Sacred and Profane Love

Sacred and Profane Love

Tuesday 5 June 2012

History and collaboration: The Widener Orpheus: Faunus and the Venus Marina. 1. The origin of the Sacred and Profane Love. 2. Collaboration in Giorgione's Orpheus and in the oeuvre of Giorgione. Geometry: Venus and the Pentagram. 4. Mythology: The allegory of Venus Marina (the sea born).

1. The origin of the Sacred and Profane Love and the likely development through collaboration passing from Giovanni Bellini to Giorgione, and finally Titian. Allows Giorgione the major iconographic authorship & Titian the final plastic authorship (this includes the final editing of the zodiacal symbols). A brief overview of the Sacred and Profane Love's programme is presented.

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 that 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.

3. Mythology: The allegory of Venus Marina (the sea born).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 1. Collaboration: The origin of the Widener Orpheus reflective of the origins of the Sacred and Profane Love. Giorgione implicated.

Fig 1. Orpheus, School of Giovanni Bellini, c.1515. National Gallery of Art Washington.

The late Wendy Stedman Sheard co-edited a collection of articles published as Collaboration in Renaissance Art (1978). In the preface to this collection on collaboration between artists of the renaissance Sheard suggests that collaborative possibilities surround the Widener Orpheus:
"...I have studied a greater and lesser master at work on the Widener Orpheus. This small painting, which was never completely finished, nevertheless bears a frequency noticed yet unanalysed stamp of significance in the ferment of change that characterized Venetian art at the turn of the century (1490s). By locating the composition in a type sequence and exploring the picture's tight integration of visual means, psychological effects, and intellectual structure, I argue that Giorgione authored its conceptual and pictorial inventions, leaving their execution largely to a collaborator during a time when both belonged to Bellini's shop."

Sheards collection of essays pursue the idea that the renaissance period was instead a far more collaborative environment than previously thought by renaissance historians. In this similar spirit the Sacred and Profane Love was likely born through an invenzione given to Giovanni Bellini on the behalf of Isabella d'Este in 1506. The invenzione set out the framework which was to be the foundation of a nativity - keeping in mind a 'nativity' could also be termed a 'night' - but which was in every probability the graphic plan for the painting now known as the Sacred and Profane Love

 Fig 2. Orpheus, (Detail). School of Giovanni Bellini National Gallery of ArtWashingtonWidener Collection.

Sheard chose as an example of collaboration, the painting known as Orpheus (Fig. 4.) (at the time 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." p.190  Sheard W.S. The Widener Orpheus: Attribution, type, Invention. Collaboration in Renaissance Art.

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 ovoid's, 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. Ibid
It is valuable to consider that just as it is possible that if indeed Giorgione played a leading hand in the development of the Orpheus, it also allows the great possibility that Sacred and Profane Love had also been a collaboration. This general theme of collaboration during the Renaissance implies through Sheard's considered analysis that like many artists of the Renaissance, Giorgione was sympathetic to collaboration in the workshop environment:
"I argue that Giorgione authored its conceptual and pictorial inventions, leaving their execution largely to a collaborator during a time when both belonged to Giovanni Bellini's shop." p. xviii (Preface) W. Stedman Sheard Collaboration in Italian Renaissance Art.

We know that through the silence (obscurity, brevity) of Giorgione's works [Vasari, Anderson] that Giorgione was  attracted to subject matter that might consider esoteric & pagan themes. Returning to the Orpheus Sheard pushes the envelope further:
"I believe [ 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. Ibid.
This is the direction from which this understanding 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 likely had originally evolved in the studio of Bellini  and then later moved to the studio of ill fated Giorgione. How so? To consider this is to recall a painting referred to as a Night which disappeared from Giorgione's studio after his death in 1510. But what does the title of a Night infer and how can this paintings subject matter be deduced?Author 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 my analytic deconstruction of the Sacred and Profane Love) several strong indications that this painting is dedicated to the theme of 'night' on several levels, one of those important components being that the paintings invenzione is (strikingly) based on a map of the night sky of the Southern celestial constellations. Still, tracking, synchronizing, and re-evaluating historical events with a possible timeline is also required.

The Sacred and Profane Love (the Night 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 (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 so perhaps for Bellini the task was too great a professional risk. It is known through the recorded applications to the Council of Ten that there was a protracted bitterness between the two artists; Bellini was aware that Titian appears to have been circling his aging prey the painting is not strictly alchemical. Still, there are certainly enough references to form an accusation should any rival have desired to be troublesome. One would certainly be on one's toes so to speak.

It is also extremely possible that Isabella had never seen the programme and was merely forwarding the invenzione on the behalf of her brother Alfonso (the subsequent plan as a map including a star map of the South Celestial Hemisphere seems to intimate political intrigue and Alfonso d'Este - this is covered in a post on The New World). Now enter Giorgione who has taken Bellini's 'Night'  to near resolution and which was - after Giorgione's death in 1510 - hidden and finished by the ambitious 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 now known as the Sacred and Profane Love 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. But the date of the paintings collaborative beginnings must reasonably start from the date where Bellini received the invenzione from Isabella's merchant. Perhaps the date of the paintings 'resurfacing' after the death of old Giovanni Bellini - the last of the collaborators who shared the intimate knowledge of the paintings shrouded history and the last who could have challenged Titian. With both Giorgione and now Bellini gone, Titian is free to claim Bellini's title of painter to Venice 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 repeats in the oeuvre of Giorgione: The Conch shell.

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 because Venus is sitting in the midst of a wood and not emerging from her bath. 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. 

This essay also suggests that Pan should 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 who seems to have died peacefully old. (Raised to the level of deity after his death he was considered to have been the husband of the Bona Mater.) Faunus appears as a mixture of the historical personage of the king of Latium and mythologically exalted to aquire the character of Roman god of the woods and forests (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. Of Faunus, the classicist 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... 

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

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 debatable pudica attitude) and in proximity of 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.

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 3. Orpheus, (Detail).

Sheard claims the object held by Pan [Faunus] to be a conch (Fig 5) and she is most certainly correct and further, 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 form of her primary sexual differentiation. The conch is the metaphoric link to the pudenda/vulva and the associated properties reflected in nature - water, salinity, fecundity. The vulva then is linked to this divine form unique in nature and to which these multiple associations are 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').

The Sheard essay notes a narrative/anti-narrative argument which suggests that this painting illustrates a story from classical mythology, which might have 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 - and so Sheard's essay suggests to my mind a constructed, obscure complexity. Portrayed here in their archetypal aspects as the twin Venuses it is the myth of Ceres and Proserpine which allows full disclosure of the paintings programme.

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