- Giorgione: Catalogue Raisonné: Mystery UnveiledOur PickBy Wolfgang Eller
- In the Age of GiorgioneOur PickBy Simone Facchinetti
- GiorgioneOur PickBy Terisio Pignatti
- Giorgione's Tempest: Interpreting the Hidden SubjectBy Salvatore Settis
- Pagan Mysteries in the RenaissanceBy Edgar Wind
- Giorgione's Tempesta with Comments on Giorgione's Poetic AllegoriesBy Edgar Wind
Important Art by Giorgione
The face of this young man is not quite in profile as he turns his head to engage the look of the spectator. Placed against a dark background, he wears a purple doublet fastened with bows over a white undershirt, with long hair reaching down to his shoulders. With his right hand he holds on to a parapet, his fingers curling over its edge, and on which we see the letters 'V V' (added to the painting during a nineteenth-century restoration), possibly to signify 'Virtus Vincit' (virtue conquers), or 'Vivus Vivo' (the living [made it] for the living).
The pose and naturalistic use of color in this painting demonstrate the influence of the Venetian master Giovanni Bellini, under whom Giorgione trained. Where it differs from his master's formal, "detached," style of portraiture is in the interaction it encourages between sitter and spectator. By depicting his subject as turning to meet our gaze, and by moving beyond the ledge that divides us, Giorgione sets up a new relationship that invites us to consider the young man's personality and his state of mind. Describing this portrait, art historian Simone Facchinetti declared that "Giorgione's genuinely innovative approach [...] can be appreciated by comparing it to contemporary work by Bellini, for example the Portrait of Pietro Bembo in Hampton Court. There, the painting is still executed in fifteenth-century 'medallion style' and is set in a fictitious landscape. In the Giorgione portrait we are presented with an anxious personality, a demonstration of how Giorgione, in Vasari's words, desired to 'confront living and natural things'."
This painting depicts a young woman in a red, fur-lined coat, with a translucent white robe beneath that wraps up and across her chest. Shown in profile, her eyes escape our gaze. With one hand she moves her garments to reveal the soft curve and pale skin of her right breast. Her hair is modestly bound underneath a lace cap, though a few tendrils fall loose around her ears. Behind her, rise the branches and leaves of a laurel (lauro in Italian), a tree associated in Italian literature and art with "Laura" being the beloved of the poet Petrarch. Indeed, it was this association that led seventeenth century scholars to title the painting as A Portrait of Laura.
As with many paintings by this enigmatic artist, the true identity and status of his subject is unclear. The laurel that accompanies her can be interpreted as a symbol of chastity, and the baring of her breast her fecundity and potential for a fruitful marriage, lending itself to the theory that it may have been commissioned as a marriage portrait. Alternatively, it is possible that she might have been a courtesan depicted in the guise of Petrarch's Laura, as her style of dress corresponds with the Venetian writer Cesare Vecellio's descriptions of courtesans' clothing in his book On Clothing. Whatever its meaning, this is undoubtedly a work of striking naturalism blended with a streak of eroticism.
On its reverse is an inscription declaring that Laura was painted in 1506 by "Master Giorgio of Castelfranco, at the request of a Mister Giacomo". This appears to have been written shortly after the painting was made, although probably not by the artist himself. Only one other work by Giorgione carries a similar inscription documenting its creation (in which, however, the date is illegible), making this portrait invaluable in dating Giorgione's works (of which art historians believe possibly up to forty now exist). Stylistically, the delicate modelling and blending of light and shade across the young woman's features demonstrate the influence of the Florentine painter Leonardo da Vinci, who visited Venice in 1499, and shows Giorgione moving beyond the model and style of the preceding master of Venetian painting, Giovanni Bellini. In its exquisitely detailed depiction of the texture of her clothing, and the crisp outlines of the laurel leaves, however, we observe the continuing importance of Albrecht Dürer and northern European Renaissance painting as a model.
On the grassy bank of a river, a young mother, naked except for a white cape and a lace cap, suckles her child. Unlike the Portrait of a Young Woman, she turns her head to meet our gaze. To the left a fashionably dressed youth surveys the scene as he leans on a staff, while behind him we see the remains of two broken columns and other architectural fragments. Trees frame the scene to the left and right, and in the middle ground a wooden bridge stretches over the water to the dwellings of a town beyond. Above, lightning breaks out in a sky heavy with atmosphere, lending the painting its title: The Tempest.
Giorgione was among the first generation of painters in Italy to paint exclusively in oils. Oil painting was developed by northern European artists such as Jan van Eyck, and introduced to Venice by Antonello da Messina in the 1470s. The young Giorgione would also have been able to observe the technique in the work of the German artist Albrecht Dürer, who visited the city in 1494-95, around the time that his apprenticeship with Giovanni Bellini would have been drawing to a close at that time. In this painting he exploits the dramatic potential of oil to capture the tension and expectancy of a summer's day before a storm, and the luxurious beauty of the northern Italian landscape, which comes to the fore here in a way that prefigures the development of landscape art as an independent genre of painting.
Despite its relatively small size, this painting has had an enormous impact and influence on art history. Since its creation in the early sixteenth century the painting has been puzzling viewers and eluding interpretation: is the male figure a soldier or a shepherd? The mother a goddess or a gipsy? Writing about the painting in 1949 in his work Landscape into Art, the great art historian Sir Kenneth Clark declared "No one knows what it represents; even Michiel, writing in Giorgione's day could offer no better title than 'a soldier and a gypsy', and I think that there is little doubt that it is a free fantasy". Perhaps because of its ambiguity, The Tempest has fascinated and influenced later artists, who have echoed its treatment of landscape and atmosphere, and the intriguing interaction of its figures. We find strong echoes of La Tempesta in Titian's painting Sacred and Profane Love, in Nicolas Poussin's equally enigmatic work Et in Arcadia ego, and later in Manet's controversial impressionist painting Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe.