Sacred and Profane Love

Sacred and Profane Love

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Introducing the cosmographical blueprint for the Twin Venuses.

"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

On a celestial globe both North and South Celestial Poles are present as the logical extensions of the Earths North and South poles (see fig. 1). and a complete Southern constellation map will have at its centre, the South Celestial Pole. The Southern constellation map is based upon a conceptual point of view of the South Celestial hemisphere, looking upward as it were,  from a standing position at the South pole, where the finite edge of one's earth-bound visual field will become the circular boundary known as the celestial equator (see large red ellipsis in fig. 1). 

fig. 1 The area of the South Celestial Sphere.

This circular boundary represents the horizon of the celestial equator which must also undulate annually in accordance with Earths rotation and tilt in the heavens: While the visible stars are fixed, the Earth rotates on an axial tilt of 23.5%, gently concealing & revealing stars, planets, and constellations throughout the course of a year. 

fig. 2 A complete map of the South Celestial Hemisphere, where
the circles edge defines the celestial equator.

The full South Celestial hemispheric map will contain all of the Southern constellations (see fig. 2) and from this map may be derived a partial map or simply a detailed selection of those constellations that can be viewed from earth with the naked eye. Whether a full or partial star map, it is critical that the constellations that are represented remain true to their positions on a complete standard map. 


Within the painted representation known as the Sacred and Profane Love a circle specifically representing the celestial equator can be located, and by populating this circle with those constellations found in a complete map of the South Celestial Hemisphere (with the South Celestial Pole at the maps centre) the correspondences between the Sacred and Profane Love and the complete star map become apparent. Isolated figurative iconology corresponds to select Southern constellations. Some of these constellations are zodiacal, and some not. This is to say that the painting known as the Sacred and Profane Love is an iconologic & geometric structure, whose painted design follows a strict geometric & iconological programme (invenzione).

To begin with the first iconological example:

fig. 3
The mouth of the spigot represents the position of the circles apex,
which corresponds to the South Celestial Pole on a Southern star map. 
A map of the Southern constellations reveals a circular boundary known as the Celestial Equator, while the epicentre of  that circle reveals the position of the South Celestial Pole. The Sacred and Profane Love's design begins with the star maps apex at the position of the flowing spigot at the front of the fountain/sarcophagus. Again; the spigots mouth (see fig. 3) represents the apex of the circle. We have here a 'limitless' centre requiring a finite point from which to scribe a circle. 

By drawing a straight line from the mouth of the spigot to the hooves of the horse travelling upon the road - located in the upper left quarter of the Sacred and Profane Love (see fig. 4). 
fig. 4  The horse & rider upon the road which mimicks the
'forward slash' diagonal form of Taurus - as it appears on a map
of the Southern constellations.

This line between spigot & road is actually a radial line representing a specific measurement from point to point. The first point (a departure point) begins at the spigots mouth and is the apex of a circle, while the second point (a finite point) concludes at the hooves of the horse upon the road. The radial line is complete (see fig. 5)  and now defines the circles perameter.
fig. 5. Within the circle are the positions of 9 zodiacal references.

 Again, the circle in the paintings now deduced invenzione, corresponds with the celestial equator, and reveals the forms of those constellations which are specific to a star map of the Southern sky (refer to fig. 6). When this Southern star map is used as a reference point we find that this road (the finite point of the radial line) mimics the 'forward/slash' constellation of Taurus as seen on a star map of the South celestial hemisphere. Implicitly, when the description of Taurus in the Matheseos Libri VIII is referred to, we find the description of Taurus as 'Fission under hooves', and this is where the geometry of the painting reveals its references (and here also reveals a mistake in translation by Gombrich; it is not fission but 'fissure'... referring to a split or crack, which is precisely the form that Taurus insinuates on the globe (refer to Taurus in fig. 2)). The two points - the beginning and end of  a radial line) present the key (apex & perameter) that unlocks the circle. Taurus will become the first of nine zodiacal references sequentially revealed in an anti-clockwise manner, to correspond with the anti-clockwise movement of the zodiacal constellations in the night sky. 

fig. 6. The radial line on a star map of the Southern constellations 
reveals the initial zodiacal link from the apex.  
From the South Celestial Pole to the constellation of Taurus.

Now that the circle is established (fig. 5) geometry and iconology can be employed to discover 'the fullness' of the paintings meaning.

