Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy - 20 - Italian Art - Venus and Adonis

Italian Art

  Professor Magri further researched Italian Renaissance Art in the Shakespeare works.  And besides its relevance to the authorship question I would think that Shakespeare enthusiasts would find these insightful possibilities of his knowledge of certain great artists and their works intriguing in their own right.

Magri believes she has identified the specific works of art alluded to by Shakespeare. She also gives additional indications of his knowledge which the casual reader would never notice.

1. I will just mention and quote from what to me are the highlights of some of her discoveries. Let's start with Shakespeare's 'first heir' of his invention, Venus and Adonis.

Her main argument here is that this poem was NOT based on the literary work of Ovid or Virgil, nor even Titian's painting that is called Venus and Adonis. This one is called the Prado version.

Rather, she says, it was based on a version of this Titian painting that was present, at that time, only in Venice. The Prado version does have strong similarities to Shakespeare's poem. You may enjoy examining this painting as it and the poem are described. One problem for this version as the poem source is its location. Titian had created it for Philip II of Spain, son of Emperor Charles V. It was intended for the marriage of Philip to Queen Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's half-sister. The painting was brought to London in September of 1554 for the marriage. However, Philip left England in 1555 and took all his Titian paintings with him. It was not there for any chance for Stratford's Shakspere. This Prado V&A has remained in the Royal Collection of Madrid since 1556. And so there was hardly anyone in England then who could have seen it and enable it to be sourced when Shakespeare's poem was written.

Magri says that the V&A myth in Ovid's Metamorphoses "is totally different from Titian". In Ovid, but not in the painting and not in the Shakespeare's poem, Adonis responds favorably to Venus' love for him. Many other artists, following Ovid, represent Adonis as "a tender, sweet, even sensuous lover". But "Titian departed from the Ovidian source". She then gives details of how the poem and painting correspond.

Five versions of Titian's V&A are considered as possible matches to the poem, and only one fits it faithfully. This one is the Barberini version, now in Rome. The main parallels between this particular painting and Shakespeare's poem are:
·         Venus invites Adonis to sit down by her [The painting seems to show him just after standing up to leave her].
·         She keeps embracing him, and is sure she will win him.
·         He is resolute to return to the boar hunt and tries to twist away from her.
·         He looks at her "all askance".
·         Venus shed tears. [the painting, after recent restoration, showed faded traces of paint on her cheeks that suggest tears].

In addition, Magri shows how Shakespeare alluded to an actual painting, rather than of a narrative, of the subject matter:

Fie, lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone
Well-painted idol, image dull and dead
Statue contenting but the eye alone

Similarly with Adonis' horse:

Look when a painter would surpass the life
In limning out a well-porportion'd steed,
His art with nature's workmanship at strife

Finally, ONLY in the Barberini painting does Adonis wear a 'bonnet'.

"And with his bonnet (which) hides his angry brow"
"Bonnet nor veil henceforth no creature wear"
"And therefore would he put his bonnet on"
"The wind would blow it off"

The locations of this particular painting are then described and it was mostly likely seen in Venice where Titian died in 1576. Tintoretto acquired it next at some point but it seems it's not known exactly when he got it and where he kept it. But it also seems he lived in Venice all or most of his life. He then died in 1594. So the painting remained there during that time.

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