Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Giorgione, The Tempest (1508)

I came across a postcard of this image as I packed up my studio.  It is one of the most enigmatic paintings in the history of art -- Giorgione's The Tempest.  I saw it in the Accademia in Venice and overheard a guide suggest an interpretation to a painting which has defied any consensus as to its meaning.  He suggested that the background had to be the League of Cambria which, in the very year the painting was being created, was threatening Venice's power.  Some argue that the rise of this challenge was the beginning the long, two-century end to the Venetian empire.

The guide suggested that we often paint that which we fear we are losing  So, while most viewers look to the foreground and the fascinating figures -- the gypsy/prostitute/mother and baby, the soldier/gypsy/single man nearby, the guide was suggesting we look to the rest of the painting, to the river and bridge, and townscape.  Venice's lands were threatened, and they would steadily lose their landed empires; Venice was becoming a purely urban empire.  Giorgione seems to fetishize the landscape, and to picture that which Venice would no longer have. 

It is a very different sentiment than the forceful image of the winged lion from just a few years later, which hangs on the Doge Palace, and I discussed in conjunction with the Tiepolo from the mid 18th century. The earlier image -- from around 1518 -- seems to have none of the worry and longing quality of the Giorgione.  It seems almost desperate to repress the fear that the empire was threatened, but rather reasserts, proudly, and naively, that the land and sea empire are two parts of the same animal. 

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