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"Man is the measure?"Women's roles during the Renaissance
Hans Baldung Grien,
Aristotle and Phyllis. 1503
pen and ink
|Form: This is a simple sketch in pen and ink that was probably a prelimionary drawing for an engraving or a painting. The anatomy is rather stiff and less gestural than those of his contempoarry Italian counterparts. Space is created through a size scale relationship of foreground to background and a variation of marks in the nackground buildings indicates a use of atmospheric perspective. |
Grien uses cross contour lines (lines that literally follow the direction across the curves of the trunks) to indicate the texture of the tree and cross hatching to develop the value structure of the figures and their drapery in the foreground. These linear techniques would have been important for a printmaker to master.
Iconography: The them of an "ill matched couple," which usually depicts a young and beautiful maiden in the company of an older man is a common them in Renaissance art of the North. In many images the younger woman has her hand on the purse of the older man but in this case the subject matter of the image is a young beautiful woman dressed in Renaissance clothing of the Northern style riding around or taming an older man. Images like this were meant to be a warning to men of the power of inappropriate passion and a warning against the sexual powers of young woman.
Context: More specifically this relates to the story of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and Phyllis, the wife of his pupil Alexander the Great. According to the Brittanica,
"in late 343 or early 342 Aristotle, at about the age of 42, was invited by Philip II of Macedon to his capital at Pella to tutor his 13-year-old son, Alexander. As the leading intellectual figure in Greece, Aristotle was commissioned to prepare Alexander for his future role as a military leader. As it turned out, Alexander was to dominate the Greek world and defend it against the Persian Empire."This union of older philosopher master was the beginning of a nearly lifelong advisory position for Aristotle. Alexander respected the superior intellect of Aristotle in all things and felt that Aristotle represented the ideal intellectual who represented a total mastery of the intellectual over the physical self. (Remember the Apollonian Dionysian conflict?)
Phyllis questioned Aristsotles absolute control and according to legend made a bet with Alexander that she could show him that passion was stronger than reason. She began to flirt with Aristotle. After inflaming Aristotle with lust, he began to beg for a sexual trist. Phyllis informed Alexander that she had the proof he sought and instructed Alexander to hide in the bushes and watch while she literally mad an "ass" out of Aristotle.
In order to get what he wanted, Aristotle had to agree to do whatever Phyllis wanted. She instructed Aristotle to get down on all fours and allow her to ride him around the courtyard.
BALDUNG GRIEN, Hans
Aristotle and Phyllis 1513
Woodcut, 33 x 23,6 cm
|Form: In this variation of the theme, the two figures are nude and the total environment is much more worked out. This image indicates a fairly good use of anatomy and perspective and shows more of a development of the mark making discussed in Grien's drawing. The development of the vocabulary of marks would have been important for Grien to be able to make a high quality engraving.|
Context: In the North, places like Germany, France and Holland, the art market was a bit different than in Italy. Although the Reformation did not officially begin until 1518, there were stirrings of it earlier than that.
In Northern towns and cities, there was a different distrubution of wealth and probably a larger upper middle class than in Italy. In addition to these factors, the main patron for the arts was in Italy in the Churches of Rome, Padua and Florence. Since individuals could afford to buy work for smaller prices many artists sought out this different market. The print market allowed artists to sell multiple copies of the same images to a larger number of people and make as much money from it as the sale of one or two paintings.
This also freed some of the artists from the typical more Catholic or overtly religious iconography of much of the art of the South and allowed them to explore other kinds of imagery and subjects.
Hans Baldung Grien. Stupified Groom. (Bewitched Groom)
1544. Woodcut 13"x 7"
State Museum of Berlin
|Iconography: Stokstad describes the iconography of this image as a "moral lesson on the power of evil" but more than that, Stokstad discusses the use of images of witches in his images as an expression of evil. It is interesting that this is one of the roles that older, perhaps unattractive woman were accused of during the Renaissance and well into the 1800's. In some ways, the depiction of witches in the art of the Renaissance represents the anti-ideal for a woman. In this way, woman are still provided with a role model of what not to become.|
Form and Context:
Woodcut is the technique of printing designs from planks of wood. . . It is one of the oldest methods of making prints from a relief surface, having been used in China to decorate textiles since the 5th century AD. In Europe, printing from wood blocks on textiles was known from the early 14th century, but it had little development until paper began to be manufactured in France and Germany at the end of the 14th century. . . In Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia, religious images and playing cards were first made from wood blocks in the early 15th century, and the development of printing from movable type led to widespread use of woodcut illustrations in the Netherlands and in Italy. With the 16th century, black-line woodcut reached its greatest perfection with Albrecht Dürer and his followers Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein. In the Netherlands Lucas van Leyden and in Italy Jacopo de' Barbari and Domenico Campagnola, who were, like Dürer, engravers on copper, also made woodcuts. As wood is a natural material, its structure varies enormously and this exercises a strong influence on the cutting. Wood blocks are cut plankwise. The woods most often used are pear, rose, pine, apple, and beech. The old masters preferred fine-grained hardwoods because they allow finer detail work than softwoods, but modern printmakers value the coarse grain of softwoods and often incorporate it into the design.
