A seventeenth century copy of a “lost” Giorgione painting, mis-identified as the birth or discovery of Paris for almost 500 years, can shed new light on the work and career of the most mysterious and perhaps the greatest of all Venetian Renaissance painters. *
In “The Encounter with the Robbers in the Desert” Giorgione did not attempt to hide the subject of that early work. If no one has recognized its subject from Michiel’s time to ours, it is because the very popular apocryphal legends have largely been forgotten. In his massive 2009 study of Giorgione, Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo attached great importance to the lost Giorgione painting. Dal Pozzolo accepted the traditional identification of the painting as the discovery of the infant Paris on Mt. Ida, and paired it with another lost Giorgione, the meeting of Aeneas and his father, Anchises, after the fall of Troy.
as we previously stated, the Birth of Paris and the probable flight of Aeneas and Anchises from Troy constitute the beginning and the end of the Trojan saga. These specific subjects had seemingly never been represented in Venetian painting before Giorgione; but they were afterwards, and also in paintings by artists (both anonymous and identifiable) who were bound with the master of Castelfranco’s activity…. (8)
*This post is the second in a series of articles that I hope to reproduce in 2020, the tenth anniversary of Giorgione et al... These essays will feature the interpretive discoveries that followed upon my interpretation of Giorgione's Tempest as a "sacred" subject, The Rest of the Holy Family on the Flight into Egypt.
1. The Anonimo, Notes on Pictures and Works of Art in Italy made by an Anonymous Writer in the Sixteenth Century, ed. George C. Williamson, London, 1903. p. 104
2. Jaynie Anderson, Giorgione, 1997, p. 317; and Wolfgang Eller, Giorgione Catalog Raisonne, Petersburg, 2007, pp. 171-173.
3. Extract from the Arabic Infancy Gospel in Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, English translation edited by R. McL. Wilson, Volume One, Philadelphia 1963. p. 408. On the web a search for the First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus, Chapter. VIII, will give the story with slightly different wording.
4. Jameson, Legends of the Madonna, Boston, 1885. pp. 361-362. Mrs. Jameson noted that the encounter with the robbers has been “seldom treated” as an artistic subject but did indicate that she had seen two representations. “One is a fresco by Giovanni di San Giovanni, which, having been cut from the wall of some suppressed convent, is now in the academy at Florence. The other is a composition by Zuccaro.” In a later edition she provided a sketch of the Zuccaro “Encounter,” which shows Joseph assisting the Madonna down from the Ass at the behest of the armed robber.
5. In Judith’s famous prayer she recalled her ancestor Simeon who took vengeance on the foreigners “who had undone a virgin’s girdle to her shame, laid bare her thigh to her confusion…” Judith 9:2, Jerusalem Bible.
6. For the corporale see the discussion of Titian’s Pesaro Altarpiece in Rona Goffen, Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice, Yale, 1986, p. 114.
7. Juvenal, Satires, X, 22. I thank Dr. Karin Zeleny of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna for the Juvenal reference.
8. Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo, Giorgione, 2009, p. 264,
9. The correspondence is in Julia Cartwright, Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua,1474-1539. London, 1932. Pp. 390-391.