Mary Logan – ‘Guide To The Italian Pictures At Hampton Court’

PALMA’S flesh-painting, which has surfaces more even and glossier than Titian’s or Lotto’s, comes close to Bellini’s, and his stuffs, by their lack of luster and heavy texture, tend to produce an effect of dignity which suggests the older rather than the younger generation of Bellinesque painters. Indeed, among the younger men he may be considered as Bellini’s most faithful follower, being, in fact, the only one of them who retained as much of the old as he adopted of the new. This gave him a certain solidity and gravity so marked as to distinguish him in the same way that Titian is distinguished for his magnificence and Lotto for his refinement.

The fact that Palma was by birth a peasant from a mountain country may help to explain these qualities, and also to account for the simplicity and even homeliness of some of his pictures. The well-known ` Jacob and Rachel’ at Dresden is a case in point. In the midst of a landscape as romantic as any by Giorgione, Palma has placed a youth and maiden who, in their bourgeois, matter-of-fact heartiness, irresistibly suggest Goethe’s `Hermann and Dorothea.’ This tendency, always present, seemed to grow upon him, and he tended to adapt himself more and more to the heavy peasant type with which he was familiar. It has been said of him that he “translated the courtly poetry of Giorgione into the simple language of villagers.” Yet if Palma’s sense of poetry was weak, his coloring, on the other hand, always remained powerful. In the beginning he used the brownish tones of Bellini; later, under the influence of Giorgione, he became dazzling and gorgeous; and some years before his death he developed a scheme of color of his own, with a decided preference for an extremely blond treatment. He may have acquired this manner through painting those portraits of fat blondes for which he is particularly famous, for it is known that all the fashionable women of Venice flocked to him for their portraits. It may be, on the other hand, that they employed him because he made them look more blond than any other painter would have done, for yellow hair and shining white skin were an indispensable element of fashionable beauty in Venice at that time. .. .

Palma was the inventor of the Santa Conversazione, a kind of composition which quickly found great favor in Venice. These pictures purporting to be the Holy Family, alone or with saints grouped around them, are in reality nothing but representations of the Venetians at their favorite recreation, a day’s picnic in the country; and his followers did not scruple to introduce into such compositions plates of fruit and even hampers of food. For Palma’s originality and power were great enough to place him at the head of a distinct following within the school of Giorgione. One of the most delightful painters of the day, Bonifazio, was so close an adherent of Palma as at times to be al-most indistinguishable from him. Cariani, too, was his pupil, and Jacopo Bassano, although not a direct pupil, worked upon his lines. Painters from the country seemed to be attracted to a master whom Venice never succeeded in weaning from his love of rural homeliness.