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Sunday, April 21, 2013


Giorgione (probable) Self-portrait
In preparation for our trip to Venice, Italy, in June, I've been brushing up on my Venetian art. Besides the Bellini father and sons, whom I'll deal with closer to the time we leave, and Titian, whom I covered ages ago (07-12-11), the artist, Giorgione (AKA Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco), keeps cropping up. If you're familiar with the paintings bearing these three signatures, you'll have a fairly good understanding of what makes Venetian art Venetian, and what makes it distinctly different from Florentine art and that of the half-dozen or so other schools of the Italian Renaissance. In short, we're talking about the use of subdued color and a kind of misty, sfumato (smoky) quality seen in Giorgione's work, but also in that of Leonardo, Titian, and others, as opposed to the strong chiaroscuro of Michelangelo's paintings, for example. There's more to it than that, but that'll do for now.

Laura, 1506, Giorgione
Giorgione was born some thirty miles inland from Venice in the small town of Castelfranco around 1477. As is quite often the case when talented young artists arise from the hinterlands, little is known about Giorgione's childhood, only that he apprenticed with the Bellinis, probably starting around the age of twelve, according to the custom of the time. He and Titian (who was slightly younger) studied together under Bellini tutelage and became lifelong friends. Titian even completed several of Giorgione's unfinished paintings after the artist's untimely death from the plague around 1510 at the age of thirty-three. His painting, Laura, dating from 1506 is typical of Giorgione's portraits and might be considered something like a bare breasted Mona Lisa (painted roughly around the same time).

Castelfranco Madonna, 1504-05, Giorgione.
Giorgione is probably best known for his The Tempest of 1508 (11-22-12) or his Sleeping Venus from 1510 (05-08-11), but an earlier altarpiece for his hometown church, the Castelfranco Madonna (left) ,completed around 1505 is also worth studying. In it Giorgione depicts an enthroned mother and child with a surprisingly realistic landscape background and a triangular compositional arrangement with St. Francis on the right while the armored figure on the left is either the dragon slayer, St. George, or St. Liberalis (patron saint of Castelfranco). In any case, the work is light, bright, and quite an innovation for Venetian painting. The somewhat "rolling" appearance of the floor tile in the foreground would seem to indicate a novice artist not altogether comfortable with the relatively new science of linear perspective of the time.

Adoration of the Shepherds, 1505, Giorgione
Giorgione's The Adoration of the Shepherds (above) from around the same time, is an interesting primer in contrasting Venetian painting with that of Florence. Here we see the landscape painted somewhat stylized, the figures of the shepherds quite vividly, while the holy family is softly rendered and more Venetian in character. The cave, rather than the traditional stable is probably quite accurate, however the absence of the manger, leaving the baby lying on the ground seems strange and unnatural. Giorgione's Three Philosophers (bottom) from around 1507-09 stands apart from traditional Venetian painting in that it is neither religious nor a portrait, but seemingly Giorgione's painting for his own satisfaction, yet it too has its peculiarities, including the largely empty left third of the work and the unaccountably small head of the figure on the far right. As an artist who has struggled with both perspective and anatomy at various times in my work, it's comforting to know that great artists of the past have done likewise.

The Three Philosophers, 1507-09, Giorgione. One wonders if he considered cropping
it on the left and right, then retitling it, "The Two Philosophers." Of course there may be something to be said for philosophers (regardless of the size of their heads) contemplating and discussing the dark unknown.

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