Giorgione's Sleeping Venus

November 13, 2010


It's not everyday one comes across any form of documentary or clip about the mysterious Giorgione. I have posted before on the interesting episode of Every Painting Tells a Story where Waldemar Januszczak tries his hand at a classical reading of The Tempest.

Whilst I doubt this clip will attract as much debate,  it is nonetheless enjoyable to see Giorgione's Venus get some attention. Thought for many years to be a later rendition of Titian's Venus of Urbino, it is stunning to note that Giorgione's work is actually the precursor.

Although the documentary states there were no literary sources for this work - other scholars have likened the pose to a woodcut seen in the 1499 Venetian allegorical romance Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Aldus Manutius.

Francesco Colonna's woodcut of Nymph & Satyr is suggested as the inspiration for Giorgione's Venus

The painting was completed in c.1510, after Giorgione's death. It is believed that Titian finished the painting, primarily working on the landscape and sky. This is the earliest known example since antiquity of a full nude being the central subject of a painting, and in this sense is a truly landmark work.

Unfortunately, this painting still lives in something of an obscurity- particularly from the general public. This may have to do with the fact that being located in Dresden it is out of sight of many Renaissance art tourists that travel to Italy - or simply because people are more familiar with Titian's work. Part of this focus perhaps is associated with Mark Twain's famous description of Titian's work in 1880 - which you can read a wonderful post about at Museworthy, a blog I've recently discovered looking at art from a professional art model's perspective.

The clip was produced by EncyclopediaTV in 2006 and is freely available from the The Internet Archive, or viewable in the player below.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Much prefer Giorgione's version to Titian's, although their both stunning. I think its mostly because titian's has all those domestic and social trappings that seem to hem the painting in, whereas giorgione's much more intensley captures the later notion of the sublime in art. I'm biased though, I've always preferred the giorgione/sibastian del piombo aspect of venetian art to the titian/tintoretto side of things. Good post tpp!

Anonymous said...

Also please excuse my spelling, keyboard's gone haywire and fixing spelling mistakes is a nightmare. :(

Dr. F said...

H,

I believe that most scholars give this painting almost entirely to Giorgione with Titian responsible for only a few touch ups. Wolfgang Eller has a long discussion in his Giorgione, Catalog Raisonne of 2007.

In my mind there are a few questions. Why is it called a Venus in the first place? If Giorgione had painted the hidden Cupid, that would settle it, but that is not certain. Second, what happened to her right foot? Was it painted over or did Giorgione create a better line by leaving it out. Third, is the red drapery on which she lies, an article of her clothing? If so, she would not be Venus.

Anyway, it is still the most beautiful reclining nude of all, a sign of how great the Renaissance really was. Here is Eller's summation:

"The sleeping figure does not realize that sh is being observed and in contrast to Titian's later depictions, she is not consciously displaying her nudeness. Giorgione rendered the beauty of the nude female body with noble delicacy, and there is no indication of rawness or lasciviousness."

Frank

H Niyazi said...

Cheers for the comments!

@Frank - I was wondering if Venus is just an arbitrary name because it is a depiction of a woman, like the Venus of Willendorf - which has naught to do with the Roman appropriation of Aphrodite!

Who do you think it points towards? I like the idea that it was inspired by Aldus Manutius romantic literature, so would instead be a nymph - or even just a personification of nature.

Of course, it's a Giorgione work so our ability to determine these things for certain is somewhat hampered! I liked how they put Pastoral Concert in as a Giorgione though :) I agree with them on that!

H

Dr. F said...

H:

Earlier this year I undertook the drudgery of wading through Colonna's incredibly repititious and silly story in hopes of finding some hints for the use of nudity. I don't believe that it is the source for the Giorgione, and certainly couldn't have been for Botticelli. In Colonna's Hyp...Venus is portrayed seated on a throne. The reclining nymph image is certainly an erotic one and there is little eroticism in the Dresden painting.

By the way, Venus is the Roman equivalent of the Greek, Athena, not Aphrodite. Athena, the daughter of Zeus, is the most important and powerful divinity in Homer. Associated with the planet of the same name, she was much more important than Aphrodite (the Moon) in the Greek and Roman pantheon.

By the time of the Renaissance this formidable Goddess had become the personification of Love.

I have no idea of what Giorgione intended in this painting. I suspect it was his lady love.

Frank

H Niyazi said...

@Frank - do you have a reference for that? In all literary my travels - particularly from Ovid to Cicero on the Roman adoption of the Hellenic pantheon, I did not encounter that Athena analogy. Indeed, does the word Venus itself not mean 'love' or 'desire' in Latin?

In addition, where does that leave poor Minerva - is she not the Athena analogue?!!

H

Dr. F said...

H:

Sorry! You're right--Minerva is the Roman equivalent of Athena. She like Minerva is the goddess of wisdom. But Athena is associated with the planet Venus.

My Latin dictionary says that Venus comes from venia, "that which is pleasing." It also calls Venus the goddess of love and grace. However, Venus could also come from venire, "to come." Cicero explained the name as "the goddess who comes to all things." (De Natura Deorum, II, 69)

"To love" is "amare." In my generation every schoolboy started Latin with amo, amas, amat...

Frank

H Niyazi said...

Cheers Frank - my world almost came tumbling down for a second!

I think I can speak on behalf of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots in saying we are fond of 'our goddess' known as Afroditi/Venus/Kypris etc - not because of any religious significance, but simply because she is associated with wonderful things such as love and beauty.

H

M said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading the comments between Frank and Hasan, too. That Mark Twain post was especially interesting (and the blog looks really fascinating, too).

Frank or Hasan, do either of you know how this painting ended up in Dresden? I'm curious to know more about it's provenance and ownership history, but I haven't found much information on my own.

Dr. F said...

M:

Eller gives the provenance in his 2007 catalog. Here it is.

In 1525, Michiel saw a painting in the house of Girolamo Marcello that was described as “The painting with the nude Venus, who is sleeping in a landscape, with Cupid, by the hand of Zorzo da Castelfranco, but the landscape and the Cupid were finished by Titian.” In 1648, Ridolfi notes that a Venus with Cupid is in the house of the Marcellos. As a further detail, he adds that Cupid holds a small bird in his hand. In 1660 Boschini describes it in the casa Marcello as a work of Giorgione. In 1697, the merchant Le Roy buys the painting for August of Saxony. In 1707, it is already listed in the Dresden inventory as “a Venus with an amoretto by Giorgione, Original”.

Wolfgang Eller, Giorgione, Catalog Raisonne, 2007, p.124.

Scholars are divided on who painted the Cupid which can no longer be seen. If it was done by Titian, then was Giorgione painting a Venus?

Frank

H Niyazi said...

Cheers for that Frank. That's one Giorgione book that I have not come across - I'd have to try dig it out at the university library.

It's available at places like amazon, for those wanting to add it to a Holiday season wish list!

Wolfgang Eller, Giorgione, Catalog Raisonne, 2007

H

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