Monday, January 21, 2019

updated again.  Working my way into the next section, on Hollis Frampton and 'structuralist' film

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Michael Fried was right to say that the focus on objects qua objects, as things which displace air or water, which change in our perceptions as we move around them brings us to the point of theater. 
…I want to make a claim that I cannot hope to prove or substantiate but that I believe nevertheless to be true: viz., that theatre and theatricality are at war today, not simply with modernist painting (or modernist painting and sculpture), but with art as such - and to the extent that the different arts can be described as modernist, with modernist sensibility as such. This claim can be broken down into three propositions or theses: 
1. The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theatre…. …
2. Art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre. …
3. The concepts of quality and value-and to the extent that these are central to art, the concept of art itself-are meaningful, or wholly meaningful, only within the individual artsWhat lies between the arts is theatre
The first paragraph of Mendelson’s review 
Christopher Butler’s survey of post-war literature, music and painting maintains a judicious critical distance from its subject. Readers who wish a more direct report from the front lines of the avant-garde should consult a new anthology, Collective Consciousness: Art Performances in the Seventies, edited by Jean Dupuy. This documents the work of almost two hundred avant-gardists from Europe and America who displayed their most advanced work at a gallery in New York and wrote explanatory statements for inclusion in the book. Despite the large number of participants, the level of inspiration and accomplishment is remarkably uniform. One artist, no better and no worse than the rest, supplied a colour film of a naked man scrabbling about in a forest. Another showed a videotape of himself bowing solemnly to the camera. A third tacked up a scrap of paper that read, ‘Look in the mirror as I fuck you up the ass, the pain on your face is my freedom, your tears are the drops of my manhood,’ and waited for angry women to tear it down. The established justification for this sort of thing is the thought it supposedly provokes in the audience. But the most thought-provoking sentence in the book was not written by any of the participating artists. It is the matter-of-fact statement printed in large type on the copyright page: ‘Publication of this book was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, a federal agency.’ 
Mendelson’s essay was published in 1981. The “NEA Four” case like the Mapplethorpe trial was in 1990.  The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen was banned by the BBC in 1977. If it were considered art and not entertainment, people would have been debating why it was denied government funding, not after the fact as with Mapplethorpe, but for help making the album.
But “performance art” was more than shock.  Remember Panofsky’s description of the Florentine intermedio, “where the conclusion of Plato’s Republic appeared on the stage”, and the nobleman who wrote “that it was very beautiful but nobody could understand what it was all about.”  Performance artin the 16th century and the 20thdeveloped for the same reasons: the need to reconcile idealism, eternal, deathless, with growing worldliness, economic and intellectual, and engagement with life as experienced, in time.  Performance art was a way for artists raised on idealism to come to terms with relativism, using what they knew to practice a formalist, including intellectually formalist scholasticism, in abstract forms of narrative. Fried was right to say that it was “the negation of art“, as he defined it. Theater is the death of art only for those who associate art with philosophy, and “truth”. Avant-garde performance was a conflicted hybrid, an abstract theater against theater, against fiction, against storytelling. And the names in Dupuy’s volume include groups and people active in New York theater until today, Mabou Mines, founded by Joanne Akalaitis, and David Warrilow, later known for work with Beckett, dancers and choreographers associated with the Judson Dance Theater, as well as Vito Acconci, Gordon Matta Clark, and Richard Serra. It’s the scene where Kathryn Bigelow, director of  The Hurt Lockerand Zero Dark Thirty, got her start. And she’s in the book.
As I’ve said, for ‘art’, meaning ‘fine art’ the environment was as always aristocratic, anti-bourgeois, the leftist aspects tagged on. But again as happened before, the aristocratic art of intellectuals and free-thinkers is transformed into the art of academics. And this is where Mendelson, and Tom Wolfe, and critics of “post-modern” tenured radicalism in their various ways touch on a point, at least for this country. Few people noticed that the character/creator of the project from which the recent satirical film The Square gets its name is referred to as an “artist and sociologist”. The Square won the Palme d’Or, showing just how much the art world has expanded that people get the jokes. The joke, cheap or not, is on academia as well.
The ‘performance theater of truth’ is the end of the line for Modernism, but it was inevitable. Fried was wrong only to argue against it. It was a focus on performer as body, as person, as individual. The performances were basic, sometimes violent, polymorphous, infantile, sometimes explicitly even dogmatically prosaic. It was a theater because it was the art out of the discovery of time: time is a person or thing moving from point A to point B. It’s was in a sense children’s time, experience in the present, experience as phenomenology, not yet the fully narrative form that moves from beginning to end, with the knowledge that ‘end’ for us is death. And this is when Duchamp returns to the scene: Duchamp the phobic celebrant of  the old 19thcentury literary forms, Duchamp to Warhol, narrative and anti-narrative. 
There could be no more poignant contrast to this confidence in the spells of art [in the perceptual "objectivity" of Egyptian hieroglyphs] than a passage from Plato's older contemporary Euripides that also deals with tomb sculpture. When Alcestis is going to die, her grieving husband Admetus speaks of the work he will commission for his solace:

And represented by the skillful hands
Of craftsmen, on the bed thy body shall
Be laid; whereon I shall fall in embrace
And clasp my hands around it, call thy name,
And fancy in my arms my darling wife
To hold, holding her not; perhaps, I grant,
Illusory delight, yet my soul's burden
Thus shall I lighten...

