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".

Friday, November 16, 2018

Giorgione: The Three Magi behold the Star

                      

The Giorgione painting known as The Three Philosophers is one of a handful now definitively attributed to the great Venetian Renaissance master. It depicts three men on a hilltop overlooking a beautiful valley with the sun setting in the West behind a range of mountains. They are dressed in colorful robes and face a dark rock formation or cave. They and the cave are illuminated by another source of light. Who are they and what are they doing there?


 

In 1525 Marcantonio Michiel, a Venetian patrician and connoisseur, listed the paintings in the collection of Taddeo Contarini, another Venetian aristocrat, and described this one as "three philosophers in a Landscape." Two hundred and fifty years later the painting had found its way to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, its current home. In a 1783 catalog it was called, "Three Magi." Since then, scholars have debated whether the men are philosophers, astronomers, surveyors, representatives of the three ages of man, representatives of three religions, or the Wise Men or Magi of the Biblical account.

Today, most scholars accept the "philosopher" interpretation even though they find it difficult to identify which ones. However, recent findings suggest that the Magi are making a comeback.

In the catalog of the unprecedented Giorgione exhibition in 2004, Mino Gabriele argued that in this painting Giorgione depicted the Magi not at the end of their journey but at the beginning, when they first saw the Star of Bethlehem. His most compelling point had to do with the lighting of the painting. If we look carefully, we can see the sun setting in the West behind the mountains, but the three men and the rock formation in the foreground are being illuminated by another source. According to the medieval legend the light of the Star, which rose in the East, was even brighter than the sun at midday. *

Moreover, at the conclusion of a symposium, that ended the “Bellini, Giorgione, Titian” exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington in 2006, Salvatore Settis offered a striking piece of evidence in support of the Magi. 

The exhibition itself had done an excellent job of educating the public on the value of using scientific techniques to evaluate the "underpainting" of some of these Renaissance masterpieces. X-rays and other techniques show many "pentimenti" or changes of mind on the part of the artists. When working with oils, the artists would frequently alter their paintings by painting over the original. 

In the original version the old man on the right dressed in gold is wearing an elaborate headpiece crowned with a kind of solar disk. For some reason Giorgione decided to discard it in favor of a simple hood. Nevertheless, when Settis projected an image on a huge screen of a painting by Vittore Carpaccio of the Magi on horseback approaching the Holy Family, the old man in that painting was wearing the kind of headpiece discarded by Giorgione. 


Carpaccio: Holy Family with Magi in Background
detail provided by Dr. Settis

In a 2010 post at Giorgione et al… I added my two cents to the question and argued that the colors of the garments of the three men are symbolic of the gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The most obvious, but usually overlooked, feature in the painting is the brilliant color of the costumes. In the medieval legend, the oldest of the Magi was the bearer of the gold; the middle-aged man carried the myrrh; and the youngest brought the frankincense. The golden garment of the oldest man needs no explanation. In my encyclopedia the color of myrrh is a dark red, while the color of frankincense can be white or green, the colors of the clothing of the sitting young man. 

In other versions of the Adoration of the Magi, gold is almost invariably the color of the oldest man’s garb, but there is no one color scheme for the other two. However, there is a version of the Adoration of the Magi done around 1499 by Francesco Raibolini, known all over Italy as Francia, where he used a similar color scheme for the three Magi. In Francia’s painting, that I believe is now in the Dresden Gemaldegalerie, the eldest man is clothed in gold, the middle-aged one in red, and the youngest in green.


Francia: Adoration of the Magi


I also believe that The Three Philosophers was not the only instance in which Giorgione used colors symbolically to identify his religious figures rather than resorting to stock symbols. In the so-called Three Ages of Man, that now hangs in the Pitti Palace, the colors of the garments of the three men are more than enough to identify them. St. Peter, in particular, is identified by his bright red robe; red being the color of martyrdom. The green of Christ’s garment is the color of the vestment used by a priest during most of the liturgical year, and the purple and gold of the young man are a sign of his wealth.




Giorgione also used red for the tunic of the young man in the so-called Boy with an Arrow. Red should help to identify this mysterious figure holding an arrow as the martyr, St. Sebastian. 




Perhaps Giorgione, Carpaccio and Francia took their inspiration from the elaborate public processions honoring the Magi, which were common in the later Medieval world. Nowhere were they more elaborate than in Venice. More than any other city, Venice was aware of the styles and costumes of the Orient. 


Could it be that Giorgione hid his subject by making it obvious? I think it more likely that most contemporary Venetians would have seen the Magi in this great masterpiece. 

###


*Mino Gabriele, “The Three Philosophers”, the Magi and the Nocturnal.” Giorgione, Myth and Enigma, ed. Sylvia Ferino-Pagden and Giovanna Nepi Scire, 2004. Pp.79-85.


Addendum:

Credit must be given here to Anna Jameson, the popular British art maven of the nineteenth century. Neglected today by most art historians, I believe that she was one of the few who worked to restore the original meaning and significance of Medieval and Renaissance art from the ignorance of the Enlightenment.  In her discussion of the Adoration of the Magi she paused to discuss Giorgione’s painting. 

