D18-19 Venetian Renaissance

D18 – Giorgione Gallery

The centerpiece of this room is known as The “Gattamelata” or Man in Armour with a Squire (1501-1502) by Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione.

The “Gattamelata,” Giorgione

This work was originally located in the imperial collections at Prague Castle and later on view at the Belvedere Castle in Vienna, but traveled to Florence during an exchange of paintings between the imperial collections of Vienna and the grand ducal galleries of Florence between 1792 and 1821.

The identification of the sitter has been a matter of great debate among scholars. At first, the knight was thought to be the infamous condottiere Erasmo of Narni (1370-1443), known as “Gattamelata” (“honeyed cat”) and the squire was believed to be his son, Antonio. This identification, however, has since been called into question. One of the more recent interpretations identifies the knight as Cleitus, a close companion of Alexander the Great, the great Macedonian conqueror and king. If this identification is correct, then this work is likely based on a painting by the famous Greek artist, Apelles, which, like the rest of his work, unfortunately no longer exists.

Regardless of the identity of the sitter, this portrait anticipates a trend that will emerge during the 17th century: the armored knight. As medieval warfare transformed into early modern war, it became more important for elites to promote themselves as members of a chivalric culture as opposed to republican citizens. For instance, compare Giorgione’s portrait with that of Piero della Francesca’s portrait of condottiere Duke Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino:

Duke Federico took pains to represent himself as a respectable public servant, dressed in the traditional robes of a civil servant whereas the sitter in Giorgione’s portrait seems only interested in extolling his martial prowess, perhaps because such martial prowess was no longer on display like it had been one hundred years earlier. Indeed, as historian Dan Jones notes in his book Power and Thrones: “[B]y the fourteenth century the knight’s moment of military supremacy had passed. Strangely, however, this did not dim the allure of knighthood. Far from it. For as knights became relatively less critical on the battlefield, their standing in society was rising. … In the sixteenth century, long after guns and cannons and professional armies had arrived and any vestiges of feudal government, the allure of armored cavalry, knightliness, and chivalry still remained irresistible to the European upper classes. ” Thus, displaying oneself in armor linked a sitter to the world of military might and chivalric honor at a time when that world was slowly dissipating into the past, if it even had existed at all.

Moreover, Duke Federico uses his portrait to shown the land over which he claims dominion. Giorgione, however, focuses solely on the sitter and his squire, allowing the sitter’s armor to speak for itself. This focus on the sitter also helped establish what would also become a new trend: larger works, depicting more of the sitter than simply his shoulders and head. The humanist idea of man for his own sake was coming into its own.

The effects of reflection and light on the knight’s armor are typical of Giorgione. Looking closer at the armor, it appears that the helmet is very similar to the helmet in Titian’s Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, being presented by Pope Alexander VI to Saint Peter:

Titian was actually Giorgione’s student, and therefore Giorgione’s Gattamelata is bounded by two of Titian’s early works produced while he was still under Giorgione’s influence. The one on the left is Titian’s Portrait of a Knight of Malta (c. 1515). In fact, this portrait is so similar to Giorgione’s works that it was, for a time, attributed to Giorgione, but after its restoration, most scholars agree it is an early Titian.

The knight in this portrait remains unidentified, but the silver cross he wears does indicate to scholars that he was likely a Knight of Malta, a chivalric lay religious order that still exists today. To emphasize the sitter’s commitment to the Catholic church, Titan depicts him as though he is emerging into the light from a dark background. Light was a common allegory for Christ based on his statement, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (KJV John 8:12). Titan’s use of light in this manner was later capitalized upon by one of the Baroque period’s greatest artists, Caravaggio. In fact, Caravaggio painted his own Knight of Malta that was likely inspired by this piece:

Both figures gaze slightly to their left (our right), both wear the black with silver cross, and both clutch a rosary in their right hands. Titan’s knight, however, occupies the entire canvas, signifying his sense of importance and power. Titian is able to convey the sitter’s inner self by employing space masterfully: the sheer mass of the sitter suggests masculine energy, but his contemplative demeanor negates the arrogance that one might expect from one exuding such physical power. Instead, the viewer gets the sense that the sitter’s spirituality is what gives him his power. Indeed, the highlighted right hand holding the rosary reinforces this interpretation. The rosary also gives us another clue about the sitter: his age. The number 35 is inscribed on one of the rosary beads.

The work to the right of Giorgione’s Gattamelata is Titian’s work known as The Sick Man (c. 1514), so named due to the pallor of the sitter’s skin, but there is no evidence to suggest that the sitter was in fact ill when Titian painted his portrait.