What Ademtus seeks is not a spell, not even assurance, only a dream for those who are awake; in other words, precisely that state of mind to which Plato, the stern seeker after truth, objected.
Plato, we know, looked back with nostalgia at the immobile schemata of Egyptian art.[i]

Carl Andre, Equivalent VIII, 1966. 120 fire bricks, Tate Britain 
Ernst Gombrich published Art and Illusion in 1960, when no one in the “artworld” to use the phrase coined by Arthur Danto in 1964, was about to put on a play by Euripides.  Gombrich opposed ‘historicism’, but Panofsky was right, and Billy Wilder was right, and I'm sure both got the irony of Alcestis to which Gombrich seems to have been oblivious. But that's a secondary point. The first one, here, is to say that in the the 1960s ‘Fine‘ art was beginning to face the competition.


By the time Danto coined his phrase the art world had shrunk in importance as much as it had grown in pretension. But more than pretension, like Lefebvre’s aristocracy and leftist intelligentsia it had grown in exclusivity. And it’s not at all just because pedants tried to define what serious art could or could not be. Fine art had become a conversation among a small group of people, talking, arguing,  completing each other’s sentences and one-upping each other, just as artists and intellectuals always have, but in this case pushing towards an inevitable dead end. Carl Andre’s “A brick is a brick is a brick”  is such a blunt statement of materialism, and the work itself such a final ‘reply’ in the conversation –Equivalent VIIIis a brilliant evocation of the relations of parts and wholes, of scale; it’s a thing to stare at and think with, as all successful art is–  that the only viable retort is to start the game anew: ”Well, this is a brick from the house my grandfather built”. 

But we’re still in the hybrid, cultural-halfworld of forms based on their relations to the past or to other forms than to the world and the present. Andre’s brilliance is the brilliance of the same small world of subjectivity in the shadow of positivism, that gave us Elliot and Kafka, Wittgenstein and Weininger, Duchamp, Borges, Robbe-Grillet et al.. Minimalism, Performance Art, Conceptualism, and Structural Film, are a coda to Modernism. In a sense, with the exception of certain strands of conceptualism, it’s back to the beginning: the hard-fought elision of the personal that succeeds, knowingly or not, only in amplifying it. When the personal in eliminated, as positivist critics would prefer, it fails altogether. 

[i]E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, Princeton University Press, 1960 (1989)  p. 125

Updated, expanded SeptemberAll of this is going into the manuscript 
Edward Mendelson in 1981, reviewing After the Wake: An Essay on the Contemporary Avant-Garde, by Christopher Butler. 
‘My plan,’ he writes, ‘has been to argue that in the 1950s radically new conventions for the language of art were developed by writers, musicians and painters who wished to break away from modernism.’ This argument faces difficulties at the start, since the avant-garde has been proclaiming its radical newness longer than anyone can remember. The most time-honoured convention of the manifesto-writers is innovation: the formula for newness is handed down unchanged from generation to generation. Butler quotes an artist who wants nothing to do with ‘all the structures, values, feelings, of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain.’ This happens to be Frank [Donald] Judd speaking in the late 1960s, but all that distinguishes it from Futurist manifestos of fifty years before is its tone of lumpen disgruntlement. Allen Ginsberg, quoted in one of Butler’s epigraphs, says: ‘there is nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now.’ This remark, differing only in vocabulary from claims made early in this century for the new machine age, is proof in itself that Ginsberg’s ignorance of history does not exempt him from repeating it. 

Allen Ginsberg, quoted in one of Butler’s epigraphs, says: ‘there is nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now.’ This remark, differing only in vocabulary from claims made early in this century for the new machine age, is proof in itself that Ginsberg’s ignorance of history does not exempt him from repeating it.
A more vivid proof, not mentioned by Butler, may be found in Ginsberg’s recent echoes of the totalitarian apologetics offered by some of the Modernists of the 1920s and 1930s. Ginsberg has placed his spiritual life in the care of a Tibetan guru (one consciously avoided by the Dalai Lama), the autocrat of a spiritual retreat and poetry workshop near Boulder, Colorado. Among the guru’s activities are punching recalcitrant visiting faculty in the face and having them stripped naked by his goon squad. Ginsberg defends the guru’s methods as an “experiment in monarchy”, and insists that he must not be judged by the standards of lesser mortals.[i]
The public, the demimonde, and the curators in 1990. 