I must mention a picture by Giorgione in the Belvedere Gallery, well known as one of the few undoubted productions of that rare and fascinating painter, and often referred to because of its beauty. Its significance has hitherto escaped all writers on art, as far as I am acquainted with them, and has been dismissed as one of his enigmatical allegories. It is called in German, Die Feldmasser (the Land Surveyors), and sometimes styled in English the Geometricians, or the Philosophers, or the Astrologers. …I have myself no doubt that this beautiful picture represents the “three wise men of the East,” watching on the Chaldean hills the appearance of the miraculous star, and that the light breaking in the far horizon, called in the German description, the rising sun, is intended to express the rising of the star of Jacob.” #

In a footnote, Jameson mentioned a print by Giulio Bonasoni, “which appears to represent the wise men watching for the star.” 

#Anna Brownell Jameson, Legends of the Madonna, as Represented in the Fine ArtsBoston and New York, 1885, pp. 347-8.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Giorgione: St. Sebastian


As far as I know the most important iconographical detail in Giorgione’s Boy with an Arrow has largely been ignored. I must confess that in an earlier post on the painting, I also failed to see it. It is the color of the young man’s tunic. Why did Giorgione deliberately choose to clothe him in red? In that earlier post I agreed with those who identified the subject of Giorgione’s painting as the Christian martyr St. Sebastian. I was struck especially by the resemblance of Giorgione’s painting to an earlier St. Sebastian by Raphael. 
Giorgione: Boy with an Arrow
Poplar, 48x42 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Boy with and Arrow is another of Giorgione’s mysterious paintings and a number of different interpretations have been put forward. The exhibition catalog for the 2004 Giorgione exhibition jointly held in Venice and Vienna provided a full discussion of the interpretive history of the painting. Marianne Koos, the author of the catalog entry, noted that the painting was not always attributed to Giorgione and that his authorship was only generally accepted after 1955. She also noted that “it is usually dated to his mature period, between 1506 and 1508.” *
Koos, whose essay derived from her own doctoral dissertation, did a very nice job of summarizing and analyzing the different views. She indicated that Bernard Berenson accepted the Sebastian identification in 1957, but noted that most scholars since have supported a mythological reading such as Apollo or Eros. However, after pointing out the shortcomings of each interpretation, she offered one of her own to which she devoted most of her catalog entry.
Giorgione’s youth remains primarily a subject in the discourse of love, an ideal male figure, with whom the male observer may also form an alliance in thought. The ideal-boy picture is not only a painting of…desire, but also of narcissistic identification and a homosocial avowal of brotherhood. [186]
Her interpretation is what one might expect from a modern art historian but I do not believe that her argument against the St. Sebastian interpretation is very strong. It is certainly true that most depictions of the martyr show a full-length nude figure riddled with arrows. Yet it is also true that a fully clothed, half-length figure of a doleful young man holding an arrow was popular at the time. 
As mentioned above, there is a great similarity between Giorgione’s painting and an earlier depiction of St. Sebastian by Raphael. Both depicted a soulful looking young man with head tilted to one side and holding one arrow in his hand. Raphael also departed from the traditional version of a partially nude man tied to a tree or column and riddled with arrows symbolic of the plague.


Raphael: St. Sebastian

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, a follower of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, also produced a number of half-length versions of St. Sebastian in which he depicted a soulful fully clothed young man holding an arrow in his hand. Like Raphael, Boltraffio included the traditional halo.


Boltraffio: St. Sebastian


The similarities between Raphael’s and Boltraffio’s versions of St. Sebastian and Giorgione’s Boy with an Arrow greatly outweigh the dissimilarities. Typically, Giorgione removes an obvious iconographical sign like the halo and replaces it with something that I have come to believe characterizes much of his work. He uses color to identify the subject.
Red is the symbol of martyrdom. It is the color of the vestment of the priest at every Mass that commemorates a martyr. In an essay on Giorgione’s Three Ages of Man I have argued that the color of the garments of the three figures in that mysterious painting identifies them as Jesus, Peter, and the rich young man of the Gospel of Matthew. Peter’s robe is bold red, a symbol of his eventual martyrdom. Christ is shown in green, in what looks like the vestment that a priest commonly wears on most Sundays of the liturgical year. The gold lapels of the young man indicate his wealth.
I have also argued that the colors of the garments worn by the three men in Giorgione’s Three Philosophers support those who interpret that mysterious painting as the Three Magi. The color of their garments refers to their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 
Anyone looking at Giorgione’s painting side-by side with Raphael’s and Boltraffio’s would be hard pressed not to see the saint in the young man. The small size of the three paintings would indicate that they were all made for private devotion. There was a real market for St. Sebastian in the days of recurring plague.
Scholars do not like to recognize Giorgione’s boy with an arrow as the martyr, St. Sebastian. I have come to believe that in addition to the color of his garment, the face of the young man has an angelic quality that can also be observed in the paintings by Raphael and Boltraffio. This face would be appropriate for a martyr. In the account of the persecution and death of St. Stephen, the first martyr, we are told that his face appeared to his accusers as the face of an angel.
And all that sat in the council, looking at him, saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel.


