The Tempest by Giorgione – It is a renaissance painting done by Giorgione, an Italian master, between 1506 and 1508. The painting was originally commissioned by Gabriele Vendramin, a Venetian noble. The Tempest now sits in Gallerie dell’Accademia- Venice Italy. Since its release, this painting has led to a downpour of discussions and art historians have been trying to find the full meaning of the art scene depicted by the painter.
Giorgio da Castelfranco, also popularly known as Giorgione, is a renowned Italian painter. He was born in 1477/78 and he died in 1510 from the plague. Although he passed while barely in his 30s, the effect of his work has span centuries.
The Venetian school painter was known to create high-quality work. While there is some uncertainty regarding his identity, his work and craftsmanship continue to draw waves. It should be noted that only six of his paintings are still attributed to him.
His childhood years are unclear but he came from Castelfranco Veneto, Venice and he served his painting apprenticeship under Giovanni Bellini. Giorgione is sometimes known as Zorzo, which is a variant of Giorgione and this can be translated to mean “Big George.”
Over the years, he mastered his skills and became even more successful than his master, Bellini. Historical documents indicate that he started getting recognized at an early age. For instance, he was employed in around 1508 to decorate the German Merchant’s Hall. He was also chosen to paint the portraits of Consalvo Ferrante and Doge Agostino Barbarigo.
Those who interacted with him at that time indicated that he was a person with a unique romantic charm. He had a distinguished personality, not only as a lover but also as a painter and a musician. He gave his work poetic justice with a melancholic touch and his pieces of art had some sense of grace and sensuality.
Unlike other artists in his time, Giorgione’s paintings were meant to jog your mental capacity, giving it delightful imagery while trying to subtly refresh it. The way he placed colors, light, and shadow, the subjects, as well as the background was defining, giving out all the relevant details.
Some of Giorgione’s Work
- The Test of Fire of Moses (1500-1501)
- Judith (1504)
- The Judgment of Salomon (1500-1501)
- The Castelfranco Madonna (1505)
- Adoration of the Shepherds (1505-10)
- The Portrait of a Young Bride (1506)
- The Tempest (1508)
The Tempest Giorgione – Details and Facts
Date of art creation: 1505
Art movement: High Renaissance
Genre of painting: Genre Painting
Painting technique: Oil
Painting material: Canvas
Dimensions: 82 x 73 cm
Location: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy
Content: mother-and-child, storm-and-tempest
The Venetian School of Italian Renaissance Painting
Although both Giorgione and Titian were young, they went ahead and founded this premium painting school in the Venetian region. Much of their paintings were meant to give viewers emotional connection through mood and color (you can see this clearly from the Tempest). This style significantly contrasted with the traditional Florentine painting that mainly depended on the desegno style.
There is doubt that Giorgione the tempest is one of the most popular paintings to come from Italy. That’s why there are numerous interpretations, each one highlighting a different symbolism. Some of the revered art connoisseurs in the 16th century were left puzzled with the imagery of this painting.
Until now, there have been hundreds of proposals regarding Giorgione the tempest painting’s imagery. The downpour of various interpretations has also attracted a massive amount of scholarly articles attributed to it. The most outstanding thing about all of them is that they are different!
Visual Interpretation of the Giorgione the Tempest
The Tempest i.e. the storm by Giorgione is a testament of a pictorial poem. Its visual representation is incredibly suggestive and there have been several interpretations highlighting various elements in it. One thing that will strike you once you take a look at this picture is the impending storm that’s about to hit.
The threatening lightning bolt that’s suggestively towering at the back of the buildings shows that the storm is only a few minutes away. This foreboding feeling is enhanced by the blue and green color hues in the sky.
Giorgione’s skills in highlighting the impending storm are interesting. It not only highlights its skills as a painter but also his natural flexibility at a time such as 1506. The renaissance painting’s storm was a foreboding symbolization of the incoming conflict and the development of the League of Cambrai war which took place between 1508 and 1516.
This war involved the League of Venice and the League of Cambrai – an alliance (Anti-Venetian) that was organized by Pope Julius II. But like it’s stated above, this painting has drawn a lot of interpretation since it was commissioned. Some of the art experts also relate it to the Flight from Egypt in the Bible or the power of the Gods involving Zeus/Jupiter.
