Venetian Painting – The Giorgionesque

GIORGIONE had given the impulse, and all the painters round him felt his power. The Venetian painters that is, for it is remarkable, at a time when the men of one city observed and studied and took hints from those of every other, how faint are the signs that this particular manner attracted any great attention in other art centres. Leonardo da Vinci was a master of chiaroscuro, but he used it only to express his forms, and never sacrifices to it the delicacy and fineness of his design. It is the one quality Raphael never assimilates, except for a brief instant at the period when Sebastian del Piombo had arrived in Rome from Venice. It takes hold most strongly upon Andrea del Sarto, who seems, significantly enough, to have had no very pronounced intellectual capacity, but in Venice itself it now became the only way. The old Bellini finds in it his last and fullest ideal ; Catena, Basaiti, Cariani do their best to acquire it, and so successfully was it acquired, so congenial was it to Venetian art, that even second- and third-rate Venetian painters have usually something attractive which triumphs over superficial and doubtful drawing and grouping. It is easy to see how much to their taste was this fused and golden manner, this disregard of defined form, and this new play of chiaroscuro. The Venetian room in the National Gallery is full of such examples : the Nymphs and Amoretti of No. 1695, charming figures against melting vines and olives ; Venus and Adonis,” in which a bewitching Cupid chases a butterfly ; Lovers in a landscape, roaming in the summer twilight ; scenes in which neither person nor scenery is a pretext for the other, but each has its full share in arousing the desired emotion. Such pictures are ascribed to, or taken from Giorgione by succeeding critics, but have all laid hold of his charm, and have some share in his inspiration.

One of the ablest of his followers, a man whose work is still confounded with the master’s, is Cariani, the Bergamasque, who at different times in his life also successfully imitated Palma and Lotto. In his Giorgionesque manner Cariani often creates charming figures and strong portraits, though he pushes his colour to a coarse, excessive tone. His family group in the Roncalli Collection at Bergamo is very close to Giorgione. Seven persons, three women and four men, are grouped together upon a terrace, and behind them stretches a calm landscape, half concealed by a brocaded hanging. The effect of the whole is restful, though it lacks Giorgione’s concentration of sensation. Then, again, Cariani flies off to the gayer, more animated style of Lotto. Later on, when he tries to reproduce Giorgione’s pastoral reveries, his shepherds and nymphs become mere peasants, herdsmen, and country wenches, who have nothing of the idyllic distinction which Giorgione never failed to infuse. The Adulteress before Christ ” at Glasgow still bears the greater name, but its short, vulgar figures and faulty composition disclaim his authorship, while Cariani is fully capable of such failings, and the exaggerated, red-brown tone is quite characteristic of him.

These painters are more than merely imitative ; they are also typical. Giorgione’s new manner had appealed to some quality inherent and hereditary in their nature, and the essential traits they single out and dwell upon are the traits which appeal equally to the instincts of both. It is this which makes their efforts more sympathetic than those of other second-rate painters. Colour, or rather the peculiar way in which Giorgione used colour, made a natural appeal to them, and it is a medium which does make an immediate appeal and covers a multitude of short-comings.

But Giorgione was not to leave his message to the mercy of mere disciples and imitators, however apt. Growing up around him were men to whom that message was an inspiration and a trumpet-call, men who were to develop and deepen it, endowing it with their own strength, recognising that the way which the young pioneer of Castelfranco had pointed out was the one into which they could unhesitatingly pour their whole inclination. The instinct for colour was in their very blood. They turned to it with the heart-whole delight with which a bird seeks the air or a fish the water, and foremost among them, to create and to consolidate, was the mighty Titian.



Bergamo. Carrara : Madonna and Saints.

Lochis : Woman and Shepherd ; Portraits ; Saints. Morelli : Madonna (L.).

Roncalli Collection : Family Group.

Hampton Court. Adoration of Shepherds (L.) ; Venus (L.).

London. Death of S. Peter Martyr (L.) ; Madonna and Saints (L.).

Milan. Brera : Madonna and Saints (L.) ; Madonna (L.). Ambrosiana : Way to Golgotha.

Paris. Madonna, Saints, and Donor (E.) ; Holy Family and Saints.

Rome. Villa Borghese : Sleeping Venus ; Madonna and S. Peter.

Venice. Holy Family ; Portraits.

Vienna. Christ bearing Cross ; The “Bravo.”

School of Giorgione.

London : Unknown subject ; Adoration of Shepherds ; Venus and Adonis ; Landscape, with Nymphs and Cupids ; The Garden of Love.

Mr. Benson. Lovers and Pilgrim.