Born Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco, called Giorgione, the artist was an influential Venetian painter of the High Renaissance. His birthplace of Castelfranco is a town outside of Venice, to where he traveled for his early studies. It is there that he gained an apprenticeship with the prestigious painter Giovanni Bellini (1430 – 1516). Bellini helped form the prevalent style of the Venetian School of painting, of which Giorgione and other artists such as Titian (1485 – 1576) became known for.
One of his earliest pieces was the Castelfranco Madonna, or Madonna and Child Between Saint Francis and Saint Nicasius, painted between 1503 and 1504. The common depiction of Madonna and Child, called a Sacra conversazione, implores an unusual, almost regal throne upon which the Madonna sits. The altarpiece is in the Cathedral of Castelfranco in Veneto and was commissioned by Tuzio Costanzo, a Condottieri, or mercenary leader. In the background of the piece is a lush landscape of which Giorgione and other Venetian painters introduced to painting of the time. This style would find its most perfect example in Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, where his mythological nude subject seems to blend intimately into the soft, flowing landscape behind her.
Some of his earlier religious works also give much attention to the landscapes, using a more horizontal composition in which the landscape could fill its upper half. The two pieces housed in the Uffizi Gallery, Moses Undergoes Trial by Fire, and Judgment of Salomon, share this dynamic. The works show the influence in Giorgione from his teacher, Bellini and also that of the painting style from Northern Europe This same beauty and significance of landscape is in most of Giorgione’s work, including his Pastoral Concert, The Three Philosophers and The Tempest, which some consider as the first true landscape painting is western art.
Giorgione, along with his almost contemporary and at one time assistant, Titian, brought much innovation to the style of portrait painting. While it is said that Titian went on to surpass Giorgione as a portraitist, the early work of Titian is sometimes indistinguishable from Giorgione. There is also some critical contention in attribution between the two artists over works depicting the Madonna and Child.
Giorgione left an undeniable impact on painting, with his depiction and focus of landscapes, as in The Tempest, and also in being considered the first genre painter, as in The Pastoral Concert, which holds no clear religious or allegorical context. This set forth the influential contributions of the Venetian painters seen throughout the Renaissance and into the Baroque period.