from The New Book of Knowledge®


The Italian painter Giorgione played an important role in the development of Italian painting. He contributed to the rise of Venice as a center of painting in the late 1400's and early 1500's, a period known as the High Renaissance. Venetian artists were among the first in Italy to paint with oils, a technique that was developed in northern Europe. The new medium enabled Giorgione and other artists to better portray the effects of color and light.

Little is known of Giorgione's life. He was born in 1477 or 1478 in Castelfranco, a small village near Venice. He may have studied in Venice, perhaps with the artist Giovanni Bellini, whose influence can be seen in Giorgione's work. Although Giorgione produced some large-scale public works, most of his paintings were smaller pictures done for private patrons.

Giorgione appears to have been less concerned with subject matter than with expressing a mood. He often portrayed figures in a landscape setting, bathing the background in hazy light. Shapes are softly defined with light and shade rather than with sharp lines. This subtle use of light to convey the quality of the atmosphere shows the influence of the great Italian master Leonardo da Vinci.

Giorgione's characteristic style can be seen in his most famous work, The Tempest. It is a landscape with two figures: a seated woman nursing a child and a man standing nearby. A village lies in the distance, over which a bolt of lightning appears in the sky. Though its meaning is somewhat mysterious, the painting projects a poetic mood.

Besides The Tempest, few other paintings can be definitively attributed to Giorgione. They include the Castelfranco Madonna and The Three Philosophers.

Stricken by the plague, Giorgione died in Venice in 1510. Although only in his early thirties at the time of his death, he had a profound influence on his fellow artists--notably Titian, who had worked as Giorgione's assistant and completed many of his unfinished paintings. Titian developed many of Giorgione's innovations throughout his long career, becoming the most important Venetian artist of the Italian Renaissance.

Reviewed by Gretchen A. Hirschauer
Assistant Curator of Italian Painting
National Gallery of Art

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