Art History II online part 2Presentation Transcript
Art History II Renaissance of the 16 th & 17 th Centuries
Isenheim Altarpiece c. 1510 Mathis Gothardt (Neithardt) aka Mathias Gr ü newald Northern Renaissance
An author in the 17 th century incorrectly identified the artist as Mathias Gr ü newald and the name stuck until very recently when the error was discovered. Many books and other sources still use the incorrect name Gr ü newald. His real name was either Gothardt or Neithardt or perhaps both in some combination.
This triptych may be the most elaborate and complex altarpiece ever constructed. The paintings almost become secondary to the incredible mechanical design of the piece.
The outside paintings (and since this piece is very large and was intended for a semi-permanent installation the exterior was painted) depict the crucifixion of Christ in the center, and portraits of St. Sebastian and St. Anthony on side panels (Slide A). St. Sebastian can be recognized by the fact that he is bound and has been struck with arrows mirroring his death and subsequent martyrdom. The altarpiece was donated to the hospital chapel at the St. Anthony Monastery. Some art historians have suggested that the image of St. Sebastian is in fact a self-portrait, with the artist using his own likeness for the face of the arrow-laced saint. This fact may be supporting evidence for a hypothesis that will be offered later regarding the image of St. Anthony.
The Northern style of Renaissance art (including France, Germany, and other Northern European countries) tends to be darker, more somber than the lighter and brighter Italian style. The subject matter in Northern Renaissance art also leans towards the darker and more depressing. The nocturnal crucifixion scene of the Isenheim Altarpiece is classic Northern Renaissance painting.
Isenheim Altarpiece c. 1510 Mathis Gothardt Neithardt aka Mathias Gr ü newald A
The crucifixion scene in the center, exterior panel (Slide B) violates a rule of triptych painting. It was generally accepted that if a panting was done on the outside then no person should be placed in the center so that they would be divided when the panels were swung out to open the triptych and reveal the interior decoration. The artist clearly violated this rule by placing Jesus just right of center so that His left arm is separated from His body when the wing panels are swung open. There are no accidents in art and this was a deliberate reference to Jesus sharing the pain and suffering of the faithful. This triptych was installed in a Church hospital chapel. Prior to the very late 19 th century when Louis Pasteur would discover the existence of bacteria and start medical science towards (finally) realizing the value of cleanliness and sterilization, even a minor wound often led to infection. With no antibiotics available the only treatment would be amputation. With so many amputation victims in the chapel the image of Jesus offers empathy. In the crucifixion scene are John the Baptist (although in reality he was already deceased before Jesus’ death occurred), John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary. Also seen is a lamb holding a cup to its bleeding breast. Some interpret this as symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ but the lamb (or sheep) is a common symbol for the faithful (what better symbol to represent followers?) and their willingness to join Jesus in making needed sacrifices for their faith. The over all darkness of the composition combined with the somber, depressing subject identifies the painting as typical Northern Renaissance style. Isenheim Altarpiece c. 1510 Mathis Gothardt Neithardt aka Mathias Grünewald
When the Isenheim Altarpiece is opened (Slide C) the spectacular nature of the triptych becomes evident. While still clearly Northern in appearance, it is surprisingly bright and spiritually uplifting for Northern Renaissance painting. From left to right we see the Annunciation, the Birth of Jesus, the Mother and Child image, and on the far right the Resurrection with the spirit of Jesus rising from the grave. In the third painting (Mother and Child) God is depicted as the sun shining His blessings down on the pair. Using the sun or beams of sunlight to symbolize God is often done in Renaissance art. After opening the wings on the Isenheim Altarpiece there is still more to see. There is a second set of wings that open to reveal more paintings on the second set of wings as well as small sculptural figures contained within a shadow box. See Slide D to see the second open view. On the wings are paintings most art historians identify as images of St. Anthony. The same figure is seen in sculptural form in the center. Here he sits enthroned with a woman on his left and a clerical figure on his right. As noted earlier the portrait on the exterior of St. Sebastian may be a self-portrait by the artist. It’s possible the figure thought by some to be St. Anthony may also be a portrait of a contemporary person (someone alive at the same time as the painting’s completion). There is someone conspicuously absence in the Isenheim Altarpiece . Certainly this piece was tremendously expensive to buy and obviously it was donated to the monastery meaning we would expect to see portraits of the generous donors. But where are they? Who could afford to buy and donate such a valuable thing as the Isenheim Altarpiece ? Perhaps only the king or some other ruling royal. How often do wee see saints enthroned as we see here? They are usually depicted as simple, pious men who avoid the trappings of Earthly power and wealth. Now, a king or prince would be seated on a throne and the queen or princess would absolutely be included (note the woman to the seated figure’s left). Who is this woman with a connection to St. Anthony? It’s more likely she is the donor’s wife and the donor asked the artist to use his image for the likeness of St. Anthony. With the history of conflict between the Church and the European kings it’s understandable how a ruler would want to have a high ranking clergyman depicted seemingly paying homage to the enthroned figure who is in fact the king. Isenheim Altarpiece c. 1510 Mathis Gothardt Neithardt aka Mathias Grünewald
Leonardo da Vinci & Michelangelo
Leonardo da Vinci Self Portrait Leonardo, born in the town of Vinci (da means “of”), came from humble origins. His mother was a servant in his father’s house (he was a married man) and although he supported Leonardo and his mother financially he never legally acknowledged the boy so Leonardo never enjoyed any legal standing. When his father died his half-siblings shunned him and cut him off from any inheritance. Leonardo possessed a towering intellect. Besides painting, he was an accomplished designer, architect (although none of his plans were ever constructed), chemist, biologist, and general intellectual. He once taught himself a language in a single day with nothing more at his disposal than a book written in the language he needed to learn. What he lacked were “people skills” and his quick temper and dismissive temperament kept him at odds with most people. He also lacked self-discipline and found it hard to stay focused and complete his projects. He dreamed more than he built and he only completed a handful of paintings in his life. He had a bad habit of taking commissions (and down-payments) and not delivering the work. In one case he failed to deliver a completed portrait and thus stole his own painting. The term “Renaissance Man” refers to someone who does many things, and does them all well. That is the perfect term to describe Leonardo.
Leonardo kept a journal, actually a series of volumes that he filled with drawings and sketches and notes that he made regarding his observations of nature and science. He was granted unique access to unclaimed bodies at the local Church-run hospital and he performed autopsies and dissections to learn more about human physiology. The drawings he made were the most detailed and precise that had ever been made. The text on this page is written in a mirror image. When he thought someone might be peeking over his shoulder in public trying to see what he was writing he would start writing in this fashion to confuse them. Give it try for yourself.
