Double Portrait Giorgione Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Two young men stare out across five hundred years or more, captured so accurately that it would be possible to recognise them from the works should they appear in the flesh in the modern world.

As always with Giorgione paintings, there is a wealth of symbolism packed into what would otherwise be a relatively simple image, a picture of two young men, one caught in a moment of melancholic thought, the other boldly behind him, almost seeming to sneak up on his oblivious friend to play a prank on him.

The foregrounded figure, shadowed, passive and seemingly uncertain is standing looking out towards the viewer, but his unfocused gaze lets us know that his thoughts are elsewhere, perhaps on thoughts of love. This is where the symbolism comes into play. While his right hand is supporting his pensive head, his left hand is loosely clasped around an orange, one that has been freshly picked as can be ascertained from the vibrant green leaves that are still attached to the fruit with a short stem.

The fruit, sometimes described as a wild orange, has a very obvious meaning, especially when taken in conjunction with melancholy thoughts of love: it could be a metaphor for a sexual or romantic partner. He has 'plucked the fruit', and now possesses it, and yet is filled with a kind of sorrowful longing, perhaps for a time before his carnal success? To choose an orange for this image, Giorgione was being very clever, as bitter or wild oranges are associated with nostalgia and bittersweet emotions – and this plays nicely into the idea of innocence lost and, while not regretted exactly, the young man is taking a moment to absorb his newly changed status and decide what he will do next: keep the relationship, perhaps, or discard it in favour of something new and even more exciting.

The figure behind, while although secondary, is better lit than the primary figure – does it perhaps represent the thoughtful young man while his carnal pursuit was still underway? There is certainly a hungry and expectant look about the secondary figure, whose eyes seem to be boring through the back of the first figure, his gaze fixed approximately where the orange is being held so casually. Both young men seem to be well dressed, especially the foreground figure, whose cuffs and neckline are adorned with gold edging, giving him a well-cared for and expensively dressed look.

The figure behind cannot be seen so clearly when it comes to his clothing, despite the best of the light illuminating his face. This compelling painting, Double Portrait, is widely accredited to Giorgione, although as always it is impossible to say for certain, and is painted on canvas in oils, measuring a respectable 80 centimetres by 75 centimetres.