Sacred and Profane Love

Sacred and Profane Love

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sacred and Profane Love. The Restoration: Harold & Alice Wethey, Giorgione, Nicolo Aurelio & Titian.

Of the many interpretations of the Sacred and Profane Love it is Erwin Panofsky's hypothesis of the Twin Venuses that has persisted as the most enduring and referenced theory of the twentieth century, but over time that theory's popularity appears to have lost some influence in favour of the paintings apparent association with an historical wedding. Several evidence based discoveries by the American historians Harold E. Wethey and his wife Alice would for a time overshadow Panofsky's intuitive guesswork.

Professor Harold E Wethey

Alice Wethey announced the existence of the Bagarotto coat~of~arms in the silver phiale sited on the ledge of the sarcophagus/fountain which seemed to confirm that the painting was most probably commissioned by Niccolo Aurelio, the Secretary to the Venetian Council of Ten to celebrate his wedding to Laura Bagarotto. But was it really so?

After the 1993-94 restoration of the Sacred and Profane Love, the Bagarotto coat~of~arms in the silver phiale apparently disappeared, a point which was later confirmed in Professor Jaynie Anderson's 1996 publication Giorgione: The painter of Poetic Brevity. Anderson states there that the restoration of the painting by Anna Marcone in 1993-94 proved Alice Wethey's claim to be fanciful:

"...the coat~of~arms had never been present..." Anderson p.231

But the more obvious coat~of~arms upon the escutcheon at the centre-front of the sarcophagus had already been confirmed (see Minerbi, Wethey) as belonging to Niccolo Aurelio, the Secretary to the Venetian Council of Ten, and this has remained the case to this day.

There had also been other discoveries announced by the Wethey's. Around the same time Harold Wethey claimed to have discerned two formerly indistinct iconographs that appeared to have been overpainted. According to Wethey these iconographs were altered or deleted:
"either during the painting's construction - or at a later date". 

Wethey describes these iconographs:

 "... a head of a dog or a cow..." [at the paintings left next to the silver/white dress of the clothed figure] and a "...fallen ivy covered pillar..." (Wethey, 1972, p.177).

After the Marcone restoration the sighted 'head of a dog or a cow' and the 'ivy covered pillar' claimed by Harold Wethey also seemed to disappear raising doubts as to whether they too had ever actually existed.

But there is a problem here. According to the sequence of the zodiacal constellations present in the constellation map of the Southern Hemisphere, it is highly likely that the head of a dog or a cow was present next to the clothed figure. In a star map of the Southern Celestial Hemisphere (with the South Celestial Pole at the centre) zodiacal sequence indicates that it was a dog intended to represent Leo as Sirius - the Dog Star. Not only this but it is also possible that the fallen ivy covered pillar might also be reinstated.

Harold Wethey claimed to have first noted the head of a dog (or cow) and the fallen ivy covered pillar after examining photographic slides that he had personally made of the painting which was then in a state of pre-restoration. As Professor Wethey originally noticed these iconographs on film they may very well exist as a part of the late Mr Wethey's body of work. Their reappearance would prove invaluable, because it was after carefully studying those slides that the Wethey's were able to claim that those iconographs could actually be confirmed with the naked eye. Locating and gaining access to those photographs would be a very significant step in judging the veracity of the Wethey claims. However these claims by the Wetheys are secondary to the strength of context and sequence announced by the geometric and zodiacal sequence outlined in this essay.

According to this analysis it appears logical that the first of Mr Wethey's observations is contextually correct. That second discovery - the fallen ivy covered pillar - is arguably a motif of Giorgione's and can be paralleled with an associated text from which the programme for the Sacred and Profane Love is sourced. Even if one of Harold Wethey's observations can be reinstated it is possible to conclude that Alice Wethey's observation may too have had merit.

It is extremely plausible to consider those escutcheon's belonging to Aurelio and Bagarotto may have been added by Titian at a later date to authenticate the painting for Aurelio, after all, it was Titian who reworked and completed several of Giorgione's works after his early death in 1510. Has Titian deleted two iconographs and added two more? 

By challenging that predetermined authority which the coat~of~arms historically implies, what can actually be said of the Sacred and Profane Love without reaching for this apparently evidential 'fact' for support? This is a very important question because the Aurelio coat~of~arms has determined the direction of all historical discourse. As an argument must participate and agree with certain aspects of previous arguments, the apparent integrity of this one glaring piece of evidence is constantly repeated and therefore seemingly endorsed when perhaps the existence of the Aurelio coat~of~arms needs to be read quite differently. The Aurelio coat~of~arms has developed all the painful thrill of an upturned garden rake that is consistently stepped on by those following a well trodden art historical path and seeking to make a sense of the Sacred and Profane Love's true history and authorship

Without access to Harold Wethey's early slides the major problem for the reinstatement of the Wethey's observations is that after 1994, the Sacred and Profane Love that had been scrutinised by the Wethey's no longer exists - at least in a condition that can now only be termed pre-restoration. The painting is now in a state of post-restoration, and the former observable condition irrevocably altered.

Were those iconographs visible prior to the paintings restoration, or were they simply figments of Harold Wethey's scholarly and up to this point - untarnished reputation? Untarnished, because Professor Wethey was now considered 'unreliable' and any work that attempted to pursue the notion of the missing or false iconographs would ostensibly be tarred by the same brush. Conceptual analysis is the only critique available to the inquirer.

