Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Stephen J Campbell, "Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas: Thresholds of the Human and the Limits of Painting", in Renaissance Posthumanism 

Yet Panofsky’s humanist art history ultimately conceded little quarter to any ambivalence (not to mention outright differences) on the part of Renaissance humanists about the nature of the human, nor was Panofsky willing to countenance other humanisms discontinuous with the modern or the post-Kantian liberal ideal of the rational and the humane. The book Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic from 1969 was to be the ultimate litmus test of his self-consciously humanist iconological method (many would now regard it as an exposure of its shortcomings) as well as a bid to claim the great Venetian painter for a humanist pantheon of Dürer, Erasmus, Ficino, Botticelli, and Michelangelo. Yet the astonishing Flaying of Marsyas (see Figure 2-1), one of the most singular mythological paintings of the sixteenth century, was almost completely excluded from a lengthy chapter on “Titian and Ovid.” It appears only in the footnote quoted previously, in which the scholar expressed misgivings over Titian’s authorship of the picture, as troubling in formal terms as its subject was disturbing in its extreme cruelty. Artistic representation had in both respects been pushed beyond an acceptable limit; if this were Titian’s work, it would appear, it would make of Titian something other than a “humanist.” “Gratuitous brutality” has replaced “tolerance and responsibility."
Panofsky, Problems in Titian, p 171 fn.
85. Since I have never seen the original, which comes from the collection of Thomas Howard Earl of Arundel and  Surrey (died 1646) and is now in the Archiepiscopal Palace at Kroměříž, formerly Kremsier, in Czechoslovakia, I do not dare pronounce on the authenticity of  the now almost generally accepted Flaying of Marsyas (V., II, Pl. 143; cf. J. Neumann, Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas, London, 1962 [German translation, Prague, 1962];  P. Fehl, “Realism and Classicism in the Representation of a Painful Scene:  Titian’s ‘Flaying of Marsyas,”’ Czechoslovakia Past and Present [Czechoslovakia Society of Arts and Sciences in America],  scheduled for publication in the near future). It is admittedly difficult to attribute this painting to anyone else (although in  View of the Pietà in the Accademia one might  think of the very versatile Palma Giovane);  but it is equally difficult to accept Titian’s  responsibility for a composition which in  gratuitous brutality (the little dog lapping  up the blood) not only outdoes its model, one of Giulio Romano’s frescoes in the  Palazzo del Tè at Mantua (for its connection with the Kroměříž picture see F. Hartt, Giulio Romano, p. 111, Fig. 172, where the authenticity of the Flaying of Marsyas is doubted as it is in Hetzer’s article in Thieme-Becker), but also, and more importantly, evinces a horror vacui normally foreign to Titian who, like Henry James’  Linda Pallant, “knew the value of intervals.” In the Kroměříž picture no square inch is vacant. If the Flaying of Marsyas were  rejected it would also be hard to accept the  Boy with Dogs in the Boymans Museum at  Rotterdam (17., 11, Pl. 140) which is apparently by the same hand and from the same period. Director Ebbinge-Wubben  was kind enough to impart to me the  results of a recent examination of the  Rotterdam canvas. As conjectured by  Tietze (T., p. 392), it is not a complete  composition but a mere fragment, roughly  torn off from rather than cut out of a  larger painting; and it measures only 99.2  by 111 cm. while all available references  give its dimensions as 128 by 180 cm. For the  subject, one may think of Cupid mastering  two dogs of different temper as in a painting  by Paolo Veronese in the Alte Pinakothek  at Munich; cf. also A. P. de Mirimonde,  “La Musique dans les Allégories de  l’Amour,” Gazette des Beam-Arts, Series 6,  LXIX, 1967, pp. 319ff, Figs. 11 and 12. 

Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas, c. 1575
Giulio Romano

Was Panofsky really unable to discuss violence, or was it something more specific? 
Panofsky was wrong, but violence itself wasn't the issue. Titian and Charles V
Panofsky describes Titian’s relation with Charles V “extending to his whole family and entourage… [as] almost unique in the annals of art”.  He dismisses the story that Charles, “to the pained surprise of his courtiers” once stooped down to pick up Titian’s dropped brush, but says he treated Titian as “an equal in spirit if not in rank… their correspondence occasionally reads like that of two great and equal powers.”[vii]He also writes about Titian’s “best friend”, Pietro Aretino “the scourge of princes”, blackmailer, and pornographer.  With Aretino and Jacopo Sansovino “Titian contracted, almost immediately, a life-long friendship. A formidable alliance of the "Three Arts of Design" with literature, this "Triumvirate" wielded an enormous influence and its members were united by genuine affection as well as self-interest.”  Sansovino immortalized the three of them on the doors of the Sacristy of St. Mark's. Aretino died in 1556
…allegedly at a dinner party in his own house: when one of the guests had told a particularly funny and indecent story, it was said, Aretino roared with laughter and threw himself back in his chair with such violence that the chair tipped over and he broke his head. There is no shred of evidence for this story… but it throws light on Aretino's reputation — a reputation summarized in a famous "epitaph"… 
"Questo è Pietro Aretino, poeta Tosco, 
Che d'ogni un disse male, eccetto the di Dio;
Scusandosi con dir 'non lo conosco’ "
 ("Here Aretino lies, a Tuscan poet; Evil he spoke of all, except of God; When questioned why, he said 'Him I don't know' “)…

Aretino was perhaps the first publicist to make a living by misrepresentation and extortion; and — in return for praise or, no less often, for silence — he received honors, presents and huge sums of money from nearly all the princes of his time — including the two eternal adversaries, Charles V and Francis I of France. He led a loose life. He wrote indecent sonnets and equally indecent, often extremely amusing comedies while posing as a fervent believer and even aspiring to a Cardinal's hat….

It was indeed only in Venice, governed with an extraordinary combination of discipline and permissiveness… where life was strictly regulated in theory but very free in practice, and where political action was rigorously controlled while the liberty of thought, the liberty of speech and the liberty of the press were protected even against the Inquisition, that a man like Aretino could flourish.
Kenneth Gouwens, "What Posthumanism Isn’t: On Humanism and Human Exceptionalism in the Renaissance", on Charles V
Those with both Humanistic and Scholastic training could be the most formidable critics of scholars who possessed only the former, as the distinctly second-rate Ciceronian stylist Pietro Alcionio (ca. 1480s?–1528) found out to his chagrin.25 In April of 1521, Alcionio published with the Aldine Press in Venice a volume comprising several translations of Aristotle, including ten books from the philosopher’s writings about animals. The following year, however, he came under direct fire from the prominent Spanish scholar Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490–1573). Best known today for a later polemic in which he asserted on Aristotelian grounds that the Indians of the New World were natural slaves, Sepúlveda was deeply learned not only in classical philosophy but also in Humanist methods. Later on, in fact, the Emperor Charles V would appoint him his official chronicler. 

This post continues, back and forth. 

Related: the second of three posts from 2017 on Dana Schutz' painting Open Casket, and other, related, things.

On Titian and Henry James, since I forgot to add it.

When Panofsky writes that Titian, “like Henry James’ Linda Pallant, ‘knew the value of intervals’”[v] he’s describing Titian’s focus on the space between objects and people, and implicitly between viewer and canvas.  The connecting line isn’t a formal cue, an arrow or the edge of a table or the stripes on a piece of fabric; space is crossed often only by a line of sight. As in the theater, actors’ success or failure isn’t measured in inches or millimeters to match the perfect ratio of  the sides of a triangle, but in faces and gestures directed at each other. And Titian makes sure the space isn’t so cluttered that things get in the way. The sense of time as the our eyes move observing others’ eyes, the fleeting sense of intimacy is beyond anything in Florence.  It’s an an art that doesn’t even try to give us an illusion of perfection, except perhaps as a ‘perfect’ description of its lack.

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