Amazing articles on just about every subject...


A Find Of Giorgiones

( Originally Published 1914 )



IN the summer of 1903 we made an extensive motoring tour throughout the length and breadth of France, and wherever we went we searched the antiquity shops with patient thoroughness. It was not till we reached Biarritz that we began to strike a fertile field ; but there and thereabouts many good things were on sale which had drifted over out of Spain. We made a certain number of acquisitions, under quite ordinary circumstances, which it would be tedious to linger over ; but one adventure is worth describing at length.

In those days motor-cars were not the safe and sound means of locomotion they are now supposed to be. Ours, at any rate, perhaps through our own fault, was always providing us with surprises, especially after it had collided with a cow somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bayonne. The cow did not mind, but our car did, and its internal mechanism was never quite the same again. This delayed us at Biarritz. I had a passionate desire to go to St. Jean de Luz, but next day something occurred to prevent our start, and took us to the garage instead. At last, after lunch the third day, we succeeded in starting, and gaily ran abolit five miles. Then bang !—a tyre burst, and we had to halt and put on another. That punctured, and so did a third. I was for turning back. I said, "We are not intended to get to St. Jean de Luz. It's just as well to bow to the decrees of Fate first as last." But my wife said, " No. You've had a queer and apparently insensate desire to go to this place, and go we must. There's some-thing for us there, and we've just got to go and get it." So we travelled slowly on, with only some perilously old tubes on our wheels, expecting every moment that our last tyre would burst and we should be left stranded. That did not happen. We presently reached St. Jean de Luz and proceeded to investigate the dealers' shops. There were one or two in the main street, and they contained nothing worth looking at. I said, " Let us have tea and go back to the hotel." My wife said, "No ; there must be another shop. I am certain there is something for us in this place." So we turned down a side street and came out on a flat expanse leading off to the sea. "What nonsense it is," I said, " to be looking for anticas here ! You might as well dig for them in the sand." An old fisherwoman, or someone of that class appeared, and I was bidden to ask her whether there was not an antica-shop hereabouts. The notion of asking her seemed to me absurd. What could an old fisherwoman know of such things, and who on earth would dream of keeping an anticashop in such a neighbourhood—off the track of visitors and in the midst of a fishing population? However, I am nothing if not docile, so I pursued the old woman and asked my question. "Yes!" she replied. " Just round that corner there is a house where they sell all sorts of old things; you will have no difficulty in finding it." Round the corner we went, and there was a house with the door open. Through it we could see the glitter of brass, the chaos of old furniture, and pictures on the walls. I entered amidst the usual rubbish, and was about to go out again and say there was nothing, when I saw an open door at the end of the room, and through it I could look into a room beyond. My attention was instantly arrested by two pictures hanging high up on a wall at the farthest end of that. I did not move or speak, but kept the corner of my eye on those pictures while occupied with objects close at hand. The pictures were quite far away, and the light was poor, but there was no doubt we were now close to some-thing very good. I went out to my wife and said, " In the far corner of the second room are two Venetian pictures which just might be Carpaccios. Don't seem to look at them, but come in and let's look at everything else."

When we came near them I felt my heart thumping within me like a piston. I whispered that they were early Giorgiones, and that we must certainly buy them at any price. Finally, we had them taken down and placed in our hands, one after the other, the last things we looked at. It is hard under such circumstances to hide one's emotions, but we succeeded. A. price was quoted—thank goodness, moderate. The purchase was made then and there. In a few minutes we were back in our car and away for Biarritz as hard as we could go. Somehow it seemed as though punctures were no longer to be expected. None occurred, at any rate, and we were able to travel fast ; but the hour that intervened before we could reach our rooms and examine the new treasures at leisure and with minute attention seemed like a long afternoon. It was past midnight before we had rejoiced enough to be able to think of sleep.

The two panels were not in the best state of preservation. One was cracked right across, and the paint had begun to " bubble off " both ; but all the figures were intact, and the damage was confined to relatively unimportant parts of the painting. I forget whether it was Mr. Herbert Cook or Mr. Robert Ross who first told me the meaning of the subjects, the " Finding of Paris " and " Paris being put out to Nurse." At any rate, it was Mr. Cook who humorously described them as " This Way to the Baby " and " Isn't he a Beauty ? " In the first, the child lies on a white cloth on the ground at the foot of some rocks near a stream ; a man is pointing him out to two others, and two more are following them over a foot-bridge. In the middle distance is a village and a castle-crowned hill, and across the background are blue hills beneath a blue sky. The figures are all in brightly tinted costumes, and the whole is a delightful pattern of brilliant colours. By what is perhaps merely a curious coincidence, the child is almost identical, though in reverse (as if seen in a mirror), with a child drawn in outline by Dürer on a page of sketches made by him in Venice in 1495—probably the very year in which Giorgione painted this picture likewise in Venice. Certainly Dürer " dürerised " his drawing, as he did in every case when he sketched an Italian original ; but I find it difficult to believe that there is no connection between the two.

