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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Giorgione and Titian: Renaissance Mysteries

 This month marks the fifth anniversary of Giorgione et al... I created the blog at the suggestion of the late Hasan Niyazi, an Australian, whose blog, Three Pipe Problem, was becoming one of the most popular art history sites on the web. Hasan argued that "blogspot" would reach a much wider audience than a website of my own. He was correct and so far Giorgione et al... has attracted over 200000 page views. It is difficult to assess how many of these views represent real interest but it is heartening to see that the site has attracted readers from all over the world.

I originally interpreted the subject of Giorgione's Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" five years earlier back in 2005. In my naivete I sent copies of my interpretation to various institutions, journals, and most of the leading scholars in the field. Only a handful chose to even acknowledge receipt and of those only one offered any criticism. Miraculously, in May of 2006 the Masterpiece column of the Wall Street Journal published a short version of the Tempest interpretation but that was it until 2010.

In that year my paper was accepted by the Renaissance Society of America for its annual conference to be held in Venice in 2010, the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Giorgione. The conference was a large one and there were many panels devoted to Italian Renaissance art, especially the art of the Venetian Renaissance. My paper was included in one of the many panels lumped under the generic title, "Italian Art." 

I'd like to say it was a great success but it wasn't. Although most of the leading scholars on the Venetian Renaissance were at the conference, none attended my panel, which also included a presentation by two engineers from Turin on sixteenth century drawings of machines. There were only about 15 people present to hear my revolutionary interpretation. They listened politely and asked a couple of questions. Even the moderator of the panel seemed more interested in the machines.

Fortunately, after the conference in Venice, my wife and I traveled to Rome where we had to extend our stay when the eruption of a volcano in Iceland shut down air travel to and from Italy. As a result, we were able to visit the Borghese Gallery where one look at Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love" convinced me that the women were Mary Magdalen.

On our return to the USA I decided to use the web as a means to get my discoveries out there. I created MyGiorgione for the actual papers and then, thanks to Hasan, Giorgione et al... Today, I reproduce the first post on Giorgione et al...


 Below is an abstract of a paper delivered in April, 2010 at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Venice. Subsequently, the paper was also delivered at the 2011 annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance Conference in St. Louis. The paper itself can be found on my website, MyGiorgione by using the link on the right.

Giorgione: The Tempest

Abstract:This paper identifies the subject of Giorgione’s "Tempest" as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt." This interpretation is the only one that identifies all the major elements in the painting. The nude woman nursing an infant is the Madonna. The man standing at the left functioning as an “interlocutor” is St. Joseph with his staff. The broken columns featured so prominently are commonplace in depictions of the rest on the Flight into Egypt. The city in the background is Judea from where the Holy Family has fled but could also be equated with Padua during the Cambrai war. The scraggly plant in the foreground is identified as a “belladonna” a plant associated with witchcraft and the Devil. No other interpretation of this painting has even attempted to identify the plant.

The great difficulties of this interpretation, the “nude Madonna” and the “young” Joseph are dealt with in the paper. The nude Madonna is Giorgione’s idiosyncratic way of depicting the concept of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, a doctrine of great importance at this time, especially in Venice. If the association with the War of Cambrai is correct, this interpretation dates the painting in 1509, a year before Giorgione’s death.

The paper also does discuss the relevance to the “Tempest” of a heretofore misidentified copy by David Teniers of a “lost” Giorgione. This painting is usually identified as “The “Discovery of Paris,” but it is actually Giorgione’s depiction of an apocryphal episode on the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt which I call "The Encounter with the Robbers on the Flight into Egypt."

David Teniers; Copy of a lost Giorgione

My research on the "Tempest" has led to a number of other discoveries. For example:

1. The Giorgione painting in the Pitti Palace sometimes called the "Three Ages of Man" can now be identified as "The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man." See the  essay on MyGiorgione.

Giorgione: Three Ages of Man

2. A painting attributed to Palma Vecchio that is now in storage in the Philadelphia Museum bears a marked resemblance to the "Tempest," but it has usually been identified simply as "Allegory." This painting is now identified as "the Encounter of the Holy Family with the Infant John the Baptist on the Return from Egypt. See blog post dated November 21, 2010.

