Preeminent scholar of Italian Renaissance art John Paoletti, Emeritus William R. Kenan Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University, discusses Giorgione’s La Vecchia.
The Venetian painter, Giorgione (Giorgio da Castelfranco) is one of the more challenging painters of the Italian Renaissance, in part because we have so little hard historical information about him, but also because of the enigmatic nature of many of his paintings, perhaps the most notable of which is La Vecchia. Giorgione was born in the late 1470s and died of the plague in 1510. For the modern viewer La Vecchia seems to withhold its secrets, its small size demanding close looking and its visual clues – both obvious and disguised – demanding a breadth of imaginative interpretation based on our understanding of the painting traditions of the time in which Giorgione was working. La Vecchia exists somewhere between portrait and allegory, between apparently realistic detail and painterly surface that Giogione was perhaps first to employ as he experimented with the new technique of oil painting then evolving in Venice. Central to understanding Giorgione’s paintings is the concept of poesia (something akin to our modern notion of ‘poetry’) that he was the first to exploit in his painting, allowing him to concentrate on the suggestive aspects of the chosen subject to incite open-ended conversation about a painting’s unfixed meaning, thus allowing viewers, in examining the multiple possibilities of interpretation, to demonstrate their own close observation, erudition, and imagination.