The title, Tempest, with an extraordinary landscape with figures painted by Giorgione, is purely conventional. The title refers to the meteorological situation of the painting, where a quiet river landscape with ruins and a view of the town is disturbed by the arriving storm.
In the foreground there are three characters: on the left there’s a young man dressed in renaissance clothes gazing to the right side of the painting where a nude woman, barely covered by a cloth, nurses a newborn child and she is looking at the direction of the observer.
Unfortunately, there is no original title or explanation of the scene which could help to open the meaning of the artwork, but it doesn’t seem believable that the painting represents simply a pure landscape and doesn’t hide more complex interpretations. Over the years there have been numerous hypotheses about the artwork suggesting the painting would hide an allegorical meaning where the man represents the Fort, the woman represents the Charity and the lightning represent the Fortune, or that the scene is modern version of the story of Adam and Eve, condemned by the God who is represented by the lightning.
Despite the various attempts of explanation – which have ranged from mythological to philosophical, alchemical and biblical – nothing has been found to be truly convincing and to worsen the interpretative situation, an X-ray that was performed in 1939 revealed the presence of a bather where the man is standing, strengthening the randomness of the subject. Perhaps the composition simply represents Giorgione’s strong lyrical sentiment towards the nature, which was typical for Venetian artistic culture at the time.
However, this kind of generic and meaningless artworks were almost nonexistent at the time, as in the beginning of the 16th century all the paintings had some kind explanation which sometimes was more clearly identifiable or, as in this case, cryptic.
Despite the interpretative problems, this artwork can be considered as an absolute masterpiece for its pleasant landscape and vibrant atmosphere influenced by Leonardo and Dürer's works: the general composition and the variety of tones result as profoundly poetic and harmonic artwork. The lightning creates a forceful effect, making the scene look like a snapshot of nature.
The work is almost certainly dated between 1502 and 1503 and definitely not after 1505. In 1530 it was referred as “a canvas with landscape and tempest, with a gypsy woman and soldier, made by Zorzi de Castelfranco” in the house of Gabriele Vendramin, who probably commissioned the work.
After several owners, the city of Venice acquired the work from Prince Giovannelli in 1932.
Crowe J.A. – Cavalcaselle G. B., A History of Painting in North Italy, a cura di T. Borenius, I-III, London 1912, III, p. 19;
Venturi L., Giorgione e il giorgionismo, Milano 1913, pp. 82-87, 353;
Ferriguto A., La fisica della Rinascenza ed il “soggetto” di un capolavoro. (A proposito di recenti interpretazioni), in “Nuova Rivista Storica”, X, fasc. VI, 1926, pp. 521-537;
Ferriguto A., Ancora dei soggetti di Giorgione (ombre nei sottoquadri, stemmi nella “Tempesta”), in “Atti del Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti”, CII, parte II, 1942-1943, pp. 403-418;
Calvesi M., La Tempesta di Giorgione come Ritrovamento di Mosè, in “Commentari”, XIII, III-IV, 1962, pp. 226-255;
Calvesi M., La “morte di bacio”. Saggio sull’ermetismo di Giorgione, in “Storia dell’Arte”, 1970, 7-8, pp. 179-233;
Settis S., La “Tempesta” interpretata. Giorgione, i committenti, il soggetto, Torino 1978;
Lettieri D., Traditions for Giorgione’s Tempesta, I-II, Ph. D. Diss., Yale University, 1985;
Nepi Scirè G., Giorgione. “La Tempesta”, in “Quaderni della Soprintendenza ai Beni Artistici e Storici di Venezia”, 13 (Restauri alle Gallerie dell’Accademia), Venezia 1987, pp. 8-21;
Guidoni E., Il luogo della Tempesta. Il paesaggio e il significato nel capolavoro di Giorgione, Roma 1995;
Nepi Scirè G., Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, Milano 1998, p. 62;
Guidoni E., Giorgione. Opere e significato, Roma 1999, pp. 138-1448;
Campbell S.J., Giorgione’s Tempest, Studiolo Culture, and the Renaissence Lucretius, in “Renaissence Quarterly”, LVI, 2,2003, pp. 299-332;
Nepi Scirè G., scheda di catalogo, in Giorgione. Le Meraviglie dell’Arte, a cura di Nepi Scirè G. e Rossi S., Marsilio, Venezia 2003-2004, pp. 134-143, cat. 5, (bibliografia precedente);
Lauber R., scheda di catalogo, in Giorgione, a cura di Dal Pozzolo E. M. e Puppi L., Skira, Castelfranco Veneto 2009-2010, pp. 427-431, cat. 46, (bibliografia precedente);
Giorgio da Castelfranco was born in the countryside of Castelfranco Veneto, near Treviso, in 1477.
Little is known of this artist known as Giorgione and his artistic career of which only 15 years has been scantly documented due to scarce resources of biographical information.