There were times when the Mapplethorpe trial in Cincinnati produced testimony worthy of the title attached to the museum exhibit: "The Perfect Moment."
Perfect Moment No. 1: Prosecutor Frank Prouty holds up two photographs, one of a man with a bullwhip in his rectum. He asks the art director who chose these images for the show: "Would you call these sexual acts?"
She answers: "I would call them figure studies."
Perfect Moment No. 2: Prouty questions museum director Dennis Barrie: "This photograph of a man with his finger inserted in his penis, what is the artistic content of that?"
He responds: "It's a striking photograph in terms of light and composition."[ii]

The defense is that art doesn’t really matter, because its only aesthetics. And if that’s the case nothing matters short of crime, actual law-breaking, laws written by others to be applied by others, by the state and not by us. This is the result of a belief in freedom of speech linked more to freedom of property than freedom of debate. In an atomized society of voyeurs with no political responsibility art is reduced to exhibits of masturbation followed by applause, “self-expression”, described without judgment, because judging is moralizing, and that’s left for the law-makers. 

Grace Gluick does better at least than the museum director in a review of the posthumous authorized biography. After referring the “brouhaha” of the obscenity trial, she turns to the book and the author   

Like these would-be censors, Patricia Morrisroe, a magazine journalist, does not engage in an informed discussion of her subject's work… instead she focuses on his progressively degenerate life style. Her book is long on gossipy detail (nearly a quarter of it is devoted to a ghoulishly clinical rundown of Mapplethorpe's final days) but short on real engagement with the work. The photographs were the life and vice versa, she implies, but that's about all she offers in the way of elucidation.
Early in his restless adulthood, she tells us, Mapplethorpe formed a symbiotic bond with Patti Smith, who eventually became a punk-rock star; after that he had a long relationship with Samuel Wagstaff, a wealthy older curator and collector who helped orchestrate Mapplethorpe's career. But his rapacious sexual appetite led him to other, less stable and sometimes downright dangerous liaisons. According to Ms. Morrisroe, he had a penchant for sadomasochistic, coprophiliac encounters with well-muscled black men he picked up in bars. A racist (who also seemed to dislike Jews), he called them "nigger" in love play and exacted from them servitude as photographic models. "His photographs would serve as a diary of his sexual adventures," Ms. Morrisroe writes. He was convinced that he had acquired AIDS from a black man, although he boasted of having had sex with at least a thousand male partners.
"Mapplethorpe's loft had become a port of call for men with every conceivable sexual perversion," Ms. Morrisroe writes, "and they arrived with suitcases, and sometimes doctor's bags, filled with catheters, scalpels, syringes, needles, laxatives, hot water bottles, rope, handcuffs and pills. They dressed up as women, SS troopers and pigs."[iii]
The final paragraphs of Glueck and Ellen Goodman, quoted above on the trial.

My own feeling is that those "bizarre aspects" -- the sadomasochistic images documenting a tribal culture that, like it or not, is part of the real world -- are Mapplethorpe's most original contribution.… Lightweight though he was, even Mapplethorpe deserves a better biography.

Goodman

I agree with the decision and with those who defended the museum's right to show these photographs. To leave the dark side out of a Mapplethorpe show would be like leaving the tortured black paintings out of a retrospective of Goya's work. It wouldn't be legitimate to pick and choose the sunny side of the work -- the Calla lilies and celebrities -- and show it as the whole….
But even in the moment of victory, there is still a warning here. This trial, and the funding woes of the NEA, are not just the fault of Jesse Helms on the rampage. They are the fault as well of an art community whose members prefer to live in a rarefied climate, talking to each other, subject only to "peer review" and scornful of those who translate the word "art" into "smut."
In many cities, there is still the knock of the policeman at the door. Having failed to make its case in public, the art community ends up making it in court. In the history of art, this is not a perfect moment.

Discussions of Mapplethorpe still largely miss the point. If the work is good, it’s because he’s described everything that’s damaged in our relation to homosexuality. One of his childhood neighbors remembers Mapplethorpe telling him  “There's this clock in Hell that chimes every hour, You will never get out . . . you will never get out . . . you will never get out." [iv]  His work is tragic or it’s nothing. The cold beauty is defensive armoring, the dream of a shell as hard as steel, inured to pain. To take his work seriously is to admit that all obscenity trials are absurd. He saw himself as obscene, and seeing no choice but to accept it dove in head first. The question is whether he described his sense of his own obscenity, his self-hatred, his need for self-annihilation well enough that an audience claiming at least to be without his fears and the desires that come from them, can feel their pull. 

“My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.”[v]

Mel Gibson is a good filmmaker.  His conflicts, intelligence and technical skill make him one.  Art is a craft. It’s a lie; it’s seduction. If you’re not tempted to go with it, it doesn’t work. Double Indemnity doesn’t work if you’ve never wanted to kill. 

