Giorgione

Giorgione was an Italian painter of the High Renaissance in Venice, whose career was cut off by his death at a little over 30. Giorgione 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 colour and mood, and is traditionally contrasted with the reliance on a more linear disegno of Florentine painting.

The little known of Giorgione's life is given in Giorgio Vasari's Vite. The painter came from the small town of Castelfranco Veneto, 40 km inland from Venice. The variant Giorgione (or Zorzon) may be translated "Big George". Vasari mentions an important event in Giorgione's life, and one which had influence on his work, his meeting with Leonardo da Vinci on the occasion of the Tuscan master'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.

He was very closely associated with Titian; Vasari says Giorgione was Titian's master, while Ridolfi says they both were pupils of Bellini, and lived in his house. They worked together on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi frescoes, and Titian finished at least some paintings of Giorgione after his death, although which ones remains very controversial.

Giorgione also introduced a new range of subjects. Besides altarpieces and portraits he painted pictures 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, Sebastiano del Piombo, Palma il Vecchio, il Cariani, Giulio Campagnola (and his brother), and even on his already eminent master, Giovanni Bellini. In the Venetian mainland, Giorgionismo strongly influenced Morto da Feltre, Domenico Capriolo, and Domenico Mancini.

Apart from the altarpiece and the frescoes, all Giorgione's surviving works are small paintings designed for the wealthy Venetian collector to keep in his home. This market had been emerging over the last half of the 15th century in Italy, and was much better established in the Netherlands, but Giorgione was the first major Italian painter to concentrate his work on it to such an extent. 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. Giorgione and the young Titian revolutionized the genre of the portrait as well. It is exceedingly difficult and sometimes simply impossible to differentiate Titian's early works from those of Giorgione. None of Giorgione's paintings are signed and only one bears a reliable date.

Giorgione died, probably of the plague then raging, by October, 1510. October 1510 is also the date of a letter by Isabella d'Este to a Venetian friend; asking him to buy a painting by Giorgione; in the letter she is aware he is already dead. The difficulty in making secure attributions of work by Giorgione's hand dates from soon after his death, when some of his paintings were completed by other artists, and his considerable reputation also led to very early erroneous claims of attribution.

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