Of all the great artists of the Italian Renaissance, none is more elusive than Zorzi da Castelfranco, aka Giorgione. Art historians have little trouble reconstructing the careers of other towering artists of the period, such as Leonardo da Vinci. With Giorgione – the focus of a new exhibition at the Royal Academy – this is impossible. He is widely credited with provoking the revolution that occurred within Venetian painting during the first decade of the 16th century but in place of hard biographical facts, we have only speculation and debate.
As Per Rumberg, curator of the Royal Academy show, puts it: “We know more about Giorgione’s death than his entire life.”
There are tantalising rumours about him, divulged in Vasari’s 16th-century Lives of the Artists: he was “extremely fond of the lute” and “a very amorous man”, as well as the inventor of the maniera moderna, or modern style, in Venice.
His nickname, which plays on his given name of “Zorzi” (Venetian dialect for Giorgio), roughly translates as “Big George”, suggesting not only an imposing physique but also his standing among his fellow painters. Today, his name retains its bewitching aura, a bit like that of Titian – who, incidentally, was said to have been Giorgione’s most illustrious follower.
Yet, for such a “big” figure, Giorgione left very little footprint. He is the enigma of Western painting, art history’s Invisible Man. Indeed, the meagreness of evidence about him sometimes makes it tempting to question whether he even existed.
Giorgione sparked a revolution in Venetian painting. But who was he? – Telegraph