PordenoneGiovanni Antonio de Sacchis was called Il Pordenone from his hometown in Friuli, some seventy kilometres northwest of Venice. He was born in about 1483 (if Vasari is right that he was 56 when he died). His father, Angelo de Lodesanis, was a master mason from Corticelle, near Brescia. He was trained under provincial local influence (Ridolfi says that he was a pupil of Pellegrino da San Daniele at Udine, while in modern times the still more parochial Gianfrancesco da Tolmezzo has been considered his probable master), but he soon absorbed the latest developments of his Venetian contemporaries Palma, Giorgione and Titian. He was later influenced by the achievements of Michelangelo and Raphael in Rome. Vasari asserts that Pordenone never visited Rome, but some art historians have argued that he must have done so (possibly in 1516 or 1518-19).
His pictures are strongly plastic, and Mannerist in their use of vigorous foreshortening, strong chiaroscuro and crowded compositions. At times, their furious energy and dramatic force seems to anticipate Tintoretto. Exceptionally for a Venetian, he worked in fresco as much as in oil. He was active in many towns and cities of Northern Italy: Conegliano (1514), Udine (1516 and 1527), Treviso (1519-20), Mantua (1520), Cremona (1520-22), Spilimberg (1523-24), Cortemaggiore (about 1529-30), Piacenza (1530-32), Genoa (1532), and Venice (where he worked from 1528 and settled in 1535). His numerous works for the Doge’s Palace were destroyed in the fires of 1574 and 1577. He also frescoed more than a dozen palace façades, but these decorations have almost all disappeared. There are almost no securely attributed easel paintings or portraits.
Pordenone appears to have been a man of great energy and ambition, and Vasari emphasizes his rivalry with Titian. (Court records show that he was even accused of hiring hit men to murder his own brother so that he could inherit his estate.) He died suddenly in early 1539 at Ferrara, where he had been summoned by Ercole II d’Este to design tapestries. Vasari commented that ‘there were not wanting men who for many months believed that he had died of poison’. A number of works left uncompleted at his death were finished by his pupil and son-in-law Pomponio Amalteo. Pordenone’s altarpieces and fresco cycles are scattered across northeast Italy, often in out-of-the-way locations, and comparatively few of his works are found in major museums.
Alviano (near Terni). Church (Santi Pietro e Paolo).
Madonna and Child with Two Saints. Fresco, about 200 wide.
The kneeling donor is presented to the Virgin and Child by St Jerome (or Anthony Abbot); the papal saint on the left could be Gregory or Sylvester. Curly-haired boy angels at the foot of the throne play a bass viol, rebec and lute. The fresco – on the right wall of the parish church of the little town, some twenty-five kilometres south of Orvieto – was discovered in 1921 by Giuseppe Fiocco (Bollettino d'Arte), whose attribution to Pordenone has not been seriously questioned. The fresco, with its Raphaelesque Madonna and Child, has been cited as evidence that Pordenone visited Rome. It has been dated as early as 1516 (Fiocco) and as late as 1529 (Furlan). The identity and even the sex of the donor are uncertain. She/he was identified by Fiocco as Pentesilea Baglione (sometimes spelt Pantasilea Baglioni), the Perugian widow of the condottiere Bartolomeo d'Alviano, who governed the city of Pordenone as regent after her husband's death in 1515. He/she has been alternatively seen as a cleric in a surplice holding a beretta. The damaged fresco was restored in the early 1980s. Much of the upper part is lost. Some frescoed friezes in the Rocca (now town hall) in Alviano have also been attributed to Pordenone.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Miracle of St Roch. Wood, 59 x 89.
According to the Golden Legend, St Roch was expelled to a forest after catching the plague at Piacenza. He prepared himself for death. But as he was praying, he was visited by a dog, who fed him with bread and healed his sores by licking them. The panel is from the predella of the St Gothard Altarpiece (commissioned in 1525 for the church of San Gottardo at Pordenone and now in the museum there). An inscription on the pillar on the right gives the date 1534. The other two panels from the predella, which showed scenes from the lives of St Gothard and St Sebastian, are lost. Bequeathed to the Accademia with the Lochis collection in 1866.
Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts.
Four Evangelists; St Bernardino of Siena; St Anthony of Padua. Wood, each roughly 75 x 75.
The Evangelists are shown with their usual symbols: Matthew an angel; Mark a lion; Luke a bull; and John an eagle. St Bernardino contemplates his monogram of the Holy Name. St Anthony holds a lily and book. The six panels belonged to a series of nine pictures by Pordenone that decorated the carved and gilded ceiling of a room on the ground floor the Scuola di San Francesco, a devotional confraternity attached to the Franciscan church of the Frari at Venice. Two other panels (representing St Bonaventura and St Louis of Toulouse) are in the National Gallery, London. The four Evangelists (which are square) were in the corners of the ceiling, while the four Franciscan saints (which are octagonal) were placed between the Evangelists along the sides. The panel – St Francis receiving the Stigmata – that was in the centre of the ceiling is now lost. The ceiling was a late work (Ridolfi mentions it in the same sentence as the Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani Altarpiece of 1528-30). The Scuola was suppressed at the end of the eighteenth century and the ceiling had been dismantled by 1733. The six Budapest panels were bought in Venice in the 1820s.
Chicago. Smart Museum of Art.
Milo of Croton attacked by Wild Beasts. Canvas, 216 x 249.
The subject, a salutary warning of the consequences of overweening pride, was popular in eighteenth-century art but rare in Renaissance Italy. Milo of Croton was a Greek wrestler, famed for his strength. Wandering through a forest, he came across a split tree, the halves of which were wedged apart. Confident of his strength, he tried to wrench the trunk in two. But when the wedges fell out, the two halves snapped together, trapping his hands. He was left a helpless prey to wild beasts, who slowly devoured him. The picture was acquired by the museum in 1976, and subsequently cleaned and restored. It is thought to be a late work of Pordenone, painted in Venice in the mid-1530s. The composition was repeated in a fresco (now largely effaced) on the façade of the Palazzo Mantica at Pordenone. It was reproduced as a woodcut by Nicolo Boldrini, an engraver from Vicenza.
Cividale del Friuli (17 km from Udine). Archaeological Museum.
‘Noli Me Tangere’. Canvas, 265 x 202.
The picture depicts the moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ, just risen from the dead, is recognised by Mary Magdalene (John: 20: 14-18). The grieving Mary Magdalene had gone to his tomb, but found it empty. The jar of spices to anoint his body is on the ground beside her and two angels pray at the empty sepulchre behind. She reaches out in wonder, but Christ stops her, saying: 'Touch me not' (Noli me tangere); for I am not yet ascended to my Father'. Beyond the hill of Calvary, with its three crosses, is a hazy landscape. The large arched picture is an altarpiece from the Cathedral at Cividale (fourth left chapel), where it was traditionally ascribed to Palma Vecchio. The donor, kneeling on the left, is Canon Andrea Damiani, the priest. On the basis of unsubstantiated evidence that the picture was placed over its altar on 1 February 1539, the painting was once considered Pordenone’s last work, painted just weeks before his death. However, it is now usually thought to have been painted around five years earlier – a view strengthened by the discovery that Damiani transferred his patronage to the church in July 1534. A squared brush drawing for the figure of Christ is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Conegliano. Museo Civico.
Four Saints. Fresco.