Nietzsche or Baudelaire: Is there a pernicious form of art? Is there a sick philosophy?  Philosophy faces the bigger question: to see Nietzsche’ as a tragic figure, a moralist anti-moralist, an archetypical Christian apostate, caught in the false dichotomy of rationalism and irrationalism, to read him in context and for subtext, renders his philosophy into  mere literature.  

The arts are Burkean. Artists are revolutionary only by trying to make sense of a present that others haven’t had the courage or honesty to face. You can’t describe anything in detail without having intimate knowledge of it, and intimate knowledge is attachment, and describing your perceptions of the world is more compelling than declaiming your fantasies. Milton as Blake says, was "of the Devil's party without knowing it." 

Craft, again, is common form; the most radical craftsmen always see themselves as traditionalists, even if they see their relation to craft as to reinventing it. But the grand dialecticians of Modernism always wanted to pretend the dialectic ends with them. The reification of contradiction as ‘immanent critique’, by the bureaucrats of the Frankfurt School was as decadent in its origins as the formalism of the Vienna Circle. The art celebrated in its name as radical is in fact always the most honestly reactionary, the most ‘pernicious’, because the most attached to the present, the world that made it. 

The problem for programmatic liberalism as for radicalism is that both are fantasies sprung out of individualist imagination; both deny the fact of what Arendt called human “plurality”.  The truths of liberalism and radicalism are singular because they’re generalizations; the truths of art are plural because specific. Brecht’s decadence is  far less problematic than Walter Benjamin’s for the same reason Borges’ decadence is more problematic than Billy Wilder’s. But Modernism takes what  it can use. Self-hatred is as appropriate a topic in discussing Borges and Philip Roth as Mapplethorpe, Fassbinder, Celine, Mishima, or Houellebecq. “Céline is my Proust!”[vi] as Roth said. But the only people to refer openly to Roth’s self-hatred use it to attack his work.  And he’s defended from the charge with the same loyalty as defenders of Borges, for reasons that have nothing to do with the work itself, but only with the role they’re made to play, even though Borges deals in generalizations, and Roth in specifics. 

Two Quotes, from Kant and de Maistre.

Thus we observe here as elsewhere in human affairs, in which almost everything is paradoxical, a surprising and unexpected course of events: a large degree of civic freedom appears to be of advantage to the intellectual freedom of the people, yet at the same time it establishes insurmountable barriers. A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity.[vii]

Everything that constrains a man strengthens him[viii]

The converse of the innate conservatism of the arts is that the arts describe society at its most complex, and this complexity is a threat to idealism of any form. Moments of stress, when societies are opening up or closing down produce a flowering of culture, pushing against assumptions or demands. So Kant and de Maistre could be describing Athens and the Renaissance or fin de Siècle Vienna or Weimer, or the founding of the United States.

The word “innovate”—to make new—used to have chiefly negative connotations: it signified excessive novelty, without purpose or end. Edmund Burke called the French Revolution a “revolt of innovation”; Federalists declared themselves to be “enemies to innovation.” George Washington, on his deathbed, was said to have uttered these words: “Beware of innovation in politics.” Noah Webster warned in his dictionary, in 1828, “It is often dangerous to innovate on the customs of a nation.”[ix]

It’s safe to assume  that American liberal critics of the jargon of business school and Madison Ave  will make no reference to its history, or use today in the language of  the alt-leftand Occupy,or Ranciere’s “Disruptive Dissensus”[x]. The same critics of will lump Edmund Burke with Sarah Palin.[xi]And none of them will have much to say about art, except those things that confirm their own idealisms, or that they twist to shape it.


[i]  Edward Mendelson. “Post-Modern Vanguard”, London Review of Books,  September 3 1981
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v03/n16/edward-mendelson/post-modern-vanguard
[ii]   Ellen Goodman,  “A Warning From The Mapplethorpe Trial”, Washington Post, October 9, 1990
https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1990/10/09/a-warning-from-the-mapplethorpe-trial/ed531ed0-e7c4-44fe-ac8a-cbd488b89e01
[iii]  Grace Glueck, “Fallen Angel”, New York Times, June 25 1995, https://www.nytimes.com/1995/06/25/books/fallen-angel.html
[iv]  Kunio Francis Tanabe, “The Darkroom Of The Soul”, Washington Post, May 28, 1995 https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/1995/05/28/in-the-darkroom-of-the-soul/68209f7f-0504-4df6-a110-6d1ff20b4ff4
[v]  Jeannette Walls with Ashley Pearson, “Mel Gibson says his wife may be going to hell” TodayAug. 5, 2010
https://www.today.com/popculture/mel-gibson-says-his-wife-could-be-going-hell-wbna4224452
[vi]  Norman Manea, “Nearby and Together: Norman Manea on His Friend Philip Roth”, LA Review of Books, June 23rd2018
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/nearby-and-together-norman-manea-on-his-friend-philip-roth/
[vii]Kant, What is Enlightenment,  trans: Mary C Smith,  http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html
[viii]Quoted in John Morley, Critical Miscellanies (Vol. 2 of 3) Essay 4: Joseph de Maistre
Macmillan And Co., Limited
New York: the Macmillan Company 1905,  p. 312
[ix]Jill Lepore, “The Disruption Machine: What the gospel of innovation gets wrong”, The New Yorker,  June 24th2014 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/the-disruption-machine
[x]Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, Steven Corcoran (ed., tr.), Continuum, 2010, 
[xi]Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Oxford University Press , 2011