The Last Supper rivals The Mona Lisa as Leonardo’s most famous work. Painted on the wall in a Milan church, it’s a very large painting (the figures are larger than life-sized) that has become the subject of much debate and speculation in recent years. One important fact to bear in mind when attempting to analyze this painting is that we are probably not looking at a single drop of paint applied by the master himself. Leonardo noted in his journal that he was experimenting with a new paint formula for this commission and barely one year after completion one critic noted that nothing was left to see of the painting. It had all faded away as Leonardo’s new formula apparently produced a paint that proved to be fleeting. The painting has been completely restored on several occasions and there is no way of telling how much resemblance the current version bears to the original. A study in the use of single-point linear perspective, the painting is also historically inaccurate as he Last Supper took place during the Roman Empire and the Romans did not sit in chairs at tables to eat their meals. They reclined on short couches and propped themselves up on one elbow to eat. Leonardo da Vinci The Last Supper
The Last Supper c. 1495 da Vinci
Mona Lisa 1505 da Vinci This would be the other of Leonardo’s two most famous paintings. It has a checkered history starting with the fact that after it was completed the artist refused to deliver it to the patron and kept it with him for the rest of his life. In other words he stole his own painting. When Napoleon became emperor of France in 1804 this was the only artwork from the Louvre that he moved into his palace. It hung in his bedroom during his reign. It was stolen in the early years of the 20 th century by a security guard assigned to watch over it. It was slashed by a mentally deranged man and now viewers are kept at a distance so they can’t see how awful it looks. Some authors suggest that the model is unknown but she is in fact Mademoiselle (shortened to Mona) Lisa di Antonio di Gherardini who married a wealthy Italian businessman and it was her husband who bought this painting as a gift for her. She also presented him with a painting as a wedding gift but the original has been lost over the centuries. A poor quality copy was made by an art student (next slide) and it can at least suggest the appearance of the original work. A
Yes, it’s a nude version of The Mona Lisa . It’s current whereabouts is unknown but should this painting resurface it would no doubt sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. B
C This is a better quality version of the previous copy and shows a similar pose indicating that the original did, indeed, exist at one time since the two copies resemble each other. Were the original to be located it would command a hefty price at auction, perhaps $200,000,000 or more.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni Usually called Michelangelo Bounarroti or simply Michelangelo
Pieta 1499 by Michelangelo This was Michelangelo’s first major work completed when he was but 23 years of age. Some viewers doubted that such a magnificent work could have been accomplished by an artist who was so young. In response to these comments Michelangelo sneaked into the gallery at night and chiseled “I, Michelangelo, did this” on the strap that crosses Mary’s body. He would later say that he regretted doing this in a fit of anger and it remains as the only piece he ever signed. Mary’s right breast is exposed in an obvious reference to motherhood, family, and nurturing. Also note that should Mary stand up she would be about 12 feet tall. Michelangelo made the figure of Mary so enormous so that she could cradle the body of Jesus without having the composition look ridiculous with a grown man lying across the lap of a physically smaller woman. This statue was attacked by a mentally disturbed man who used a hammer to smash the face of Mary. As a result for many years the public was kept at a distance to hide the poor reconstruction done on the figure. See the next slide showing how it looked in 1989 with barricades keeping visitors 40 feet away and harsh lighting from below making it difficult to see the statue.
Apparently within the last few years the piece has undergone addition reconstruction and it looks much better than it did after the first round of repairs. The viewing area has been improved and visitors are no long kept at bay by rope barricades. This photo and the following one in show how the statue now appears in its display. This slide shows the piece in closer detail. Do you notice something different between this photograph and the one in the previous slide? The bared breast has been covered by a fiberglass cover (which also partially obscures Michelangelo’s signature). Apparently someone objected to the exposed breast so strongly that it was censored by people who totally failed to understand the symbolism or were simply too offended to care what the artist intended.
Here is the tragic result of an artist not compensating for the difference between the physical sizes of an adult man and a typical woman when attempting the composition that Michelangelo so successfully executed.
David 1504 by Michelangelo The story goes that one day Michelangelo was walking through the streets of Florence when he saw an enormous block of marble apparently discarded in the gutter in front of another artist’s studio. Curious, he knocked at the studio door and asked why the expensive piece of marble was thrown out with the trash. The artist explained that the stone was flawed, with a large fissure running down the middle making it unworkable. Michelangelo asked of he could haul it off since it was nothing but refuse and he was granted permission to do so. We can only imagine what reaction the other artist had when he saw what Michelangelo had managed to do with the unusable marble.
St. Peter’s Cathedral 1546-1590 At first it might seem like an interruption of our discussion of Michelangelo to inject a photo of the St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican in Rome, but not really. The central part of the structure (which has been expanded many times over the centuries) was actually designed by Michelangelo making this his largest work. There is some symbolism incorporated into the design that is best seen from an aerial perspective. The twin colonnades (rows of columns) resemble arms reaching out to gather us up and draw us into the building, just as the Church urges us to join with the other members and be saved.
The Sistine Chapel Michelangelo considered himself to be a sculptor, so he was reluctant to accept the commission for Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But it’s hard to refuse a direct request from a pope, particularly one as forceful as Julius II who was nicknamed the Warrior Pope for leading an army against non-Christians in Italy. After a false start the artist fled to meditate and think about how to approach the project. He returned with an idea that would prove to be what many consider his greatest triumph. Working atop scaffolding he spent four years painting the ceiling with Biblical scenes and figures. The far wall was painted separately, some 25 years later. Slide B shows a portion of the ceiling as it looked up until the late 1980s. At that time it was cleaned to remove nearly 500 years of soot, smoke, dirt and a layer of wax applied to protect the painting which had turned yellow with age. May people were concerned that the cleansing would adversely affect the paintings, so we can imagine their horror when they saw the freshly cleansed paintings as they appear in Slides C&D. A
Sistine Chapel ceiling 1508-1512 by Michelangelo B
Sistine Chapel ceiling 1508-1512 by Michelangelo The color reproduction in this photo is just a bit brighter than the ceiling paintings actually appear, but the effect was shocking to the viewers nonetheless. They complained that the restoration crew had ruined Michelangelo’s work. But the contractors insisted that all they had done was clean off the accumulated grime and wax of nearly 500 years, revealing the paintings exactly as they appeared the day that Michelangelo set aside his brush. We must remember that this is an example of Italian Renaissance painting and one of the hallmarks of the style is bright, vivid colors. Also, the artist knew that the paintings on the very high ceiling would be seen from a distance and in a relatively dark room, so he wanted them to be bright and visible. To people accustomed to the way the painting used to look, the cleaned images do appear somewhat garish, almost “cartoonish.” But this is how Michelangelo rendered them. Slide D shows the entire ceiling as it now looks. Although the Sistine Chapel ceiling is now hailed as a masterpiece, we should bear in mind that when unveiled it was not universally loved. Many people criticized the images due to the nudity. One particularly outspoken critic was a Church member named Biagio da Cesena. We will see that name again. C
Sistine Chapel ceiling 1508-1512 by Michelangelo D
Creation of Adam This is one of the more famous and reproduced panels from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Supposedly the pope stared at this image for a long time before muttering “So that’s what God looks like.” Note that he didn’t ask, he assumed Michelangelo knew what God looked like. This image becomes the standard for representing the physical appearance of God. E
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden illustrates the sexism prevalent in European society in general and within Christianity specifically. The figure of Satan (in serpent guise) is depicted with the upper body of a woman. In Christian history women are blamed for much of human calamity. Is there anything noteworthy about the depiction of Eve? F
Last Judgment 1537 by Michelangelo Some 25 years after painting the ceiling Michelangelo returned to paint the wall with the Last Judgment . This is a subject avoided by many Christian artists as being too disturbing. Here we see Jesus enthroned, passing judgment on every person who ever lived determining whether they will be elevated to heaven where angels wait to greet them or if they were wicked and should be cast into Hell where demons pull them down to their doom.
