December 5, 2011
The Tempest, by Giorgione
It was already in 1530 described simply as "the little landscape on canvas with a tempest, a gypsy woman and a soldier..."
This painting, the meaning of which has been greatly debated, marks a moment of capital importance in the renovation of the Venetian style painting, and perhaps is the most representative of the very few genuine surviving works of Giorgione.
The vigour of cultural life at the beginning of the sixteenth century provided exactly the right fertile ground for the personality of Giorgione. With Giovanni Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio as examples in his early training and with his attentive interest in Northern European painting of Belgium he soon decided to attempt a naturalistic language. Colour attains to new all-important powers of expression of the poetic equivalence of man and nature in a single, fearful apprehension of the cosmos. The finest of all expressions of this new vision of the world is the 'Tempest', commissioned from the artist by Gabriele Vendramin, one of the leading lights in intellectual circles in the Venice of the day, in whose house the picture was recorded as having been hung by Marcantonio Michiel in 1530.
Though many interpretations of the subject of this small painting have been suggested, none of them is totally convincing. Thus the mystery remains of what exactly the significance is of the fascinating landscape caught at this particular atmospheric moment, the breaking of a storm. Anxious waiting seems to characterize the mood of both the human figures, absorbed in private reveries, and every other detail, from the little town half-hidden behind the luxuriant vegetation and the lazy, tortuous course of the stream to the ancient ruins, the houses, the towers and the buildings in the distance which pale against the blue of the sky. The fascination of the painting arises from the pictorial realization of the illustrative elements. In the vibrant brightness which immediately precedes the breaking of the storm the chromatic values follow one another in fluid gradations achieved by the modulation of the tones in the fused dialectic of light and shadow in an airy perspective of atmospheric value within a definite space. Completely liberated from any subjection to drawing or perspective, colour is the dominant value in a new spacial-atmospheric synthesis which is fundamental to the art of painting in its modern sense.