As further geometry unfolds it shall be noted that the circles circumference (see fig. 7.)  will also serve as the boundary of a pentacle (a pentagram whose proportions are contained by the dimensions of a circle) and here, the same circle that informed the Celestial Equator departs from revealing the star map to now carry symbolic weight by describing the proportions of a pentacle. It may be that the painting has employed the pentacle as a magical element which, as a known symbol of Venus, had perhaps a talismanic function as well as potentially being a significant design component, intended to fit within an ornate architectural emblem. This possibility is more pronounced as the extremities of the circle and the points of the pentacle expand well beyond the paintings boundaries (refer to fig. 7). We should be asking ourselves; what building of any architectural significance was being constructed in either Ferrara or Mantua beween 1595 - 1515?) 

It will be seen that the pentagram contains two further design elements. These are the angles of the two women who incline toward each other, as well as demanding the specific upper & lower dimensions of the fountain/sarcophagus. (The only two horizontal lines found in an upright and a smaller inverted pentagram (refer to the two horizontal green lines in fig. 7).  These two lines explicitly order the upper and lower dimensions of the fountain/sarcophagus. Importantly, all elements of the paintings 'invenzione' (plan or scheme) are synchronised in this harmonius design. While the conversation seemingly departs from the zodiacal to the esoterically symbolic, the change remains an essential component of the 'Grand plan'.

fig. 7. The pentacle and the painting: The positions of the women & fountain
is dictated by the pentagram & circle and the forms and locations of four constellations.

In a very real sense this painting can be quantified beyond the paintings obvious aesthetic value and may also read in terms of data capacity (kilobytes, megabytes etc.) of information. This data is cohesed into a painted totality through the use of maps, geometry, iconology, symbology & mythology. In the final analysis the Sacred and Profane Love contains a greater amount of readily available quantifiable data than any painting that preceeded it. There is considerably more data here than in the Northern paintings outlined on this blog Symbolic & Geometric Substructures & Esoteric Schema in Early Religious Art] which were soley reliant on geometry & number symbolism. This data is also equal to the plastic perfection which must be considered an integral and equal component of the paintings data totality.


The star map of the Southern constellations used in the Sacred and Profane Love comprise four non-zodiacal constellations and nine zodiacal constellations as seen in their Southern positions - aspects which are distinct from the visible Northern formations. In total the painting contains thirteen constellational references (two are overpainted) that can populate a celestial map based on the visible star constellations of the South Celestial Hemisphere. 

fig. 8. The constellations that are present in the S& P Love.

Of those available constellations nine are zodiacal and four relate to the cosmographic identities and forms of the two women (see fig. 8). Only on a Southern starmap will all of these thirteen constellations appear in these forms (above), and it is this specific Southern starmap that is 'hidden' by the iconography of the Sacred and Profane Love. Interpreting this pictorial language in iconological terms presents the true poet of the of the plastic representation that has come to be known as the Sacred and Profane Love. It is pure Giorgione merely finished by Titian.

Four constellations refer to the poses of the two women at the fountain and dictate the posture and cosmographical location of the two women of the Sacred and Profane Love (Ceres & Proserpine).  Hydra & Corvus forms the hem of the clothed woman's opulent dress while Corvus is located in the painting as the slip of red at the base of that dress. Serpens Caput refers to the left leg of Ceres while Serpens Cauda indicates the left arm of Ceres which holds aloft the oil lamp. A further nine references to southern visible zodiacal constellations are present and described iconographically. One (possibly two) zodiacal metaphors have been painted over, the 'head of a dog or a cow' noted by H. E. Wethey must be included in the anticlockwise sequence. These facts indicate that 8 or 9 of the 12 possible zodiacal constellations are metaphorically present in the Sacred and Profane Love, and from the descriptions of each it is clear that all were sourced directly from the Matheseos Libri IIX - the star catalogue of Firmicus Maternus. 

Here it must be pointed out that the same programme which informed the Sacred and Profane Love appeared on the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te in Mantua (fig. 9) - executed (by Titians friend) Giulio Romano. 

fig. 9. The ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te, Mantua c.1524–34.
by Guilio Romano 

Clearly Titian still had the programme upon which the Sacred and Profane Love was structured, and therefore the plan of the Sala dei Venti's ceiling can act as a reference point to analyse the Sacred and Profane Love. 

A plan of the Sala dei Venti was designed by C. Redfield and published in Gombrich's Symbolic Images in 1978. It was Ernst Gombrich that made public the connection between the Sal dei Venti and the catalogue of Firmicus Maternus, and to demonstrate this connection Gombrich employed Redfield's design to structurally describe the pictorial arrangement. (see fig 10. below my annotation). 

