Unlike the Mona Lisa, this picture appeals in many different ways: not only through the human associations of its subject-matter, but more directly through its complex, finely organized design. Unlike Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, it involves no representation of bodily movement. What movement it has is of the decorative sort: that is, an inter-relation of parts which the sensitive observer feels- as rhythmic repetition, flow and opposition. Like the Titian, again, it is infused with rich Venetian color; and its composition is relaxed, unsymmetrical, irregular, to an extent that suggests Titian rather than Bellini, late rather than early Venetian painting. The men’s figures, in particular, are drawn with a vigorous naturalism that resembles the work of Titian rather than the definitely known work of Giorgione. Titian is known to have completed several unfinished works of Giorgione, and that may well have been the case here. But the suave, gentle modelling of the two women, and the air of tranquillity that pervades the landscape, are qualities essentially Giorgionesque. Some relatively dead, superficial areas (the lute and the hand playing it, and the nearby green slope just to the left) seem to reveal the work of a late retoucher much less- skilled than either.
As a whole, the picture retains a deep organic color atmosphere which is impressive by contrast with the Raphaels and Leonardos in the room. All through the spacious scene, deep autumnal browns, greens and golds melt into one another, rising to a lustrous climax in the center and focus of the whole composition, the crimson sleeve of the lute player. Repetitions of shape further knit the design together: every line of the human figures, the hillside slopes, the tops and branches of the trees, fits into the pattern of diagonals, parallel and intersecting, crescent-shaped or flattened, with a few contrasting verticals in the well, tree trunk and distant houses. All these repetitions are so irregular and subtle as never to obtrude themselves with artificial formality. Most of the lines which form them are dissolved into gentle shadows, so that one is conscious not of outlines, but of softly rounded masses, some bending almost in unison, some bending gracefully toward each other, some floating backward into space. The same rich-textured fullness defines nude bodies, garments, trees, hills and clouds. In short, all the principal values of Renaissance painting, save that of strenuous bodily movement, are combined with an easy maturity that conceals all technical framework. Expressed through the formal design, and humanizing it, is the Arcadian spirit of Theocritus and Virgil: the peaceful serenity of a golden late summer afternoon, and of people whose manner of life combines pastoral simplicity with cultivated elegance and grace.