The late Mr James Beck was one of a literally dying breed of scholars who had seen the Sacred and Profane Love both pre and post restoration. In an e-mail response Beck condemned the restoration of the Sacred and Profane Love ('terrible' was the descriptive) but to be fair others such as Jaynie Anderson appear to champion the Marcone restoration. Either way the restoration has removed the option of returning to the painting in the identical, unrestored physical state to which the Wethey's and Beck and Anderson were all once privy. Mr Beck's personal opinion on the quality of restoration is recorded here as a matter of interest and balance.

Still, how can something so important be found by two eminently qualified people just disappear? This analysis will suggest that Harold Wethey's observations should not be dismissed. Materially and methodologically, an oil painting is bound by certain parameters.

In defence of the Wethey's it is fair to say that oil paint can lose its opacity over long periods of time (in accordance to the materials used and the technique employed) and it is physically possible that a form of 'ghosting' may have been occurring in the Sacred and Profane Love. An excellent example of oil transparency is found in Antoine Watteau's Venetian Pleasure. (Fig 1.)

Fig 1. Antoine Watteau, Venetian Pleasure, c. 1718

In Watteau's Venetian Pleasure (Fig 1.) observe the gentleman wearing eastern theatrical garb (opposite the standing female in white dress) and in particular note the original stance of the legs where the paint has become transparent. Both legs have been altered.

Fig 2. Venetian Pleasure (Detail)

In fig 2., the transparent paint exposes the original stance of the left leg which now being clearly visible, is ghosted and bent (backward) at the knee. This is a markedly different pose. Watteau has decided to point the left leg to rest it on the ball of the foot.

While the Sacred and Profane Love and Watteau's Venetian Pleasure emerge from different times in different countries and further, that every artist has an individual approach to the laying down of oil paint, the purpose here is to show that age & oil paint  & a loosely similar technique can produce transparency. Watteau was a notoriously quick painter who worked in excessive amounts of oil, mixtures of oil & varnish, and semi-transparent glazes.

If the Sacred and Profane Love were the Night (which is the developing argument here) it was according to  Isabella's informant - 'very singular and beautiful' and so at a stage of near resolution, implying that the painting was finished and drying or dried because such an observation could not be made of a work still at a formative stage. Titian had four years after the death of Giorgione (1510) in which to rework and authenticate the Sacred and Profane Love for Nicolo Aurelio - and this is where things may have gone awry; has Titian used an oil and varnish technique similar to Watteau and thereby made the same technical mistake?

Because the paint was dry Titian may have used an oil/varnish glaze mixture to detail that which was already resolved (and so, '...beautiful...') and by increasing pigment of the glazes increase the opacity of specific areas without the need to totally repaint. This is reworking rather than repainting, and quite possibly - because of high oil and varnish glazes those deleted areas have returned to haunt Titian in the findings of the Wethey's.

The Marcone restoration - as with any restoration - has altered the surface of the paint: This is to say the surface of the painting is no longer unrestored; the paintings appearance has altered; is now restored and can never again be considered otherwise (i.e. unrestored). Let us be clear that restoration and cleaning are not necessarily compatible or even friendly terms. In Australia in 2002, the criticism of an exhibition entitled 'The Italians' by Mr Mr Benjamin Genocchio claimed that a number of paintings included in that exhibition had been questionably restored:

 “cleaned and repainted, destroying much of their original colour and brushwork” 

If memory serves correctly, the comment 'cleaned to within an inch of their lives' was in there too, and one can understand and respect the concerns of Artwatch, the organisation founded by the aforementioned - now the late - Mr James Beck (1930-2007).

There can be no doubt that Titian's masterly input has added to the complexity that is the Sacred and Profane Love, but whether he is deserving of the paintings outright poetic arrangement is the point here. Even if Giorgione were working from a programme (he was), that painters poetic sensibility wrought the 'singular' beauty which was evident and readily apparent. Again we know this was so because Isabella's letter to her merchant described the painting as 'very singular and beautiful' which could not be said of a work that was less than half baked so to speak.

Titian's deletions made the work more obscure - which was probably his intent and also, by altering it, he could (to himself at least) claim a certain authorship. If the worst scenario here is possible and Titian has conspired with Aurelio to advance his career and assure himself of attaining the much coveted sensaria (held by Giovanni Bellini which came with an annual stipend, sizeable tax breaks and enormous prestige) the behaviour could be seen as an enormous mistake by Titian - the opportunistic ambition of a precocious youth and would seem to herald a sordid beginning to Titian's relationship between art and state.

Of the relationship between Titian and Aurelio, just how much can be said of the character of both? How could Aurelio have afforded this painting and just how politically powerful was he? And if Titian can be found to have reworked the Sacred and Profane Love to further his own ends, why stop at one? Might any other of the works considered 'Giorgionesque' that are given to the oeuvre of Titian be in fact the reworked hand of Giorgione himself?

To be continued... (next post in January - Happy New Year!)


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sacred and Profane Love: Presepio, Nativity, Night (Una Nocte) & Alchemic Night.

Night the voluptuous, Night the chaste,
Spreads Her dark limbs, a vaulted splendour
Above the intolerable waste.

