Apr 9, 2020 in Review

Giorgione’s The Tempest as an Example of Visual Communication

Art serves as the means of communication. Artistic expressions in any medium act as an attempt to show the audience the human life from a different perspective. Artists tend to express emotional and intellectual aspects, which are sometimes restricted by the written and spoken types of interaction. The creation of such images provides the author with the opportunity to juxtapose conflicting ideas or emphasize a different way of perceiving objects. Giorgione’s The Tempest, a vivid example of Renaissance art, is not an exception. One might ask a series of questions regarding this form of interaction. What elements help Giorgione encode his message in the painting? What is the meaning of representation, and how does it occur? What is the relation of The Tempest to other objects that hold communication purposes? The analysis of the painting shows that Giorgione uses both visual communication to convey his message to the audience. The Tempest is closely related to other forms of communication as well as political and social phenomena. 

Visual information might seem more complex than the written or spoken one. As a great number of data sources are accessible, many means become available for conveying messages. The writers, who use the words to express their emotions, create a perspective from which the audience can observe the described events. The chosen side provides the author with the opportunity to focus on his/her ideas and express them. Similarly, a painter chooses a subject and thereafter uses it to create the whole concept that involves other smaller parts. The artist also show own position for the audience through the context, subject, and perspective. Hall argues that images, written words, photos, as well as paintings act as signs within a given language only when they help to communicate personal thoughts and ideas. Therefore, visual items represented in the artwork serve as means for conveying messages to the viewers.

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Giorgione’s The Tempest (1505-1510) is a perfect example of a visual object that helps the artist to communicate personal perception of the surrounding world. The Tempest has both foreground and background. In the right part of the foreground, the audience may notice a nude woman sitting on a small bank and holding a little baby. The female seems confused and is not even aware of what happens around her. The only covered part of her body is her shoulders. The left side of the image illustrates a young man. The male’s outfit shows that he belongs to aristocrats. He smiles at the woman; however, she pays no attention to him as she looks at the viewer rather than at the man. The background of the painting depicts the buildings and a storm. As the painting depicts a landscape, one may assume that Giorgione aims at portraying the beauty of nature. However, a close examination of the artworks may reveal that, additionally to this idea, the author encodes other messages in the human figures and the position of buildings. Though it seems to be only a picture, it visually and non-verbally sends the author’s message to the audience.

To imply the ideas, Giorgione uses the means of visual communication in his painting. Interactions through a visual aid depend on the audience’s vision. Hall states that visual images and signs, “even when they bear a close resemblance to the things to which they refer, are still signs” as they carry a specific meaning, which the viewers must interpret to understand the conveyed message. In The Tempest, Giorgione presents his ideas through not obvious visual signs but rather those that require the viewers to interpret them. According to Hall, every feature is visible in paintings while their meanings depend on the way the viewer reads them. The interpretation of an artwork is constructed around what people cannot see and what they can define. It means that people can interpret a piece of art differently. 

Giorgione’s The Tempest serves as an example of the fact that the audience may perceive the painting and its meaning in distinctive ways. For example, some individuals suggest that the man depicted in the piece of art is St. Joseph while others claim that he is a soldier. There are also those who assume that the male is a member of youth organization that arranged theatrical events and music in Venice. Some people suggest that the woman is Eve, and the man is Adam while the baby is Cain. The presence of a large number of interpretations emphasizes the fact that the spectators may perceive each element in a painting in a different way. None of the interpretations made is regarded as a correct or wrong one because the artist encodes the meaning through the representation of diverse figures, landscape, buildings as well as weather, and, thus, there is room for guesses. 

Representation as an indispensable part of communication plays a crucial role in the process of interpreting the message. Hall argues that it occurs from several positions in visual images. The first one refers to the audience whose perception of a painting unifies the different features and relations into an overall meaning. Hence, the subject of an image must be understandable to enable the viewer perceive it correctly. The second position concerns the painter who created the scene. The artist is present “in two places at once, since he must at one time have been standing where we are now sitting, in order to paint the scene, but he has then put himself into (represented himself in) the picture, looking back towards that point of view where we, the spectator, have taken his place”. Therefore, the audience should interpret what the painter has encoded. 

To decode the hidden message in The Tempest, the spectators must analyze the represented elements in the picture, including human figures and small icons depicted on buildings. The confusion on the woman’s face shows that something negative might happen, and she does not know what to do. She is in deep thoughts about the possible outcomes. The stream and the bridge signify separation from other individuals who could help her. Neither the man nor women appear to be aware of the storm. Thus, the gloomy weather may be related to the city rather than to the depicted people. Two broken pillars located in the center of the picture might denote death. Therefore, the represented objects help to communicate the overall message. 

Moreover, The Tempest is related to the social and political phenomena. The picture depicts a woman who feeds her child. In social context, one can assume that the author tends to emphasize the importance of breast-feeding for raising healthy and intelligent children. Another significant element is four wheels on one of the buildings that used to be a symbol of the Carraresi family of Padua. Unfortunately, Venice annexed the family in 1406. Therefore, its members died out in 1435. The icon is politically and historically significant. Giorgione uses the symbol to warn Venice regarding the increased hostilities with the Papacy that took place at the time the author created the artwork. The artist seeks to show that the losses faced by Venice may be as significant as those experienced by the Carraresi family. Overall, Giorgione’s The Tempest plays a significant role in modern culture as it serves as an influential example of the Renaissance era that uses visual aspects to communicate a message to the viewers.

The communication apparent in Giorgione’s The Tempest is closely related to other forms of communication, including nonverbal one. The painting does not use the words to convey the message. Instead, the postures and facial expressions of human figures help to understand the author’s idea and emotions. Therefore, The Tempest is similar to the medium that uses nonverbal means to describe thoughts and opinion. Moreover, Giorgione’s artwork shares a number of similarities with other visual images, including advertisements, Internet icons, and graphics. Graphic designs aim at communicating themes to a broad audience. Likewise, The Tempest conveys the artist’s message through visual signs. 

Despite the fact that the example of communication has been closely studied, there are limits to the interpretations provided. As representation of visual images occurs from two positions, different definitions of The Tempest might exist. The artist has encoded a unique message by combining landscape, human figures, buildings, and gloomy weather. Therefore, only Giorgione can answer the question of what actually is illustrated in the painting and what its primary purpose is. The audience can only unify the different elements and suggest the possible meaning of the picture. The limitation serves as a major challenge to understanding the communication process depicted in Giorgione’s The Tempest.

Taking into consideration the findings of the study, one may conclude that Giorgione uses visual means of communication in his artwork to convey the message to the viewers. The representation of the elements such as nature, three human figures, buildings, and gloomy weather helps the audience interpret the encoded meaning of the painting. Furthermore, The Tempest can be associated with nonverbal communication and other forms of interaction. Finally, the picture can be related to political and social phenomena.

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