Jesus Enthroned (detail of last Judgment) This detail shows Christ enthroned with Mary seated next to Him as He passes judgment. She seems to turn her head away as if in horror at seeing the souls being condemned to Hell.
St. Bartholomew (detail of Last Judgment) Just below and to the right of Jesus is the image of St. Bartholomew. Because of the horrible nature of his death (he was flayed, or skinned alive and his attribute is his own skin which he holds in his hand) he is often seen as the most pathetic and suffering of all the saints. (An attribute is an object that allows us to identify someone because it’s so closely associated with that person or group (such as an apple being an attribute for a teacher.)) Little wonder that this is the figure Michelangelo chose for his own likeness. Michelangelo was always a troubled and unhappy man. Part of the problem may have been (and most historians agree) that he was probably homosexual. As a devout Catholic this would have been a source of great angst and self-loathing. As he grew older, he became increasingly bitter and hostile. Several of Michelangelo’s later pieces feature self-portraits of him as a suffering and unhappy figure.
The Damned (detail of Last Judgment) This unfortunate soul is one of those condemned to Hell. As the figure sits looking remorseful a demon rises up and grasps the figure’s legs. A small “modesty drapery” covers the figure’s groin. A modesty drapery is usually a piece of fabric placed strategically to obscure the genitals. The problem is that Michelangelo never painted a modesty drapery in his life. About 200 years ago the pope at the time ordered an artist to add the drapery to Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel and cover the nudity. In the late 1980s the company doing the cleaning offered to remove the over-painting where possible and this proposal was approved by the Church. About 80% of the added painting was successfully removed including the drapery on this figure. See the next slide for a detail of this figure.
Imagine everyone’s surprise when the modesty drapery was removed and it was revealed that this figure is female. Certainly this appears at first glance to me a male figure with arms like an NFL linebacker. But it is indeed a woman. The fact is that most of Michelangelo’s females figures are masculine and heavily muscled. Recall Eve on the Sistine ceiling?
This is the figure of Dawn (1531) which is part of the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici and any resemblance between this sculpture and a real woman is purely coincidental. The figure is much too muscular for the typical female form and the breasts appear fake and glued on for effect. The same lack of understanding regarding the female form is evident in Night (1533, next slide). The problem may have been that Michelangelo simply had no idea what a naked woman looked like. He likely avoided any nude art or contact with undressed women (including models, the use of whom he clearly eschewed) in an effort not to remind himself that he was not attracted to them. Given the Church’s position on homosexuality and the way homosexuals were treated at that time Michelangelo may have been in a state of denial about his sexuality.
Not that muscular women are unknown in art. But of course Norman Rockwell was being symbolic when he gave Rosie her big, beefy arms. The rest of her still looks feminine - unlike Michelangelo’s female figures.
And there are some women who really are that muscular. But even they remain essentially feminine looking. These women prove that with hard work, dedication, and large amounts of steroids anything is possible.
Biagio da Cesena (detail of Last Judgment) In the bottom right corner of the Last Judgment Michelangelo has placed a portrait of a man doomed to Hell. He has sprouted donkey’s ears and a snake wraps itself around the man and bites him on the genitals. Not a flattering image. Many years after the painting was completed this figure was identified as a portrait of Biagio da Cesena, the churchman who strongly criticized Michelangelo’s earlier painting in the Sistine Chapel. Had Church officials recognized him at the time the artist would not have been allowed to ridicule a member of the Church in this fashion. But he wasn’t recognized until it was too late to do anything about the situation and Michelangelo had his revenge on his critic.
Florentine Pieta 1547-1555 by Michelangelo This unfinished piece was Michelangelo’s last sculpture. He actually left several unfinished pieces but it is thought that this was the last one he worked on. Jesus’ left leg is missing because the artist smashed it with a hammer when an observer casually noted that it was slightly sexually suggestive to have His bare leg draped over Mary’s thigh. After a lifetime of denying his own sexuality by trying to be asexual in his work, Michelangelo was horrified at the idea that someone saw something sexy in this piece and he tried to destroy it. He had to be restrained to prevent him from doing completely destroying it and the statue had to be removed from his sight to protect it. The male figure gazing down at Jesus is a self-portrait by the artist.
This small, wooden crucifix is quite unusual due to the totally nude figure of Jesus. Generally he is seen wearing a loin cloth or at least a modesty drapery but not in this case. It was owned by a small church in Italy for centuries and nobody knew the history of the piece beyond that while the church had it for hundreds of years, it had never been displayed for fear of offending people with Jesus’ nudity. Of course, the nudity could be explained as symbolic for Jesus’ purity and innocence, reflective of the fact that gave all in service to His God. But many people are unconcerned with symbolism and simply reject what they consider to be inappropriate. An Italian art historian identified the crucifix as possibly being by Michelangelo, which would make it worth many millions of dollars if true. Church records revealed that Michelangelo spent several weeks at the church and the priest’s diary notes that he donated a carved wooden crucifix to the church but that it would be impossible to put it on public display. This would suggest that this is, in fact, the very piece mentioned in the 500 year old diary.
Raphael Sanzio Raphael was not exactly a contemporary of Michelangelo’s being that he was a young man when he met the much older Michelangelo. Raphael idolized the older artist but of course Michelangelo had no use for the upstart youngster and tried to ignore him. Raphael was a productive painter during his short career (he died young) and one of his more famous paintings pays homage to several older, more established artists that he no doubt revered. The School of Athens (Slide A) shows the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and his student Aristotle walking and discussing the nature of the world. They are depicted in the center of the composition with Plato being an older man with a bald head and Aristotle a younger man with a dark beard. Plato points upwards, giving credit to God for all things while the more Humanist Aristotle gestures outwardly, suggesting that some things are Earthly, and people have some control over their destinies. The figure of Plato is a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. In the foreground we see the image of the philosopher Heraclitus, seated and looking forlorn with his head resting on his hand (Slide B). Raphael used Michelangelo as the model for this figure. The artist even put himself into the scene as the man second from the end on the lower right gazing back at the viewer (Slide C). In fact, the model for the woman in white two people to the left of the seated Michelangelo is the artist’s girlfriend.
School of Athens c. 1510 by Raphael Sanzio High Renaissance A
The Tempest 1505 by Giorgione Early Renaissance This image symbolizes the story of Adam and Eve. After their fall from grace, Adam and his descendents were sentenced to working for a living, and the male figure in the painting is seen leaning on some sort of tool to represent this concept. Eve’s punishment (passed on to all women) is “the sorrow of childbirth” and the woman in the painting looks pretty unhappy. The city in the background would represent Eden, from where they were expelled and the bridge (turned sideways) symbolizes that they cannot return to paradise. A bridge usually suggest access or escape, but when it’s turned as this one is it becomes a barricade barring access. The violent storm in the distance represents God in His anger. Just in case viewers had trouble interpreting the scene, the artist placed a small snake in the foreground to remind us of the story of Eve and the serpent. Note that some art historians dispute the presence of the snake saying it’s just a twig and perhaps this painting isn’t a reference to the Biblical story at all. Although considered Early Renaissance, it was painted near the end of the artist’s life, is very late for its period, and is located here to maintain better chronological order.