Night the August one: Night the tender,
Queens it and Brides it unto me.

One way to read the Sacred and Profane Love is as a rigidly constructed Alchemic Night, which is an Alchemic narrative based upon the Nigredo and the ancient notion of Night as the engenderer. Historically this will involve that great female art patron of the Renaissance, Isabella d’Este and her quest to acquire a painting from the studio of Giorgione; a 'Night' (una nocte) immediately after hearing of Giorgione's untimely death from the plague in 1510. Being mindful of the complexity of the Alchemic tradition and the Alchemic implications that contribute to the Sacred and Profane Love, an imaginative historical environment is required to populate all possible relationships  surrounding Isabella and the Sacred and Profane Love, and in particular those references that might refer to the Sacred and Profane Love as a presepio, una nocte, Night, and/or nativity.

To set the wheels of inquiry in motion, a series of events were taking shape late in the Quattrocentro which would produce revelatory documented communication between Isabella d'Este and Giovanni Bellini some seven or so years preceding those agitated tribunals involving Titian, Bellini and the Council of Ten in 1512.

The search for a 'night' and/or a 'presepio' by Isabella d'Este.                                                   
Around 1497 a merchant, armed with a programme (invenzione) was employed by Isabella d’Este to procure the services of the aging Giovanni Bellini and acquire a painting for Isabella's studiolo. In 1501 and again in 1502 the clavichord maker Lorenzo da Pavia became involved in further attempts to secure the painting from the seemingly reluctant Bellini. It appears that Bellini did not wish to follow the design which had been given to him. That Bellini was struggling with the design of the painting was outlined by Pietro Bembo in a letter from January of 1506. That letter from Bembo to Isabella is well known to historians and is as follows:
[‘The subject which your Excellency writes to me that I should devise for the design must be suited to the fancy of the person who has to execute it;] whose pleasure is that sharply defined limits should not be set to his style, being wont, as he says to wander at will in paintings..." Bourke. pp119-120

All alchemical works had been outlawed by the Council of Ten in 1488, which would have created a conflict of interest for Bellini when considering his highly coveted position as the Official Painter to the Venetian State,  a prestige which had been awarded to him only five years earlier in 1483. Could the reason behind Bellini's reluctance to provide Isabella with her painting be because that request - or the programme outlining her request - was of an Alchemical nature. Was this why the work was so distasteful for Bellini to execute? We know that a programme had been left with Bellini:
'the artist then expressed a reluctance to follow the program which had been drawn up for his use.'
Through a letter from Bembo to Isabella, Bembo writes that he has almost secured Bellini’s interest in producing Isabella’s commission if only she could write directly to Bellini. On the 19th of October Isabella did so, and curiously, for the second time, refers to the painting as a ‘presepio’.


The Sacred and Profane Love as the 'presepio'.

Fig 1. Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Adoration of the Shepherds,1485. 
A Presepio is an enclosure** such as a group formed around the manger though not necessarily requiring the architecture of a stall, while the manger is actually the feedbox: 
 “Manger in strict usage — though today also used for the Nativity scene —actually refers to the trough or open box used for livestock feed in which the Infant Jesus rests."
In fig 1, Ghirlandaio's group forms a presepio using the manger as a central focus in the Adoration of the Shepherds. Presepio and manger are the core motifs of a nativity. Etymologically the word 'presepio' also reveals the form:

'…In the ancient word, a combination of prae, "in front," and saepire, "to enclose,"...  Ibid.

Though differing in source, the words manger and presepio are comparably thematic in that the former occupies the focus while the latter forms the stage of a nativity setting; without a manger there can be no presepio. On perhaps less linguistic grounds Isabella's presepio has been postulated to be a type of 'Night' or 'nativity', and there appears to be a variety of words available to describe this particular piece. Peter Bourke, referring to the Night (una nocte) in Giorgione's studio, had this to say:
“…at Giorgione’s death there was a picture in his studio which Isabella’s agent called ‘a night’ (una nocte)…It may equally well have been a ‘holy night’, that is, a Nativity. Corregio’s Nativity of 1530 has often been called a ‘Night’ can also refer to a pagan night; to a ‘holy night’ or nativity." P.B. p.190

The design of the Sacred and Profane Love mimics the structure of a presepio because the centrally placed sarcophagus alludes to the motif of an enclosed manger and subsequently, a nativity or a 'night'. 

Fig. 2. The Sacred and Profane Love.

Visually the Sacred and Profane Love participates in the category of a pagan nativity. There is no sun or direct shadow in the painting and the streaked cloud indicates that the time is either pre-dawn or twilight. The painting is clearly a nocturne and there is nothing here that might indicate otherwise. A nocturne then could also be referred to as a 'night'. 

Isabella's programme not pursued by Bellini.

Isabella never received the original painting that was asked of Bellini from the programme that she supplied to him and instead settled for a nativity of a rather standard Christian theme. This is known from a letter of reply sent to her agents by Isabella. The agents had suggested that Isabella give Bellini 'liberty' to create his own unfettered painting:

"If Giovanni Bellini is as reluctant to paint his history as you say, we are content to leave the subject to him, provided that he paints some history or ancient fable." P.B. p.120

The author peter Bourke concludes the above entry with this comment:

"In fact, Bellini was able to beat her down even further; she ended by accepting a Nativity."

