Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Agnolo Bronzino, Venus, Cupid and the Time (Allegory of Lust) 1540-45 Oil on panel, 57"x45" 147 x 117 cm National Gallery, London Italian Renaissance, Mannerism

Agnolo Bronzino, Venus, Cupid and the Time  
(Allegory of Lust) 1540-45 Oil on panel,  
57"x45" 147 x 117 cm  
National Gallery, London 
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism


Form:  Bronzino's painting exhibits the Mannerist flair for an intense distortion of anatomy, space, and color.  The figures, particularly that of the cupid  on the left, exhibits an almost grotesque distortion.  Cupid is simultaneously showing us his rump and his head.  The fingers of Cupid's hand, which grasp Venus's breast (his mother!) is posed in a very unnatural manner.  (Try holding your hand in such a manner.)  The pose of the hand and his incredible twist are almost impossible.  Likewise, the two hands of the figure behind the small child at right, are reversed. The space all of these jumbled figures exist in is almost incomprehensible.  Where are they are?  What are they standing on and why does it appear as if the picture plane is tilted forward and that they will all tumble out of the picture towards us.
The color is also very high key.  The blues and purple tones are almost garish and the flesh tones of the figures range from an almost greenish hue (the figure grasping his head in the background)  to a naturalistic copper (Father Time pulling back the curtain) to a pale unnatural vampirish glow of the figures in the foreground.
Context and Iconography:  Even Bronzino's name is a kind of mannered twist.  His original name was Agnolo, or Agniolo, Di Cosimo but because his skin was a dark olive, his contemporaries nicknamed him "Bronzino" which is the Italian word for bronze.

Iconography according to the National Gallery website:

The picture is almost certainly that mentioned by Vasari in his 'Life of Bronzino' of 1568: "He made a picture of singular beauty, which was sent to King Francis in France; in which was a nude Venus with Cupid kissing her, and Pleasure on one side and Play with other Loves; and and on the other, Fraud, Jealousy, and other passions of love."The figures of Venus, and Cupid, together with the old man with wings and an hourglass on his shoulder who must be Time (not mentioned by Vasari), are all clearly identifiable by their attributes. Agreement on the identity of the other figures, and on the meaning of the picture has not been reached.
The howling figure on the left has variously been interpreted as Jealousy, Despair and the effects of syphilis; the boy scattering roses and stepping on a thorn as Jest, Folly and Pleasure; the hybrid creature with the face of a girl, the back and tail of a reptile and the haunches of a lion as Pleasure and Deceit; and the figure missing the back of its head in the top left corner as Fraud and Oblivion.
School of Fontainebleau, 
Venus and Cupid, c1559 
oil on panel,  
transferred to composition board  
37 3/4 x 27 3/4  
(95.9 x 70.5 cm) inches 
French Renaissance, Mannerism
The composition was influenced by the work of Michelangelo, especially his famous cartoon showing Venus and Cupid kissing, from which a painting was made by Pontormo, Bronzino's master. Bronzino was an accomplished poet as well as a painter. The picture seems to reflect his interest both in the conventional oppositions of Petrarchan love lyrics as well as more bawdy poetic genres.London National Gallery
According to the Brittanica: 

Bronzino was greatly influenced by the work of his teacher, the Florentine painter Jacopo da Pontormo. Bronzino adapted his master's eccentric, expressive style (early Mannerism) to create a brilliant, precisely linear style of his own that was also partly influenced by Michelangelo and the late works of Raphael. Bronzino served as the court painter to Cosimo I, duke of Florence, from 1539 until his death. His portraits, such as "Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni" (Uffizi, Florence), are preeminent examples of Mannerist portraiture: emotionally inexpressive, reserved, and noncommittal, yet arrestingly elegant and decorative. Bronzino's great technical proficiency and his stylized rounding of sinuous anatomical forms are also notable. He also painted sacred and allegorical works of distinction, such as "The Allegory of Luxury," or "Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time" (c. 1546; National Gallery, London), which reveals his love of complex symbolism, contrived poses, and clear, brilliant colours."Bronzino, Il."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 9, 2002.

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