Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giorgione, etc.

Another post from John Marciari, Curator of European Art at the Museum:

One of my favorite art blogs is Tyler Green's Modern Art Notes, and not merely because he said some nice things about SDMA a few months back. The blog's title is actually a bit of a misnomer because Green covers a lot more than the world of Modern Art. This morning, for example, he's written the first installment of what will be a series of posts discussing this mysterious maybe-by-Giorgione (or maybe-by-Titian, or maybe-started-by-Giorgione-and-maybe-finished-by-Titian) Portrait of a Man at the National Gallery of Art. I've never been satisfied with the whole Giorgione-Titian collaborative idea, so I'm happy to hear that it is apparently being reconsidered. I'm even more delighted that Tyler Green thinks that his readers will care about a connoisseurial problem like this.

The discussion of the NGA portrait is as good an excuse as any, though, to draw attention once again to the Portrait of a Man in San Diego. This isn't a large painting, and it hasn't always had the popular appeal of, say, the Sanchez-Cotan still life hanging in the next room, but to me, this subtle picture is without question the principal masterpiece in San Diego. Painted probably in 1506, it marks a watershed in the history of Italian portraiture. It shows exactly what the great writer Vasari meant when he identified Giorgione as the first "modern" painter: out with the old, hard linear style of Bellini and others, and in with the "living and natural." A few months ago, when leading some patrons through the gallery, I called the painting
San Diego's Mona Lisa
a label that I think does it justice. Everything that people have always thought special about the Mona Lisa - the enigmatic expression, the subtle modelling of forms, the sense of real air and atmosphere - is here too. Like all great portraits, the picture does far more than just record someone's appearance (which is just as well, because we don't know who the sitter is). Instead, despite its simplicity, the painting has real life: the more we look, the more the picture engages us, and the more it thus comes alive. Finally, Giorgione died young, and portraits by him for which there is no question about the attribution are as rare as hen's teeth. This is a painting that could hang in any museum anywhere in the world, but here it is in San Diego.

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