Death and the Maiden 1510 by Hans Baldung Grien Northern Renaissance Art was often used to illustrate warnings against sinful behavior. Here a woman gazes at her own reflection oblivious to the fact that the figure of Death is stalking her. Death holds aloft an hourglass, a common attribute for Death during the Renaissance which signifies that your time (and thusly your life) was running out. Later artists would change Death’s attribute to the scythe, the large, curved blade on a long handle. This painting warns us against the sin of vanity, suggesting that our lives can slip away as we waste time on superficial nonsense like our physical beauty. The older woman lunging in from the left attempting to ward of Death is actually the woman as her older self, trying to correct the mistakes of her youth. The mirror is a convex mirror, a symbol for God meaning that He sees what you are doing and knows of your sins.
The Ambassadors 1533 by Hans Holbein the Younger Northern Renaissance The 16 th century was a time of great upheaval in Europe. The Catholic Church was under pressure from within by Martin Luther who had started the Protestant Reformation in response to excesses and abuses he saw in the Catholic Church and from external forces such as the rise in Humanism. Humanists advocated for education and then, as now, when people become educated they are more likely to lose religious faith. The Church’s response to this was to oppose education, telling people they were condemning their children to Hell by teaching them to read and write. This Church/Humanist conflict is illustrated in this painting. A representative of the king holds a telescope while a table bears books, musical instruments and other devices associated with the arts and sciences. The priest stands in conflict with these notions and the artist has expressed his opinion by placing an elongated skull on the floor. This symbolizes the death of the soul should one become involved with humanist ideas.
The wealthy have always enjoyed rare and beautiful art. Even common items used around the house can be extravagant as demonstrated by the Saltcellar of Francis I (King of France). This is a container for holding salt and pepper on the table. It is made of gold with semi-precious stones. We see Neptune (or Poseidon as he’s called in Greek mythology) reclining as he faces the Earth goddess figure (sometimes called Galatea). His side features a boat-shaped receptacle for holding salt. Her side has a building that contains the pepper. The figures are nude and the general feeling of the piece is certainly one of being sexually suggestive. Such things have always been popular with wealthy patrons and this piece does not disappoint the seeker of the risqué.. This piece was stolen several years ago and a hefty reward (maybe a couple million dollars) would be paid for its return. Keep your eyes open. Saltcellar of Francis I c. 1540 by Benvenuto Cellini Slides A & B
Saltcellar of Francis I c. 1540 Benvenuto Cellini High Renaissance A
The Venus of Urbino 1538 by Titian High Renaissance This painting depicts a courtesan relaxing her apartment. In European society at this time wealthy families would arrange marriages for the first and perhaps second born children. These arrangements would be made for political or economic gain with little concern for the happiness of the marriage. Many times the couple would actually love each other and have a normal relationship. But often they did not find bliss in their marriage and would seek alternative means to find fulfillment. Gentlemen could take a mistress (the courtesan) and would often pay the rent and other support for her in exchange for her companionship. Don’t think of these women as prostitutes because these relationships went much deeper than just sex. The courtesan was frequently the woman whom the gentleman would have married had he been given the choice. Sometimes they lived together, leaving the wife to occupy the family home, and very often any children would be raised by the mistress. Children born out of wedlock had legal standing for inheritance so the wife would insist that no children could be produced with the courtesan until she, the wife, delivered the first male child as heir. Understand that these relationships were not secret. The wife and family knew of the mistress, and the gentleman and his courtesan would go out in public together. This is the way it was in aristocratic European society. So this courtesan living the city-state of Urbino, Italy had this painting done as a gift to her gentleman. Her nudity and suggestive pose (Slide B, left side) tells him that she is always available for him and awaits his passion whenever he chooses to visit. The two servants rummaging in the storage boxes in the background (Slide B, right side) tell the viewer that she has servants, meaning she doesn’t do the mundane chores of the household. The dog sleeping on the couch symbolizes her loyalty and faithfulness to her gentleman. The artist may have incorporated a couple of his own opinions into the scene. The couch is covered with a white sheet. White represents purity and innocence. But certainly that’s not the nature of this relationship as evidenced by the red cushions revealed by pulling back the corner of the sheet. The red symbolizes the passion in the relationship. The bouquet of flowers the woman holds may be another personal commentary by the artist. The flowers are less than perfect, slightly wilted, with one having dropped from the bunch. The artist might be saying that this sort of relationship is also less than perfect.
Venus of Urbino 1538 by Titian A
The Allegory of Lust 1545 Agnolo di Cosimo aka Bronzino This painting almost beats the viewer over the head with the symbolism displayed. The lovers have the secret of their affair revealed by Father Time who throws back the curtain of deceit which up until now had concealed their activities. The betrayed husband reacts in horror to our left. The meaning of the painting is clear: time reveals all secrets. You can’t keep it quiet forever.
Hercules & Omphale 1575 by Bartholomeus Spranger Mannerism Throughout the Renaissance art was used to illustrate social and religious messages. Painting and sculpture were used by kings and the Church to convey ideas they wanted people to adopt. The kings wanted to spread messages of patriotism while the Church presented warnings against sinful behavior. The following slides are good examples of art containing warnings against sin. In this painting we see a sad looking Hercules (or Herakles in Greek mythology). His paramour, Omphale, bears his lion skin and club while Hercules is garbed in a woman’s dress and holds a spindle. The spindle was used for making thread in making cloth and was associated with women. Indeed. It becomes a symbol for homemakers. The message in this painting is that Hercules has been ruined by his lust and has traded places with the woman, surrendering his manhood in the process. God’s displeasure at this turn of events is evidenced by the angel looking down on them with a scowl on his face. Meanwhile, Omphale seems quite pleased with herself.
In this painting we see an elderly man attempting to seduce a much younger woman. The man’s fine clothing identifies him as a very rich man. As he concentrates on fulfilling his lustful ambitions, he fails to notice that the woman is helping herself to the contents of his purse (pockets hadn’t been invented yet and men wore a cloth or leather purse on their belts to carry money). The message is that by giving in to lust men ran the risk of losing their money and being played for a fool by devious women. A more subtle message is seen in the appearance of the purse. It seems to be intended to resemble a man’s testicles. Not only is the harlot helping herself to his money, she is also stealing his manhood. This was a continuing theme from the Church concerning pre- or extramarital sex. Indulging in such behavior didn’t make you a man, it made you a fool and you actually surrendered your manhood with such foolish behavior.
The Adoring Husband 1530 Lucas Cranach the Elder Cranach’s distrust of women also extended to those who were married. The title of this painting clearly states we are seeing a married couple yet the action is similar to the previous slide depicting immoral premarital sex. Here it is the husband who is convinced that he is the love of the woman’s life when in reality (according to Cranach) all she wants is his money. Just like the harlot seen previously the wife helps herself to the unsuspecting man’s purse.
Amorous Old Woman and Young Man 1520 Cranach the Elder Here the artist depicts a similar theme with the gender roles reversed. In this case an old woman seems to be paying a young man for his romantic attentions. At least she appears to be willingly paying… even happily from her facial expression… rather than having her purse picked as seen in some of the other paintings.
