Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Raphael and La Fornarina

La fornarina by Raphael, 1518-1519
The painting above was found in Raphael's studio at the time of his death. The painting is known as La fornarina(the bakeress) and the woman in the painting is thought to be Raphael's roman mistress, Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker from Seina.

La velata by Raphael, 1514-1515
The same woman posed for another portrait known as La velata or La donna velata(the veiled woman) painted about three or four years earlier. She wears the same pearl bauble in her hair in both portraits. The name Margherita means "pearl" in Italian. A contemporary account refers to the woman in the La velata portrait as "the woman Raphael loved until he died". Margherita Luti is thought to have been the model for both of these portraits and many of Raphael's other works.

Among the other works Margherita Luti is thought to have modeled for are several Madonnas including the Madonna della Seggiola (known as Madonna of the Chair), painted around the same time as the La velata portrait.

In the La fornarina portrait she is wearing a wedding ring and an armband on which is written the name Raphael of Urbino. Myrtle branches, symbolic of love and marriage, fill the background. These details were discovered recently when a restoration of the portrait revealed that these symbols had been painted over, apparently by Raphael's assistants after his death.

Madonna della Seggiola by Raphael, c. 1514
According to Giorgio Vasari, in his Life of Raphael, Raphael was so in love with his mistress that he could not focus on his painting if separated from her. She accompanied him everywhere and even had to be smuggled in to live with him in secret so that he could complete his frescoes at the Villa Farnesina, the pleasure palace of his wealthy friend, the Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi. In some versions of the legend Raphael's mistress is also smuggled into the Vatican to live with him there so that he can finish his frescoes for Pope Leo X. And thus the legend of Raphael the sex maniac was born.

Raphael was a very amorous man who was fond of women, and he was always quick to serve them. This was the reason why, as he continued to pursue his carnal delights, he was treated with too much consideration and asqcuiescence by his friends. When his dear friend Agostino Chigi commissioned him to paint the first loggia in his palace, Raphael could not really put his mind to his work because of his love for one of his mistresses; Agostino became so desperate over this that, through his own efforts and with the assistance of others, he worked things out in such a way that he finally managed to bring this woman of Raphael's to come and stay with him on a constant basis in the section of the house where Raphael was working, and that was the reason why the work came to be finished.* 
A marriage to a mere peasant girl, the daughter of a baker, would have seriously damaged Raphael's reputation with the Roman and Florentine aristocracy, quite probably ending his career as a painter.

Self Portrait by Raphael, 1506
Around the time the La velata portrait was painted, Raphael was being pressured by the Cardinal of Bibbiena to marry one of his nieces, a woman named Maria Bibbiena. Raphael didn't refuse the Cardinal, but put off the matter, saying he wanted to wait three or four years before marrying. After the four years had passed, Raphael agreed to the marriage, but he kept putting off the wedding with excuses.

The master lived in the strictest intimacy with Bernardo Divizio, Cardinal of Bibbiena, who had for many years importuned him to take a wife of his selection, nor had Raphael directly refused compliance with the wishes of the Cardinal, but had put the matter off, by saying that he would wait some three or four years longer. The term which he had thus set approached before Raphael had thought of it, when he was reminded by the Cardinal of his promise, and being as he ever was just and upright, he would not depart from his word, and therelore accepted a niece of the Cardinal himself for his wife. But as this engagement was nevertheless a very heavy restraint to him, he put off the marriage from time to time, insomuch that several months passed and the ceremony had not yet taken place.*
Finally Maria Bibbiena died from an illness and the wedding never took place.

