Sunday, February 15, 2009

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy

I'm glad I caught this exhibition yesterday, appropriately V-Day, before it ends tomorrow. Approximately 150 objects were on show: maiolica, bella donna dishes, birth trays, gift coffers, erotic drawings. On one birth tray, Venus shoots golden rays from her pudendum into the eyes of heroes from Classical, medieval and Biblical writings. Achilles and Paris. Lancelot and Tristan. Samson. I forget the last one. My favorite object was a pair of waffle tongs that impressed the host's name on waffles that the guests could bring home with them. 

A number of the paintings caught my eye. I like very much Giulio Romano's painting of a Roman prostitute. She is wrapped in a suggestively diaphanous cloth, the end of which she holds up with one finger. A green cloth fallen by the right of the painting alludes to the practice of hiding erotic or mistress paintings behind curtains or screens. I was in the world of Browning's "My Last Duchess." Alessandro's (?) painting of the Lupercalia was almost-balletic. Noble young men, loin-covered with pelt of wolves they killed, dance from savage mountains towards the women standing near or in the city's doors, in order to touch the women's barrenness with a tuft of wolf fur.

The most exciting discovery, for me, was Pietro Aretino, an influential satirist and inventor of modern literate pornography. To Giulio Romano's series of pornographic drawings, engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, Aretino wrote sixteen ribald Sonetti Lussurioso. The work was titled I Modi. Wikipedia tells me that Michael Nyman set eight of the poems to music in 2007, but they proved no less controversial than they were at the time of their writing. Aretino had to flee Rome temporarily after the publication. 

This line engraving of the man, by Raimondo, illustrates Aretino's assertion that one should wear the organ of reproduction as prominently as a medal on one's hat. Another way of phrasing the same idea could be the Neo-Platonic formulation, highlighted by the Met curators, "All in all, and all in every part." Yes, that's a good way of putting it. 


Eshuneutics said...

What an amusing translation of Aretino!

Jee Leong Koh said...

Both translations are terribly amusing. Thanks for the link.