The Man and the Woman
At the forefront of the Tempest’s painting, there is a woman with a baby, gazing absent-mindedly while suckling a baby. From around 1530, this woman has always been described as the “Gypsy”. That’s why if you go to Italy and ask for the tempest Giorgione painting, you might find that it’s also known as the Gypsy Woman and the Soldier. Alternatively, it’s also referred to as the Gypsy Girl and the Soldier.
But what’s striking about this woman is her unusual pose, even with the impending storm nearing. She seems unbothered with it. Another key unusual characteristic is how the baby is positioned while breastfeeding. Naturally, women normally place babies on their laps while breastfeeding. But in this painting, the baby is placed on the side of the woman’s laps while suckling while the woman’s pubic area is exposed.
The baby, compared to the storm, is so fragile. However, the woman is using her bare thigh to give cover or protection to the child. For many people, nudism as well as the fragility of the child in the possibly harsh environment resembles some of the characteristics of Madonna and the child.
The young man on the other side of the stream is well-dressed with a good fashion sense. He is holding a staff and stands contrapposto while smiling at the woman. However, his gesture is not recognized as the woman is looking directly at the viewer.
He seems to be a member of the Companions of the Order of the Stocking (Campagnia Della Calza). This is depicted from his attire as he is wearing two-toned hosiery that’s associated with Venice’s fraternity of young aristocrats. To some interpreters, the man is simply protecting the woman. However, neither of them seems to be bothered by the onset of the impending storm.
The Two Broken Pillars
Behind the man and woman appear two prominent broken pillars that sit in the painting’s central position. While the location seems significant, the pillars don’t have a relationship with any building and this considerably underscores their significance.
In most settings, pillars are symbols of strength. They hold the building and if they are broken or damaged, then the whole building will come down. In the Victorian funerary setting, pillars meant death, fortitude, or steadfastness.
If we take the biblical allegory, then the two pillars topping the masonry stub may represent the truth that supports the church. This allegory is based on the book of Job 9:6 which states that God shakes the earth and makes its pillars tremble. If so, the broken pillars mean that the church doesn’t have formidable support and this is a huge setback.
The Small White Bird
The building on the right-hand side has a small white bird on its roof. But what is its significance in this case? Note that the bird is not conspicuous hence you might easily miss it. It appears like it was simply painted using a few white brush strokes and in addition to its small nature, it’s quite difficult to pick it with naked eyes.
We can take several interpretations of this bird. If you see it as a stork then this symbolizes the family setting. If you see it as a dove then it indicates a sense of peace. However, the peace will soon turn into chaos thanks to the gathering storm. In case you see it as a heron, then this is a sign of good omen.
The Foreground and Background Landscape
The background of the tempest by Giorgione gives a countryside setting. There are large buildings surrounded by trees and the burst of lightning illuminates the sky before the darkness from the storm takes over. This can also be a rural town that’s carefully flanked by trees, with a temple completing its setting.
At the forefront, there is a secluded rusting scene featuring a breastfeeding woman, a young man eyeing a nude woman and they are separated by a riverbank that goes back to the horizon. The stream widens as it flows into the background, forming a river with a bridge.
The identity of this countryside or rural town setting links to Padua or a typical Northern town in Italy. The well-detailed beautiful landscape involving the stream, trees, bushes, and flowers indicates how careful and invested Giorgione was with his paintings.
Note: X-rays of this painting have revealed that there was also another nude woman. She was on the right-hand side, bathing and there was no man. She stood in place of the current male figure but Giorgione erased it.
The Colors of the Tempest by Giorgione
Giorgione uses a subdued range of colors to highlight different settings. For instance, the subdued shades of silver, blues, and greens indicate the natural setting of the surrounding environment. It also puts into emphasis the gloomy mood of the gathering storm.
There are also shades of silver that highlight the feeling of peace, serenity, and calmness. The small white bird appears like it only received a few strokes. Well, Giorgione appeared to be good in hiding symbols, only giving out less than enough.
The Audience in the Painting
The Tempest by Giorgione is one of the first few paintings that were classified as “Landscape” according to Western Art. This simply highlights the creative genius of Giorgione who made the painting in the early 16th century. Its top status in Italy as well as Europe are drawn to the sense of imagery used.
That’s why it was one of the most sought-after paintings in Venice, thanks to its distinguished outdoor settings and effective color representation. It was commonly used as a cabinet picture and actively sought-after by art collectors as well as innovative patrons.
