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".

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Raphael: Vision of Ezekiel

 



Scholars still question Vasari's attribution to Raphael of a small painting called, The Vision of Ezekiel.   I will leave the question of attribution to others but I do think that the subject of the painting has been misunderstood ever since Vasari mentioned it in his biography of Raphael.

Raphael: Vision of Ezekiel

Here is what Vasari wrote:

At a later period, our artist painted a small picture, which is now at Bologna, in the possession of the Count Vincenzio Ercolani. The subject of this work is Christ enthroned amid the clouds, after the manner in which Jupiter is so frequently depicted. But the Saviour is surrounded by the four Evangelists, as described in the Book of Ezekiel: one in the form of a man, that is to say; another in that of a lion; the third as an eagle; and the fourth as an ox. The earth beneath exhibits a small landscape, and this work, in its minuteness—all the figures being very small—is no less beautiful than are the others in their grandeur of extent.*

Vasari said that the subject of the painting is “Christ enthroned amid the clouds.” He did mention that Christ was surrounded by the four animals that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Even though the painting called to Vasari’s mind the vision of Ezekiel, the artist, whoever he was, must certainly have had a different vision in mind.

The vision in this painting is the vision of St. John from the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse). Let’s just compare the two visions. Here is the account from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel.

As I was among the exiles on the bank of the river Chebar, heaven opened and I saw visions from God… Ezekiel 1:1 A stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the center a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire. In the center I saw what seemed four animals. They looked like this. They were of human form. Each had four faces, each had four wings. …As to what they looked like, they had human faces, and all four had a lion’s face to the right, and all four had a bull’s face to the left, and all four had an eagle’s face.  Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings that touched, and two wings that covered his body;… Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings that touched, and two wings that covered his body…Ezekiel 1: 4-12
Between these animals something could be seen like flaming brands or torches, darting between the animals; the fire flashed light, and lightning streaked from the fire. And the creatures ran to and fro like thunderbolts.” Ezekiel 1: 13-14.

The animals are in Ezekiel’s vision but there is no God or Christ enthroned among them. Ezekiel’s vision found its way into the Book of Revelation, a book replete with imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures. Here is St. John’s vision (Jerusalem Bible).

My name is John…I was on the island of Patmos for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus; it was the Lord’s day and the Spirit possessed me, and I heard a voice behind me, shouting like a trumpet, “Write down all that you see in a book…" Revelation 1: 9-13. 
Then, in my vision, I saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, the voice like a trumpet, saying, “Come up here: I will show you what is to come in the future.” With that, the Spirit possessed me and I saw a throne standing in heaven, and the One who was sitting on the throne, and the Person sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby….In the center, grouped around the throne itself, were four animals with many eyes, in front and behind. The first animal was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third animal had a human face, and the fourth animal was like a flying eagle. Each of the four animals had six wings and had eyes all the way around as well as inside;… Revelation 4: 1-8.

In John’s vision God the Creator, “the One” sitting on the throne in the midst of the four creatures, is the most prominent figure. Vasari identified the figure as Christ but the figure more closely resembles Michelangelo’s images of God the Father in the Sistine chapel. Only later in John’s account would the Lamb join the One sitting on the throne.

In the Vision of Ezekiel the small figure on the left receiving the vision must then be identified not as Ezekiel but John, exiled on the isle of Patmos. It is hard to tell, but he seems to be on an island facing a broad expanse of sea rather than in a crowd of people at the bank of the river Chebar.

Some scholars have argued that there is a companion piece to the Vision of Ezekiel that did not find its way back to Italy after the fall of Napoleon. In his study of Raphael Jean-Pierre Cuzin discussed a small oil on panel of the Holy Family.


The kinship in style and execution of the small Holy Family and the Vision of Ezekiel in the Pitti Palace at Florence, which have the same dimensions is striking: the rounded, thick-set bodies, strongly modeled by black shadows and lively touches of light, and the vigorous impasto execution, invite one to see an identical hand in both pictures—that of Penni, for Konrad Oberhuber. Others have more often thought of Giulio Romano. The Vision of Ezekiel, unlike the neglected picture in the Louvre, counts among Raphael’s celebrated works; it is identified with a picture described by Vasari at Bologna in the house of Count Ercolani. **

The small Holy Family is also a misnomer. It is actually a depiction of the encounter of Mary and the infant Jesus on their return from the flight into Egypt with her cousin Elizabeth and the infant John the Baptist. With or without St. Joseph, this legendary meeting was a very popular subject since it marked the initial acceptance of the mission of Christ. Usually the Christ child accepts a small cross from the young Baptist but in this case he accepts the Baptist himself.

If the two paintings are companion pieces, they would then represent the beginning and the end of Christ’s mission. The meeting of the two infants in the Judean desert recalls the words of the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and in the vision from the Book of Revelation, the Lamb who was sacrificed will join “the One seated on the Throne.” 

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*Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, selected, edited and introduced by Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Volume II, New York, 1967. p. 41.

**Jean-Pierre Cuzin: Raphael, His Life and Works, New Jersey, 1985. p. 226.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Renaissance Discoveries

 

I originally published this post on September 15, 2015. It detailed the interpretive discoveries I had made over the previous 10 years. I repeat it here for new readers, and include an abstract of my later interpretation of Michelangelo's Doni Tondo. In addition to the websites mentioned below, I have also published these findings at academia.edu.


I originally interpreted the subject of Giorgione's Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" 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, Giorgione et al... Today, I reproduce the first post on Giorgione et al...

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 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" has been 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 MyGiorgione.

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





 

Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo is one of the greatest masterpieces of the High Renaissance. It is his only surviving panel painting and now hangs in the Uffizi in its original frame. Most scholars date it somewhere between the completion of the David in 1504 and Michelangelo’s departure from Florence to Rome in 1506. At first glance, it appears to be simply a traditional rendering of the Holy Family but, on closer inspection, it raises a number of questions.

 

In the foreground Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus are situated in a landscape. But what is going on? Is Mary handing the Child to Joseph, or is Joseph handing the Child to Mary? Why does Mary look as she does with muscular arms shockingly uncovered? What is Joseph doing in the painting? Why, despite artistic tradition, has he been brought so prominently into the center to play an apparently key role? What is the young John the Baptist doing behind a parapet or wall in the midground? Finally, who are the five male nudes in the background, and why are they there?

 

This paper seeks to answer all of these questions. It argues that Mary is offering her Son as a priest does at the Consecration of every Mass. Seeing the painting in this manner, we can then explain the prominent position of Joseph, as well as the role of the young John the Baptist in the mid-ground. Finally, the paper identifies the nudes in the background as the Giants in the Earth or Nephilim found in the biblical story of Noah.


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Note. 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 but now at age 83 his art history work is largely done. He currently devotes himself to blogging, film noir, and chess.

Dr. DeStefano currently resides in Fairfield, Ct. His email address is drdestefano@mac.com.