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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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Old Woman by Giorgione is a relatively small and old painting, painted in oil on canvas, with the dimensions 68 x 59 cm, and dated around 1508 or possibly 1509.

The painting is housed at Venice, in the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The painting is a part portrait, showing the head and upper body. The bottom of the painting is a dark bar, maybe a tabletop or a windowsill, and the old woman is leaning against this. The background of the painting is dark, a very dark blue maybe. But the technique of the painter has thrown wonderful shades of light or luninosity onto the woman's portrait.

The woman is elderly and the wear and tear of age show. She has thinning and greying hair, partly covered by a white headscarf. Her face and neck are wrinkled and lined with age. Her eyes and nose highlight the receding features that come with age, and her mouth and teeth indicate wear and tear of age, her skin is weathered and dark.

The woman gazes at the artist and viewer from an almost sideways angle, showing her left-hand side more than the right. She has very dark eyes, thin dark but greying hair, a prominent nose and a worn mouth showing some teeth. She wears a modest white blouse, the kind that would probably be associated with less well-off people, and a brown shawl that covers part of her blouse to on her right side. Only her right hand is visible and in it a small notice reads 'Col tempo' which translates 'So it happens with Time'.

The white shaw and blouse and the brown of skin and shawl are the main colours in the piece, but light has been used carefully to put a glow on the subject against the dark background. Age makes the expression on the woman's face hard to read. Maybe she is weary, she may be slightly sad or she may be trying to smile, or indeed it may be a neutral expression, the obvious feature, her age, means it is hard to determine what she may be thinking or feeling.

The painting is unconventional in its use of subject and the note that the woman holds, but is typical of the artist who liked to create unusual subjects such as this one. The portrait is extremely effective in portraying the effects of great age on a person, and it would be interesting to know the reaction of viewers at the time. The painting remains a remarkable and unique thought provoking piece even to this day, among pretty and handsome portraits of those who posed to see themselves in best light, this is an odd one out.