So I totally messed up my earlier prompt (I glossed over the fact that both pieces had to be from the same medium) and had to resubmit it with a totally different second work. The good thing is I found another painting that really worked with my theory and I was able to get a second post out of it. If you read the first one, scroll down to the second image to get the new content.
I want to take a look at two pieces that share similar perspectives on the female form. They are the paintings “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli and “Virgin and Child” by Antonio Veneziano.
Venus, which was painted in 1486, is a renaissance piece that depicts the birth of the Roman goddess.
The first standout point from this painting is the tone of the color. It’s very cool and subtle which speaks well to the nature of the goddess and the subjects of sex, beauty and love. Venus her self is very is a soft pale color that comes off natural and speaks to the female form. Speaking of form or texture, the painting is smooth and that is highlighted from the fact the majority of the surface in the frame is water. An important thing to note though is that Venus stands on a visibly rigid sea shell which is situated upon the water. Does true love or beauty find stability in a sea of endless options? That is one many hypothesis that people can pull away from the placement and the texture of the shell.
There is also a rule of thirds aspect to this painting that is very important. Venus is situated in the center and is the subject to the action of what is going on around her. To her right there is a maiden and to her left there are lovers. The maiden represents a struggle with conformity, the overwhelming need for society to cloth the aspects of grace, beauty and sexuality. The left side features a male angel and a woman, intertwined and flying to somewhere. With the flowers surrounding them they represent unbridled passion. Venus, situated upon a shell, is in the middle of all this action, like a constant. I believe Botticelli is asserting love or beauty isn’t secular or a divine concept or notion. Beauty or love is present in her form. And we can tell that from the way the painting is blocked into thirds.
One more bit on structure, before the next point, is what is featured in the absolute center of the painting. It’s her stomach. While it isn’t pronounced as if she were with child, it is undeniably defined – and, combined with the sexual and sensual tones of the painting, we are reminded that the greatest gift of the female form is the ability to reproduce.
The last thing that is a real take away from the painting is the hair of the featured women. Venus’ hair almost overcomes her while the other two women have hair, at least visibly, at different lengths. Hair is natural and is most likely viewed as an extension of their gender or authenticity. Venus has nothing to hide and nothing to conform to. She is free to live in the body that is hers and is revered for it. That is why her hair wraps around her almost effortlessly – it’s intertwined to who she is.
The second painting, a tempera, features the virgin Mary clutching her child. The painting shares some significant contrasts but is also similar in aspects. Take a look:
The subject matter is a very obvious difference between the two paintings. While Venus contained themes of overtly subtle sexuality, Virgin and Child is maternal. It warm because it contemplates love for child rather than love for another or love for the form. But because it is making the connection of mother and child, a connection that only a woman may have with her child, it is also commenting on aspects of feminimity.
Texture is one of the really big things that jumps off of the canvas to me. The texture behind the Virgin is fine and meticulous. The lines are so small and interwoven that it creates a focal point (especially between the heads of each subject). Veneziano intentionally designed the piece this way because he wanted us to focus on the two people. Speaking of the people they are both smooth and focused on the other (look at their eye lines). Their composition )in relation to texture) is really contrasted by the wall and that adds an engaging dynamic to the painting.
Another big part to Virgin is the colors. the Virgin is smooth and warm with blues and reds clothing her soft skin features. Those warm colors really resonate when paired with the bright (albeit bland) background and that allows us to focus on virgin and child. In contrast to the virgin, the child is bright, like the background. His sunflower shirt and light blue pants pop off his mother and eventually draws focus to him after looking at the mother. One philosophy of mine is the color scheme is a linear metaphor. God chose Mary to give birth to Jesus. In this picture both the baby and the background have similar colors but Mary is different. Maybe the way the colors work resonate the same way the story does: Gold – Blue – Gold, or Holy – Human – Holy. It’s a theory.
It’s arguable who this painting is about. Is it about the Virgin or the Child (like i just theorized). For sake of my argument I will say it is about the Virgin and her capacity to love. I think the artist is talking about the origin of Jesus’ ability to love (which could be why the little nun in the corner is worshiping it) and a lot of that comes back to Mary – which makes the two paintings similar. At least in that concept.
One of the questions in the prompt is my personal feeling on the two pieces and how does whatever I like engage me as a viewer. It’s hard for me to respond to questions like that because so many times we are tasked to be analytical and leave our self out of the equation. I liked both of these pieces of art (which is why i picked them) and they interact with me in differing ways. If I have to pick one I would have to go with Venus. While I appreciate the aspects i mentioned in my earlier analysis, something I may have missed and hooked me from the beginning, are her eyes. Her eyes stare directly at you. They are inviting, alluring and mesmerizing. If I had to feature one of them in my house, I would feature Venus.
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Photograph courtesy of WallPaperWeb.org (PD).
‘Virgin and Child’, tempera on panel painting by Antonio Veneziano, c. 1380 CE, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph by Wikipedia user Wmpearl (PD).