Works Of Palma Vecchio



THIS world-renowned picture, justly regarded as Palma s greatest work, THIS the central panel of an altar-piece painted in the artist’s middle or Giorgionesque period, at the request of the Bombardieri, or Venetian artillerists, for the altar of their chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Fomosa at Venice, where it still occupies its original place.

On both sides of this figure are panels on which are represented respectively St. Sebastian and St. Anthony Abbot. Above these are half-length figures of St. John the Baptist and St. Dominic, with a Pietà in a lunette between. These figures, on a smaller scale than is that of the central panel, are excellently rendered and are full of feeling, but none of them equals in beauty or grandeur the St. Barbara, standing upon her pedestal in a majestic attitude, and, as Yriarte has said, “with all the noble serenity of a saint who is yet a woman.” Her robe of rich warm brown and her flowing mantle of deep red completely infold her form. A white veil is twisted among the tresses of her golden hair, and on her head she wears a royal diadem, emblem, as is the palm she holds, of her martyrdom.

St. Barbara is the patroness of soldiers, and for that reason her form was chosen to decorate the altar of the chapel where the artillerists were wont to offer their prayers for her protection in the perils of war, and to give thanks for victory won. Palma has painted at her feet on either side a cannon, and behind her, outlined against the sky, the tower emblematic of her imprisonment by her father, who caused her to be shut up within its walls that her beauty might not attract suitors. The legend relates that while thus confined she was converted to Christianity by a disciple of the famous Origen, who, disguised as a physician, came at her request to instruct her in the tenets of the new faith, reports of which had reached her ears. After her baptism she re-quested to have three windows made in her tower in recognition of the Trinity, whereupon her father, in his anger at this acknowledgment of her belief, would have killed her with his sword had not angels concealed her and borne her to a place of safety. Her hiding-spot being revealed to him, however, by treachery, she was thrown into a dungeon and finally beheaded.

In describing Palma Vecchio’s great altar-piece, Crowe and, Cavalcaselle say, “No other of his works combines in a higher measure vigor and harmony of tint with boldness of touch and finished blending. Nowhere is he more fortunate in reproducing the large, soft rounding to which he so usually inclines; in no other instance has he realized more clever chiaroscuro.” And in the opinion of Vasari’s recent editors, Palma has in this altar-piece “left a picture which for completeness, dignity, decorative feeling, and depth of color may be ranked with the great masterpieces of the Venetian school.”


AN excellent example of Palma’s early middle period is offered by this picture in which the forms are somewhat more plastic in their modeling than in his later works, the colors stronger, and the religious sentiment more emphasized. In composition, execution, and in feeling, it ranks as one of his finest conceptions. “Never,” writes Mrs. Jameson, “were childhood, motherhood, maidenhood, and manhood combined in so sweet a spirit of humanity.”

The Madonna, in a robe of rich red and a blue mantle, with a white kerchief over her brown hair, is seated before a green curtain, clasping the Child’ in her arms. She tenderly presses his face against her own as she ex-tends one hand to take a parchment scroll offered her by St. John the Baptist, a muscular, swarthy man, wearing a green mantle over his garment of camel’s skin, who presses forward with eager face. Between them stands St. Catherine of Alexandria, resting one hand upon her wheel, emblem of her martyrdom. Her face, with its fair complexion and framing of long golden hair, is of that type so often painted by Palma Vecchio, but in this instance the features are more refined, and are marked by a more thoughtful expression than is usually found in his portraits of Venetian women. The landscape background, deep bluish-green in tone, is suggestive of the mountain scenery of the artist’s early home in the Valley of the Brembo, near Bergamo.

The picture is painted on wood, and measures about two feet two inches high by a little over three feet wide. It was purchased in Venice in 1749 for the Elector of Saxony, and is now one of the treasures of the Royal Gallery, Dresden.


FOR many years attributed to Giorgione, this famous picture in the Royal Gallery, Dresden, in which Palma’s hand was first recognized by Morelli, is now without a dissenting voice ascribed to Palma Vecchio. “Every part of this picture proves it to be by that painter,”writes Morelli;”the rosy flesh-tints characteristic of his third and so-called blond manner, the type of Rachel, which coincides with that of the `Venus’ by him in this same gallery, her robust and somewhat heavy figure, and the manner in which the shepherd-boy is drawn and painted, the form of whose ear would alone betray the hand of Palma. I know no other work of the master so full of pleasantness and charm and so poetically conceived as this delightful idyl.”

