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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hasan Niyazi Correspondence

Hasan Niyazi, the creator of the very popular art history blog "Three Pipe Problem,"passed away at the end of October 2013. He was only in his early thirties. Hasan's family were Turkish Cypriots who migrated to Australia when Hasan was just a boy. I first encountered Hasan in July of 2010 when I came across a blog post he had written about a video analysis of Giorgione's famous and mysterious painting, "The Tempest." The video was by a well known and popular art history personality in England
Hasan Niyazi in Florence

Earlier that year I had presented my paper on the "Tempest" at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America which was held that year in Venice on the 500th anniversary of Giorgione's death.    After reading his post and watching the accompanying video, I felt the video analysis was superficial and off the mark. I commented on Hasan's post and it led to an extensive back and forth. At first, he found it difficult to accept my interpretation of the painting but, characteristically, he was open to it and willing to engage in discussion, especially if the arguments were based on sound evidence and not just feelings.

Eventually, we began to correspond privately. Hasan proved to be a real art history pioneer on the web and his blog would become one of the most popular art history sites online. He was a real believer in the value of the Internet. Here is one of his first emails dated 11/3/2010. As usual, he just signed it "H".

Hi Frank 
I have been working on something that will make it easier for those interested in art and history to find other sites. I myself am disappointed by having to find others sites by image searches and luck. Typing 'Giorgione Tempest' into google doesn't reveal your site straight away because it is based on popularity, not content. 
I have been working on a custom search engine/page/site listing which will be open to anyone to view and search. I would invite you to have a look/try - eg., type 'giorgione tempest' into the search engine on the home page and see your site appear much earlier in the listings than in google, which gets crammed with sites offering posters and reproductions, online galleries etc.

If you like the idea, and want others to be able to find your site by a topic search, please fill in the very simple registration form, which collects no private info. I could have easily done this myself but wanted to give you a chance to have a sneak peek at the site.

I must stress that it isn't directly related to what I am working on with Alexandra but I have a feeling it will come in handy for that in future :)
This is the temporary address of the site - its not publicly listed yet until I change its web address to something easy like
what do you think??
A voluminous correspondence ensued. We did not always see eye to eye and he was not reluctant to criticize, often heatedly. But he was always quick to answer and thorough-going in his responses. He was always a great help in navigating the intricacies of blogging. It is only now, two years after his sudden and tragic death at such an early age, that I have come to realize how much he meant to me. I was more than twice as old as him but it didn't seem to matter that we were of a different generation. His words and comments were an incredible stimulus to a senior citizen inclined to get sloppy or goof off.

More than that, I believe we became good friends. I admired his love of the Renaissance, especially Raphael, and his great energy and enthusiasm. Often, he would respond when I knew it must have been the wee hours of the morning in Australia. I like to think that we learned a lot from each other. We never met in person but he was as good a friend as I have ever had.

One of his last letters to me spoke of his continued admiration for Raphael but now I see that there was also a hint of trouble. Here is an excerpt dated August 28, 2013.

Greetings Frank, 
I hope to find you well. I am doing OK, in case you are curious. I am adjusting to life on my own - but am also meeting with pleasing success with regards to my work, so I am endeavoring to focus on that. Emotionally, things do get a little fraught at times, but contemplating the sublime grace of a Raphael Madonna often has a calming effect. All will be well I sense, I just need to keep working, and allow some time...

He ended his last post at 3PP with words affirming the importance of the Internet fro art history.

The future of art history and the internet is a very exciting prospect. This goes beyond the fact that more art historians and institutions are engaging online, but also expands to include an increased public participation and interest in learning about art and history outside of an institutional and pedagogical content. The web allows quality knowledge, and fascinating images and video to be accessible everywhere, and by everyone—hence the potential for art history online is essentially limitless.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Giorgione: Contemporary Sources

Giorgione is the most mysterious and perhaps the greatest of all Venetian Renaissance artists. Mysterious not only because so little is known about his short life, but also because no other great painter’s work has led to so many questions of attribution and interpretation.
Giorgione: Self Portrait?
Giorgione was a “nickname” and contemporary documents refer to the painter as Zorzo da Castelfranco. Castelfranco is a walled town west of Treviso, about an hour away from Venice via modern commuter rail. We do not know how or when the young Giorgione arrived in Venice. In those days it is likely that he traveled down the Brenta to Padua and then on to Venice by canal. We do know that by the time of his death in 1510 at about the age of 33, he had become the favorite painter of the Venetian aristocracy.

The year of his death is one of the few things we know for sure about Giorgione.  On October 25, 1510 Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, asked Taddeo Albano, her agent in Venice, to acquire a Giorgione painting only to be informed that the young master had just died during a recurrence of the plague. The indefatigable collector was not deterred by the news. She told Albano that she had heard that there might be a beautiful “notte” among the late painter’s possessions, and that Albano should do all he could to get it.

we hear that among the possessions left by Zorzo da Castelfranco, the painter, there is a picture of a Notte, very beautiful and original. If this is the case, we wish to have it, and beg your Lorenzo da Pavia or any other person of taste and judgment to go and see if it is a really excellent thing. If it is, I hope you will endeavor to secure this picture for me,… Find out the price and let us have the exact sum; but if it is really a fine thing, and you think well to clench the bargain for fear others should carry it off, do what you think best…[i]

On November 8 Albano informed the Lady that it was too late.

Most illustrious and honoured Madama mia,--
I have spoken in your interests to some of my friends who were very intimate with him, and they assure me that there is no such picture among his possessions. It is true that the said Zorzo painted a Notte for M. Taddeo Contarini, which, according to the information which I have, is not as perfect as you would desire. Another picture of the Notte was painted by Zorzo for a certain Vittore Beccaro, which, from what I hear, is finer in design and better finished than that of Contarini. But Beccaro is not at present in Venice, and from what I hear neither picture is for sale, because the owners have had them painted for their own pleasure, so that I regret I am unable to satisfy Your Excellency’s wish.

This brief exchange not only tells us the approximate date of Giorgione’s death, but also hints at his status as a painter. Like most Venetian painters of his time Giorgione worked by commission, and his patrons appear to have come from the highest circles of Venetian society. Vittore Beccaro has disappeared from the view of history but Taddeo Contarini was a scion of one of the greatest patrician families. For centuries scholars have disagreed about what Isabella meant by a “Notte” but, whatever it was, it was painted for a leading Venetian citizen and art collector.

Scholars have only found a handful of documents concerning Giorgione in Venetian archives. These documents indicate the works involved and payment details. Most important is the commission to do the exterior fresco work on the newly rebuilt Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the home and commercial center for the German merchants and travelers in Venice. This commission alone indicates Giorgione’s elevated status in the Venetian art world. Only a fragment of his work on the Fondaco remains today.

Giorgione: Fondaco fragment

Recently a scholar working in the Venetian archives discovered an official inventory of Giorgione’s estate. The inventory, done in 1511, revealed that Giorgione left very little behind after his sudden death. Like other victims of the plague he apparently spent his last days in quarantine on the Lazaretto, a small island in the Venetian lagoon. No artworks, drawings, or possessions of much value were found. One would suspect that they were removed by friends or family before the inventory. The inventory also confirmed that Giorgione died without wife or legitimate children. Apparently, his stepmother was putting in the claim for his estate. Finally, the inventory appeared to indicate that Giorgione’s family in Castelfranco was the Gasparini family, and not the Barbarelli, as was long claimed by later generations of that family.[ii]

The above is all the contemporary, first hand information on Giorgione. However, around the year 1800 a collection of notes by an anonymous writer was discovered in Venice’s Marciana library by Abate Don Jacopo Morelli. The notes, made by an anonymous writer in the third and fourth decades of the sixteenth century, 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.”[iii]

Morelli was not sure of the name of the author of the notes, but later scholars identified him as Marcantonio Michiel, himself a Venetian patrician and collector. In addition to Venice, Michiel visited homes and religious institutions in Padua, Cremona, Milan, Pavia, Bergamo, and Crema. 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 Michiel’s notes provided a look into the collections of some of the greatest families in Renaissance Venice and also shed much light on the artists, especially Giorgione. Altogether Michiel mentioned eighteen works in the homes of seven collectors that were either by Giorgione, possibly by Giorgione, started by Giorgione but completed by another, or copies by others based on Giorgione.

However, there is little biographical information about Giorgione in Michiel’s notes. Only when he mentions a “birth of Paris,” does Michiel indicate that it was done early in Giorgione’s career. Still, his attributions and brief descriptions are one of the bases on which Giorgione scholarship must rest.

For example, in 1530, only twenty years after Giorgione’s death, Michiel saw the painting that would later be called the “Tempest” in the home of Gabriele Vendramin. He attributed it to Giorgio di Castelfranco and described it simply as, “ The little landscape on canvas, representing stormy weather and a gipsy woman with a soldier.” (123) Despite Michiel’s typically laconic description, this painting has been regarded ever since by artists, connoisseurs, poets, and novelists as one of the most beautiful and mysterious paintings in the history of Western art.
Giorgione: Tempest
Almost as famous is the “Sleeping Venus”, now in Dresden, a painting that led famed art historian Kenneth Clark to claim that Giorgione was the creator of the Venetian nude. Michiel saw it in the home of Jeronimo Marcello in 1525, and described it as ”representing Venus, nude, sleeping in a landscape with Cupid.” (105) Although he attributed the painting to Giorgione, Michiel claimed that it was completed by Titian. The Cupid is no longer visible.

Giorgione: Sleeping Venus

In the same year Michiel saw three paintings by Giorgione in the home of the above-mentioned Taddeo Contarini. The best known was an oil painting that he described as “three Philosophers in a landscape”. This brief description of the “Three Philosophers”, now in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, is characteristic of Michiel. He did not label paintings but provided a description and an attribution whenever he could. (103)

Giorgione: Three Philosophers

We have practically no other contemporary information about Giorgione. Giorgio Vasari, whose Lives of the Painters is the great source for much of what we know about the Renaissance, was born in 1511, the year after Giorgione’s death. His brief biography of Giorgione was published in the first edition of the Lives in 1558. We will turn to Vasari’s account next.

[i] Isabella’s correspondence with Taddeo Albano can be found in Julia Cartwright, Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539. London, 1932. For the Italian text see Jaynie Anderson, Giorgione, The Painter of Poetic Brevity, 1997, p. 362.

[ii] Segre, Renata: “A Rare Document on Giorgione”, Burlington Magazine, June, 2011, 383-386.

[iii] The Anonimo, Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy made by an Anonymous Writer in the Sixteenth Century: ed. By George C. Williamson, London, 1903. Page numbers for citations are in brackets.