"When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, this is certainly not how we thought it was."
Jalal al-Din Rumi
Now, being bound by the circle, the positions of the Southern constellations in the Southern sky can be recorded. Of the thirteen constellational references (as metaphors) that can be found in the Sacred and Profane Love, four non-zodiacal and nine zodiacal constellations selectivey populate a map of the South Celestial Hemisphere. Only on a Southern Starmap do all of the thirteen constellations appear in these forms; they are 'upside down' and 'back to front' as it were. It is this specific Southern starmap that is 'hidden' by the interpretive iconology presented by the true auteur of the specific pictorial language of the Sacred and Profane Love.
Nine references to the zodiac are present in iconographical form (though one has been painted over it must be included in the anticlockwise sequence i.e., 9 of the 12 possible are present). From the descriptions of each it is clear that all are sourced directly from the Matheseos Libri IIX - the star catalogue of Firmicus Maternus.
(Here it must be pointed out that the same programme abstrated from the Matheseos Libri IIX appeared many years later on the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te in Mantua - executed by Titians friend Giulio Romano. Clearly Titian still had the programme upon which the Sacred and Profane Love is structured.
A quick summary of the paintings origin as the nearly resolved Night at the studio of Giorgione.
In 1506 Giovanni Bellini was approached by Isabella d'Este's merchant to secure a Night for her studiolo, but it appears that Bellini was reluctant to fulfil her wishes, probably he would have been loath to compromise his status as Official Painter to the State of Venice by participating in a work that (lightly) engages with Alchemical references, as alchemical works were outlawed by the Venetian State in 1488 and - no doubt - the walls have ears. If indeed Bellini actually worked with the painting it would have been merely in conversation with Giorgione regarding the best approach to portray the program in the most beautiful manner (recalling that poetic obfuscation was Giorgione's forte). If Bellini were to engage with this comission he was at risk of losing his sensaria and position with the Venetian state.
Now, the walls have ears? Someone must have told Isabella about the existence of a wonderful Giorgione painting in his studio because when Isabella heard of Giorgione's death she immediately dispatched a merchant to secure the painting which she described as "very singular and beautiful...". This tells us that the painting - a Night - was at, or near, a stage of resolution. She also referred to the Night as a Presepio. The diagrammatic form of a presepio is a horseshoe arrangement surrounding a point-of-focus at the centre - often the trough/manger of the Christ child in a nativity setting. But this is a pagan presepio; a pagan Night, which is to say a pagan Nativity.
The presepio form emphasises the trough - here the fountain/sarcophagus - using Mercury standing behind the sarcophagus, and the two women seated upon the edge of either side. This affords the composition pictorial depth, and this is the beauty of the presepio arrangement. The Sacred and Profane Love fulfills a description both as Night and/or Presepio, and especially the latter in particilar if it were being described to a person who had never seen the painting.
That the painting is a Night is indicated by the streaked sky: Ceres flame (from the oil lamp held aloft by the goddess) is lost to the morning light and here she fulfills the same function as the torchbearers in the Mithraic Tauroctony. While the torch is held aloft it will signify Cosmic Day, and oppositely when held down it will signify Cosmic Night. Note Proserpine's arm on the lidded basket, it is closed. She is the Queen of Night, and the consort of Pluto, god of the underworld realm of Hades. Ceres signifies Cosmic Day: She is the Great Mother (the Great Virgin) who lights a pine torch in the flames of Mt Aetna to search for her daughter by night. Mother and Daughter are reunited here at the Fountain Cyane which is also the entrance to Hades - created by Pluto to expedite his abduction with Proserpine, the Daughter of Ceres. The child is Psycopomp (Mercury) who leads the souls of the newly dead to the threshold of Hades. He is also the alchemical Mercury who is stirring here the waters of the 'mixt' in the Athanor the 'mixt' referring to the mixing of the white and red sulfurs in the 'Mercurial Water'.
The fountain now can be read as the Athanor of the alchemists through which the Great Work is achieved. The allegoric narratives of the Sacred and Profane Love develop while remaing synchronised with each reading. This alchemical narrative is is reflected in the juxtapostion of colours associated with the women: Proserpine wears White with a touch of Red while Ceres wears Red with a touch of White. Having found her daughter's girdle at the Fountain Cyane the two are reunited (called the Heuresis - the 'finding again'). These two can only be reunited at the Equinoxes; the turn of the cosmic cycle from Night to Day -or- Day to Night when day is still night prior to the suns arrival; therefore the painting is a nocturne, and so most definitely a 'Night'. It is also a Giorgione and not 'Giorgionesque'. Sallust, speaking upon the seadsonal rites and regarding the myth of Kore (Proserpine) states:
"The rites are performed about the Vernal Equinox, when the fruits of the earth are ceasing to be produced, and day is becoming longer than night, which applies well to spirits rising higher. (At least, the other equinox is in mythology the time of the rape of Kore, which is the descent of the souls)."