Romano was working to a plan, and it is the same plan from which Giorgione abstracted his metaphorical arrangement of the Southern zodiac in its Southern formation. Romano used one hundred percent of the arrangement to literally describe pictorially the words of Firmicus, whereas Giorgione employed two thirds of the textual information. To this writers mind, Giorgione's method is the essence of poetry; to describe using the mere bones of language and allow the reciever to flesh those bones through evocation and imagination. (Had only Ruskin known this plan - and the two iterations of it - everything he intuited about these two artists would have been laid bare before him...).

fig 10. C. Redfield's graphic plan of the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te
Published in E. Gombrich's Symbolic Images 1978 (my annotation).

In the centre of Redfield's plan (my annotation fig 10) the location that corresponds to the fountain/sarcophagus, around which the two women & the Child of the Sacred and Profane Love are draped, corresponds with the centrally located group above with the titles 'Venus, Mercury, & Ceres'. In the Sacred and Profane Love, Mercury has been moved behind the fountain/sarcophagus - to the back of Redfields plan as it were - to form the 'presipio' (the horseshoe arrangement common to nativity settings that emphasise the manger). In the Sacred and Profane Love this central focus is on the fountain/sarcophagus (now the manger) and the two women and child. Importantly here, Redfield's plan (see above, fig. 10confirms the identities of the Women and the Child as 'Venus, Mercury, and Ceres'. (In this analysis Proserpine is 'an aspect of and interchangeable with' the great mother 'Venus'). 

The roundels below each zodiacal sign of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te (figs. 9 & 10) contain the painted interpretation of Firmicus's descriptions. In Redfield's plan the zodiacal signs that are exclusively represented in the Sacred and Profane Love leave Firmicus' textual descriptions in place of  Romano's images  for clarity of reference (my annotations, fig. 10).

The last five zodiacal references are less obvious and refer to the zodiacal symbol, for example; at the upper right quarter of the Sacred and Profane Love, water divided by an 

fig 11. The isthmus as sigil for Aquairius: Two distinct bodies of water (one above the
other - to mimic the zodiacal symbol for Aquarius). In front of
the water are two horses (representing Scorpio & Sagittarius).

isthmus imitates the symbol for Aquairius  as water divided', traditionally represented as h.

One must ask as to why there is an isthmus at all? As pure decoration a lake without an isthmus would certainly suffice, and it would have been just as easy for the painter not to paint an isthmus at all. But this isthmus was not intended to be an exact representation of any specific location, nor is it a meaningless fancy of the poetic imagination. This isthmus was intended to represent a symbol and therefore we have to accept that we are reading symbolic language. All of these zodiacal decisions (metaphoric selections) were most likely made by Giorgione (and perhaps with Bellini?) in accordance with a zodiacal design which was merely finished by Titian after the death of Giorgione.
Helpfully, on the ceiling of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te in Mantua, grotesque images describe Guilio Romano's interpretation of the Matheseos to reveal the same plan which was evidently derived from the same source. Direct comparison allows Giorgione's poetic and restrained use of the plan to come to the fore iconologically because Giorgione has selected just enough metaphors to make of his decisions a coherent totality - whereas Romano pictorialised and almost transcribed the plan in its entirety. When comparing the Sacred and Profane Love with Romano's room, the aesthetic decisions by both parties are on display for comparison, consideration, and elucidation

(For the complete explanation of the zodiacal round as represented in the Sacred and Profane Love refer to the post The Zodiacal Metaphors on this site).

The fountains form (as sarcophagus) was sourced from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and on that original engraving a dedication to Proserpine is present. In the Hypnerotomachia the novels hero Poliphilis, wanders through a graveyard where he gazes into a tomb and 'ponders the Mysteries of Pluto". From the reference to Venus, Mercury, Ceres, revealed on the plan of the ceiling of the Sal dei Venti; and by the appropriation of the sarcophagus of the Hypnerotomachia; we have the concrete reference to Proserpine and Pluto - which infers through consideration that the fountain can be read as The Fountain Cyane - formed by Pluto to expedite the descent to Hades with the abducted Proserpine. 

fig. 12. The form of the sarcophagus/fountain is sourced
 directly from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, pub. at Venice in 1499.

