The representation of women in sixteenth-century Italian art with specific focus on Titian's Venus and Adonis
Mythology was frequently used as subject matter during the Renaissance and early Mannerist period due to the ongoing reverence of the Romans and Greeks, and also as a way of escaping from a relatively restrictive ‘devozione’ (religious matter). As the Roman goddess of love and beauty, equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite, the figure of Venus was predominantly depicted in the mask of contemporary good looks, therefore making a commission of a painting depicting her well worth it. This popularity with male patrons made Venus a common subject of artwork, and imbued these works with the outlook of the ‘male gaze’ — a term coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 to indicate the complex way in which women are presented in the arts as objects of male pleasure, as can be seen most clearly in Edouard Manet’s figure of Olympia. Generally, a figure’s portrayal in the nude allows more experimentalism with the human form by artists, with Titian himself focusing on ‘variare’ (variety) in form. Portrayal in the nude, and the concept of the ‘male gaze’ also hold associations with eroticism. Titian’s Venus and Adonis, or ‘Philip II’s painting’ as it is often called to distinguish it from other similar works, shows a focus on the depiction of form, associations with eroticism, and other, more nuanced connotations. It was commissioned by Philip II of Spain, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as part of a series of poesie (mythological paintings) for an unspecified location in Augsburg. With this commission, Titian assimilated the ideas of poets (hence poesie), particularly Ovid whose Metamorphoses gives the basis for the story, and had the freedom to do, to a certain extent, as he pleased. Now located in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, this work displays political, social, and artistic motives, all of which contribute to its interpretation as an image of Sixteenth-Century Italian art.
A study of marble and wood - How artists in the past have overcome the monochromatic natures of their medium
From Stone Age cavemen, who did not have the knowledge to produce many pigments, to Renaissance patrons, who may not have had enough money to acquire the most glamorous pigments, to rather more recent contemporary artists, who made stylistic choices of a monochrome canvas, we can find in our past an ebb and flow of the use of colour in art. Rather than with painting, where the colours themselves form the work, with sculpture the problems are augmented by the restriction of the base material itself being the work, therefore meaning applying colour over the piece. In a select few Greek sculptures, surface colouration is still visible to the naked eye, particularly in the kore and The Blond Boy visible in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, where the robe ties and the hair have remnants of colour (hence the latter’s title). However, Renaissance sculptors did not replicate the objects that were made in Ancient Greece but that which they saw in sixteenth century Rome, after most colouration had disappeared and they were stripped back to the original off-white stone or Pentelic marble. This explains the recoil to a more naturalistic, simplistic depiction of art, where white ‘evoked associations with the artistic achievement of the ancient world’. the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, commissioned by Cardinal Federico Cornaro in 1645 for his family chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, showcases Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s artistic ability. The creation of a theatrical surrounding, of decorative gilded wood and interplays of light and architecture, and an emotionally and visually brilliant white marble scene. Juan Martinez Montañes and an unknown polychromer, just forty years earlier in their 1603 sculpture of Christ on the Cross provide similarities to the Ecstasy in the use of external materials to enhance the experience obtained by the viewer, and also valid juxtaposition with an elongated, polychromed wooden structure.
The Laughing Cavalier is the example we shall choose to end the International Laughter Day that today has commemorated. The portrait, by Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals, depicts the male sitter in a 3/4 stance, face turned as he looks out at the viewer. In the upper right of the painting, upon the rather mundane green background, an inscription can be found. It reads "aetatis suae 26, anno 1624” in Latin, translated to indicate that the painting was completed when the sitter was 26, in the year 1624, somewhat close to the beginning of the famous period in which the Dutch were acclaimed for their mastery of the arts, science and the military.
This work owes its name to the Victorian public and press that it first encountered upon making the journey from Paris to London in the early 1870s. The history of it only traces back as far as 1770, when it was sold in the Hague, presumably having been sold a number of times beforehand to Dutch buyers. Eventually it was acquired by Franco-Swiss banker and collector the Comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier in 1822, and his abundant collection was auctioned after his death in Paris in 1865. The man who obtained the work from auction was Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, who outbid Baron James de Rothschild at more than six times the sales estimate. This was an incredible show of the value of the work, which Hertford hung in his Paris home and called portrait d’un homme. From there, it was moved to England for a large, long-loan exhibition of old master paintings in Bethnal Green. The exhibition has an interesting history to itself, being one of the first of its kind not placed in the West End, with the purpose of attracting the working class to view the works and educated themselves. This work, named A Cavalier at the exhibition, was a hit at the exhibition and is responsible for much of the esteemed reputation that Hals held in England. The painting was cleaned in 1884, and some commented on his expression having changed, most notably a critic in the Athaeneum stating “The man smiles rather than laughs”. Despite this, the name was altered to Laughing Cavalier. The son of Hertford was Sir Richard Wallace, hence why the artwork can now be found in his former house, The Wallace Collection, that was donated to the nation by his widow after his death.