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Foucault, Discipline and Punish
The extension of the disciplinary methods is inscribed in a broad historical process: the development at about the same time of many other technologies – agronomical, industrial, economic. But it must be recognized that, compared with the mining industries, the emerging chemical industries or methods of national accountancy, compared with the blast furnaces or the steam engine, panopticism has received little attention. It is regarded as not much more than a bizarre little utopia, a perverse dream – rather as though Bentham had been the Fourier of a police society, and the Phalanstery had taken on the form of the Panopticon. And yet this represented the abstract formula of a very real technology, that of individuals. There were many reasons why it received little praise; the most obvious is that the discourses to which it gave rise rarely acquired, exception the academic classifications, the status of sciences; but the real reason is no doubt that the power that it operates and which it augments is a direct, physical power that men exercise upon one another. An inglorious culmination had an origin that could be only grudgingly acknowledged. But it would be unjust to compare the disciplinary techniques with such inventions as the steam engine or Amici's microscope. They are much less; and yet, in a way, they are much more. If a historical equivalent or at least a point of comparison had to be found for them, it would be rather in the 'inquisitorial' technique.

The eighteenth century invented the techniques of discipline and the examination, rather as the Middle Ages invented the judicial investigation. But it did so by quite different means.The investigation procedure, an old fiscal and administrative technique, had developed above all with the reorganization of the Church and the increase of the princely states in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. At this time it permeated to a very large degree the jurisprudence first of the ecclesiastical courts, then of the lay courts. The investigation as an authoritarian search for a truth observed or attested was thus opposed to the old procedures of the oath, the ordeal, the judicial duel, the judgement of God or even of the transaction between private individuals.
Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws
On the principle of democracy  
There need not be much integrity for a monarchical or despotic  government to maintain or sustain itself. The force of the laws in the  one and the prince's ever-raised arm in the Other can rule or contain  the whole. But in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is VIRTUE.  
What I say is confirmed by the entire body of history and is quite in  conformity With the nature of things. For it is clear that less virtue is  needed in a monarchy, where the one who sees to the execution of the  laws judges himself above the laws, than in a popular government, where the one who sees to the execution of the laws feels that he is  subject to them himself and that he will bear their weight.   
It is also clear that the monarch who ceases to see to the execution of  the laws, through bad counsel or negligence, may easily repair the  damage; he has only to change his counsel or correct his own  negligence. But in a popular government when the laws have ceased to  be executed, as this can come only from the corruption of the republic,  the state is already lost. 
It was a fine spectacle in the last century to see the impotent attempts  of the English to establish democracy among themselves. As those who  took part in public affairs had no virtue at all, as their ambition was  excited by the success of the most audacious one [2] and the spirit of one  faction was repressed only by the spirit of another, the government was  constantly changing; the people, stunned, sought democracy and found  it nowhere. Finally, after much motion and many shocks and jolts, they  had to come to rest on the very government that had been proscribed. 
When Sulla wanted to return liberty to Rome, it could no longer be  accepted; Rome had but a weak remnant ofvirtue, and as it had ever  less, instead of reawakening after Caeser, Tiberius, Caius,* Claudius,  Nero, and Domitian, it became ever more enslaved; all the blows were  struck against tyrants, none against tyranny.  
2 Cromwell.  *Caligula.  
Foucault gets silly pretty quickly, but what's not's silly should have been for decades before, and yet it wasn't.  I'd never  heard of Bentham's panopticon before 1980. A few paragraphs and an illustration and was enough to make me want to puke.

And Montesquieu is so much better than the fucking Brits.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

"Nelle mie opere caco sangue."

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Old and new
Panofsky, "What is Baroque?"
The twisted and constrained mentality of the Counter Reformation period shows in innumerable phenomena: for instance, in the frightful conflicts between religious dogma and scientific thought (a problem that had not existed for a man like Leonardo da Vinci), but the most illuminating fact is perhaps the reaction of the period upon the beautiful nude in general and the classical nude in particular. Invectives were hurled against Michelangelo's Last Judgement, which escaped destruction only by a thorough chastening, The church stated that classical marbles could be tolerated only if they were not exposed to public view; the sculptor Ammannati (at the age of seventy-one, it is true) repented in sackcloth and ashes for having made figures so scantily dressed, and the bronze fig leaf affixed to classical statues is a very characteristic invention of this period. On the other hand, both artist and art lovers were in reality no less susceptible to the beauty of classical nudes than were the Renaissance people, only their enthusiasm was marred—and sharpened—by a guilty conscience. What in the days of Raphael had been a matter of course now become a matter of either cool archaeological interest or sinful excitement, and often a mixture of both.  
In Bronzino's Descent into Limbo, the Eve is a literal adaptation of the Venus of Knidos, much more archaeological than any work of Raphael; but just this combination of classic beauty with a bashful posture and a seeming intangibility makes the figure almost ambiguous. The beholder feels that beauty is looked upon as something dangerous or even prohibited, and for this very reason is struck by these frozen crystalline nudes as by something more voluptuous and intoxicating than the straightforwardness of High Renaissance art or the sensual brio of the Baroque.

