In response to:
Storm over the Storm from the February 14, 1991 issue
To the Editors:
Charles Hope concludes his review of Salvatore Settis’ Giorgione’s Tempest’: Interpreting the Hidden Subject [NYR, February 14]:
…we cannot, I believe, rule out the possibility that in the Tempest Giorgione was principally concerned to depict a thunderstorm, to show what he could do. If, as Michiel and the 1569 inventory perhaps imply, the figures were mere staffage, added to heighten the mood, to underline mankind’s vulnerability before the forces of nature, it would certainly make this masterpiece quite unique in the history of Renaissance art. But, as it happens, nothing like the Tempest does survive from this period; and no better explanation of those figures has yet been proposed.
with which, as far as Mr. Hope goes, I agree. However, the figures—a man with a staff and a woman nursing a child—do more than “heighten the mood [of the thunderstorm], to underline mankind’s vulnerability before the forces of nature.” In this rich masterpiece, so impossible to reduce or summarize, Giorgione is surely suggesting the durability as well as the vulnerability of mankind. These figures continue their activities (in the case of the mother and child) or will do so (in the case of the shepherd, if that’s what he is), in much the same way as the farmers continue their chores while Icarus falls from the sky in Pieter Brueghel’s painting on that theme. Both Giorgione’s and Brueghel’s works, different as they are, contrast chaos in the sky—respectively, natural and manmade—with everyday life on earth; and both celebrate life on earth.
Charles Hope replies:
I certainly would not want to be thought reductive. Mr. Friedman may well be right.