The work has faced much controversy in establishing who the sitter may be. Recorded titles that arose in the Netherlands, England and France in 19th Century suggest he was a military man, or at least an officer in a part time militia. This acknowledgement could simply be due to the prominence of portraits of both individual sitters, and large groups, as in Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Art historian Pieter Biesboer suggests that the man might be a subject that Hals had utilised beforehand - Dutch cloth merchant Tieleman Roosterman. The detail that Hals has depicted in the costume appears intricate and colourful, imbuing the costume with life and extravagance. We see many significant emblems in the embroidery that John Ingamells sums up cohesively in his Dutch and Flemish Catalogue of the Wallace Collection: “bees, arrows, flaming cornucopiae, lover’s knots and tongues of fire” signify “the pleasures and pains of love”. Obelisks and pyramids can be seen, indicating strength, and Mercury’s cap and staff (caduceus) indicating fortune. All of these virtues are likely to be qualities that a wealthy man buying a portrait might like to display. Upon closer look, the viewer can see Hals is deceiving the eye with the detail, as the brushstrokes are large but swift, mirroring that of emotion — deep-felt but rather fleeting. His true to life depiction is enhanced with small editions that Hals has made such as the soft cream tint on his forehead, giving it a lively sheen and the circular pink brushstrokes on his cheeks give them a blushed tint.
Why has this particular work, that is clearly not laughing in the conventional way, become linked to the idea of laughter in such an overt manner? To begin with, we can attribute it to the mere fact that the sitter is depicted with a smile. Commissioned portraits like this one rarely show the subject with a smile. It was not until the late 18th century that this became common practice, therefore Hals was the exception to a rule. This indicates how conscious a decision of his it was, making the facial expression an important focal point for discussion. The informality of the poses of his characters gives an impression of movement and spontaneity to his work. Another element that is rather inviting about Laughing Cavalier is the liveliness already spoken of. The wrinkles beneath his eyes bulge with vitality, and the typical smiling eyes, or ‘smise’ fad of modern day can truly be experienced. A white twinkle in his right pupil distinguishes his jovial expression from a skeptical squint.
A twinkle in one’s eye, and a smile, albeit it small, is all that’s necessary to participate in World Laughter Day. So make completely certain, even if it’s just when falling asleep, to allow yourself that much, especially today.
First year Art Historian at Cambridge University and intern at Private Art Education.
Life, as we’re told when we’re young, consists of a series of ups and downs. Each year brings new high points and low points. 2016 seems to have been the exception to this rule, particularly in popular media. It started off with the unfortunate death of rock legend David Bowie on 10 January.
The technological revolution that is artificial intelligence was proven on 19 March with the AlphaGo artificial intelligence programme crushing Go grandmaster Lee Sedol in the abstract strategy board game, Go. Just as our grandparents are afraid of the influence of technology, our generation is afraid of artificial intelligence. Throughout recent years, artificial intelligence has become the focus of scientific development and achievement. A major turning point, this event proves that artificial intelligence might in fact have the power to overcome humankind.
29 March saw the hijack of EgyptAir flight by Cypriot Seif Eldin Mustafa, which became famous across the world with a controversial selfie of an English passenger on board with the hijacker. Under the same terrorism umbrella, the “burkini" was banned by France on 22 August. As the country continues to reel from a series of deadly terror attacks by ISIS supporters, the ban, which was first introduced as a temporary rule in a single resort, imposes a fine of up to £40 upon women who aren’t compliant.
On 23 June, the British population faced what was unarguably the biggest decision of their 2016 year, and potentially of many before, and after - in, or out? Brexit’s outcome for Britain to leave the EU turned the world upside down, with David Cameron resigning from his post as Prime Minister, heightened fears on social media of ‘Italeave’, ‘Frexit’, and ‘Nethermind’, and the pound dropping to a three-decade low.