Sacred and Profane Love

Sacred and Profane Love

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
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 sensual 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 and/or more broadly, to that creative force which rises 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 is the opportunity to clearly state the difference between the iconology of the flower as (1.) a symbol to describe metaphorically the sensual form of the vulva.  (2.) This is distinct from the endogenous metaphor (the flower unfolded) - the grand spiritual metaphor and symbol of undefiled purity eg., the white lily and lotus. 

John Milton writing in the epic poem Paradise Lost (c.1657) employed both a celestial metaphor (planet & stars) and also flowers 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 
                                                                                  John Milton  Paradise Lost                                         
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 itselfMilton is here speaking of Venus on a celestial level (thereby identifying Proserpine as the planet Venus) because he refers to her metaphorically as a celestial entity. Venus appears alone as the bright star [actually a planet but to the naked eye appears as large moving star] set wandering through the celestial fields of the 'fixed stars' who are her companions. Venus glides across the starry fields of the night sky.  

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.


No comments:

Post a Comment