Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Behind-the-scenes Tour with the Director


You’ll be able to see many
of the groupings that Dora mentioned
in the exhibition, where we’ve tried to bring
the pieces of maiolica together and into these
meaningful groups. I’m going to introduce both
of the next two speakers now for reasons that will
become apparent a bit later. First, it is my great pleasure
to welcome Linda Wolk-Simon, curator in the Department
of Drawings and Prints of The Metropolitan Museum
of Art, where she has worked in varying capacities
since 1986. Linda is an expert
on Raphael and his workshop, especially the important painter
and craftsman Perino del Vaga, and has written extensively about Italian drawings
of the 16th century. Many of you will remember her
and know of her from her recent jewel
of an exhibition here, Raphael at The Metropolitan:
The Colonna Altarpiece, in 2006 and from her groundbreaking
contribution to the exhibition
Painters of Reality of 2004, in which she examined
the subject of naturalism in Lombard drawings
of the 16th and 17th centuries. She’s the curator
of the second section of the current exhibition
Profane Love and today will speak
on aspects of the subject of her essay in that catalog. Her talk today
has the provocative title, “Sex in the Eternal City: Art and Love
in Renaissance Rome.” But before we welcome Linda,
let me say a few words about our final speaker,
Beverly Brown. Beverly’s career has shown
that it is possible to be both a professor
and a curator, each on the highest level, as she has taught
at Harvard and Princeton– I remember her fascinating class
on Michelangelo there– as well as organizing
exceptional exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art,
Washington, the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, and the Royal Academy of Arts,
London. Some of the most memorable
of these include Jacopo Bassano in 1992, Giambattista Tiepolo: Master
of the Oil Sketch in 1993, Renaissance Venice and the North
in 1999 and The Genius of Rome,
1592-1623 in 2001– a truly remarkable range. Recently,
she has turned her mind to the meaning
of certain meaningful details in the portraits
and secular paintings of Lorenzo Lotto and Titian, leading to her contribution
to today’s lecture series, Marriage in the Renaissance:
What’s Love Got to Do with It? Now, let’s please welcome
Linda Wolk-Simon. (applause) Thank you, Andrea.
Good afternoon. In the intellectually
sophisticated milieu of Renaissance Rome, as elsewhere in Italy
in the 16th century in the decades
before the Counter-Reformation, the sacred and the profane were
not distinct or separate realms. Rather, they were two aspects
of a single, seamless culture. Both proceeded
from a learned immersion in classical antiquity, which offered paradigms
both lofty and low. The humanists,
who revered and emulated the noble prose of Cicero, also devoured
the racy texts of Ovid and the humorous,
satiric dialogues of Lucian. The artists who studied
the “Apollo Belvedere” and the “Laocoon” in an effort to revive
that noble, heroic manner found that the ancient Romans
had indulged in equal measure their tastes
for less elevated fare. Scenes of heterosexual
and homosexual lovemaking were commonplace
in Roman oil painting… and also frequently appeared on small-scale
decorative objects, such as cameo, silver,
pottery and oil lamps, not to mention
monumental sculpture, as well. Like the monumental
architectural and sculptural remains, these miniature
and often fragmentary relics of classical antiquity
were keenly studied by Renaissance artists
and humanists, particularly in Rome, where such material
was constantly augmented by new archeological
discoveries. Such an antique example
both fueled and sanctioned their enthusiastic embrace
of lewd imagery, which could be justified,
however speciously, as a learned revival
of the maniera all’antica. Some of the most rhetorically
elevated, learned and refined works of Renaissance art
and literature were produced by painters and poets
who turned their energies with equal facility
to lewd, salacious and erotic subject matter. Artists like Giulio Romano,
Perino del Vaga, Francesco Salviati
and Parmigianino, the artist you see
on the screen here, decorated sacred
liturgical spaces with decorous frescoes
and altarpieces at the same time that they were
exploring in their drawings more earthy subjects,
like fornication and pederasty. Marcantonio Raimondi, Raphael’s gifted engraver
who reproduced that master’s most brilliant
pictorial inventions, was also responsible for some
of the most sexually explicit and transgressive prints
ever produced, including the engraving
on the right, known today only
in a single impression. We really wanted this
for the show, but it was vetoed