The frescoes Raphael painted at the Villa Farnesina are filled with depictions of love and marriage suggesting that Raphael's friend Agostino Chigi may have helped arrange a secret marriage around the time he smuggled Margherita into the Villa to reunite his lovelorn friend with his beloved so that he could finish his frescoes.
The painter meanwhile did not abandon the light attachment by which he was enchained, and one day on returning to his house from one of these secret visits, he was seized with a violent fever, which being mistaken for a cold, the physicians inconsiderately caused him to be bled, whereby he found himself exhausted, when he had rather required to be strengthened. Thereupon he made his will, and, as a good Christian, he sent the object of his attachment from the house, but left her a sufficient provision wherewith she might live in decency.*
Vasari takes great pains to discredit Raphael's relationship with Margherita Luti, never referring to Margherita by name, but as the "mistress", or the object of a "light attachment". But even Vasari admits that Raphael could not focus on his painting when seperated from her, and that although he sent her away shortly before his death, he made financial provisions for her future.

Vasari attributes Raphael's death to overindulgence in sex with his mistress, based on the medieval theory that having too much sex could disturb the humours of the body. Vasari's Life of Raphael helped create the legend of Raphael's death. In some versions of the legend, Raphael's mistress is even blamed for causing his early death.

After Raphael's death, his assistants found the La fornarina portrait hanging in his studio, and apparently soon thereafter painted over the nuptial symbolism in the painting to preserve the reputation of their beloved master and prevent a scandal that would put an end to their own work at the Vatican and consequently bankrupt them. The symbolism in the painting would have been immediately obvious to anyone at the time to mean "this is my wife whom I love".

Vasari contributed to the coverup in his Life of Raphael which reads like the life of a saint. Vasari's Lives of the Painters is a veritable hagiography of Rennaissance Art.

Raphael and La Fornarina by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres,
oil on canvas, 1814
After reading between the lines of Vasari's Life of Raphael and seeing the portraits many artists have become obsessed with the intrigueing and romantic legend of Raphael and La Fornarina.

The story of Raphael's legendary love for his model inspired Ingres to paint this portrait around 1814 depicting Margherita Luti sitting on Raphael's lap as he gazes Pygmalion like at the La fornarina portrait in progress, having apparently taken a break from his work to make love to his beautiful model. In the background a drawn back curtain reveals a view of the Vatican through the window and behind the easel a hand is holding a copy of Vasari's Life of Raphael. Leaning against the wall in the back is the Madonna della Seggiola. The man with the book behind the easel is Ingres reading between the lines.

Etching by Pablo Picasso, 1968
In 1968, at the age of 87, Pablo Picasso created his 357 series of twenty five pornographic etchings inspired by the legend of Raphael and La Fornarina. In the final etching in the series, Raphael is depicted having sexual intercourse with La Fornarina while Michelangelo watches, hiding under the bed.

Thanks to the research of Italian art historian Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and his associates the La fornarina portrait has now been restored revealing the truth about their relationship. Curuz and his associates have also uncovered documents suggesting that Raphael and Margherita Luti were indeed secretly married and that four months after Raphael's death the "widow" Margherita entered a convent in Rome.

We owe a debt to Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and his associates for finally bringing the true story of Raphael and Margherita Luti to light.

- David


The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari (translated by Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella), Oxford, 2008 *

Was Raphael Married? by Melissa Snell, 2005

Margherita as La fornarina by Lavalle Linn, 2009

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Silhouette

Edward Steichen, Balzac, The Silhouette—4 a.m., gum bichromate print, 1908

The enigmatic figure looming ominously in this ethereal photograph is Auguste Rodin's famous sculpture of Balzac. The photographer, Edward Steichen, knew Rodin and is said to have had an obsession with this sculpture of Balzac even before he met the sculptor. Balzac has haunted more than a few artists over the years it seems.

- David

Source: Edward Steichen: Balzac, The Silhouette—4 a.m. (33.43.36) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Monday, November 29, 2010

Phosphorus and Hesperus

Phosphorus and Hesperus, oil on canvas, Evelyn de Morgan, 1882

This beautiful painting by Evelyn de Morgan depicts the greek gods Phosphorus and Hesperus. Phosphorus(gr. Eosphoros, l. Lucifer) and Hesperus(gr. Hesperos, l. Vesper) are brothers, sons of the rosy fingered goddess of dawn, Eos (latin: Aurora).