It appears that this final, work accepted by Isabella was not a pagan nativity but rather, a standard Christian Nativity and therefore this work is gracefully eliminated from relevance and further pursuit by this inquiry. ***

The disappearance of the una nocte, Isabella's haste, Bellini and Alfonso.

Alternatively, the Night in Giorgione's studio may have been derived from the original programme, the importance of which Isabella was not aware, though this seems unlikely as Bellini was approached by Alfonso  while Isabella was still in negotiation with Bellini. Obviously Bellini had prioritised Alfonso.

Giorgione pursued the Sacred and Profane Love as an uncommissioned piece for two reasons: Firstly, had Giorgione chosen to pursue the commission it would not compromise Bellini's position as Painter to the Republic of Venice. Secondly, Giorgione had an interest in esoteria. This will be discussed in the Fondaco post. 

On hearing of Giorgione's death Isabella wrote to her agent:

"...we are informed that among the stuff and effects of the painter Zorzo 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 and we therefore ask you, in company with Lorenzo da Pavia and any other who has judgement and understanding, to see whether it is a really fine thing and if you find it such, go to work ... to obtain this picture for me, settling the price and giving me notice of it. P. B. p.134

Isabella seemed to have been unaware of this painting in Giorgione's studio prior to being informed after Giorgione's death, so it seems that the information of the Night's existence came from another source. If Isabella were unaware of this almost resolved painting that was 'very beautiful and singular' and it was not designed from her original programme. Where did it come from and whose word was it that so inflamed Isabella that she would act with such expedience to secure a work that she had no prior awareness of? It seems she was acting in good faith for someone whom she must have absolutely trusted. Only Alfonso could fit this description. And how did Alfonso become aware? Bellini...

Upon arriving at Giorgione's studio, Isabella's agent was informed that there were two paintings that fitted the description, one owned by Taddeo Contarini, and the other by a Victor Beccaro, but added that they were 'not for sale at any price'. Was this a simple deception organised to 'throw the dogs of the scent' as it were?


Alfonso d'Este, The Council of Ten & Nicolo Aurelio.

Turning back the clock again, it seems that during the time of Isabella's initial negotiations with Bellini, Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara had also requested a painting from Bellini. As the programme for the Sacred and Profane Love seems to have its roots in Ferrara - and due to the duke's involvement in the Venetian wars, it is not clear whether this request was ever delivered, and every chance it would not have been especially if The Council of Ten - or perhaps even Nicolo Aurelio himself - were made aware of Alfonso's request. As Anderson recalled:

'Aurelio's taste was initially formed by Giorgione's large nudes on the Fondaco...'

To add to Aurelio's advantage, Alfonso was probably the most despised man in Venice:

"Among the confederate powers, no one had exited the resentment of the Venetians in so great a degree as Alfonso, duke of Ferrara..." W. Roscoe. p.241

Of the several reasons behind the resentment toward Alfonso was that he had joined the League of Cambrai in the war against Venice and in 1510, assisted by the French, crushed the army of Venice in an ambush along the Po river, causing a loss to the Venetians of upward of 'three thousand men'. Life of Leo X. W. Roscoe p.241.

If the Council of Ten had been informed of the existence of a painting for Alfonso, they would certainly not have allowed him that prize. Here would be the perfect leverage for Aurelio to negotiate and claim the painting for himself. This would be effected with Titian's complicity of course, for it would be he who would be required to authenticate the painting for Aurelio in the form of the coat~of~arms. 

As everything about this painting is pervaded by and has its source in Ferrara, the painting which became known to Isabella after Giorgione's death as the Night, may well have been the same painting requested by Alfonso and which is now come to be known as the Sacred and Profane Love. 


The Sacred and Profane Love is a Collaborative work.

When (in hindsight) Lorenzo da Pavia criticised the figures in Giovanni’s ‘presepio’ [The Letters] as being too small, he may well have unwittingly provided a service to Bellini, iconology, and art history:

'...he thought that the artist should have been required to have submitted several sketches before having begun the painting. This would have allowed Isabella to have chosen from among them thereby correcting a certain imbalance by having the figures relatively small with regard to the overall pictorial field.' P.B. p.

If this were the Sacred and Profane Love at an earlier stage of resolution, Bellini would have been quietly pleased that his artifice had hidden the programme that had become so distasteful for himself to execute. Secondly, the balance of figures to landscape that was considered by da Pavia 'disproportionate' suggests an earlier working stage of the Sacred and Profane Love - because the Sacred and Profane Love does not participate in the popular use of ‘perspective’ or ‘optics’ as the method was then called. From this criticism da Pavia has possibly indicated a stage of the paintings resolution at the time of his recording that observation.

There is every reason to consider the Sacred and Profane Love as a collaborative work.
  • Bellini may have been responsible for the painting at an earlier stage of completion and this would account for the diminutive figures noticed by da Pavia. He would not have wished to continue because the painting embraced alchemic philosophy - which had been outlawed by the Venetian state.

  • Giorgione was most likely to have been responsible for the larger figures of the women and child - the child being the key to that consideration.

  • Titian had the third and final hand in the paintings construction, harmonising the paintings overall design, as though it were a poesie, and being far less critical and less challenged by an intellectual adherence to any programme.

