Mysterious, romantic and charming was how Renaissance artists described Giorgione. Although the painter died at a young age of 33, he was still a very influential Venetian painter to the 15th century artists. He gained popularity during his apprenticeship to Giovanni Bellini in the early stages of his career.
Giorgione was famous for his painting, The Tempest (1508). Very few of his art works had survived though, and most of which served no historical, religious or allegorical purpose. Thus, this has made Giorgione become even more ambiguous yet very interesting.
Giorgio Barberelli da Castelfranco was born on 1477 in Veneto, Venice. He was also known as Zorzo in his little town, which meant “Tall George”. At a young age, he developed a keen interest in the arts and music although little is really known of his childhood years. Vasari told in his book that Giorgione was a humble individual despite having sheer artistic skill and talent.
Giorgione travelled to Venice to try his luck with Giovanni Bellini as his master. He started working for Giovanni Bellini in 1500, when he was 23 years old. He worked together with Titian (1485 – 1576), which the duo became famous for establishing the Venetian School of Painting. The school was one of the legacies that Bellini had left before he died, which his pupils continued working on eventually.
The establishment of the Venetian School of Painting was integral in the professional development of Giorgione. He became famous by association with Bellini, of course, but he made his own name by creating portraits of various prominent art patrons like Doge Agostino Babarigo and Consalvo Ferrante. In 1504, he was also asked to paint Matteo Costanzo’s altarpiece in a cathedral on Castelfranco.
From 1504 to 1508, Giorgione had been frescoing several edifices such as the exterior of Fondaco dei Tedeschi at Venice, Casa Grimani alli Servi and Casa Soranzo. Within this decade he could have also been meeting up with Leonardo da Vinci in Venice. This was the period when da Vinci would visit Venice to do some commissioned works.
Another highlight of Giorgione’s sudden yet fulfilling professional life was when he introduced new painting styles and subjects to his fellow painters. He executed art works that revealed no story at all may it be about the classical period or something biblical. This somehow broke the conventional Italian Renaissance art of story-telling through paintings; instead, what Giorgione had on his paintings was his display of poetic genius and of his romantic side. This characteristic might be influenced by his inclination towards music and lyrics at that time.
In most of Giorgione’s works, those should somehow reveal some of the painter’s characteristics and personality. Vasari found out that Giorgione was romantic, day-dreamy, poetic, a great musician and sensuous. And these characteristics are true to the Venetian painting themes, showing how much influence Giorgione had on the other Venetian painters not to mention of his popularity alone.
In 1505, Giorgione executed The Tempest, which is and will always be his best-known art work. In the painting, you will see figures of a man and a woman, with the woman breastfeeding a child, while the dark, cloudy sky on the background signified that the city is on the verge of facing a storm. This painting, although is open to all kinds of interpretation as it does not possess a clear subject, is very symbolic in nature. The Tempest was inspired by the imagined world of the painter rather than sticking to the traditional biblical or classical inspired stories and interpretations.
As though The Tempest wasn’t enigmatic enough to be interpreted with certainty, Giorgione painted yet another intriguing work entitled The Three Philosophers. He had Sebastiano del Piombo at the helm while completing this work, though. The painting shows three men standing near an empty cave. Judging by the setting alone, it would remind you of The Three Magi or and Plato’s Cave. The three figures seemed to be in a dreamy mood, contemplating on what they perceive of their surroundings.
Because two heads are better than one, Titian and Giorgione did some collaborated works that soon changed the landscape of Italian painting. They were the first painters to execute portraits with greater clarity, emotional expression of human feelings, sophistication in the delineated figures, and greater dramatic effect by using modeling and silhouette technique. As such, art historians and enthusiasts sometimes found it very difficult to distinguish the works of Titian from Giorgione.
Much worse is that most of Giorgione’s works had no attributions or signatures. Thus, there has been poor documentation of his works after his death. It can’t be helped also that his later works were in an ongoing collaboration with other painters. Fortunately, thanks to the Venetian art patron Marcantonio Michiel who had bought around 12 paintings of Giorgione, all of which had been identified as his and authentic. Five of these 12 paintings included the following items:
Art collector Michiel confirmed that Three Philosophers was finished by Sebastiano del Piombo and the Sleeping Venus was completed by Titian. Though this was the case, these two paintings are still considered some of the best and well-preserved works of Giorgione. And these works foreshadowed the emergence of High Renascimento and to Baroque period.
Giorgione was one of the few Italian artists who had a bright future ahead of him that died at 33. This is why some of his works had to be completed by his assistants later on. Giorgione died from the plague that crippled Venice and Europe to an extent, during the early 1500.
Giorgione died in 1510, while still had an ongoing negotiations with Isabella d’Este to be her court painter. Apparently this was cut off and the same goes for his other pending works like The Three Philosophers and the Sleeping Venus. Today, although very few of Giorgione’s paintings survived today, his contributions to European art will be forever treasured.