Sacred and Profane Love

Sacred and Profane Love

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sacred and Profane Love, History and collaboration: The Widener Orpheus: Faunus and the Venus Marina.


Section 1. The origin of the Sacred and Profane Love and the likely development through collaboration passing from Giovanni Bellini to Giorgione, and finally Titian, but allows Giorgione the major iconographic authorship. A brief overview of the Sacred and Profane Love's programme is presented.

Section 2. Collaboration in Giorgione's Orpheus and in the oeuvre of Giorgione: The Conch shell was first published here in 2012 as 'Musings on the Widner Orpheus' and is pretty much as it was delivered, The aim of the post was to expand upon the late Wendy Stedman Sheard's hypothesis of collaboration within Giorgione's Orpheus (known as the 'Widener' Orpheus) and argue that the Sacred and Profane Love is arguably the missing 'una nocte' and the result of a collaboration begun in the studio of Bellini. Stedman Sheard's essay also presented an opportunity to introduce the myth of Venus Marina as the point or 'lesson' of the Orpheus.

Section 3. Geometry: Venus and the Pentagram. The association of the Roman Venus with geometric astronomy and the later distinction between the Roman Venus and the sea-born myth of the Greek Aphrodite,

Section 4. Mythology: The allegory of Venus Marina (the sea born).






Section 1. The origin of the Sacred and Profane Love
The late Wendy Stedman Sheard co-edited a collection of articles published as 'Collaboration in Renaissance Art' (1978). Agreeing with the collaborative possibilities surrounding the Sacred and Profane Love put forward by Sheard this essay further suggests that an invenzione given to Giovanni Bellini (on the behalf of Isabella d'Este in 1506) for Bellini to execute a nativity (keeping in mind a 'nativity' could also be termed a 'night') was in fact the graphic plan for the painting now known as the Sacred and Profane LoveAuthor Peter Burke [Tradition and Innovation in Renaissance Italy p.190cites the instance of  a 'nativity' by Correggio (c.1530) as being alternatively known as a 'Night'. There are in an analytic deconstruction of the Sacred and Profane Love several other strong indications that this painting is dedicated to the theme of 'night' on several levels. 

The Sacred and Profane Love (then called the 'una nocte' & 'notte') was most likely begun by Bellini, because it was Bellini whom Isabella's merchant initially approached in 1506. After Giorgione's death in 1510, Isabella d'Este sent her merchant to recover a 'night' from Giorgione's studio:
'We are informed that among the stuff and effects of the painter Zorzo (Giorgione) of Castelfranco there exists a picture of a night (una nocte) very beautiful and singular; if so it might be we desire to possess it...' Peter Burke p.134, 
Clearly, the 'night' was at or at least near a stage of resolution to be called 'singular and beautiful. Whomsoever informed Isabella is postulated elsewhere on this site, suffice it to recall here the dissatisfaction of Giovanni Bellini with the rigidity of an invenzione supplied to him on Isabella's behalf. 

Looking to the complex graphic programme/s (invenzione) that form the basis for the Sacred and Profane Love, and being aware of certain hermetic and alchemical themes, one might conjecture that Bellini was also concerned with losing his prestigious title of 'Painter to the City of Venice' bestowed on him by the Venetian Council of Ten. Because in 1488 that same body - to which Niccolo Aurelio was a secretary - had outlawed the practice of alchemy and perhaps for Bellini the task was too great a professional risk. Although the painting is not strictly alchemical, there are certainly enough references to form an accusation should any rival have desired to be troublesome. 

It is quite possible that Isabella had not even seen the programme and was merely forwarding it on the behalf of her brother Alfonso. Enter Giorgione who has taken this 'Night'  to near resolution and which was - after Giorgione's death in 1510 - finished by the young Titian. This is to suggest of the Sacred and Profane Love that there were three collaborators - Bellini, Giorgione and Titian - and in that order. This painting is presumed to have been executed around 1514 based on the wedding date of Niccolo Aurelio whose coat~of~arms appears on the front of the sarcophagus/fountain. Perhaps the date of the paintings 'resurfacing' after the death of old Giovanni Bellini - the last of the collaborators who could have challenged Titian and who shared the intimate knowledge of the paintings shrouded history. With both Giorgione and Bellini gone, Titian is free to claim Bellini's title and either add or rework the coat~of~arms for Aurelio.

For what remains of the original programme refer to the post on the Zodiacal Metaphors on this site and note the plan of the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te, Mantua. Titian handed - in part only - the original invenzione to Giulio Romano for the design of that ceiling, and the structural steps of both the Sacred and Profane Love and the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti are traceable through analysis. Because of this last fact Titian has left a trail for which he can be taken to task.









Section 2. Collaboration in Giorgione's Orpheus & in the oeuvre of Giorgione: The Conch shell.


Fig 1. Orpheus, School of Giovanni Bellini, National Gallery of ArtWashingtonWidener Collection.


