Crowe And Cavalcaselle – ‘A History Of Painting In North Italy’

THE real source at which Palma drew is more distant than annalists imagined; it will be found in Giovanni Bellini, Carpaccio, and Cima; and starting from this point, Palma shared with Giorgione and Titian the honor of modernizing and regenerating Venetian art.

He was not a great master in the full meaning of the term; he had neither the weight nor the versatility of Titian, nor the highest gifts of the colorist which distinguish Giorgione, nor the force or impetuosity of Pordenone—but he was very little behind Giorgione, and he had a much more elevated feeling than his rivals. In the small field which he cultivated he was a fine composer; his drawing was quick and resolute, his touch unhesitating, firm, and fluid. The type of figure to which he clung was full and ripe, ennobled in the faces by delicate chiseled features, and wanting only in the perfect dignity of carriage and mien familiar to Titian. His forms had seldom those in-fallible marks of breed which are revealed in clean articulations and perfectly proportioned extremities. It may have been lack of attention. it may also have been want of power to seize and realize the subtlest finesses of anatomy which caused him to conceal the conformation of the human framework under flesh and fat; he certainly generalized with convenience, and carried out movements by suggestion more than by analysis; but in this suggestiveness he was frequently happy even when verging on affectation. . . .

The melody of his tones is not so deep nor so rich as Titian’s or Giorgione’s, but is striking for its “brio;” there is, perhaps, no painter who dazzles more by his light than Palma. In contrast with pearly skin, especially of women, the clear and varied vestment tints, deadened by juxtaposition, are full of sparkle. Solid, oily impast blended with excessive care and purity is brought to a gay transparence in flesh by opal grays forming the transition to shadow. The general preparation, remodeled at a second painting by half-bodied scumbles, is finished with the very slightest veil of glazes, the whole surface acquiring at last a warm, clear, golden polish. We can always detect the Palmesque handling by the shrivel of the thick first coat of paint and a peculiar form of crackle. Palma’s taste in dress was greatly cultivated, and con-descended to the smallest minutiae of ornament and detail; his drapery is more often characterized by breadth and flatness of surface than by flow; it is broken by shallow depressions into angular sections of irregular shape, and varied by the play of reflections in the texture of silks and brocades. Like Giorgione—and in this the true follower of Giovanni Bellini—he was fond of natural backgrounds, and he painted smiling landscapes at the period of their brightest verdure.

We have no authoritative information as to Palma’s having been apprenticed to any painter of name, but, like most Bergamasks, he studied the principal masters of Venice at the close of the fifteenth century. In the process of assimilation he held as a colorist to Giovanni Bellini; but in that—as in the absorption of elements derived from Cima and Carpaccio—his reproduction was modern and original. In portraits, and most frequently in portraits of women, where he revealed that sort of excellence which has been coupled with the name of Giorgione, he remained unsurpassed for brilliancy of palette, rich blending and softness of tone, elegance of demeanor, and taste in dress.