The elusive Giorgione revealed
Venetian archive sheds light on the painter’s surname and place of death
By Theodore K. Rabb. News, Issue 225, June 2011
Published online: 02 June 2011
VENICE. Giorgione is notorious for his elusiveness in the written records of his day. We have not even known his surname. But a remarkable recent discovery has opened a small window onto his private life. Thanks to the rich holdings of Venice’s Archivio di Stato (state archive), and the alertness of the historian Renata Segre, a document has come to light that identifies his family and describes his possessions at his death.
The document Segre discovered is an inventory, drawn up at the order of a judge in the Venetian magistracy (Giudice del proprio), on 14 March 1511, and amended five months later, on 13 October. Referring to Giorgione in the Latin genitive case as Giorgii pictoris (that is, Giorgio the painter), it names his father as Giovanni Gasparini. Giovanni’s widow is identified as Alessandra, because it was her heir, Francesco Fisoli, who requested the inventory, but she is not called Giorgione’s mother, so that question remains open. It is a breakthrough, nevertheless, that we now know that the artist’s full name was Giorgio Gasparini.
Though the exact date of his death in the autumn of 1510 remains unknown, the document also informs us where he died: in the Lazzaretto Nuovo, on the quarantine island in the Venetian lagoon.
As for Giorgione’s possessions, despite strict laws protecting the houses of those taken to the Lazzaretto, the contents of his home seem meagre even for a man who was reputed to have lived modestly. Although not a notarial inventory, which would have given information room by room, this is a listing of household goods—beds, benches, a table, kitchen equipment—and clothing. The latter was nondescript, but did include a woman’s satin dress. In the October amendment, a fine red gown lined with fox fur was added. The entire lot, however, was valued at only 89 ducats, a paltry amount for so sought-after an artist. The absence of any mention of a painter’s materials, or of works of art, suggests the existence of a separate studio, beyond Fisoli’s reach.
These are but a few of the findings the newly discovered document makes possible. Segre is publishing the text in The Burlington Magazine, and there she explores further the details that allow her to lift, ever so slightly, the veil that covers the life of Giorgione.
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