Jeanne Mammen, Woman at the Cross, 1908.
Paul Thek, Untitled (Diver), 1970, acrylic on newspaper, 58.42 x 73.66 cm, Collection of Gail and Tony Ganz.
Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Oil on panel
National Gallery, London
"Bronzino’s ‘Allegory with Venus and Cupid’ is one of the strangest paintings of the sixteenth century. It contains all the formal, iconographical, and psychological characteristics of Mannerist art and could almost stand alone as a summary of the movement. Seven figures, three masks, and a dove interweave in an intricate, claustrophobic formal composition pressed breathlessly into the foreground plane. Taken as individual images, they display the exaggerated poses, graceful forms, polished surfaces, and delicate colors that characterize Mannerist art. But a closer look into this composition uncovers disturbing erotic attachments and bizarre irregularities. The painting’s complex allegory and relentless ambiguity probably delighted mid-sixteenth-century courtiers who enjoyed equally sophisticated wordplay and esoteric Classical references, but for us it defies easy explanation. Nothing is quite what it seems.
Venus and her son Cupid engage in an unsettlingly lascivious dalliance, encouraged by a “putto” sauntering in from the right- representing Folly, Jest, or Playfulness- who is about to throw pink roses at them while stepping on a thorny branch that draws blood from his foot. Cupid gently kisses his mother and pinches her erect nipple while Venus snatches an arrow from his quiver, leading some scholars to suggest that the painting’s title should be “Venus Disarming Cupid.” Venus holds the golden apple of discord given to her by Paris; her dove conforms to the shape of Cupid’s foot without actually touching it, while a pair of masks lying at her feet reiterates the theme of duplicity. An old man, Time or Chronos, assisted by an outraged Truth or Night, pulls back a curtain to expose the couple. Lurking just behind Venus a monstrous serpent- which has the upper body and head of a beautiful young girl and the legs and claws of a lion- crosses her hands to hold a honeycomb and the stinger at the end of her tail. This strange hybrid has been interpreted both as Fraud and Pleasure.
In the shadows to the left, a pale and screaming man tearing at his hair has recently been identified as a victim of syphilis, which raged as an epidemic during this period. The painting could, therefore, be a warning of the dangers of this disease, believed in the sixteenth century to be spread principally by coitus, kissing, and breast feeding, all of which are alluded to in the intertwined Cupid and Venus. But the complexity of the painting makes room for multiple meanings, and deciphering them would be typical of the sorts of games enjoyed by sixteenth-century intellectuals. Perhaps the allegory tells of the impossibility of constant love and the folly of lovers, which becomes apparent across time. Or perhaps it is an allegorical warning of the dangers of illicit sexual liaisons, including the pain, hair loss, and disfiguration of venereal disease. It could be both, and even more. Duke Cosimo commissioned the painting himself and presented it as a diplomatic gift to French King Francis I, who would doubtless have relished its overt eroticism and flawless execution.”
- Art History, Fifth Edition, by Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren
Sevres porcelain (c. 18th century)
I just watched the BBC’s documentary “A Passion for Porcelain”. One of the greatest achievements of HD television is the amazing high resolution with which we get to see art objects now. The porcelain was dazzling and made me rethink a lot of the ‘garish’ and ‘vulgar’ associations I have of porcelain.
Sir Francis Legatt CHANTREY (English sculptor (1781-1841)
The Sleeping Children (detail)