The inscription on the sarcophagus of the Hypnerotomachia runs thus:
                                     TO THE THREE BODIED PLUTO AMONG US
                                         AND FOR HIS DEAR WIFE PROSERPINE
                                       AND TO THE THREE HEADED CERBERUS.
(Translation generously provided by the Venerable Rodney Oliver, 
 Archdeacon at St Paul's Cathedral. MelbourneAustralia. 1999)

Again, the only two horizontal lines found in a pentacle describe the upper and lower dimensions of the sarcophagus/fountain whose form is sourced directly from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published at Venice in 1499. 

The two constellations at the left of the painting are Hydra & Corvus. Hydra forms the hem of Proserpine's dress while Corvus is repesented by the exposed red slip of undergarment. The hem and red undergarment mimic the constellations of Hydra & Corvus and mimic their proximity to each other.

At the paintings right Serpens Cauda & Serpens Caput indicate the left side of Ceres body. One arm is raised and the left leg exposed mimicking the proximity of those two constellations to each other. 

In fig. 8. these four constellations have been repositioned to appear at their respective positions at the front of the fountain/sarcophagus. They remain relative to their position on a constellation map, and respective to the position of the two women and fountain/sarcophagus of the Sacred and Profane Love

The sarcophagus/fountains form is taken from the Hypnerotomachia, the pentacle and the four constellations are the armatures upon which the figures of Proserpine and Ceres are draped.

This analysis is entirely referenceable, traceable, and confirmable. 

The two women of the Sacred and Profane Love and their positions within the star map are clearly, though abstractly referred to through their form as a combination of four constellation groups. Of these four constellation groups three names refer to a serpent/snake (Hydra, Serpens Cauda & Serpens Caput). Curiously, to ensure the correct identification of Hydra, the constellation of Corvus (the only non-serpentine constellation) is included, appearing as the red slip below the hem of Proserpine's dress. This is to indicate the proximity between the constellations of Hydra & Corvus (see fig. 8).  In total these four references are the only constellations represented in the Sacred and Profane Love which do not refer to a zodiacal sign. 
These positions and their relationship to the painting are the end result of following the specific guidelines as set out by Firmicus (and there are quirks among them which are discussed in the post titled 'The Zodiacal Metaphors' found on this site) but other rules and guidelines are clear and irrefutable, and they in turn describe the programme of the Sacred and Profane Love. As to the identity of the person who prepared the invenzione, it is obvious that they were a scholar with access to an extensive library.
When we grasp the paintings iconography we hold the programme. Through iconological consideration the paintings true history and meaning is revealed. But there is still more.

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 brevity as 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 HadesCeres 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. Seasonally, the painting speaks of the Equinoxes, of the equal period between Cosmic Night and Cosmic Day, that sacred time when Mother and Daughter are reunited here at the Fountain Cyane - which is also the entrance to Hades. 

The Fountain Cyane was created by Pluto to expedite his abduction to the underworld with Proserpine, the Daughter of CeresThe child is Psycopomp (Mercury) who leads the souls of the newly dead to the threshold of HadesHe 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 WhiteHaving 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 NightThe 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?"

                                                                                          Ibid. p.17 

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] 

In the Sacred and Profane Love, Taurus is designated by the rider on horseback. Each of the nine zodiacal metaphors presnt in the Sacred and Profane Love follow the descriptions of Firmicus Maternus in the Mathesos Libri IIX. There, Firmicus designates Taurus as 'f'issure' under Taurus Hooves' ('fissure and not 'fission' as printed in Gombrich's 'Symbolic Images'). This is the lock to opening the first clue on the anti-clockwise round of zodiacal metaphors. Taurus (actually the road upon which the horse and rider are travelling) mimic the 'split or fissure' (which is the slight vision of the constellation as it appears on Southern Starmap. See fig. 2 below). The upper left quarter of both the painting and starmap mimic each other, and is the original key to indicate the limit of the circles boundary, while the centre of the circle corresponds to the mouth of the fountains spigot.  Looking to the constellation map of the South Celestial Hemisphere [fig 2], this same centre marks the position of the South Celestial Pole.

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.

In fig 2. (above) the Southern star map is sited over the rectangular dimensions of the Sacred and Profane Love. Note the four constellations in blue highlight; Hydra (& Corvus) and Serpens Cauda & Serpens Caput. 

fig 3. Those four constellations in their original positions abstracted from the same constellation map of (fig. 2.)