The two female saints are Mary Magdalene (with her jar of ointment) and Catherine of Alexandria (with a fragment of her spiked wheel). One of the male saints could be Thomas à Becket. This very damaged fresco was originally on the wall of the apse of the church (demolished in 1813) of Sant’Antonio Abate at Conegliano. The inscription, now largely effaced, is said to have included Pordenone’s signature and the date 1514. The name of the patron (Ludovico da Salò) is preserved. The fresco was detached in 1954 and transferred to the museum in 1960.
The museum also contains an even more damaged fresco attributed to Pordenone – a Madonna della Misericordia called the ‘Madonna del Mulino’ because it was originally on the front of a mill at Lestans (on the road to Valeriano).
Conegliano. Porta Cenedese.
Lion of St Mark. Fresco.
The ruined and restored fresco over the arch of the city gate is described as a work of Pordenone by Ridolfi (1648). It was once inscribed with the date 1533. The coats-of-arms beneath the lion are those of the city (left) and of Alvise Loredan (podestà in 1530).
Cortemaggiore (15 km from Piacenza). Chiesa dei Francesani (Santa Maria dell’Annunziata). Capella della Concezione.
The small octagonal chapel, which was decorated under the patronage of the powerful Pallavicini family and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is at the end of the right aisle. The illusionistic fresco in the cupola appears to show the influence of Correggio’s great ceiling decorations, which Pordenone would have been able to study first hand in nearby Parma. It represents the Eternal Father, who appears to be plunging headlong into the chapel, accompanied by a throng of naked boy-angels. In the fictive niches below are half-length figures of various prophets and sibyls, St Jerome and John the Baptist. Life-size figures of Origen of Alexandria, King Solomon, St Cyril and St Cyprian are frescoed in fictive niches on the walls at the sides of the altar.
The altarpiece of St Anne and the Doctors of the Church is a copy by Agostino or Annibale Carraci. Pordenone's original was removed by the Farnese in, or shortly after, 1587 and is now in Naples.
In the adjacent mausoleum, the semi-domes of two niches, which once housed the Pallavicini tombs, are frescoed with the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. The Resurrection has been damaged by two central cracks, one running through the figure of Christ.
On the evidence of a tomb inscription, the chapel’s patron was Virginia Pallavicina-Gambara; she was presumably carrying out the wishes of her father, Marchese Gianludovico II, who died in 1527 and was interred in the chapel. Pordenone’s frescoes are undocumented. They are usually placed around 1529-30, though an earlier dating (1524-25) has also been proposed.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Canvas, 397 x 291.
Christ's body is lowered into the sarcophagus by Nicodemus (supporting his shoulders), Mary Magdalene (holding his feet), the Virgin Mary (kissing his hand), three Holy Women, John the Evangelist (standing behind on the left with hands raised) and Joseph of Arimathea (behind on the right holding a large cylindrical container). This large canvas – thinly painted in tempera and badly abraded – once hung over the entrance door of the church; it now hangs over the door to the sacristy. It has been suggested that it could originally have served as a gonfalone (processional banner), but is perhaps more likely to have been a protective curtain or cover for the altarpiece.
Cortemaggiore (near Piacenza). Santa Maria delle Grazie (Chiesa della Collegiata).
Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Canvas, 192 x 170.
The dead Christ, seated across the Virgin's knees, is mourned by John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene and another female saint. A skull lies in the foreground. Discovered, folded up in a box in the sacristy, in the 1980s, restored in 1991 and first exhibited in 1993. Painted in tempera, and very damaged and faded. Several copies are known (one at Cortemaggiore is attributed to the seventeenth-century Cremonese painter Carlo Bonisoli).
The frescoes of Christ’s Passion in the nave were begun by the local Cremonese painter Boccaccio Boccacino in 1514 and continued by Altobello Melone, Gianfrancesco Bembo and Gerolamo Romanino, who painted four scenes in 1519. On 20 August 1520, the fabbriceria (the secular body responsible for the cathedral works) took the commission away from Romanino and contracted Pordenone to finish the work. His fee was 1,500 lire imperiali.
Pordenone worked at great speed. On 9 October 1520, the first of his frescoes, Christ before Pilate, was received with acclaim and the commission to complete the cycle was confirmed. Just a year later, by October 1521, he had completed three further scenes. The Road to Calvary depicts Christ falling under the cross, with Veronica displaying her veil (left) and the Virgin fainting into St John's arms (right). The Nailing to the Cross is depicted with raw brutality and audacious illusionism. The foreshortened cross to which Christ is savagely nailed extends well beyond the bottom of the painted frame of the fresco, and the prophet represented in the medallion below participates in the scene by pointing to a nail hole in the wood. On the left, a murder victim, held by the hair and about to be stabbed, threatens to topple over the edge of the painted cornice onto our heads. The terrific Crucifixion on the west wall, above the central door, measures 9 by 12 metres and is one of the largest single-subject Renaissance wall paintings. A tumult of figures seems to press towards the foreground. A giant soldier stands centre stage, armed with the great double-handed sword of a landsknecht (German mercenary) and gesturing towards Christ on the cross. He is sometimes identified as the Centurion, who, at the moment of Christ's death, said: 'Truly, this was the Son of God' (Mark 15: 39). The grief-stricken Magdalen rushes, flaxen hair flying, towards the Virgin, who has collapsed in a faint and is tended by the two other Maries and St John. On the left, a horseman bears a huge banner emblazoned with the letters SPQ[R] (the insignia on the standards of Roman legions). On the right, a caricatured Jew, astride a tiny ass, propounds his false doctrine.
The following year, Pordenone executed the Lamentation (below the Crucifixion and to the right of the main door), receiving final payment in December 1522. The scene is set in front of an architectural niche with a mosaic semi-dome. The dead Christ, foreshortened on a stone slab, is mourned by the VIrgin and Mary Salome (or Cleophas) (kneeling) and Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Cleophas (or Salome), Mary Magdalene and John the Evangelist (standing). There is a fine red chalk compositional drawing for the fresco in the British Museum. The Resurrection to the left of the door was added by Bernardino Gatti (called Il Sojaro) in 1529.
Pordenone's powerful, violently expressive frescoes show the influence of the Roman works of Michelangelo and Raphael and of German prints and paintings. They are among his masterpieces. Restored in the late 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, they are extremely difficult to see without strong light.
*First chapel, right: Madonna, Saints and Donor. Wood, 228 x 144.
The two saints have been variously identified but are probably Philip and James (the altar over which the picture originally hung was dedicated to these two saints). The kneeling donor is Giacomo Schizzi, archpriest of the Cathedral. The altarpiece was probably painted in 1522 (and may be the unspecified painting that Pordenone was working on for the Cathedral that is referred to in a letter that September by Federico Gonzaga). Restored in 1984 and exceptionally well preserved.
Death of St Peter Martyr. Paper, 56 x 41.
The Dominican friar and inquisitor is ambushed in a wood by Carinus, an assassin hired by Cathar heretics. In the background, another friar, Brother Dominic, attempts to flee. In 1526-28, Pordenone competed with Titian and Palma Vecchio for the commission to paint an altarpiece of the Death of St Peter Martyr for the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. This extremely highly finished drawing – essentially a grisaille painting on grey-blue paper, with contours rendered in brown ink, shadows in wash and highlights in lead white – is assumed to be the modello (design) submitted by Pordenone to the Brotherhood of St Peter Martyr. In the event, the Brotherhood awarded the commission to Titian, whose famous painting was destroyed by fire in 1867. A vigorous red chalk study for the main two figures in Pordenone's modello was formerly in the Duke of Devonshire's collection at Chatsworth and is now at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Gallipoli (Puglia). San Francesco d'Assisi.