Panofsky Studies in Iconology
In the main group, Cupid is shown embracing Venus who holds an arrow and an
apple. The apple is tendered to the eager boy and the arrow concealed, perhaps
implying the idea 'sweet but dangerous.' Furthermore the adolescent age and more
than tender gesture of Cupid give quite an ambiguous turn to this presumably
harmless embrace of mother and Child. This impression is sharpened rather than
tempered by the fact that Cupid is shown as a quasi-sexless being, although the
myrtle plant appearing behind him is the classical symbol of love, and the two billing
doves at his feet signify 'amorous caresses'. To conclude: the picture shows an
image of Luxury rather than an ordinary group of Venus embracing Cupid, and this
is corroborated by the fact that Cupid kneels on a pillow, a common symbol of
idleness and lechery. 


On the left of this exquisitely lascivious group appears the head of an elderly
woman madly tearing her hair. For her Vasari's label 'Jealousy' is very acceptable;
for, just as Jealousy combines the terrifying aspects of Envy and Despair, so this
figure combines the pathos of ancient tragic masks With the gesture of frenzied hair-
tearing seen in a Dürer etching known as 'The Desperate Man.' On the right is a
putto throwing roses who on his left foot wears an anklet adorned with little bells, an
ornament or charm frequently found in classical, particularly Hellenistic art. To him
Vasari's terms 'Pleasure' and 'Jest' may be applied with almost equal correctness,
and he is certainly intended to establish a contrast With the sinister figure of
Jealousy. However, his promised pleasures are signalled as futile and treacherous by
the ominous presence of two masks, one of a young woman, the other of an elderly
and malevolent man.  
That masks symbolize worldliness, insincerity and falsehood is too well-known to require further discussion. But the fact that two masks are shown instead of one and that their features indicate a contrast between youth and age, beauty and ugliness, conveys a more specific meaning which links them With the figure  emerging from behind the playful Putto. This figure, sometimes described as a Harpy, sometimes, rather inadequately, as a 'girl in a green dress, is unquestionably identical with what Vasari terms La Fraude, or Deceit. Through it Bronzino manages to give a summary of and almost visual commentary upon the qualities of hypocritical falsehood which are described by sixteenth-century iconologists under such headings as Inganno, Hippocrisia, and most particularly Fraude. According to the dean of these iconologists, Cesare Ripa, Hippocrisia has feet like a wolf, half-concealed by her clothes. Inganno can be represented as a woman hiding an ugly face beneath a beautiful mask and offering water and fire 'in alternation.' Fraude, finally, is endowed with two heads, one young, one old; she holds two hearts in her right hand and a mask in her left, and she has a dragon's tail, as well as griffons talons instead of human feet.  
In Bronzino's figure these features merge into a unity which is, and is meant to be, both attractive and repulsive. His little 'Fraude,' obviously the owner of the two contrasting masks, really looks at first like a charming little 'girl in a green dress. But the dress cannot fully conceal a scaled, fishlike body, lion's or panther's claws, and the tail of a dragon or serpent. She offers a honeycomb With one hand while she hides a poisonous little animal in the other, and moreover the hand attached to her right arm, that is the hand With the honeycomb, is in reality a left hand, while the hand attached to her left arm is in reality a right one, so that the figure offers sweetness with what seems to be her 'good' hand but is really her 'evil' one, and hides poison in what seems to be her 'evil' hand but is really her 'good' one. We are presented here With the most sophisticated symbol of perverted duplicity ever devised by an artist, yet curiously enough it is a symbol not rapidly seized upon by the modern observer. 
Thus the entire group consists of Luxury, surrounded by personifications and
symbols of treacherous pleasures and manifest evils; this group, now, is unveiled by
Time and Truth. The figure of Time has already been mentioned and it is almost
unnecessary to say that the female figure on the left who helps to draw the curtain
from the whole spectacle is again none other than Truth, 'Veritas filia Temporis.'  In
the Innocence tapestry where the figure of Truth appeared in exactly the same place
she revelled in the justification of virtue; here, with a feminine disgust which
parallels the masculine wrath of Old Chronos, she participates in the exposure of vice.
That alluring sexual voluptuousness rather than other forms of evil should be
selected at this particular date to symbolize vice, is perfectly in harmony with the
spirit of the Counter-Reformation, 
Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500-1600
As early as 1541,  perhaps even during 1540, Bronzino began the work in which he would mature a high Maniera in narrative and devotional art as he already had in portraiture: the fresco decoration in the Palazzo Vecchio of the chapel of  the Duchess Eleonora of Toledo. In the ceiling  fresco of the Chapel, with four Saints in a partial sotto-in-su, ['seen from below'] Bronzino seems not yet to be  quite clear about the direction of style that this  (relatively) large-scale and public work should take. It is highly polished, but in general lays  an unexpected stress upon effects of naturalism,  as if Bronzino might be deliberately making a conservative counter-proposition to the extreme style of the recent Medicean decorations by Pontormo. This minimizing of the earlier  Mannerist's distance between the image and  the normative appearances of nature is carried  into the style of the first wall fresco in the  Chapel, the Passage of the Red Sea (1541-2). The proportions of figures and descriptions of  anatomy and drapery appear as 'correct' as they  might be in a naturalistic and classicizing canon. But on this basis that relates to nature and to  classical precedent Bronzino imposes a repertory of devices for its stylization as aesthetically arbitrary as Pontormo's and (perhaps because they work as sharper contradictions of the  'naturalness' beneath) more extreme in their  effect of artificiality. Bronzino's stylizations  here are not, as Pontormo's tend to be, emotionally infused distortions of the forms, but  cool, excessive purifyings of them, making unreal smoothness and regularities and a temper  of precisely moderated, but obtrusive, grace.  