In fig 3. (above) the positions of the constellations and their relationship to the Sacred and Profane Love's rectangular format has not been altered but rather, fig. 3. isolates the four constellations from the complete star map (fig. 2.). By setting the constellation map over the Sacred and Profane Love's rectangular format (figs 2 & 3) those four constellations reveal the narrative of the twin Venuses (Proserpine & Ceres) and furthers the relationship between the celestial cosmography and the paintings hidden geometric format.

fig 4. The four constellations have been shifted to fit the rectangular format of the Sacred and Profane Love and 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.

In fig 4. the four constellations have been moved slightly upward from their original positions to approximate position, dimension, and relation to the sarcophagus/fountain of the Sacred and Profane Love. It is visually expedient to employ a composite image of the fountain/sarcophagus (authors annotation) which was the clear source for the sarcophagus of the Sacred and Profane Love, taken from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili woodcut (see fig 4.). with its open top and useful ledge. Now the design involving the four constellations; the positions of the two women of the Sacred and Profane Love, and the connection to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is readily apparent. These correspondences between the constellation map of the Southern sky and the figurative iconology of the Sacred and Profane Love should now be visually accessible. 


fig 5. Hydra, Corvus and the folds of Proserpine's dress

Referring to fig 5., the constellation of Hydra sinuates along the folds of Proserpine's dress. Beginning at the viewers left, the constellation has a distinct curve - as does the form of the dress. A little further to the right and directly below Hydra's most expansive angle (the dresses largest fold) a red slip is exposed - indicating the constellation of CorvusThe positive identification of Proserpine's hem is further rewarded by focusing upon Serpens Cauda and Serpens Caput in fig 4. I will add here that when one has actually attempted to paint a figurative image according to a strict line, the degree of acceptible variation while following a mathematical structure plastically will often be under appreciated by an academic. This is to say if it were any more accurate, the informing design - as scaffold - would be explicit rather than suggested.

It is that seemingly inconsequential slip at the base of Proserpine's dress with its smart flash of red (see fig. 5.) 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, so to make no mistake. If Hydra alone does not seem to offer the interpreter confidence, the combination of the two (Hydra & Corvus) should satiate that curiosity. Now, Hydra & Corvus must be more broadly contextualised with Serpens Caput & Serpens Cauda and their proximity to each other on a Southern starmap. A relationship between the serpentine constellations and the painted form and positions of both godesses are clear. Nothing here is felicitous. Again, the thread that unites Hydra to 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.
In fig 6. two constellations are represented. Serpens Cauda translates as serpents tail, and Serpens Caput as serpents head. Tellingly, these constellations are 'upside down' from the upright position as seen in the northern sky. As can be seen Serpens Cauda has become the left arm of Ceres, while Serpens Caput represents the left leg. 

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 a commitment to truth.

fig 7. Synchronising the four constellations with the two figures.

Hermetically the serpentine constellations highlight the relationship between the women as a spiritually feminine power known as the Kundalini force. These cosmographical associations with the hem of the dress and the exposed left leg & raised arm of Ceres are specific and cannot be dismissed as being at all coincidental. Clearly, the artists were following a strict programme.


The two women the most likely area of the painting developed by Giorgione c.1506 - 1510.

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.

Was the zodiacal iconology developed by two different mindsets or has Giorgione become a little more rushed? This needs to be addressed because there are different approaches to the iconology; at the left of the painting the iconology refers to the zodiacal descriptions of Firmicus Maternus found in the Matheseos Libri IIX - and on the right the iconology refers more to the established zodiacal sigils. The sequence is intact but the approach has altered.

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 MonthsThe 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? 
One might suspect that the invenzione or programme for the Night (as the Sacred and Profane Love) was never sent on the behalf of Isabella at all but perhaps (using the same merchant) on the behalf of her brother Alfonso - Duke of Ferrara - the most loathed man in Venice at the time. Isabella still negotiates for her Night and eventually settled for a Nativity - but these paintings were not the same as historians have mistakenly believed for years. Alfonso played a duplicitous game with Giorgione executing this work for him. Among the duplicity and the ultimate theft and reworking of the Night/Sacred and Profane Love, Titian's character can now can be seen for all its ambition, cunning, and dishonesty. He will absorb several of Giorgione's paintings and rework them too, eventually rising to assume Bellini's coveted position of Painter to the Venetian State. The debt owed by Aurelio for the reworking of the Sacred and Profane Love would be finally resolved on the eventual death of old Bellini.

Considerations on the pudica pose.

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. 