Palma Vecchio: Allegory
3. Titian's famous painting the "Sacred and Profane Love" is now identified as "The Conversion of Mary Magdalen." This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance Conference held in 2012 in New Orleans. See the full paper at My Giorgione.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love

4. The "Pastoral Concert" that now hangs in the Louvre has been variously attributed to Giorgione and Titian. Not only do I agree with those who attribute it to Titian but I also believe that it is Titian's "Homage to the Recently Deceased Giorgione." All the Giorgionesque elements in the painting were Titian's way of honoring his deceased friend. For the full paper see MyGiorgione. 

Titian: Pastoral Concert

Dr. Francis P. DeStefano holds a PhD in History from Fordham University but he is not associated with any educational institution. Although early in his career he taught History at a university in Fairfield, CT, he left teaching to build a financial planning practice. He retired in 2008 and now devotes himself to writing and lecturing on History, especially Art History.

Dr. DeStefano currently resides in Fairfield, Ct. His email address is

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Michelangelo Doni Tondo: A Further Note on the Nudes

Michelangelo: Doni Tondo

In three previous posts on Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo I have argued that in the foreground the Madonna elevates her child in the same manner as the priest elevates the Host at the Consecration of the Mass. Joseph, who represents the Church, participates in the Eucharistic sacrifice by genuflecting or kneeling at the moment when Renaissance Christians believed the Host was changed into the Body of Christ. The young John the Baptist is there, not so much as a symbol of Baptism, but as the one who announced the mission of Jesus years later on the banks of the Jordan, where he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” In the background, I suggested that the five nude young men were the Nephilim or Giants whose sins were believed to have been the cause of the Flood at the time of Noah.

The biblical account only mentions these, but Christian and Jewish legends both claimed that the Nephilim were the offspring of angels and wicked women descended from Cain. Indeed, the Jewish legends seemed to contain more detail than the Christian and I speculated that, given the interest in Hebrew language and lore in Renaissance Florence, Michelangelo might have been aware of the Jewish legends.

Since that post I have found some very relevant information in David Whitford’s study, The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era, published by Ashgate in 2009. In his analysis of the impact of the story of the drunkenness of Noah, and Noah’s subsequent curse of his son Ham, Whitford devoted a chapter to the Giants or Nephilim whose sins were thought to have been the cause of the Flood.

In particular, Whitford discussed the Commentaria of Annius of Viterbo, a Dominican friar. Here is the Wikipedia notice on Annius.

He is best known for his Antiquitatum Variarum, originally titled the Commentaria super opera diversorum auctorum de antiquitatibus loquentium (Commentaries on the Works of Various Authors Discussing Antiquity) and often known as the Antiquities of Annius. In this work, he published alleged writings and fragments of several pre-Christian Greek and Latin profane authors, destined to throw an entirely new light on ancient history.

Alleged is a nice way of saying that the Antiquitatum Variarum or Commentaria was an outright forgery. Nevertheless, even though contemporary humanists suspected a forgery, the Commentaria, originally published in 1498, became very popular in its time. Annius claimed linguistic knowledge that he did not possess, and even planned a fake archaeological discovery. The book was reprinted in 1515 with only minor corrections.

Here is Whitford’s account of Annius on the Nephilim.

Book One begins by stating that before the “famous catastrophe of the waters, by which the entire world perished, many ages passed.” In these ages, giants ruled the world from their great city, Enos. The giants were corrupt and prone to tyranny, lechery, and debauchery. They devoted themselves to sexual immorality such that, “they had intercourse with their mothers, their daughters, their sisters, with other men and with wild beasts.” They also despised religion and the gods. Despite warnings and prophecies that the world would be destroyed because of this wickedness, the giants continued their impiety. Only one giant, who was more “reverential to the gods and wiser than the rest,” paid any attention to the prophecies; because of this he survived. His name was Noa “and he had three sons, Samus, Japetus, and Chem.” Noa (or Noah) survived because he could read the stars and foresaw the deluge to come. Thus, beginning 78 years before the Flood, he built an ark. When the floods came, the whole human race was drowned, except for Noa and his family. From this family sprang all the peoples of the earth. (50-51)

Despite the spurious nature of the Commentaria, it would appear that the story of the Nephilim was in the air even before its publication in 1498, and that the Commentaria of Annius only added to its popularity.
Signorelli: Medici Madonna

Scholars have often seen a resemblance between the nudes in Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, and those in Luca Signorelli’s Medici Madonna. In both paintings the postures of the young men remind me of lazy idlers or street-corner troublemakers. Moreover, in the Signorelli painting the four scantily clad young men seem quite oversized and they tower over the horse that seems to occupy the same plane. Maybe I fail to understand the use of perspective but the men do appear to be gigantic. ###