by the powers that be. (laughter) Cesare de Sesto, a talented
fellow of Leonardo da Vinci from Milan who spent a number
of years in Rome, drew standing saints
next to copulating figures on the same page
on one of his… same page on a sheet
from one of his sketchbooks. And the poet and Curial
secretary Francesco Berni, a learned humanist, penned an
ode to his urinal in rhapsodize and verse about the pleasures
of sodomy, while the painter Bronzino,
who was also a gifted poet, found erotic inspiration in his
paintbrush and frying pan. I’m gonna say more
about this dish later. It’s in the show, and it’s one
of my favorite objects. If such innocuous objects as
a paintbrush and a frying pan strike a modern audience as dull
muses, contemporaries converse on what the burlesque lexicon
of the day would have immediately recognized: the
phallic and sodomitic references encoded in his witty encomia. In the Renaissance,
as in antiquity, the theme of illicit carnal love
thus provided an endless font of inspiration. Some of the images in question
are unabashedly vulgar and lurid in their portrayal
of licentious themes, while others explore erotic
subject matter with learned erudition. And informing many is a parodic
burlesque sensibility that mocks or satirizes
with wit and humor more intellectually elevated
modes of literary discourse and artistic display. Regardless of the individual
note each of these drawings, paintings and object strikes,
what most have in common– and this is a point to keep
in mind when you’re looking at this section
of the exhibition– is that they were made
for private, rather than public, consumption. They were meant to be enjoyed
by a privileged audience, be it a single individual
or a select few, gathered behind the protective
walls of a villa, studiolo or academy. An exception here, of course,
is prints, which were meant to be
widely disseminated, and had the capacity
to circulate scandalous imagery to a vast,
uncontrollable audience. And it’s for this reason that
they were frequent targets of censorship campaigns. And like the ancient sculpture
of a nude Venus, described by the satirist
Pietro Aretino, that most vocal and prurient
champion of erotic love, who we’ll hear from throughout
this lecture: “Like that Venus, erotic images
were not intended “to incite the viewer
to virtuous thoughts “or noble deeds. Rather, their purpose was
to arouse pure lust.” And renouncing all,
“Petrarchan subtleties,” Aretino’s lusty heroine,
the prostitute Nanna, announces not only the essence
of profane love, but also of profane art
in the Renaissance. There’s no better locus
to set the stage than Lungara suburban villa on the west bank
of the Tiber in Rome, known as the Villa Farnesina. It was built by the papal banker
Agostino Chigi, the wealthiest man in Rome, as a
pleasurable retreat for himself, the courtesan who would
eventually become his wife, and his learned and cultivated
friends and intimates. Designed by the Sienese painter
and architect Baldassarre Peruzzi in the first
decades of the 16th century, Chigi’s villa was in every way, to quote the Renaissance
historian Ingrid Rowland, “a sexy place.” (soft laughter) On the walls
of the patron’s bedroom, Alexander the Great greets his
beautiful mistress Roxanne in a fresco by the Sienese
painter Sodoma. His nickname– he is known as
Il Sodoma, “the Sodomite”– was a reflection of his
particular sexual proclivities. In “The Loggia of Galatea,”
the giant Polyphemus, by the Venetian painter
Sebastiano, on the left, gazes with longing
across the room at Raphael’s comely sea nymph, Galatea,
the image on the right. In the gardens
of the Chigi villa, there stood in the 16th century
a sculpture of Cupid and Psyche, and another of a satyr
seducing a boy. These may not be
those precise works, but certainly exemplify
these themes: personifications of homosexual
and heterosexual modes of love. And in the garden loggia, love
quite literally was in the air. There, Raphael and his pupils, summoning a cast of beautiful,
sensuous nudes, portrayed in the spandrels
and ceiling compartments the legend of Cupid and Psyche. This mildly salacious
ancient fairy tale, narrated in a poem known
as the “Golden Asse,” recounts the story
of the illicit love of Cupid and the mortal nymph Psyche
which culminated, after many trials, with
a splendid marriage celebration attended by
the Olympian deities. Lush garlands of naturalistic
vegetation abounding with an endless variety
of suggestively shaped fruits and vegetables
frame the narrative scenes. While these are, most obviously,
befitting decorative elements, alluding to Chigi’s
famously lush gardens just outside
the then open loggia, there are also erotic
visual puns that reiterate the narrative’s profane and amorous content.
(audience member sneezes) Bless you.
