The subjectof this research is different representations of love in the Renaissancepainting. Whether it is requited, unrequited, platonic, passionate and ardentor forbidden; love has always been an eternal drive for human creation. Parallel with the development of humanthoughts and behaviors, the approach of artists portraying relationships amongpeople evolved as well.
After the breakthrough at the dawn of Renaissance, withartist detaching from the canonical religious images and opening towards seculartopics, and at the same time trying to give personality and emotion to everyfigure – whether it is anger, concern or love and devotion – the representationof affection became more apparent and explicit.From the subtle and suggestive or sometimes evenstern Renaissance portraits of married couples, allegorical celebration of loveaimed at the intellectual elite, to the daring images of ravishment amongsecret lovers, these pieces of art give us a powerful insight into the privatelife of the people in this era and reflect the zeitgeist of the Renaissance.*********Renaissance creations witness a spiritualdecline in the mindset of the people and a certain liberation of the dogmaticviews on art imposed by the Church.
This social climate was sparked by the richpatron families who injected a bit of secular freedom in the life dominated byreligion. This resulted in embracing new subjects and approaches in art both byartists and by patrons. They were driven by new humanist ideals that placed thecenter of attention on the individual and valued a person-centered view of theworld. Art gradually started to focus more on depicting the bourgeois city lifeand its details and became a status symbol for the wealthy elite. These secular priorities are especiallynoticeable in the context of marriage, where art served an important functionof marking the matrimonial ritual. In this period, the act of marriage wasquite informal and ununiformed – it did not bare any legal consistency, itbased solely on mutual consent of the families, and it could take place invirtually any location, from the public square, wood shop, to a garden or a stable.
The fluidity of the institution of marriage rendered public manifestations ofit and material objects (artwork) that followed very important as they providedthe physical demonstration of the legitimacy of the union. This wasexceptionally significant among the wealthy families, however, it was presentin all social levels. When it comes to love, Renaissance marriagehad little to do with it. Love and marriage were considered as two importantparts of life, yet very different. The idea of romantic love was associatedwith courtship, while marriage was a matter of practicality and politics, abond not just between two people, but their families and fortunes as well.
Hence,husbands and wives usually had relationships based more on companionshipinstead of passion and emotional devotion. However, artistic representations ofpure and perfect unions secured public approval and represented affection evenif it was not present, or not yet developed, as was the case with arrangedmarriages. In this context, as the quintessential piece of art, comes forth the”marriage portrait” – visual symbol of a harmonious bond of two individuals,usually facing each other in profile, in front of the lands their unioncombines.Many of these portraits are portraying the time of theactual marriage ceremony. An example of this can be seen in Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of Mister Marsilio Cassotti and HisWife Faustina.
Lotto, a genius and inventive artist, was leading in theRenaissance in his expression of feelings and state of marriage between thecouples. In his usage of double portraits, unusual at the time and for thispurpose, he was able to not only allude to the sitters’ sentiments, but also expresscomplex ideas by including symbolic elements. This painting is a classicexample. It shows Mister Cassotti gently taking his bride’s hand to place awedding ring on her finger, as a hovering Cupid joins them together by laying ayoke on their shoulders, as a symbol of their newly created bond. Laid overtheir shoulders, laurel leaves allude to chastity, virtue and fidelity, butalso the victory of marriage.
Lotto’s virtuosity in depicting his sitters’ sentiments andrelationship is also evident in his Portraitof a Married Couple, identified as Antonio Agliardi and Apollonia Cassotti.There has been plenty of academic debate regarding the symbolism of this piece,particularly the interpretation of the crouching squirrel and the writing onthe paper held by the man. According to Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia,squirrel is an animal able to foresee storms; also, its voluminous tail servesit as a shelter. Therefore, in this scene, intensified by the landscape in thebackground showing cloudy skies and trees bending in the wind, the squirrelcould be interpreted as a vow that the man will protect his wife and familywhatever storms come1.Diana Wronski Galis read the inscription on the paper as”homo num quam”, meaning “man never”, as a part of the speech given by thepriest at the marriage ceremony.