In the second picture a woman receives the child from one of a group of three men. Further back, two others are seated talking, near a herd of kine. There is again a village in the middle distance and blue hills behind. I have never wavered in the assurance that these pictures were painted by the youthful Giorgione and no other. Some of the figures are actually the same models as those employed by him in works universally accepted as his, but the palette is his likewise, and so are a quantity of little tricks of design and of technique, as well as certain weaknesses too tedious to set down in long-winded detail. The dealer from whom I bought the pictures stated that they had been in the Duke of Ossuna's collection, and this statement is verified by the seal on the back of each. They likewise had written labels bearing the name of Carpaccio, and the seal of the Venetian Academy, doubtless impressed when permission was given to export them. Their last Italian owner was revealed as follows.

By a strange coincidence, just when I was finding these pictures at St. Jean de Luz, Mons. Ugo Monneret de Villard was enquiring for them in Italy. In the process of preparing his book on Giorgione t he had examined in the Communal Library at Verona a manuscript catalogue of the Albarelli collection, entitled " Gabinetto di quadri o raccolta di pezzi originali esistenti in Verona presso il sig. Gio. Albarelli, disegnati da Romolo Caliari, con illustrazioni. Verona, 1815." In this volume he noticed two carefully made outline drawings of pictures which had been attributed to Carpaccio, but which he had no difficulty in recognising as compositions by Giorgione in his early period. After his book was already printed, but before it was issued, Mons. de Villard saw the photographs of the pictures themselves, which were published in the Burling-ton Magazine, and thus was enabled to insert in time an extra page, with copies of the reproductions facing the reproductions of the drawings, and a note which runs as follows

" Nel numero di Novembre, 1904, del Burlington Magazine, H. Cook annunciava di aver scoperti nella Collezione di S. Martin Conway due quadri che egli attribuisce al Giorgione. Tali opere non sarebbero altro che le due tele una volta alla raccolta Albarelli in Verona, e come si parla a pag. 106 e di cui due disegni sono riprodotti a pag. 26-27 del presente volume. La scoperta, posteriore alla stampa del volume, mi obbliga ad aggiungere questa nota, indicando che io credo tali opere non le primissime del maestro di Castelfranco, ma posteriori al quadro degli Uffizi ed all' Allegaria della National Gallery."

It happened, also, that at this very time Mr. Herbert Cook was bringing out a revised edition of his Giorgione (London, 1904), and its pages were already printed off. Knowing his interest in the great Venetian master, I made haste to show him the panels as soon as they arrived in London, and he not only at once published them in the Burlington Magazine (November, 1904, p. 156), but felt obliged to insert an extra leaf into his book, with the following note :

" As the second edition of this book goes to press comes the announcement of the discovery and acquisition by Sir Martin Conway of two pictures which appear to be by none other than Giorgione himself. Not only so, but, from the nature of the subjects represented and the style of painting, these panels would seem to have formed the last two of a series, of which ` The Birth of Paris' was the first portion. ` The Discovery by the Shepherds of the Young Paris' and `The Handing Him over to Nurse' naturally complete the story, of which the first scene is given in the engraving (referred to at p. 147), whilst the statement of the Anonimo that the ` Birth of Paris' was one of Giorgione's early works is amply confirmed by the style of the newly found paintings, which must have been produced by a very youthful hand. Indeed, there is every reason to hold that they ante-date the little pictures in the Uffizi, and thus rank as the earliest known works of the young Giorgione."

The third monograph on Giorgione, which has been published since these pictures were brought to light again, is that by Dr. Ludwig Justi (Berlin, i908, 2 vols.).