Saint Francis and Two Donors. Canvas, 245 x 146.
St Francis holds a cross in one hand and points to the wound (stigma) in his side with the other. Three angels, representing Faith, Hope and Charity, hold crowns over his head. Two diminutive donors – one a Franciscan friar and the other a layman in a turban – kneel at the sides. There is a landscape with a winding river and distant view of the sea. The picture was once thought to be the work of a local, early seventeenth-century artist called Gian Domenico Catalano, who painted a series of altarpieces for the church. It is now attributed to Pordenone as a very late work. Previously in poor condition, it was restored for the exhibition Tiziano, Bordon e gli Acquaviva d'Aragona held at Bitonto in 2012-13. A partial replica, showing St Francis three-quarter length, was with a dealer in Genoa and later in a private collection at Rome.
Indiana. University Art Museum.
Saint Christopher. Canvas, 177 x 74.
A replica of the full-length figure on the left of Pordenone’s altarpiece (Madonna della Misericordia) in the Duomo of the painter’s native city. Labelled as ‘attributed to Pordenone’ by the museum, but more usually called a studio work or old copy. Acquired by Kress from Contini Bonacossi in 1937 and allocated to Indiana University in 1962.
London. National Gallery.
St Bonaventura; St Louis of Toulouse. Octagonal panels, each 72 x 71.
St Bonaventura points upwards; his scarlet cardinal's hat hangs on the wall behind him. St Louis of Toulouse, wearing a bishop's cope decorated with Angevin fleurs-de-lys, holds an open Bible. The two octagonal panels of Franciscan saints came from a ceiling in the Scuola di San Francesco ai Frari at Venice. Six other panels (two representing other Franciscan saints and four representing the Evangelists) are in Budapest, but the centre panel (representing St Francis receiving the Stigmata) is lost. The London panels were bought in Venice around the middle of the nineteenth century by Edward Cheney. They were bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1924 by the art historian Sir Claude Phillips. The St Bonaventura is heavily retouched and the background of the St Louis is repainted.
London. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Design for the Fresco Decoration on the Façade of the Palazzo d'Anna. Paper, 41 x 56.
This pen-and-ink drawing provides a record of the entire composition of the celebrated façade decoration commissioned by Ludovico Talenti for his palazzo, the Ca' Talenti d'Anna, on the Grand Canal at San Beneto. The frescoes – with flying figures of classical gods and battles scenes in the spaces between the windows – were greatly praised by early writers. Vasari says the 'work pleased the whole city of Venice beyond measure, and Pordenone was therefore extolled more highly than any other man who had ever worked in the city up to that time'. He specifically mentions the 'Marcus Curtius on horseback in foreshortening, who has the appearance of being completely three-dimensional' (shown in the bottom right corner of the drawing). The façade of the early sixteenth-century palazzo remains largely unchanged to this day, but Pordenone's frescoes – like all other Venetian façade decorations on the Grand Canal – have long since completely disappeared. Critical opinion has been divided over whether the drawing is a copy of the finished decoration or an original sketch design made by Pordenone himself.
Transfiguration. Wood, 93 x 64.
The transfigured Christ talks with Moses and Elijah on the mountain top; the dazzled apostles Peter, James and John sprawl on the ground below. Noted by Ridolfi (1648) as the centre panel of a triptych in the church of San Salvatore at Collalto (near Susegana and Conegliano), and later moved to the castle there. It entered the Brera in 1925, after it had been taken to Austria during the First World War. Two panels of half-length saints were described by Ridolfi as flanking the Transfiguration: one is now at Raleigh (North Carolina) and the other is lost. Comparatively early: another picture by Pordenone from San Salvatore di Collalto (now in the Accademia of Venice) is dated 1511, but the Transfiguration is usually put a few years later (1515-16). It recalls Lotto’s picture of this subject at Recanati. The church also included extensive frescoes by Pordenone that were destroyed in 1917.
Moriago della Battaglia (25 km northwest of Treviso). San Leonardo.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 276 x 190.
The Madonna is enthroned on a high pedestal between, on the left, St Anthony Abbot (identified by his tau-shaped crutch and a diminutive hog) and St Leonard (holding fetters) and, on the right, John the Baptist (holding a reed cross and pointing to the Christ Child) and St Catherine of Alexandria (rapt in adoration). There are two curly headed boy angels at the base of the throne, one sitting on the step playing a lute. There are no early records of the altarpiece, which is from the old church of San Leonardo (destroyed during the First World War and rebuilt in 1924-25). It was recognised as a work of Pordenone by Antonio Canova in 1822, when the great sculptor passed through Moriago on a visit to the castle at Collalto. The attribution has never subsequently been questioned. The picture probably dates from the late 1520s or early 1530s. It was damaged when it was taken to Vienna during the First World War. In recent times, there have been problems (probably caused by fluctuations in temperature and humidity) of flaking paint and of movement in the panels making up the wooden support. A restoration in 2012-14 – after the altarpiece was accidently covered with a layer of marble dust when the chancel steps were sanded – was the fourth in thirty years. A protective 'micro-climate' case has now been installed.
Murano. Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Annunciation. Canvas, 467 x 285.
This very large picture, with life-size figures, is still in its original position, over the high altar of the church, which is dedicated to the Annunciation and the hierarchy of angels. In the upper part, God the Father appears among a choir of child angels and archangels (including Michael, weighing souls, at the left edge). In the background, Tobias and the Angel are viewed through a large window. According to Vasari, Pordenone’s picture was a substitute for an Annunciation by Titian, which (at 500 scudi) the nuns of Murano considered too expensive. On the advice of Pietro Aretino, Titian sent his original to Empress Isabella of Spain, wife of Charles V, who rewarded him with 2,000 scudi. It is now lost. Pordenone’s replacement probably adapted part of Titian’s composition. It must have been begun around November 1537, when Aretino wrote to Titian congratulating him on his lucrative transaction, and is probably Pordenone’s last completed major work. There is a squared preparatory drawing in the British Royal Collection.
The church is usually closed.
*Immaculate Conception. Wood, 232 x 198.
The matronly St Anne (sometimes mistakenly assumed to be the Virgin Mary) prays in ecstasy. The soul of her daughter, the Virgin Mary, descends with angels on a cloud. The four Doctors of the Church participate in an imaginary discussion of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. St Jerome and St Gregory are on the left, St Ambrose and St Augustine on the right. The picture was the altarpiece, painted around the mid or late 1520s, of the Pallavicini Chapel in the Franciscan church of Santa Maria dell’Annunziata at Cortemaggiore. It was removed from the church in about 1587, when the Farnese confiscated the estates of the Pallavicini family in Cortemaggiore, and replaced in the late 1590s by a copy executed by Agostino or Annibale Carracci. Recorded as a work 'of great beauty' in a 1644 inventory of the Farnese Palace at Rome. Transferred with the Farnese collections to Naples after Charles III of Spain, son of Elisabeth Farnese, conquered the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1734.
New York. Pierpont Morgan Library.
Conversion of St Paul. Paper, 27 x 41.
