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"Man is the measure?"Women's roles during the Renaissance
|Context and Iconography: The Male Gaze The series of images at the left are almost major landmarks in understanding the Renaissance conception of the difference between male and female roles. Images such as these and the writings of Reniassance authors, such as those by Castiglione and Christine de Pizan are in some ways representative of the "ideal" roles for each gender. Since images like this were primarily commissioned by male patrons and made by male artists some historians have named this phenomena the "male gaze."|
Leonardo and his contemporaries literally believed that, "Man is the measure of all things." In this drawing we see that Leonardo takes this idea almost quite literally and scientifically. Leonardo, consistent with classical thinking, chooses to represent the nude male figure rather than the nude female. This choice is quite deliberate because much of the thinking concerning classical humanism revolves around the specifically male experience of the world. In fact, authors like Castiglione specifically look on men who have,
. . .such a countenance as this is, will I have our Courtier to have, and not be so soft and womanish as many procure to have: that do not only curl the hair, and pick the brows, but also pamper themselves in every point like the most wanton and dishonest women in the world. One would think that in the way they walk, stand, and in all their gestures so tender and weak, that their limbs were ready to fall apart. Their pronunciation and language are effeminate. These men, seeing that nature has not made them women, ought not to be esteemed in place of good women, but like common Harlots to be banished, not only out of princes’ courts, but also out of the company of Gentlemen. To come therefore to the quality of the person,
Images of Mary can almost always be traced back to the Gothic depiction of Mary as the "Throne of Wisdom." In most images, such as in these by Giotto and Leonardo, she not only serves as a mother but as a platform or throne for her child. Stokstad refers to this as symbolic of the old testament references to the Lion Throne of King Solomon who is known as a wise and fair ruler and judge, but it is also a communication of the male conceived ideal of what the perfect woman should be.
Even when the Renaissance artist breaks with tradition and begins to think critically about the new roles of men and women, as in the Arnolfini wedding portrait and Christine de Pizan's writings, we still can see that both support the concept that there are appropriate roles for males and females in the world.
God has similarly ordained man and woman to serve Him in different offices and also to aid and comfort one another, each in their ordained task, and to each sex has given a fitting and appropriate nature and inclination to fulfill their offices. Inasmuch as the human species often errs in what it is supposed to do, God gives men strong and hardy bodies for coming and going as well as for speaking boldly. And for this reason, men with this nature learn the laws - and must do so - in order to keep the world under the rule of justice and, in case anyone does not wish to obey the statutes which have been ordained and established by reason of law, are required to make them obey with physical constraint and force of arms, a task which women could never accomplish. Nevertheless, though God has given women great understanding
In the case of the Arnolfini portrait, the role is that of the good wife. Notice that being a wife is also being a good mother and we can see this symbolically in Giovanna Cenami's swelling belly and bunched up drapery which symbolizes pregnancy according to Panofsky.
Both Castiglione and de Pizan seem to warn us off of changing the male and female roles and sticking to what we know or is prescribed in the Bible. In fact, many images of females who break out of these traditional roles, such as the biblical women, Eve, Judith, and Suzanne and the not so biblilical Phyllis are responsible for our down fall and in this case of Eve for our "original sin."
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.
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|
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