The figures turn into equivocations between  nature and a neo-classic statuary of improbable  perfection, posturing in attitudes that are meant  to tell us primarily about their beauty and only incidentally or not at all about their meaning in the scene. In this scene, potentially dramatic, drama is relegated to the distance and there expressed only by objectively illustrated incident or a conventional vocabulary of response. The prime sense of the picture is in its accumulation of aesthetically remade beings, as untroubled by imperfections of emotion as of  form. The higher realm in which they must  exist is emphasized by a pure, pale tonality of light and by colour that makes the subtlest  distinctions in degree of glaciality. In the  second wall fresco of this time, the Brazen  Serpent (begun in mid 1542), there is a possible  reference to Michelangelo's design, but it is  difference, not similarity, that is notable. Along with episodes of naturalism more explicit than in the Red Sea, there are passages of statuary abstraction of still more transcendent and  poetical effect, and a calligrapher's enlacements of design. It is the altarpiece of the Pietà (now Besançon Museum) that crowns Bronzino's progress into high Maniera. Bronzino imposes on the inescapable tragedy of the subject the discreet suppressions required by the  high Maniera's code, muting grief until its  tenor is diminished and acceptable and endowing its bearers With such beauty of countenance,  attitude, and ornament that it irradiates their paled residue of feeling, and then stands before  it in our contemplation like a mask. An absolute technique asserts at the same time the intense plastic presence of the scene and the aesthetic factors that transform it. Colour, cold and  luminous as ice, symbolizes What has been made of passion. Both this form and colour, in  the intensity of sheer aesthetic sensation they produce, transcend illustrative meaning and in part displace it. Art does not narrate the tragedy but replaces it. 
But where content jibes With the kind of  feeling that is acceptable to the high Maniera, Bronzino exploits perfectly the sophistication  of form that he had created to express it. The so-called Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (London, National Gallery), which must  be almost coincident in time of execution with the Pietà, demonstrates this to a consummate  degree, Based upon a complex verbal allegory of the Passions of Love, it pretends a moral  demonstration of which its actual content is the reverse: the exposition of a sexuality so knowing as to be perverse, and so refined as to be at  once explicit and oblique. Inverting Pygmalion's role, Bronzino has altered human  presences into an improbably pure statuary; but he has retained, in transmuted form, a vibrance that those presences contained, distilling what conveyed their sexuality and quick-freezing their subtlest sensations. Glacé surfaces of flesh emanate a contrary excitation; the  postures of the protagonists are frank and yet evade; cold grace is manipulated into attitudes  that convey, by the effect of pattern, the fine-drawn tension of the actors' states of mind. The  whole pictorial patterning, a crystalline, eccentrically kinetic skein, is an elaboration upon  this last effect. The colour, basically that of the enmarbled flesh and the ice-blue background, has the dual quality, by now characteristic for Bronzino, of intensity and abstracting cold.  The extreme refinement of the execution defines the matter and the meaning of the image in consonant terms, but it also conveys the sense that whatever else it may be, the picture is a surpassingly wrought object of art: fiction, ornament, and jewel, and this is an index of the attitude with which, from the beginning, the artist has approached its essentially erotic content. Even this aspect of human experience much be aestheticized, its values transposed into those of art.  
Paul Barolsky and Andrew Ladis
"The 'Pleasurable Deceits' Of Bronzino's So-Called London 'Allegory'"
Yes, the painting alludes to lust, to love  and time, to strife and love, to love and jealousy, to love and fraud. But to say that the  painting refers predominantly to just one of these possible allegories or that it does so in a spirit of earnest seriousness is to oversimplify Bronzino's accomplishment and transform the painter into a pedant. ... 
Bronzino's painting is highly contrived—artificioso, as they said in the sixteenth century: flesh like polished marble,  ringlets of hair like shavings of gold, the  whole brilliant tableau transformed into  pietre dure. The painter's artifice is exquisitely self-conscious and playful. Upon Venus's  crown sits a golden figurine, whose bent legs and upraised arm parody the goddess's own  posture, thereby making light of the fact that Venus is as artificial in appearance as the very jewelry she wears. Such artifice of form  is matched by artifice of meaning. Scholars  have sometimes noted in Bronzino's figure of Venus an allusion to Michelangelo's Doni  Tondo. But is the painter merely paying homage to the divine Michelangelo? Is the  reference to Michelangelo's Madonna not a  form of parody—a sly disrobing of the holy Virgin, who is metamorphosed into a wanton Venus? And does not the figures resemblance to Eve in the Sistine Temptation present her in yet a third aspect and make of  Venus not only a Virgin, but also a fallen  woman? Michelangelo, as Vasari says, was  himself "ambiguous' (ambiguo) and ironic in  his utterances, speaking in due sensi. Would  he not have appreciated the other senses of Bronzino's droll and subtle allusions to his work?...
Were Bronzino, Michelangelo, della Casa, and Vasari not to speak of  Berni, Molza, Folengo, and Aretino—to rise  from the grave and read the solemn, moralizing, and allegorizing iconographical interpretations of Bronzino's coy, ludic London  Picture now current, they would no doubt  smile, if not laugh, at such goffezza—finding  it, in the root sense of goffo, slightly goofy.   
The last, and most recent, unable or unwilling to describe decadence as what it is. Afraid of moralizing, Barolsky and Ladis are unwilling to simply look, to observe with enough acuity and human sympathy to understand that it's Bronzino who's the moralist, condemning corruption as he indulges it. Barolsky's a fucking idiot. He's got a lousy eye and he's not even interested in art; he just likes linguistic jokes. The obvious parallel is the academic Warhol fanboys, who see the glam without the self-hatred and the stench of death. It's makes sense "His favorite painter is Matisse", without the mud and the flies.

Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. 2
Receiving, therefore, variety only as that which accomplishes unity, or makes it perceived, its operation is found to be very precious, both in that which I have called unity of subjection, and unity of sequence, as well as in unity of membership; for although things in all respects the same may, indeed, be subjected to one influence, yet the power of the influence, and their obedience to it, is best seen by varied operation of it on their individual differences, as in clouds and waves there is a glorious unity of rolling, wrought out by the wild and wonderful differences of their absolute forms, which, if taken away, would leave in them only multitudinous and petty repetition, instead of the majestic oneness of shared passion. And so in the waves and clouds of human multitude when they are filled with one thought, as we find frequently in the works of the early Italian men of earnest purpose, who despising, or happily ignorant of, the sophistications of theories, and the proprieties of composition, indicated by perfect similarity of action and gesture on the one hand, and by the infinite and truthful variation of expression on the other, the most sublime strength because the most absorbing unity, of multitudinous passion that ever human heart conceived. Hence, in the cloister of St. Mark's, the intense, fixed, statue-like silence of ineffable adoration upon the spirits in prison at the feet of Christ, side by side, the hands lifted, and the knees bowed, and the lips trembling together; and in St. Domenico of Fiesole, that whirlwind rush of the Angels and the redeemed souls round about him at his resurrection, so that we hear the blast of the horizontal trumpets mixed with the dying clangor of their ingathered wings. The same great feeling occurs throughout the works of the serious men, though most intensely in Angelico, and it is well to compare with it the vileness and falseness of all that succeeded, when men had begun to bring to the cross foot their systems instead of their sorrow. Take as the most marked and degraded instance, perhaps, to be anywhere found, Bronzino's treatment of the same subject (Christ visiting the spirits in prison,) in the picture now in the Tuscan room of the Uffizii, which, vile as it is in color, vacant in invention, void in light and shade, a heap of cumbrous nothingnesses, and sickening offensivenesses, is of all its voids most void in this, that the academy models therein huddled together at the bottom, show not so much unity or community of attention to the academy model with the flag in its hand above, as a street crowd would be to a fresh-staged charlatan. Some point to the God who has burst the gates of death, as if the rest were incapable of distinguishing him for themselves, and others turn their backs upon him, to show their unagitated faces to the spectator.
Moralists are horrified by what tempts them. Ruskin and Bronzino have a lot in common.
In the five lectures on psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by "a condemning judgement". He doesn't explain the difference between the two.