User:Jahsonic/AHE/Meanwhile in the Low Countries
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- While you, Neæra, close entwine
- In frequent folds your frame with mine
- And hanging o'er, to view confest
- Your neck, and gently-heaving breast
- Down on my shoulders soft decline
- Your beauties more than half divine
- With wand'ring looks that o'er me rove
- And fire the melting soul with love
The Low Countries roughly refer to the current countries of The Netherlands and Belgium. The region forms the dividing line between northern Europe, with its Germanic culture that has fostered Protestantism, and Southern Europe, traditionally characterized by a 'Burgundian lifestyle', rooted in Catholicism. In Belgium and in the south of the Netherlands, a 'Burgundian lifestyle' still means joie de vivre, haute cuisine and exuberance, often contrasted to the frugality, meager food and general restraint of the North. The Low Countries are caught between these two opposing cultures, which can be characterized rather effectively as on the one hand the people of Southern Europe who 'live to eat' and the people of northern Europe who 'eat to live.'
In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the Low Countries, are especially known for their religious and genre paintings, but in the 16th century, two remarkable artists celebrate Greco-Roman mythology and Christian allegory to create sensual oeuvres that skirt the limits of propriety: Jan Mabuse (aka Jan Gossaert) from Hainaut and Bartholomeus Spranger from Antwerp.
Mabuse (1478-1532), born 28 years after Bosch, is a pioneer in 1508 when he and his patron Philip of Burgundy travel to Rome to visit the Pope. He returns to Flanders struck by the beauty of Italian art and introduces the Low Countries to mannerism, a term used for Italian and Italianate art in the 16th century. The term derives from maniera, Italian for fashion or style, and actually refers to the style of Michelangelo, the undisputed Renaissance master. Imitation of Michelangelo and Raphael is indeed seen as quintessential, but Mannerism combines this with a deliberate defective sense of perspective and often unnatural-looking, twisted poses of life figures, the so-called figura serpentinata.
Mabuse is a bit of a maverick and his erotic works are gems. Adam and Eve, Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, Venus and Amor show the way to his bizar oeuvre, but two works are obligatory stopovers in the history of eroticism: Neptune and Amphitrite (image) and Danae (image).
Danae was, as you remember, 'visited' by Zeus as a golden rain. In Mabuse's interpretation of Danae, she is sitting in a circular bay window, which opens onto a monumental city. She's is wearing a blue dress that is so wide that a bit of the top of her garment has lost the battle with gravity, baring her right breast. We can not see what she is doing with her right hand, it is under the dress, which is slightly raised by her left hand. The golden stream of Zeus falls straight down, like a translucent giant phallus. Her delicate legs are half open and her feet are crossed. Her facial expression keeps middle ground between recognition and astonishment. It's hard to explain just why this Danae excites feelings of lust more readily than others. Is it the firmness of her breast or the inviting gesture of the raised dress? Her blushing cheeks or her full lips?
It is hard not to laugh when standing in front of Neptune and Amphitrite. More than any of Mabuse's work, it is reminiscent of 20th-century comics. The girl is of the same healthy type as Danae, with the same curls. The young man has a muscular body and also sports curls. They are standing in a kind of temple, on a pedestal with pillars on both sides. The couple looks sad. He is Neptune, the sea god, she Amphitrite, his consort. She is stark naked, and as is customary in the art of that period, has no pubic hair. To cover his penis, he is wearing a seashell, hanging from twigs that span his waist. Is his penis in the shell? His dangling testicles show from underneath the bottom of the shell. Although they are facing each other, the two figures are not looking at each other, they stare in front of them, their eyes crossing in an infinite point in space. Their naked bodies fill the composition completely, the figures seem too large for their setting, as if they were adults stuck in a puppet theatre, which contributes to the ludicrous nature of the painting.
This canvas clearly pokes fun at the ruling conventions of the then current art. Furthermore, despite the apparent laziness and boredom its protagonists display, it looks like neither would mind being made a pass at by a third party, what lends the work a slightly decadent taste. The Encylopedia Britannica of 1911 agrees and condemns the work fiercely:
- "It is difficult to find anything more coarse or misshapen than the Neptune and Amphitrite, unless we except the grotesque and ungainly drayman who figures for Neptune." They consider the work "realism of the commonest type."
Spranger is born in Antwerp in 1546 and dies a rich man in Prague in 1611. He owes this wealth to his mythological paintings that do not shun the nude, quite to the contrary. There is no better painting to introduce the Nortnern Mannerists than Spranger's twisting Hermaphroditus and Salmacis(image). Spranger's painting is based on a story from Ovid, one that has rarely been used as an inspiration for a painting. Spranger uses the story to depict two hyper-stylized bodies. Especially the full backward thrusted buttocks of the seductress Salmacis draw the attention. In another painting by Spranger, Vulcan and Maia (image), Maia, nymph of the mountains, flings her hips seductively at the viewer. And in Jupiter and Antiope (image) we see a very hairy Jupiter, so hairy that it seems to suggest that Antiope has a penchant for bestiality.
For a brief time, Spranger collaborates with the Dutchman Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617), who via engravings spread the art of the Dutch Mannerists across Europe. Art at that moment has become an international affair; not only do many European artists make the Grand Tour to Italy, but they find themselves travelling from court to court, at the request of patrons. Goltzius, born near the Dutch Venlo, makes his mark in engravings of hyper-masculine male nudes like the Farnese Hercules (image) and his series The Four Disgracers, treating the fall of Icarus (image), Tantalus (image) Ixion (image) and Phaeton (image), four gods who are punished for their hubris. Goltzius engraves The Four Disgracers after designs by his compatriot Cornelis van Haarlem (1562-1638), the man who with The Fall of the Titans (image) paints an early homo-erotic masterpiece.