Venetian Painting – Bonifazio And Paris Bordone

SOME uncertainty has existed as to the identity of the different members of the family of Bonifazio. All the early historians agree in giving the name to one master only. Boschini, however, in 1777 discovered the register of the death of a second, and a third bearing the name was working twenty years later. Upon this Dr. Morelli came to the conclusion that we must recognise three, if not four, masters bearing the name of Bonifazio, but documents recently discovered by Professor Ludwig have in great measure destroyed Morelli’s conjectures. There may have been obscure painters bearing the name, but they were mere imitators, and it is doubtful if any were related to the family of de Pitatis.

Bonifazio Veronese is really the only one who counts. As Ridolfi says, he was born in Verona in the most beautiful moment of painting. He came to Venice at the age of eighteen, and became a pupil of Palma Vecchio, with whom his work has sometimes been confused. After Palma’s death Bonifazio continued in friendly relations with his old master’s family, and his niece married Palma’s nephew. Bonifazio himself married the daughter of a basket-maker, and appears to have had no children, for he and his wife by their wills bestowed their whole fortune on their nephews. Antonio Palma, who married Bonifazio’s niece, was a painter whose pictures have sometimes been attributed to the legendary third Bonifazio. Bonifazio’s life was passed peacefully in Venice. He received many important commissions from the Republic, and decorated the Palace of the Treasurers. His character and standing were high, and he was appointed, in company with Titian and Lotto, to administer a legacy which Vicenzo Catena had left to provide a yearly dower for five maidens. After a long life spent in steady work, Bonifazio withdrew to a little farm amidst orchards—fifteen acres of land in all—at San Zenone, near Asolo; but he still kept his house in San Marcuola, where he died. He was buried in S. Alvise in Venice.

A son of the plains and of Venetian stock, his work is always graceful and attractive, though inclined to be hot in colour. It has a very pronounced aristocratic character, and bears no trace of the rough, provincial strain of such men as Cariani or Pordenone. It is very fine and glowing in colour, but lacks vigour and energy in design. Nowhere do we get more worldly magnificence or such frank worship of wealth as on Bonifazio’s joyous canvases. He represents Christian saints and Eastern kings alike, as gentlemen of princely rank. There is a note of purely secular art about his Adorations and Holy Families. In the ” Adoration of the Magi,” in the Academy, the Madonna is a handsome, prosperous lady of Bonifazio’s acquaintance. The Child, so far from raising His hand in benediction, holds it out for the proffered cup. He does not, as usual, distinguish the eldest king, but singles out the cup held by the second, who, in a puffed velvet dress, is an evident portrait, probably that of the donor of the picture, who is in this way paid a courtier-like compliment. The third king is such a Moor as Bonifazio must often have seen embarking from his Eastern galley on the Riva dei Schiavoni. A servant in a peaked hood peers round the column to catch sight of what is going on. The groups of animals in the background are well rendered. In the “Rich Man’s Feast,” where Lazarus lies upon the step, we have another scene of wealthy and sumptuous Venetian society, an orgy of colour. And, again, in the Finding of Moses” (Brera) he paints nobles playing the lute, making love and feasting, and lovely fair-haired women listening complacently. We are reminded of the way in which they lived their one pre-occupation the toilet, the delight of appearing in public in the latest and most magnificent fashions. And in these paintings Bonifazio depicts the elaborate striped and brocaded gowns in which the beautiful Venetians arrayed themselves, made in the very fashions of the year, and their thick, fair hair is twisted and coiled in the precise mode of the moment. The deep-red velvet he introduces into nearly all his pictures is of a hue peculiar to himself. As Catena often brings in a little white lap-dog, so Bonifazio constantly has as an accessory a liver-and-white spaniel.

Vasari speaks of Paris Bordone as the artist who most successfully imitated Titian. He was the son of well-to-do tradespeople in Treviso, and received a good education in music and letters, before being sent off to Venice and placed in Titian’s studio. Bordone does not seem to have been on very friendly terms with ‘Titian. He was dissatisfied with his teaching, and Titian played him an ill turn in wresting from him a commission to paint an altarpiece which had been entrusted to him when he was only eighteen. He was, above all, in love with the manner of the dead Giorgione, and it was upon this master that he aspired to form his style. His masterpiece, in the Academy, was painted for the Confraternity of St. Mark, and made his reputation. The legend it represents may be given in a few words :

In the days of Doge Gradenigo, one February, there arose a fearful storm in Venice. During the height of the tempest, three men accosted a poor old fisherman, who was lying in his decayed old boat by the Piazza, and begged that he would row them to S. Niccolo del Lido, where they had urgent business. After some demur they persuaded him to take the oars, and in spite of the hurricane, the voyage was accomplished. On reaching the shore they pointed out to him a great ship, the crew of which he perceived to consist of a band of demons, who were stirring up the waves and making a great hubbub. The three passengers laid their commands on them to desist, when immediately they sailed away and there was a calm. The passengers then made the oarsman row them, one to S. Niccolo, one to S. Giorgio, and the third was rowed back to the Piazza. The fisherman timidly asked for his fare, and the third passenger desired him to go to the Doge and ask for payment, telling him that by that night’s work a great disaster had been averted from the city. The fisherman replied that he should not be believed, but would be imprisoned as a liar. Then the passenger drew a ring from his finger. ” Show him this for a sign,” he said, ” and know that one of those you have this night rowed is S. Niccolas, the other is S. George, and I am S. Mark the Evangelist, Protector of the Venetian Republic.” He then disappeared. The next day the fisherman presented the ring, and was assigned a provision for life from the Senate.

