On the right, Jesus dressed in a green vestment points to the commandments that he has directed the man to follow. On the left dressed in martyr’s red, Peter acts as an interlocutor and invites the viewer to enter the scene.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love.  In this paper the subject of Titian’s magnificent painting in Rome’s Borghese Gallery is identified as The Conversion of Mary Magdalen. The finely dressed Woman is Mary Magdalen in the guise of a Venetian courtesan. The nude Woman is the converted Magdalen in the process of throwing off her worldly finery. The antique relief on the sarcophagus-like fountain, which so far has eluded explanation, can now be seen to depict great sinners: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and St. Paul falling from his horse.

Titian: Pastoral Concert. This paper identifies the subject of this famous painting that now hangs in the Louvre as Titian’s Homage to the Recently Deceased Giorgione.  The well-dressed young man in the painting is the recently deceased Giorgione and the young man in rustic attire is Titian himself. The two nude women are both Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry. At least four signs in the painting indicate that the Giorgione has died. All the Giorgionesque elements in the painting are signs of Titian’s homage to his deceased friend and mentor.

“Giorgione’s La Tempesta” was first presented at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Venice in April 2010. It was subsequently presented at the annual meeting of the South-Central Renaissance conference in St. Louis in March 2011. My paper on Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love was presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the South-Central Renaissance conference held in New Orleans.

For want of a better word I call the following minor discoveries.

Giorgione: The Discovery of Paris. As mentioned above a re-interpretation of a lost Giorgione usually called The Discovery of Paris is part of my paper on the Tempest. I identify the subject of the painting as The Encounter with Robbers on the Flight into Egypt. This essay can also be found at MyGiorgione.

Giorgione: Judith. Scholars have long puzzled over Giorgione’s depiction of the bare leg of the legendary Jewish heroine in this painting now in the Hermitage. In my essay, that can also be found at MyGiorgione, I argue that the reason for the bare leg can be found in the biblical narrative itself. An essay on the Judith can be found at MyGiorgione.

Palma Vecchio:Allegory

Palma Vecchio: Allegory. Scholars have noted the similarity of this painting of four figures in a landscape to Giorgione’s Tempest. The painting is attributed to Palma Vecchio or a follower by the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it is now in storage. The Museum calls it Allegory but it is actually a version of the legendary encounter of the Holy Family with the young John the Baptist on the return from Egypt. See blog post at Giorgione et al… for a discussion of this and the following painting.

Rustic Idyll

Follower of Giorgione: Rustic Idyll. Scholars have also noted the similarity of this painting to the Tempest. It was called  Rustic Idyll by Edgar Wind and is now on loan to the Fogg Art Museum. In my opinion it is also a version of “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.”

Discussions of the following paintings can be found using the search bar or labels at my blog, Giorgione et al…

ParisBordone: Mystic Marriage of S. Catherine

Paris Bordone: Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine. In two versions of the mystic marriage of St. Catherine Paris Bordone portrayed a young virile St. Joseph. The first painting is in a private collection but was a standout in the 2006 Bellini, Giorgione, Titian exhibition jointly sponsored by Washington’s National Gallery and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. So far, no one has come up with a plausible explanation for the prominently featured bare leg of St. Joseph. In my interpretation that can be found at Giorgione et al… both Joseph’s bare leg and Catherine’s exposed thigh are derived from the ritual associated with a marriage by proxy. The second version is in the Hermitage.

Giorgione: Three Philosophers. I agree with those who see the three men in this painting as the three Magi or wise men at the moment when they first behold the star. However, I believe that I am the first to argue that the color of their garments represents their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Giorgione: Boy with an Arrow. I also agree with those who see this soulful bust of a young man holding an arrow as the popular martyr, St. Sebastian. His pose bears a striking resemblance to Raphael’s unmistakable depiction of the saint. I added my own two cents to the debate by pointing out that the young man’s garment is red, the color of martyrdom.

Giorgione: Laura. I don’t think that I am the first to identify this young woman as Mary Magdalen but at Giorgione et al… I bring together the reasons why students should consider this woman as the very popular sinner turned saint. The Three Philosophers, the Boy with an Arrow, and the Laura are in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Titian: Courtesan

Titian: Flora. Like Giorgione’s Laura, I also believe that Titian’s Flora is one of his many renditions of Mary Magdalen. In the same way, I also argue that Titian’s Courtesan in the Norton Simon collection is also Mary Magdalen. The latter certainly bears a resemblance to Giorgione’s young woman with breast partially exposed.

Giorgione: Adoration of the Shepherds. In all the controversy concerning this painting, usually called the Allendale Adoration of the Shepherds, the real meaning of the painting has been overlooked. Just as in the famed Portinari Altarpiece, Giorgione has depicted the first Mass, with the infant Christ lying on a white cloth just as the Eucharist lies on a white cloth or corporale laid on the altar during Mass.

Titian: Madonna of the Rabbit. Despite its common title this painting is a version of the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine. The Madonna hands her infant son to Catherine in the same way that a priest would hand the host to a communicant. In an essay at Giorgione et al… I have argued that the white rabbit featured so prominently in the center is also a symbol of the Eucharist. Moreover, I disagree with most scholars and believe that the man at the right with a flock is actually St. Joseph.

Lotto: Mystic Marriage of S. Catherine

Lorenzo Lotto: Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine. This version of the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. We see the Madonna holding her infant son who places his hand on the book Catherine is holding. Catherine looks away from the child to a kneeling man with a long staff with a spear point at its end. Scholars guess that the man is either St. Thomas or St. James but there is no reason for either to be in Catherine’s dream. I have identified the man as St. Joseph, the man most commonly found in versions of the mystic marriage.

Giorgione: Homage to a Poet
Giorgione: Saturn Exiled or Homage to a Poet. London’s National Gallery attributes this painting to Giorgione and calls it Homage to a Poet. A leading Giorgione scholar has recently interpreted it as Saturn Exiled. In my interpretation the seated figure dressed in regal attire but with a forlorn look on his face could only be the Jesus as The Man of Sorrows, one of the most popular images of the Renaissance.

Titian: Presentation of the Virgin
Titian: Presentation of the Virgin. Scholars have not been able to identify the old woman seated so prominently in the foreground of this famous painting in the Accademia in Venice. I have identified her as the prophetess Anna mentioned in the biblical account of the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple.

Raohael: Vision of Ezekiel

Raphael: Vision of Ezekiel. Scholars attribute this painting to Raphael or a follower and from Vasari’s time on the subject has been mis-identified. I have identified the subject as The Vision of St. John on the Isle of Patmos taken from the Book of Revelation.

Giorgione: Castelfranco Altarpiece. In this famous painting that is located in the Cathedral in Giorgione’s hometown of Castelfranco, I believe that Giorgione placed the Madonna and her Child on the heavenly altar referred to in the Mass of the Roman rite. In addition, I wonder about the position of the viewer of this masterpiece.


Note: For personal reasons I will not be putting up posts in the next two months. I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year.

Dr. Francis P. DeStefano