Phosphorus is the planet Venus when it appears as the morning star. Hesperus is the planet Venus when it appears as the evening star. The early greeks believed these to be two distinct astronomical bodies and assigned two distinct dieties to the planet as it appeared respectively in the morning and evening. The later greeks adopted the Babylonian view that the morning and evening star were a single wandering star and associated it with the goddess Aphrodite(l. Venus).

Like the goddess Venus and the stars themselves, Phosphorus and Hesperus are eternally young and beautiful. Only their mother Eos(Dawn) and her sister and brother, Selene(the moon) and Helios(the Sun), shine more brightly in the heavens.

It is Phosphorus, the bringer of light, who wakes his mother Eos from her sleep in the depths of the sea each morning and ushers in the dawn. It is Hesperus who ushers in the evening at dusk. Hesperus brings all good things home at the end of the day. He is the god of the hearth and domestic happiness. One might curse Phosphorus when getting up in the morning to go to work and bless Hesperus in the evening when returning to the comfort of home.

Eos, oil on canvas, Evelyn de Morgan, 1895

 Evening, thou that bringest all that bright morning scattered; thou bringest the sheep, the goat, the child back to her mother. - Sappho
Above is a literal translation of a fragment of Sappho's poetry referring to Hesperus, translated by Henry Thornton Wharton in his book Sappho: Memoirs, text, selected renderings and a literal translation(1895). Below I've selected several translations of the same fragment from the book for comparison.

Hesperus brings all things back
Which the daylight made us lack,
Brings the sheep and goats to rest,
Brings the baby to the breast.

Edwin Arnold, 1869

Hesper, thou bringest back again
All that the gaudy daybeams part
The sheep the goat back to their pen,
The child home to the mother's heart.

Frederick Tennyson, 1890

Evening, all things thou bringest
Which dawn spread apart from each other;
The lamb and the kid thou bringest,
Thou bringest the boy to his mother.

J.A Symonds, 1883

Here Sappho's fragment is imitated by Byron in the third canto of Don Juan.

O Hesperus, thou bringest all good things-
Home to the weary, to the hungry cheer,
To the young bird the parent's brooding wings,
The welcome stall to the o'erlaboured steer;
Whate'er of peace about our hearthstone clings,
Whate'er our household gods protect of dear,
Are gathered round us by thy look of rest,
Thou bring'st the child too to its mother's breast

I have always been a night person myself.

Hesper, whom the poet called the Bringer home of all good things.

Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, Frederick Tennyson, 1886

Dawn (Aurora Triumphans), oil on canvas, Evelyn de Morgan, 1886

Finding a literary reference to Phosphorus was rather more difficult. Finally I stumbled across this passage from Virgil's Eclogues in which the arcadian shepherd Damon greets the day leaning against an olive tree playing his flute and singing a song bemoaning the coming of dawn for today is the day of his beloved Nysa's wedding to his rival Mopsus. In the last stanza Damon vows to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff into the sea.

In this translation, Phosphorus is called Lucifer, Eos is called Eota and Hesperus is simply called the evening star.

Damon's song:  

Rise, Lucifer, and, heralding the light,
Bring in the genial day, while I make moan
Fooled by vain passion for a faithless bride,
For Nysa, and with this my dying breath
Call on the gods, though little it bestead-
The gods who heard her vows and heeded not.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Ever hath Maenalus his murmuring groves
And whispering pines, and ever hears the songs
Of love-lorn shepherds, and of Pan, who first
Brooked not the tuneful reed should idle lie.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Nysa to Mopsus given! what may not then
We lovers look for? soon shall we see mate
Griffins with mares, and in the coming age
Shy deer and hounds together come to drink.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Now, Mopsus, cut new torches, for they bring
Your bride along; now, bridegroom, scatter nuts:
Forsaking Oeta mounts the evening star!