Domestic Scene c.1660 Gerrit van Battem Renaissance artists were not shy about criticizing those who were behaving badly. Or at least the folks they believed were behaving badly. The title tells us we are seeing peasant workers. The woman appears to be the household cook. A man, also of peasant class who we may assume is interested in attracting the woman’s attention, approaches her and seems to be temping her with a lovely slice of ham. The grin on his face betrays his unsavory intentions. He hopes to impress the woman with this gift so that she will be receptive to his amorous advances. The cook gazes at the offered meat longingly, and the fact that she is not immediately rejecting his suggestion indicates that the gentleman caller may see his dream of a romantic rendezvous realized. The painting is not at all flattering to the couple depicted. Indeed, it may be an indictment of the entire peasant class as base, crude, and little more than prostitutes in the opinion of the aristocracy who don’t take into consideration that peasants led awful lives of deprivation. The reason the man can tempt the woman with a slice of ham is that she is hungry. Peasants were often hungry… and cold… and without hope. This would be of little concern to many aristocrats looking for entertaining subject matter for their art that also reinforced the negative stereotypical opinions the rich had of the poor..
The Monk and the Nun 1591 Cornelis van Haarlem Around the turn of the 17 th century was a time of great turmoil in the Church. Up until then the Church that would evolve into the Roman Catholic Church had no competition, being the only Christian religion in operation. With so much power and wealth, it’s not hard to understand that some members of the Church exploited their positions, violated their bows, and in general sought to satisfy their own needs and desires rather than serve God and the people. Corruption was rampant within the Church. Popes bribed their way into office, priests ignored their vow of celibacy and kept mistresses with whom they often raised children, and in general the clergy was not acting in a Godly fashion. This painting seems to be a condemnation of lustful behavior by clergy. The rich foods and luxurious glassware is at odds with the vow of poverty taken by Catholic priests. This painting probably was not meant for public display for that would bring the wrath of the Church down on the artist. Moe likely it was commissioned by a wealthy man who wanted to poke fun at the carnal antics of unworthy clergy.
Aristotle & Phyllis 1513 by Hans Balding Grien Northern Renaissance Despite his great intellect even Aristotle fell victim to the wiles of a female and is shown being ridden like a donkey by the nude woman who has seduced him and made him her fool. Hercules was a powerful man due to his great physical strength. The rich man was powerful by virtue of his great wealth. Aristotle’s intellect made him a powerful man. Yet all three were brought down by a woman. This was the message from the Church regarding illicit sex. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, how rich you are, or how smart you are, a woman can bring you to ruin and she will use sex to do it. So avoid the temptation for sex outside of marriage..
The next slide requires a bit more explanation. This is a print. Printmaking became popular during the Renaissance and it had a profound effect on art. Paintings and sculpture were very expensive and as such were reserved for the wealthy, or the king (state or government), and the Church. These were the entities with the financial resources to purchase art. Average working people could never afford to buy original art. A single painting could easily cost several years’ income for a farmer or laborer. But printmaking changed everything. Now an artist could make many… almost unlimited… copies of a piece and the best part of mass production is that it lowers the price of the individual units. Working people could afford to buy a print and even though most were monochromatic (literally “one color” although that actually means black & white) and they were not one of a kind originals it allowed them for the first time to become art patrons. Indeed, working people didn’t even need to buy prints. Given their low cost, kings would buy them by the box load to hand out to the population. Of course, the prints being freely distributed had to contain patriotic messages that could be interpreted as encouragement to support the king. The Church made the kings look like cheapskates when it came to giving away prints. Priests would hand out boxes and boxes of prints to members of the congregation as they left after Sunday service. Obviously these prints would contain religious messages. In its continuing campaign against sex, the print seen in the next slide would have been a powerful deterrent aimed at the young men in the congregation. This image shows a satyr being castrated by a nymph. Both were creatures from Greek mythology but the artist has rendered them as slightly ambiguous so that the viewer sees them as human. Satyrs were disciples of Dionysus and as such loved to drink wine and pursue women for the purpose of sex. Equally lustful were the nymphs, female followers of Dionysus, with the main difference being that they killed their lovers before moving on to their next victim whereas the Satyrs just wanted to have sex and were not murderous. The word nymph is the root for nymphomania. When a satyr and a nymph happened to encounter one another in the forest, it must have been magic. Of course, the nymph would kill the satyr…eventually (he would have more staying power than a human man). In this print the satyr is helpless, seduced by the nymph. An untied cord drapes his wrists symbolizing his being bound by his own lust. The cord isn’t even knotted and he could pull free if he had the moral strength to do so, but he can’t as his lust is too strong and holds him hostage. This print would have been handed out to young men and teenagers to scare them away from sex before marriage. The horrifying effect of this image on a young and impressionable mind can be imagined.
Nymph Mutilating a Satyr c. 1534
Angry Wife c. 1503 by Israhel van Meckenem Intended for the married men in the congregation, this print warns against the sin of adultery. The husband has come home to a beating by his enraged wife. She wields a spindle (the symbol of women in the home) to good effect in administering punishment to her wayward spouse. There are three clues as to the nature of his transgression. First of all, he has returned home minus his pants. This is always a serious indication of sexual infidelity. Secondly, the dog seen in the extreme foreground is upset and agitated, signifying that there are problems with the faithfulness in this marriage. Lastly, the mythical creature soaring over the cheating husband’s head is a cockatrice, a symbol for illicit and adulterous sex. The wife not only grabs her husband’s wrist in a demonstration of her control over him, but she also stands upon his foot, holding him in place while she delivers the much deserved trouncing and further illustrating her superiority over him.
Organ Player and his Wife c. 1500 by van Meckenem The previous few slides have presented warnings against sin. This one offers encouragement for righteous behavior. The title tells us we are seeing a married couple. They cooperate to make beautiful music with the organ. That’s what a marriage should be, equal partners working together. The bed in the next room symbolizes sex but in this case it’s a marriage bed, meaning the Church approves of their sex life. The dog in the scene is so relaxed he is nearly falling asleep. Certainly no problems with the fidelity in this relationship.
Diane de Poitiers 1571 by François Clouet Mannerism Diane de Poitiers was a very famous woman in the Court of Henry II. Born in 1499 she was married at 15 to a man of royal blood who was 39 years older than her. He died when she was 32 and she wore black the rest of her life in mourning. It wasn’t all bad, however, as her late husband left her independently wealthy. History notes that she became a courtesan to King Henry II but it’s possible she had other lovers as well. This painting at first appears to be an intimate portrait done for a husband (and indeed, she is known to have posed for such paintings on several occasions) but this painting was done four years after her death. Perhaps a former boyfriend had it done to remember her? The significance of the children in the composition is unknown. Diane had two daughters with her husband but the elder child appears to be a boy.
Diane de Poitiers 1590 by Unknown master Mannerism This is another portrait of Diane made even later than the previous one. The artist depicts her as a very young woman. The name of the artist is not known nor is the identity of the patron who commissioned the painting. Note the mirror on the dressing table. The base includes nude figures of a man and woman embracing. Such an erotic piece would have been popular amongst the wealthy aristocratic class and its presence suggests a sexually adventurous side to the model. Diane seems to have removed a ring and is placing in a box. Could this be her wedding ring, symbolizing that she had extramarital affairs and perhaps one of these former lovers commissioned this painting as a memento?
Diana at her Bath 1590 by Unknown master Mannerism This is the same model (with her name slightly altered to the name of the Greek goddess) also painted many years after her death by an unnamed artist. But this version shows Diane as much older. Once again we see her putting her ring into a jewelry box implying “While I am with you, I am not married.” The mirror with the nude figures is present as in the other painting, but differs a bit in detail. Maybe in both cases the patron was describing the mirror from memory to the respective artists (suggesting that both men had been in her bedroom) thus explaining the slight variation in the two versions? The existence of these three paintings, along with at least four other nude portraits known to have been done while she lived, suggests that she was a very active and popular woman.
