According to Pliny, the legendary Greek painter Apelles "even painted what cannot be painted, thunder, flashes, lightning." Darer too would be praised by Erasmus for his ability to reproduce fire, a ray of light, thunder and lightning. And Castiglione, in the Cortegiano, alludes to Giorgione's capacity to capture natural phenomena, storms and the night. The painter accepted the ancient challenge and with this small painting of c. 1505 created a work whose meaning has left critics permanently divided. The earliest reference to the picture is its description by Marcantonio Michiel, who saw it in 1530 in Gabriele Vendramin's collection in Venice: "The small landscape painting on canvas with the tempest, with the gypsy woman and soldier, was the work of Zorzi from Castelfranco." Thus the myth was born of Giorgione the painter without a subject, who simply depicted a landscape with a soldier and a gypsy nursing her child under a threatening sky. Interpretations have ranged from allegory to myth (Mercury and Isis, Jupiter Stator and the Great Earth Mother), religion (Adam and Eve, the flight into Egypt), history (the war of 1509 that engulfed the cities of Veneto and in particular Padua, identifiable by the symbol of the Carrara family frescoed on one of the gates and the lion of St. Mark on a tower), esotericism and a search for classical sources. Interesting parallels have been drawn with Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Pohphili, published in 1499 by the famous Venetian printing house of Aldus Manutius, a work that circulated in the city's refined and exclusive cultural circles, fond of hidden and erudite references comprehensible only to the initiated. Beneath the figure of the young man, who in any case is not a soldier, X-rays have revealed the presence of a nude woman bathing in the pool; further analyses have brought to light details that differ from the final version: the woman's dress, the presence of another tower. All in all, the painting may be an example of the new Venetian genre of poesie: lyrical works which bring together various literary and visual sources familiar to readers or observers, but which leave them free in their interpretation and emotional response. Giorgione's research is consistent with that of Altdorfer's contemporary Danube School. But The Tempest bears no trace of the untamed nature of Germany, to the point where it has been seen by recent critics as an Italian response to primordial landscape of Northern European: it presents an archaic world, but one that is civilized and steeped in classical values, close to the bucolic images of Sannazzaro's Arcadia.
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