(laughter) In one conspicuous passage, in case you didn’t
see it yourself… (laughter) …a sexual encounter is
parodied by a lush, yielding fig and a swollen zucchini…
(laughter) …a playfully lewd detail
highlighted by the expansively and unsubtly
gesturing Mercury below. (laughter) Numerous birds populate
the ceiling, most of whom play no part
in the narrative. These may also have been
recognized as erotic metaphors. “Uccello”– “bird”–
being slang then and now, as we heard from Dora, for the
same part of the male anatomy more graphically represented
by the aggressive zucchini. (laughter) Such coded references
to ribald themes were ubiquitous in Renaissance burlesque poetry
and imagery, as we’ll see, and they would’ve been
immediately appreciated and understood
by a 16th century audience. The doings of the inhabitants
of the Chigi villa mirrored the amorous themes
of its decoration. It was here, in 1519,
that Agostino Chigi wed his considerably younger
mistress Francesca Ordeaschi, then pregnant
with their fifth child. He had taken up with her after
the death of a prior paramour, the celebrated Roman courtesan
Imperia. Their lavish marriage ceremony was attended
by a retinue of cardinals… Oh, this, by the way,
is a beautiful portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo. It was recently suggested
that the subject here may be, in fact, Francesca Ordeaschi. The lavish marriage ceremony was attended
by a retinue of cardinals, and presided over
by the epicurean Pope Leo X, an occasional
if rather dull guest at Chigi’s legendary banquets who had insisted
on the nuptials. Here, too, according to Vasari–
the biographer and painter who Dora mentioned
in her lecture, and who’s an important source
of information on the lives of 16th century
painters and artists– here, too, at the Chigi villa,
according to Vasari, the amorous Raphael, on the left
in a late self-portrait, whiled away languorous hours
with his own inamorata, who his impatient
but indulgent patron had expediently installed
at the villa to entice the philandering painter
to report to work. And there is an image of a woman
who we believe is she, on the right,
more about her in a moment. The judgmental biographer,
Vasari, in fact, blamed Raphael’s sudden and untimely
death at the age of 37 on that amorous nature. Following a night of intemperate
carousing and romantic excess, the painter contracted a fever, to which he succumbed
a few days later. And taking in the entire
spectacle was a recent addition to Chigi’s household, an ambitious but as yet unknown
newcomer to Rome named Pietro Aretino, whose
salacious verses and dialogues embodied the erotic pulse
of the 16th century. Ancient and modern Rome,
Raphael, Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine
and Pietro Aretino, mistresses and courtesans,
humanists, poets and prelates, lascivious
satyrs and amorous gods, pleasant gatherings with learned
and amusing friends, salacious images intended
for private rather than public consumption,
the profane poetry of classical antiquity,
refined erudition, illicit love
and carnal pleasure, abundant wit and bawdy humor,
erotic puns and metaphors, with a particular preference
for birds, fruits, vegetables and gardens. In microcosm,
at the Villa Farnesina is the matrix of personalities
and themes that define the profane culture
of the Renaissance. I’ve already said
that in Renaissance Rome, erotic imagery was,
by and large, restricted to a privileged audience
and viewed or enjoyed in a private, closed space. One such space was a stufetta,
or bath, a private sanctuary self-evidently intended
for a select few. Few 16th century
Roman stufetti survive, but the two most important ones
that do still exist, commissioned by a pope
and a cardinal, and both decorated
by Raphael’s pupils, both have such decoration. On the right,
the stufettaof Pope Clement VII in Castel Sant’Angelo, executed, decorated probably
around the year 1524. In a lighthearted evocation
of the ancient world, these decorations
by Giovanni da Udine show the thrones
of the Olympian deities littered with their discarded
clothing and attributes. And I should say this is in very
poor condition, unfortunately. It’s really a ghost
of its former self. But I just had
to show it anyway. Coy, rather than salacious,
this witty conceit suggests that the gods
and goddesses have undressed and descended nude
into the papal bath. The upper walls are embellished
with four scenes featuring a voluptuous Venus,
goddess of love. These narratives
are called from Ovid, the same ancient literary source
that provided the subject matter for the most important surviving
Renaissance stufetta, that of Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi
da Bibbiena, in the Vatican on the left. And a detail of one of
the narratives is reproduced in a print from Raphael’s
workshop on the right. Its now damaged frescoes,
the work of Raphael’s pupils, principally Giulio Romano,
are more provocative in their portrayal
of the nude Venus in a variety of alluring poses
such as that on the right. Would not such a, such imagery
have been a source of agitation for a celibate prelate? Not to mention indecorous
for a location within the sacred precinct
of the Vatican? Well, in Renaissance Rome,
spiritual pursuits were not always the first
calling of princes of the church who frequently lived in opulent
splendor rivaling or surpassing that of secular rulers
or princes. Moreover, we should also keep
in mind that the decorations of this private space
were accessible only to a restricted audience,
in the same manner that a mistress portrait or
an erotic drawing were intended for private consumption
rather than public display. And finally, the dichotomy
between sacred and erotic was not as pronounced in the
first half of the 16th century as it would come to be following
the implementation in Rome of the decrees