The letters “G. B. F.,” which in the painting are discernible on Rachel’s wallet, and which Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who recognized the Bergamask character of the picture and ascribed it to Palma’s pupil Cariani, took to mean “Giovanni Busi fecit”—Giovanni Busi being Cariani’s real name-are, Morelli says, an obvious and late forgery, undoubtedly intended for Giorgio Barbarelli (Giorgione), who as far back as 1684, when the picture was in the possession of some monks of Treviso, was believed to have painted it.

`The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel’ was a favorite theme with Italian painters, and by no one has it been more successfully treated than by Palma Vecchio, whose rendering is unsurpassed in its simplicity and tenderness of expression. Jacob is here portrayed in the dress of a Bergamask shepherd, with a blue jacket, white woolen tights, and ankle-boots. Rachel also wears a peasant’s costume. Near these central figures is a shepherd watering his flocks, and at the left another shepherd lying beside a well, “a whole Arcadia of intense yearning,” says Symonds, “in the eyes of sympathy he fixes on the lovers.”

The landscape in which these figures are grouped is full of poetic beauty. The hills are crowned with houses shaded by clusters of trees, and cattle and sheep graze in the valley. The colors are blended into a soft harmony, all harshness of outline is obliterated, and the whole canvas is suffused in a glow of golden light. The picture measures nearly five feet high by a little over eight feet wide.


BETWEEN 1515 and 1525, when Palma was a finished master in Venice, he was commissioned to paint two large altar-pieces, one for the church of Zerman, a village near Treviso, and one for the Church of San Stefano at Vicenza. It is this last which is here reproduced.

Against a red tapestry hanging, on either side of which is seen a landscape of exquisite beauty, the Madonna sits enthroned. Upon her knee stands the Christ-child, his hand raised in blessing as he turns towards St. Lucy, who is on the right, holding in one hand the palm indicative of her martyrdom, and in the other her attribute, a dish containing her eyes, which, according to the legend, she herself plucked out and sent to an importunate lover who had declared that their beauty had captivated his heart. On the other side of the throne is St. George, clad in gleaming armor and with uncovered head. One hand rests upon his hip, the other holds a banner. This figure of St. George, the noblest male figure portrayed by Palma’s brush, is strikingly suggestive in pose and bearing of the famous St. Liberalis of Giorgione’s Castelfranco altar-piece Upon the steps of the Madonna’s throne, between St. Lucy and St. George, is seated a little angel with outspread wings, singing to the music of his lute.

Crowe and Cavalcaselle find fault with the “artificiality of the contours” in this picture, and criticize what they call “a certain disproportion between the small infant Christ and his large, portly mother,” as well as a similar discrepancy between the size of the boy-angel and the saints on either side. They maintain that “a dullness of flesh-tone, thinness of surface tints, and haze in the landscape” point to the probability that when this picture was painted Palma’s powers were on the wane, and suggest that the painter may have been assisted in the work by his pupil Cariani. By most critics, however, the altar-piece is assigned to the period when Palma was at the height of his powers; indeed, Morelli regards it as “perhaps his finest and most perfect work.”

The principal figures are life-sized, and the whole picture measures over thirteen feet high. It is in the Church of San Stefano at Vicenza.


A CELEBRATED example of Palma Vecchio’s third or blond manner is this painting in the Royal Gallery, Dresden, sometimes called `The Three Graces,’ but more often `The Three Sisters,’ a work which, as Kugler says, “is the embodiment of the painter’s fair and full-blown type of beauty.”

“Without the high and aristocratic air of `La Bella di Tiziano,’ ” write Crowe and Cavalcaselle, or “the youth and delicacy which dwell in the ‘Violante’ at Vienna, yet with a tasteful splendor of dress that has its piquancy, these three young women are grouped with pleasing variety and artifice in front of a charming landscape. There is hardly a single peculiarity of the master remaining unrepresented—his melting shapes, his fair, almost waxen complexions, his fine, chiseled features, small hands, brocades and slashes, his draperies without depth, flow, or winding contour. There is, perhaps, less than usual transparency and modeling in the skin; and the touch being loose and washy creates an impression of emptiness.”

