Notebook

It is curious how reluctant we are to include acquisitiveness among the defining characteristics of the age which formed our aesthetic heritage. A competitive urge to acquire was a precondition for the growth in production of lavishly expensive works of art. A painter’s reputation rested on his ability to arouse commercial interest in his works of art, not on some intrinsic criteria of intellectual worth. Titian’s canvases of statuesque naked women in recumbent poses were regarded as learnedly symbolic  by nineteenth-century art historians — it was claimed they were visual explorations of allegories drawn from classical Latin literature.  Only recently did contemporary correspondence come to light which showed that these works of art were painted to meet a vigorous demand for bedroom paintings  depicting erotic nudes in salacious poses.  When Guidobaldo,  Duke of Urbino, was negotiating to buy the painting now known as “The  Venus of Urbino” from Titian in 1538 he referred to it simply as a painting of “a naked woman” (and tried to borrow money from his mother Eleonora Gonzaga to pay for it).  In 1542 the churchman Cardinal Farnese saw the painting at Guidobaldo’s summer residence and rushed off to commission a similarly erotic nude of his own from Titian in Venice. Reporting back on the progress of the painting some time later, the Papal Nuncio in Venice expressed the view that the Cardinal’s nude, now completed and ready for shipment, made The Venus of Urbino look like a frigid nun.

Lisa Jardine, “Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance”.

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