20 May 2022   Beware America - By: Alon Ben-Meir

11 May 2022   Think twice before advocating for Sinwar's execution - By: Dr. Gershon Baskin

5 May 2022   How do we make holy places holy again? - By: Dr. Gershon Baskin

5 أيلول 2015   "من الأزل".. آخر كتب الراحل جونتر جراس - بقلم: المركز الألماني للإعلام (ألمانيا إنفو/ almania info)

23 December 2021

Poems in Paint: Titian at the Gardner Museum

By: Sam Ben-Meir
print     send by email

Boston, MA – Titian: Women, Myth & Power at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum consists of only six paintings, yet this one-room exhibition feels more like a six-course banquet. So overwhelming, immense and entrancing are the monumental canvases that upon entering the room one must literally catch one’s breath. Titian, greatest of the Venetian Renaissance masters, referred to these paintings, commissioned by King Philip II of Spain, as poesie (poems) and each depicts a different scene from stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Danaë (1551-53) was the first that Titian completed for Philip II, and it is the only place one could begin – compositionally, it is the least complex of the six, the seductive starter to Titian’s feast. Much of what fascinates us about this painting is Danaë’s reclined pose as she receives Jupiter in the form of a shower of gold, which a wizened old maid tries to catch with her shawl. There is a play between concealing and revealing here which runs through all six masterpieces.

On the one hand, Danaë seems to be discreetly concealing herself by bringing her right leg slightly over to her left – but of course in so doing she draws our attention precisely there. Giorgio Vasari writes that he and Michelangelo visited Titian’s studio one day in 1546 where they saw an earlier rendering of Danaë. After they left, Buonarroti “commended it not a little,” but lamented the shame that Venetians were not taught to “draw well from the beginning.” Titian’s women are certainly not Michelangelo’s women, who as John Berger points out are more like men in drag. Titian is perhaps the first great painter of the flesh as flesh, in all its wildly elusive and unfathomable carnality.

In the first painting we see the female nude from the front – but in the second we see her, in this case Venus, from behind. Venus and Adonis (1554) is also about hiding and showing, having and not having, and how these dialectically intermingle. Venus is attempting to keep Adonis from leaving her and going on the hunt where he will be killed – gored in the privates by a wild boar. But in the end, she is powerless to stop his departure – Cupid slumbers apart from the lovers, and Adonis is already on the move, giving Venus presumably one last look. But in his expression, we do not read love, nor impatience, but a kind of indifference: the look of a man whose mind is already elsewhere.  At the same time an otherworldly light is shining down from the heavens above them and illuminating the far-off woods where Adonis will meet his end. Perhaps the light is beckoning him away, along with the hounds to which he is literally tethered – but it is more likely an unheeded warning.

The third painting in the series is Actaeon and Diana (1556-59). The unfortunate hunter Acteon has accidentally discovered the celibate goddess Diana and her nymphs as they bathe, the penalty for which is he will presently be transformed into a stag and hunted down, and as Ovid tells it, “his own dogs were sated with his blood” (III, 176). The startled Acteon has dropped his bow – an indication of his powerlessness – and stands transfixed by the goddess whose icy stare alone is worth the price of admission. Atop a plinth sits a stag’s skull, while at Diana’s feet a lapdog growls at the intruder; finally, in the branches above the goddess’ head hang the skins of former prey – together they sum up Actaeon’s grim fate.

Its companion painting, hanging to the right, is Diana and Callisto (1556-59) – the curving stream that ends at the lower right corner in Actaeon and Diana continues on from the lower left corner. Like the others in the series, this painting also plays with the dynamic between hiding and revealing – in this instance it is Callisto’s illicit pregnancy, the result of being violated by Jupiter who assumed the disguise of Diana herself to put the nymph off her guard. Nine months have elapsed, and as chaste Diana and her nymphs disrobe to bathe, Callisto can no longer conceal her swollen belly. This is the moment that Titian has chosen to depict, when Diana points an imperious finger at the “dumbstruck girl” and says, “‘Get away from here!’ / … ‘Do not defile this spring.’ / And with that drove her from their company” (II, 639-41).

Perseus and Andromeda (1554-56) is the first of the final pair of paintings and although it has generally received less attention from critics than the others it is an extraordinary addition, one might even say an essential component in the series. It is also the only one to feature an actual physical conflict, in this case between Perseus – the son of Danaë and the slayer of Medusa – and a fearsome sea-monster who is soon to devour the beautiful Andromeda. In Ovid, her powerless parents look on having “no help to offer her, except / for weeping…” (IV, 948-49). Titian chooses not to include them in the composition – focusing rather on the counterpoint between the statuesque yet oddly precarious Andromeda who extends the entire height of the painting, and the dynamism of Perseus hovering in the top right. Perseus’ mid-air pose evidently caused Titian some difficulty – in his right hand he carries the “hooked sword” that Ovid recounts, in his left he holds a silver shield, and telling from the blood on the beast’s enormous maw, the hero has already struck a fearsome blow.