This collaborative proposition may best suggest the reason behind the enigma that is the Sacred and Profane Love, because Titian, by treating the work as being intellectually irrelevant - a mere poesie - the original intent was made all the more obscure. 

Finally, the una nocte/presepio/Sacred and Profane Love was removed from the workshop of Giorgione of which Titian had complete access. Although the Night was not directly removed by Titian who was in Mantua at the time of Giorgione's death, taking this tack implies a political involvement because anything to do with Aurelio and this aquisition should be seen as political.

If, as is being proposed here, the Sacred and Profane Love and the presepio/una nocte are one and the same painting, it may not be too difficult to find Giorgione’s hand, after all, the Sacred and Profane Love has been considered to be Titian at his most Giorgionesque.

There is a curious footnote to this. In 1516 Titian stayed at the Duke's castle in Ferrara with two assistants, and in a letter to the Duke, Titian wrote:

"[that he had gone] ...without delay to the well of which your excellency had written and made a sketch of it... including another with it, of a well after the fashion of this country" J. Williams. p.83

While Alfonso's well no longer exists the idea of the Night also being the presepio adds to the allegoric levels of content of the Sacred and Profane Love because of the unusual stone sarcophagus/well/manger motif. Why, of all things, would Alfonso ask Titian to sketch a well, unless of course, Alfonso was hoping to detect a certain level of discomfort... It would be below a man of Alfonso's standing to engage a paid worker - Titian - in an accusative manner, or even show an agitation toward him, and yet by sending Titian to this well, to have him sketch it sends direct a message to the seat of any possible guilt. It would be the aristocratic manner befitting Alfonso to rise above the engagement of direct accusation yet still having expressed his attitude.

The Sacred and Profane Love as an allegory with several levels now encompasses three more metaphors: Presepio, Nativity and Night. To reiterate a point from an earlier post; the Sacred and Profane Love is dedicated to Venus and the time of day represented by the sun-streaked sky is twilight, the time of day when the planet Venus first appears to the naked eye. Therefore the Sacred and Profane Love qualifies in its own right as a nocturne which is also and quite literally a Night; but it is most definitely a Pagan Night.

Night belongs to the Goddess lineage of the Egyptian Nut, whereas Nox is the etymological source of equinox, meaning (day) of equal night. As Nox was one of the oldest of the Roman gods, there is a sense of Egypto/Hermetic recovery here, which is the essence of the Renaissance zeitgeist.


On several levels, the Sacred and Profane Love was intended for Alfonso d'Este, but without documented evidence, we can never be certain - because we weren't there. This area of conjecture, this construction of a history, while interesting - makes absolutely no difference to the content of the Sacred and Profane Love, but to be sure, all considerations presented here are presented with an understanding of the meta-narrative and all associated implications.

From where did the Sacred and Profane Love originate? Again, we weren't there, nor is any evidence thus far, although there is an argument forthcoming that will confirm Ferrara, and so, Alfonso d'Este. 

*['Night the voluptuous, Night the chaste' are nineteenth century poetic references to the Twin Venuses (here, Proserpine and Ceres) though in the guise of a pseudo Egyptian mythology. Those stanzas formed a part of a nineteenth century poem intended for an initiate entering the Order of the Golden Dawn, and were written by Aleister Crowley. Of the elite social groups bonded by this interest in esoteria, perhaps the most interesting was the groups arms-length association to the philosopher Henri Bergson. (Intuition as Method).]
** An acknowledgement is due here to Dr Frank over at Giorgione et al for his thoughts on the presepio as a manger. Thank you Dr Frank, I hope you feel this revision better articulates the difference.
*** At the recent suggestion of Dr Frank this section has been revised to include Isabella's letter accepting a standard Nativity. Thanks again to Frank for his helpful observations.


Bourke, P. 1974. Tradition and Innovation in Renaissance Italy. Fontana/Collins, London.

Williams, J. 1968. The World of Titian. Time-Life, Amsterdam.

Roscoe, William.1853. The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth. Henry G. Bohn, London.



Monday, 15 August 2011

The Feminine as Flower: Metaphor and Hermeneutics:

                   We are as flowers in a garden hidden from all men's eyes,no 
creature of the field walks in this place,
                     no plow divides us; only the gentlest wind, rain from a soft
                             warm cloud and the quickening sun to nourish us.
                                                                                      Catullus c. 84-54 BCE
editing 3/10/2019

Fig 1. The Sacred and Profane Love. c.1514, Galleria Borghese, Rome. Attributed to Titian.

Here in the Sacred and Profane Love (Fig 1.) can be found the discussion of an ancient Italian religion most accessible through the traditional structures that define the polarities of Eve and Mary. It is Eve who like Proserpine, belongs to the sexual, deflowered, and/or fallen female mythotype. This word  flower is a recurring motif in the language of the feminine as Erich Neumann claimed:                                                     

“The bond between woman and plant can be followed through all stages of human symbolism. The psyche as flower, as lotus, lily, and rose, the virgin as flower in Eleusis, symbolise the flowerlike unfolding of the highest psychic and spiritual developments. Thus birth from the female blossom is an archetypal form of divine birth...”