Giorgione dressed the young man in the Boy with an Arrow in the color of a martyr. There is perhaps an insight contained in the metaphorical interpretation of Marianne Koos. Neoplatonic discussions of love and desire were not regarded as antithetical to Christian belief. On the contrary, in many respects they brought, if only for a brief moment, Christian beliefs to a new level on the eve of the Reformation. 
Where it had been common to invoke St. Sebastian as a protector against the plague, now it would appear that Giorgione and others were seeing him again in his original guise; as one who gave his life for his fellow man. In this respect, he was truly a symbol of Christ-like love. No wonder his story inspired Christians throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and even beyond.
###

Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, and Nepi-Scire, Giovanna: exh. Cat. Giorgione, Myth and Enigma, Vienna, 2004.

Hasan Niyazi


Note: I reprise this post on the fifth anniversary of the death of my blogging friend Hasan Niyazi who passed away suddenly and tragically alone in his apartment late in October, 2013. Hasan was the son of a Moslem family that had migrated from Cyprus to Australia when he was a child. Like the children of many traditional immigrants he broke away from the traditional religion of his family and became an avowed secularist. Somehow, he developed a passion for the art of the Italian Renaissance, especially for Raphael. 

He was obviously an outsider in every respect and so turned to blogging. His blog, Three Pipe Problem, quickly became a web sensation. To his passion for art, he added his scientific background, as well as technical proficiency in mastering blogging technology. Through social media he developed so many friends and contacts that he became a kind of sun around which they orbited. 

I first met him on the web in 2010 when Three Pipe Problem was just beginning to make traction. In the next three years he went from an obscure blogger to a presence in the art history world. Six months before his death he wrote me about his plans.

I am increasingly busy. I have a few interviews coming up, including one with a prominent Florentine restorer, Dr Goldberg and some other scholars. Work on Raphael continues and many other things in the offing. My blog received its millionth viewing the other week, which was pleasant - and I hope to commemorate it with a prize in the near future. I have started learning Italian, and am also still working as a clinician. Blogging has become more than a curious pastime, yet there is still no easy way to make it viable financially, so I must continue in my dual mode! (4/18/2013)

Then, like his beloved Raphael and my beloved Giorgione he was gone in his mid-thirties. He may not have had the face of a Renaissance angel and I don’t know what arrow took his life, but I will always think of him when looking at The Boy with an Arrow.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Giorgione: The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man*

                                         
                                    
Giorgione’s Three Ages of Man is another one of his paintings that has so far eluded identification. The name of the painting that now hangs in the Pitti Palace is pure guesswork stemming only from the obvious disparity in ages of the three men. One appears to be about 60, another in his early thirties, and the last a young man in his teens.

In a 1995 survey Peter Humfrey said that the “picture actually represents a music lesson, and given the secular dress of the figures, it may be assumed that the boy at the centre is learning to sing a madrigal.”[i]
In his 2007 Giorgione catalog, Wolfgang Eller definitely attributed the painting to Giorgione but called it “The Three Ages of Man (Three Men with a Sheet of Music).” While leaning toward a “music lesson” Eller argued that the “picture contains, as almost throughout Giorgione’s works, several meanings at different levels.” 
The youth in the center of the picture, accentuated by his cap, at first glance depicts a young ruler like Alexander or Marcus Aurelius, being instructed in music in contemporary Venice by learned teachers, but also in art and philosophy.[ii]
He even guessed that the boy carried a flute in his hidden right hand.
It is difficult to see how the sheet of paper can be identified as a sheet of music. Even under magnification there are no discernible musical notations nor recognizable words. Neither Humfrey nor Eller offered an explanation. Eller referred to a description of a painting in a 1569 inventory of the collection of Gabriele Vendramin. “Un quadro de man de Zorzon de Castelfranco con tre testoni che canta.” Yet, none of the figures in the Pitti painting are singing!
However, the most spectacular element in this mysterious painting has so far received little notice. Venetian painters were known for their coloration. Just look at the garments of the three men. Nothing in a Renaissance painting is there by accident or whim. The colors in this painting provide a major clue to its real subject.
As far as I know no one has suggested that the painting has a “sacred” subject, but yet, it appears that Giorgione has depicted a scene from the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is the story of the encounter of Jesus with the young man of great wealth.
In Matthew’s account the young man asked Jesus what he could do to attain eternal life.  Jesus told him to keep the Commandments, and specifically named the most important. The man replied that he had done so but still felt that something was wanting. Jesus then uttered the famous words,If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The gospel relates that the young man went away sad for he had many possessions.
How has Giorgione depicted this story and who is the third man?The man in the middle is obviously young and the golden lapels of his garment as well as his fashionable hat indicate that he is well to do. He is holding a piece of paper or parchment that contains some indecipherable writing that under magnification hardly looks like Renaissance musical notation.
On the right any Christian, Venetian or otherwise, would immediately recognize the visage of Jesus. There is no halo or nimbus but Giorgione never employed that device. The pointed finger is certainly characteristic of Jesus. Here he points not at a sheet of music but at the Commandments, which the gospel account has just enumerated.
Jesus wears a green garment or vestment, certainly an unusual color for him. In fact, it looks like the robe or chasuble worn by a priest during Mass. At the hand of Jesus we can also see the white sleeve of the “alb,” a long white robe always worn under the chasuble. Green is the color used by the Catholic Church during Ordinary time, that part of the Church year not identified with any of the great feasts. 
The third man is St. Peter. He is the only other person identified in Matthew’s account of this incident.  He stands on the left, head turned toward the viewer. Giorgione uses Peter as an interlocutor, a well-known Renaissance artistic device designed to draw the viewer into the painting and encourage emotional participation.  The old man’s face is the traditional iconographical rendering of Peter with his baldhead and short stubby beard. As Anna Jameson noted many years ago, Peter is often portrayed as”a robust old man, with a broad forehead, and rather coarse features.” 

