2 March 2010

Castelfranco Veneto Giorgione Exhibition

Today I visited Castelfranco Veneto for the Giorgione 2010 exhibition. This marks the 500th year since the painter's death; which is one of the few known details of his life - a letter referring to it is included in the exhibition. The man's paintings are as mysterious as his life: there aren't many positive attributions to Giorgione and there's much debate over the images and symbolism in his works. His most famous painting is probably 'The Tempest', usually to be found in the Accademia Gallery in Venice but loaned to Castelfranco for this exhibition.

Castelfranco Veneto is a pleasant small town and today was a nice sunny day for walking around the high, brick town walls and past characteristic Veneto arcaded buildings. The exhibition is carefully presented, though as most of the labelling is in Italian, you may wish to hire an audio-guide. There are exhibits providing the context for Giorgione's life and work - unrest in the region, wealthy humanist patrons, commissions in Venice, his artistic contemporaries - and then a collection of paintings by Giorgione (18 of them), works possibly by, or partly by, Giorgione, and then art by his contemporaries to illuminate his artistic environment and influences. It's not a very large exhibition - you can see it in under an hour - but it is interesting and put together well. Giorgione's paintings are intriguing and haunting. I was particularly struck by a double portrait of a lovelorn young man in front of a more spirited face, and by an illustration of '3 ages of man'. The faces are compelling, and in many of the paintings there are strange and fascinating details.

I visited at lunchtime, which worked well as the rooms were fairly empty. I saw a tour group of Italian senior citizens arrive after lunch, so I was glad I'd timed my visit right. The rooms aren't large and you really need some time and space to consider the paintings.

After visiting the exhibition I paid a second visit to the Giorgione altarpiece in the cathedral (a side-entrance to the Giorgione chapel was kept open even during the church's lunchtime closure.) Then I headed to a bar on the corner which served meals and snacks, the Bistro San Giustino. It was very lively with locals perched on tables near the bar or eating in the internal dining room - from teenagers in a gaggle by the door eating sandwiches to lunchtime workers chatting with colleagues over pasta and wine. The friendly waitresses found me a table alongside a suit of armour and I enjoyed pasta with pumpkin, gorgonzola and walnuts, followed by fondi di carciofi. Along with a glass of local Prosecco and some water, the meal cost me €11, so it was a quick and cheap way to dine.

There's not much else to do in Castelfranco other than walk around the town walls. There's an interesting-sounding villa garden in town, but I haven't yet found it open.

Castelfranco makes a good day trip - or a half-day trip - from Venice at any time. However, while the only specific attraction normally is the altarpiece, at present the exhibition makes it a really appealing destination. The provincial tourist board are obviously very excited. They've instigated an 'Isola dei Musei' (Island of Museums) whereby your Giorgione ticket can get you discount admission into a number of other local sights, and there's a special bus service on Saturday afternoons and Sundays which will take you to these, including two villas designed by Palladio. With a bit of careful planning, it's possible to fit in a lot more tourism than would normally be possible without a car.

> Giorgione 2010 exhibition
> My guide to Castelfranco Veneto
> Article in the Times about the exhibition

I noticed from my old photos (taken two years ago) that Castelfranco Veneto has even cleaned up its statues for this big event. Here's a 'before' picture to compare with today's image (at the top of this article):

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