But in the Sacred and Profane Love, the meaning of the flower is divided between the sacred and the profane.  Life is not only the psyche and its unfolding, so while Neumann's cited take encompasses the psychological, it unfortunately denies the physical by breezing over this legitimate necessity in favour of a grand spiritual potentiality. When the feminine is referred to and portrayed through the flower metaphor it often means to reference the vulva as the primary sexual characteristic of the female. or more broadly to that maternal creative force which rise from the vivifying power of the body. 

We cannot have Sacred fire without the Profane spark; Ceres without Proserpine; or one Twin Venus without the other. So here, couched in the language of the Sacred and Profane Love and knowing the myths of the Great Mothers, is the opportunity to clearly state the difference between the iconology of the flower as a motif designed to reference a particular physical (sensual) theme, and the idealism of the unfolding flower as a grand spiritual metaphor and symbol of undefiled purity. 

John Milton writing in the epic poem Paradise Lost (c.1657) ambiguously employed the flower both as a celestial metaphor and also as as a carnal reference to emphasise the physicality of a loss, not the least of virginity, but certainly of childhood.
                                               Proserpine, gath'ring
                                               Flowers with friends
                                               Herself a fairer flower,
                                               By gloomy Dis was plucked 
Dis (Pluto) ravages the picturesque setting and the child/flower is torn and discarded. Because gathering flowers is a childish innocence the metaphor here infers not so much that children are innocent flowers but that children (as is inherently known) are the flowers of innocence - the latter belonging to a far grander psychic percept. However, Milton is also speaking of Venus on a celestial level (thereby identifying Proserpine as Venus - the planet) because he refers to her; the friends are the fixed stars and Venus moves through them as the starry fields; Venus alone appears as the brightest star to wander through the celestial fields of the 'fixed stars' who are her companions. 

Fig 2. Detail; Torn flowers (roses & foliage).

Catullus and Giorgione will be shown to be in dialogue with the ravish metaphors of the torn flower and the ruined rose which are dramatically distinct from those stainless lilies belonging to the Great Mothers of Botticelli or Tintoretto and which as floral symbols represent the idealised psychological and spiritual symbols to which Neumann refers. It could be assumed that Milton's consideration of the rape of Proserpine was likely inspired by a wedding poem written sixteen hundred years earlier by Catullus (c. 84 c.54. BC) when he penned his epithalamium:

                                    We are the treasure that many girls and boys desire;
                                      but once deflowered (the flower stained and torn)
                                 the virgin's body rancid, neither boys nor girls will turn to
                                               her again nor can she wake their passion.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Catullus (Trans. H. Gregory ) p. 169

These emblems of the Great Virgins, of Juno (see fig. 12) and of the Madonna (see fig 13) must be associated with the celestial Mother or celestial Venus (Venere Celeste); whereas the opposite pole of the normally physically active sexual life can be associated with Proserpine (Venere Vulgare) and Eve. Between these poles of the sacred (celestialvirginal, psychological, philosophical) and the profane (physicallibidinous, taboo) morality and social mores are constantly being redefined and modulated by acceptable cultural norms.

John Donne, like Giorgione, ushered in the landscape as a simile for the feminine form (a perception that was addressed in the first post ''Finding the Way In' (see Donne's (Elegy XX: On his mistress going to bed). We know that libidinous nature to which Donne refers is pursued through a marital contract and mutual consent, and where there is consent there is no immorality. Donne, extending his range through metaphor can barely contain the sensual revelation of his ecstatic secret: pleasure, gentle suffering, and the potential gain through love of 'psychic and spiritual developments'.

How blest I am in thus discovering thee!
To enter into these bonds, is to be free...

Donne associates the flowers and hills with the feminine, and Giorgione's Sleeping Venus [fig 3] sets the undulating lines of the background to the sensual curves of the female form reclined; again to Donne:

Your gown going off such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th' hill's shadow steals.

Combined, both poet and painter display the feminine as curvaceous, fecund, and mystical, but it is also at this point a division in attitude occurs between the youthful Giorgione and the mature husband in Donne. and this is revealed in the metaphor of the flower. Giorgione's flower metaphors were to influence the youthful Titian who would return to employ their language on several occasions. More than fifty years after the Sleeping Venus of Giorgione Titian returns to employ the language of flowers but there were several steps to take which would again present specifically in Titian's Danaë and the Shower of Gold, 1564.

Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (Fig. 3) asserts an immature and indulgent male idea, which is that the feminine is a cornucopia of sensory delight which of itself is passively innocent, incapable of assertion (as a yielding, natural landscape) and therefore the property of the male visual field. That her eyes are closed states that she is not receptive to his presence (he has clearly created her thus) and yet this is not to say that he is unreceptive to her form, rather, this portrayal allows Giorgione (and any other observer) to consider the sensuality of form anonymously and free from confrontation. As is often observed of this work, the lines of the nude participate with the undulations of the landscape.

Fig 3. Giorgione: The Dresden (or Sleeping) Venus c. 1510. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The youthful Giorgione can be nobly portrayed and defended as a young man discovering that within this primarily visual articulation of life, the sensuality of nature is all-encompassing and essentially feminine yet this does not and should not always lead to sensual gratifications. This work is actually by a young man crossing the threshold to maturity and is a work of philosophical consideration and self restraint.

Fig 4. Dresden Venus (Detail).