TIZIANO Vecellio (Titian) The Venus of Urbino 1538 Oil on canvas, 119 x 165 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italian Renaissance In the background of Titian’s painting entitled "The Venus of Urbino" (1538) are two women looking inside or placing things inside a chest. This chest or cassone is most likely a dowry chest, in which case the women are then preparing the chest with gifts for the upcoming nuptials. Venus, the goddess of beauty, nude in the foreground, presides over the event, but there’s something wrong with this picture. Venus is really the Duke of Urbino’s courtesan (mistress) and the title of the painting is just a disguise to make a nearly pornographic portrait palatable. This kind of double meaning in a painting is common during the Renaissance especially in portrayals of women.
What is also interesting about this images is that the artist chose to juxtapose the eroticized female form with commodities or luxury items. By playing the textures and body of the female against expensive fabrics, fur, fruit, and dowery chest containing the family jewels and porcelain, the artist is also making the human female form another commodity which can be bought and sold. In this way, the wealth of the patron is also eroticized. This device is played off again and again throughout the history of art.
The cassone is a familiar object in the upper class Renaissance home. Provided by the bride’s family and kept throughout her life the chest is symbol of her marriage. The decorations on the chest are designed to educate the woman who owns it. The images that adorn cassoni relate familiar classical and biblical narratives concerning the lives of great women. For example, San Francisco’s "Legion of Honor" has a panel from a cassone by Jacopo del Sellaio that depicts the "Legend of Brutus and Portia," circa 1485. Both Plutarch (AD 46-119), a Greek historian, and Shakespeare (1554-1616) in his play "Julius Caesar," depict Portia as a strong and loyal wife. In Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar," Portia exclaims, "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so fathered and so husbanded?" (Act 2, i, 319-320) and stabs herself in the leg to prove to Brutus that she can bear any discomfort for him. After she learns of Brutus’ defeat, she kills herself by swallowing hot coals. Another cassone from the Louvre depicts the Old Testament story of Queen Esther and her self-sacrificing patriotic acts that saved the Jewish people. The subtext of these tales is not just loyalty but self-sacrificing loyalty in the face of adversity.
Titian's painting has been the subject of much observation. It's interesting that so much positive "press" has been associated with this image considering how much it has been vilified in the past. Mark Twain, in his biography Tramp Abroad, recorded his response to his encounter with the Titian painting:
Now that you know how Twain felt about this work. This poem by Browning discusses a similar painting. It is used by the narrator of the poem as a point of departure to discuss how he feels about his last wife and how he feels women should behave. As you read it, try to relate the painting above to it.You enter [the Uffizi] and proceed to that most-visited little gallery that exists in the world --the Tribune-- and there, against the wall, without obstructing rap or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses -- Titian's Venus. It isn't that she is naked and stretched out on a bed --no, it is the attitude of one of her arms and hand. If I ventured to describe that attitude there would be a fine howl --but there the Venus lies for anybody to gloat over that wants to --and there she has a right to lie, for she is a work of art, and art has its privileges. I saw a young girl stealing furtive glances at her; I saw young men gazing long and absorbedly at her, I saw aged infirm men hang upon her charms with a pathetic interest. How I should like to describe her --just to see what a holy indignation I could stir up in the world...yet the world is willing to let its sons and its daughters and itself look at Titian's beast, but won't stand a description of it in words....There are pictures of nude women which suggest no impure thought -- I am well aware of that. I am not railing at such. What I am trying to emphasize is the fact that Titian's Venus is very far from being one of that sort. Without any question it was painted for a bagnio and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong. In truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery.