It is generally supposed that in this picture Palma employed the same model for each of the three figures, which are noticeably of the same type. All have the same fair complexions, the same wavy golden hair, the same full, rounded forms and somewhat vapid expressions. The rich dresses, similar in design, vary in color, that of the central figure being blue, while her sisters are clad one in red and the other in yellow.

The painting has unfortunately been so seriously injured by the restorer that it is difficult to form a just opinion of its beauty when seen in 1525 by “The Anonimo” in the house of Taddeo Contarini in Venice. It is on wood and measures nearly three feet high by about four feet wide.


AMONG Palma Vecchio’s many portraits of golden-haired women in the Imperial Gallery, Vienna, none is more celebrated than the ‘Violante,’ which was formerly supposed to represent the painter’s daughter, who, tradition said, was dearly loved by Titian; but as no proof exists that Palma had a daughter—indeed, there is every evidence that he died unmarried—it would seem that the famous Violante was a favorite model of the day in Venice, whose features frequently recur on the canvases of both Palma and Titian. In the picture here reproduced she wears a blue bodice with full sleeves of brownish-yellow brocade. A mantle of blue is draped over her left arm, and in the finely plaited ruching of her muslin chemisette is placed a violet, presumably in allusion to the sitter’s name.

Violante’s features are delicately drawn, her complexion is of dazzling purity, her eyes dark, and her flowing wavy hair, confined by a narrow rib-bon, is of that peculiar golden hue affected by the beautiful women of Venice, and which Palma’s brush was so skilful in rendering. The panel on which the portrait is painted measures about two feet high by one foot eight inches wide. The figure is life-sized.

Unfortunately the work has been injured by cleaning and over-painting. The final glazes have been lost, and, as a consequence, the colors are more positive, the harmonies less soft, than in their original state. In spite of all this, however, “the charm of the picture,” writes Sir Walter Armstrong, “is overpowering. It fascinates by an intense femininity, a femininity which in Titian and even in Giorgione is leavened too often with a touch of masculine severity. Palma is content with woman as she is, and here, as well as in many another portrait from his brush, it was by those intimate beauties which fit her for her work in life that his labor was invited.”


PALMA VECCHIO is generally regarded as the originator of that style of picture known as a Santa Conversazione, or `Holy Conversation’—an idyllic scene in which the Madonna and saints are grouped in a sunny landscape. Of his many works of this description, the example in the Naples Museum which is here reproduced is one of the most beautiful—worthy, Morelli says, to rank with his `Adoration of the Shepherds’ in the Louvre (see plate IX).

The Madonna is here shown seated upon a knoll in an undulating country, holding in her arms the Child, who turns to bless the kneeling and reverent donors, a nobleman and his lady, whose heads and shoulders are seen in the right-hand corner of the picture and who are presented to the holy group by St. Jerome, white-haired, and wearing a red mantle. On the left, St. John the Baptist points to the kneeling pair, whose rich apparel of silks and fur is in striking contrast to the tattered garb of the two saints. Just behind St. John, her hand upon his shoulder, her form somewhat shadowed by the branches of a tree, is St. Catherine.

The scene is one of quiet, tranquil beauty. The sun shines upon the distant hills and touches the groups of houses, and the trees and bushes with which the landscape is diversified. The figures are well placed in relation to each other, and there is a freedom and vigor in the drawing and an originality in the composition which, combined with a richness of color, entitle the picture to a high place among Palma’s works.


THIS portrait, which until within recent years hung in the Sciarra-Colonna Palace, Rome, but is now owned by M. Alphonse de Rothschild, Paris, was formerly believed to be the work of Titian, and is still often spoken of by the title which it long bore, ‘La Bella di Tiziano.’ It is now, however, held by all authoritative critics to be by Palma Vecchio, and is regarded as one of that painter’s most charming portrayals of a famous beauty of the day in Venice—” as noble in her calm repose,” says Taine, “as a Greek statue.”