He interprets it as an allusion to thefidelity in marriage, which is reinforced by the presence of the dog, a typicalsymbol of loyalty. Although the exact meaning of the symbols in this portraitstill remain uncertain, Lotto has nevertheless created a moving imageexpressing marriage harmony, duty, faithfulness and support among the partners,for whatever comes. These two pieces by Lorenzo Lotto truly epitomize theessence of marital love in two different stages. The first portrait he managedto capture the optimism of a new, young couple, before putting their love totest, while the pair in the second painting seems as if they have alreadysurpassed the difficulties of life and now they are approving their companionship.*********Love in the Renaissance was in fact far moreraw and libidinous than the licit and chaste portrayals mentioned in theprevious paragraph. Even though the Church condemned sexual interactionsoutside marriage and the purpose of procreation, or any form of carnal pleasurefor the sake of itself, Renaissance eroticism and the following art flourished.In these “sex positive” moments, especially noticeable in the period beforeCounter-Reformation and in High Renaissance, the profane love was interpretedas a positive inspiration for new creations. In this stimulating environment, explicitlysalacious imagery formed a serious body of art.
To modern eyes, they afford aglimpse into the secret and secluded, less known side of art and life of thetime. Explicit representations of lovers stemmedfrom an immersion in classical antiquity. Ancient romans were considered asliberated from shame, celebrating nudity and its glory, taking licentious andcarnal desires as an endless source of inspiration. Renaissance intellectualmilieu submerged in the ancient erotic literature and mythology, admiring thegods that had human feelings despite their power, raising thee feelings to thedivine and sublime level. Heterosexual or homosexual acts of lovemaking werecommon in Roman wall paintings as well, and their remains were avidly studiedand offered a rich thematic repertoire. But above all, this veil of mythologyhelped in creating excuses to show erotic scenes of nude men and women, anappropriate pretext for images that would otherwise be condemned as outrageous.Most of these paintings and drawings weremeant for private use – enjoyed by a single patron, or limited number ofprivileged spectators, behind the closed doors of studiolos, loggias or villas.
The exception are the prints, pieces that were mass-produced, spreading theseimages to wider audience. Fruits, vegetables, birds and keys were the essential partof the language that defined the profane culture in the Renaissance. This isshown nowhere better than in the glorious villa of Augustino Chigi, known asVilla Farnesina, and in particular in its garden loggia, frescoed by Raphaeland his scholars including Giulio Romano, Giovanni di Udine and GianfrancoPenni. They depicted the legend of the illicit love of Cupid and the nymphnamed Psyche with sensual nudes and vibrant images heaping with erotic subtext,fruits and vegetables with an ‘erotic alter ego’2.Allegories of sexual intercourse are present in details showing ripe figs andpeaches being split open by zucchini or suggestively shaped aubergines. VillaFarnesina is a microcosm of lascivious love – courtesans, gods, satyrs, nature– and it stands as a monument that defines the culture of Renaissance erotica.
Raphael’s students Giulio Romano and Marcantonio Raimondiworked together on the Renaissance’s most famous yet notorious engravings oferotic images known as I modi. Thesixteen prints depicted crude, vulgar copulation of couples. The mostcontroversial thing about these prints was their avoidance of coded symbols andallegories with birds and fruit – I Modi were downright pornographic. This waseven more heightened with the absence of references to mythology, which wouldjustify the profanity of the images. The protagonists are ordinary mortalsinstead of ancient deities, reality instead of fantasy. This made the printsextremely offensive and scandalous, causing their suppression and destructionof the molds as soon as they were first published.
However, some of themsurvived, and having the advantage of being prints, they easily found their wayto the broad audience, thusly making public what was meant to be private andsecluded behind the walls of Renaissance bedrooms.Giulio Romano proceeded with creating dramatic lustfulscenes, as is evident in his painting called Two Lovers. The lascivious loving scene between the couple isreinforced in the sexual metaphors carved in relief on the bed involving thesatyr – a typical symbol of carnal desire. Heightening the eroticism of thescene, the lovers are being spied on by a disgraceful old woman hiding behindthe door. The unseen viewer also implies the illicit nature of the love affair.The voyeur’s dog is drawing attention to the keys hanging from her garment –another symbol of the profane culture. “Chiavare”, meaning “to turn the key”,was used in the Renaissance as a slang term for copulation, making the keysthemselves an indisputable metaphor of the subject. 3Just as I Modi, this piece is entirelylacking any mythological background.