McQueen, J. Allegory. Greek and Roman Allegory, p.17
The flowing red robe of Ceres at the right of the painting signals this action; 'spirits rising higher'. Proserpine, at the left is near to the child who is Cupid, Mercury, and also Psychopomp. As Psychopomp he can be read as the guide of the newly deceased souls to the entrance of Hades - which enacts Sallusts seasonal 'descent of the souls'. Sallust declares the myth of Cybele & Attis the same cosmic myth (the river Gallus represents the Milky Way etc.) and also the torchbearers of the Mithraic Tauroctony's participate in these myths belong to the cosmos and the seasons.
Equinoxes are represented here in the Sacred and Profane Love as dawn or dusk at the same time, and which is the only time when mother and daughter are reunited- the equinoxes. Again, this helps to understand the painting as a nocturne... a Night. The figures of the Sacred and Profane Love do not simply stand as 'this for that', but can perfectly synchronise with other complimentary narratives. In this way a 'cosmic truth' can synchronise with other cosmic 'truths', such as the torchbearers and Proserpine & Ceres as cosmic Night & Day respectively; the descent of souls and the descent into Hades (Cosmic Night); The arrival of the Great Virgin in the Night sky bearing the star Spica to search for her daughter and finding her at the Fountain Cyane: These are all the same seasonal truths for as Sallust declares:
"Thus, as the myth is in accord with the Cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the Cosmos, for how could we attain a higher order?"
It is important to recall that these myths were enacted in ritual, in different places, in different times but all myths intend to participate in the cosmic order through the rituals and reenactments of them.
At the front of the fountain are reliefs that, at the right appear to participate in the Lupercalia (Google image 'Lupercalia' and note the raised arms lashing the votaries; at the left, Ceres is known to have turned herself into a mare to escape the unwanted advances of Jupiter. There is a theme of rejection of the notion of 'sin' and a return to the sacralised and unbridled enjoyment of the body and loves force.
The diminutive iconography surrounding the Grand Central Suite (the fountain/sarcophagus, two women & child) refer to nine zodiacal metaphors - including the 'head of a dog or cow' noted in 1978 by Harold Wethey with the naked eye after close examinations of the painting and which was later discredited by some academics in support of the Marconi restoration. (The late Artwatch founder James Beck was keenly interested when this writer suggested to him that the restoration has changed the painting's surface and that it could be proven by reintroducing Wethey's 'head of a dog or cow' - which logically should be there in perfect anti-clockwise sequence with the range beginning with Taurus and concluding with Aquarius). It was a dog to reference Leo as 'the dog Star' and was the third of the nine sequential descriptions of certain zodiacal metaphors that can be sourced to the Matheseos Libri IIX of Firmicus Maternus. Here I am not stating that the restoration is bad, but what I am saying is that all restorations permanently alter the surface of any painting, and the Sacred and Profane Love is now the perfect example by which changes made to a paintings surface through a restoration can be assessed. Both Beck and David Rosand showed interest in this reading of the painting which was delayed for several years due to illness, and sadly, both men have died in the ten year descent/recovery interim.
The manner by which revelations contained within the Sacred and Profane Love are accessed according to the paintings classical, geometric, and zodiacal plans.
|Fig 1. A circle can be scribed from the position of the rider on horseback [a] with the circles centre being the mouth of the spigot at the fountains front [c]|
|Fig 2. Constellation map of the southern hemisphere [+] at the centre of the star map refers to the south celestial pole. Note the four constellations in blue highlight.|
|Fig 4. The four constellations have been shifted to fit the rectangular format of the Sacred and Profane Love. Included now is the composite sarcophagus/fountain sourced from the Hynerotomachia Poliphili woodcut.|
The circles axis is located at the mouth of the spigot of the Hypnerotomachia's woodcut.
But it is that seemingly inconsequential slip at the base of Proserpine's dress with its smart flash of red which is clearly designed to indicate the constellation of Corvus - for Corvus (the Crow) has nothing to do with serpents. Corvus then, is achieving what the line of Hydra cannot do, and that is to designate specificity; make no mistake, if Hydra alone does not seem to offer the interpreter confidence, the combination of the two (Hydra & Corvus) should achieve that interpretive confidence, and all of this must again be taken into account with Serpens Caput & Serpens Cauda; as serpentine references, their proximity on a Southern starmap and the clear constellational relationship to the painted form of both godesses. Nothing here is felicitous. Again, the thread that unites Hydra & Serpens Cauda & Serpens Caput is that each of those constellations are related because they reference serpents; the water serpent (Hydra) and the head and tail of the snake (Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda respectively) but fundamentally, serpents.
|Fig 6. Correspondence between |
Serpens Cauda & Serpens Caput.