Durer: Four Apostles detail
Giovanni Bellini and Albrecht Durer, both Giorgione contemporaries, depicted Peter’s head in this fashion. About a hundred years later Caravaggio still used it in striking fashion in the Martyrdom of St. Peter in S. Maria del Popolo in Rome, and in the Denial of Peter now in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

Caravaggio: Denial of Peter
The color of Peter’s robe is also liturgically significant. Peter is rarely shown wearing red, but Giorgione has chosen to show him wearing the color reserved for the feast days of the martyrs. In the gospel account immediately after the young man went away sad, Peter, speaking for the other disciples as well as for the viewer of Giorgione’s painting, had asked, “Behold we have left all and followed thee: what then shall we have?”
In the first decade of the sixteenth century Venice was at the apex of its glory. It would suffer a great defeat at the end of the decade during the War of the League of Cambrai but until that time it was arguably the wealthiest and most powerful of all the European nations. It was certainly the only one that dared confront the mighty Ottoman Empire.  
Nevertheless, some young Venetian patricians were wondering whether the whole life of politics, commercial rivalry, and warfare was worthwhile. One of them, Tommaso Giustiniani, a scion of one of the greatest families, did actually sell all his possessions, including his art collection, in order to live as a hermit in a Camaldolensian monastery. In 1509, only one year before Giorgione died, Tommaso wrote to two friends, who were also considering a similar move and urged them on. He complained about the futility of their daily lives, and  argued that life in Venice was agitated, completely outward, and continually dominated by ambition. It was the reason for all their worry. He wrote: 
If, then, a Stoic philosopher appeared to free their minds from all these disturbances, his efforts would be in vain, so completely does agitation dominate and enfetter their whole lives. How can anyone not feel disgust for such an empty existence?[iii]
Peter and the other disciples were shocked when Jesus said that it would be harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. “Who then can be saved,” they asked. The response of Jesus was full of hope: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Green, the liturgical color used throughout the Church year, is also the color of hope.
The Rich Young Man, the name we can now give to the painting in the Pitti Palace, would certainly appear to have an historical context in Giorgione’s time. Five hundred years after the death of this short-lived genius perhaps we can begin to understand that Giorgione was a unique and original painter of sacred subjects. ###
* This interpretation of Giorgione's "Three Ages of Man'' first appeared on Giorgione et al... on Oct. 8, 2011. My wife and I saw the painting when we visited the Pitti Palace in 2017. In the past few years I have seen nothing that would make me change my opinion of its true subject.

[i]Peter Humfrey, Painting in Renaissance Venice, Yale, 1995, p. 124.
[ii]Wolfgang Eller, Giorgione, Catalog Raisonne, Petersberg, 2007, p. 45.
[iii]Dom Jean LeClercq, Camaldolese Extraordinary, The Life, Doctrine, and Rule of Blessed Paul Giustiniani, Bloomingdale, Ohio, 2003, p. 61-62. Although few followed the extreme example of Tommaso Giustiniani, his attitude was not unusual. See Margaret L. King, Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance, Princeton, 1986, pp. 240-241.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Giorgione: Man of Sorrows


In his monumental 2009 study of Giorgione, Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo began his discussion of the individual paintings with a work that is not usually given to the master from Castelfranco.*


In a clearing, a figure with a melancholy air, who is dressed in dark cloth save his showy yellow cloak, sits on a throne covered with an oriental rug, surrounded by books varying in size and sealed with metal clasps. Standing before him is a young boy wearing a heavy grey garment with a fur collar; he is staring straight ahead as if he were waiting for something. Behind him a servant kneels as he holds out a bowl full of flowers and leaves; he has taken off his hat as a sign of respect…On the first step of the throne a lute player, wearing tights and a pleated shirt, hints at a chord while staring in the direction of the viewer. (120) **
Pozzolo believed that this medium-sized panel (59x 48 cm), now at the National Gallery in London, “might be the first of Zorzi’s works to have been handed down to us." He called it a “bizarre” painting and pointed out the difficulties surrounding it.
The use of the conditional concerns every single aspect of it—the attribution, the date, the subject—because it is a work unlike any other from that time…” 
It was purchased by the National Gallery in London in 1885: from that moment on its attribution has bounced back and forth between the master…and his workshop or circle…Similarly, much uncertainty has always surrounded its dating (ranging from the early 1490s to around 1550) , and the subject it is supposed to represent. (120)
He noted that some have believed the main figure is David or Solomon, while others have argued for Jason or Zeus, or even an indistinct “Poet.” Then, Pozzolo himself went out on a limb and made an astounding assertion.
But the main figure is none other than Saturn, the god who devoured his own children, was castrated and denounced by Zeus, represented here in decline and exile in a hortus conclusus inside which human beings and animals live together in peace, all within the bounds of a “virtuous “laurel shrub….
Enrico dal Pozzolo is one of the world’s foremost Giorgione authorities and I have no problem agreeing with him that this work could be an early Giorgione. His interpretation, however, leaves much to be desired. He himself admits that even on those rare occasions when painters depicted Saturn, he was never shown as in this painting.

