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".

Monday, September 27, 2010

Boy with an Arrow



The similarity between the young St. Joseph in Raphael’s “Sposalizio,” and the young St. Joseph in Giorgione’s “Tempesta” is matched by the similarity between Raphael’s, “St. Sebastian,” and Giorgione’s  “Boy with an Arrow.”

Giorgione: Boy with an Arrow
Both depict a soulful young man, head tilted to the side, holding a single arrow in his hand. Raphael’s version is dated around 1501 and scholars guess that Giorgione’s dates around 1508. Both are small paintings of about the same size.

Raphael St. Sebastian

The halo in Raphael’s version leaves no doubt about the subject but there is no agreement about Giorgione’s, “Boy with an Arrow.” The catalog entry of the 2004 Giorgione exhibition listed a number of different interpretations, including St. Sebastian, but favored a more metaphorical interpretation. The absence of a halo was one objection but Giorgione never used that device.

Starting with Vasari scholars have speculated on the possible influence of Leonardo on Giorgione, but it is interesting to speculate on the degree to which Giorgione was aware of Raphael’s work, especially after the sojourn of Fra Bartolommeo in Venice in 1508. The following description of Raphael’s painting could easily fit the “Boy with an Arrow.”
“the St. Sebastian in the Accademia Carrara at Bergamo, so Peruginesque at first glance, reveals on further analysis the distance that exists between Raphael and his master from his very earliest paintings. Perugino painted many such studies of young men and women, their heads tilted, viewed full-face. However several subtle differences—a firmer chin, a more finely modeled mouth, the very well structured nose whose bridge appears to join the arch of the eyebrow, a greater sense of volume—show this painting to be far removed from him….
The highly embroidered robe, the pattern on the shirt like notes of music, the slashed velvet of the jerkin…point to a love of ornamentation which comes from Pinturicchio but the saint’s neck-chain, clearly copied from a real example…is close to northern painting and has no equivalent in the work of Perugino or Pinturicchio. The saint grasps the fragile arrow of his martyrdom like a scepter; it is a marvelous image, a tour de force. The subtle treatment of the head, slightly tilted away from the spectator, is close in style to the Madonna with St. Jerome and St. Francis in spite of the difference in scale and like that painting, striking in its icon-like character and lack of three-dimensionality, it can be dated a little later in the same year, 1501."*
* Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Raphael, His Life and Works, 1985, p.20.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Giorgione: Three Philosophers

The colors of the garments of the men in Giorgione's "Three Philosophers" have hardly been noticed in the scholarly literature. Do they provide a clue to the subject of the painting? Below find an essay that supports the thesis that the Three Philosophers are actually the Three Magi but at the beginning of their journey. If so, this famous painting would also, like the Tempesta, have a "sacred" subject.




The "Three Philosophers" is one of only a handful of paintings that scholars definitively attribute to the great Venetian Renaissance master, Giorgione. It was one of the highlights of the magnificent 2006 exhibition, "Bellini, Giorgione, Titian: The Renaissance in Venetian Art," jointly sponsored by the National Gallery in Washington, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

At the symposium which ended the Washington exhibition, one scholar entitled his talk, "The Moment of Giorgione." Another scholar who was given the task of summing up said that despite the greatness of the works by Titian and Bellini, the exhibition was all about "Giorgione." What did they mean?

Besides the universally acknowledged quality of the works attributed to Giorgione, there is an air of mystery about the painter. His death in Venice in 1510 at about the age of thirty three cut short an incredibly promising career. Although Giorgio Vasari in his famous work on Renaissance painters devoted a whole chapter to Giorgione, there is little biographical data. Scholars think that he apprenticed in the workshop of the prolific Giovanni Bellini, but then went off on his own. He was either a mentor, colleague, or rival of the younger Titian who apparently completed some of Giorgione's unfinished paintings after his untimely death.

Giorgione was one of the first Italians to work with oil, a medium which enabled him to break new ground especially in landscape. His style, often called Giorgionesque, influenced Titian to such an extent that scholars often attribute the same paintings to one or the other, or sometimes to both. Moreover, there is an enigmatic quality about the works of Giorgione that is part of his fascination. He is the master of what is called "the hidden subject."

The "Three Philosophers" is a good example. This painting depicts three men standing on a hilltop overlooking a beautiful valley with the sun setting in the West behind a range of mountains. They are dressed in colorful Oriental robes and face a dark rock formation or cave. They and the cave are illuminated by another source of light. Who are they and what are they doing there?

In 1525 Marcantonio Michiel, a Venetian patrician and connoisseur, catalogued the paintings in the collection of Taddeo Contarini, another Venetian aristocrat, and described this one as "three philosophers in a Landscape." Two hundred and fifty years later the painting had found its way to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, its current home. In a 1783 catalog it was called, "Three Magi." Since them scholars have debated whether the men are philosophers, astronomers, surveyors, representatives of the three ages of man, representatives of three religions, or the Wise Men or Magi of the Biblical account.