The portrait in the next slide is even more enigmatic than the three paintings of Diane de Poitiers. It is assumed to depict Gabrielle d'Estrées , who was mistress to King Henry IV of France (even though both were married to other people at the time). The identities of the artist and the patron are not known. The painting is both sexually suggestive and maternal. It is thought that Gabrielle was pregnant at the time the painting was done, and her “sister” (not known if actually related or just a close friend) pinching her nipple could refer to her impending motherhood rather than be taken as some sort of sexual signal. It’s possible that the painting was intended to inform the gentleman who received it that the two ladies were interested in having a “threesome.” Or, if Gabrielle was pregnant this may have been an invitation for her husband (or lover) to amuse himself with her “sister” while she was unavailable for sex. Note that Gabrielle has removed her ring, perhaps suggesting that her husband may forego the wedding vows with her permission. Gabrielle was deeply involved in French politics and planned to marry Henry in 1599 after both had secured annulments of their previous marriages. But she died that year (along with her baby) at the age of only 28 after suffering complications with her fourth pregnancy.
Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters 1595 by Unknown master Mannerism
Admiral Andrea Doria as Neptune 1530 Agnolo Bronzino Often wealthy and influential patrons would commission portraits of themselves as historic of mythical figures. Apparently being an admiral wasn’t enough for Doria and he insisted on being portrayed as the god of the sea.
Portrait of a Young Woman 1506 Giorgione Portraits of women that are sexually suggestive or that include partial nudity are not uncommon. Often these paintings were done as gifts to husbands or boyfriends and perhaps sometimes the women simply wanted to look “sexy.”
The Baroque Period Late 16 th Through 17 th Centuries.
Louis XIV 1701 Hyacinthe Rigaud The story of Louis XIV is an interesting one. Trying to become king of France back then was a dangerous undertaking. Many of those aspiring to the throne were murdered by competitors for the crown. Louis was not first in line for the throne, or even second. But his mother worried that he would be killed in the power struggle so she dressed him as a girl and taught him to behave effeminately. She reasoned that if he seemed unmanly and non-aggressive he would not be seen by contenders for the crown as a serious threat and would ignore him. Her ploy worked and he survived as others killed each other off in the power struggle until Louis ascended the throne. This portrait suggests he never lost the effete manner his mother taught him. By the way, the French often refer to the Baroque Period as “Louis XIV” style. They can sometimes be a little self-centered.
Maiden and the Unicorn c. 1602 Domenichino Zampieri I’m sure I included this painting for a reason. There must have been something I wanted to say about it. But for the life of me I can’t recall what it might have been. If it comes back to me I’ll let you know.
St. Matthew and the Angel 1603 by Michelangelo Caravaggio Baroque Caravaggio was a tremendously talented artist whose personal behavior kept him in trouble most of his short life. He had a violent temper and was frequently involved in fistfights and other altercations. He once killed a man in a fight and had to flee the city. Some historians believe he was homosexual while others contend that he was actually a pedophile, preying on poor and even homeless boys he would lure to his house. Some of the models for his paintings seem to be these boys he was abusing, such as the angel in this painting. Caravaggio was protected by a powerful family that included high ranking members of the Church. They wanted the artist to keep painting so they gave him legal protection when he found himself afoul of the law, which happened quite frequently. Caravaggio would get arrested and a priest and a lawyer would be dispatched to spring him from police custody. Caravaggio died suddenly and under mysterious circumstances in his late 30s. Was he a victim of disease or was he murdered in retribution for one of many violent acts? Nobody knows for sure. This painting was rejected because St. Matthew’s bare foot and leg were dirty and unkempt looking. This offended the sensibilities of the Churchmen. Apparently the sexually abused boy appearing as an angel didn’t bother them but a dirty foot did.
Calling of St. Matthew 1602 by Caravaggio Baroque This painting depicts Jesus and John the Evangelist approaching Matthew to call him into the service of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector and we see him and his party in a tavern relaxing after a long, hard day of stealing people’s money… er, collecting taxes. Jesus and John have entered and Jesus points to Matthew and calls his name. The Bible states that Matthew reacted with surprise at the sound of his own name. Some authors suggest that the man seen at the far left of the table, with his head bent down, is Matthew. But this cannot be correct as Matthew “reacted with surprise” and this man isn’t reacting at all (slide B). The bearded man seated in the middle of the five figures at the table is the one who appears to be reacting with surprise (slide C). His eyebrows are raised and indeed he points to himself as if asking “Who, me?” in response to hearing his name. The symbolism used in this figure also tells us that this is Matthew. Under the table we can see Matthew’s legs (he is wearing tights as was the fashion for men at the time). Legs in art can symbolize travel (seems obvious) and as we recall anything that symbolizes travel can also be used to represent transition. Matthew’s big, beefy legs suggest that he is embarking on a long journey, and that he will make some dramatic changes in his life. The other man does convey an important message to us even if he isn’t Matthew. He is shown counting coins on the table. He is so intent on this activity that he is oblivious to everything that is happening. This is a warning against greed. The obsession with wealth can make us blind to all else in the world. Other symbolic representations in the painting would include the open window, symbolizing that Matthew joined Jesus of his own free will. The sunlight coming through the open door symbolizes the presence of God and His approval. The man with his back to us demonstrates two symbolic concepts. He wears a sword, a common symbol for Earthly or secular power. But the sword has shifted around to the man’s back, meaning that he has literally turned his back on Earthly power even as he leans towards Jesus, ready to embrace His power. To go with Jesus he would have to abandon his worldly power and he seems quite ready to do so (slide D). Also note the young man seated to the right of Matthew. The model for this figure may have been one of the boys Caravaggio is suspected of abusing. Slide E is another painting of St Matthew by another artist who sure seems to have the same vision of Matthew’s appearance if the bearded figure in Slide A is indeed him.
Calling of St. Matthew 1602 by Caravaggio A
Detail of man counting money B
Detail of Matthew C
Detail of man with sword D
Calling of St. Matthew 1621 Hendrick Terbugghen E
Conversion of St. Paul 1600 by Caravaggio Baroque The story of Paul involves him falling or being thrown from a horse. Here we see Paul lying on the ground is a position that implies submission. But to whom did Paul submit? It was Jesus, of course, and the golden horse looming over Paul is likely meant to symbolize Him. A horse is not a common symbol for Jesus, but there’s no reason why it can’t be done. The horse holds one hoof above Paul in a threatening gesture, almost saying “You had better submit to my will.” If the horse is Jesus then the old man must be God. He grasps the bridle suggesting that He is in control. Who controls Jesus? None other than God, Himself. Note that the man is forcing the horse’s head down, making the animal appear to be bowing to Him. Again, to whom does Jesus bow? Paul’s sword as come off his belt and lays discarded. Just as we saw in the Calling of St. Matthew the sword symbolizes Earthly power and must be cast aside in order to follow Jesus. This painting caused a stir when first shown to Church patrons. They recognized the horse as being the center of attention and demanded to know if the artist intended him to be Jesus and the stableman God. Caravaggio denied these interpretations but perhaps they did not believe him. The painting was rejected as it apparently offended the Churchmen to have Jesus and God depicted thusly.
