Discerning the narrative of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi murals:
"...I for my part have never been able to understand his figures, nor for all my asking, have I ever found anyone who does."Vasari: Lives of the Artists.
"...through Barberigo Titian was commissioned to paint some scenes for the same building, above the Merceria." Vasari: The Lives, 445.
"...I know nothing more harmful to fresco painting painting than the sirocco, especially near to the sea where it carries a salt moisture with it." Vasari: The Lives, 274.
For Vasari, the murals must have been showing early signs of corrosion, as he was writing perhaps only thirty or forty years after their completion. Now, over five hundred years later and with the murals long since destroyed or removed, the Fondaco stands stark and undecorated on the Grand Canal adjacent to the Rialto bridge.
|Fig 1.The Fondaco dei Tedeschi.|
Fortunately in 1966 a plaster facing was removed that had been installed over the facade of the building and some damaged relics were recovered from under the plaster and removed to the Galleria Franchetti in Venice. The recovered murals portrayed some large and very brightly coloured figures though typical of Giorgione, the identity and meaning of those figures and the narratives they were to inhabit have long since been lost.
|Fig. 2. Nuda, Giorgione, Fresco c.1507. Galleria Franchetti, Venice.|
|Fig 3. Venice; Fondaco dei Tedeschi; engraving after fresco; Giacomo Piccini after Giorgione, Titian; 17th c.|
Of the life of Giorgione Da Castelfranco and those murals on the Fondaco, Giorgio Vasari wrote:
“…over the main door which opens into the Merceria there is the seated figure of a woman who has at her feet the [severed] head of a dead giant, as if she were meant to be a Judith; she is raising the head with a sword and speaking to a German standing below her.” Vasari: The Lives, p. 275
"...she is raising the head with a sword..." Vasari Ibid.
Was Vasari too preoccupied with the Judith/Germania attribution to note the arrangement of the two woman that were supposed to have occupied the position on the upper level directly above the woman brandishing the sword?
[As noticed by Paul Joannides and brought to my notice in Dr Stefano's blog here - these figures (Fig 5.) imitate (or vice versa) the physical attitudes of the two women at the sarcophagus /fountain in the Sacred and Profane Love.]
|Fig. 5. Venice; Fondaco dei Tedeschi; etching after fresco; Antonio Zanetti; after Giorgione, 18th c.|
|Fig 6. Fondaco dei Tedeschi,Venice. Etching after fresco; Antonio Zanetti; after Giorgione.18th c.|
It will be helpful to list any evidence that can be introduced to form a unifying umbrella theme or grand narrative. Fortunately Vasari has also thrown off a quick sketch of two other images present on the Fondaco. These were:
6b. The other is the remnant of a battle frieze which is depicting the slaying of the Stymphalides of Arcadia by Hercules.
Numbers 1, 2, 3, belong to the (visual) series of etchings by Antonio Maria Zanetti (c.1771). Number 1 assumes that placing the two women above the figure brandishing the sword is the intentional and correct position.
Numbers 4 & 5 are described (textual evidence) by Vasari in the Lives.
|Fig 7. Venice; Fondaco dei Tedeschi: Etching after fresco; A. Zanetti; after Giorgione, 18th c.|
"...the younger of the two was doomed by Jupiter to be subservient to the will of the other" J. Lempriere p.235
|Fig 8. Fondaco dei Tedeschi; The [so-called] Triumph of Justice; Giorgione, Titian Galleria Francetti, Venice.|
Alcmena was deceived by Jupiter who took the form of her betrothed Amphitryon while he was away. Later in heaven, Jupiter boasted that a son would soon be born to whom he would give absolute power over men. Jealous Juno delayed the birth of Hercules and quickened the birth of his cousin Eurystheus. The now first-born Eurystheus imposed the twelve labours upon Hercules in the hope that the hero would meet his doom.
'If this is how I treat a tyrant of my own kin, any foreign tyranny will be met with full fury of the mother (the Venetian state) for her wronged children'.
By placing Alcmena in position as the prominent player in this theatrical comment Giorgione actually confronts German animosity and in position above the door might even be seen as both accusing and threatening. Did the government now put to repair the damage quickly, have any suspicions surrounding the cause of the fire at the Fondaco? The fire ultimately led to an improvement in the site and the bettering of conditions for the Germans staying and trading there - all done at the expense of the Italians.
|Fig 9. Detail. Justice. Etching after fresco; Antonio Zanetti; after Giorgione.18th c.|
"He [Eurystheus] was killed... by Hyllus the son of Hercules. His head was sent to Alcmena the mother of Hercules, who, mindful of the cruelties which her son had suffered, insulted it and tore out the eyes with the most inveterate fury." J. Lempriere, p.235.