The face, with its finely chiseled features, is turned to the spectator. “One hand,” write Crowe and Cavalcaselle, “plays with the locks of hair which fall luxuriantly over the shoulder, the other holds a box of ornaments on a marble pedestal. The snow-white bosom is chastely veiled by a fine web of white drawn together in the closest and most delicate plaits. Over this comes a parti-colored mantilla of stiff tissue in gay shades of red and ruby, cut into numerous angular sections, lined with bright ultramarine diversified with the snowy texture of a muslin handkerchief. From wrist to elbow the arm is lightly decked with a lace sleeve braced at intervals with ribbons of red and green, and striped with colors of the same. It is impossible to conceive any-thing more indicative of quality than this figure, and though we notice a certain want of balance in the mass of the draperies, and a lack of nature in the kaleidoscopic mode of setting them, the harmony of all the bits thus put together is so grateful and bright, the touch is so delicate in grain, that we won-der and admire.”


“IN the Gallery of the Louvre,” writes Théophile Gautier, “there is a superb picture by Palma Vecchio which for many years was attributed to Titian—an attribution which is by no means surprising when we see how warm and rich are the colors, and how glowing the harmonies. This painting, called the `Adoration of the Shepherds,’ was evidently intended for a votive offering, for in one corner the kneeling figure of the donor, in a fur-trimmed robe of gray, is introduced. St. Joseph and the Virgin are represented seated before some picturesque ruins, and between them on a little basket crib is the Child, lovingly encircled in his mother’s arms. Mary’s robe is red, and across her knees a blue mantle is draped. St. Joseph, wearing a long brown cloak, leans on his staff as he turns to look upon a young shepherd in tattered raiment who humbly kneels before the infant Christ, his face expressive of tender and adoring love. In a sunny landscape beyond, other shepherds are seen upon a hill, gazing at a group of angels in the sky bringing them the glad tidings of the Saviour’s birth.

“The beauty of the heads, the easy grace of the figures, the soft fall of the draperies, and the brilliancy of the color-scheme,” writes Gautier, “all combine to render this work one of the most beautiful of the Venetian school.”

The picture measures about four and a half feet high by nearly seven feet wide. The figures are under life size.


FORMERLY ascribed to Titian, this portrait in the National Gallery, London, is now by the majority of authoritative critics conceded to be by Palma Vecchio—one of the rare existing examples of his portraits of men. As to the identity of the person represented, that, as well as the authorship of the painting, has long been a subject of controversy. It was for many years believed to be a portrait of the celebrated sixteenth-century Italian poet Ariosto, but a comparison of the face with several authenticated likenesses of the author of `Orlando Furioso’ proved the fallacy of such a theory. Mr. W. Fred Dickes considers that the painting, which be believes to be not by Palma but by his great contemporary Giorgione, is the likeness of Prospero Colonna, a famous captain in the Italian wars of the sixteenth century, whose portrait, preserved in several early engravings, bears a strong resemblance to the so-called poet of this much-discussed picture. The laurel branches forming the background, which have caused the mysterious personage here represented to be regarded as a poet, might, Mr. Dickes maintains, be interpreted with equal justice as the emblem of a victorious soldier.

The dress of the unknown man, be he poet or warrior, is crimson and purple, and over one shoulder hangs a mantle of fur. A gold chain is worn around his neck, and in one hand, which rests upon an upright book, he holds a rosary. His hair and eyes are dark, and his face is marked by a dreamy expression, more indicative, it must be acknowledged, of poetic feeling than of martial fire. The drawing and modeling are admirable, the glowing colors and deep shadows, with their contrasting high-lights, testifying to the influence of Titian, and still more to that of Giorgione.

The picture, which in 1857 was transferred from panel to canvas, measures about two feet eight inches high by two feet wide.


