Who was Giorgione? That was the question that sprung to my mind when confronted with the latest exhibition in the Academy’s Sackler galleries. Turns out that he was not only a game changing artist in Venice at the beginning of the sixteenth century but the man credited with painting the first landscape painting. So why had I never knowingly heard of him before? He died young leaving contemporaries like Titian to grab the posthumous fame.
Many of the portraits in the exhibition are entitled ‘Portrait of a Young Man’, the sitters’ names lost to time. The young man above looks rather lovelorn. It is not only the sitter’s identity that is lost to time. Giorgione failed to sign many of his paintings and has given art historians something to argue about ever since. One of the young men was once thought to have been painted by Titian and learned arguments are laid out on Royal Academy website: you may read them and then take to Twitter to #voteTitian or #voteGiorgione.
It is an Old Lady rather than a Young Man that stole the show for me. No dispute here over who painted her as she is thought to be Giorgione’s Mother. She looks out you with a merry twinkle in her eye and seems to be about to say something. In fact she is holding a piece of paper with the words ‘col tempo’ meaning ‘with time’, the implication that you too will one day look like this.
Paintings by Giorgione or believed to have been painted by him are not the only works on display. Titian, Bellini and Dürer are more familiar names and are well represented. I particularly liked this sculpture by Tullio Lombardo, which is probably a portrait but is entitled Bacchus and Ariadne. It must be fun to be an art historian and pore over the stories behind great works of art.
Everywhere you turn on the ground floor at the Royal Academy seems to lead to a café. Crowds of eager exhibition attendees sometimes make these overcrowded, so instead head out to Piccadilly and turn left. Waterstones basement is home to an excellent café that I have never seen full and has the added advantage of books at the table for you to read.
12 March – 5 June 2016
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
Open daily 10am-6pm (except Fridays 10am-10pm)
Admission: Adults £10, concessions available