(b. 1477, Castelfranco, d. 1510, Venezia)


Italian painter (real name Giorgio Barbarelli or Giorgio da Castelfranco), who 'from his stature and the greatness of his mind was afterwards known as Giorgione [great George]' (Vasari). He was ranked by Vasari with Leonardo da Vinci as one of the founders of modern painting. He was the first exponent in Venice of the small picture in oils, intended for private collectors rather than for churches, and frequently mysterious and evocative in subject. Giorgione's achievement in transforming the character of Venetian painting has always seemed the more remarkable in a life, terminated by the plague of 1510, that was even shorter than Raphael 's. Our knowledge of his career is confined to a few contemporary references, from the years 1506-10, and only a handful of paintings are undisputedly attributed to him, including the Castelfranco Altarpiece (in the church of San Liberate in the town of his birth), the portrait of Laura and The Three Philosophers (Vienna), and the Tempest (Venice, Accademia).

Probably trained in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, at the same time as Lorenzo Lotto and Palma Vecchio, Giorgione began his career, according to Vasari, as a specialist of small devotional Madonnas. In 1506 he shared a studio with Vincenzo Catena. Giorgione worked for private collectors, then beginning to emerge as a new class of patron, as well as for the Church, and he was also employed by the state in 1507-08 on a large canvas (since lost without trace) for the presence chamber of the Council of Ten.

In 1508 he was painting frescoes on the outside of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, near the Rialto (finished in November 1508), the headquarters of the German merchants in Venice, and Titian was also working there in a subordinate capacity. Only damaged fragments of the decorations, which were engraved in the 18th century, survive in the Accademia, Venice, but the link with Titian is important, for it seems to prove that it was Giorgione, and not Titian, who was the great innovator.

The Castelfranco Altarpiece shows him to have been equally alive to central Italian art (Costa and Perugino), while the more experimental outlook of Leonardo, who visited Venice in 1500, is mentioned by Vasari as a major influence. In such later works as the Tempest, landscape itself is the main subject of the painting, and the technical potentialities of oil paint are used to suggest an atmospheric unification, with light and shade falling softly across the figures and their setting. The Laura of 1506 (her name identifiable from the laurel branch behind the sitter) is comparable in technique and colouring, and shows the new idealism of the early 16th century in the formulation of the composition and in the psychological remoteness of the image.

The extraordinary confusion that has always beset the attribution of a group of major works related to Giorgione's later style is itself an indication of his pivotal position in Venetian art and his importance in the formation of Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo. The Concert Champêtre (Paris, Louvre) is disputed between Giorgione and Titian, The Judgment of Solomon is attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo, while the Sleeping Venus (Dresden) is known from a near-contemporary source to have been left partly unfinished, and completed by Titian, who later adapted the figure for his own Venus of Urbino (Florence, Uffizi) of 1538.