AUSTRIA-HUNGARY. BUDAPEST GALLERY: Madonna with St. Francis—VIENNA, IMPERIAL GALLERY: John the Baptist; The Visitation; Madonna and Saints (‘Santa Conversazione’); Lucrezia; Violante (Plate vs); Five Portraits of Women; Portrait of an Old Man—VIENNA, LIECHTENSTEIN GALLERY: Holy Family and Saints (‘ Santa Conversazione’)—ENGLAND. ALNWICK, DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND’S COLLECTION: Portrait of a Lady with a Lute— CAMBRIDGE, FITZWILLIAM MUSEUM: Venus and Cupid—CANFORD, LORD WIMBORNE’S COLLECTION: Portrait of a Lady—HAMPTON COURT, ROYAL GALLERY: Portrait of a Lady; Madonna and Saints (‘Santa Conversazione’)—HORSMONDEN, OWNED BY MRS. AUSTEN: Portrait of a Woman—LONDON, NATIONAL GALLERY: Portrait of a Poet LONDON, OWNED BY R. H. BENSON, ESQ: Ma-donna and Saints (‘Santa Conversazione’)—LONDON, OWNED BY WYCKHAM FLOWER, Es :.Madonna and Saints (‘ Santa Conversazione’)—LONDON,OWNED BY LUDWIG MOND, ESQ: Portrait of a Woman—FRANCE. CHANTILLY, CONDÉ MUSEUM: Madonna with Saints and Donor (?)—PARIS, LOUVRE: Adoration of the Shepherds (Plate Ix); Holy Family and St. John—PARIS, COLLECTION OF M. ALPHONSE DE ROTHSCHILD: Portrait of a Lady—GERMANY. BERLIN GALLERY: Portrait of a Man; Two Portraits of Women—BRUNSWICK MUSEUM: Adam and EVE—DRESDEN, ROYAL GALLERY: Ma-donna with St. Catherine and St. John (Plate II); The Three Sisters (Plate V); Venus; The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel ; Holy Family with Saints (‘ Santa Conversazione’ ) —HAMBURG, OWNED BY CONSUL WEBER: The Annunciation—MUNICH GALLERY: Madonna with St. Roch and Mary Magdalene; Portrait of Palma Vecchio —ITALY. BERGAMO GALLERY, LOCHIS COLLECTION: Madonna with St. John and Mary Magdalene—DOSSENA, CHURCH: Altar-piece—FLORENCE, UFFIZI GALLERY: Judith—GENOA, BRIGNOLE-SALE COLLECTION: Madonna with St. John and Mary Magdalene—MILAN, BRERA GALLERY: St. Helena, St. Constantine, St. Roch, and St. Sebastian; Adoration of the Magi (in part)— MILAN, POLDI-PEZZOLI MUSEUM: P0rtrait of a Woman—MODENA, OWNED BY MARCHESE LOTARIO RANGONI: Mad0nna and Saints—NAPLES MUSEUM : Madonna with Saints and Donors (‘ Santa Conversazione’ — PEGHERA, CHURCH: Altar-piece—ROME, BORGHESE GALLERY: Lucrezia; Madonna, Saints, and Donor (‘Santa Conversazione’)—ROME, CAPITOLINE GALLERY: Christ and the Adulteress—ROME, COLONNA GALLERY: Madonna with St. Peter and Donor—ROVIGO, PALAllO COMUNALE: Madonna with St. Helena and St. Jerome—SERINA, CHURCH: Altar-piece—VENICE, ACADEMY: St. Peter Enthroned; Christ and the Adulteress; Assumption of the Virgin; Madonna with St. Catherine and St. John —VENICE, GIOVANELLI PALACE: Sposalizio (fragment of an altar-piece)—VENICE, OWNED BY LADY LAYARD: Knight and Lady (a fragment) —VENICE, CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA FORMOSA: Altar-piece with St. Barbara, four other Saints, and a Pietà I)—VENICE, —VENICE GALLERY: P0rtrait of a Man; Unfinished portrait of a Woman—VICENZA, CHURCH OF SAN STEFANO: Madonna with St. Lucy and St. George — ZERMAN GALLERY: Madonna Enthroned with Saints—RUSSIA. ST. PETERSBURG, LEUCHTENBURG GALLERY: Madonna and Saints (‘ Santa Conversazione’).