Sheard chose as an example of collaboration the painting known as Orpheus [Fig. 4.] (attributed to Giorgione) and which now forms part of the Widener collection at the NGA, Washington, DC. Sheard explains her reasoning behind the selection of the Orpheus:

"...a collaboration between at least two painters seems feasible to postulate, given numerous differences in the proportions, extremities, and modelling employed in the two figure groups...".

Sheard also discusses the possibility that an invenzione, by studying its cohesive structure, might be separated from its end result and agrees that the painting has technical strengths and flaws which can be detected and therefore isolated all which appears to reinforce the collaborative theory:

"George Martin Richter long ago separated the invention of the Orpheus from its execution, maintaining that its invention ought to be attributed to Giorgione while still in Bellini's studio." 

Sheard supports this hypothesis and draws stylistic parallels between an 'interest in poses..' which specifically reference the torsion implicit in the pose of Orpheus and ascribes this feature to be evident in the frescoes on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Sheard writes:
'The foreground nude's head and the satyr's are shaped quite differently from Orpheus's. They are closer to idealized ovoids, and their hands, small, broad and limp, are more typically Giorgionesque. Somewhat differently conceived, the rather angular contour describing Circe may depend on a figure from antique relief sculpture, probably a nereid. Though perhaps somewhat awkwardly rendered, the extreme nature of this figure's torsion is remarkable, and indicates that the interest in poses in which animated balance is attained in part by contrasts in the positioning of limbs, so evident in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi frescoes, stemmed from the very earliest phases of Giorgione's brief career, when the Orpheus was designed.' pp. 190-91 Collaboration.
It is valuable to consider the possibility that Sacred and Profane Love had been a collaboration too, and furthermore it is possible that if Giorgione played a leading hand in the development of the Orpheus' invenzione, it implies that he was sympathetic to collaboration in the workshop environment and even attracted to subject matter that might consider pagan and esoteric themes. Returning to the Orpheus Sheard pushes the envelope further:
"I believe [...by looking closely at the structure of the Orpheus] that the understanding which results may, moreover, offer several clues to the evolution of Giorgione's approach to subject matter. p.190 Collaboration.

This is the direction from which this review of Sheard's considerations of the Widener Orpheus may hope to gain insight, and to suggest strongly that the Sacred and Profane Love is also a collaborative work, which, like the Orpheus, originally evolved in the studio of Bellini.


The Sheard essay notes a narrative/anti-narrative argument which suggests that this painting illustrates a story, possibly from mythology, which might steered attribution away from Giorgione as it is known that he was not fond of simply illustrating narratives. But there is no narrative that leaps to mind that might encompass all these players in this setting. 


In Giorgione's Orpheus Sheard identifies the satyr as Pan, and the female as [a form of] Venus pudica. The term pudica refers to the classical pose where the hand of Venus covers her pudenda and breasts to suggest modesty, but this is an attitude; a pose, and not a myth in itself, and therefore this as an attribution is challengeable. 

This essay also suggests that Pan must be substituted for Faunus. Likened to the Greek Pan, Faunus was the Roman god of the woods and forests, historically a former King of Latium he was raised to the level of deity after his death. He was considered to have been the husband of the Bona Mater. Faunus As a mixture of the historical personage of the king of Latium who seems to have died peacefully old: 
Faunus, as a deity, originated in Italy itself. As such Faunus was one of the di indigetes, or native deities.

Giorgione has portrayed Faunus as a mixture of an aged man of regal countenance with the hinds of a goat - without horns. On Faunus, John Lempriere wrote:
"Faunus... reigned  in Italy about 1300 years B.C. He raised a temple in honour of the god Pan called by the Latins Lupercus... 

[See my post on the Lupercalia as being relevant to the reliefs on the fountain/sarcophagus of the Sacred and Profane Love]

In the Orpheus, Venus is only technically in the pudica pose because the breasts are 'censored' by the arm of Faunus reaching across the young Venus to present the conch shell to her view. This pictorial play is rather clever and relies on a graphic technicality when reduced to the two points critical to the terms of the pudica motif; the breasts and pudenda must be covered. Pictorially Giorgione has achieved this albeit unconventionally - clever graphic manipulation of the terms of that motif. 

Venus must - due to the presence of the conch shell - become associated with the myth of the Venus Marina. Similar cultural identifications/issues will be found in Botticelli's Birth of Venus where the Venus Marina is also present in the pudica pose, and yet the presence of the scallop shell introduces her as a form of the Greek Aphrodite.

But from here the argument shall be presented that by focusing on the motifs of the Venus of Giorgione's Orpheus (for it is certainly her in the unusual pudica attitude) and the conch shell and by drawing meaning from Faunus's inclusion in this enigmatic drama, this analysis may help to understand Giorgione's approach to the often obscure subject matter of several of his works.ANSWER

Finally, the subject matter that defines the Orpheus will be compared with Botticelli's Birth of Venus; the object held in the hand of the satyr of the Orpheus is the pivot upon which meaning is revealed. 




