From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Title page: Testa di cazzi (image)
- " and we created you as a being neither celestial nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal alone, so that you as a free and sovereign artist mold and model yourself in the form that you prefer; you can degenerate to animal, but you can also rise to the higher, divine kingdom ... You alone have the power to develop and grow according to free will." --Pico della Mirandola Oration on the Dignity of Man, translation mine
In the 15th and 16th centuries the beacons for contemporary art and literature are set. The Renaissance (literally "rebirth") is considered a golden age for the arts and letters, a rebirth of classical antiquity so admired by Renaissance man. Contemporary historians find the term somewhat problematic and prefer the descriptor 'early modern'. In the history of eroticism the term 'Renaissance' is much more straightforward. The Renaissance is a rediscovery of the pagan pre-Christian pantheon and the reinvigoration of the "loves of the gods". Greco-Roman mythology becomes a favourite subject for profane paintings. This is not necessarily a result of secularisation, since the Renaissance is essentially as Christian as the Middle Ages. The shift has more to do with the nature of art patronage. These are mainly the Church in the Middle Ages, while in the Renaissance courts and the growing bourgeoisie, the new affluent middle class, reach for their wallets to order works of art.
The Renaissance is also the period when the printing press and paper are invented, two discoveries that allow erotic writings to spread easily and affordably. The Renaissance finally represents a new era of artistic media: woodcuts, engravings and block books now anyone with some financial means to build a collection of risqué image, an erotic print cabinet of their own.
All these new developments called for a new generation of moral crusaders who urgently tried to curb the proliferation of these new media. The press is one of the first innovations that were targeted. An Italian friar wrote in 1474, when Gutenberg's presses had been rolling for about thirty years, that the 'pen is a virgin; the printing press, a whore.' The first public book burning, the 'Bonfire of the Vanities' singes the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Lastly, a book is made that contains a list of banned books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. (Image) This list proves to be an immediate success amongst those who are seeking just that, banned books.
A distinctive feature of Renaissance art is the invention of linear perspective. The German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) defines perspective etymologically by saying that 'perspectiva is a Latin word which means 'seeing through'. Dürer illustrates the mechanical side of 'seeing through' by depicting a wooden frame covered with a grid of threads, which allows an artist to more easily draw perspective, an invention that harks back to Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. This invention is beautifully and appropriately presented in the woodcut Der Netzzeichner (The Net Draughtsman) (image), laying bare the dynamics of looking and being looked at, so exemplary for the art of nude figure drawing and painting. Several 20th-century Marxist and feminist art critics have referred to this print to criticize the dominance of the so-called male gaze in Western visual culture. Personally, I just see an exciting image: the draughtsman as voyeur, the model as exhibitionist. And besides, Dürer did not hesitate to expose himself, as he shows in the stunning self-portrait with beautiful naked prick (image).