I wonder what you, as an observer, do when you stand in front of a painting. What is it, about the painting, that makes it interesting for you? Is “interesting” a word you would use when describing your feelings about a work of art? As far as art is concerned, I guess we are all different and we all have various reasons for liking or disliking something, whether it is a painting or a sculpture, whether it is a piece of modern visual art or it is a Baroque painting. I like certain types of paintings and dislike others. I am not an artist and have no artistic background but I reserve the right to say what I like and I may even have the temerity to explain what I don’t like and discuss my reasons even if it exposes my naivety of art. I have very little knowledge of artistic techniques but find it very interesting to read about them. However besides the beauty of the actual paintings, what fascinates me most of all is the interpretation of paintings and the symbolism of certain objects within a painting.
My Daily Art Display today is The Tempest by Giorgione and along with the likes of The Arnolfini Portrait , the interpretation of this painting has been written about by many and commented upon in numerous blogs. It was completed circa 1508 and can now be found hanging in the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice. What I find intriguing is that some of the interpreters of the painting are convinced that their assumptions are correct. To my mind, there are a number of problems when one is being dogmatic in an interpretation of a painting. Firstly, saying one’s theories are correct, by definition automatically discounts the theories of others as being incorrect. Secondly, unless the artist, long since dead, has written about his or her painting or told somebody verbally about the meaning of their work of art then nobody can be absolutely sure that they are correctly interpreting the mind of the artist as he painted his picture. Maybe interpreters of paintings should be less rigid about their interpretations. Surely we should be allowed to look at a painting and put our own interpretation on what we believe was going through the artist’s mind when he was at the design stage of his or her painting.
I am not going to give you my interpretation of the painting for it would probably be just a combination of the various ones on offer from the “experts”. Why don’t you study the painting yourself and then read the links I have added at the bottom of this blog which give detailed if opposing interpretations and work out what you believe to be the most credible one. However first, to aid your thoughts, let me quickly go over what we see and what we don’t sees in the painting !
There are three humans in the painting. On the right in the foreground is a woman almost naked except for a white cloth which she and the baby are sitting upon, the end of which is wrapped around both her shoulders. She and the baby are sitting on the bank of a small narrow stream. Sitting on the ground next to her right thigh is a baby suckling on her left breast. The woman gazes out at us.
Across the narrow stream on the opposite bank stands a young man. He is looking across the stream but his gaze does not focus on the woman and baby. What and who is he – soldier, shepherd, gypsy? Do you think he looks out of place in the picture? You may be correct as it is believed that Giorgione added him to the picture later. This is known because an X-Ray of the painting reveals a pentimenti (underpainting) and in the place now occupied by the man, there was a nude woman sitting on the bank of the stream bathing her feet.
Just to the right of the man there is a broken column. What is the significance of that? In the middle-ground one can see a bridge over the widening river. In one of the discussions attached there is talk of a man crossing the bridge but from the internet copies of the painting and the X-Ray of the painting I cannot detect anybody crossing the bridge – but then my eyesight leaves a lot to be desired !. To the right of the bridge is a building atop of which sits a large white bird. What is the significance of the bird? In the background we see a town above which storm clouds have gathered and there is a flash of lightening.
So make what you will of the painting and take a look at the weblinks I have attached below. These are blogs of people who have seriously analysed the painting and come up with their interpretation. However if you go to the end of the blogs you will see the comments from people who have read the blogs and in some cases have completely opposite views to the blogger’s interpretation. They offer counter-interpretations. It makes quite amusing reading for how can you politely state that you believe the proposed interpretation is wrong !
Blog – The Perplexed Palette
Blog – Three Pipe Problem
An Essay – this is not for the faint hearted as it a very wordy and highly technical thesis