|"My Last Duchess" - Robert Browning - 1842 1 That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,|
2 Looking as if she were alive. I call
3 That piece a wonder, now; Frà Pandolf's hands
4 Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
5 Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
6 "Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
7 Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
8 The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
9 But to myself they turned (since none puts by
10 The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
11 And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
12 How such a glance came there; so, not the first
13 Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
14 Her husband's presence only, called that spot
15 Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
16 Fra Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps
17 Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
18 Must never hope to reproduce the faint
19 Half-flush that dies along her throat." Such stuff
20 Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
21 For calling up that spot of joy. She had
22 A heart - how shall I say? - too soon made glad,
23 Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
24 She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
25 Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,
26 The dropping of the daylight in the West,
27 The bough of cherries some officious fool
|28 Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule|
29 She rode with round the terrace - all and each
30 Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
31 Or blush, at least. She thanked men, - good! but thanked
32 Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked
33 My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
34 With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
35 This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
36 In speech - which I have not - to make your will
37 Quite clear to such an one, and say "Just this
38 Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
39 Or there exceed the mark" - and if she let
40 Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
41 Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse -
42 E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
43 Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
44 Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
45 Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
46 Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
47 As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
48 The company below, then. I repeat,
49 The Count your master's known munificence
50 Is ample warrant that no just pretense
51 Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
52 Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
53 At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
54 Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
55 Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
56 Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.
Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of the Artist
with Sisters and Governess. 1555
(The Chess Game)
oil on canvas, 27"x37"
Nardowe Museum, Poznan, Poland
Self Portrait at the Spinaret with Governess c1555
In many of her self portraits Sofinisba is not depicted
painting but rather pursuing an activity that would
have been a "proper" kind of pursuit. Notice that
she is depicted with her chaperone who was
also a close friend.
Portrait of Anguissola's brother and sisters c1555
Images like this tend to lend authority to Annie's
idea that the "Chess Game" is really a portrait
of her regard for her siblings rather than an outright
Art History-Term Paper
July 17, 2001
"The Chess Game" is an oil painting on canvas that displays her vast knowledge of art. I say this because "she colors within the lines" and was a conservative artist, not "crossing the line" at any time. During the Renaissance, more specifically the 1550s, the use of chiaroscuro, perspective, and depth perception were already common. Sofonisba used chiaroscuro on parts of the face by making one side appear lighted and the other with a cast shadow. From her picture, you can tell that she has training and practice from this relatively new style of painting. Also, she uses the new technique of perspective incredibly well and therefore; proving her advanced learning. The lines on the chessboard, along with the edges of the table that it’s on both can be drawn back to a vanishing point somewhere in the background. Anguissola masters depth perception by her use of a foreground, background, and a "side ground". The foreground consists of three of her four younger sisters. The background is a faint outline of hills while the "side ground" is made up with shrubbery and her maid. The placement of these objects show that she understands the fact that as distance increases, so does fuzziness. Her knowledge of Renaissance art techniques is the reason she is accepted as an artist.
Being accepted as an artist, Sofonisba Anguissola then needed to be accepted as a 16th century woman. Many of the desired qualities a woman should have are, coincidently?, depicted in her sisters in this same work of art. After doing a lot of research (including three books all published in 1976) , I have come to realize that "The Chess Game" is actually a painting of Sofonisba’s sisters Lucia, Minerva, and Europa and not a self-portrait in the traditional sense. I realized that she might have not painted under the male gaze for a personal ad for herself, but instead through her sisters by use of iconographic symbols. As the oldest daughter, the younger sisters must have looked up to her. It seems that Sofonisba drew this picture either when she was present at this chess game or after it had occurred. For this reason, we can deduce that she acts like a mother because she is taking care of them. We still know that she is intelligent because she must have been the one who taught her little sisters the game of chess. We also know that she is still "in control"because of the fact that her sisters are well dressed in silk and still have a governess around. The sisters all seem healthy and not skin and bones like one would expect and therefore money is not a problem. These symbols show "the unknown" Anguissola through the male gaze indirectly through "the known information" of the painting. So in a way, she is still "promoting" herself in this picture even though she’s not in it. Painting under and in reference to the themes of popular preference allow for Sofonisba to be accepted now as a woman in the Renaissance.