The attitudes of Botticelli's Venuses (Primavera and the Birth of Venus) bear the stamp of a Praxitelean classicism of the middle ages, but Giorgione delivers his Venuses directly from the cosmos as the Nymph (see the Nymph and Satyr woodcut as presented in the Hypnerotomachia) appears to have been sourced from a constellational form. Giorgione's consistency with the left leg seems to be confirmed by the final arrival of the prominent left leg motif of the Twin Venuses of the Sacred and Profane Love and sourced from the constellation of Serpens CaputThis very potent attitude (the dominant left leg) arguably influenced Giorgione's Sleeping Venus c.1510, and the Sacred and Profane Love c.1514 (actually much earlier) as Isabella d'Este's merchant is documented to have approached Bellini in 1506 with a programme (Bellini was reluctant to follow the strict rules) and so the motif of the left leg precedes both the Sleeping Venus and the Sacred and Profane Love and yet can be evidenced in both. 

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 

Giorgione portrays a confident belief in a silent, interior language as the commonality between the self and others, and his works are also steeped in the investigation of an Italian religiosity antecedent to the rise of the Holy Roman Church - as a part of common heritage; the essence of the Italian Renaissance. In contrasting Giorgione's sensibility to Titian's, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili's unusual Italian mysticism would seem beyond the young Titian's personal interests or intellectual predilections, but still, this is not to challenge Titian's obvious intelligence which has been made clear by a marvellous gift for plastic representation. Nevertheless, if Titian be judged by modernist twentieth century criticism (and all 'art' if it is 'art' can be) the comment made by Marcel Duchamp in an interview in 1968 must be presented here:
"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 C├ęzanne. 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
This is the division between Giorgione and Titian. Giorgione through the collaboration that has become the Sacred and Profane Love, discovered something beyond mere representation and contextual manipulation of the image simply re-representing itself: Giorgione was working with images that were multirepresentational concepts. Titian probably never understood the conceptual depth that the Sacred and Profane Love's programme could invest by employing the multi level synthesis of the programme given to Bellini. The amount of information this method employed (symbology, geometry, mythology, allegory, plastic representation etc.) can be found formatively in the use of geometry by Fra Angelico and certain Northern painters; but the method in the Night/Sacred and Profane Love's programme took the methodology employed in previous allegoric methods to an entirely new level.


Fig  8. Lucas Cranach the Elder. Nymph of Spring, c.1518 Museum der Bildenden Kunste

One can be an uninformed though competent painter at the same time. Lucas Cranach examples not a stupid painter, but a painter unaware of the finer 'message' of the image of the reclined Venus (see fig 8). Curiously this work by Cranach seems to have combined Giorgione's Sleeping Venus with ta similar fountain emblem to that of the Sacred and Profane Love. Cranach has placed his Venus in an isolated environment far from the towns in the distance. She reclines upon a luxurious red fabric contrasted by the soothing fecund green of  fertility. Behind her a rectangular fountain with the form of a tomb perpetually showers its waters with its own abundance. Has Cranach seen paintings by Giorgione? Cranach may have chosen to deliberately ignore the refined points surrounding the Italian Venus, after all the subtleties of an historic Italian culture do not belong to his world; Cranach would become a friend of Martin Luther and so, sympathetic with the Protestant Reformation: does this interest in Italian paganism display a recalcitrance to the temporal rule of the Holy Roman Church? The Nymph of Spring [fig 8] participates in the manner of Giorgione's reclined or Sleeping Venus, but the mechanics forming the outcome while appearing similar, stem from entirely distinct agendas. 

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. Polia the novels heroine, should be seen as Colonna's answer to Dante's Beatrice in a story which could be described as an allegorical and alchemical fantasy and which appears to have influenced the later 'Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz', a later novella also steeped in alchemical implications. Alchemic propositions provide a thread which can be decorated with many religious deities through their theogonies, narratives, myths and allegories. It is interesting to note that the psychologist Carl Jung admired the Hypnerotomachia and thought the dream images to be an affirmation of his theory of archetypes, which brings to mind the work of Erich Neumann again in his publication The Great Mother. 
Are we dealing with Jungian archetypes or something more concrete? The next three interests shall consider 1. Concrete influence. 2. Archetypal associations and the curious relationship between Venice and Tenochtitlan. 3. Religious sources; Symbolism of the Cult of Mithras; the Tauroctony etc. These things need to be articulated even if only to be certain of dismissing any of them as fanciful.

Paul Doughton ©1997 - 2024. No images on this site to be used without permission.