Today, most scholars accept the "philosopher" interpretation even though they find it difficult to identify which ones. Indeed, the catalog of the National Gallery exhibition and the audio commentary dismissed the "Magi" interpretation. Nevertheless, recent findings suggest that the Magi are making a comeback.

In the catalog of the unprecedented Giorgione exhibition in 2004, a collaboration of the Kunsthistorische Museum and the Accademia in Venice, one scholar argued that in this painting Giorgione depicted the Magi not at end of their journey but at the beginning, that is, when they first saw the Star of Bethlehem.. His most compelling point had to do with the lighting of the painting. If we look carefully, we can see the sun setting in the West behind the mountains, but the three men and the rock formation in the foreground are being illuminated by another source. According to the medieval legend which Giorgione apparently followed, the light of the Star which rose in the East was even brighter than the sun at midday.

Moreover, at the conclusion of the Symposium that ended the exhibition in the National Gallery another scholar offered a striking piece of evidence in support of the Magi. The exhibition itself had done an excellent job of educating the public on the value of using scientific techniques to evaluate the "underpainting" of some of these Renaissance masterpieces. X-rays and other techniques show many "pentimenti" or changes of mind on the part of the artists. When working with oils, the artists would frequently alter their paintings by painting over the original.

In the original version the old man on the right dressed in gold is wearing an elaborate headpiece crowned with a kind of solar disk. For some reason Giorgione decided to discard it in favor of a simple hood. Nevertheless, when the scholar projected an image on the huge screen of a painting by Vittore Carpaccio of the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, the old man in that painting was wearing the kind of headpiece discarded by Giorgione.

Perhaps both Carpaccio and Giorgione took their inspiration from the elaborate public processions honoring the Magi which were common in the later Medieval world. No where were they more elaborate than in Venice. More than any other city, Venice was aware of the styles and costumes of the Orient.

Finally, I believe that there is one more piece of evidence that so far has eluded scholars but will help to make the case for the Magi. The most obvious feature in the painting is the brilliant color of the costumes. In the ancient legend the gifts of the Magi were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the medieval legend, the oldest of the Magi was the bearer of the gold; the middle aged man carried the myrrh; and the youngest brought the frankincense. The golden garment of the oldest man needs no explanation. In my encyclopedia the color of myrrh is a dark red, while the color of frankincense can be white or green, the colors of the sitting young man.

Could it be that Giorgione hid his subject by making it obvious? I think it more likely that most Venetians in 1506 would have certainly seen the Magi in this great masterpiece.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Discovery of Paris

Giorgione: "The Discovery of Paris," or "The Encounter with the Robbers on the Flight into Egypt”

David Teniers: Copy of a Lost Giorgione



The great objection to interpreting Giorgione's "Tempest" as "the Rest on the Flight into Egypt" is, of course, the nude Madonna. As one scholar said, it is "unimaginable." Others have insisted that precedents must be found for such a radical interpretation. It was only last year that I found a precedent in a copy of a "lost" Giorgione. This new evidence was incorporated into the presentation given at the Annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in April, 2010. It was posted on the Blog section of my website on July 19, 2010. I post it below with additional information that claims that Isabella d'Este was trying to acquire the "Tempest" in 1510.


A “lost” Giorgione painting which has been mis-identified for almost 500 years can shed new light on the work and career of the most mysterious and perhaps the greatest of all Venetian Renaissance painters.

In 1525, fifteen years after the death of Giorgione, Marcantonio Michiel noticed a painting in the home of Venetian patrician, Taddeo Contarini, and described it as a “picture on canvas, representing the birth of Paris, in a landscape, with two shepherds standing.…” Michiel noted that it was one of Giorgione’s “early works.”

This painting has been lost, but copies exist from the 17th century. The editor of the 1903 translation of Michiel’s notes cited a description in an “old manuscript catalog of the time.”

A landscape on canvas, in oil, where there are on one side, a half nude woman and an old man, seated, with a flute.

One of the copies, made by David Teniers around 1655, is currently in a private collection but was discussed in two recent catalogues. The authors of both catalogues agree that it is a copy of an early Giorgione and also accept, although with some puzzlement, Michiel’s identification of the painting as “the Birth of Paris.” However, details in this early Giorgione indicate that it has quite a different subject than the one imagined by Michiel.

The subject of this “lost” Giorgione comes from a legendary episode on the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. Here is the version from the apocryphal “Arabic Gospel of the Infancy.”

Joseph and the lady Mary departed and came to a desert place, and when they heard that it was infested with raids by robbers, they decided to pass through this region by night. But behold, on the way they saw two robbers lying on the road, and with them a crowd of robbers who belonged to them, likewise sleeping. Now these two robbers, into whose hands they had fallen, were Titus and Dumachus. And Titus said to Dumachus: ‘I ask you to let these (people) go free, and in such a way that our companions do not observe them.’ But Dumachus refused and Titus said again: ‘Take from me forty drachmae and have them as a pledge.’ At the same time he reached him the girdle which he wore round him, that he might hold his tongue and not speak.

