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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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With very little information about the work of Giorgione, it was difficult to say which pieces were his. Only about six can be said to be truly by the artist. However, several works are ascribed to the Venetian artist, including Il Tramonto, The Sunset.

According to the National Gallery Companion guide, the painting embodies Giorgione's style. The painting was discovered in 1933 in a villa in South Venice. It had extensive damage and required restoration. As with the rest of his artwork, The Sunset is shrouded in mystery. No information exists of whether it was a commissioned piece or not.

In the painting, two travellers appear to be taking a break from their journey. They are in front of a river that flows under a bridge and emerges on the other side. Giorgione put the travellers in the foreground with what seems like a cave to their left. One of the men is seated on a flat rock while the other kneels next to him, examining his foot. A short distance away, a strange creature is floating in the river. At the mouth of the cave is a knight on a white horse fighting a dragon. In the background, hilly terrain is visible with structures that look like homesteads in the distance. Beyond the horizon, the sun sets behind the hills, leaving an orange glow.

Artwork by Giorgione has always been hard to interpret because the artist never provided much context. In The Sunset, the sitting traveller is thought to be Saint Roch and the other a companion. St. Roch took care of people suffering from the plague, and in this scene, the assumption is that he has the same disease. The traveller is thought it be looking at an ulcer. Saint George is the man on the horse, getting rid of a dragon. Originally, St. George was not part of the painting. A restorer added him in to cover a badly damaged part of the canvas. Only a dragon's tail remained on the original, and so the restorer got creative. The St. George cameo fits right into the scene because it appears the setting of the painting involved some supernatural elements.

Giorgione managed to create a mysterious scene that is inviting at the same time. The cave and river show that a lot more is going on besides the two travellers resting. However, the setting sun illuminates the entrance of the cave in a beautiful light. He develops a seamless continuity from one part of the scene to the other. The painter balances the browns of the rocky grounds with rich, green foliage. A large tree on the left of the painting casts a welcoming shadow. Completed circa 1505 - 1508, The Sunset is currently at the National Gallery, London.