One of the finest and most important of Pordenone's surviving drawings. Like other highly finished drawings by the artist, it is executed in brown ink, with shadows in wash and highlights in lead white, on blue Venetian paper. (The paper has now faded to greyish green.) It was probably a modello for a lost painting. In 1524, Pordenone painted a Conversion of St Paul for the organ shutters of Splimbergo Cathedral; but the drawing is different in composition and seems to be later in style. It has been dated to the early 1530s. It is recorded, with an attribution to Pordenone, in the 1695 inventory of the collection of the German banker Everhard Jabach. Acquired by John Pierpont Morgan in London in 1909-10 from the painter, collector and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray. The composition, particularly the horse rearing on the left, appears to have influenced Tintoretto's early Conversion of St Paul at Washington.
The Fisherman Presenting the Ring to the Doge. Paper, 36 x 25.
This highly finished study (executed in pen and brown ink, heightened with white, on blue paper) is assumed to be the presentation drawing (modello) made by Pordenone for the competition held in 1534 to choose an artist to paint a large canvas for the Sala dell'Albergo of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Lorenzo Lotto also participated in the competition, which was won by Paris Bordone. Bordone's famous painting, the last in a cycle of seven canvases that had been begun thirty years earlier by Gentile Bellini, is now in the Accademia, Venice. The Louvre drawing, previously attributed to Bordone, was recognised as Pordenone's in 1925 (by Detlev von Hadlen).
Piacenza. Santa Maria di Campagna.
*Frescoes and Altarpiece.
The graceful Renaissance church was built in 1522-28 to house a greatly venerated miracle-working statue (Madonna di Campagna). It contains the most extensive frescoes by Pordenone, who decorated the central cupola, two small chapels and a section of wall near the entrance.
The decoration of the central dome was commissioned on 15 February 1530. The complicated (and rather obscure) iconography combines blblical and pagan imagery. In the lantern, God the Father is shown descending from heaven. Old Testament Prophets (including Daniel, Samson, David, Habbakuk and Jonah) are represented together with Sibyls in the eight compartments (well lit by small windows in a loggia). The broad ribs are ornately decorated with putti, grotesque creatures, musical instruments, weapons and vegetation, and have oval monochrome scenes of Old Testament subjects in the centre. The frieze of the drum is decorated with scenes from Roman mythology. The scenes on the drum itself, representing the Life of the Virgin, were added in 1543 by Bernardino Gatti, who was also responsible for the Four Evangelists in the pendentives.
The frescoes in the chapel dedicated to St Catherine (second on the left) were commissioned by the rector Francesco Pavaro Fontana and finished by 11 March 1532. The main scene shows St Catherine disputing with the Doctors of Alexandria, with her Torture on a Wheel and Martyrdom in lunettes. In the octagonal cupola are the twelve Apostles (partly obliterated), with female saints in niches in the drum.
The splendid altarpiece (canvas, 460 x 396) represents the Marriage of St Catherine. The scene, set in a fictive semi-circular chapel with a mosaic semi-dome, is illuminated by light flooding through the window on the left. The Virgin, seated high under a green canopy, holds onto the Christ Child as he stretches forward to place the ring on St Catherine's finger. St Peter (with book and keys) stands on the left and St Paul (with sword and open tome) stands on the right. At the foot of the Virgin's throne are three curly headed boy angels, one with a bass viol. According to (fanciful) local tradition, St Paul is a self-portrait of Pordenone and the Madonna is his wife Elisabetta.
The frescoes in the chapel dedicated to the Virgin (first on the left) were commissioned by the local nobleman Pietro Antonio Rollieri. They are undocumented but were probably executed in about 1533-5. They show scenes from the Virgin’s life: her Birth and the Adoration of the Magi, with the Flight into Egypt and the Nativity in lunettes. In the octagonal cupola are musician angels, with a foreshortened Virgin ascending in the lantern.
A large fresco (260 x 170) to the left of the church's entrance represents Saint Augustine Enthroned. The saint is surrounded by putti who hold up books he had written. On the volume under his left hand is a legible quotation from Book X of the City of God ('Here then is the way in which divine providence saw fit to be arranged'). Ridolfi (1648) says that Pordenone painted the fresco as a trial piece, but it is sometimes thought to date from the undocumented second campaign. It was detached from the wall in 1913 to protect it from rising damp. It was under restoration in 2018.
Pinzano al Tagliamento (35 km northeast of Pordenone). San Martino.
‘Madonna della Misericordia’. Fresco, 246 x 170.
Frescoed, within a painted frame, as an altarpiece for a side chapel on the right. The Latin inscription on the base of the throne gives the date 1525 (expressed as the fifth year of the 305th Christian Olympiad). The old-fashioned, hieratic character of the Virgin in Majesty – crowned by two angels and sheltering tiny figures under her mantle – was presumably dictated by Pordenone’s patrons.
St Sebastian with Other Saints. Fresco, 350 x 343.
This is the main fresco, painted as an altarpiece, in the Cappella di San Sebastiano at the end of the right aisle. St Sebastian, bound to a column, is crowned and presented with a martyr’s palm by an angel. He is surrounded by St Roch (displaying the plague ulcer on his thigh), St Stephen (holding a martyr's palm and with stones embedded in his head and shoulder), St Nicholas (balancing three gold balls on his book) and Michael (slaying the Devil and weighing souls). A diminutive donor kneels at his feet. Like the Madonna della Misericordia, the fresco is ‘neo-archaic’, and its execution has sometimes been ascribed at least partly to Pordenone’s workshop. It probably dates from 1527-28, when Pordenone received payments from the Confraternity of St Sebastian.
The church was seriously damaged in the 1976 earthquake, but the frescoes escaped comparatively unscathed.
Pordenone. Museo Civico.
*St Gotthard Altarpiece. Canvas, 304 x 201.
St Gotthard was a Bavarian bishop and church reformer canonized in 1131. He is shown enthroned between the plague saints Sebastian and Roch; two angels play instruments (rebec and lute) at the foot of the throne. The altarpiece was commissioned on 13 October 1525 by the Confraternity of San Gottardo, San Sebastiano e San Rocco for the high altar of the Capuchin church of San Gottardo at Pordenone. It was to be completed by 4 May (St Gothard’s Feast Day), and the fee was seventy ducats. The frame, designed by Pordenone, is lost. A single panel from the predella is preserved in the Accademia Carrara at Bergamo. The church of San Gottardo, which also contained extensive frescoes by Pordenone, was demolished in 1812. Pordenone's altarpiece was displayed for a time in the church of San Marco and then transferred to the Town Hall (now the Museo Civico) in the later nineteenth century. A fine red chalk figure study for St Roch – possibly a self-portrait – is preserved at Princeton University.
Finding of the True Cross. Wood, 77 x 81.
Legend relates that the True Cross – the wood of the cross on which Christ was crucified – was found by St Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This small, well-preserved panel is an early work (about 1512-15). It was once in the Manfrin collection at Venice, together with a possible pendant (recently with the Galleria Frascione at Florence) showing the miracle of a youth being restored to life by contact with a fragment of the True Cross. Acquired by the museum in 1964.
Flight into Egypt. Detached fresco, 285 x 380.
This very damaged fresco was painted on the front of a house (originally a confraternity) in Blessano, near Udine. Ridolfi (1648) described it among Pordenone’s early works; in fact, it was once inscribed with the date 1526. Detached in 1984.
Pordenone. Duomo (San Marco).
*Madonna of the Misericordia. Canvas, 291 x 146.