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
O worthy of thy mate, while all men else
Thou scornest, and with loathing dost behold
My shepherd's pipe, my goats, my shaggy brow,
And untrimmed beard, nor deem'st that any god
For mortal doings hath regard or care.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Once with your mother, in our orchard-garth,
A little maid I saw you- I your guide-
Plucking the dewy apples. My twelfth year
I scarce had entered, and could barely reach
the brittle boughs. I looked, and I was lost;
A sudden frenzy swept my wits away.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Now know I what Love is: 'mid savage rocks
Tmaros or Rhodope brought forth the boy,
Or Garamantes in earth's utmost bounds-
No kin of ours, nor of our blood begot.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Fierce Love it was once steeled a mother's heart
With her own offspring's blood her hands to imbrue:
Mother, thou too wert cruel; say wert thou
More cruel, mother, or more ruthless he?
Ruthless the boy, thou, mother, cruel too.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Now let the wolf turn tail and fly the sheep,
Tough oaks bear golden apples, alder-trees
Bloom with narcissus-flower, the tamarisk
Sweat with rich amber, and the screech-owl vie
In singing with the swan: let Tityrus
Be Orpheus, Orpheus in the forest-glade,
Arion 'mid his dolphins on the deep.

Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays.
Yea, be the whole earth to mid-ocean turned!
Farewell, ye woodlands I from the tall peak
Of yon aerial rock will headlong plunge
Into the billows: this my latest gift,
From dying lips bequeathed thee, see thou keep.
Cease now, my flute, now cease Maenalian lays.

Virgil, Eclogue VIII, translator unknown

In legend Sappho is said to have committed suicide by jumping off a cliff into the sea as well. Though it is unknown how Sappho really died.

The Field of the Slain, oil on canvas, Evelyn de Morgan, 1916

The paintings of Evelyn Pickering de Morgan (1855 - 1919) show the influence of Pre-Raphaelites such as Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and especially John Rodham Spencer Stanhope, who was her uncle. Like other Pre-Raphaelite painters, she often took her subjects from literature and mythology. Yet her paintings are often discussed in comparison with Symbolist painters because of her use of allegorical symbolism to express metaphysical ideas and comment on social issues. Her later paintings, like the one above, often had an anti-war theme.

Evelyn de Morgan portayed women as beautiful, robust and athletic. Her women are strong heroic figures embodying the power of creative optimism, in stark contrast to Edward Burne-Jones wilting goddesses who all suffer from a fatal melancholia. The women in their paintings are thus as different as Hesperus and Phosphorus, that is to say, as night and day.

- David


Sappho: Memoirs, text, selected renderings and a literal translation by H.T. Wharton, 1895.

The Eclogues, Virgil, 37 b.c.e.

The De Morgan Foundation website.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Balzac and Picasso

Balzac, etching, 1952, Pablo Picasso

In 1927 Picasso was commissioned to do a series of illustrations for a novella by Balzac called The Unknown Masterpiece or The Hidden Masterpiece(Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu ). After reading the novella Picasso became obsessed with this uncanny tale of a painter's obsession to create a masterpiece.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Picasso identified with the painter Frenhofer and became obsessed with The Unknown Masterpiece. In 1934 he moved into a house that he and his friends believed was the actual setting of Balzac's story. There he painted his most famous work, Guernica, in 1937. Some art historians have suggested he conceived Guernica as his own unknown masterpiece.

Picasso would later claim he was haunted by Balzac. Themes from Balzac's story appear in many of Picasso's works over the years. The etching above is one of a long series of Balzac portraits done by Picasso in 1952.

A drawing from 1934 was discovered in a junk shop in 1972. The 1934 drawing may offer a key to symbolism in many of Picasso's paintings.  Contraversy regarding interpretations of the drawings symbolism and it's authenticity has been ongoing for years. The 1934 drawing has become known as Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece.

1934 drawing

Art historian Mark Harris has written a brilliant comprehensive analysis of the symbolism in Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece. Visit his website to read all about it and visit the Picasso Conspiracy website for up to date information on the ungoing battle to authenticate Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece.

The Balzac Conspiracy:


The Mark Harris Picasso site: