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Italian Painter

Giorgione Photo
Movements and Styles: High Renaissance, The Venetian School

Born: c.1477 - Castelfranco, Italy

Died: 1510 - Venice, Italy

"Together with Leonardo, Giorgione was the first pure painter of modern art history and his influence on generations of painters after him surpassed all of his contemporaries [...] He was the first painter in modern European art history to unify poetry and naturalness. Truly, modern painting begins with Giorgione."

Wolfgang L. Eller

Summary of Giorgione

Giorgio da Castelfranco, or Giorgione as he is better known, lived a short, but vital, life; a life that confirmed him indeed as one of the most important and enigmatic figures in the history of Western art. The elusive, poetic quality to his painting - with no surviving documentation of the artist's preferences and aims, and no record of his patron's demands, their meanings have always been subject to fervent conjecture - secured a legacy that belies a career that lasted just 15 years. Though Giorgione's paintings resist straightforward classification, they undoubtedly challenged the modern style of the day and the artist was instrumental in effecting a shift within Venetian culture towards a new appreciation for the ancient world, esoteric mythology and the natural world. He is remembered primarily for his portraits and landscapes, and of the latter, there is some consensus amongst historians that his work led to the development of landscape as a legitimate genre in its own right. Vasari's famous biography describes him merely as a man of intelligence, charm and prodigious talent (though the author's account was probably drawn from Giorgione's painting style rather than from reliable records and/or anecdotes) - he emerges as a pivotal figure in the move within Renaissance art towards a style that promoted the sensuous blending of luminous color that we recognise to this day as a hallmark of the Venetian Renaissance.

Key Ideas

The fashion amongst portrait artists, including Giorgione's esteemed tutor, Giovanni Bellini, was to treat their sitters with a holy reverence. Giorgione approached portraiture with a more humanistic outlook that encouraged the spectator to consider something of the personality of his subject. The status of Giorgione's sitters often remained ambiguous, while the delicate attention to detail in his painting allowed for a much greater intimacy to form between subject and spectator.
Giorgione's ingenuity was evident both in his choice of subject matter and in his technique. He was one of the first Italian painters to abandon the traditional medium of egg tempera in favor of the new oil paint. Oils allowed for the creation of a more luminous, textured canvas and offered a means by which to affect a higher dramatic potential in the painted scene. Some historians have suggested that Giorgione might have been inspired by Leonardo's famous sfumato technique. Even if this were so, his use of rich colors and thick oily brushstrokes were of his own invention.
According to the art historian Ernst Gombrich, the Venetian nobleman Marcantonio Michiel's analysis of Giorgione's work in 1525 was the first to use of the word landscape in art. Though there were precedents to be found in ancient Chinese art, and others in Northern Europe such as Albrecht Dürer had become interested in rendering the detail in nature, Giorgione was the first Western painter to treat natural scenery as something much more meaningful than a mere backdrop for his figures. It seems likely that Giorgione had been influenced by the Renaissance philosopher Pietro Pomponazzi who had gained fame amongst the Venetian humanist groups of the day by suggesting that nature, ergo the philosophy of "naturalism," offered the true explanation of life and mortality.
Giorgione Photo

Giorgio da Castelfranco was born around 1477 in the small northern Italian town of Castelfranco Veneto, some twenty-five miles inland from the Republic of Venice. Passed down by posterity, the name Giorgione - "Big" or "Tall George" - tells us something perhaps about his physical stature while legend has tended to view him as a handsome and passionate young man. Yet so little is known about Giorgione, least of all his early childhood. From a document listing his possessions compiled shortly after his death, we learn the name of his father, Giovanni Gasparini, and that his mother (unnamed) died while Giorgione was a young child. He was raised by his stepmother, Alessandra, though we cannot tell from what date. Even Giorgio Vasari, author of the influential The Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550) offers no more than the observation that the artist was born of humble origins. But there can be no doubt that he was a prodigiously talented child given that, aged 13, Giorgione moved to Venice to take up an apprenticeship under one Giovanni Bellini, the pre-eminent Venetian master of the second half of the fifteenth century.

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