The story of Judith and Holofernes is a popular one for Baroque painters. Holofernes commanded an army that was set to attack the city where Judith lived. Deciding that she needed to do something she went with her servant to the enemy camp and asked to see the general. She offered sex in exchange for sparing her and her house in the attack planned for the next day and he foolishly accepted her offer. According to the story, he got drunk and after having sex he fell asleep. Judith took his own sword and decapitated him. She placed his severed head in a sack and she and her maid returned home. The next morning the officers came looking for Holofernes and found his headless body. Not wanting to upset the already superstitious soldiers, they made excuses for his absence and began the assault on the city. As the men marched towards the city gates, Judith appeared holding the sack. She drew out the general’s head and showed it to the soldiers. Fearing they were confronted with witchcraft, the army refused orders to attack and withdrew. Judith saved her city, prevented a war, and spared many lives. But to do it she became an adulterer and a murderer. Back then the Church would make allowances for sins committed for a greater good so Judith is generally hailed as a hero. The moral of this story is a warning to men to avoid illicit sex. The warning is that a woman can bring you down and destroy you no matter how powerful you may be. In Caravaggio’s painting Judith kills Holofernes as the maid stands ready with the sack. The sword, as usual, is the power symbol and in this case Judith has taken Holfernes’ power and used it against him. Judith & Holofernes 1598 by Caravaggio Baroque
Judith & Holofernes 1598 by Caravaggio Baroque
Judith Beheading Holofernes 1610 by Cornelius Galle the Elder Baroque Another version of the Judith story in which Holofernes is depicted as even more muscular and powerful than Caravaggio’s rendering of him. Judith looks cold and detached as she saws off the general’s head, suggesting that the artist found women to be cold and calculating.
Judith Slaying Holofernes 1629 by Artemisia Gentileschi Barogue This version of the story differs a little from the two previous paintings. The maid is younger, the same age as Judith (and this would likely be historically correct) and she helps Judith overcome Holofernes rather than stand by passively as her mistress does all the work. Artemisia Gentileschi was a woman and we are seeing the female perspective in this painting. It’s a known fact that women are more likely to cooperate than are men. Note that the general is a normal looking man, not the hulking monster with huge muscles that male artists tend to depict. Finally, the sword handle is obviously phallic, representing Holofernes’ sexual power, which many men psychologically connect to their feelings of power and strength in general. The symbolism is that Judith used sex to take Holfernes’ power, as well as his life.
Artemisia Gentileschi Artemisia Gentileschi has become an icon to many feminists. She is perhaps the first woman artist in Europe to achieve fame and success. Other aspects of her life make her interesting to feminists. The daughter of a painter (Orazio Gentileschi), Artemisia sought another teacher besides her father to expand her talent. The male artists were reluctant to accept her as student fearing there would be temptation of sexual contact. Finally Agostino Tassi agreed to teach her. At this point the story diverges into differing accounts of what happened between Artemisia and Tassi. Artemisia claimed that Tassi raped her. Some dispute this claim noting that their affair went on for many months and asking why she would continue such a long affair with a man who had raped her. The fact that she had posed nude, both in self-portraits she painted and for her father, was cited by some people as evidence that she was less morally upright than she claimed to be. But she was apparently tortured by Church investigators and it would have been very bad for her to admit to a consensual affair so she had reason to lie. This doesn’t prove she lied, only that she did have good cause to not admit to an affair if it wasn’t rape. Tassi asserted that not only did Artemisia willingly have sex with him, but that she was not a virgin when their affair started. An unmarried woman who had willingly surrendered her virginity violated Church law and was subject to punishment at this time. In the end Tassi was convicted of rape and spent one year in prison. Strangely, Artemisia’s father welcomed Tassi back into family friendship not long after his release from jail. Meanwhile, Artemisia was married off immediately after the trial in what some historians consider a marriage of convenience. It is not at all clear that she spent much time with her husband and may have moved out on her own very shortly after the wedding. She is thought to have had several children but was listed in the city directory as a single woman. It seems that the artist did bear some grudge against Tassi. In her painting Judith Slaying Holofernes , the image of Judith is a self-portrait of Artemisia while Holofernes is actually a portrait of Tassi. Perhaps Artemisia sought revenge in her painting?
Judith and Maidservant… 1625 by Artemisia Gentileschi Baroque Similar to the other version by the same artist, this painting includes one symbolic representation that clearly stands out. The single lighted candle symbolizing Jesus represents His presence and approval of Judith’s actions. Perhaps the artist was implying that Jesus was with her as well.
Susanna and the Elders 1610 by Artemisia Gentileschi Baroque Artemisia drew criticism from some of her contemporaries for her willingness to use herself as a nude model for some of her painted figures as well as for posing nude for her father. Some cite this as evidence of her loose morals and immodesty.
Charles I Hunting 1635 by Anthony van Dyck Baroque It’s good to be the king, as somebody once noted. There are numerous symbolic representations present in this painting. The sword is the traditional power symbol. The big floppy hat could symbolize leadership or an authoritarian role. The horse is also a status symbol. Note how the two servants seem to go out of their way to avoid looking at he king. Even the horse appears to be bowing to him. But the storm on the horizon might be warning of trouble coming. In deed many European monarchies began encountering problems during the 17 th and 18 th centuries; many were toppled and others were forced to submit to reforms benefiting the working class.
Water Seller of Seville c. 1620 by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez Baroque It’s difficult for us living in the 21 st century and in the United States to imagine the two-tiered social system in place throughout Europe for hundreds and hundreds of years. There were two social classes, the aristocrats and the peasants. The former were “high born” with family names that granted an elite position. These were the educated, the land owners, the wealthy. They were also the power structure, the kings, and lawmakers. There were two sets of laws, one for the aristocratic class and another for the peasantry. Many aristocrats felt no need to be even civil to peasants, and youngsters would often behave the worst towards them. The notion of an aristocratic youngster being respectful towards any peasant, even an adult, was a foreign concept to most wealthy Europeans. With this painting we see something we have not seen previously. A poor person in art. Since it was the rich, the state, and the Church buying art we don’t see poor people as subject matter until about this time. They are generally treated in two very difference fashions. They are either depicted as noble and worthy of compassion and fair treatment or they are ridiculed and even demonized. In this scene the aristocratic teenager looks up to the peasant man, as if offering respect as he buys a drink of water on the street. The man in the shadows we assume to be the boy’s father looks on without reaction, suggesting that he approves of his son’s behavior. The artist is saying that poor people are deserving of some small amount of respect. We would expect a youngster to be respectful of a grown man, but back then it rarely happened between young aristocrats and older peasants.
