1902 Encyclopedia > Giorgione

Italian painter

GIORGIONE (1477-1511), the name adopted both by his contemporaries and by posterity for one of the most renowned of Italian painters, signifies George the Big, or Great, and was given him, according to Vasari, " because of the gifts of his person and the greatness of his mind." Like Lionardo da Vinci, Giorgione appears to have been of illegitimate birth. His father belonged certainly to the gentle family of the Barbarella, of Castelfranco in the Trevisan; his mother, it seems probable, was a peasant girl of the neighbouring village of Vedelago; and he was born in or shortly before the year 1477. In histories and cata-logues he is now commonly styled Giorgio Barbarella of Castelfranco; but it seems clear that he was humbly reared, and only acknowledged by his father's family when his genius had made him famous. Twenty-seven years after his death, the brothers Matteo and Ercole Barbarella were glad to inscribe the name of Giorgione among the members of their family in whose honour they built and dedicated a monument in the church of San Liberale in their native town. Presently this church was demolished and replaced by a new one. In the course of this operation the inscrip-tion in question perished. Not so a more important memorial of Giorgione's greatness, in the shape of an altar-piece which he painted for the same church on the commis-sion of Tuzio Costanzo. Tuzio Costanzo was a famous captain of free lances, who had followed his mistress, the Queen Cornaro, from Cyprus to her retirement in the Trevisan, and at the beginning of the 16th century was settled at Castelfranco. The altar-piece with which Giorgione adorned the chapel of this patron in the old church of San Liberale, was afterwards transferred to the new church, where it remains to this day, so that there is something more than the mere memory of the great painter to attract the lover of art on a pilgrimage to his native town. Castelfranco is a hill fort standing in the midst of a rich and broken plain at some distance from the last slopes of the Venetian Alps. Giorgione's ideal of luxu-riant pastoral scenery, the country of pleasant copses, glades, and brooks, amid which his personages love to wander or recline with lute and pipe, was derived, no doubt, from these natural surroundings of his childhood. We can-not tell how long he remained in their midst, nor what were the circumstances which led him, while still, it seems, a boy, to Venice. Once there, we do not hear of him until his genius is, so to speak, full-fledged. He appears all at once as a splendid presence, the observed of all observers; an impassioned musician, singer, lover; and, above all, as a painter winning new conquests for his art. His progress from obscurity to fame, probably under the teaching of Giovanni Bellini, must have been extraordinarily rapid, as he was still very young when he was employed to paint the portraits of two successive doges, and of great captains and princesses such as Gonzalvo of Cordova and Catharina Cornaro. Giorgione effected, in the Venetian school, a change analogous to that effected by Lionardo in the school of Florence,—a change, that is, which was less a revolution than a crowning of the edifice. He added the last accom-plishments of freedom and science to an art that at his advent only just fell short of both. Venetian painting towards 1495 had reached the height of religious dignity in the great altar-pieces of Bellini, the height of romantic sentiment and picturesque animation in Carpaccio's series from the legend of St Ursula. The efforts of the school for nearly half a century had been concentrated on the develop-ment, with the help of the new medium of oil, of colour as the great element of emotional expression in painting. Giorgione came to enrich the art with a more faultless design; with a system of colour yet more ardent, melting, and harmonious ; with a stronger sense of life and of the glory of the real world as distinguished from the solemn dreamland of the religious imagination. He had a power hitherto unknown of interpreting both the charm of merely human grace and distinction, and the natural joy of life in the golden sunlight among woods and meadows. His active career cannot have extended over more than fifteen years, since we know that he died in 1511,—according to one account, of a contagious disorder: according to another, of grief at discovering that his mistress had played false with a pupil. But in that brief career he had both deeply modified the older manner of the Venetian school, as represented even by a master so great and so austere as John Bellini, and had prepared the way for its final manner, as represented by the most complete master of all, Titian. Bellini, who outlived Giorgione, had not been ashamed to learn something from the practice of a teacher fully forty years younger than himself, who was probably in the first instance his own pupil. Titian, only ten years younger than Giorgione, succeeded to his conquests, and enjoyed the length of days which was denied him.

