Through the development of art, the fascination of the female body has been a main motif. It is Venus, Roman Goddess of love who has intrigued the artist, and held their attention for well over a few centuries. She has been not only Venus, but also Aphrodite (the Greek Goddess of Love), she has been Mary, mother of Christ in Gothic tradition and she had been found in the countless faces of women depicted by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Warhol (for isn’t Monroe a goddess?). The link in these references is that this goddess, whomever she is, is holding the fascination of male artist. This is not to say that female artists have not taken up the trend which she invokes, but the purpose here is to discover how differently she is seen through their eyes in comparison with male visions of ‘love’.
Earlier in the semester, there have been studies of females presenting viewers with their view of femininity. Here, however, there will be a close-up on females through the eyes of the other gender. With this premise, the art being focused on will cover the art periods of High Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Mannerism, Schiele’s unique style of art, and Modern art. These chose eras embody a progression of female as the centerpiece in art, and that centerpiece delineates through time into Pearlsteins vision of nudes. Venus, Aphrodite, Mary, and the genre of today have in common the powerful feminine pulchritude, which artists have found alluring and which still prevails for today’s audiences.
Agnolo Bronzino, “Allegory of Venus”
Bronzino pulls back a curtain of a painting to present two lovers. The canvas is crowded with images, people, and action. This is juxtaposed with the fact that as much as action as is happening in the scene, the bodies of the activists remain marble white and not pinkish. This deadness is intriguing considering that the subject of the piece is love. The playfulness of the painting reveals love as a foolish occupation, for in the upper left corner of the painting are two figures representing fraud, infidelity, and jealousy. All of these things are what love turns into with time – Bronzino is reflecting. For in the opposite corner of the painting is the figure Father Time, who pulls back the curtain.
The foolishness figure or Folly is diagonally behind Venus and is readying himself to throw roses on the incestuous couple (Venus and her son Cupid). Behind Folly is the figure of Pleasure who offers a sweet snake to the lovers. Pleasure is depicted as a half-woman, half-snake, which alludes to Satan in the garden of Eden. This type of allegory has the ultimate outcome of downfall for the tangled lovers in the center. Their incestuous love affair will be revealed in time to be nothing but a foolish endeavor. The masks positioned by Venus’ foot represent falseness. The falseness here is that of love. Love is proven to be false because neither one of the figures in the painting are anticipating their love to last. Love becomes a fling, and because it is not a true love, Satan is in the back letting the viewer know that it is lust which drive the two figures onward. Another clue to their folly, of fling is that once again their flesh isn’t alive with the new budding of love, but they are chiseled marble which tells the viewer that love here is transitory, and based solely on eroticism.
Titian’s Venus & Adonis
Titian’s view of Venus is depicted with her lover Adonis. The viewer is captivated by the pull which Venus has on Adonis to keep him from going on the hunt. Adonis is stoic, having no care for Venus’ pleas, only worrying about the pull of his dogs and the glory which will await him. Unfortunately, Adonis dies on the hunt, and Venus is torn asunder with grief. In this timely picture however, Titian has elaborated the love struggle between the lovers. Adonis’ pull from his dogs, echoes the grip Venus has around his upper body.
In the background cupid lays asleep under a tree, with his arrows limply falling to the ground. This speaks for both lovers. The arrows represent the love which Adonis does not have any longer for Venus, and cupid’s slumber is Venus’ love for Adonis which will soon be bereavement.
The movement of the strokes which Titian has used gives the viewer a sense of action. At times Titian used his fingers as well as paintbrushes to allow for a feel struggle. Venus is bound to never let go of Adonis while he remains resistant and impassive. The clouds in the background speak of an immediate doom for Adonis, for they bellow and break above his head. There is a clear spot in the sky almost surrounding Venus which could mean a shimmer of hope for her (to love again), of which means that there will be an emptiness soon to swallow her up.
In all, Venus will love Adonis posthumanously. The cycle of Venus is to be generous with her love. She will continue to give, for soon cupid will awake, retrieve his arrows from the tree and shoot them at another.
Janson, H. W. and Anthony F. Janson: History of Art. Prentice Hall, INC., and Harry N. Abrams, INC., Publishers. New Jersey. 1991.