On the left, a giant St Christopher ferries the Christ Child over the river. On the right, the smiling elderly St Joseph holds the lively Child in his arms. The tiny figures under the Virgin’s cloak are presumably members of the family of Giovanni Francesco Cargnelutto di Tiezzo, the wealthy artisan who commissioned the altarpiece on 8 May 1515. It was to be completed by the following Easter for a fee of 47 ducats (paid partly in land). The unusual subject matter precisely follows the instructions in the contract. The picture, one of the most Giorgionesque of Pordenone’s works, was painted for an altar located near the entrance, against a column on the left side of the church. It was moved in 1595, and now stands over the first altar to the right. Originally rectangular, it was probably given an arched top when it was installed in its new location. It was recovered undamaged after a theft in the 1960s. It was cleaned and restored in 2006. There is a replica of the figure of St Christopher (possibly painted by Pompeo Amalteo in Pordenone’s workshop) at Indiana University (Kress Collection). There is a bust-length version of Tiezzo’s portrait in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford; once supposed to be Pordenone’s preparatory study, it is now regarded as a copy.
Glory of St Mark. Canvas, 553 x 329.
This huge unfinished picture was commissioned for the high altar of the church. It is now located behind the high altar. St Mark, the church's titular saint, is shown enthroned in the centre. He is attended by St Hermagoras and St Fortunatus (venerated in Friuli as early Christian martyrs and founders of the church at Aquileia). The mounted warrior-saint has been called Alexander of Bergamo but is now usually identified as George. He bears the standard of the ruling d'Alviano family, and it has been conjectured that he could be a likeness of Livio Liviano, twenty-odd year-old son of the famous condottiere Bartolomeo d'Alviano. John the Baptist, clad in camel skin, approaches from the left. St Sebastian, naked except for a scrap of drapery, and St Jerome are on the right. The resurrected Christ appears overhead in a blaze of light. Payments for the picture are recorded between 1533 and May 1535. It was left unfinished when Pordenone relocated to Venice in July 1535.
Saints Roch and Erasmus. Frescoes, 280/250 x 80.
The frescoes are on two faces of an octagonal pillar in the crossing. St Roch rolls down his stocking to reveal the ulcer on his thigh. According to Ridolfi (1648), the saint is a self-portrait. St Erasmus stands beside the windlass used to eviscerate him. The inscription beneath the St Roch giving a date of 1523 is not original, and the frescoes may be earlier.
The fresco of the Madonna and Child, on a third face of the pillar, is not mentioned in early sources, but has been attributed to Pordenone as a very early work (about contemporary with the frescoed triptych, signed and dated 1506, at Valeriano).
Prague. Castle Picture Gallery.
Raising of Lazarus. Canvas, 181 x 286.
The body of Lazarus is carried on a winding sheet. A man and woman standing behind hold cloths to their noses because of the smell of the corpse. Christ stands on the right with his disciples. One of Lazarus's sisters (Mary or Martha) kneels beside Christ pointing towards her brother. The composition was engraved as a work of Pordenone in the 1660 catalogue (Theatrum Pictorum) of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm's collection. The Prague picture, which appears to be in poor condition, has sometimes been considered a copy. (It is classed as a doubtful work in Caterina Furlan's 1988 monograph, but accepted as autograph in Charles Cohen's 1996 monograph.) Comparison with the engraving and with David Tenier's small copy at Vienna suggests that the canvas has been cropped at the bottom and two sides. The composition was clearly influenced by Raphael's Entombment, originally at Perugia, which Pordenone could have seen when he travelled to Umbria to paint the fresco at Alviano.
Raleigh (North Carolina). Museum of Art.
Saints Prosdocimus and Peter. Wood, 88 x 61.
St Prosdocimus, the first bishop of Padua, holds a gold cruet and wears a sumptuous cope embroidered with figures of St Stephen and St Jerome. He is naturally paired with St Peter the Apostle, who (tradition holds) sent him from Antioch to evangelize the Veneto. The painting is recorded by Ridolfi (1648) as a side panel of a triptych in the church of San Salvatore di Collalto. The centre panel, representing the Transfiguration, is now in the Brera. The other side panel – representing SS. Jerome and John the Baptist – is lost, assumed destroyed during the First World War (illustrated in the 1957 edition of Berenson’s Venetian Painters). Because of the difference in the scale of the figures, it has sometimes been doubted whether the two panels of half-length saints originally came from the same altarpiece as the Transfiguration. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1950 from Contini-Bonacossi, and allotted to Raleigh in 1960.
Rorai Grande (just outside Pordenone). San Lorenzo.
Pordenone was commissioned on 3 June 1516 to fresco the tiny choir. The fee was 57 ducats (to be paid over five years). In the ribbed vault are episodes from the Life of the Virgin (Presentation in Temple; Marriage; Flight into Egypt; and Assumption), with half-length figures of the Evangelists and Church Fathers in the angles. The scenes from the Lives of Christ and St Lawrence on the walls (probably executed by Marcello Fogolino) are lost.
San Daniele del Friuli (near Udine). Duomo.
Trinity. Canvas, 260 x 174.
This type of depiction of the Trinity – with God the Father supporting Christ crucified on the cross and with the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering above – was common in Italian art from the late fourteenth century. The picture is still in situ in the first chapel on the left. Painted for the Brotherhood of Santissima Trinita. A late work: it was paid for and described as finished in a document of 22 January 1535. The price was fifty ducats.
San Francisco. De Young Memorial Museum.
Portrait of a Young Man. Canvas, 70 x 56.
The only portrait ascribed to Pordenone that is still widely accepted as his. In the nineteenth century it was in the Casa Onigo at Treviso, and has sometimes been assumed to represent a member of that family. It was acquired in 1907 by Sir Frederick Cook – in whose collection it was attributed first to Giorgione and then to Licinio and Cariani. Berenson (1932) was the first to suggest Pordenone. The attribution has been accepted by many subsequent critics, but doubts have remained. Acquired by the Kress Foundation in 1954 and allocated to the museum the following year.
San Martino al Tagliamento (Pordenone). San Martino.
St Christopher. Fresco.
The ruined giant St Christopher (about three times life-size) is on the outside north wall. A payment (23 lire 10 soldi) was made for the fresco in 1518. Pordenone also painted a Dead Christ over the door, which was destroyed when the church was rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.
Spilimbergo (between Pordenone and Udine). Cathedral.
*Organ Shutters. Canvas.
The original organ (probably replaced in the eighteenth century) was made in 1514-15 by Bernardino da Vicenza for its current position between the third and fourth pillars. It was commissioned by the Counts of Spilimbergo, whose coats-of-arms – on shields held by two pages – are shown in two very damaged panels by Pordenone (originally at the side of the organ and now hanging on the south wall). The case was carved and gilded by an artisan called Venturino da Venezia. Pordenone painted the four canvases for the double-sided shutters. On the outside: the Assumption of the Virgin (in two parts, 430 x 374); on the inside: the Fall of Simon Magus and the Conversion of St Paul (each 448 x 224). The dramatically foreshortened scenes are designed to be seen from below; Vasari praises their daring illusionism. Payments to Pordenone are recorded between May and December 1524. The canvases, which were painted in tempera, have darkened; the inner shutters are better preserved than the outer.
Pordenone also painted the five tempera panels (each about 100 x 135) with scenes from the Life of the Virgin for the parapet beneath the organ. These are extremely damaged.