What stands out that the human figures stand out, alongside the environment? They are strategically placed on the forefront. Giving an indication that they are the true subjects of the painting. If you look at the Tempest by Giorgione one more time, you will notice that the woman, man, and the infant carry a significant narrative, giving the imagery its voice.
Additionally, Giorgione took his time to scale and carefully compose other elements of the environment, ensuring that there is a perfect balance between human beings and nature. The countryside overtop is smoothly finished. It’s not prominent enough yet not so subtle, just a perfect size to ensure that you get a clear overview of the whole landscape composition.
While there are numerous interpretations, most of them tend to lie within socio-political aspects, romance, religion, and nature.
It’s based on the painting’s literary and textual sources. This approach mainly seeks to highlight the hidden symbolic aspects used in the picture. This is then based on various humanist texts, religion, and mythology.
This is based on how an outdoor setting relates to the ancient Italian environment. That’s why the buildings and the streams are sometimes associated with Padua, a town in Italy. The landscape painting has an outstanding outdoor setting that depicts the esthetic tastes of Italians in the 16th century.
This is mainly based on the social and political aspects of Italy’s Veneto region. For instance, we can depict a sense of calmness in both the man and woman, who seems to be unbothered by the storm. Using the socio-political allegory, this can only refer to the ancient Venetian territory during the peace Golden Age era.
The impending storm can depict the period between 1508 and 1507. This was when the Veneto region was under siege during the League of Cambrai War. Meanwhile, we can see the young male figure is a clear fashionista. He has multi-colored hosiery in addition to a fancy jacket. This is relatable to the costumes worn by the Compagnie Della Calza in the Venetian region. They often did plays that had the rustic vibe found in the tempest by Giorgione painting.
This uses an analogy that this painting is simply a fantasy by Giorgione. This is based on the fact that the interpreters can’t find one major subject of the painting. There is also no specific theme that clearly stands out.
This means that the interpretation of the imagery is left out to the viewer. It could be something poetic, musical, or lyrical. According to this approach, this painting is nothing more than beauty with a multi-layered interpretation.
This one is based on the nudity of the woman. With a pubic area uncovered and a little towel under her bottom and over her shoulder, it leaves little to the imagination. That’s probably the reason why the young man is seen smiling at her.
While a lot of art collectors have been left puzzled, we love the fact that this is a beautiful painting that’s open up to lots of interpretations. Giorgio Vasari, one of the first Giorgione’s biographers, stated that he couldn’t even understand the meaning of Giorgione’s public paintings. Giorgio also lamented how others learned scholars with artistic knowledge in Venice couldn’t make an artistic interpretation of his paintings.
Giorgione The Tempest Painting’s Legacy
For hundreds of years, the tempest has been drawing mixed reactions from artistic intellectuals. It’s a beauty that’s shredded with mystery and that’s why more than 500 years later, we are still talking about this painting. Giorgione The Tempest’s legacy can be traced to prominent works such as:
Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love painting echoes the setting of the La Tempesta.
- Sir Kenneth Clark, a great art historian wrote about this painting in Landscape into Work, highlighting how no one knows exactly what Giorgione’s painting represents.
- The enigmatic work of Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego, also highlights La Tempesta painting as well as Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, one of the controversial impression painting by Edouard Manet. It’s clear that Manet (1863) was inspired by the pastoral-like setting.
- In his poem, the Beppo, Lord Byron, an English poet rhapsodized this painting. This was in 1817, almost 300 years later.
- Art historians have continuously flooded the public with different narratives regarding this painting. There is no doubt that The Tempest has had one of the greatest influences in the history of art in different parts of the world. In the 19th century, for instance, there were several scholarly articles written and they tried to display the romantic aspect of this painting.
Giorgione’s Painting Technology
The technicality involved in The Tempest is purely magnificent. For a painting made in the 16th century, this is a captivating piece. What sets it apart from paintings done during this period is its ability to incorporate new technology. That’s why it was considered to be one of the first few paintings that utilized the “landscape” feature.
For instance, Giorgione used oil paint on a canvas. This was a new technical innovation in the 16th century. It should be noted that such paintings were mostly reserved for civic projects in Venice that were of large scale. Some of these projects that were done on a large scale included workshops done by Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini.