The painting seen in the next slide seems to support the idea of poor working people being benign. There is nothing immediately threatening about the family of their modest home. Dad sits at the table carving a loaf of bread. Grandma is seated at the left holding a jug and a glass of wine. The two elements would suggest The Eucharist, the ritual consumption of bread and wine to commemorate the life of Jesus. Also note the girl sitting near the fireplace who bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary. If she is Mary, then surely the boy seen at the far left, barely visible silhouetted against the light from the fireplace, must be Jesus. The artists is saying that not only are these people good Christians, but Jesus and Mary find them worthy enough to visit their home. This would be a slap in the face to socially biased aristocrats who wouldn’t normally give these people the time of day. Peasant Family 1642 by Louis Le Nain
Peasant Family 1642 by Louis Le Nain Baroque
Malle Babbe c. 1650 by Frans Hals Baroque This is an example of the other way peasants were treated in art in the 17 th century. This peasant woman is in a tavern, evidenced by the beer stein she holds. It’s a very large stein, implying that she is a heavy drinker. It appears that this may not be her first drink of the evening. She looks somewhat bleary and haggard, suggesting that is in fact intoxicated. The owl on her shoulder, being nocturnal, was associated with the sinister and the dangerous. Owls were associated with witches and witchcraft and were not seen as positive elements. The viewer gets the idea that she is being loud and obnoxious in public. This sort of behavior would horrify the typical aristocratic lady or gentleman. Their primary concern was to maintain that aloof, always in control façade they wore in public. They never raised their voices or got excited no matter what was happening. This painting illustrates the aristocratic notion of peasants exhibiting uncouth behavior. This painting holds this woman, and thusly all peasants, up to ridicule and reinforces the elitist and prejudicial beliefs of the aristocratic class towards the poor.
The Idle Servant 1655 Nicolaes Maes Paintings often ridiculed the poor peasantry to entertain the wealthy aristocratic class. Rich people enjoyed having art that depicted the poor in ways that reinforced all the old stereotypical opinions about how they were lazy, dirty, dishonest, etc. In this image the peasant woman is wasting the day away instead of doing her chores and the older woman expresses her disgust with such laziness. In the following slide, peasants are seen in a tavern, looking disheveled as they lounge about in various stages of drunkenness. Instead of working hard, they are lazy, drunken bums. This was the prevailing opinion of the poor held by the aristocrats. The fact that society, and the laws of the land, discriminated against the peasants and kept them poor and powerless was not taken into consideration with such paintings.
Peasants in the Tavern 1640, Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp
In the Tavern c. 1630 Adriaen Brouwer As previously mentioned artists frequently depicted peasants in less than flattering ways, often to reinforce the old stereotypical notions that the wealthy aristocratic classes held regarding the poor. In this painting some peasants are seen drinking in a tavern. This is a fairly common theme for paintings meant to insult the poor, showing them as drunken louts wasting their money and lives on booze, but this one includes an added element. Note the man in blue facing away from the viewer. His brightly colored garb draws our attention and we can’t help notice the knife he wears casually stuck in the back of his belt. The curved blade makes the weapon even more menacing and the implication is clear; peasants are dangerous and will stick a knife in you as soon as look at you. The next slide is another tavern scene. Here we see armed peasants drinking and the young woman in the center seems to be putting her hand on the seated man’s phallic-looking dagger even as she is in turn groped by the man beside her. The message appears to be that these people are not only dangerous drunkards but are also promiscuous and prone to overt pubic displays of wanton sexuality. This would be horrifying to the polite, gentile aristocrats who kept such behavior behind closed doors.
Peasants by the Hearth c. 1560 Pieter Aertsen
The Satyr and the Peasant Family c. 1640 Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp The satyr is a creature from Greek mythology associated with lewdness, insatiable sexual appetite, and surrendering to the baser instincts. All of these would be unacceptable to the aristocrats and that’s why they were so quick to assign these qualities to the peasants. Here we see what at first appears to be a respectable peasant family. But joining them at the table is a satyr, suggesting that even decent looking peasants were prone to wanton, lustful behavior.
Satyr at the Peasant's House 1620 Jacob Jordaens In a repetition of the theme seen in the previous painting, here a satyr seems to be a part of the peasant family. Not only has this symbol of uncontrolled sex been included in the scene, but farm animals wander through the house, suggesting that the residents are little better than animals, themselves.
Still Life with Lobster 1653 Abraham van Beyeren Nobody is immune from criticism in art. Since rich people bought the art it is understandable that it is generally poor people who are targeted by artists for unflattering commentary. But the wealthy were sometimes the subject of critical art, too. These paintings showing rich and expensive food items and deluxe place settings are sometimes called vanitas paintings. They may refer to the rich and opulent lifestyles of the aristocrats but looking closely we often see suggestions that all is not right. At times the fine crystal is cracked, or the elegant goblet is overturned. This may be saying that this lifestyle is not perfect (nor are those living it). In the following slide the antics of some drunken aristocratic young men cavorting in a brothel are detailed in a painting meant to condemn such activities. In truth, the wealthy young men pictured may not even realize that the work is intended as criticism and may buy the painting finding the subject entertaining.
Brothel Scene 1630s, Nicolaus Knüpfer
Joseph the Carpenter 1645 by George de la Tour Baroque If the man is Joseph then certainly the boy is Jesus. Indeed, He holds His own symbol, the lighted candle. This is most unusual, but the artist wanted every viewer to readily identify the child. It appears that Joseph has asked his son to help him with a project well into the evening hours. Being the dutiful son, Jesus agrees without argument to His father’s request. The message in this painting is to recall one of the ten Commandments; Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. Jesus would not be exempt from God’s law. In fact He would be held to a higher standard, and would be expected to set an example for the world to follow.
The Blinding of Samson is Rembrandt van Rijn’s rendering of the story of Samson’s fall from grace. The whole story of Samson and Delilah is a symbolic allegory for sin and redemption. Although Samson’s strength was due to his long hair, it was his faith in God that made him strong. When he lost that faith by becoming sinful with the temptress Delilah he lost his strength and it didn’t return until he repented and begged forgiveness. In the painting Samson is being dragged out of the light of God’s love and into the darkness of sin. He is blinded, representing how he no longer sees God or the righteous path, and is now lost in darkness. The chains being placed on his wrists symbolize the chains of lust and sin that bind him. Blinding of Samson 1636 by Rembrandt van Rijn Baroque
Blinding of Samson 1636 by Rembrandt van Rijn
The Nightwatch 1642 by Rembrandt Baroque One of the artist’s most famous works, The Night Watch (Slide A) was originally titled The Company of Captain Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch. You can understand why the title was shortened. The painting was also shortened. It’s a very large canvas, now approximately 12’ x 14” in size. It used to be bigger. Incredibility, in 1715 several feet of canvas was trimmed from all four sides to make it fit the exhibition space in the Amsterdam town hall. We can only wonder at a thought process that culminates with the decision to cut several feet from a Rembrandt painting. Slide B shows a copy of the original in its original configuration. The artist put his own image in the composition. Directly above the captain’s black hat can be seen a partial face. This Rembrandt’s self-portrait. The image of the young girl is ghostly and out of context with the rest of the subject matter. It is known that Rembrandt lost a young daughter about the time this painting was done and he may have included a tribute to her in the form of the ethereal looking girl.
The Nightwatch 1642 by Rembrandt A
The Company of Captain Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch c. 1642 Gerrit Lundens (after Rembrandt) B
Bacchus with Nymphs and Cupid 1660 Caesar van Everdingen Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and drunken orgies. Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and he is associated with sex, love and romance. The nymphs symbolized wild, unbridled sexuality (as did the satyr also seen in the painting) and the presence of all these figures together must surely refer to a wild party of the highest order. The instructor couldn’t help notice the resemblance between the figure of Bacchus and a certain former U.S. president from Arkansas who was famous for his wild and crazy behavior.. Coincidence or a prophecy?