The Rape of Europa (1560-62) is the finishing course and despite, or perhaps because of its astounding qualities, it has come into some trenchant criticism in recent years. To many it will doubtless seem the most relevant to today, with its themes of abduction, sexual violence, power and male domination. For critics it eroticizes and celebrates rape, and so has an irremediable moral flaw which mars the work as a whole. This is certainly one way to interpret the painting, but crucially, far from the only one. A great work of art is only great to the extent that it can remain interpretively open, that it resists finalization – and Titian was a master of aesthetic ambiguity.

The action we are witnessing is the abduction or kidnapping of Europa by Jupiter who has taken the form of a snow-white bull and is bringing Europa across the sea to the island of Crete. There they will establish the Minoan civilization – the ancestor to all European civilization. Europa is being carried away, she is not riding the bull, but hanging on by grasping one of his horns. Is her clutching the phallic horn suggestive of her active participation in her abduction? Even more problematic is the way she is irregularly situated on the bull’s back. Her pose, as awkward as it may seem, is also profoundly sexualized and if it is true that “Titian mocked theoretical conventions of decorum for the sake of erotic expression” that certainly would not come as a surprise. He is in a long line of artists who transgress against social and aesthetic conventions and in the process transform painting.

Titian broke with the rules and conventions regarding composition, fashioning the unity of his pictures instead through the use of light, air, and color. In the process he not only paves the way for a new kind of painting to emerge, but he creates these timeless masterpieces, these poems in paint.  Their subjects may be pagan in origin, but I would venture that only a Christian could have created them – that is, only someone who believed that God had become flesh. For in Titian’s poesie the flesh is divine, something elemental and other-worldly, the driving force of history, the very source of love and death.

* Dr. Sam Ben-Meir teaches philosophy at Eastern International College. - sambenmeir@hotmail.com

Security Code

23 أيار 2022   الشعب الفلسطيني قادر على التغيير..! - بقلم: د. إبراهيم أبراش

23 أيار 2022   من التطبيع إلى الحلف الإقليمي الجديد..! - بقلم: معتصم حماده

23 أيار 2022   الفكر الصهيوني: الخرافة والقومية..! - بقلم: بكر أبوبكر

23 أيار 2022   في وداع شيرين أبو عاقلة..! - بقلم: خالدة جرار

22 أيار 2022   "فتح".. بين أمس مضى أو غد آت..! - بقلم: زياد أبو زياد

22 أيار 2022   ما هو اليسار المطلوب؟ - بقلم: محسن أبو رمضان

21 أيار 2022   الفكر الصهيوني: "القومية" ونفي الآخر..! - بقلم: بكر أبوبكر

21 أيار 2022   شيرين.. هبة فلسطين للسماء..! - بقلم: جواد بولس

20 أيار 2022   حدث في ذاك الزمان: صفقة التبادل عام 1985 - بقلم: عبد الناصر عوني فروانة

20 أيار 2022   انتصارات الأحزاب وانتصار الوطن..! - بقلم: د. إبراهيم أبراش

20 أيار 2022   اعتقال ومحاكمة حامل التابوت..! - بقلم: راسم عبيدات

11 نيسان 2022   في ذكرى صمود ومجزرة يافا عام 1775 - بقلم: د. سليم نزال

21 كانون ثاني 2022   رحلة موت الطفل سليم النواتي..! - بقلم: مصطفى إبراهيم

24 كانون أول 2021   الدنمارك الاستعمارية..! - بقلم: حسن العاصي

27 اّذار 2011   عداد الدفع المسبق خال من المشاعر الإنسانية..!! - بقلم: محمد أبو علان

13 شباط 2011   سقط مبارك فعادت لنا الحياة - بقلم: خالد الشرقاوي

4 شباط 2011   لا مستحيل..!! - بقلم: جودت راشد الشويكي

22 أيار 2022   حديث عن عصر الحداثة..! - بقلم: غازي الصوراني

22 أيار 2022   حوار تربوي..! - بقلم: فراس حج محمد

28 اّذار 2022   رسالة المسرح في يومه العالمي..! - بقلم: شاكر فريد حسن

8 كانون ثاني 2011   "صحافة المواطن" نافذة للأشخاص ذوي الاعاقة - بقلم: صدقي موسى

10 تشرين ثاني 2010   رساله .. - بقلم: جودت راشد الشويكي

3 تشرين ثاني 2010   شخبطة صحفية - بقلم: حسناء الرنتيسي

27 تشرين أول 2010   المدلل .. - بقلم: جودت راشد الشويكي

4 اّذار 2012   الطقش

26 كانون ثاني 2012   امرأة في الجفتلك


English | الصفحة الرئيسية | كاريكاتير | صحف ومجلات | أخبار وتقارير | اّراء حرة | الإرشيف | صوتيات | صحفيون وكتاب | راسلنا

جميع الحقوق محفوظة © لشبكة  أمين الأعلامية 2022- 1996 
تصميم وتطوير شبكة أمين الأعلامية