of the Council of Trent, a series of reforms
of the Catholic Church intended to respond
to the damaging assaults launched by Protestants
in the north. Indeed, the sacred
and the profane were often a seamless continuum in Rome in the early decades
of the 16th century. Visual testimony of this exists in the rather
incongruously erotic and sensual religious images
produced by artists who had experienced the
licentious and libertine culture of Rome in the 1520s. Works like Parmigianino’s
“Madonna della Rosa” on the left,
and Rosso Fiorentino’s “Dead Christ with Angels”
on the right. Mistresses, courtesans
and prostitutes– nebulous enough in
interchangeable categories– figure prominently
in the profane culture of Renaissance Rome. The literary paradigm
is Pietro Aretino’s Nanna, the worldly-wise puttana,
or “whore,” who has seen, heard
and done it all. And her conversations
with her daughter Pippa, who she’s training
to be an honest courtesan, Nanna herself distinguishes
between these categories and advises how
the enterprising Pippa can– and other practitioners–
can move up through the ranks to transform themselves
from a puttanato a cortigiana. This portrait
of a nude woman by Raphael, known as the “Fornarina,”
almost certainly represents the artist’s mistress. The fact that Raphael was
betrothed to the niece of the powerful
Cardinal Bibbiena– patron of the stufetta
we looked at a moment ago– was apparently
of little concern to him, and he deftly managed to elude
the bonds of matrimony in order to engage
in non-conjugal liaisons. As many scholars have observed,
Raphael signaled his proprietary ownership
of the woman by inscribing his name
prominently on her arm band. A shutter that once concealed
the painting but all from its intended audience was
a measure of its private, and therefore
implicitly erotic nature. Such concealment
was a convention in the display
of mistress portraits. Aretino referred to a portrait
of a donna amata by Titian that her protective lover
installed in his private chamber and kept behind a silk curtain “like a reliquary,” he said. And Lodovico Capponi,
in a portrait by Bronzino, conceals from the prying eyes
of all but himself, the subject
of a portrait miniature, presumably
his mistress or lover. The conceit
of a lover’s yearning for that which is hidden
is also a literary trope. Inflamed by lust, Apollo,
in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” is not content to gaze
at Daphne’s lovely features, but longs to behold the nymph’s
flesh beneath her robe, as that which is hidden he deems
lovelier, in Ovid’s words. This imputing of a heightened
erotic content of that which is hidden
or concealed, that which can only be revealed
by the actively engaged lover or voyeur, who opens the shutter
or lifts the curtain, or removes the concealing robes,
is a conceit that informs many of the works in the Profane
Love section of the exhibition. Raphael’s portrait of his
mistress is not only a literal depiction
of an actual sitter, however. It’s also an image
of idealized, platonic beauty. The foliage screen behind her
contains branches of laurel, a tree that by its etymology
invokes Laura, the beloved of the poet Petrarch and the archetype
of the ideal woman or mistress. Laurel is also a symbol
of chastity, a virtue of Petrarch
extolled in Laura and that Raphael here imputes
to his mistress. Through this artistic act
of conjuring his own chaste
and virtuous Laura, Raphael is equated
with Petrarch. The painter is a poet and
his portrait is an analogue of his poetic
formulation of beauty as “a certain idea
which comes into my head.” This is a scribe
attributed to Raphael, though it’s only recorded in a
letter written a couple of years after his death in which
the words are assigned to him. His idea, in other words,
is a cerebral synthesis of the best features of many rather than a literal likeness
of an individual. This platonic conceit is a topos
reprised from antiquity. According to Pliny the Elder,
the painter Zeuxis combined features of the five
prettiest girls he could find in order to create a
sufficiently beautiful portrait of Helen of Troy. And it finds a literary
counterpart in the Renaissance in the writings of Raphael’s
friend, the poet Pietro Bembo, concerning the transcendental
power of perfect beauty, an idea that resonates
in Raphael’s depiction of his ideal beauty. If Raphael contemporaries
like Bembo and Castiglione were captivated by the idea
of perfect beauty, it was the carnal real
rather than the abstract ideal that engaged
the creative imaginations of many other artists,
poets and painters, and patrons
in Renaissance realm. On this less exalted stage,
the roles of Apollo and Apelles, classical paradigms
for the poet and the painter, are played not
by Bembo and Raphael, but by Pietro Aretino
and Giulio Romano. And here they are, both shown
a little later in life. On the left, Aretino. A self-avowed anti-Petrarch,
and sharp-tongued satirist, Aretino was famous for his
lewd and scabrous verses. While his friend
and collaborator, Raphael’s preeminent pupil
and heir, Giulio Romano, shown on the right,
rather weary looking near the end of his life,
produced some of the most explicitly erotic images
of the 16th century. Giulio’s portrait
of a “Woman With A Mirror” patently derives–
I jumped ahead too much– from Raphael’s”Fornarina.” And the”Fornarina’s”
represented in our exhibition by a very, very faithful
and exact replica done perhaps even during
Raphael’s own lifetime. Lest you be deceived that you’re
looking at the real thing, but it’s a very good stand-in. So you’ll see these two images
juxtaposed in the exhibition. But a number of subtle changes
transform the image, Giulio’s image on the left,
from Petrarchan icon to Renaissance centerfold. Raphael’s symbolically
charged foliage is replaced by a topographical