The last and foremost reason that Sofonisba Anguissola is an internationally known Renaissance painter was because of her social life. Contextually speaking, her educational background, family history, and social life all contributed to her popularity. Her educational background not only included an art apprenticeship, but also learning Latin and how to play musical instruments. Success was reached partly due to her family history and mainly because she was born into nobility. A noble birth means she had already a head start even before some male artists. Her father sent one of her drawings to Michelangelo and the positive response was sure to be another explanation to her fame. This incident is what gave her a chance to be an official court painter for Phillip II of Spain in 1559. Some say that Anguissola didn’t become famous for just her artistic talent and recognition, but because of her public life. In 1570, she married a Sicilian noble named Fabrizio de Moncada, went to Italy went him, and supposedly received a large sum of money from him. I guess the personal ad from all of her self-portraits and the indirect ad from "The Chess Game" paid off! Fabrizio died and after he did, she went back to Genoa on a ship. At the end of her ship "adventure", she agreed to marry the ship’s captain Lomellini. Her soap opera life, confirmed by, "The publicity that her spectacular and romantic career attracted must have instilled in the minds of other talented young women the idea that an artistic career was possible," (1550-1950 pg.106). Even though Sofonisba may not have been known for her artwork, at least by now she was well known. She probably was accepted by society as an artist, female, and at this point an intelligent, enjoyed person.
Sofonisba Anguissola was not in the painting "The Chess Game", but through formal, iconographic, and contextual analysis, her life, as she wanted it to be seen, was shown. We see that she had to go through a series of acceptances by society to now be admired. Accepted by society as an artist was mainly due to the proper art, language, and music education she had the privilege of getting. As for her acceptance as a female in the Renaissance, I claim that she painted in a male gaze style that was somewhat untraditional (showing women in a different way), but still socially acceptable. By not pushing the extremes too far, I believe she got the appreciation of both men and women. Anguissola almost painted the male gaze and the "female gaze" all at once. The male gaze was that she was still all that a man wanted in a woman (motherly, intelligent, and pretty). The female gaze may have not come from the painting itself, but instead her life. She was the first female Renaissance artist to get the credit she deserved, even if most of her success came from her soap-opera life. Women in art began to grow, as more followed in Sofonisba’s footsteps. Because of her, they knew how to be accepted as a female artist and simply emulated what she did. "A grand love story unfolds, too, as she overcame many obstacles to win her beloved husband," (Internet: Burke, Kathleen), but Sofonisba Anguissola also overcame many obstacles to become famous as the first celebrated woman artist of the Renaissance.
Anguissola, Sofonisba. "The Chess Game". Muzeum Nardowe, Pozna?.
Burke, Kathleen. "Sofonisba Anguissola: Renaissance Painter Extraordinaire" Smithsonian Magazine (May 1995): Online Internet. 1995.
Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues95/may95/anguissola.html
Harris, Ann Sutherland and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists: 1550-1950 First Edition. New York: Random House Inc., 1976.
Petersen, Karen and J.J Wilson. Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal From the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. New York: University Press, 1976.
Sparrow, Walter Shaw. Women Painters of the World. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1976: pg. 24-27.
|Sofonisba Anguissola, Self Portrait of the Artist with Sisters and Governess. 1555 (The Chess Game) oil on canvas, 27"x37" Italian Renaissance|
Explain how this is both a good example of Renaissance portraiture and a good example of how art was oriented towards a male audience.
So Jennifer West and I had a dialog by e-mail and she found some inconsistencies in my lecture, which I think is wonderful! Here's the text of the e-mails: _________________________________________________ Jenn,
YOU ARE WONDERFUL!
Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to research this and get things right!
So here's the straight poop!
Yes, I misidentified the Chess Game and I found at least two more sources that say the "Chess Game" is her three sisters. Giorgio Vasari (historian who lived 1511-1574) and Germain Greer in her book "Obstacle Race) says that it is of her three sisters.
I'm not sure where I learned that she stopped painting after she married, but neither the Brittanica nor Greer say explicitly that she stopped painting. Can you tell me where you found out that she continued to paint please?
One other thing when I reread the Greer and Brittanica accounts, she was the daughter of a noble who sent her daughters to study with a great painter in place of giving them a dowry.
From: Jenn West
Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 8:45 PM
To: Kenney Mencher
Subject: Sofonisba Anguissola & The Chess Game
I have been reading up a little on Sofonisba Anguissola and it has lead me to some questions about the lecture that you gave the other day.