When the exposed left leg appears as a repeated motif in an individuals body of work it may be prudent to inquire where and why this motif began. Was the artist simply following the Sleeping Nymph woodcut from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili or was it perhaps the scrutinising of the Sacred and Profane's Love's programme that inspired the artist to recall that woodcut and reinvent this motif as a truth? After all, the vocation of the artist - as opposed to the profession of the painter - is commitment to truth.
In the Sacred and Profane Love, Ceres has one arm raised and one leg exposed - the left leg. Return to Giorgione and find this motif in several works (Judith, The Venus of Urbino, The Sacred and Profane Love) associated now with the great mother (or in the case of Judith a persona now elevated to that of a celestial goddess). Just as the Venus pudica attitude (the modesty) referred to the classicism of ancient Praxiteles (Greek c.350BCE) the motif of the exposed left leg repeats in Giorgione's oeuvre when he is referring to the goddess as an elevated or sanctified being. The essential difference is that the pudica pose pays homage to classicism, whereas Giorgione's exposed left leg is referencing the celestial attitude of the constellations Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda which he has absorbed into his visual language. This motif then refers the rise of the artist as an intellectual unafraid of developing (and synthesising) a new visual language based upon the celestial abstractions of the Sacred and Profane Love's celestial programme (the new information). This also indicates the programme was with Giorgione from the time of the Judith (1504). It is out with references to classicism such as a pudica pose, and in with scholarly 'collaboration' as in important information share that has been comprehended, absorbed and developed by the artist. This is the development of Giorgione's oeuvre.
Giorgione is the artist responsible for the two women of the Sacred and Profane Love (Proserpine and Ceres), though there is no doubt that Titian has reworked the surface of the entire piece - including the escutcheon for Aurelio - which begs the question as to exactly what deal was struck between Titian and Aurelio? The Aurelio coat~of~arms, indicates a collaboration that most likely began in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, was initially plastically arranged by Giorgione, and then finished finally by Titian - for Aurelio.
Though it is documented that a programme was offered to Bellini by Isabella's merchant, I would argue that this painting's programme was forwarded at the request of her younger brother Alfonso d'Este, and not just because the political machinations seem to suit (Venice was at war with Alfonso) but the painting also reworks familial zodiacal themes that were established during the reign of Borso d'Este at Schifanoia known as the Months. The abiding problem as to why Isabella never received this painting (as her elusive Night) is that it is likely that she was unaware of this paintings existence. Which is to say that in all of Isabella's earlier attempts in negotiation she seems rather mild, with perhaps the only barest tinge of even a slight frustration. It is only after Giorgione's death that Isabella appears to become possessive and urgent. Clearly, she is willing to settle at 'any price' for a painting a 'notte' (night) which she had obviously never seen. Had Alfonso informed her of the importance of this painting?
The pudica pose has long association with the classical ideal of Venus, but it also a received history which declares an older social and moral order (modesty) which is a cipher closed to meaning anything other than the obvious identification of Venus and a homage to the classical ideal. Therefore the language of the pose pudica is now somewhat incompatible with the advance of a visual language that must be in step with a culture delighting in the printing press - see the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili; the Matheseos Libri etc.; patronage (the Estense library; the courts of Ferrara and Mantua) and the access to historical sources enabling the humanist advisor (the polymath that developed this invenzione) and the collaboration of the three artists in the pictorial development of the Sacred and Profane Love (Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian) in representing that new surge of information in this complex visual form.
Giorgione engages sign and metaphor as conceptual entities; there is no theory of everything or theory of anything and so passes from similitude to apprehension through groups of 'natural' correspondences which in itself is a conceptual/intellectual spiritual path as once described by Sallust:
"Since God is intellectual, and all intellect returns into itself"
McQueen, J. Allegory. Greek and Roman Allegory, p.15
"In France there is an old saying, “Stupid like a painter.” The painter was considered stupid, but the poet and writer very intelligent. I wanted to be intelligent. I had to have the idea of inventing. It is nothing to do what your father did. It is nothing be another Cézanne. In my visual period there is a little of that stupidity of the painter. All my work in the period before the Nude was visual painting. Then I came to the idea. I thought the ideatic formulation a way to get away from influences." Retrieved 25-2-2021 https://www.artnews.com/art-news/retrospective/archives-interview-marcel-duchamp-1968-11708/
|Fig 10. Lucas Cranach the Elder. Nymph of Spring, c.1518 Museum der Bildenden Kunste|
The author of the Hypnerotomachia, Fra Colonna seems to have developed, discovered, found, or resurrected an historical path as native to the indigenous Italian region as it is likely to get - and which has its own alchemical peculiarities.
Paul Doughton ©1997 - 2021. No images on this site to be used without permission.