view of a courtyard with a servant in the distance. No praise-worthy virtues are
ascribed to this nude woman and the poetic ambiguity of
Raphael’s invention is absent. Giulio’s sitter is neither
a platonic formulation of ideal, perfect beauty,
nor Laura to his Petrarch. Rather, she is, without doubt,
a courtesan. Courtesans were essentially
high-class prostitutes, as distinguished from ordinary,
cheaperputtane, or common prostitutes. They were fixtures
in 16th century Italy, particularly in Rome. And I’ll show you two images
from a series of prints showing the stations of life
of Roman women, and among
the six stages featured, one is a widow on the left and the other is
a courtesan on the right, so they were just a really…
just part of society in Rome in the 16th century. Where the institutionalized
clerical and nominally celibate culture made for a more open tolerance
of such women than in most other
Italian cities, at least in the period
before the Counter-Reformation, and even after that,
in the later 16th century, the civic government of Rome
continued to defend their presence
against papal opposition, arguing that wealthy
prostitutes were both an economic magnet
and a source of tax revenue. (laughter) And to outward appearances, they deceptively
resembled honest women and we can see that
from the prints on the screen. Although at times,
and more often in Venice where there were far more
numerous sumptuary laws than were ever imposed in Rome, they were either prohibited
or solely allowed depending on the moment, to
sport certain kinds of jewels, veils and ribbons. Famed for their beauty,
wit and refinement or conversational skills,
and often learned, cultured and well-spoken,
many courtesans, like Machiavelli’s mistress
Barbera Raffacani Salutati, were also accomplished musicians
or singers or gifted poets in the mode of the famous
Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco–
up probably here on the screen– who is both the author
of and inspiration for elegant Petrarchan verses. And if a courtesan’s talents
weren’t genuine, she could at least contrive
to emulate such polish or refinement by following
the instructions of Aretino’s Nanna
to her daughter, the would-be
cortigiana onesta Pippa to, “Play a little tune
you’ve learned for fun. “Hammer at the clavichord,
strum the lute or pretend to be reading
Ariosto, Petrarch or Boccaccio.” (laughter) That the sitter in Giulio’s
portrait is one such cortigiana or courtesan is communicated
by her inviting gesture and seductive body language. Her erotic offering
of flesh is, in fact, part of the stock
erotic repertoire and we see that image
repeated like a leitmotif throughout the exhibition. I’m showing you three examples
here on the screen. And both the precious trinkets
on the table beside her– to her right, your left– and the opulent jewels
that she wears, not to mention certain kinds
of expensive pieces of clothing such as silk stockings
or fabrics like that arrayed on the balcony– these kinds of items
were also, in fact, expressly associated
with courtesans as many 16th century written
documents and accounts attest. And I’m showing you a piece
from the exhibition, kindly brought to our attention
by Dora’s husband, in fact, who believes that this is
actually a casket, a jewel case specifically
made for a courtesan because of its very erotic
imagery that would’ve been inappropriate
for an honest woman. It’s Cupid caressing
his mother Venus to her obvious enjoyment. So we… we’re very happy
to have that in the exhibition in the section
dealing with courtesans. One dazzled, foreign
visitor to Rome remarking in 1549
on the city’s courtesans observed that they were
decked with jewels as if they were queens. And this courtesan,
the woman in this picture, wears precisely that kind
of expensive, elaborate jewelry. Carnal commerce,
the exchange of sexual favors for material goods,
was often the only means through which many women
could ever aspire to own such jewels
and luxury objects. Nanna shows Pippa that she’ll
eventually get used to whatever
unpleasantness comes with that particular line of work. And she says to her, “Bear in
mind that the stench, the snot, “the revolting breath, the
filth, the habits and language “of your lovers
are like rancid wine. After drinking it for three
days, you forget the smell.” (laughter) In other words,
all in a day’s work. (laughter) One Heronama Lana interrogated
by Roman officials in a case involving prostitution
confessed that she had only consented to physical relations
with the city’s police chief in order to acquire
his attractive gold chain. Asked by her neighbor Livia,
a carpenter’s wife, “Heronama, what would you
sooner have? The gold chain
he is wearing or him?” She promptly replied, “I’d
sooner have the chain than him.” Her client,
Valerio the police chief, seems to have been
under no illusions as to the source of his appeal
to Heronama. In testifying about the
inception of their liaison he recounted, “I knew her”–
he means in the biblical sense– “…because her own mother
acted as a go-between and told me that her daughter
was in love with my chain.” (laughter) Another erotic painting
by Giulio Romano is this monumental “Two Lovers.” Sadly, it couldn’t travel
to the exhibition, even though we tried to give
the Hermitage flying directions of how they could get it here, if only they would go
through Helsinki. So instead it’s represented
in our exhibition by a to-scale blowup on
the wall of the Forbidden Room. He literally portrays
an amorous encounter and then parodies that theme
through a series of ancillary details
and visual puns. And it’s a little hard to see. You can see it if you go up
to the show to see the blowup. For example,
there on the bedpost is a carved relief of a satyr, a symbol of unbridled
physical lust, and a woman– and here, an object in the show, takes up this theme of satyrs
