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,...   
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.

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