With the introduction of a small oil-based painting, Giorgione led to the introduction of a small scale format and it quickly picked up, especially for those paintings designed for private homes in the Venetian region.
The Originality of The Tempest
The Tempest by Giorgione is an original painting. Its legitimacy can be found in its final version and it’s highly evident. The human beings used in this painting, architectural features, trees, and the stream are all Giorgione’s concept. From the X-ray images, it’s clear that the painting originally intended his work to feature a woman in place of a man.
The Lack of a Definitive Interpretation
There is no straightforward interpretation or a definitive guide for The Tempest. To some viewers, this is a classical mythology scene that possibly took place in Oenone or Paris. For those, Giorgione’s setting is taken from a pastoral novel based on ancient Greek culture while to others it represents the biblical flight into Egypt. Why would other people think so?
Well, it’s because some associate the background with heaven. So, the two adults are Adam and Eve with Cain, their son. In the Hebrew period, the bolt of lightning represents God. This should be right after God had just ousted them from the Garden of Eden.
Debate Regarding Different Interpretations
Judgments, views, and opinions regarding this painting illuminate different aspects that are inspiring and also somehow confusing. Let’s take a look at some of them:
- “This painting lacks iconography”: well, this is a common statement that some scholars have come with. It’s understood because they couldn’t find a primary subject in the mind. But what if Giorgione simply wanted to create a painting with no major subject? Remember that he was known to hide some of the symbolism in his paintings. So, this doesn’t come out as something new.
- “Environmental change”: to some, it appears that Giorgione simply wanted to highlight a shift in nature as time progresses. Environmental change seems inevitable. While there seems to serenity within the outdoor setup, the gathering storm and the lightning bolt indicate what’s about to come next.
- “The painting represents Padua”: the political significance of Padua in the history of Venice ended in 1406. Therefore, this painting is meant to highlight the increased hostility between the Papacy and Venice. This is because the rural town depicted has some symbolism that relates to that of the Carrara family found in Padua.
Giorgione is revered, hundreds of years after his passing. His fashion in painting was unique and that’s why art collectors revere his work. He gave his portraits a realistic, humanistic appearance. That worked well with viewers who were challenged to think out of the ordinary and try to relate something to the portraiture. While some of his workmanship such as The Tempest remains ambiguous, there is no doubt that they continuously draw lots of discussions.
Giorgione’s use of subjects is distinct. His way of painting means that the viewer was at a choice to determine the primary subject. In addition to that, he gave an impressive detail to his paintings. This gives the viewer a deep connection and understanding of the subject at hand.
He used modern technologies to make his painting. Giorgione has one of the first few painters in Italy to use the new oil paint. He abandoned the use of the egg tempera, a traditional medium that lots of painters used at that time. Note that oil was only used in large scale, texture canvas to create more luminous imagery. This was meant to create more dramatic scenes. However, Giorgione was quick to pick change and he infused amazing color balance using his own innovative genius. He played around with colors to create beautiful oil strokes
His work was among the first to be label landscape painting. His style of rendering the subjects as well as utilizing the canvas was conspicuous. Unlike most paintings during this era, Giorgione gave the backdrops deep meaning, and just not a cover.
Note: it’s said that Giorgione drew his inspiration from Albrecht Durer, a German artist who visited Venice around 1495. Besides that, there are some scholars who think that he was also inspired by Leonardo who used the sfumato technique. Even so, one thing clearly stands out, his workmanship was unique and it only belonged to him. The use of thick and oily brush-strokes and rich color patterns is something that’s considered to be his own invention.
The Bottom Line
Although Giorgione died while he was still young, his work has had a significant influence. His painting has elicited discussions and scholarly articles spanning more than 500 years. He was among the first painters to master the art of using oil pigments, a new medium of painting. He gave his paintings enough details and every element in the canvas was well-defined.
There is no doubt that The Tempest by Giorgione is a beauty with attractiveness that has withstood the test of time. His revolutionary approach in creating this painting and creating a multi-layered atmosphere between human beings and nature is simply breathtaking.
Many scholars have made a lot of assumptions regarding this painting. Is it Venice city and its defender? Could it have been drawn from Greek mythology? Is it Adam and Eve? Or is it just a gypsy woman and a soldier? Well, what you derive from it couldn’t be possibly a wrong conclusion.