as representations of lust– allude Lillipution iteration
of the main figures’ tryst. On the right, a leering crone
has unlocked the door and burst into the bedchamber. Chiavare,to turn the key
or to lock, has long been slang
for sexual intercourse, and keys themselves, such as those dangling
at the woman’s waist, carry a similar
sexual connotation. 16th century literary wits
took up the theme with relish. When one of the characters
in the much acclaimed theatrical comedy “La Calandria”
by Cardinal Bibbiena– he of the jilted niece
and beautiful bathroom– calls out that
the keyhole is full, and that the key
has been oiled so that it might
function better, the audience immediately grasp
what was going on behind that closed door. And I’m showing you a print
that’s a later sort of approximation of the series
represented in the show of “The Loves of the Gods,”
where this key motif figures here very prominently. With playful mock erudition,
the poet Anton Francesco Doni apotheosized this seemingly
innocuous household object, acclaiming the key as,
“the sweetest, most dear, most necessary thing
in the world,” and enumerating the towns
Chiavazzo, Chiazzo, Chiavery, Chiavenna,
whose names, he claims, derive from their citizens’
reverence for the key. (laughter) Aretino, too, employed
the ever-popular key and lock metaphor
to connote sexual intercourse. Nanna advises Pippa on various
effective acrobatics designed to please a client,
reminding her to take care not to “let his key
slip out of your lock.” (laughter) These literary confections,
like Giulio’s painting, display admirable doses
of clever wit and humor, much-prized elements
of the burlesque tradition that contemporaries
would’ve lauded. Giulio’s “Two Lovers” contains
another figural motif from the stock erotic lexicon, that of the voyeur,
or voyeurism. One who espies, or eavesdrops
on the amorous encounter, unseen by the lovers. The presence
of such a voyeur here, and in other of Giulio’s
depictions of illicit love, signals the erotic nature
of the liaison and heightens its titillation by implicating
the spying viewer– in that case you, the person
looking at the image– as co-voyeur. Aretino, too, appropriates the
idea of the inflamed passions of the unseen observer
in his references to voyeurism throughout the dialogues,
getting in the occasional anti-clerical dig
in the process. Nanna recounts, “that the big
fish in the monasteries “and the priesthoods cut hired
courtesans just to watch them “being screwed
by their rent boys, “and it whets their appetites
to see them penetrated per alia via,
as the epistle says.” This drawing by Giulio Romano
of an erotic encounter– No, that’s the wrong drawing. This drawing
of an erotic encounter– there were lots of erotic
drawings by Giulio Romano– of an old man and a young woman
presents a witty irony. That irony– the conjoining
of antitheses, or opposites, such as old and young,
beautiful and ugly– into an integral rhetorical
or poetic formulation is the essence
of the burlesque paradox, a satiric mode with roots
in the ancient author Lucian, and epitomized
in the Renaissance by the poet Francesco Berni’s conception
of grotesque beauty. I’ll talk more about him
in a bit. Giulio’s composition is a sort
of visual facetiae, a witty jest in the spirit
of the anecdotes of, among others,
Poggio Bracciolini and Niccolo Machiavelli. Most amusing tales involving
unlikely lovers, including old husbands
and young wives. And, of course, leaving aside
all literary parallels, the juxtaposition of his face
with her rear end, a quintessential display of
Giulio’s lewd and rather sophomoric humor, would always have been good
for a laugh. And here, another detail. I just want to show Giulio’s
ceiling painting of Apollo and his chariot. Most artists draw that,
or depict that from the side. He draws it so that
you’re looking straight up… (laughter) And they would’ve laughed, too,
in the 16th century. Giulio’s drawing is close
in spirit and subject matter to his designs for the notorious
series of prints known as the “Modi,”
which, loosely translated, means the ways, or positions. 16 scenes of couples
fornicating. These were engraved by Raphael’s
printmaker Marcantonio Riamondi. And I should say that
no original images of these survived–
they were censored– and so we know the images
through some fragments and through various
later copies and reproductions of engravings and wood cuts. And I’m showing you just details
of some of the cropped fragments as well as the wood cut copies, and a later set of images,
much later, that still preserve
the composition. Pietro Aretino, whose lurid
sensibility lurks in these images,
authored a series of 16 suitably lewd sonnets
that were circulating in Rome at the same time as the prints. He almost certainly had a part
in the genesis of the “Modi.” One can, in fact, imagine him
proposing this inspired project to Giulio, his friend from their
heady, youthful days at the villa of Agostino Chigi. The impressive variety
of acrobatic poses that Giulio’s figures display,
“varieta,”or variety, was among the most prized
of artistic virtues in this period. That range of poses is echoed
in the recitation of sexual positions offered
by Aretino’s Nanna. “One likes his meat rare,
and another likes it well-done.” And they come up with
the horizontal shuffle, legs in the air, side-saddle,
the crane, the tortoise, the church steeple, the relay,
the grazing sheep, and other postures stranger than
the gestures of a mime. In a retrospective defense of
the “Modi,” Aretino announced, “I reject the furtive attitude
and filthy custom “which forbid the eyes that
which delights the most. “What harm is there in seeing
a man mount a woman? “It would seem to me that
the tool nature gave us “to preserve the race should be
worn around one’s neck as a medal…”
(laughter) “…or as a medal in one’s hat. “It’s made you, it’s made me.