The man in this portrait is also unidentified, but he is dressed in black, as was customary for portraits of this time. In fact, the Italian humanist author Baldassare Castiglione suggested that all men at court wear black in his Il libro del Cortegiano (Book of the Courtier), an instruction manual for those hoping to make it. The black clothing highlights the sitter’s white chemise hidden beneath a fur collar. The fur, along with the sitter’s gloves, was a status symbol, projecting wealth to the viewers. It also allowed Titian to demonstrate his skill in portraying textures. Atop the portrait is the inscription “MDXIIIII AN. ETATIS XXII,” which gives the date (1514) and the age of the sitter (22).

D19 – Venetian Small Chapel

The next room contains more works by Giorgione and Titian, including Giorgione’s Moses Undergoing Trial by Fire (c. 1496-1499).

This work depicts a story found in medieval Jewish texts that is very rarely depicted in Italian art. According to the story, when Moses was a newborn baby, he knocked off the Pharaoh’s crown, which the Pharaoh took as a bad omen. To determine whether the baby Moses had intentionally grabbed the crown, the Pharaoh subjected him to a trial by fire, presenting him with two bowls, one containing embers and the other gold. The baby reaches for the bowl containing the fire, thereby proving that he did not want to steal the Pharaoh’s riches.

In the work, Giorgione depicts all the figures dressed in contemporary clothing, which was typical of Venetian painting at the time. The pharaoh sits atop his throne, (which is more Roman than Egyptian) while his daughter holds Moses in front of the two plates full of fire and gold, respectively. Even the landscape is westernized, depicted as a pastoral scene with tall trees, hills, rocks, mountains, castles, a lake, and houses. In fact, some scholars have likened the setting to Bellini’s Holy Allegory (Giorgione trained in Bellini’s workshop):

Moses Undergoing Trial by Fire is actually a pendant to Giorgione’s Judgment of Solomon (c. 1496–1499), which is displayed, as it would have been in its original setting, along side it.

Giorgione’s Judgment of Solomon depicts a story from the Old Testament wherein two women dispute the motherhood of a baby and so they approach King Solomon to settle the dispute:

16. Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.

17. And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.

18. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.

19. And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it.

20. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.

21. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.

22. And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.

23. Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.

24. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.

25. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.

26. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.

27. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

28. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

1 Kings 3:16-28 (KJV).

Unlike previous depictions of this story, this work places the Judgment outside in the open, allowing Giorgione to show off his skill in painting landscapes. This landscape is much richer in architecture and color than that of its pendant, but the works are similar in that they both depict the figures in contemporary Venetian dress.

Reading the two paintings together, we get a moral lesson: in one a despotic king subjects an innocent child to “justice” while in the other, wise king Solomon is impartial and knows love when he sees it, correctly identifying the mother based on her desire for her child to live, with or without her.

A relatively recent acquisition (at least by the Uffizi standards) in 2001 is Titian’s The Risen Christ (1511-1512), which depicts Christ standing on his empty tomb.

Interestingly for Titian, is the low angle at which he places the viewers, which is likely due to the frescoes he (and Giorgione) had recently completed at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which were also viewed from a low angle.

Although the bright colors, detailed landscape, and open space are all hallmarks of the Venetian style, the positioning of the figure is likely indebted to Alvise Vivarini and Francesco Napoletano.

In Titian’s version, Christ looks up towards heaven, a device that would become common in Titian’s works.

Another religious work by Titian in this room is his Madonna and Child with the Young St. John the Baptist and St. Anthony the Abbot, known as Madonna of the Roses (c. 1525) due to the roses St. John hands the Christ child.

Roses are a direct reference to the Virgin, who is known as “a rose without thorns,” an epithet which is itself an allusion to the garden of eden where roses grew without thorns as well as to Christ’s passion. Titian employs the traditional Venetian iconography introduced by Bellini and Cima, placing the sacred figures before a curtain that reveals a rolling landscape. The curtain separating the foreground and the background becomes a staple of both Titan’s work and Venetian art in general. In fact, these rooms are painted green to reflect the curtains that appear in Venetian works, which were typically green.

The final Titian in this room is his Portrait of Bishop of Bologna Ludovico Beccadelli (1552), who is depicted seated in his black bishop’s cape.

The letter in the Bishop’s hand identifies him as the Bishop of Ravello and Bologna as well as the Apostolic Delegate in Venice. Titian’s skill in still life is seen in the contrast between the paper of this letter with the folding silk of the Bishop’s robes. Beccadelli was a reformer priest in the mold of the Counter Reformation and actually participated in the Council of Trent. The Counter-Reformation is the name scholars gave to the period of Catholic resurgence and reform that began after repeated criticism launched by the newly forming Protestant faiths during the 16th and 17th centuries. It came to a head in 1545 when the Catholic Church began holding conferences, known as a Synod, to settle matters of doctrine and reform in light of the growing Protestant threat. This series of conferences, held from 1545 through 1563, became known as the Council of Trent (after the city in which it was held: Trento, Italy). During this Council, the Church reaffirmed its central doctrines, including the worship of the martyrs and transubstantiation, both of which were vehemently dismissed as superstition by the Protestants. Most importantly for our purposes here, the Council discussed the role of art in Catholic belief and in its churches.

