Sunday, October 2, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy 22 - Perspective Art in Shakespeare

3. And since we've been on the subject of Shakespeare's acquaintance with art, another observation and argument has been made for his knowledge of perspective in art.

It’s mentioned or alluded to in several Shakespeare plays. The best article that I know of on the topic is by Michael Delahoyde, PhD, in his article Shakespeare’s Perspective Art, The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Summer 2014. In his article Delahoyde discusses not just Shakespeare’s familiarity with Perspective paintings but with 3-dimensional and Optical Illusion Art in general. And perhaps most importantly he connects this particular interest to Shakespeare’s deep interest in illusionary drama.

As usual, I can just briefly cover the highlights for the sake of the argument.

We know that Shakespeare was somewhat familiar with the painter/sculptor/architect Giulio Romano (from The Winter’s Tale). From the Romano analysis in Magri’s book (mentioned earlier) we can conclude that the Shakespeare had more than a passing knowledge of his artistic skills. And if he gained this knowledge first-hand then in Mantua he could have seen instances of Romano’s art that employed perspective to an exciting degree in the Palazzo Te and elsewhere.

Here are some of the allusions in the plays”
“One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons; A natural perspective, that is, and is not!”
Twelfth Night 5.1.216-7

“Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, The other way’s a Mars”
Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.116-7
“Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively: the cities turn’d into a maid; for they are all girdled with maiden walls that war hath never ent’red”
Henry V, 5.2.316-323

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath steel’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ‘tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill…
Sonnet 24

And of course:
perspectives, which rightly gaz’d upon
Show nothing but confusion; ey’d awry
Distinguish form”
Richard II, 2.2.18-20

It is possible that a typical Elizabethan Londoner could have seen some perspective art. There was even the famous Hans Holbein painting The ambassadors in one of the palaces and conceivably could have been seen there by visiting actors. But the argument for the artistic knowledge of the author would be one of those in which the apparent degree of this knowledge is best matched by the degree of exposure to the subject. So someone that has spent time in the French and Italian courts, and some English great houses and as well had ample time for discussions with various artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts would be in the best position to account for the artistic knowledge displayed. Certainly the Earl of Oxford was so positioned. And Francis Bacon spent much time at the French court. And had his portrait done there by Nicholas Hilliard, who we know performed some perspective art. And other frequent visitor/candidates to these courts would be similarly positioned.
Here’s a nice short article on “Artists of the Tudor court”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy - 21 - Wanton Paintings in Taming of the Shrew

2.  Italian and French Art in Shakespeare

The Three Wanton Paintings in The Taming of the Shrew

Professor Magri argues that these paintings are identifiable and that they could only have been seen on the continent. Renaissance paintings on the continent were regularly both religious and erotic, or wanton. However, she writes that "It appears that, in Elizabethan England, paintings of a wanton nature were not typically part of the decorations in royal palaces or aristocratic homes." There were some, but just not typical. So it's odd that the author would allude to three such paintings in the aristocratic home of the Lord in the induction to the play.

Scholars have varied in their opinions as to whether or not real painting were being referred to or perhaps they were just imagined or that the allusions were from literary sources. But since actual paintings matching key characteristics of the allusions can be identified, it follows that actual paintings were in the mind of the author.

2a. The first allusion is to:

Adonis painted by a running brook.
And Cytherea all in sedges hid,
Which seem to move and wanton with her breath
Even as the waving sedges play with wind

Magri identifies this description with the painting Venus and the Rose by Luca Penni. After discussing other paintings and possible literary sources she concludes that only this painting (as well as an engraving by his friend Ghisi that was based on the painting) show a Venus "all hidden" behind sedges (that appear easily waved by the wind) and an Adonis "by a running brook".

She adds that Penni worked in Paris and Fontainebleau and that the painting was in the French royal collections in the latter half of the 16th century.

2b. The second painting allusion is:

We'll show thee Io as she was a maid,
And how she was beguiled and surpris'd,
As lively painted as the deed was done.

Here Magri points out that the essential detail that allows for its identification is his description of Io as being 'beguiled' or charmed. This helps differentiate it from other possible sources. For example, in Ovid's Metamorphoses "the deed is a violent, mischievous act. Shakespeare, instead, says she was charmed by the embrace....there is no ravishing, no distressing offence, she is attracted to him...His description of the scene evokes wantonness and sensual pleasure". So, the only painting matching this is the "Io" by Correggio. It's one of four paintings that were commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500-1540). The author could have seen the original in Mantua. Though many copies had also been made and sent to courts and palaces and an Io was also sent to Spain as a present from the Gonzaga.

2c. The third painting allusion is:

Or Daphne roaming through a thorny wood,
Scratching her legs that one shall swear she bleeds,
And at that sight shall sad Apollo weep,
So workmanly the blood and tears are drawn.

This story is also mentioned in Ovid. However, he does not describe blood on Daphne's scratched legs or tears on Apollo's face. The closest identification to a painting seems to be an anonymous Apollo and Daphne now in Casa Vasari, and that "had always been held in the Florentine collections until 1950". It's not easily seen as "wanton" as the other paintings but it does have a sensual quality and Shakespeare describes it with caring emotional content. I see no problem with the painting being included in a short list of those with a bit of "wantonness" in them.