Would you mind to check out this website and let me know your thoughts on this? http://www.students.sbc.edu/drahman08/womenandmeninrenaissanceart(withimages).html
It seems to me that she is not in the painting "The Chess Game" but rather it is a painting of her three sisters? On the page you can see the self-portrait that she panted of herself painting along with the one she did of a male painter doing a panting of her. They look different to me. Another thing I found is that she did not stop painting after she was married and continued art until old age even though her eyesight got progressively worse. Her sisters did quit painting after they were married, but from what I read she did not. Maybe you can clear some of this up for me. Am I on crack and remembering your lecture incorrectly?
Regardless, she seems like a remarkable feminist figure. I found a description of The Chess Game that was very interesting and in a slightly different light than you presented it. It gave the impression that Sofonisba's paintings had hints in them showing her fight for the equality of women and definitely reminds me of Christine de Pisan's writing that you had us read.
This is from an article by Sara Getz:
"The Chess game’s main subject is also important to Sofonisba’s message for this
painting. Chess had undergone many rule changes as it was introduced and popularized in
Italy in 1510 (Gerrard, 1994). The new game of chess, much like the kind played today, gave the pawns new abilities. For example, in order to make the game move along faster,
the bishop pawn gained the ability to move an infinite number of spaces diagonally, when
previously it could have only moved one diagonal space at a time (Gerrard, 1994). Every
other pawn also had its own new set of rules. The most significant rule change for
Sofonisba’s painting, however, belongs to the Queen. Author Mary D. Gerrard (1994)
states that “The new status and power of the queen-now greater than that of the king
himself--was evidently the most noteworthy result of the rules change…” As the oldest
sister grasps her sibling’s black queen in her left hand, she signifies more than the fact that
she has just won the game; the queen, as a symbol, implies that the status of women should at least be equal to the status of men in society (Gerrard, 1994). As the status of the chess queen has risen, so should the status rise of all women in society."
"Sofonisba did not create life-like paintings by accident. She knew that what she was
doing was significant. In her Self-Portrait, from 1554, her pose and what she holds in her
hand are important signifiers for her message (Fig. 4) (Perlingieri, 1992). She sits in a three
quarter pose and gazes out at the viewer in a challenging stare (Perlingieri, 1992). She
dresses in a simple, yet elegant gown adorned with lace at her collar and sleeve openings.
Her dress is simple, but shows that her status in society is not of lower-class.
The book that Sofonisba holds in her left hand is a sign of her intelligence and success
(Chicago and Lucie-Smith, 1999). On it is written, “Sofonisba Anguissola virgo se ipsam
fecit 1554 (Sofonisba Anguissola, the unmarried maiden painted this herself, 1554)”
(Perlingieri, 1992, p.78). Here she makes a statement about having never been married.
Therefore, she is also saying that she has never belonged to a man and never given birth to
a child (Perlingieri, 1992). She detaches herself from the theories of Aristotle and in a way
rejects them while also taking on some manlike qualities. She also writes in a very matterof-a-fact tone which puts emphasis on the fact that and unmarried, childless woman painted the portrait.
Women during this time had trouble gaining the full respect from men that they may
have deserved. In order to gain this respect, women who wanted to paint could either
choose to paint with some restrictions, or paint on their own accord but gain no respect.
Artist and author Judy Chicago and Edward Lucie-Smith (1999) describe the situation as
Essentially a female artist could either elect to be a gentlewoman who
painted, with the restrictions which this implied in terms of both daily
conduct and longterm social mobility, or she could resign herself to being
thought of as a not quite repectable outsider. A gentlewoman artist had
access to a particular sort of patronage – she could become a favorite with
the female members of a court or aristocratic circle. But this limited the
scope of her art. This seems to have been the choice made by the gifted
mannerist portraitist Sofonisba Anguissola (Chicago & Lucie-Smith, 1999,
The book that Sofonisba holds shows that she has joined this circle of intellect and
sacrifices many freedoms in order for her work to be respected and well-known (Chicago &
Sofonisba was one of the first women to begin the fight for equal rights among men
and women. She fought for the right to be taken seriously as an artist in the same way that
men were taken seriously as artists. Sofonisba turned her knowledge and determination into
master works of art. Credited by Vasari as have “truly life-like” images, and praised by
Venturi for improving upon her own teacher’s work, Sofonisba has accomplished more
than art; she has helped rise the status of women to a position of equal importance as men
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