Although the Byzantine style influenced painting throughout Italy in the fourteenth century, the influence
was strongest and longest lasting in Venice, which had direct dealings with Byzantium throughout the
Middle Ages (for a time, Venice was part of the Byzantine empire). The intensely colored, light-refracting
surfaces of Byzantine mosaics helped establish a taste for similarly brilliant paintings. It was only around
1475, however, that the newly developed technique of oil painting arrived in Venice, allowing painters to
create the brilliant light and surface effects that eventually made Venetian painting famous.
Artists like Giovanni Bellini first used oil paint in a way similar to Flemish painters like van Eyck, but by the
end of the fifteenth century, Venetian artists were beginning to use canvas rather than wood panels as the
support for their paintings. The rough texture of the woven fabric encouraged artists to develop looser
techniques with more brushwork visible on the surface. Venetian artists became famous for their ability to
create soft, sensuous textures and evocative atmospheres in their paintings.
Giorgione (born Giorgio da Castelfranco) was one of the great innovators in Venetian art, despite the fact
that he painted for only about ten years. Giorgione worked directly on canvas with visible brushwork, and
he often painted mysterious scenes, which became known as poesie (Italian for “poems”). An excellent
example of this type of painting is the Pastoral Concert, which shows two clothed men and two nude women
in a softly lit landscape. The men may represent lyric and pastoral poetry, while the women are allegorical
figures representing the inspiration of the poet.
Giorgione (?), Pastoral Concert, c. 1509
Toward the end of his life, Giorgione worked together with Titian, probably as partners rather than as
student and teacher. Several details of the Pastoral Concert, particularly the lute player’s red clothing and
the shepherd in the landscape, have led some scholars to say that Titian painted at least part of the work.
It nevertheless is a fine example of the gentle sensuality and mystery so typical of Giorgione’s work.
Another well-known work by Giorgione is The Tempest, dated c. 1505. The painting shows a clothed man
and a partially nude woman in a landscape, with a city in the background and a thunderstorm in the
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