He arrived in Venice at young age and started to study in Bellini’s workshop, who were the most important painters of Venice at the time. His style was influenced by neo-classical Bolognese painting of Lorenzo Costa and Francesco Francia as well as the works of Pietro Perugino and Albrecht Dürer, who was staying in Venice between 1494 and 1495. Other than painter,
Giorgione was also a musician and poet and he attended the most cultural Venetian artistic circles. In these circles Giorgione met his most important clients who commissioned him works and portaits. Giorgione was ordered to carry out many public works such as the Sacred Conversation of Cathedral of Castelfranco Veneto in 1502. The altarpiece was surely influenced by Bellini, but it also represents the independent debut of the painter in his hometown after returning from Venice.
Giorgione became famous as a painter of large frescoes on walls or ceilings. He realized a painting for the Hall of Audiences in the Palazzo Ducale of Venice, which nowadays has been lost, and decorated with frescoes the façade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which was commissioned by the Lordship of Venice, completed in December 1508. Today, the only remaining work of these frescoes is the so-called Nude, now kept in the Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice.
The landscape always played an important role in Giorgione’s compositions. The series of Paesetti, small landscapes (Musei Civici of Padua, the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection of Washington) are a perfect example of his skills. Other masterpieces of this period are the Tempest (1502) of the Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice and the Sunset (1505-1508) of the National Gallery in London, works of uncertain meaning, where the characters are inserted in an idyllic natural landscape with bright and full colors. Among his works with complex meaning is also the Three Philosophers from 1505. The difficulties with interpretation are related to the complex demands of the buyers, who often ordered works with hidden symbols that would only open to them.
Most of his subjects are inspired by ancient mythology and literature. In 1506 he made his first and only autographed work, a portrait of a young woman called Laura (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Double portrait, first attributed to Pietro Bempo and then to Giorgione, is among the various portraits of young people still under discussion and conserved in the museums of Berlin and Budapest.
In 1508 Giorgione started to paint the Sleeping Venus for Girolamo Marcello, which was completed by Titian after Giorgione’s death. Today it is kept in Gemäldegalerie of Dresden. The canvas represents the sleeping goddess lying on a white blanket and surrounded by a landscape. This type of composition became very successful among the artists after him and it was used by great masters such as Titian, Lorenzo Lotto and Dosso Dossi.
Giorgione died of plague at young age in 1510.
The Accademia of Venice was founded in 1750 and the opening of the Gallerie dell’Accademia was linked to it with primarily educational purpose: in 1803 a decree established the need to adjoin a gallery next to the school that was used by the students who studied painting and sculpting.
In 1817 the gallery was opened also to the public. The gallery is located in the area of Dorsoduro, down by the Accademia bridge, in a complex including the church of Santa Maria della Carità, the Canonici Lateranensi convent and the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, all situated in a single floor, divided into twenty-fours and covering 5537 square meters.
The first section of the collection includes the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the Pietà by Titian (1538) and the Triptych of the Madonna della Carità by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna (1480).
The collection also includes essays by the students of the academy and a collection of plaster casts (hence the plural name, gallerie) which were put on display in the exhibition with success in 1817.
The collection was enriched with the paintings brought from defeated France and with the masterpieces that were left to the museum by great collectors. However, the paintings were always linked to the Venetian culture and this feature was tried to overcome for the whole 20th century. Among these works was the legacy of Felicita Reiner (in 1833, but only formalized in 1850), which included masterpieces such as Piero della Francesca’s St. Jerome, Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child and Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene. The legacy of Girolamo Contarini (1838) included 180 works, among them Madonna of the Small Trees and the Four Allegories by Bellini, and six paintings by Pietro Longhi.
The emperor Franz Joseph grew the collection with Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna and Mantegna’s St. George, Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man and Giorgione’s Old Woman. The gallery was radically reorganized in 1895 by the director Giulio Cantalamessa. He excluded all the 19th century artists and for the first time the exhibition was organized chronologically. He coordinated the cycles of the School of St. Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio and the School of St. John the Evangelist by Cima da Conegliano, previously divided in various locations. Under the direction of Gino Fogolari (1905) the museum acquired other fundamental masterpieces, such as the Tempest by Giorgione and the Crucifixion by Luca Giordano and the Feast at the House of Simon by Bernardo Strozzi.
In the post-war period the museum performed various changes, for example Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, which was supposed to be placed in a specially designed room, was returned to the Frari church in Venice instead. The 19th century works that were already excluded from the exhibition were sent to the deposit at the museum of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro and the foreign art in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro. In the 1940s’ Vittorio Moschini and Carlo Scarpa wanted to perform a modern reorganization of the museum, including the 19th century salons, but which resulted quite impractical in the end. In these years Francesco Guardi’s Fire in the Oil Depot of San Marcuola and Montagna’s St. Peter and Donor became part of the collection.
In 1987 director Sciré decided to increase the exhibition space opening the gallery on the fourth floor with the graphic collection and a new deposit was opened on the top floor of the Palladio building. In the same year the collection was enriched with two cherubs and two allegorical figures representing Justice and Patience, taken from Giorgio Vasari’s ceiling in a room of Palazzo Corner on the Grand Canal. Between 2001-2003 the gallery was renovated expanding the exhibition areas and adding modern lightning in the rooms.