Giorgione – The Sleeping Venus

One of Giorgione is one of the great works whose power must be traced to its perfect inner harmony, rather than to any particular distinctive feature. It represents a moment of balance and merging between several different tendencies, all of which are isolated, carried to extremes, and made to clash irreconcilably, iii other works of art. For example, it includes some of the typical qualities of Greek sculpture: the idealized, regular face and long, graceful bodily contours. But the face and body are not made regular to the point of becoming abstract and in-human; nor are they hard and stone-like, or sharply linear (as in Botticelli and Ingres, for example). They are infused with warm, blended tints which add reality and decorative richness, and these are contrasted with the textures of crimson and silver-gray draperies, and soft green landscape. But the richness and contrast of textures are not raised, as in later Venetian work, to be ends in themselves. There is rhythmic repetition of lines and planes in the slopes of the hills, the folds of cloth and the contours of the body; but these are not emphasized to the point of artificial pattern. There is illusion of reality in the landscape, and in the figure, but not photographically detailed. Space is deep, and adequately filled to sustain interest, but not enough to require fatiguing effort in taking it all in at once. Deep human interests are appealed to: the sexual interest of a beautiful body, and of an attitude of modest concealment; the charm of a broad, well-kept, rolling landscape, drawing the eye over long flights that expand one’s imaginary reach; the associations of old houses, and of feathery trees reaching into the air; the rich literary associations of Greek mythology; the lulling, quieting air of brooding peace, safety and serenity, expressed in both figure and landscape. But none of these is obtrusively accented, and none conflicts with any other. The producing of all these effects with comparatively few parts, few details, few contrasting themes, accounts for the picture’s net effect of simplicity. Though Titian is thought to have completed the landscape, there is little of his more masculine, rugged vigor in it, or of his tendency to elaboration; less even than in the Paris Concert Champetre. This and its unruffled air of gentle tranquillity make it the most typically Giorgionesque of all the pictures attributed to Giorgione.

Briefer Mention

VERMEER, At the Courtesan’s (1335) —most unusual for this painter, in its big, spread-out, ostentatious pattern, its emphasis on facial expression and gesture, and its spirit of ribald fun. There is good color in the modelling of the girl’s face and cap, but the rest of the picture has deteriorated, or has been painted by some inferior hand. Girl Reading a Letter (1336) is a more typical and harmonious Vermeer. REMBRANDT’S Man with Pearl-trimmed Hat (1570) is one of his best late portrait heads, magically lighted as usual, and poignantly expressive in its contrast of fine raiment with despairing, withered old age. RUBENS, Wild Boar Hunt (962) —worked with exceptional fineness of detail for him, but with no sacrifice of dynamic energy, shock and tension in its whirlpool of slim, wiry dogs and twisted fallen branches; the forest is an exquisite tapestry of tree-forms. JACOB VAN RUYSDAEL, The Jewish Cemetery (1502) — the essential spirit of the romantic movement is in this landscape, a century ahead of its time: in subject, ruined towers, lonely graves, gnarled trees, rushing water and an approaching storm; in form, melodramatic contrasts of gloom and eerie light, in dashing, irregular streaks. VAN EYCK, HOLBEIN, CANALETTO, POUSSIN, LANCRET AND WATTEAU are well represented.

In another part of the museum is a small collection of late nineteenth century French and German pictures. In the sentimental BOCKLIN, one can see the last weak flutter of the romantic movement. There are typical works of PUVIS DE CHAVANNES (Fisherman’s Family, 2523); MONET (The Seine near Lavacourt, 2525A); VAN GOGH (Pears, 2593) ; TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (Studio Scene, 2603) and GAUGUIN (Women of Tahiti, 2610).