Dr. Justi, after citing the Albarelli catalogue and describing the pictures, which he saw before they had been cleaned and restored, continues : Immerhin erkennt man noch bei starkem Licht das Raffinement der Kostümfarben, zart gebrochene 'Tone, weit entfernt von der hiergegen harten Art der Belliniani. Die ` Auffindung ' ist (relativ) besser erhalten, man hat hier auch noch einen richtigen Eindruek von der gesamtwirkung ganz hell, gleichm .ssig in den Valeurs, sehr zart, sehr reich in den Nuancierungen (z.B. in dem ins Violett gehenden Berg, in der Blaugrünen Ferne, den braunen Husern) ; feinste Lichteffekte an dem Rasen, den Hausern, den Baumen des Mittelgrundes. Insbesondere bei Kraftiger Beleuchtung kommt diese Feinheit und dierser Reichtum der Farbe ausserordentlich heraus und überzeugt den Beschauer das es sich hier umein werdendes Genie handelt, einen Koloristen von Gottes Gnaden, der nur im Zeichnen und Komponieren noch nicht gewandt ist. Das Kind ist in dem eigentümlich rotlichen Ton modelliert wie auf der Epiphanie und den Bildern bei Lord Allendale und Mr. Benson. In der Bewegung hat das Kind—worauf mich Sir Martin aufinerksam gemacht hat—eine nicht v6llige, aber doch auffallende Ahnlichkeit mit dem Kind auf Dürer's bekanntem Studienblatt in den Uffizien ; linke Hand und linker Fuss etwas abweichend. Sollte man danach die ` Auffindung ' und ihr Gegenstuck urn 1494. datieren? Giorgione wire 1494 sechzehn oder siebzehn Jarhre alt gewesen; das würde zu dem Charakter der Conway-Tafeln passen: das Koloristische Genie ist schon da, anderes noch anfangerhaft. Freilich ist dies nur ein Kartenhaus von Sclüssen, da die Ubereinstimmung zwischen Dürer und Giorgione sich ebensogut aus einem gemeinsamen Vorbild erklaren kann."

In theory it seems well to leave a picture as you find it, with all the scars of time visible on its face ; but in practice, when the paint insists on parting company from the panel and forms dome-like excrescences resembling bubbles, which presently crack and fall off, there is nothing for it but to call in the aid of the most skilful and experienced restorer that can be found—in other words, Commendatore Luigi Cavenaghi, of Milan. The pictures under discussion received what I may call "first aid" at the hands of Mr. Roger Fry ; but the mischief was progressive, and had to be radically taken in hand and stopped once for all. When they were last exhibited at the winter exhibition of the Burlington Fine Arts Club in I911-127 all the best authorities urged me to have the work put in hand without delay, and the two panels were accordingly shipped off to Cavenaghi's without further delay. Several months later we followed them to Milan. It was a joyous moment when we found ourselves once more in our kind friend's presence and saw one of our pictures on the easel before him.

It was not the same studio to which we had been taken just twenty-five years before by Morelli, but it was the same kind welcome that greeted us, the same hand that clasped ours in friendly greeting, and the same common interest that continued to unite us. Even a quarter of a century ago Cavenaghi was the best restorer of Italian pictures in the world—so Morelli was never tired of proclaiming, and so all men agreed. If he was unrivalled in 1887, it is easy to understand at what height of preeminence he now stands, with the added knowledge that comes from an unexampled experience in dealing with the most precious Italian paintings in the world. I was naturally more than a little anxious to know what a restorer, through whose hands several works by Giorgione had already passed, might have to say about our pictures, for nothing can afford so good an opportunity of learning the hand of a master as the necessity of dealing so intimately with his work as a preeminent restorer like Cavenaghi is called upon to do.

By an admirable stroke of good fortune there was another Giorgione under treatment by him at this very time, It was the "Orpheus and Eurydice " belonging to the Lochis collection in the Bergamo Gallery. This panel, out of its frame, was standing on an easel and faced us as we entered. Of course, one of the first questions I asked was whether Cavenaghi was satisfied that our pictures were by Giorgione. He replied, " Undoubtedly," and, taking up one of them and the Bergamo picture, he placed them close together upon a single easel, remarking, "You see, either of those might be a piece cut out of the other," so absolutely did they agree in colour scheme, in forms, in construction, and in all the elements that unite to make a picture. It would not be possible for anyone in presence of the two, thus displayed together before him, side by side, without frames, and under the same illumination, to doubt for one instant that both had been painted about the same time by the same artist, using the same colours, similarly mixed and employed.

It occurred to me at that moment that I had before me a concrete example of what the labours of a connoisseur are directed to providing. A connoisseur is a person who, by long years of training and observation, has educated himself to retain in his mind, stored up and able to be produced at will to his internal vision, the aspect of any one of a multitude of works of art, and that not merely in a general sense, but in every detail of colour, texture, form, and chiaroscuro. What a thoroughly equipped and competent connoisseur of painting can do is to call up a mental image of any one of a great number of pictures with such vividness as to see its details and its totality almost as clearly as if the picture itself were before him. When he comes into the presence of a picture new to him he must be able to place beside it, before his mind's eye as it were, on the same easel, any other picture he has elsewhere seen with which to compare it ; in fact, to be able mentally to produce just such a comparison as we had actually and visibly before us at that moment.