It’s produced all the Bembos, “the Varchis, the Dolces,
the Sansovinos “and Titians and Michelangelos. “And so we should allocate to it
its own feast days and not enclose it
in a scrap of cloth.” (laughter) And looking at the “Modi,” we
can be sure that Giulio Romano fully shared these sentiments. Scandalous, sensational,
and instantly famous, indeed infamous,
the “Modi” was swiftly censored by the irate minions
of Pope Clement VII in Rome, led by the austere papal datary,
Gian Matteo Giberti. For his part in the foible,
Marcantonio was rewarded with a stint in prison. Aretino also suffered
retribution. In the wake of
the “Modi’s” appearance, he was stabbed,
nearly fatally, in Rome, an attack that was almost
certainly ordered by Giberti, who was already outraged
at Aretino’s having savagely denounced him
as a hermaphrodite. (laughter) Only Giulio appears to have
escaped scot-free, though it’s probably
no coincidence that he conveniently chose
this very moment to accept an invitation
from the Duke of Mantua to remove to that provincial,
malarial backwater. (laughter) Oh, and one more. And I just wanted
to show you that erotic imagery was really–
Giulio didn’t invent this. And here, for example, is an
image from the 15th century, known only in a plate–
in the engraver’s plate. No prints of this imagery
have been known to survive. So this kind of imagery existed. The problem with the “Modi”
was the fact, as I said at the beginning,
that they were made as prints that could be reproduced, and their audience
could not be controlled. This erotic imagery left
the private realm and entered the public realm,
and for that reason, they were condemned and judged
particularly harshly, and Marcantonio was punished. The “Modi”–
here’s this drawing now– and many of the other images
we’ve looked at up to now deal with heterosexual love, but homosexual love was also
very common in Renaissance Rome, not to mention in Florence, where a special government
authority, the “Ufficio della Notte,”
or Office of the Night, existed to combat it. And doing it the Florentine way
in the 16th century meant sodomy. Also in Venice, where sodomy
fell under the jurisdiction of the all-powerful
Council of Ten. There it was rampant.
It was rampant and punishable by burning at the stake. First alive, and then later,
more humanely, only after the perpetrator
was first beheaded. (laughter) One offended diarist writing
in 1519 recorded, “This wicked and pernicious vice
was openly practiced in Venice “without shame, and that it had
become so habitual “that it was more
highly regarded “than having to do
with one’s own life. Even more shocking,”
this observer continued, “was the fact that this wicked
and abominable thing “was practiced not just by
youth, but also by old men. Unheard of in Venice,”
he elaborated, “and a vice only recently
having come from Rome, “for the prelates and other
old people were given to it, and there were passive
homosexuals in the papal court.” Homoerotic love is a subject of
this drawing by Giulia Romano of Apollo fondling
an adolescent male lover. One of two named by Ovid. And this is certainly one of
the most explicit Renaissance depictions
of this kind of subject. The same theme, for example, was
treated by Giulio’s fellow pupil in Raphael’s workshop,
Perino del Vaga. In this drawing, here are,
clearly, Apollo and Hyacinth, but there’s nothing erotic
or sexual, and Hyacinth here really looks
more like a struggling toddler. The homoerotic appeal
of this provocative image of Cupid carving his bow,
by Parmigianino, is undeniable. It was painted for the artist’s
friend and patron, Cavaliere Francesco Baiardo,
who owned a number of works having erotic
and homoerotic subjects. Portrayed not as
a mischievous child, but rather as a fleshy
adolescent, Parmigianino’s Cupid gazes
seductively over his shoulder at the privileged viewer, to whom he presents his shapely
and ample rear end. He wields between his thighs
a large, erect knife. Oops. Here’s the knife. A seemingly mundane object
that carried overt and specifically
phallic connotations in the burlesque humor
and imagery of the day. Another homoerotic metaphor
drawn from the kitchen cabinet was the frying pan,
which the painter Bronzino, who was also a gifted poet,
eroticized and extolled, in a veiled ode to sodomy. He talked about how if you put
eels in a frying pan, they lie there limp,
but when you turn up the heat under the frying pan, suddenly
the eels spring to life, and I think you got it.