“…one figure accompanied by the head of a lion..."
Lives of the Artists, p. 275
Lives of the Artists, p. 275
It is uncommon to find Mercury prepubescent and winged - iconographically he was generally cast as a bearded youth, yet in the Sacred and Profane Love and here Mercury is represented as a winged babe.
As the murals on the Fondaco were documented to have been given to Giorgione to execute, Giorgione can be considered as the author of this peculiar iconological take, both on the Fondaco and in the Sacred and Profane Love.
"Hercules gathered the apples himself, without the assistance of Atlas, and he previously killed the watchful dragon (Ladon) which kept the tree."
J. Lempriere p.274
"[Mercury] was also the god of thieves, pickpockets, and all dishonest persons"
J. Lempriere p.364
"[The caduceus] was the attribute of Mercury and the emblem of power, and it had been given him by Apollo in return for the lyre".
Traditionally here were two serpents wound around the wand in two semi-circles and two full circles.
Taking the lead from Vasari, Anderson describes this child (Fig. 11) as a 'cupid tapping apples'. Yet what we actually see is a winged babe in the vicinity of apples holding a rod or wand; a tri-referential iconograph. He is not 'tapping apples' because this is a still image and to make that claim is to anticipate the sequence of logical frames which we moderns might attribute to the medium of film; but that presumption cannot exist here.
6. The fragment representation (Fig. 12) shows the ninth labour of Hercules - the slaying of the Stymphalides of Arcadia:
"For his sixth* labour he was ordered to kill the carnivorous birds which ravaged the country near the lake Stymphalis (sic) in Arcadia."
"...voracious birds, like cranes or storks, which fed upon
human flesh, and which were called Stymphalides"
In Fig 12. Giorgione has created them as monstrous beasts with swan or crane like necks. The image at the left sees the birds overcoming a yielding figure, and to the right stands the dominating figure of Hercules in the role of vanquisher with the hero's right arm raised above the height of the bird.
There are many other figures on the Fondaco walls that do not qualify an interpretation. Within the narrative that can be reconstructed there are several solitary figures that in isolation appear to present as 'emblematic grandeur'. Not every component need participate in a works overall meaning; the enigma of silence is as profound as it is provocative and this silence can instil an atmosphere of stateliness and of splendour.
The link below reproduces the watercolours of Zaccaria Dal Bo and contains some interesting images before the Fondaco frescoes complete ruin. http://venezia-emilia.blogspot.com.au/2010/05/gli-affreschi-di-tiziano-e-di-giorgione.html
|Fig 12. Venice; Fondaco dei Tedeschi: Detail Etching after fresco; A. Zanetti; after Giorgione, 18th c|
Comparing details of Giorgione's Judith and the Ceres of the Sacred and Profane Love (figs. 14 & 15) note the exposed left leg and a billowing red fabric. If one were to write a visual analysis of Giorgione's Judith with the Head of Holofernes, the same mystical breeze floats the garment to expose the left leg of a Giorgione 'Great feminine' archetype. Distinct from the Great mother, Judith is a beautiful widow whose husband bequeathed her valuables for her comfort.
|Fig 16. The Sleeping Venus, c. 1510. Oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden|
|Fig. 17. Venus of Urbino, c. 1534. Oil on canvas, Uffizi, Florence.|
|Fig 19. Sacred and Profane Love (Detail).|
On the sarcophagus/fountain at the viewers left (divided into two halves by the rose bush) is a horse (a mare) surrounded by dancing youths.The myth:
"Ceres, when she travelled over the world in quest of her daughter Proserpine, had taken the figure of mare, to avoid the importuning addresses of Neptune. The god changed himself also into a horse, and from their union arose a daughter called Hera, and the horse Arion..." Lempriere, Arion p.75
"Not only the ocean, [but] rivers, and fountains were subjected to him [Neptune]...". Lempriere, Neptunus p.391.
The third reason is that only occasion that Ceres ever assumed the form of a mare.
During the Demetria, a festival in honour of Ceres, Lempriere states:
"it was customary for the votaries (both male and female) of the goddess to lash themselves with whips made from the bark of trees".
John Lempriere. p.196
Most importantly whipping in one form or another, seems to have been a consistent religious practice around the
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