Saturday, February 2, 2013

Giorgione, Giorgio da Castelfranco

The Tempest (La Tempesta)
oil on canvas
83 × 73 cm (33 × 29 in.)
Galeria della Accademia, Venice, Italy

The Tempest has been called the first landscape in the history of Western painting. The subject of this painting is unclear, but its artistic mastery is apparent. It portrays a soldier and a breast-feeding woman on either side of a stream, amid a city's rubble and an incoming storm. On the right a woman sits, suckling a baby. Her pose is unusual - normally the baby would be held on the mother's lap; but in this case the baby is positioned at the side of the mother, so as to expose her pubic area. This appears to signal that the mother's realm is the everyday rather than the sacred. A man, possibly a soldier, holding a long staff or pike, stands in contrapposto on the left. He smiles and glances to the right, but does not appear to be looking at the woman. This mysterious painting was originally commissioned by the Venetian noble Gabriele Vendramin. Scholars have cited The Tempest as having influenced Manet's Luncheon on the Grass.

Giorgione, Giorgio da Castelfranco (c. 1477 - 1510) was an Italian painter of the High Renaissance in Venice, whose career was cut off by his death at a little over thirty. He is known for the elusive poetic quality of his work, though only about six surviving paintings are acknowledged for certain to be his work. The resulting uncertainty about the identity and meaning of his art has made Giorgione one of the most mysterious figures in European painting. Together with Titian, who was slightly younger, he is the founder of the distinctive Venetian school of Italian Renaissance painting, which achieves much of its effect through color and mood, and is traditionally contrasted with the Florentine painting.

Giorgione came from the small town of Castelfranco Veneto, 40 km inland from Venice. Contemporary documents record that his gifts were recognized early. In 1500, when he was only twenty-three, he was chosen to paint portraits of the Doge of Venice: the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.

Vasari mentions an important event in Giorgione's life, and one which had influence on his work, his meeting with Leonardo da Vinci: the Tuscan master, on the occasion of Leonardo's visit to Venice in 1500. All accounts agree in representing Giorgione as a person of distinguished and romantic charm, a great lover and a musician, given to express in his art the sensuous and imaginative grace, touched with poetic melancholy, of the Venetian existence of his time. They represent him further as having made in Venetian painting an advance analogous to that made in Tuscan painting by Leonardo more than twenty years before; that is, as having released the art from the last shackles of archaic rigidity and placed it in possession of full freedom and the full mastery of its means. (Vasari; 1511-1574, is an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Renaissance artists.)

Giorgione also introduced a new range of subjects. Besides altarpieces and portraits he painted pictures that told no story, whether biblical or classical, or if they professed to tell a story, neglected the action and simply embodied in form and color moods of lyrical or romantic feeling, much as a musician might embody them in sounds. Innovating with the courage and felicity of genius, he had for a time an overwhelming influence on his contemporaries and immediate successors in the Venetian school, including Titian. Giorgione died at age 34, probably of the plague then raging, by October, 1510. Titian finished at least some paintings of Giorgione after his death.