It seems much more likely to me that this painting is a version of the “Man of Sorrows” in a landscape filled with iconographical elements that Venetian artists like Giorgione loved to employ.

He has the same sorrowful visage of the “Man of Sorrows,” and looks out at the viewer in the same way that so many others do. He wears a royal golden robe and sits on a throne placed upon what could easily be the steps of an altar.

Instead of waiting to be devoured, the young men are in postures of humility and adoration. I cannot identify all the iconographical elements in the painting but the peacock is usually a sign of incorruptibility or immortality, and the leopard a sign of sin. In the Giorgionesque rocky outcrop someone appears to be kneeling in contemplation.

A few years ago, my wife and I visited MOBIA, the now defunct Museum of Biblical Art in New York City, to view an exhibition entitled, “Passion in Venice, Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese." The title of the exhibition was a little misleading since it was given over almost entirely to images of the suffering Christ or "Man of Sorrows." a popular subject in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Its origins rooted in Byzantium, the figure entered Venetian art in the late Middle Ages after which it flourished locally for centuries, eventually acquiring its own name in dialect, Cristo Passo...

The first thing to note about the subject was its ubiquity. “Cristo Passo” was obviously popular in Venice but the exhibition had works from all over Europe. Moreover, the image appeared in all different types of media, “Illuminated manuscripts, paintings, prints, sculpture, and liturgical objects." There was even a striking polychrome paper mache relief based on a Donatello pictured here.





The next thing that struck me was that all the images, despite their obvious differences, were basically the same. It was as if all these artists, the great and the not so great, all used the same model, especially when it came to the head of Christ. Even without his cruciform halo, he is easily recognized. He is a man who has suffered, who has been beaten and humiliated, and whose head slumps to one side, usually his right. His beard is short and pointed albeit ragged. Artists could not depart far from this model.




In addition to the "Saturn Exiled" that Dr. Dal Pozzolo placed at the very beginning of Giorgione's career, the famous “Christ Carrying the Cross”  could also be a depiction of the "Man of Sorrows." Vasari claimed that this painting had miraculous healing powers from the time it was first unveiled in the Scuola di San Rocco. Vasari originally claimed that Giorgione did the painting, but in his second edition he gave it to Titian. Since that time scholars have not been able to resolve the question of attribution.

Whether by Giorgione or Titian, the face of Christ that looks out at the viewer, certainly seems derived from the standard image of the “Man of Sorrows.”

What was the reason for the popularity of the image of the “Man of Sorrows?” It was obviously based on the Gospel of Matthew. In chapter 8 after recording a number of the miracles of Jesus, Matthew echoed the words of Isaiah:“He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Matthew drew from the famous account in Isaiah 53 of the suffering servant:
A thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering… And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, Ours the sufferings he carried… Yet he was pierced through for our faults, Crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, And through his wounds we were healed.
The MOBIA exhibition demonstrated that every Venetian would have immediately recognized the figure in the painting in the National Gallery.

###

*Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo, Giorgione, Milan, 2009. Giorgione catalogs by Anderson (1997), and Eller (2007) do not agree with dal Pozzolo's attribution. They accept the title "Homage to a Poet", but without much discussion.

**Edit. 11/2/2013. Please notice the baldachino above the head of the Man in Giorgione's painting. It looks somewhat like an ornate lampshade. In an exchange with David Orme, an English friend and lover of Venice, he told me that he had seen similar fixtures still existing in Venice. Below is an image supplied by his friend, Albert Hickson.


It covers a Madonna and Child on the Rio Ognisanti near San Trovaso. Many thanks, David and Albert.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Giorgione's Judith*


Giorgione: Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Although originally given to Raphael, scholars for over a century have agreed that the Hermitage Judith with the Head of Holofernes is an early work by Giorgione. According to recent catalogs, it was a ground-breaking work.

In her 1996 catalog Jaynie Anderson credited Giorgione with the introduction of “the Jewish heroine of the Apocrypha to Venetian painting….” ** Three years later Terisio Pignatti wrote that Giorgione’s Judith introduced “numerous innovations that make the painting fascinating, particularly in the field of iconography... ***  In a 2007 catalog Wolfgang Eller claimed that Giorgione’s figure of Judith “is the first really feminine and the first graceful figure in Venetian art.” #
Characteristically, Giorgione avoided the use of stock or standard iconographical elements. Eller noted that Giorgione’s Judith contains “no optical indication of the events. There is no female servant, no tent, no besieged city, and no waiting figures in the background that illustrate the story.” 
All commentators seem to agree that the most striking element in the painting is the bare leg of Judith.  According to Pignatti, “Giorgione inserts a completely new motif in the garments which reveal the left leg of the woman.” (122)  But they can find no good explanation and fall back on “eroticism” and “sensuality.” Eller regards the bare thigh as highly erotic. 
the raised leg makes an extensive laying bare of the female thigh possible for the painter. In Giorgione’s time, this was considered highly erotic, for a woman to show only her calves was even more daring than a bare bosom. Thus from the aspect of the observer of those times, the depicted figure is identifiable as being erotic. (48)
It would appear, however, that in depicting the “bare thigh” Giorgione was just paying close attention to the biblical account in the Latin Vulgate, the only Bible in use at the time. Chapter 9 of the Book of Judith gives the famous prayer of the Jewish heroine as she prepares for her encounter with the enemy tyrant. Here is verse 2 taken from the Jerusalem Bible.