In "Legends of the Madonna" Anna Jameson called the encounter with the robbers an “ancient tradition,” and added another detail. After the acceptance of his offer, “the merciful robber led the Holy Travellers to his stronghold on the rock, and gave them lodging for the night.”

The landscape in the background of the painting is commonplace in depictions of the Flight into Egypt. The stream is often seen in versions of the “Rest.” It was used by the Madonna to either bathe, or to wash the swaddling clothes of her Son.

Giorgione: Judith

Bathing might explain Mary’s exposed leg and arms but the disarray of her clothing could also be Giorgione’s way of representing her obvious danger from the robbers. In a painting now in the Hermitage, Giorgione exposed the thigh of Judith, the famous Jewish heroine whose virtue was also threatened. In any case Mary sits with her back to Joseph with her eyes intent on her Son, her real protector. Joseph is portrayed as an elderly graybeard as in Giorgione’s well-known Nativities. The infant Christ lies on a white cloth and returns his mother’s imploring look. The white cloth recalls the "corporale," used to cover the altar on which the Eucharist is placed.

The two men on the right side are not shepherds but robbers. A Giorgione shepherd would be kneeling or bending over the Child in adoration. The one with the red jacket has just convinced the other to leave the Holy Family in peace. He has taken off his “girdle” leaving himself somewhat exposed and given it to the other who is in the process of fixing it around his waist. The band of robbers can be seen lounging in the middle ground. Joseph’s flute recalls the well-know verse from Juvenal: “A wanderer who has nothing can sing in a robber’s face.”

In “The Encounter with the Robbers in the Desert” Giorgione did not attempt to hide the subject of that early work. If no one has recognized its subject from Michiel’s time to ours, it is because the very popular apocryphal legends have largely been forgotten. Early in his career Giorgione was working not on a pagan subject derived from the legend of Paris but on a depiction of an apocryphal legend based on the Flight into Egypt. Moreover, he showed an inclination, even at this early stage in his brief career, to depict the Madonna in a very unusual way.


Marcantonio Michiel may not have been the first to describe this painting. In 1510, the year of Giorgione’s death, Isabella D’Este, the Marchioness of Mantua and a noted collector, was trying to acquire a work by Giorgione for her camerino. When she was informed by Taddeo Albano, her agent in Venice, that Giorgione had just died, she urged him to try to acquire a “Notte” from his estate:

we hear that among the possessions left by Zorzo da Castelfranco, the painter, there is a picture of a Notte, very beautiful and original. If this is the case, we wish to have it, and beg your Lorenzo da Pavia or any other person of taste and judgment to go and see if it is a really excellent thing. If it is, I hope you will endeavor to secure this picture for me, with the help of our dearest "compare" the Magnifico Carlo Valerio, or of any one else you may think fit. Find out the price and let us have the exact sum; but if it is really a fine thing, and you think well to clench the bargain for fear others should carry it off, do what you think best…

Albano replied,

I have spoken in your interests to some of my friends who were very intimate with him, and they assure me that there is no such picture among his possessions. It is true that the said Zorzo painted a Notte for M. Taddeo Contarini, which, according to the information which I have, is not as perfect as you would desire. Another picture of the Notte was painted by Zorzo for a certain Vittore Beccaro, which, from what I hear, is finer in design and better finished than that of Contarini. But Beccaro is not at present in Venice, and from what I hear neither picture is for sale, because the owners have had them painted for their own pleasure, so that I regret I am unable to satisfy Your Excellency’s wish.

According to Michiel’s notes the only painting in the home of Taddeo Contarini that could be a “notte” would be the “discovery of Paris,” or as we have called it, “The Encounter with the Robbers on the Flight into Egypt.” Scholars have never agreed about what Isabella D’Este could have meant by “Notte.” Some think she was referring to a Nativity but Isabella knew a Nativity when she saw one, or when she requested one from Giovanni Bellini. No, the “Encounter with the Robbers,” indicates that a “Notte” was an evening scene where the sun was setting over a landscape at the end of day.

What about the other “notte”? It is certainly possible that the one done for Vittore Beccaro, the one finer in design and better finished; the one described by Isabella as “very beautiful and original” could have been the Tempesta. In the “Encounter with the Robbers” Giorgione was “stretching the envelope” with a presentation of a disheveled and partially nude Madonna. Later he would go even further in the “Tempesta.” But that is another story.


Francis P. DeStefano
Fairfield, CT

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giorgione: The Tempest

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" can now be 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 My Giorgione. http://www.giorgionetempesta.com.

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



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 and now devotes himself to writing and lecturing on History, especially Art History.

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