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Allegories and Mythologies
Giorgione, Three Philosophers
Audio (2:40 mins., MP3 3.68MB) | Transcript
Audio Tour©2006 Acoustiguide Inc.

The rediscovery of classical texts in the Renaissance opened up a vast range of new subjects for artists to explore. By 1500, Venice was a major center of the printing industry, and the publication of writings from antiquity led patrons to commission works of art derived from ancient philosophy, history, and literature. The section of Plato's Republic that discusses the education of philosophers possibly inspired Giorgione's enigmatic Three Philosophers (see also, Technical Photographs: Beyond the Naked Eye), in which the figures may represent the three ages of man. The youngest, seated philosopher contemplates the dark, cavernous cliff face; the mature philosopher regards our world; and the oldest, perhaps blind philosopher seems to look inward. In an earlier phase of the painting, visible with x-rays, the old philosopher wore an exotic headdress whose shape suggests rays of sunlight. Although variously interpreted, the Three Philosophers may derive from the Platonic allegory of the mind's ascent from the shadowy darkness of ignorance, symbolized by a cave, into the bright light of knowledge, symbolized by the sun. The subject would have appealed to the owner of the work, Taddeo Contarini, who read ancient philosophy and was one of the most erudite patrons in Renaissance Venice.

Titian, Pastoral Concert (Concert Champêtre)

The revival of classical bucolic poetry, of the sort known from Virgil's Eclogues, gave rise to a quintessentially Venetian type of painting: the idyllic, pastoral landscape. Titian's Pastoral Concert epitomizes this genre, with its gently rolling hills bathed in sunlight. Inspired by a pastoral poem from antiquity or the Renaissance, the painting is evidently an allegory on the creation of poetry. The women seem invisible to the poetic, musical young men and are perhaps their muses. The contrast between the rustic, barefoot shepherd and the fashionable, urban lute player points to the dialectic between city and country, cultured and rustic, art and nature, that lies at the heart of the pastoral idiom.

Giovanni Bellini and Titian, Feast of the Gods
image: Enlarge

Mythological gods and goddesses, beautiful nymphs, and naughty satyrs populate the pastoral landscapes painted by Bellini and Titian for a room in Duke Alfonso d'Este's palace in Ferrara. Bellini completed his Feast of the Gods (see also, Technical Photographs: Beyond the Naked Eye) for this room in 1514, and several years after his death in 1516, the duke commissioned Titian to paint the Bacchanal of the Andrians. Inspired by an ancient description of a lost painting, Titian portrayed the happily drunken denizens of the island of Andros, where a river of wine flows perpetually.

Titian, Bacchanal of the Andrians
image: Enlarge
Audio (0:57 mins., MP3 1.32MB) | Transcript
Audio Tour©2006 Acoustiguide Inc.
Later, Titian reworked the Feast of the Gods, painting the hillside at left, among other changes, to make Bellini's composition harmonize with his own. The contrast between the reclining nymphs at the far right of both works suggests that Titian was also trying to outdo Bellini, his former master, in the depiction of female beauty. Such artistic rivalry probably contributed to the rapid development of Venetian painting in this period.

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