Anyone who has the capacity, even in moderate degree, of estimating the character and quality of works of art at all can tell without difficulty whether two juxtaposed pictures were painted in the same style, about the same time, by a single artist. Not even an angel from heaven could persuade a man whose eyes had beheld that kind of identity that it did not exist. Seeing in this case is ineradicable conviction. The trouble with art critics is that few of them possess any such capacity of vivid memory as is requisite to produce the materials for the kind of comparison that anyone can make who has the two objects to be compared actually present side by side. Such a gift is of the rarest. Those who lack it and would yet pose as art critics endeavour to supply the lack of vivid pictorial memory by the use of photographs. Something can, indeed, be accomplished by their aid, but not very much. Where the characteristic feature common to two works lies in the possession by both of an identical colour scheme, that cannot be shown by any photograph. Hence it comes that truly magistral judgment on such matters is the prerogative of very few men indeed. Only after long years of trial, by contact, discussion, and repeated triumphant establishment and acceptation of their opinion by their gifted and capable fellows, do these few ultimately attain such authority. An admitted master of this type was Morelli. It would be invidious were I to attempt to set down the names of living masters of the art, but at any given moment they are known, and their opinion, if never to be regarded as papally infallible, is always weighty with the discerning and weightiest with the best.

From St. Jean de Luz to Malta is a long jump, which I must invite the reader to take with me, for there also, by unusual luck, a good Venetian picture awaited us. We once had the chance to land there for a few hours when returning from the East. After seeing the usual sights I found my way into an antiquity shop. The dealer greeted me with the assurance that he had nothing of any consequence to sell, as H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh had made a clean sweep of all his best things the day before. We had, in fact, passed his ship going out as we entered the harbour. The effect of this statement upon me was the comfortable assurance that if I did find any good thing in the shop its quality would have escaped the dealer's observation ; and so, in the event, it proved. Among a number of trumpery canvases I discovered one whose appeal was instantaneous. Not only was the picture obviously from the atelier of Tintoretto, but its subject was both excessively rare and very charming. It depicts the Virgin as a young maiden before her marriage, when, according to the legend, she lived apart with other holy virgins in the Temple precincts. A common subject with old Christian painters is the Dedication of the Virgin in the Temple by her parents, when she is shown leaving them and going up the Temple steps, the High Priest waiting to receive her at the top. Titian's famous rendering of this incident is well known to all lovers of art. The legend relates that she and her fellows devoted their spare time to needlework, and the Virgin is very rarely depicted thus occupied. A drawing of this subject was sold at Obach's a few years ago. Tintoretto shows her engaged in making Venetian lace. The white cushion on which it is being worked is on her knees, and, at the moment, she is about to thread her needle. In form and colour the picture is delightful. Unfortunately its condition left a good deal to be desired, for, though the head is perfectly preserved, the hands have almost been rubbed away, and have lost much of their proper and original form. The thread which passed between the fingers has likewise vanished, so that the meaning of the gesture is not at first obvious. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, the picture retains much of its original charm. It is painted on a small scale, the figure being about half life-size.

One other picture, of which a reproduction is here for the first time published, requires a brief mention, though no adventure attended its acquisition, unless, indeed, a visit to the shop of Messrs. Carfax and Co. may be so described, for it was there I bought it, on the prompting of my old and valued friend, Mr. Robert Ross. It belongs to that group of early sixteenth-century pictures of the School of Bruges, which are united together under the name of Adrian Ysenbrandt. In former days they used all to be attributed to Mostaert, but now we have learned that he painted in quite a different style. The subject is St. Jerome in Penetence, with an extraordinarily festive-looking tame lion keeping him company. Such St. Jerome pictures of the School of Bruges, where the landscape forms the real subject and St. Jerome is merely brought in as an excuse, present a marked resemblance to pictures of the same saint, under like circumstances, turned out by the followers of Bellini. St. Jerome, the scholar, was a favourite saint at the time of the Renaissance of learning. Dürer, Carpaccio, and many others depicted him in his comfortable study hard at work. The opportunity of introducing a wide landscape background made his Penitence almost as useful an incident for the new class of landscape painters as were, for instance, " St. Christofer Fording the River," or " St. John Baptising," or the " Flight into Egypt . Those who delight in the landscape back-grounds of that generation of artists will recognise the charm of this carefully executed and well-preserved example.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com