In the lower left foreground notice the small flowers. Noticeably Giorgione's Venus (Fig 3.) has not torn any of those tiny flowers that are within her grasp (lower left foreground, Fig 4. Detail) which would - according to the logic of the flower motif found in the oeurves of both Giorgione and Titian - have indicated a sexual union or violation, and Giorgione's Venus remains pure; an untouched and unviolated vision.

Giorgione is at a different level of being to Donne (Giorgione is the seeking student while Donne is the illumined master) but it is through Giorgione's willingness to learn and by methodologically retracing the conceptual and structural pathways of the Sacred and Profane Love, that we are able to walk with him as Dante walked with Virgil. In Giorgione's development, this is the beginning of control - which bonds him to Donne in a deep respect of the feminine and the discovery and exaltation of the goddess.

Reclining Venuses

The Sleeping Venus of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (c.1499, Venice) and of Dresden are clearly most objectified while sleeping and certainly both are objects of the male sexual gaze. Giorgione's Dresden Venus was first designed in oils, reclined, asleep and semi-nude rather than naked.

Fig 5. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili; Nymph and Satyr. Aldine Press, Venice, c.1499. 

Giorgione's sleeping, reclined Venus appears to have had its origin in a woodcut* (Fig. 4) taken from the Francesco Colonna novel The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the same unusual though popular novel from which the Sarcophagus/Fountain of the Sacred and Profane Love was undoubtedly sourced. This commonality declares the influence that the novel had on Giorgione's grand motifs in both the form of the Sleeping Venus (aka Dresden Venus) and the sarcophagus/fountain of the Sacred and Profane Love

Fig 6. Giorgione: The Dresden (or Sleeping) Venus c. 1510.

The Woodcut of Nymph and Satyr (Fig. 5) predates the Dresden Venus (Fig. 6) so chronologically it is not difficult to find a progression or source from one to the other (both sleep, are semi-nude,and reclined). In the Dresden Venus, the gaze has shifted from the apparent observation of the leering (in facino erectosatyr and therefore the viewer of the woodcut is absolved from any associated guilt because he is observing a scenario and only indirectly studying the nude form of Venus. But in Giorgione's Venus the observer casts their gaze directly and self consciously in the first person. This is to say that the major difference between the two (the woodcut and the Dresden Venus) is that the viewer of Giorgione's very sensual painting has become the satyr of the earlier woodcut. But it must also be said that this is not an unnatural or even unappealing situation for a respectful, enamoured male (that is to say; the lover) to desire to consider the naked female form.

In these works, beginning with the woodcut and progressing through to the Sacred and Profane Love (Fig 1.) and the Venus of Urbino (Fig 8), the one continuous motif of Giorgione's is the exposed left leg of the Venus. This motif of Venus becomes an emblem under Giorgione's influence and will be most pronounced in the leg of Ceres in the Sacred and Profane Love where the reason and the likely source of this motif is identified as originating cosmographically.

[*It was common in past ages and as a point of decorum, to censor the erect penis of the satyr and replace the area with a more abstract concept of  facino erecto ].

The Flower Motif (Venere Vulgare):

The Sacred and Profane Love:
The Venus of Urbino:
Danaë and the shower of Gold:

Beginning with the Woodcut of Nymph and Satyr (Fig. 5), and the Sleeping Venus (Fig. 6), the next stage of development is the introduction of  flowers as a metaphor for sexual blossoming and then plucked flowers as the metaphor of sexual de-flowering - the latter being the accepted mythological narrative (the rape of Proserpine) that occurs in the myth of Pluto and Proserpine.

Fig 7. Detail; flower (roses).

The 'loaded' theme of the torn flower metaphor was first developed in oil by Giorgione in the Sacred and Profane Love, and thereafter pursued by Titian in the Venus of Urbino c.1538 (fig. 8). The image of Proserpine seated at the sarcophagus/fountain with the flowers held in her lap by the gloved hand marks a division between these chronologically developing groups and introduces the motif of the torn flower as a sign of ravishment. Of his own initiation Titian employs this flower metaphor in Danaë and the Shower of Gold, c. 1564.

The Venus of Urbino
Fig 8. The Venus of Urbino c.1538. Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

As the flower theme progresses, so does a clear design motif indicating a sexual distinction. Reclined again, the Venus of Urbino (Fig. 8)*, clasps torn roses to indicate sexual consummation. Titian's Venus of Urbino c.1538 is again in dialogue with the Venus Vulgare through flower symbolism - note the torn or fallen roses under the left hand (Fig 9). Taking the lead from the interpretation of the flowers under Proserpine's hand (Fig 7), the Urbino Venus appears post libidinal, uninhibited, and so, naturally unashamed.

Fig 9. Titian's Venus of Urbino c.1538. (Detail).

The surroundings suggest that this scene is domestic. Importantly, this Venus (Vulgare) appears to be invisible to the other women in the room and seemingly luxuriates contentedly in her role as the all consuming goddess of sexual ardour. This Venus appeases the drives of her erotic nature, and is here perhaps indicating that the bed is the source of marital contentment. By her invisible presence she is, in a sense, eroticising the scene of conjugal harmony.

