The tempest | Giorgione | 1508
Giorgione is probably the most mysterious of the renaissance painters for two reasons: first, because only 6 woks can be attributed undoubtedly to him; second, because in some of them, there is no concrete motif or meaning.
Regarding the artist, we have little information. We only have the data from the second edition of the book Lives of the artists by Vasari, published in 1568, and already quoted in other posts. There, we find that Giorgione studies next to Titian under the instruction of Giovanni Bellini in Castelfranco Veneto, Italy. That’s why both Giorgione and Titian retouched or help to finish each other’s paintings. If we consider this, next to their similar style and the fact that Giorgione only signed one of his paintings, the authorship of many others remains a mystery.
The tempest, however, is one of the few works that belong exclusively to Giorgione and it is considered the first landscape in western painting.
Although it has a great number of symbols, no one knows exactly what is it about, or even, if it is about something in concrete. There are different theories, but looking at the whole painting, they seem forced.
In the canvas, at the right we see a woman breastfeeding a baby. It is thought that she is a gipsy or a prostitute, but what’s really interesting is that the baby is suckling at the side of the woman, and not on her lap, as he commonly would. Is this strange position, the woman shows her sex to the spectator, which discards an idealized female figure. To the left of the work, we see a solder, another gipsy of a shepherd that in his hand holds a stick and looks at the right, but not towards the woman’s direction. X ray analysis of the canvas showed that, before painting the shepherd or soldier, Giorgione had painted another naked woman in his place.
Beneath the man, we see some kind of ruins with broken columns, which are generally associated with death. At the background of the composition, we can see the buildings of a deserted city under the shadow of an electrical storm.
Beyond the separated elements, the foreground has a tranquil and relaxed atmosphere, while the background is in extreme tension, with lightning and dark clouds. I think that Giorgione wanted this contrast on porpoise as it portraits the scene in the exact moment that both planes are about to fuse, it is, before the main characters find themselves inside the tempest.
Like Géricault, our artist from the previous post, Giorgione dies at 33.