‘She’d been to Dresden, had stood before Giorgione’s Venere
William Riviere, A Venetian Theory of Heaven, Sceptre, 1992
Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco) was born around 1477/1478 in Castelfranco, Veneto. Although he was one of the most significant and collected artists of the High Renaissance in Venice, relatively little is known of his life. He died (possibly of the plague) in Venice in October 1510 at the age of just 32 or 33 years. There are now only a handful of paintings which are believed to be Giorgione. He is believed to have been apprenticed to Giacomo Bellini and was a contemporary of Titian, with whom he worked on the exterior frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi near the Rialto.
In 1843, restoration work on Sleeping Venus revealed a hidden cupid at Venus’ feet, holding a bird in his left hand and an arrow in his right.
It is generally believed that the painting was commissioned by Girolamo (or Jeronimo) Marcello in honour of his marriage to Morosina Pisani in 1507. The Venetian collector Marcantonio Michiel wrote that the painting was in the home of Jeronimo Marcello at ‘San Tomado’ (San Toma) in 1525. Michiel’s editor, Carli Ridolfi saw in the Ca’ Marcello over a century later in 1646. He wrote:
‘In Marcello’s house there is a lovely nude Venus sleeping, with Cupid at her feet holding a bird in his hand, which (cupid) was finished by Titian.’ The Venus is now alone in the landscape, for the Cupid was so badly damaged that it had to be effaced”.
Note – I’m still trying to locate ‘Ca Marcello near San Toma’ where the work is believed to have originated.
In John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, he describes meeting a present day Count Girolamo Marcello (who lives in a palazzo near the Fenice). The contemporary Girolamo Marcello was a friend of the Russian poet and writer, Joseph Brodsky, and Brodsky wrote ‘Watermark’ whilst staying at Ca’ Marcello. Brodsky also published two poems in his volume of poems, So Forth, In front of the Ca’ Marcello and Homage to Girolamo Marcello.