The Counter-Reformation is the name scholars gave to the period of Catholic resurgence and reform that began after repeated criticism launched by the newly forming Protestant faiths during the 16th and 17th centuries. It came to a head in 1545 when the Catholic Church began holding conferences, known as a Synod, to settle matters of doctrine and reform in light of the growing Protestant threat. This series of conferences, held from 1545 through 1563, became known as the Council of Trent (after the city in which it was held: Trento, Italy). During this Council, the Church reaffirmed its central doctrines, including the worship of the martyrs and transubstantiation, both of which were vehemently dismissed as superstition by the Protestants. Most importantly for our purposes here, the Council discussed the role of art in Catholic belief and in its churches.

Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae: Council of Trent, Anonymous (1565), courtesy of the Met

The Council increased Roman Catholic Church commissions of grandiose works of art that were intended to inspire, and even intimidate, viewers. The thinking was that parishioners were less likely to convert to Protestantism if their churches were awe-inspiring (at the time, Protestants believed that religious artwork violated the First Commandment – thou shall not have any God but me – because artwork encouraged viewers to worship the images rather than God himself so their churches were generally whitewashed). Therefore much of the art produced during this era was highly stylized, focusing on a frozen moment of time, which was generally a moment of crises or high drama. The works plunged viewers into a narrative in media res, creating the feeling that the viewer has been sucked into the narrative and is watching it unfold in real time, as if he or she was part of the story.

Such art was also supposed to be instructive, demonstrating to the viewers – the majority of which would have been illiterate at the time – how to behave. To ensure the “uneducated” would receive the right message, the Council of Trent decreed that images should be simplified and not include any frivolous decorations that would perplex the viewer. Thus, the art should be straight-forward and clear.

Leopoldo de’ Medici in 1653 bought the portrait likely because Beccadelli was employed by Duke Cosimo I as a tutor to his son, Ferdinando, who was destined for the Church, but upon Ferdinando’s oldest brother’s death, he abandoned that road to become Duke and grandfather to Leopoldo.

The other artist represented in this room is Lorenzo Lotto, who was born in Venice, but became itinerate so that he would not have to directly compete with his contemporary Titian. His earliest work in this room, Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1505), shows the Nordic influence on his work, especially that of Albrecht Dürer, who lived, for a time, in Venice where it was likely Lotto came into contact with his work.

Lotto’s other two works are religiously themed. The first is known as Susanna and the Elders (1517), which depicts a scene from the Old Testament where two men spy upon a young woman named Susanna, who is bathing.

4. Now Joacim was a great rich man, and had a fair garden joining unto his house: and to him resorted the Jews; because he was more honourable than all others.

5. The same year were appointed two of the ancients of the people to be judges, such as the Lord spake of, that wickedness came from Babylon from ancient judges, who seemed to govern the people

6. These kept much at Joacim's house: and all that had any suits in law came unto them.

7. Now when the people departed away at noon, Susanna went into her husband's garden to walk.

8. And the two elders saw her going in every day, and walking; so that their lust was inflamed toward her.

9. And they perverted their own mind, and turned away their eyes, that they might not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments. ...

15. And it fell out, as they watched a fit time, she went in as before with two maids only, and she was desirous to wash herself in the garden: for it was hot.

16. And there was no body there save the two elders, that had hid themselves, and watched her.

17. Then she said to her maids, Bring me oil and washing balls, and shut the garden doors, that I may wash me.

18. And they did as she bade them, and shut the garden doors, and went out themselves at privy doors to fetch the things that she had commanded them: but they saw not the elders, because they were hid.

19. Now when the maids were gone forth, the two elders rose up, and ran unto her, saying,

20. Behold, the garden doors are shut, that no man can see us, and we are in love with thee; therefore consent unto us, and lie with us.

21. If thou wilt not, we will bear witness against thee, that a young man was with thee: and therefore thou didst send away thy maids from thee.

22. Then Susanna sighed, and said, I am straitened on every side: for if I do this thing, it is death unto me: and if I do it not I cannot escape your hands.

23. It is better for me to fall into your hands, and not do it, than to sin in the sight of the Lord.

24. With that Susanna cried with a loud voice: and the two elders cried out against her. ...

41. Then the assembly believed them as those that were the elders and judges of the people: so they condemned her to death.

42. Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, O everlasting God, that knowest the secrets, and knowest all things before they be:

43. Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me, and, behold, I must die; whereas I never did such things as these men have maliciously invented against me.

44. And the Lord heard her voice.

45. Therefore when she was led to be put to death, the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young youth whose name was Daniel:

46. Who cried with a loud voice, I am clear from the blood of this woman.

47. Then all the people turned them toward him, and said, What mean these words that thou hast spoken?

48. So he standing in the midst of them said, Are ye such fools, ye sons of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth ye have condemned a daughter of Israel? ...

51. Then said Daniel unto them, Put these two aside one far from another, and I will examine them.

52. So when they were put asunder one from another, he called one of them, and said unto him, O thou that art waxen old in wickedness, now thy sins which thou hast committed aforetime are come to light.

53. For thou hast pronounced false judgment and hast condemned the innocent and hast let the guilty go free; albeit the Lord saith, The innocent and righteous shalt thou not slay.

54. Now then, if thou hast seen her, tell me, Under what tree sawest thou them companying together? Who answered, Under a mastick tree.

55. And Daniel said, Very well; thou hast lied against thine own head; for even now the angel of God hath received the sentence of God to cut thee in two.

56. So he put him aside, and commanded to bring the other, and said unto him, O thou seed of Chanaan, and not of Juda, beauty hath deceived thee, and lust hath perverted thine heart.

57. Thus have ye dealt with the daughters of Israel, and they for fear companied with you: but the daughter of Juda would not abide your wickedness.

58. Now therefore tell me, Under what tree didst thou take them companying together? Who answered, Under an holm tree.

59. Then said Daniel unto him, Well; thou hast also lied against thine own head: for the angel of God waiteth with the sword to cut thee in two, that he may destroy you.

60. With that all the assembly cried out with a loud voice, and praised God, who saveth them that trust in him.

61.And they arose against the two elders, for Daniel had convicted them of false witness by their own mouth:

62. And according to the law of Moses they did unto them in such sort as they maliciously intended to do to their neighbour: and they put them to death. Thus the innocent blood was saved the same day.

Susanna 1:1-62 (KJV) (Daniel, XIII, 1-64 in the Catholic Bible)

Lotto depicts Susanna in the pose known as “Crouching Venus,” named after a Greek sculpture from 200 BC which has been since lost but scholars believe it was the source for subsequent marbles copies, including the Lely Venus, which is on long term loan to the British Museum. The Crouching Venus is a variation on the theme of the Venus Pudica posture. The idea behind the Venus Pudica (literally “shameful Venus”) is that someone – you as the viewer – has stumbled upon Venus as she is bathing and surprised her so she hides herself in shame.

Susanna, like the Venus Pudica, has been caught bathing unawares and immediately hides herself in shame. Perplexingly, the Venus Pudica was such a popular posture because by attempting to hide herself, Venus inherently brings attention to those parts of her body she is attempting to hide. Thus, in her – and consequently Susanna’s – effort to avoid becoming an object of the male gaze, she unwittingly assumes such a role. The complexity of the piece, though, is whether Venus (and by extension Susanna) gains power through this role, as the stories of Judith (the Jewish heroine) and of Venus herself, among others, tells us, or are they simply passive objects upon which we gaze.

In Lotto’s work, Susanna holds a banner that declares, “Satius duco mori, quam peccare” (“I would rather die than sin”) while one of the elders holds a banner that pronounces the unfounded accusation of adultery: “Vidimus eam cum iuvene commisceri, ni nobis assenties testimonio nostro peribus” (“We bear witness that we have seen her lay with a youth, who then fled”). 

Lotto’s final work in this room is another religious piece known as The Holy Family with Saint Jerome (1534).

Here, Mary is depicted holding baby Jesus in her lap while she herself is placed in her own mother’s (St. Anne) lap as if to visually display the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Conception via descent through the womb. The Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Conception are oftentimes confused with one another, but they are actually two separate Church doctrines. Indeed, a common misconception is that the Immaculate Conception is related to Mary’s conception of Christ via the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Virgin Conception), but the Immaculate Conception is actually a reference to St. Anne’s conception of Mary, who was without sin since the moment of her conception and was therefore a worthy vessel for Christ. (Although starting to be generally accepted at this time, the doctrine did not become official church doctrine until Pope Pius IX issued the bull known as the Ineffabilis Deus on December 8, 1854).

Lotto typically painted in a horizontal format, allowing him to place more figures in the foreground than his peers, in this case, four figures. One of those figures, St. Jerome, lacks his usual attribute of a lion, but is instead depicted with his cardinal hat hanging around his neck.

There is a replica of this work in Courtauld Gallery of London, which has a window and landscape instead of St. Jerome.

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