Danaë and the Shower of Gold

The myth of Danaë and the shower of Gold belongs to one of the many deceitful amours of Jupiter, who by turning himself into a shower of gold, seduced the beautiful Danae. From this liaison Danae became the mother of Perseus; slayer of Medusa.
Fig 10. Danaë and the Shower of Gold c. 1564. Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

In Titian's Danaë and the Shower of Gold (Fig. 10), Danaë is reclined while the roses appear to balance delicately on the beds edge. As the shower of gold falls from the sky, the roses appear to be about to fall; these discarded roses on the verge of falling from the bed indicate the prior moment of Danaë yielding to Jupiter's sexual advances which will result in Danaë's subsequent pregnancy (in this myth myth mother and child (Perseus) are set adrift in a chest which suggests this story is an archetypal myth reminiscent of the Isis & Osiris and Moses myths rather than recalling an historical event.)

Fig 11. Danaë  and the Shower of Gold (Detail) c. 1564.

Danaë will fall pregnant to Jupiter after this liaison and so it is clear from Danaë's subsequent conception that the flower symbolism (Fig. 11, Detail) refers to a sexual violation. Of five paintings on the myth of Danaë and the Shower of Gold by Titian and his workshop the 1564 version (fig 11) is the only one of the five Danaë paintings by Titian where flower symbolism participates in a narrative referring to a theme of sexual violation. 

These paintings; the Sacred and Profane Love; the Venus of Urbino; and Danaë and the Shower of Gold, share the same intent in the metaphor of the flowers, which is to say; the presence of flowers initiated in the work of Giorgione* and later Titian, is distinctly a sexual metaphor.
[There will be an argument presented in a later post that the Sacred and Profane Love was Giorgione's project up until his death in 1510.]

Flower of Purity (Venere Celeste)
In a broader religious overview the falls of Proserpine and Eve are essentially sexual and therefore human. It is those sexual initiations which have confirmed their falls from reveries in the otherworldly realms and firmly grounded their physicality. They belong to the polarity of Venere Vulgare as a fecund sexual force embodied and are the counterparts to the idealism of the Great Mother or Celestial Virgin.

The cult of the Great Mother/Celestial Virgin finds contemporary expression in the cult of the Virgin Mary who again belongs to the lineage of the ancient and continually metamorphosing Great Mother cult, and this is the religious stream from which Mary - the Great Virgin Mother - directly descends. To the anthropologist Edmund Leach:

“In an objective sense, as distinct from theoretical theology, it is the Virgin Mary, human mother of God, who is the principal object of devotion in the Catholic Church.”

The lily flowers sacred to the Virgin Mary belie her lineage. Looking to the Origin of the Milky Way by Tintoretto, c.1575-1580 (Fig 12). The mythology's narrative tells of the infant Hercules being placed upon the sleeping Juno's breast by Jupiter to be suckled, thereby immortalising the child 

Fig 12. Origin of the Milky Way. Jacopo Tintoretto. c.1575
The National Gallery London.

So voracious a feeder was Hercules and abundant the milk of Juno that droplets spurted across the sky and formed the Milky Way (galaxy). Where each of those droplets fell to earth the Lily Flower was formed which were sacred to the Great Virgin. (The bottom edge of Tintoretto's canvas was water damaged and the painted lilies cut away.) 

Fig 13. Botticelli. Madonna and Child with Eight Angels c.1465-67.
Spedale degli Innocenti of Florence.

Botticelli's Madonna and Child with Eight Angels c.1465-67 (Fig 13), presents the Great Virgin with Eight Angels holding the lilies sacred to her. Mary's flower motif of white lilies define her as the symbol of purity. Her flower motif accords with Neumann's point of view of the flower as metaphor for the 'flowerlike unfolding of the highest psychic and spiritual developments', and is a parallel to the meaning of the lotus flower of eastern religion.

Nox; Bona dea; Isis; Cybele; Demeter; Venus; and Ceres; these Great Mother cults of ancient Rome, inasmuch as they reference the continuing Italian tradition of the cults of the feminine, are revealed extant in the contemporary guise that defines Mary as the counterpart of Eve.

Meaningful conversation of the Sacred and Profane Love will either be restricted or elucidated through religious considerations to raise the question 'What is religion'? This question is one of the fundamental propositions demanded by the Sacred and Profane Love, and the answer may be that religion is not at all that which we expect religion to be. 

Finally, it remains unclear as to whether the flower motif was the conceptual property of Giorgione or Titian at the point where it becomes obvious in the Sacred and Profane Love, but Giorgione remains the most likely author, and Titian, the follower. There will be further considerations to be made during the course of this investigation which may prove helpful.

* The Venus of Urbino is a painting which intuits to this writer a rework of something wrested from the studio of Giorgione after his death.

This is a reference to the narrative of Proserpine and Ceres as an agricultural myth. Around September at the onset of autumn the crops are reaped. In the constellation of Virgo the major star is Spica, L. Spica, = corn. Ceres (the Celestial Virgin) who as the rising Virgo (Virgin) appears at the time of Proserpine’s disappearance in the September night sky holding Spica - the ear of corn. The reaping of the crops is complete, and in the ensuing winter months the ground will lay barren while the sorrowful Mother searches for her daughter.

This has particular alchemical implications because Proserpine was never the fruit, but rather the (cold) moisture within, which must plump the fruit and bring about its maturity. No plant - or even cut flower - can survive without moisture. Alchemically this has a parallel in the concept of the 'moist radical'. P.