Realising that In The Age of Giorgione closes tomorrow, we spent the morning in it. A few comments. The astonishing generosity of the lenders, particularly the Royal Collection and the Accademia. The complexities of attribution, beyond the Terris portrait, which has an inscription ascribing it to Giorgione. The fact that after more than a century of post-Morellian discussion and debate around attribution, there is no more certainty than when Berenson decided to dedicate his life to its study. The tension between the influence of Durer who visited Venice in 1505 and described Bellini as ‘still the best’ and the influence of Leonardo who had visited a few years earlier. The extraordinary realism and poignancy, particularly in the eyes, of La Vecchia, which I had not realised was described in a sixteenth-century inventory as a portrait of Giorgione’s mother. Hard to imagine the range of works in the exhibition ever being easily repeated.
Having now read the catalogue of In the Age of Giorgione with admiration and care, I have realised how uncertain are the sands of attribution. Each generation has obviously treated differently the relationship between late Bellini, early Titian, Dosso Dossi and Giorgione somewhere in between. From the catalogue, it feels as if the current generation has expanded early Titian at the expense of Giorgione and emphasised the influence of Durer to Venetian art above that of Leonardo, which is more documented. One of the problems is the lack of availability for loan of the Castelfranco Altarpiece, which marks most clearly the break from the style of Bellini – the softer style of painting, the dreamy landscape, the Madonna set high on her throne. This ought to anchor the radicalism of the young Giorgione.
I have been doing background reading for our exhibition, In the Age of Giorgione, which opens on Wednesday to Friends of the RA and on Saturday to the wider public. That the exhibition is happening at all is a triumph of diplomacy by its two curators, Simone Facchinetti from the Museo Adriano Bernareggi in Bergamo and Arturo Galansino, formerly of the RA and now in charge of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. There have been previous exhibitions of Giorgione, most recently at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. But the presumption is that it should be impossible, given the lack of availability of loans and the general uncertainty of attribution. Arturo originally wanted to do a monographic exhibition on Giovanni Cariani. We all said it was much too specialist. So, instead he has made a virtue of the general uncertainty surrounding Giorgione and it is now the central subject of the exhibition. Who was Giorgione ? And to what extent is it possible to distinguish his paintings from those of his contemporaries ?