The Tempest painted by the Italian High Renaissance master Giorgione is an exemplar piece of what a Renaissance artist could do and is shrouded in mystery as to the intention of the piece itself by the artist as he left no record behind for art historians to discern the meaning of this masterpiece from. The painting itself is a oil painting and mainly why Giorgione became famous for painting poetic paintings like “The Tempest” which although composed as a landscape painting, “The Tempest” includes figures as well as a host of complex allusions which caused the biographer of the Italian Renaissance to note that even he didn’t fully understand Giorgione’s pictures. Giorgione was trained by the Father of the Venetian School Giovanni Bellini,Giorgione developed his own style of soft focus painting that was not unlike that of Leonardo Da Vinci as it incorporated more landscape than what was expected during the High Renaissance as most of the art looked towards the ideas of beauty and humanism for inspiration and also included a more gradualist approach to application of color.
Giorgione unlike many artists of the High Renaissance who were also trained at the Venetian School who favored a more sensualist approach and therefore a less intellectual approach to art whereas Giorgione preferred to ensure there were hidden meanings in his work more along the lines of Leonardo, Michelangelo and other artists from the Florentine Renaissance with that being said the overall meaning of The Tempest has eluded both artists and art historians . The Tempest was reportedly commissioned by a Venetian nobleman named Gabriele Vendramin and is one of the earliest paintings to be dominated by the landscape even with its allegorical motifs. The Tempest is seemingly a painting of two unrelated halves which has confused many artists and art critics since the painting’s creation with the two seemingly unrelated halves being the foreground and the background. Now as we look at the painting we see in the foreground to the right there is a nude woman that is sitting on a small bank overlooking the creek while holding a baby to her breast and she also uses her thigh to offer additional protection and cover for the child. On the opposite of the stream is a fashionably dressed young man stares lecherously at the woman but while he is smiling at her but the woman’s gaze is directed at the viewer not the man. The man’s clothing identifies him as a member of the Companions of the Order of the Stocking a well-known fraternity among the young aristocrats in Venice. As we look behind the two figures we see a stub of masonry topped with the remains of two pillars that seems to have no consensus on their meaning but if the painting is a reference to the Christian church or is an actual piece of Biblical art, the pillars that we see may support the truths which support the church which may be a reference to words from the Book of Job which says “God who shaketh the earth out of her place, so that the pillars thereof tremble” (Job 9:6) if one believes these words, it could be a reference to the Christian church suffering a set-back. The background is part of the same landscape that features the two figures by the stream but yet the background also seems to be separate. The background consists of both urban and countryside scenes as evidenced by the stream widening until it becomes a river crossed by a single bridge which is next to several fine buildings including a temple indicating this is an unknown city of some kind. In the sky above the city a storm is gathering. Lightning is visible, and Giorgone’s evocative use of aquamarine and other blue and green colours creates an overall feeling of impending doom. According to several art historians, this refers to a coming conflict such as the war of the League of Cambrai (1508-1516), between Venice and the League of Cambrai, an anti-Venetian alliance organized by Pope Julius II. One theory about the piece was that it was to serve as a warning to the leaders of Venice to avoid war with the Pope-led League of Cambrai and yet another theory suggests that city is Heaven and the two figures are Adam and Eve thus representing the Expulsion from Paradise but is complicated due to the man being the original second woman in the piece.
The Tempest was important at the time of its creation as it helped the leaders of Venice to be able to heed the warning that is present in the piece of art by Giorgione. The purpose and role of this piece was to warn the leaders of Venice about the storm that war brings to the ordinary person and thus should not be treated with disdain.
The patron of this artwork was the Venetian noble Gabriele Vandramin as he wanted to be able to take the warning portrayed in the painting to the Venetian leaders to prove that going to war with Pope-led League of Cambrai could be a costly idea and was proven right. The importance of Gabriele Vandramin being the patron of this artwork is that he challenged Giorgione to be subtle in the message that he wanted to be sent to the Venetian leaders at the time.
The Tempest is important today as it showcases Giorgione’s genius and brilliance at using many different skills that would set him apart from the other masters and would become hallmarks in his later career. This art piece is important today as it makes you realize that you are not part of just a single culture but also multicultural mosaic that stretches the globe and this started with Giorgione being a genius with subtlety and mastering his palette.
Footnotes for the article:
Lynette M. F Bosch, “GIORGIONE’S “TEMPEST” REVISITED,” Source Notes in the History of Art 10, no. 2 (Winter 1991): , accessed February 14, 2017, doi:10.1086/sou.10.2.23202635.
Paul Holberton, “Giorgione’s Tempest or ‘little landscape with the storm with the gypsy‘: more on the gypsy, and a reassessment,” Art History 18, no. 3 (September 1995): , accessed February 6, 2017, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.1995.tb00631.x.
Stephen J. Campbell, “Giorgione’s “Tempest,” “Studiolo” Culture, and the Renaissance Lucretius,” Renaissance Quarterly 56, no. 2 (Summer 2003): , accessed February 14, 2017, doi:10.2307/1261849.
“The Tempest (1508),” The Tempest, Giorgione: Analysis, Meaning, , accessed February 14, 2017, http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/tempest-giorgione.htm.