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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Accademia in Venice and we're looking at George Leone's The Tempest it's a painting from the very early years of the 1500s he's painting at a time when for many years the leading painter in Venice had been Giovanni Bellini and we're seeing a significant change one that sets the foundation for the great Venetian masters of the 16th century especially Titian this is a painting that has puzzled our historians and even before art historians it puzzled people shortly after Giorgione's life Giorgione died young he was in his early thirties he died of the plague mystery surrounds so much of his work none of his work is signed it's difficult to date and they are mysterious in their subjects Giorgio nee was a favorite among the new art collectors in Venice this new intellectual of lead Venice was this place where the intellectual community was dramatically expanding there were an enormous number of printing presses in Venice there was interest in humanism in antiquity in poetry there was just this extraordinarily varied culture that had really blossomed and Jorge Leone's paintings are mysterious to us because he was working for a clientele that was looking for more than the typical religious subject matter alright when you think about the career Giovanni Bellini you think about the large public commissions or major Church commissions or you think about private commissions and those are generally half-length madonna and child paintings but here with Giorgione we seem to have a new type of subject their iconography is not standard their symbolism isn't standard so they're hard to know what they are and you're right they are for this new client health we're greeted as soon as we look at the painting by this woman's gaze she looks out at us she is almost completely nude and she's suckling a young child she's accompanied on the other side of the painting by a young male figure who looks over in her direction carrying a staff soon after the painting was completed he was identified both as a soldier and as a shepherd and in one of the early descriptions of the woman she was described as a gypsy we don't have to take any of that as truth and in fact he certainly doesn't look like a soldier our historians have determined that he's dressed as a contemporary Venetian another thing that complicates the subject is that we've recently learned to x-rays that the male figure was not away as there in fact there was a seated nude female figure I think that art historians sometimes want to find the one particular meaning and that has brought us to looking at specific elements within this painting which almost seem in some ways beside the point there is just barely visible for instance the line of st. mark on the tower in the distance there may be the insignia of the city of Padua which has led us to think in that direction we focused on the bird that stands on the roof we've of course focused on that bolt of lightning because of its particular heritage so there are a whole range of interpretations that this is allegorical and relates to some conflicts in Venice at that moment that the columns represent fortitude that the female figure represents charity and that the Lightning represents the vagaries of fortune another Orda story and I said that this is Adam and Eve I mean we're all over the map here there's also an art historian who suggested that this is an illustration of a relatively rare Greek myth and so we right there are an enormous number of interpretations but all of those things draw our Iowa from the totality of the painting from the way in which oil paint can be used to create a very harmonious light a landscape full of atmosphere full of humidity full of the kind of presence that one feels amidst a storm we do have a sense of the figures embedded in a shadowy space clearly George Oni is exploiting oil paint in a different way when we look at Bellini we have a sense of layer upon layer of thinned out oil paint that is very reflective here we have more of a sense of the density and a hick miss of the paint he's using oil paint in a different way and we know that Leonardo da Vinci was in Venice in 1500 less than a decade before this was painted ended Giorgione was looking at Leonardo and thinking about tomahto but what this painting is mostly is the space between these figures that is this extraordinary landscape or the city beyond and a storm in the sky the painting really does seem to be about the transient effects of weather much more so than the figures who seemed incidental to it or about to be overcome by those effects of weather it's of course because those figures feel almost at odds in some way with the landscape that as art historians we often conclude that they must be allegorical or figures in some kind of literary drama but really what we're left with is this sumptuous object of sumptuous color and a painting that seems to ask for our involvement for our interpretation it's poetic and evocative it's no wonder that we're so engaged with it it's meant to engage us well it does so in a very direct way the man looks at the woman the woman looks at us if we look back at the man we've formed this visual triangle we are part of it this painting it is this marvelous dreamlike space you