Fig 2. Orpheus (Detail)


Sheard claims the object held by Pan [Faunus] to be a conch (Fig 5) and she is most certainly correct, and Sheard has completely grasped the meaning represented by this mythological pair:

"...the pair represents the male and female principles of nature, the dichotomy of their sexual difference - a primal one, after all, in the human perception of the world and indeed of the cosmos - now fused by union in a shared rapturous experience which is a visual equivalent of their essential primordial unity beneath the world of appearances." W. Stedman Sheard. Collaboration in Renaissance Art. p.196.


What Giorgione is indicating by Faunus presenting the conch shell to (a budding) Venus is that the shells outward appearance' recalls the cleft form of the pudenda. This association is a very particular motif of the sea-born myth that recalls the Venus Marina and refers to that area of the female anatomy which reflects the matrix and archetypal form of the goddess; the primal sexual form. The conch is the metaphoric link to the pudenda/vulva and the associated properties of water, salinity, fecundity (and so -generosity) and are linked to this divine form unique in nature and to which is attributed the wondrous cause of her power over men.

In the Widener Orpheus it is the metaphor of the conch shell which links the myth to the physical and so confirms a point of intersectionality between the physical relationship (conch/vulva) the mythological/philosophical relationship (the sea-birth of Venus) and at a deeper level, the alchemical relationship of Venus to water (in all philosophical alchemy she will become the 'moist radical').




Section 3 Geometry: Venus & the pentagram.







Fig. 4. 


Fig. 3.

Fig. 5.






Figs 3, 4, 5. The Sacred and Profane Love's 
programme (invenzione) abstracted from the painting. 



The pentagram is a critical component of the Sacred and Profane Love's design, and the two horizontal lines of the two pentagrams (upright and inverted) form the upper and lower boundaries of the dimensions of the sarcophagus (
see fig.5). Geometric astronomical association with the planet Venus explain the link between the mythological Venus and her geometric form - the pentagram. The following two paragraphs by the author Henry Lincoln explain the astronomical and geometric association of the planet Venus with the pentagram:
'The early astronomers saw the Earth as the centre of the universe, around which the Sun, the stars and the planets revolved. Each planet forms its own pattern of movement around the Sun as seen from the Earth. For the ancient watchers of the heavens, those differing patterns of movement allowed them to draw geometric shapes based on the positions of each planet when it was aligned with the Sun. For instance, Mercury is aligned three times in its orbit and the pattern formed by these conjunctions is an irregular triangle. Mars is aligned four times and forms an irregular four-sided figure. Each planet makes a different number of alignments and each forms its own irregular pattern. Only one planet describes a precise and regular geometric pattern in the sky - and that planet is Venus... and the pattern that she draws as regular as clockwork every eight years is a pentacle.' Henry Lincoln, The Holy Place. p.69. J. Cape, London. 1991

Through astronomic geometric identification with the planet Venus, the Roman Venus becomes separated from the Greek Aphrodite and in the Sacred and Profane Love, the pentacles structure expresses her cosmological signature. The next section will look at Giorgione's collaborative exposition of the Roman concha/vulva metaphor and the idea of the Venus Marina myth.The Venus Vulgare of the Sacred and Profane Love refers to the clothed woman as Proserpine, who is also Venus; it is she (Venus/Proserpine) who wanders across the starry fields gathering flowers prior to her abduction by Pluto. The pentagram of the Sacred and Profane Love also defines the dimensions of the athanor/sarcophagus/fountain at the centre of the paintings graphic plan, and the athanor as yoni/vulva is discreetly referred to by the nineteenth century occultist Eliphas Levi:
'By the Pentagram also is measured the exact proportions of the great and unique Athanor necessary to the confection of the Philosophical Stone and the accomplishment of the Great Work. The most powerful alembic in which the Quintessence can be elaborated is conformable to this figure, and the Quintessence itself is represented by the Sign of the Pentagram.' Eliphas Levi, Transcendental Magic, p.87. Bracken Books, London 1997.

Athanor/sarcophagus/fountain, Yoni/vulva/pudenda, and 'Kteis'/concha are the themes of the portrayals of the Venus/Aphrodite goddess myth (see the programme for the Sacred and Profane Love, figs 3,4,5). This is because the 'Great Work' of true alchemy is sexual transmutation, and the athanor, fountain, yoni, pudenda are all metaphors for the vulva; the vessel and matrix  of the Great Work - without which nothing can be accomplished. But that which has become artistically compelling is the distinction between the Roman sea-born Venus (Marina) and the Roman metaphor for the vulva as the pre-geometric/astrological Roman adaptation of the Greek creation myth of Aphrodite.





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