The following post was originally published in the early days of Giorgione et al... on 4/30/2011. I re-post it here in somewhat more readable form, and add a link to paintings by Paris Bordone and Lorenzo Lotto depicting a young, vigorous St. Joseph.
Baccio della Porta, a noted Florentine artist, had been so moved by the death of Savonarola that he gave up his painting career and entered the Dominican order himself. He was given the name Fra Bartolomeo. In 1504 his superiors convinced him to take up his brushes again and become a kind of official Dominican artist in residence. A little while later the young Raphael began his sojourn in Florence and the two unlikely personalities became friends and associates. It is generally believed that Raphael helped Fra Bartolomeo in developing his craft, but if we look at the latter’s 1499 version of the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" now in the Borghese Gallery, we can see that Raphael could just as well have learned from the friar.
|Fra Bartolomeo: Rest on the Flight into Egypt|
1499, Borghese Gallery
In 1508 Fra Bartolomeo was sent to Venice to do some work for the Dominican house on the isle of Murano. It would have been hard for him not to have become acquainted with the work of Giorgione, another young genius. Besides his great reputation, Giorgione had just completed his spectacular frescoes on the façade of the newly rebuilt Fondaco dei Tedeschi. At the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Venice in 2010, Alessio Assonitis presented a paper entitled “Fra Bartolomeo and San Pietro Martire at Murano.” He noted the following:
"As a friar-painter…Fra Bartolomeo was exempt from conventional pastoral duties.… His travels to the other two major centers of Italian painting were nothing but artistic sabbaticals which consented the friar to keep up-to-date with recent artistic developments.... Indeed, following his brief sojourn in Venice, Fra Bartolomeo was able to integrate elements of Bellini and Giorgione’s pictorial lexicon soberly and harmoniously….he also showed no reservations about borrowing compositional elements from Venetian artists like Carpaccio, Bellini, Giorgione and Titian."
If we look again at Fra Bartolomeo’s version of the “Rest” in the Borghese Gallery and compare it with another version done after the visit to Venice we will see a striking change.
The Borghese painting was done around 1499 and while it is often called an “Adoration” or a “Holy Family,” it is really a depiction of the “Rest on the Flight into Egypt.” There are the three figures in a landscape so characteristic of “Rest” images, as well as the monumental ruins representative of the fall of the Egyptian idols as the Infant Christ entered Egypt. Artists sometimes just used rocks and rubble to depict the destruction of the idols, but Fra Bartolomeo liked to emphasize the ruins. I would like to draw attention, however, to the figure of Joseph whose prominent position in the foreground represents his increased importance in Renaissance devotion. He is no longer a small figure off to the side or in the background. He is still portrayed as a very old man with a gray beard.