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 29, 2017

Giorgione: A "Notte" for Vittore Beccaro

In my last post I revisited my interpretation of a painting by Giorgione that has been lost but that still exists in seventeenth century copies. It is usually called the Discovery of Paris but I have argued that it is a depiction of the legendary encounter of the Holy Family with robbers on the flight into Egypt. I also believe that it is one of the two "notte"that Isabella D' Este sought to purchase in 1510. Below I reproduce my discusses of the two paintings with an addendum about Vittore Beccaro, the owner of the one that Isabella's agent called "finer in design and better finished".

 Late in 1510 Isabella D’Este, Marchesa of Mantua and renowned art patron, tried to acquire a Giorgione painting only to discover that the young master had just died. Nevertheless, the indefatigable collector persisted. On October 25 she wrote to Taddeo Albano, her agent in Venice:
 “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… 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 on November 8:
“Most illustrious and honoured Madama mia,--
“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.” *
Since that time scholars have not been able to agree on the identity of the two paintings mentioned in Albano’s letter. Neither have they been able to agree on what Isabella or Albano meant by “notte” since the word hardly appears elsewhere in descriptions of paintings.

However, from the correspondence we can say that both paintings were commissioned: “the owners have had them painted for their own pleasure.” The one that was not as “perfect” as Isabella would have desired was done for Venetian patrician, Taddeo Contarini. The other “notte”, the one “finer in design and better finished,” was done for Vittore Beccaro, of whom nothing else is known. Not only was Beccaro out of town at the time of Isabella’s inquiry, but he seems to have completely disappeared from history.

Some scholars have argued that Isabella used “notte” or night scene to mean a Nativity or “presepio.” They have suggested that the Adoration of the Shepherds now in the National Gallery in Washington is the more perfect version, and that the same painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is the less perfect one since it is obviously unfinished. This explanation hardly seems plausible since it is impossible to imagine that a patron like Taddeo Contarini would have prized an incomplete painting. Moreover, Isabella knew a Nativity when she saw one. A few years earlier when she corresponded with Giovanni Bellini about a Nativity, she never called it a “notte.”

David Teniers: copy of a lost Giorgione

In 1525 Marcantonio Michiel saw a painting in the house of Taddeo Contarini that could be called a night scene. Michiel noted that it represented “the birth of Paris in a landscape, with two shepherds standing.” He said it was by Giorgio di Castelfranco,” and indicated that it was one of his “early works.” Recently, Enrico dal Pozzolo suggested that this painting, of which only copies remain, was the one mentioned by Albano. He also suggested that the “more perfect” “notte” might be a “Hell with Aeneas and Anchises,” a painting that is now completely lost but which had somehow found its way into Contarini’s home by 1525. **

Pozzolo noted that a discovery of Paris coupled with an Aeneas and Anchises would mark the beginning and the end of the whole Trojan saga. However, this hypothesis is based on a misinterpretation of the “Discovery of Paris.” I have argued elsewhere that this lost Giorgione is a depiction of an episode on the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. It is clear that in this early work Giorgione relied on a text from the apocryphal Arabic gospel of the Infancy.

Even from the copy of the “Discovery of Paris” done by David Teniers in 1655, we can see that it is not one of Giorgione’s most perfect works. This early effort seems crude in comparison with his later work. Since I have argued that Giorgione’s most perfect painting, La Tempesta, is also a depiction of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, I believe it is safe to say that it was also the “notte”, “very beautiful and original,” that Isabella unsuccessfully sought to acquire right after Giorgione’s death in 1510.



Finally, I would like to speculate on the identity of Vittore Beccaro. Enrico dal Pozzolo suggested that the name implies that he might have been a butcher but it is hard to imagine, given Giorgione’s patrician patrons, that the Tempest was commissioned by an ordinary tradesman. It is true that Taddeo Albano claimed that Vittore Beccaro was the owner of the beautiful “notte”. But Albano got his information second or third hand from acquaintances. It is clear that he did not know the owner or even see the painting. At my age, it is easy to imagine that Albano could have rendered the name somewhat incorrectly.

Instead I would like to advise students to look in the direction of Bologna whose leading citizens included the Zambeccaro family. I also believe that some members of the family fled Bologna for Venice after Pope Julius II drove out the ruling Bentivoglio family in 1506.


At least one of the Zambeccaro was an art collector. In his biography of Franceso Francia, Giorgione Vasari said that Francia was a close friend of Polo Zambeccaro.
He lived in close intimacy with Messer Polo Zambeccaro, who being much his friend, and wishing to have some memorial of him, caused him to paint a rather large picture of the Nativity of Christ, which is one of the most celebrated works that he ever made; and for this reason Messer Polo commissioned him to paint at his villa two figures in fresco, which are very beautiful.***
The status of Polo Zambeccaro enabled him to commission a painting from a renowned painter like Francia. Moreover, he asked for a sacred subject, a Nativity, for his own private devotion. Polo Zambeccaro would have been the type of person who could have asked Giorgione, the up and coming favorite of the Venetian aristocracy, for "a picture of a Notte, very beautiful and original," a painting that would later be called the Tempest. It is still not for sale at any price.


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*Isabella’s correspondence with Taddeo Albano can be found in Julia Cartwright, Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539. London, 1932. For the Italian text see Jaynie Anderson, Giorgione, The Painter of Poetic Brevity, p. 362.

**Enrico dal Pozzolo: Giorgione, 1999, pp. 33-35.


***Vasari, Giorgio: Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, translated by Gaston Du C. De Vere, with an introduction and notes by David Ekserdjian. 2V, Everyman’s Library, 1996. Vol. 1, 581.

1 comment:

  1. It goes seem like Isabella d'Este would have been more direct in describing something as a Nativity, if the painting she wished to purchase was a depiction of the Nativity. She was a smart lady and very savvy with what was popular in the art world. The "notte" word seems appropriate to use for "The Tempest," since dark clouds and lightning fill such a large part of the picture plane.

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