Fiona Giusto
Article by Fiona Giusto

The enigmatic painting by Giorgione The Old Woman in the Accademia Gallery in Venice


If you visited and enjoyed the outstanding collection of the Accademia Gallery you probably were struck by The Tempest (La tempesta) for its unconventional theme and elusive meaning.

The Tempest

Giorgione‘s Tempest

The Tempest is a milestone, a revolutionary painting in the history of Venetian art from many points of view. From the point of view of content the landscape is for the first time not a backdrop, but the main subject; from the point of view of technique it is one of the first paintings on canvas done using oil colours and no longer tempera on a wooden panel. Amazing is how one dominating colour such as green flows into the blue and vice versa.

This painting fascinates and mesmerizes also modern viewers for its suspended atmosphere and the impossibility of finding a sense in the nursing lady and the man holding a staff and the threatening lightning bolt. There is however another painting by Giorgione, that bypasses with its enigmatic subject the Tempest. It is a relatively small painting, the Od Woman (La vecchia), also housed in the Accademia Gallery.

Giorgione‘s The Old Woman

The Old Woman

An old lady with wrinkles stands out against a black background behind a simple windowsill. She looks from a side angle directly into the eyes of the viewer; her untidy, greying and thinning hair is kept untidily together under a headscarf. Her mouth is half open, her teeth crooked, a white shawl on her left shoulder, as if she had just placed it there with her right hand. Her right index finger points towards herself holding a scroll of paper with the writing col tempo (with time) on it.

Giorgione‘s The Old Woman


Giorgione‘s old woman, detail of her face

The German painter Albrecht Dürer worked during his second visit to Venice, or shortly after on a similar subject, now displayed in Vienna in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Dürer painted a young, unknown man, perhaps a German merchant, he had met in Venice. On the back he painted an old lady with a bag of coins (referred to as Avarice and the worthlessness of earthly fortune) sharing with Giorgione’s woman the loose strand of hair and the unusual facial expression.
Could it be the surviving part of a lost panel of a double portrait, with a hinge in the middle since they share evident thematic similarities?
Giorgione‘s old woman, detail of the scroll


The old woman was restored in 2019 thanks to the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture in approximately 7 months by 2 experts. The old ‘make up’ was freshened up and now she looks like 500 years ago. ‚lifted‘ in the best possible way, all signs of senescence and old age have disappeared! 2 restoration campaigns (carried out by Pellicioli and Nonfarmale) and 2 photos from the late 19th and beginning of the 20 th century (Carlo Naya and Anderson) offer a good starting point for comparisons. The painted surface was cleaned, overpaintings and altered varnish (nose, forehead, cheek, railing) removed; dress, shawl and headscarf are in good condition, the missing pieces were integrated, a new layer of varnish was added and the tension system of the canvas improved. The canvas is the original one, very thin, typical for Flemish painting.

When you look back to her, you realize how her expression is intense, not a caricature, just a statement, this is how I am.

Owners and collectors

It was mentioned for the first time in the inventory by the noble man Vendramin, as a portrait by Giorgione in a frame with the Vendramin coat of arms (the present frame is not the original one, as there are no signs of this coat of arms), then it passed over into the collection of the merchant Cristoforo Orsetti and then to Girolamo Manfrin’s, as Titian’s mother by the workshop of Giorgione (mano giorgionesca).
In 1856 Franz Joseph of Austria purchased it and gave it to Venice, as the old woman, mother of Titian in the manner of Giorgione (alla maniera del Giorgione).

Step into the fascinating, enigmatic works by Giorgione with us BestVeniceGuides.

Fiona Giusto

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