The organ was completely rebuilt when the Cathedral was restored after the 1976 earthquake.
Susegana (20 km north of Treviso). Parish church (Santa Elisabetta or Visitazione della Beata Vergine).
*Madonna and Saints. Wood, 287 x 178.
Over the high altar. The Giorgionesque Madonna is seated on a high throne. The saints on the left – a muscular John the Baptist pointing to the Christ Child and Catherine of Alexandria standing with a fragment of her spiked wheel – were the name saints of Conte Giovanni Battista di Collalto, patron of the church, and his wife Caterina Trissino. The plump youth on the right, standing by St Peter, was called John the Evangelist by Ridolfi, but is probably the Prophet Daniel (there is a damaged little lion at his feet). At the foot of the throne, a boy angel in contemporary dress tunes a lute. The crumbling classical edifice in the background, with a fallen statue in a niche, could either symbolise the decay of the old pagan order or represent the Temple of Jerusalem (whose destruction was prophesied by Daniel). Signed on a cartellino at the Virgin’s feet. One of Pordenone's finest early works (before 1516?). The picture was taken to Florence for safekeeping during the First World War, when Susegana was bombarded and the church partly destroyed.
Terlizzi (Puglia, near Bari). Santa Maria La Nova.
Madonna with SS. John the Baptist and Francis. Canvas, 260 x 240.
The Child, standing on his mother's knee, accepts the lamb offered by the muscular Baptist and turns to acknowledge the devotions of St Francis. This altarpiece (now behind the high altar) is undocumented. According to local tradition, it was painted by Titian for the Duke of Gravina, Lord of Terlizzi, during a visit by the painter to Puglia. It was recognised as an early work of Pordenone by Salmi in 1919 (L’Arte). It was probably painted in Venice in the early 1530s and transported down the Adriatic by ship. The altarpiece is incomplete: the upper part (which is said to have passed to the Prince of Monaco, then to the King of France and finally to the Duke of Tuscany) is lost.
Torre (near Pordenone). SS. Ilario e Taziano.
Madonna and Saints. Canvas, 296 x 229.
The saints on the left are Ilarius (Hilarius or Hilary) and Tatianus (Tatian). Ilarius and Tatianus, the titular saints of the church, were a bishop and deacon martyred at Aquileia in the early Christian era. On the right are John the Baptist (pointing to the Christ Child) and Anthony Abbot (a small bell hanging from the handle of his tau-shaped staff). Curly headed boy angels at the foot of the Virgin's throne play a lute and tambourine. Pordenone is documented as having promised on 11 June 1520 to finish the altarpiece by Christmas of the same year. The fee was 25 ducats. When Crowe and Cavalcaselle wrote (1871), the altarpiece still had its predella (with roundels of the Madonna and Saints) and a lunette of God the Father. Incompetently restored during the First World War. The top has been cut down to an irregular shape. Restored again in the early 1980s.
Travesio (11 km north of Spilimbergo). San Pietro. Choir.
The frescoes on the walls of the octagonal chapel are partly ruined. The five main scenes are: the Adoration of the Magi (almost lost); the Wedding at Cana (ruined); Dead Christ (also terribly damaged); the Conversion of St Paul; and the Martyrdom of St Paul. On the pilasters, the plague saints Sebastian and Roch are depicted standing in fictive niches. Payments were made to Pordenone for the frescoes from January 1526.
The frescoes above, on the ceiling and in the lunettes, are some ten years earlier (around 1516). They are better preserved. The large scene in the centre of the vault represents Christ as Judge receiving St Peter into Heaven. St Peter is shown in the foreground kneeling in submission before the risen Christ, whose right hand is raised in judgement. Christ is accompanied by Old Testament Prophets bearing scrolls, while God the Father appears above between phalanxes of angel musicians. There are scenes from the Life of St Peter in the lunettes and Old Testament scenes in the ovals.
Treviso. Duomo. Malchiostro Chapel.
The chapel, to the right of the high altar, was founded by Canon Brocardo Malchiostro. Malchiostro administered the Diocese of Treviso as a surrogate for the absentee Bishop, Bernardo de' Rossi, who had been expelled from the city by the Venetians and lived in exile at Rome. The chapel may have been intended to commemorate or advertise the honour of being made court Palatine by the Emperor in September 1518. On the altar wall, flanking Titian’s picture of the Annunciation, are painted niches with St Peter and St Andrew. Above, in the half dome, is a damaged fresco of Augustus with the Tiburtine Sibyl. An illusionistic fresco of the Eternal Father in the cupola was destroyed by bombs in 1944. (The fictive balustrade running round the drum is mainly post-war restoration.) On the left wall is a large representation of the Adoration of the Magi, which contains an inscription with the date 1520 below the baby Jesus. On the tents in the background are the coats-of-arms of Malchiostro, Bishop Bernardo de’ Rossi and Ludovico Marcello (an ally of Bernardo de' Rossi and Prior of the church of San Giovanni al Tempio at Treviso), and the Magi are quite possibly portraits of the three prelates. Above, in a lunette, is the Visitation. On the opposite wall: St Liberale, patron of Treviso. The frescoes, with their heavy figures, bold foreshortenings and compositional asymmetries, are among the earliest examples of Pordenone's mature Mannerist style. The influence of Michelangelo is clear. (For instance, the man seen from behind in the bottom left corner of the Adoration of the Magi is based on a figure, engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, from the cartoon for the Battle of Cascina.)
Udine. Museo Civico.
Madonna della Loggia. Detached fresco, 155 x 133.
The fresco was painted on the wall under the loggia of the town hall at Udine. Pordenone was paid 12 ducats for it on 8 September 1516. It was removed and restored in 1642 when the loggia was altered, and transferred to the museum after a fire in 1876. It was replaced by a copy by Giuseppe Ghedina, which is still in situ. Much damaged and incomplete: the lower part, which showed a group of three angel musicians, is totally lost.
Eternal Father. Canvas, 120 x 230.
This badly damaged picture, with conspicuous paint losses, is from the church of San Pietro Martire at Udine. It formed a lunette to a picture of the Annunciation by Pordenone, which was praised by Vasari (‘this work, executed with design, grace, vivacity and relief, is considered his best by competent judges’). The Annunciation was still in situ in Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s time (1871), but ‘so repainted as to be scarcely recognisable as a work of Pordenone’. It is now lost. The altarpiece was probably painted in about 1527, when Pordenone had several other commissions in and around Udine.
Organ Paintings. Wood.
The seven paintings for the parapet of the elaborate organ illustrate stories from the lives of Saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus (founders of the church at Aquileia and patrons of the city of Udine). Five of the panels (each 95 x 93) are still in situ, while the two largest scenes (119 x 162), showing St Hermagoras Baptising and the Saints carried to the Tomb, hang in the sacristy. The contract for the pictures was signed on 28 October 1527. The original fee of 31 ducats was raised to 40 ducats on 5 January 1528 because of the excellence of the finished works.
Udine. Ex-Palazzo Tinghi (no. 36 Via Vittorio Veneto).
Decoration on Façade.
The Palazzo Tinghi (later converted into a tavern and now a café/pastry shop called the Pasticceria Carli) is a relatively modest house on an arcaded street near the Duomo. The façade retains fragments, badly eroded by exposure, of Pordenone's frescoed decoration. Vasari praised the frescoes, which included a Battle of Giants and Gods, Neptune, Pan, Minerva, friezes with sacrifices and the arms of Pompeo Colonna (a friend of Tinghi). They are now very ruined and incomplete, with around two-thirds of the decoration completely gone. Frescoed friezes inside the house have been ascribed to Pordenone’s pupil Pomponio Amalteo. The decoration is thought to date from around 1532-34. Pordenone painted many other house façades, but none has survived.
