By Luke Slattery.
The chance discovery in a Sydney library of a 500-year-old sketch by one of the greats of the Renaissance period has stunned art historians, who have hailed it as an “astonishing” find that will shed new light on the era. The work is credited to Giorgione.
Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco; an Italian artist c. 1477/78–1510) was an painter of the Venetian School during the High Renaissance period. He died at a little over 30. Giorgione is known for the elusive poetic quality of his work, though only about six surviving paintings are firmly attributed to him. The uncertainty surrounding the identity and meaning of his work has made Giorgione one of the most mysterious figures in European art.
Together with Titian, who was probably slightly younger, he founded the distinctive Venetian school of Italian Renaissance painting, which achieves much of its effect through colour and mood, and is traditionally contrasted with Florentine painting, , which relies on a more linear disegno- led style.
The red-chalk drawing by Giorgione was found at the University of Sydney library, inside a 1497 edition of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
University of Melbourne emeritus professor Jaynie Anderson, an international expert on the elusive Renaissance painter, described the find as “astonishing” and estimated its worth to be “in the millions”. She said the discovery “transforms our understanding of Giorgione’s life and his relation to other artists”.
Sydney University librarian Kim Wilson made the discovery. She promptly asked Professor Anderson for advice on the red-chalk drawing in the light of its accompanying handwritten inscription in black ink. The inscription, added some time after the sketch but clearly relating to it, reads: “On the day of 17 September, Zorzon (Giorgione) of Castelfranco, a very excellent artist, died of the plague in Venice at the age of 36 and he rests in peace.”
Academic experts have reviewed the University of Sydney’s Giorgione sketch, discovered on the last page of the 1497 edition of Dante. An article on the find will be published in the March 1 edition of peer-reviewed British art journal The Burlington Magazine. It is understood the university planned to announce the discovery, made in December 2017, in coming days.
The Burlington essay is co-written by Ms Wilson, Professor Anderson, Julie Summerfeldt, manager of the university’s rare books collection, and Italian scholar Nerida Newbigin.
Professor Anderson, author of Giorgione: The Painter of Poetic Brevity, told The Weekend Australian that “the inscription must have been made in 1510 at the time of Giorgione’s death” and the book had likely been the artist’s property. She described the drawing as a “Virgin Mary and child, with the emphasis on the Christ child”.
“The Virgin’s face is blank,” she said. “It is very abstract, little more than a doodle, but all the more beautiful for that.”
First Published in the Weekend Australian.