A consecutive biography of Giorgione it is impossible to construct, either from literary records or from extant works. The literary records only furnish us with a few general characteristics, and with the mention of a few of his productions, especially the frescos with which he adorned the front of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi or hall of the German traders at Venice, after its destruction by fire in 1504; and the frescos and altar-piece, sometimes attributed to the same year, which he executed for Tuzio Costanzo in his native town. The decorations of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which Vasari praises for their design and glowing colour, but blames for their too fantastic and enigmatical invention, have unhappily been utterly destroyed by the combined operation of weather and of reckless architectural changes in the building. The frescos of the chapel of Castelfranco were also sacrificed, while the altar-piece was preserved in the manner we have related. A fragment of a love-madrigal, which was once to be read on the back of this panel, addressed apparently by the painter to his model, is quoted as in character with our traditions of the man. The picture itself represents the Virgin and Child enthroned, with a group of saints, and prominent among them the warrior-saint Liberale, the patron of the church. A small and highly finished study in armour for this figure is now one of the treasures of the National Gallery in London, to which it was bequeathed by Mr Rogers. To Giorgione are also attributed pictures in almost all the public and private galleries of Europe, to a number ten times greater than could possibly be consistent with the short duration of his career, and with the fact that no inconsiderable portion of that career must have been occupied with the production of the perished frescos. These so-called Giorgiones of the galleries may to some extent be recognized and classified as the work of one or another of several groups of painters whose manner was more or less akin to, or influenced by, that of Venice in Giorgione's days. One such group belongs to Bergamo; another to Brescia; another is in alliance with -Palma j another with Titian; another, again, consists of the later and looser imitators of the master himself, as Andrea and Schiavone, Pietro della Vecchia and Rocco Marcone. It is probable, indeed, that those distinguished authorities, Messrs Crowe and Cavalcaselle, have gone too far in excluding from the genuine, work of Giorgione several of the most famous pictures which have hitherto passed as standards whereby to judge his manner, as, for instance, the Entombment of Christ at Treviso, and particularly the beautiful Concert of the Louvre. Without, however, entering upon disputed ground, there remains a reasonable number of undoubted pictures of the master, and these, while they possess in common the qualities of feeling and invention which we have above defined, in technical style vary from a minute and painstaking precision, almost like that of Antonello da Messina, or of Bellini in his earlier manner, to a degree of breadth, glow, and softness, which are the qualities more popularly associated with the name of Giorgione, and more commonly attempted by his imitators.

We conclude with a mention of a few of the principal undisputed examples of Giorgione's handiwork, following a chronological order, which, however, it should be understood, is necessarily but approxi-mate and conjectural. Florence, Uffizi : an Ordeal of Moses, and a Judgment of Solomon,—small pictures with rich landscape acces-sories, and figures of extraordinary grace and delicacy, painted apparently in imitation or in rivalry of the New Testament allegory by Bellini, in the same manner, which is preserved in the same gallery; all three were originally in the summer residence of the Medici at Poggio Imperiale. London, collection of Mr Wentworth Beaumont : Holy Family, with the angel appearing to the shepherds in the background, —again a small picture, very delicately finished ; formerly in the possession of Cardinal Fesch. London, National Gallery: the Study for San Liberale above men-tioned. Castelfranco, Church of San Liberale: the altar-piece,— figures life size, exhibiting much of the manner of Bellini in his altar-pieces. Vienna, Belvedere Gallery: a Group of Astronomers in a Glade, known as the Chaldeans,—rich sunset landscape, with villages in the distance and trees in the foreground ; beside the trees ou the left, three figures in Oriental costumes, one-third of life size ; formerly in the Taddeo Contarini gallery. Venice, Manfrini palace : man, woman, and child, known as the Family of Giorgione, in a landscape recalling the neighbourhood of Castelfranco,—one of the most beautiful works of the master, formerly in the house of Gabriel Vendramin at Santa Fosca. England, Kingston Lacy, col-lection of Mr Bankes : Judgment of Solomon,—a large unfinished picture of great beauty, of clearer tones and broader treatment than the foregoing, bought, at the suggestion of Lord Byron, from the Marescalchi gallery. Florence, Pitti : Concert,—a monk of the Augustinians, seated at the harpsichord ; behind him, a clerk with a viol ; on the left a young man with plumed hat and long hair. This is the most perfect of all the works which are assumed to belong to the later time of the master.

See Vasari, Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, &c, voi. vii. p. 80, ed. Lemonnier ; Bidolfi, Maraviglie dell' Arte, voi. i. p. 121 ; Crowe and Cavalcaselle, History of Painting in North Italy, vol. ii. p. 119. (S. C.)

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