SIGNOR LOCATELLI’S ‘Notizie intorno a Giacomo Palma it Vecchio’ (Bergamo, 1890), Dr. Rosenberg’s ‘ Jacopo Palma der Aeltere,’ in the Dohme Series (Leipsic, 1879), notices of the painter and his works in Morelli’s ‘ Italian Painters’ (London, 1893), and a chapter devoted to him in Crowe and Cavalcaselle’ s ‘ History of Painting in North Italy’ (London, 1871) may be mentioned as helpful in a study of Palma Vecchio. The recent researches of Dr. Gustav Ludwig, published in the ‘Beiheft’ of the ‘ Jahrbuch der Koniglich preussischen Kunstsammlungen’ for 1903, are valuable in throwing some additional light upon the little-known history of this painter.

THE ANONIMO. Notes on Pictures and Works of Art: Trans. by Paolo Mussi. Edited by G. C. Williamson. London, 1903 —BERENSON, B. Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. New York, 1897—BLANC, C. Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: école vénitienne. Paris, 1868—BOSCHINI, M. Le minere della pittura veneziana. Venice, 1664-BRINTON, S. The Renaissance in Italian Art. London, 1898—BuRCKHARDT, J. Der Cicerone. Leipsic, 1898—CARTWRIGHT, J. Christ and His Mother in Italian Art. London, 1897—CROWE, J. A., and CAVALCASELLE, G. B. History of Painting in North Italy. London, 1871—FORNONI, E. Notizie biographiche su Palma Vecchio. Bergamo, 1886—GRONAU, G. Palma Vecchio (in Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers). London, 1904—KNACKFUSS, H., and ZIMMERMANN, M. G. Allgeineine Kunstgeschichte. Leipsic, I900—KUGLER, F. T. The Italian Schools of Painting: Revised by A. H. Layard. London, 1900 —KUHN, P. A. Allgemeine Kunst-Geschichte. Einsiedeln, 1891 et seq. —LANZI, L. History of Painting in Italy. London, 1828—LOCATELLI, P. Notizie intorno a Giacomo Palmo il Vecchio ed aile sue pitture. Bergamo, 1890—LOGAN, M. Guide to the Italian Pictures at Hampton Court. London, 1894— MORELLI, G. Italian Painters: Trans. by Constance Jocelyn Ffoulkes. London, 1893—MUNTZ, E. Histoire de l’art pendant la Renaissance. Paris, 1891-95—PHIL-iPPI, A. Die Kunst der Renaissance in Italien. Liepsic, 1897—REBER, F. VON. Geschichte der Malerei. Munich, 1894—RIDOLFI, C. Le maraviglie dell’arte. Padua, 1835 —Rio, A. F. De l’art chrétien. Paris, 1861 —ROSENBERG, A. Jacopo Palma der Aeltere (in Dohme’s Kunst und Kiinstler, etc.) Liepsic, 1879 —SCHAEFFER, E. Die Frau in der venezianischen Malerei. Munich, 1899—TASSI, F. M. Vite de’ pittori, scultori e architetti Bergamaschi. Bergamo, 1793 — VASARI, G. Lives of the Painters. New York, 1897 —WESSELY, J. E. Klassiker der Malerei. Liepsic, 1882—WOLTMANN, A., and WOERMANN, K. History of Painting: Trans. by Clara Bell. New York, 1895 —ZANETTI, A. M. Della pittura veneziana. Venice, 1771.


ARTE E STORIA, 1888: E. Fornoni; Il cognome e la patria di Palma Vecchio—JAHRBUCH DER K&NIGLICH PREUSSISCHEN KUNSTSAMMLUNGEN, 1901: G. Ludwig; Bonifazio di Pitati da Verona, eine archivalische Untersuchung. 1903 (Beiheft): G. Ludwig; Archivalische Beitràge zur Geschichte der venezianischen Malerei — MAGAZINE OF ART, 1893: W. F. Dickes; The Portrait of a Poet—PORTFOLIO, 1892: W. Armstrong; Violante—ZEITSCHRIFT FUR BILDENDE KUNST, 1868: G. F. Waagen; Meisterwerke der Braunschweiger Galerie. 1879: A. Rosenberg; Der Altar der heiligen Barbara.

( Originally Published 1905 )

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