There has, perhaps, never been a richer and more beautiful subject-picture painted than this glowing canvas, or one which brings more vividly before us the magnificence of the pageants which made such a part of Venetian life in the golden age of painting. It is all strength and splendour, and escapes the hectic colour and weaker type which appear in Bordone’s ” Last Supper ” and some of his other works. In 1538 he went to France and entered the service of Francis II., painting for him many portraits of ladies, besides works for the Cardinals of Guise and of Lorraine. The King of Poland sent to him for a ” Jupiter and Antiope.” At Augsburg he was paid 3000 crowns for work done for the great Fugger family.

No one gives us so closely as Bordone the type of woman who at this time was most admired in Venice. The Venetian ideal was golden haired, with full lips, fair, rosy cheeks, large limbed and ample, with ” abundant flanks and snow-white breast.” A type glowing with health and instinct with life, but, to say the truth, rather dull, with-out deep passions, and with no look that reveals profound emotions or the struggle of a soul. From what we see of Bordone’s female portraits and from some of the mythological compositions he has left, he might have been among the most sensually minded of men. His beautiful courtesan, in the National Gallery, is an almost over-realistic presentment of a woman who has just parted from her lover. His women, with their carnation cheeks and expressionless faces, are like beautiful animals ; but, as a matter of fact, their painter was sober and temperate in his life, very industrious, and devoted to his widowed mother. About 1536 he married the daughter of a Venetian citizen, and had a son, who became one of the many insignificant painters of the end of the sixteenth century. Most of his days were divided between his little Villa of Lovadina in the district of Belluno, and his modest home in the Corte dell’ Cavallo near the Misericordia. ” He lives comfortably in his quiet house,” writes Vasari, who certainly knew Bordone in Venice, ” working only at the request of princes, or his friends, avoiding all rivalry and those vain ambitions which do but disturb the repose of man, and seeking to avert any ruffling of the serene tranquillity of his life, which he is accustomed to preserve simple and upright.”

Many of his pictures show an intense love of country solitudes. His poetic backgrounds, lonely mountains, leafy woods, and sparkling water are in curious contrast to the sumptuous groups in the foreground.

His ” Three Heads,” in the Brera, is a superb piece of painting and an interesting characterisation. The woman is ripe, sensual, and calculating, feeling with her fingers for the gold chain, a mere golden-fleshed, rose-flushed hireling, solid and prosaic. The go-between is dimly seen in the background, but the face of the suitor is a strange, ironic study : past youth, worn, joy-less, and bitter, taking his pleasure mechanically and with cynical detachment. The Storm calmed by S. Mark ” (Academy) was, in Mr. Berenson’s opinion, begun by Giorgione.

Rich, brilliant, and essentially Venetian as is the work of these two painters, it does not reach the highest level. It falls short of grandeur, and has that worldly tone that borders on vulgarity. As we study it we feel that it marks the point to which Venetian art might have attained, the flood-mark it might have touched, if it had lacked the advent of the three or four great spirits, who, appearing about the same time, bore it up to sublimer heights and developed a more distinguished range of qualities. Bonifazio and Bordone lack the grandeur and sweetness of Titian, the brilliant touch and imaginative genius of Tintoretto, the matchless feeling for colour, design, and decoration of Veronese, but they continue Venetian painting on logical lines, and they form a superb foundation for the highest.


Bonifazio Veronese.

Dresden. Finding of Moses.

Florence. Pitti: Madonna; S. Elizabeth and Donor (E.); Rest in Flight into Egypt ; Finding of Moses.

Hampton Court. Santa Conversazione.

London. Santa Conversazione (E.).

Milan. Brera : Finding of Moses.

Paris. Santa Conversazione.

Rome. Villa Borghese : Mother of Zebedee’s Children ; Return of the Prodigal Son.

Colonna : Holy Family with Saints.

Venice. Academy : Rich Man’s Feast ; Massacre of Innocents ; Judgment of Solomon, 1533 ; Adoration of Kings. Giovanelli : Santa Conversazione.

Vienna. Santa Conversazione ; Triumph of Love ; Triumph of Chastity ; Salome.

Paris Bordone.

Bergamo. Lochis : Vintage Scenes.

Berlin. P0rtrait of Man in Black ; Chess Players ; Madonna and four Saints.

Dresden. Apollo and Marsyas ; Diana ; Holy Family. Florence. Pitti : Portrait of Woman.

Genoa. Brignole Sale : Portraits of Men ; Santa Conversazione. Hampton Court. Madonna and Donors.

London. Daphnis and Chloe ; Portrait of Lady.

Bridgewater House. Holy Family.

Milan. Brera : Descent of Holy Spirit ; Baptism ; S. Dominio presented to the Savi0ur by Virgin ; Madonna and Saints ; Venal Love.

S. Maria pr. Celso : Madonna and S. Jerome.

Munich. Portrait ; Man counting Jewels.

Paris. Portraits.

Rome. Colonna : Holy Family and Saints.

Treviso. Madonna and Saints.

Duomo : Adoration of Shepherds ; Madonna and Saints.

Venice. Academy : Fisherman and Doge ; Paradise ; Storm calmed by S. Mark.

Palazzo Ducale Chapel : Dead Christ.

Giovanelli : Madonna and Saints.

S. Giovanni in Bragora ; Last Supper.

Vienna. Allegorical Pictures; Lady at Toilet; Young Woman.