Giorgione (born Giogio da Castelfranco c.1477-1510) The Tempest c. 1506 (83 – 73cm: Oil on Canvas). Venice, Accademia
The Tempest is an extraordinarily unusual but reasonably small painting and is a must see for anyone, regarded by some as a Renaissance mystery, and still holding onto its true interpretation to this day. It work was never named by Giorgione.
Simply described in 1530 by Marcantonio Michel as “a small landscape… with the storm, and the gypsy and soldier”, it is much more than this simplicity, although it can be admired in this way. First and foremost, this is a painting capturing a thunderstorm, a feature Pliny claimed was ‘unpaintable’ If you concentrate on the sky and the buildings directly beneath the crack of lightening, you can almost hear the thunder and smell the rain in the air. Perhaps this is because the artist was interested in portraying the true appearance of what he was portraying, so the atmospherics are truly unusually tangible perhaps representative of his use of aerial rather than linear perspective.
Looking at the figures portrayed here, again there is something complex and unusual here. The male figure does not appear to be a soldier (he is holding a staff) and there is nothing about the woman that indicates that she is a gypsy, Francis P. Stefano believes that this is Giorgione’s representation of the “Flight of the Holy Family Into Egypt” – that the woman nursing the baby is Mary and the male figure off to the side, Joseph. He also notes that the white cloth that ‘Mary’ is sitting on, is representative of the burial sheet of Christ or even perhaps as the cloth of the Eucharist. He also suggests that the painting depicts other religious symbolism
Perhaps this is Giorgione’s attempt to capture all the elements – earth, water, air and fire (lightening), sight, sound (thunder), taste (the feeding child), touch and smell (the impending rain) – or none of this, Whatever your thoughts, it is a profound painting of the subject of poetic mood and for that reason alone, it is highly unusual and totally addictive.