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.

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