User:Jahsonic/AHE/Renaissance/Vanity: for the fairest one!
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"For the fairest one!" That's what is written on the golden apple that Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, throws in the crowd when she arrives angry and uninvited at a divine wedding. Strife is there-from born among the three vain goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. All of them claim the apple and eventually they ask the mortal Paris to judge the beauty of the goddesses. Hera tries to bribe Paris with wealth and power, Athena with infinite wisdom and Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman on earth. Paris proclaims Aphrodite to be the most beautiful of the trio and she receives the golden apple, which has since been her permanent attribute. The prize for Paris? The most beautiful woman on earth, Helen, wife of Spartan King Menelaus. Paris travels to Sparta and with the help of Aphrodite abducts the ravishing Helen, which will be the starting point of the Trojan War.
The story of the three quarrelling goddesses is also the excuse during the Renaissance to portray three female beauties in an undisguised beauty pageant avant-la-lettre. Raimondi, the artist of I Modi, is the first Renaissance artist who engraved the subject, to a design by Raphael (image), but it will be primarily the painters from the North who bring the subject to life with paint. Cranach accomplished no fewer than seven versions, all with a knight in full armour surrounded by three stark naked goddesses. The version (image) which can charm us most is that of Niklaus Manuel, with a pot-bellied goddess looking puzzled and ashamed and Aphrodite who receives, visibly grateful and lovestruck, the apple from Paris. Paris's hand seems to make a move in the direction of the mound of Aphrodite. A goddess, probably the asexual Athena; remains fully clothed, giving the painting an extra frisson.
Vain women should know that beauty is fleeting. An old Dutch proverb, first recorded by the 17th-century Dutch writer and humorist Jacob Cats, goes as follows: "Who marries a bitch for the tits, looses the tits and keeps the bitch". This is knowledge as old as humanity. Hans Baldung Grien dedicated a whole series of paintings and prints to the brittle transience of life .
The The Seven Ages of Woman and the Three Ages of the Woman and the Death illustrate the various stages in the life of Venus, from newborn infant to beautiful young woman and finally to an old, worn crone. This type of work is generally referred to as Vanitas, or memento mori, such as the work of the anonymous Nordic Master M Z from around 1502 (image).