Vacile (2 km from Spilimbergo). San Lorenzo.
Frescoes in apse.
Ten half-length figures of saints in the soffit of the choir arch, and a full-length Risen Christ and seated figures of the Doctors of the Church and Four Evangelists in the semi-dome of the apse. The frescoes on the walls (which were hammered and plastered over in the early nineteenth century) are nearly totally ruined. The frescoes, unrecorded before the nineteenth century, were attributed to Pordenone by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871). They are very early works (1506-1510), similar in technique to works by the local painter Gianfrancesco da Tolmezzo and showing the influence of Montagna, Mantegna and Bellini.
Valeriano (Friuli, southwest of Pinzano al Tagliamento). Santa Maria dei Battuti.
Frescoes on External Façade.
Pordenone was paid 45 ducats on 1 October 1524 for painting the façade of the little church, which was founded in the fifteenth century by the Confraternita dei Battuti, a brotherhood of flagellants. The frescoes are weathered to ghostly shadows of the originals. They include a Madonna della Misericordia over the door, and an Adoration of the Magi on the left, with SS. Valerian, John the Baptist and Stephen below. (The colossal St Christopher, on the right, has been recently ascribed to Marco Tiussi, a minor painter from Spilimbergo.) After the 1976 earthquake, the entire frescoed façade was detached from the wall and is now displayed inside the church.
Nativity. Fresco, 270 x 213.
A cluster of naked cherubs hover over the Virgin as she adores the Child. St Anthony of Padua, holding a lily, kneels behind Joseph on the left. On the right, the young St Florian, wearing a black and gold striped tabard over his armour, is shown with his attribute of two oxen. In the house behind, two women stare out of the upper window and another woman climbs the stairs with a milkmaid's yoke. Upper right: an angel appears in the sky to a shepherd seated on the hillside, and the Magi approach on horseback in the distance. The richly coloured fresco, over the altar on the left of the church, dates from 1527 (Pordenone receiving 53 lire on account on 30 June). Slightly damaged in the 1976 earthquake, but still in fairly good condition.
Valeriano. Santo Stefano.
Frescoed Triptych: St Michael between St Valerian and St John the Baptist.
Valerian, the town's patron saint, is depicted as a contemporary young nobleman with a sword. The Archangel Michael tramples on the Devil and weighs souls in a pair of scales. John the Baptist is dressed in camel's hair and displays his scroll inscribed Ecce Agnus Dei. The frescoed altarpiece is signed Zuane Antonius de Sacchi and dated 1506. (The inscription is now hard to read.) In the lunette is a vase of flowers with the coat-of-arms of the Savorgnano family, rulers of Valeriano. The fresco (discovered in 1908 by the young Lionello Venturi) is Pordenone’s earliest certain work, showing the influence of local artists Gianfrancesco da Tolmezzo and Pellegrino da San Daniele (in whose circle Pordenone is likely to have trained).
Vallenoncello (near Pordenone). Church (Santi Ruperto e Leonardo).
Madonna and Saints. Canvas, 315 x 171.
The picture stands over the high altar of the parish church, which was rebuilt in the eighteenth century. The church's titular saints stand at the sides of the Virgin's lofty throne. Rupert of Salzburg (a seventh-century Frankish saint) is shown as Bishop of Worms. Leonard (another early Frankish saint, patron of prisoners) holds iron fetters. The plague saints Sebastian (naked and pierced with arrows) and Roch (dressed as a pilgrim and displaying the ulcer on his thigh) are on the far left and right. The altarpiece is undocumented, and first mentioned in 1819, as a picture of uncertain authorship, in Maniago’s Storie delle Belle Arti Friulane. It was attributed to Pordenone only in 1938 (by Giuseppe Fiocco). An early work (1513-14?).
Varmo (30 km southwest of Udine). Church (San Lorenzo).
*Madonna and Saints. Canvas.
A triptych in an ornate wooden frame designed by Pordenone. The centre panel (332 x 128) shows the Virgin enthroned under a coffered arch. At the foot of the throne, three boy angels play musical instruments (lira da braccio, lute and rebec). The side panels (216 x 70) each depict two saints. St Lawrence (dressed as a deacon and holding his gridiron) is in the foreground on the left, with St James (dressed as a pilgrim) standing in the background. The Archangel Michael (weighing souls in his scales and trampling on the devil) is in the foreground on the right, with St Anthony Abbot (leaning on his tau-shaped staff and with a pig at his feet) standing behind. The frame includes carvings of God the Father in the lunette, the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation in the volutes, and the coats-of-arms of the ruling families of Varmo in the side lintels. The altarpiece was commissioned for the high altar by the Commune of Varmo on 5 April 1526. The high price of 300 ducats included the frame; the altarpiece was to be finished within three years. The picture remained over the high altar until 1854, when, following a complete remodelling of the church, it was installed in the new presbytery. It was overcleaned in a restoration of 1891, and the faces of the Madonna and Child are especially abraded.
*Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani and Saints. Canvas, 420 x 220.
In a tightly packed composition, the Beato Giustiniani – Bishop and first Patriarch of Venice – stands between two canons of San Giorgio in Alga (called fratelli turchini because of their blue-green vestments) and four saints. The bishop-saint at the left edge was traditionally called either Ambrose (Ridolfi) or Augustine (Boschini), but is probably Louis of Toulouse. St Francis kneels before the lamb, which is supported on a book by a muscular, Michelangelesque John the Baptist, while St Bernardino of Siena stands behind. Probably the finest of Pordenone’s Venetian altarpieces. It was commissioned by Federico Renier for his recently acquired family chapel in the church of Madonna dell’Orto. The prior of the church, Pietro Marin, acted as the donor's executor. The Beato Giustiniani was a founder member and general of the secular canons of San Giorgio in Alga, to whom the Madonna dell’Orto belonged, while the other four saints in the altarpiece were the name-saints of Renier’s grandfather, father and sons.
The picture is signed on the pedestal but not dated. It was previously identified with ‘a painting costing one hundred ducats’ that Pordenone claimed (in a legal petition of 1538) to have executed for the canons of San Giorgio in 1532. However, Vasari (1550) says that it was painted during Pordenone’s first visit to Venice (from 1528 to early 1530), and it has now been established (by Stefano Pierguidi in an article in the November 2006 Burlington Magazine) that Vasari was right. The altarpiece was taken to Paris in 1797, and entered the Accademia on its return to Venice in 1815. A reduced copy, made for the church in 1861, does not hang in the Renier Chapel, which was in the last bay of the left aisle, but in the chapel to the left of the chancel. Pordenone’s picture, which was restored in 1843 and 1964, has lost some of its background architectural detail, but is generally well preserved.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 127 x 142.
SS. Peter and Prosdocimus on the left, Barbara and Catherine on the right. This small altarpiece is extensively damaged and retouched (especially the faces of the two female saints and St Peter’s robe), and is rarely exhibited. Along with the Transfiguration (now in the Brera), it was originally in the church of San Salvatore at Collalto, and was moved to the Castello di Collalto in the nineteenth century. During the First World War, the castle was greatly damaged; the pictures there were taken by the Austrians to the castle at Staatz but subsequently recovered by the Italian State. The Madonna and Saints was deposited with the Accademia in 1927.
