A Digital Curiosity Cabinet

Archive for April, 2014

Love is the Drug, or is it? Sandro Boticelli’s Venus and Mars

 

 Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, about 1485, © The National Gallery, London

Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, about 1485, © The National Gallery, London

This painting at the National Gallery tells the tale of a complicated love triangle from an ancient Greek myth. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty is married to Vulcan, the Roman God of fire. But Vulcan cannot satisfy her passions, so Venus has an affair with Mars, the God of War. Venus is the beautiful lady in the white dress, with it’s elegant drapery. This scene illustrates the classic post-coital moment. Mars is fast asleep, exhausted after their lovemaking and she is still awake and wants to chat.

There are four mischievous satyrs cavorting in this painting. A satyr is a mythical creature, with the body of a man and the legs of a goat. One of the satyrs is blowing through a conch shell in an attempt to wake Mars. But he does not stir. The other satyrs are playing with Mar’s armour and one of them is trying on Mar’s helmet. The armour is a reminder that the liaison is adulterous, as it has been made by Vulcan, the cuckolded God of Fire. The satyr in the bottom right corner is playing with a hallucinogenic plant, known as ‘the poor man’s acid.’ The plant called Datura Stramonium, causes madness and the urge to take ones clothes off. The traditional interpretation of this painting is that Venus the God of love has conquered Mars the God of War. But did she have a little bit of help from a Renaissance love drug?

 


Cognoscenti in a Room Hung with Pictures, c.1620

This painting by an unknown Flemish artist provides a glimpse into the world of collecting and connoisseurship in Antwerp in the 17th century. It is probably an imagined scene, but it shows how artworks were displayed at the time. They are densely crammed onto the walls, alongside other valuable treasures. You can see coins, medals, sculpture, a fine Persian rug, Chinese porcelain and a range of scientific and astrological instruments. The richly dressed gentlemen are Cognoscenti, which is  the Italian word for connoisseur. These rather pretentious art connoisseurs are engrossed in studying these precious objects. The monkey in the open window is a symbol of the foolishness of man’s endeavours. The monkey is mocking their dedication to study, when perhaps they should be devoting their time to religious worship.

Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures,  © National Gallery, London

Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures, © National Gallery, London