     Lord, God of my father Simeon,
     You armed him with a sword to take vengeance on the foreigners
     who had undone a virgin's girdle to her shame,
     laid bare her thigh to her confusion,
     violated her womb to her dishonor...
Judith is referring to the story of the rape of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and the sister of Simeon, from the Book of Genesis, 34: 1-3.
Dinah, who was Jacob’s daughter by Leah, went out to visit the women of that region. Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, who was ruler of that region, saw her, carried her off and raped her, and so dishonoured her.
This incident led to the slaughter of the Hivite men after they had been tricked into undergoing circumcision. 
It would appear that Giorgione used an exposed thigh to indicate a woman in danger of sexual assault. In an early work by Giorgione that we only have in a seventeenth century copy by David Teniers, Giorgione used the same motif. He exposed the thigh of another woman in danger of sexual assault. Although the painting is usually called the “Discovery of Paris,” it is actually a depiction of the apocryphal legend of the encounter of the Holy Family with robbers on the flight into Egypt. The young Giorgione had the audacity to depict the bare leg of the Madonna who, according to the legend, escaped dishonor when one of the robbers persuaded the other to let the Holy Family proceed on their journey in peace.  
Giorgione also paid close attention to another element in the biblical account. Chapter 10 of the Book of Judith gives a detailed account of Judith putting on her finery.
There she removed the sackcloth she was wearing and, taking off her widow’s dress, she washed all over, anointed herself with costly perfumes, dressed her hair, wrapped a turban around it and put on the dress she used to wear on joyful occasions when her husband Manasseh was alive. She put sandals on her feet, put on her necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, and all her jewelry, and made herself beautiful enough to catch the eye of every man who saw her.
Judith’s deed is usually seen as an heroic attempt to deliver not just herself but her people from danger. Yet during the Renaissance she was often seen as a prototype of Mary. Perhaps it was this aspect that influenced Giorgione or his patron. Judith’s prayer (9:11) sounds very similar to Mary’s famous Magnificat. 
Your strength does not lie in numbers,
Nor your might in violent men;
Since you are the God of the humble, 
The help of the oppressed, 
The support of the weak,
The refuge of the forsaken,
The savior of the despairing.
The Book of Judith is still included in Catholic bibles today, but it was rejected by Protestants. Nevertheless, the story remained popular after the Reformation and paintings of the subject by Artemesia Gentileschi and Caravaggio are famous although far more graphic than Giorgione’s version.
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* This post originally appeared on Giorgione et al... on 4/17/2011. Later, on 11/16/2014, I discussed a depiction of Judith on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a Giorgione/Titian collaboration. In that fresco the identity of the helmeted soldier can also be found in the Book of Judith. Here is a link.



** Anderson, Jaynie: Giorgione, 1997.p. 292. According to Anderson the “Judith” was originally a door panel since there is evidence of a painted over keyhole. 
*** Pignatti, Terisio and Pedrocco, Filippo: Giorgione, Rizzoli, NY, p. 52.
# Eller, Wolfgang: Giorgione Catalog Raisonne, Petersberg, 2007, p. 47.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Giorgione Catalogs Revised


The years leading up to the five hundredth anniversary in 2010 of the death of Giorgione, saw the publication of six major Giorgione catalogs. This truly remarkable publishing phenomenon marked an increasing interest in Venice and the Venetian Renaissance, an interest that seemed to revolve around the mystery surrounding Giorgione and his work. At a conference held in Washington in 2006 to mark an exhibition devoted to the Venetian renaissance, one scholar remarked that the conference was all about Giorgione.

Below find brief reviews of the six catalogs, all of them beautifully illustrated. The images below are from the covers of the respective catalogs.

In addition to a brief outline of their contents, I have tried to point out their divergent views on the Tempest and on the David Teniers' copy of a "lost" Giorgione, usually called the Discovery of Paris. The learning and exhaustive research of the various authors has been of great value to me, but I do admit that none of them has been able to see the  Tempest as The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.  Moreover, when they discuss the Discovery of Paris, that only exists in a copy by David Teniers, they invariably follow Marcantonio Michiel's mistaken identification of the painting. They all attach importance to this lost work but none can see it as Giorgione's version of the medieval legend concerning the encounter of the Holy Family with robbers on the Flight into Egypt. For the interpretation of both paintings see my website, MyGiorgione.

Anderson, Jaynie: Giorgione, the Painter of Poetic Brevity,  Paris, 1997.


Giorgione: Boy with an Arrow

Jaynie Anderson’s study is a solo work of almost 400 pages. Seven essays by the author take up the first three quarters of the book. Anderson studies Giorgione’s “poetic style;” his biographers and connoisseurs; the results of scientific analysis of his paintings; his patrons; his imagery of women; his critical fortunes; and his work on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

This comprehensive catalog is broken up into accepted works; controversial attributions; copies after Giorgione; and rejected attributions. All are discussed in varying degrees.