Without the overlay of appropriatenessthat a classical reference would provide, TwoLovers is a free and uncensored study of profane love and the thrills ofpassion. *********In the rich and intellectually sophisticatedlevels of society in the Renaissance, the newly discovered subject matters oflove and passion were taken a step further. Along with the publication ofencyclopedias containing explanations of symbols and allegories, the artists ofthe time gave this new culture of metaphor a full form, resulting withintricate pieces that represent the pinnacle of the art that glorified love,above all.
The artistic culture of allegory and symbol was built on theclassical heritage, but it expanded the symbolic resonance of traditional forms– the nude gods became more complex characters in the creation of artwork andits meanings. When it comes to the idea of love,philosophers of the time imposed a certain barrier between the ‘higher’-sacred,and ‘lower’-profane love. The lower desire (Eros) belonged to the earthly worldof physical passion and reproduction, while the higher Eros arose to the divineworld of superior chase love. However, Renaissance artists begun to break thisbarrier changing the theories of love and the body, thusly making it possibleto find sacred and higher love even in carnal desire and procreation. A major role in these paintings has the femalebody and its sensual appeal. The nude woman could represent a courtesan or agoddess, i.
e. the lowest level of love and animalistic passion, the highestdivine kind, or, however, the medium level of legitimate marital love. Whateverthe meaning, these images of the female nude are undoubtedly rooted in theclassical mythology. In the ancient Rome’s Pantheon, Venus was the goddessembodying the idea of love and female beauty, and her body allowed artisticrepresentation of nudity. But regardless of the obvious erotic appeal of thisfigure, it certainly carried a value that was socially positive – as the meanof procreation, it represented fertility and therefore production of an heir. The dichotomy of two kinds of love is epitomized inTitian’s Sacred and Profane Love. Theprotagonists are two beautiful women, very similar in appearance that theycould be sisters or even twins.
Representing two Venuses, one is clothed as thetypical Renaissance bride, while the other one is nude. An academic debate hasbeen revolving around the roles of two figures. Erwin Panofsky4read the painting within a Neoplatonic language, where the clothed Venusrepresents Earthly physical love and beauty, while the nude one stands fordivine love, a transcendental and intellectual kind. On the other hand,according to Ficino and Pico4, the roles are reversed. The EarthlyVenus is the ‘vulgar’ one, representing carnal desire with her nudity, whilethe celestial Venus is freed from all physical aspects, and stands for thepositive aspects of marital sex, which leads to procreation. Both Venuses sit on a fountain shaped as an ancientsarcophagus, decorated with a relief that also brings a narrative related tothe subject.
On the left side the relief, a horse is being led by its mane by aman, while the right shows the story of Venus’s lover Adonis, who was punishedby Mars in a moment of jealousy. Beverly Louise Brown5reads the horse in first scene as a symbol of man’s lust, and how it must becontrolled, and the second scene as a message that carnal desires bring dangerand punishment. The plethora of symbols and metaphors in Sacred and Profane Love makes it a powerfulpiece that celebrates love in all its forms, the passionate love within amarriage and the elevated intellectual state of love, and the balance of both ofthem needed for a prosperous life. A similar allegory of two kinds of love Titian has shown inhis Venus blindfolding Cupid. In thispiece, Venus is fully clothed and accompanied by two Graces as she covers theeyes of one of the Cupids. Two cupids, like two Venuses, represent two conceptsof love – Eros and Anteros6.The blind Cupid, shooting his arrows regardless of their victims’ age, status orlooks stands for the lower, physical love and passion.
His seeing brother, onthe other hand represents love that is divine and virtuous. In Francucci’s 1613poem, two nymphs accompanying Venus are identified as “two nymphs hostile tolove”, named Dora and Armilla7.Representing virtues such as chastity and modesty, they are contributing to thenarrative of an equilibrium of love, as they stand next to Venus, the goddessof love.