Venice. Ca d’Oro. Galleria Franchetti.
The frescoes, which have been largely destroyed by exposure, are from the cloister of the large Gothic church of Santo Stefano, where Pordenone painted twelve scenes from the Old and New Testaments in about 1532-33. The frescoes are mentioned by Vasari (1550) and described in more detail by Ridolfi (1648). Five scenes (Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise; Cain and Abel; David and Goliath; Entombment; and Noli me Tangere) were engraved by Jacopo Piccini in 1656. Detached in 1965 and restored. The most legible scenes are the first two in the cycle – the Expulsion from Paradise and Noli me Tangere – and the last – Christ and the Samaritan Woman. Most of the fragments have been deposited at the Doge’s Palace.
Venice. San Giovanni Elemosinario.
*St Sebastian, St Roch and St Catherine. Canvas, 173 x 115.
St Sebastian stands naked with his hands tied above his head; his sinuous pose mirrors the shape of the panel. St Catherine, leaning with a book on her spiked wheel, places a hand on her heart and turns her eyes towards heaven. St Roch is visited by an angel, who points to the plague ulcer on his thigh. Signed on the stone beneath St Roch. With its crowded composition and strained poses, this is one of Pordenone’s most Mannerist pictures. It is mentioned by Vasari, who says that it was painted in competition with Titian’s St John Distributing Alms, which still hangs over the high altar of the same church. Pordenone’s picture, which hangs in the chapel to the right of the high altar, is likely to date from the mid-1530s. The patrons were the Corrieri – a confraternity of couriers or dispatch-riders. Their altar was dedicated to St Catherine; Sebastian and Roch were doubtless included as plague saints.
Dome fresco: God the Father with Putti.
According to Boschini (1664), Pordenone decorated the cupola of the church, which had been rebuilt in 1527-29 by Scarpagnino for Doge Andrea Gritti after a fire. The frescoes, whitewashed in the eighteenth century, were thought to have been lost, but were uncovered in 1993 during a restoration of the church that started in the 1980s. In the centre of the dome, God the Father appears in a glory of cherubs' heads, while putti frolic on clouds around the rim. The Doctors of the Church are depicted in medallions between the windows of the drum. Gregory the Great is shown with Andrea Gritti's coat-of-arms.
The church, closed for twenty years, reopened in 2002.
Venice. Santa Maria della Salute. Great Sacristy.
St Roch between SS. Jerome and Sebastian. Wood, 143 x 143.
This small, well-preserved altarpiece is said to have belonged to the Counts of Collalto. It was donated to the Salute in 1827 by the Patriarch of Venice Ladislao Pyrker. Traditionally ascribed to Girolamo da Treviso, it was attributed to Pordenone only in 1975 (by Mauro Lucco in Paragone). It is probably about contemporary with the Madonna and Four Saints of 1511 in the Venice Accademia, which also came from Collalto.
Venice. Church of San Rocco.
*St Martin; St Christopher. Wood, each 140 x 250.
The two panels, with dramatically low viewpoints, of St Martin dividing his cloak with a beggar and St Christopher carrying the infant Christ, were painted for the outer doors of a cupboard for church silver (armadio degli argenti). The panels, painted on heavy planks of larch, would have been hinged with locks. The silver cupboard may have been dismantled as early as about 1575, when the choir screen was removed, and the panels are now hung high up between the first and second altars on the left side. They are among Pordenone’s earliest works in Venice (1528-29). Layers of grime, yellowed varnish and extensive repaint were removed in a restoration of 1999-2000. Further conservation treatment, to tackle flaking and lifting of paint, was required in 2018, when the pictures were installed in specially constructed display cabinets designed to control temperature and humidity. Masterful drawings have survived for both figures – a complete red chalk study for St Martin at Chantilly and a squared pen-and-wash study for St Christopher at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
On either side of the panels of St Martin and St Christopher are frescoes by Pordenone showing throngs of people seeking alms or divine assistance. There are cripples begging and mothers presenting their babies, a sailor brings a model ship as a votive offering, and other supplicants bring a model sword, a model leg and a votive tablet.
Frescoes in Choir.
In 1528-29, Pordenone also decorated the choir of the church with frescoes of the Transfiguration (vault), God the Father (cupola), the Four Doctors of the Church (lunettes), Old Testament Prophets (drum) and the Four Evangelists (pendentives). The frescoes, which had deteriorated badly, were repainted beyond recognition in 1764-66 by the Venetian Baroque painter Giuseppe Angeli. All that is visible now of Pordenone's work are two pairs of putti with St Roch’s attributes (pilgrim’s hat and staff and a sack), right and left of the high altar.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 63 x 46.
The subject, taken from John’s Gospel, was painted frequently by North Italian artists from the 1480s onwards. Here, Christ's face is very like a portrait – unidealised and, despite the crown of thorns, without trace of blood or pain. The composition, with Christ looking questioningly back over his shoulder at the viewer, is very close to that of the famous Portrait of a Man in a Fur at Munich. The Munich portrait has been variously attributed to Palma Vecchio, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giorgione and other early sixteenth-century Venetians; but there is no agreement on whether the Christ carrying the Cross is by the same hand. Traditionally ascribed to Correggio, the panel was later attributed to Giovanni Cariani (by Berenson in his 1894 Lists) and then to Palma Vecchio. An attribution to Pordenone, as a youthful work, was first made only in 1975 (by Carlo Volpe). It is based largely on a resemblance between the face of Christ and faces in some early works by Pordenone (such as the St Roch painted on a pillar in Pordenone Cathedral and the St Roch in the altarpiece at Vallenoncello). The attribution has had a mixed reception, being accepted in Caterina Furlan’s 1988 monograph on the artist but rejected in Charles Cohen’s 1996 monograph. The panel is labelled simply as ‘Venetian School’ by the museum. It entered the Imperial Gallery in 1785 from the collection of Count Althmann.
Portrait of a Musician. Canvas, 53 x 52.
The youngish man, wearing a black beret and black silk tunic, is portrayed bust-length in front of a curved niche. The words and musical notation of a song are clearly legible on the pages of the open book he is holding in his left hand. Traditionally ascribed to Titian and later (1773) given to Palma Vecchio. First published as a work of Pordenone in 1924 (by the Austrian art historian Ludwig von Baldass in Belvedere). The attribution was accepted, with a query, by Caterina Furlan in her 1984 monograph on the artist but rejected by Charles Cohen in his 1996 monograph. Labelled as ‘attributed to Pordenone’ by the museum. Also attributed to a humbler Venetian painter, Domenico Capriolo. One of more than two hundred Venetian paintings acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm when the collection of the Marquis of Hamilton was dispersed after the English Civil War.
Villanova (near Pordenone). Church (Sant'Ulderico). Choir.
The four Doctors of the Church are represented in the triangular compartments of the ribbed vault, with Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Prophets (David, Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah) in the lower corners. The Church Doctors are depicted as scholars, enthroned behind desks, among books and scrolls. Jerome is writing, and Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory are displaying open tomes. The Coronation of the Virgin is frescoed in the semi-dome, and there are damaged remains of a Passion cycle on the walls of the choir. Pordenone was at work on the frescoes by 10 September 1514. His modest fee was 48 ducats (paid over several years, partly in wine and grain).