Concerning the Tempest Anderson strongly rejected the Adam and Eve interpretation of Salvatore Settis, as well as all other previous explanations that might be connected with a “story or text.”

For her the “most convincing interpretation” of the Tempest can be found in Colonna’s “Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo.” The painting depicts the encounter of the “young hero Poliphilo” with a deity. Although Anderson does not follow Marcantonio Michiel’s identification of the “soldier and the gypsy,” she does accept his description of the Teniers copy of the so-called “Discovery of Paris.”

A very valuable feature of Anderson’s catalog is the collection of documents relating to Giorgione in the original Italian at the back of the book.

Pignatti, Terisio and Pedrocco, Filippo:  Giorgione,  Rizzoli, NY, 1999.


Giorgione: Trial of Moses

This catalog appeared two years after Jaynie Anderson’s but it obviously represented a lifetime of work on the part of the two Italian authors. A little less than half the catalog is an essay on “The Life and Work of Giorgione,” by Terisio Pignatti. The author discusses the life and background of Giorgione and then devotes about 40 pages to a discussion of the attributed works.

In the second half of the book Filippo Pedrocco provides an invaluable summary of the attribution, provenance, and interpretive history of each work. Especially valuable is the attempt to date the various works from early, through middle, to late career.

Although Pedrocco lists most of the different interpretations of the Tempest, Pignatti concludes that there is an “undoubted presence of an underlying theme” but that the painting still “remains difficult to interpret.” Like Anderson the authors do not contest Michiel’s identification of the Teniers copy of the  Discovery of Paris.

Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, and Nepi-Scire, Giovanna, exh. Cat.:  Giorgione, Myth and Enigma,  Vienna, 2004.


Giorgione: Tempest

If I could only have one catalog in my library, my choice would be  Giorgione, Myth and Enigma,  the exhibition catalog for the groundbreaking 2004 Giorgione exhibition jointly sponsored by the Accademia in Venice and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Both institutions contributed their Giorgione works to the exhibition, and for the first time the Tempest traveled outside of Italy for the Vienna show.

The catalog featured a number of essays by leading scholars highlighted by a brilliant essay on the Castelfranco altarpiece by Salvatore Settis. There were also four essays offering differing interpretations of the Tempest.

The 25 catalog entries were written by a group of world-class scholars including Giovanna Nepi-Scire and Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, the respective curators from the two Museums sponsoring the exhibition. In her essay on the Tempest, Nepi-Scire declined to take sides in the interpretation controversy.

This catalog is especially noteworthy for the appendix that includes three essays on the extensive scientific studies conducted in preparation for the exhibition.

Brown, David Alan, and Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia: Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting, Washington, 2006.


Giorgione: Three Philosophers



Two years after the 2004 Giorgione exhibition an equally ambitious venture was jointly launched by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the National Gallery in Washington. The resulting catalog reflected the attempt of the exhibition to cover the broad range of the Venetian Renaissance.

The catalog featured works of Giorgione along with those of Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and lesser known artists like Paris Bordone and Lorenzo Lotto. In the catalog these works were arranged according to themes just as in the actual exhibition.

After four introductory essays different scholars each took a theme: Peter Humfrey “Sacred Images;” Mario Lucco “Sacred Stories;” Jaynie Anderson “Allegories and Mythologies;” Sylvia Ferino-Pagden “Pictures of Women—Pictures of Love;” and David Alan Brown, the curator of the National Gallery, “Portraits of Women.”

Of all the catalogs this one is the broadest in scope but since the Tempest was not included in the exhibition, there is no separate catalog item on Giorgione’s most famous painting, or a discussion the Teniers' painting.

Eller, Wolfgang:  Giorgione Catalog Raisonne,  Petersberg, 2007.


Giorgione: Portrait

Wolfgang Eller’s Giorgione, Catalogue Raisonne, was not associated with any exhibition. Subtitled, “Mystery Unveiled,” this solo effort obviously represented a lifetime of work on the part of this scholar.

Twelve introductory essays take up a little less than a quarter of this 200 page volume, but they are packed with information and learning. Especially valuable is his essay, “The Most Significant Stylistic and Painterly Criteria for an Attribution to Giorgione.” No one looks at a painting or describes it more closely than Eller.

It appears to me that his strong point is attribution and he makes some radical departures from the usual. He gives the Pastoral Concert to Giorgione, and also believes that he participated in Titian’s,  Noli Me Tangere.

If Eller is strong on attribution and painterly criteria, I believe that his interpretations are often overly complicated. His interpretation of the Tempest is so involved that it is difficult to follow. He accepts with some puzzlement the identification of the Teniers copy of the lost Giorgione as the  Discovery of Paris.

Finally, his catalog is extremely valuable since, like Anderson, he provides a discussion of every painting that was ever associated with Giorgione—even the false attributions. This feature alone makes this relatively inexpensive, and easily usable catalog a must for any student.

Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo: Giorgione, Milan, 2009.


