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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Giorgione’s Ambiguity

The Venetian painter known as Giorgione or “big George” died at a young age in the dreadful plague of 1510, possibly having painted fewer than twenty-five works. But many of these are among the most mysterious and alluring in the history of art. Paintings such as The Three Philosophers and The Tempest remain compellingly elusive, seeming to deny the viewer the possibility of interpreting their meaning. Tom Nichols argues that this visual elusiveness was essential to Giorgione’s sensual approach and that ambiguity is the defining quality of his art. Through detailed discussions of all Giorgione’s works, Nichols shows that by abandoning the more intellectual tendencies of much Renaissance art, Giorgione made the world and its meanings appear always more inscrutable.

288 pages | 40 color plates, 20 halftones | 5 1/4 x 8 1/4

Renaissance Lives

Art: European Art

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"Nichols contends that everything about Giorgione’s paintings—from their hazy brushstrokes and unconventional colors to their peculiar compositions and enigmatic figures—is meant to puzzle us, and thereby draw us in. . . . Although Giorgione’s biography and artwork are ambiguous, Nichols’s text is not. His survey of Giorgione’s portraits, landscapes, and nudes is evenly paced, meticulously researched, and persuasively argued. The author presents a lucid examination of what we do and do not know about Giorgione that ultimately opens the viewer to a richer engagement with the artwork. The book would appeal to scholars, artists, history buffs, and even Vasari himself."

Lauren Moya Ford | Hyperallergic

"Systematic use of sfumato can have the effect of shrouding a painting in visual mystery, allowing space for a kind of reflection that’s unencumbered by the more routine task of identifying historical narrative, political figure, or religious doctrine. No painter used sfumato to this end more thrillingly than Giorgione, of the Venetian School, who died in his thirties in 1510, and to whom only a handful of existing works can be firmly attributed. Nichols’s book on Giorgione’s Ambiguity traces the life and work of this wonderfully enigmatic painter."

New Criterion

"Nichols's thesis that Giorgione's art is intended to expand the limits of art and our understanding of human nature is sound, well-researched and amply illustrated. Recommended."


"[A] brilliant biography and appraisal. . . . Hugely appealing . . . [and] should be investigated by all lovers of Renaissance men and Renaissance artists."

Paddy Kehoe | RTE Culture

"Nichols’s book serves as an excellent, cerebral, and insightful essay on one of the most influential and enigmatic of Renaissance painters. Like one of Giorgione’s own pictures, Nichols’s analysis is lyrical, and thought-provoking; constantly drawn to the profound implications of its subject, yet never less than concise and accessible. The book is particularly welcome and timely. . . . Nichols is able to reserve his considerable intellectual energy for a revitalising and superbly informed discussion of the essence of Giorgione—both in terms of the elusive, enfolded meanings of his art, and in providing the reader with a navigable, clear-headed guide to a corpus of key works."

Philip Cottrell, assistant professor in art history, University College Dublin

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