Giorgione: Portrait of a Warrior

Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo’s book is not so much a catalog as a study of Giorgione and his world. Its monumental size and heft is due primarily to copious and beautifully rendered illustrations, as well as to the extraordinary scholarship of the author. 
In the first chapter dal Pozzolo reviews what little biographical information we have of Giorgione. Chapter two provides the Venetian and humanist background. The bulk of the book is in Chapter three, an extensive tour of all the known works of Giorgione.
The author briefly reviews most of the many interpretations of the Tempest and declines to accept any of them. He hesitates to offer one of his own but suggests that we try to see the mysterious painting as a Venetian visitor to the home of Gabriele Vendramin might have seen it. In that case the description of a soldier and a gypsy found in the notes of Marcantonio Michiel might be feasible
Speaking of Michiel, dal Pozzolo accepts his description of The Discovery of Paris, and attaches more importance to that lost painting than any of the other catalogs. He argues that along with a lost Aeneas and Anchises, it represents the beginning and end of a Trojan cycle.

I disagree with many of dal Pozzolo's interpretations but do agree with his learned final assessment of Giorgione.


 After his extraordinary feat at the Fondaco, the public image of the painter from Castelfranco must have changed, taking on the features of a giant. And that was when Zorzi became Giorgione. His diversity in comparison with all the other artists of the lagoon was proclaimed… From that moment on, the more talented and restless youths stopped emulating Bellini’s harmonic universes, Carpaccio’s neat cosmopolitan sceneries, those brilliant Antonellesque glares that by then were so far-away, to chase after a dream… of a new way of conceiving a painting and of making it come alive. [344]
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Giorgione: Review of Scientific Examination

In 2004, two famous museums, the Accademia in Venice and the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, worked together to mount a ground-breaking Giorgione exhibition. The Kunsthistorisches agreed to send it’s Giorgione collection that included the “Three Philosophers”, the “Laura”, and the “Boy with an Arrow” to the Accademia. In return the Accademia allowed the Tempest to leave Italy for the first time for the subsequent Viennese showing.  

The exhibition produced a beautiful and valuable catalog with essays and catalog entries by most of the world’s leading Giorgione scholars. In addition, the catalog included two appendices on the scientific or technological examination of some of Giorgione’s works that contained some valuable information that so far has been little noticed.*

The first study, “Giorgione’s Materials and Painting Technique: Scientific Investigation of Three Paintings,” was a joint effort by Elisa Campani, Antonella Casoli, Enrico Fiorin, and Stefano Volpin. The authors examined the newly restored “Castelfranco Altarpiece”, the “Tempest”, and the portrait of an old woman usually called “La Vecchia”. Acknowledging Giorgione’s fame as an innovator, the authors declared that:

The goal of this diagnostic campaign was to determine the extent to which Giorgione’s inventiveness manifested itself in a desire to experiment with new materials and techniques.





Those interested in the very full discussion of the variety of scientific techniques used will have to read the article. In brief, I would just like to highlight some of their results and conclusions. The authors believed that their investigation enabled a “complete reconstruction of Giorgione’s palette in the three masterpieces.” Moreover,

The choice of materials seems to depend on the result which the artist wished to achieve in each work, adapted to his expressive requirements and the evolution of his style. (256)

This conclusion only seems to confirm what everyone has thought of Giorgione and other Venetian painters but it is good to have it confirmed scientifically. Not only does his palette vary significantly but so too does his choice of binding medium. One of the results of the technical examination highlighted,

a significant difference in the painting technique of the three examined works; the choice of egg tempera to apply colour in the Castelfranco altarpiece and of a mixed technique, using walnut oil mixed with egg for La Tempesta and La Vecchia. (260)

The authors draw the following conclusion that so far does not appear to have penetrated the Giorgione world.

Even given the limited number of works investigated, the artist emerges as a figure with a great knowledge of materials and techniques rather than as an innovator and experimenter. One could say that the artistic revolution caused by Giorgione does not necessarily translate into strictly technological innovation. In fact, from this point of view, the analyses have not highlighted any novel resolutions in the three works. Instead there is clear evidence of an ability to utilize the extensive materials available in Venice and of a sound knowledge of the painting techniques accumulated by Venetian workshops during the 15th century.

Sandra Rossi and Paolo Spezziani collaborated on the second technical essay, “Examination via X-Ray and Infrared Reflectography, and Restoration of the Castelfranco Altarpiece.” Although mainly a discussion of the altarpiece, the authors did report on a  2001 infrared reflectography examination of both the “Tempest” and “La Vecchia” in preparation for the 2004 exhibition. This examinination confirmed a pentimento in the "Tempest" that the catalog still regarded as inexplicable:

 investigation enabled a more precise characterization of the figure on the bridge, who wears a long garment and is seen proceeding to the right. The figure holds a staff in his left hand; on his right shoulder is a second stick, from which hangs a container.

Although this figure cannot be seen even in the infrared image provided in the text, Dr. Rossi confirmed the existence of the man on the bridge to me as we both stood in front of the painting in the Accademia in 2010. A man with a staff and a pilgrim’s sack flung over his shoulder fits no other interpretation of the painting than “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.” As so many other painters did, both before and after, Giorgione originally must have intended to portray the actual flight in the background with the “Rest” in the foreground. Why he changed his mind, we will never know. ###

Gerard David: "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" with flight in background.
Metropolitan Museum, NY

*Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, and Nepi-Scire, Giovanna: exh. Cat. Giorgione, Myth and Enigma, Vienna, 2004.