(laughter) Other poets accorded erotic
alter egos to a myriad of suggestively shaped fruits
and vegetables of the garden. Do I need to point them out? Here’s one. Hmm. And here, the fig was
a particular favorite. One such literary wit
was the poet and curial secretary
Francesco Berni, a key figure, I think,
for grasping the essence of the comic, satiric,
burlesque spirit that informs much of the more profane,
bawdy and erotic imagery of the Renaissance. His poetic formulation
of the paradoxical encomium– excessive praise
of the exceedingly banal, a rhetorical mode that had
its origins in antiquity– Berni’s formulation
of this paradoxical encomium profoundly influenced
burlesque poetry. His encomium to his urinal, certainly the most
lowly of objects, is the quintessential
demonstration of this burlesque poetic mode. If many of his fellow poets
extolled the fig– emblem of female pleasures,
as the most perfect fruit– in a sort of erotic paragone,
or a “Judgement of Paris,” the 16th century poet Francesco
Molza announced that the fig was to be prized above
rival peaches and apples. Berni instead championed,
as the most sublime creation, the peach, a stand-in
for the male buttocks, and, he wryly noted,
the favorite fruit of prelates. (laughter) “O fruit blessed above
all others, good before, “in the middle
and after the meal, good before and perfect behind.” (laughter) This has to be
that kind of peach. In a letter to absent friends,
the same Berni invokes an eroticized Eden,
in which the entire garden and everything
growing in it alludes to carnal and expressly
homoerotic pleasures. “May God grant you his blessing
in giving you for your garden “a big ‘thing’ with a pitchfork “as long as a beam
between your legs, “and may you have beans and pods
and peaches and carrots all year round, in the way
I desire for my small garden.” And he actually
was accused of sodomy. Unless we wrongly conclude that
such erotic double entendres would’ve been apprehended only
by learned literati, it must be remembered
that instruction to the population at large existed in the form of
popular music. I don’t know if I can read this
one without laughing, but… a well-known Florentine carnival
song “Canto de’ cardoni” rhapsodizes about the cardoon,
and as you hear it, I’m sure you’ll know
to what part of the male anatomy it’s oh, so unsubtly
referring to. “Ladies, we are master growers
of cardoons, “which, in our gardens
grow big and good. “We shall give you this recipe
of ours, besides which “we have no greater gift
to give. “The cardoon should be
in size a span or a little more, “for nature cannot digest
anything so big and hard, even though we always
like big mouthfuls.” Well, so much for the cardoon. (laughter) Horticulture motifs were not the
only coded references to sodomy and homoerotic pleasures
in the burlesque lexicon, both literary and artistic,
of the Renaissance. A more ubiquitous metaphor–
and we saw this played already– was the bird,
slang in the Renaissance and throughout the ages for the
penis, and more specifically, in the 16th century,
either for that particular part of the anatomy or for the
rear end of an accessible boy. The political theorist and
playwright Niccolo Machiavelli, in an epistolary novella,
employed the bird metaphor to describe
the sodomitic appetites of one Giuliano Brancacci,
who, believing that every bird was in waiting,
went in search of quarry. Enticing a little bird into an
alley, “he kissed it repeatedly, “straightened two feathers
of its tail and put the bird
in the basket behind him.” The protagonist of this account is a supposedly literary
invention who just happens to have the same name
as the real Giuliano Brancacci, who’s mentioned in letters
written to Machiavelli by his friend Francesco Vettori. Machiavelli makes it clear
that anyone from a long list of names could be substituted
for his “fictional” bird-loving Brancacci, thereby
confirming that “bird hunting,” or sodomy, was common practice
in Renaissance Florence, a reality confirmed in
contemporary written documents. I think the bird
in this maiolica plate is a metaphor for sodomy. An alternative to the carnal
pleasures of female flesh, offered by the woman
who displays her breasts, a profane gesture of offering
as we’ve already seen. She attempts to persuade the
viewer, a prospective client, one whose natural inclinations
might incline more to bird hunting,
to sample her particular charms. Such would seem to be the
essence of the inscription, “Take it and don’t regret it. “The worst that can happen
is you’ll have to give it back. Try it, you’ll like it.”
(laughter) Sodomy is the subject of a parodic obscene
Renaissance dialogue, “La Cazzaria,”
or a “Book of the Prick,” whose speakers discourse
earnestly and at length on its manifold pleasures
and superior virtues. Appropriating and parodying
an elevated literary mode, the Platonic dialogue, to explore a lewd
and obscene subject, “La Cazzaria” partakes
of the spirit of the paradoxical encomium of Berni’s apotheosis
of his urinal. Its ancient models lie not
in Plato’s “Symposium,” but in Lucian satiric dialogues,
whose interlocutors, far from discoursing
on noble, philosophical ideas, get drunk, tell lewd stories
and misbehave. The very title
of this Renaissance dialogue, its coarse language,
the lengthy and open exploration of sodomy and homoeroticism,
the apparent lack of irony with which that subject is
addressed– which is in itself an ironic inversion–
and the anthropomorphizing of the male sexual organ
all call to mind this extraordinary
maiolica plate, decorated with
the profile head of a man made up entirely of phalluses. And this is in the exhibition. I’m sure you’re all gonna rush
up there the second I’m done and go look at it.
(laughter) And according
to essential burlesque parody, a stock motif from the maiolica
painter’s repertoire, the idealized head– we saw many
of those in Dora’s lecture– is here utterly transformed. The banderole, which typically
bears an inscription explicating the painted subject
or identifying him in some way, here expresses with the same
mock erudition and lack of irony as the protagonist
of the dialogue “La Cazzaria,” this eroticized
Arcimboldo’s wonderment, “Everybody looks at me
as though I am a dickhead.” (laughter) That is what it says. (laughter) I had so much fun working
on this exhibition. (laughter) And the next– what could
compare to this? I have to go back
to saints and alter pieces. It’s so boring. (laughter and applause) We can only guess
at the circumstances that led (laughs):
to the production of this plate, but it’s not difficult to
imagine its amusing presence at the racy
and raucous gatherings of humanist secretaries,
poets and painters, the learned, inventive,
witty fellows who formed the many academies, sodalities,
and more informal supper clubs, that spring up in Rome and
elsewhere in the Renaissance. It was presumably
for such a close sodality, or one belonging to it,
a sodality whose members shared a taste for learned eroticism,
that this kind of learned but erotic object,
or a drawing such as this, by Francesco Salviati,
would’ve been produced. That homoerotic attachments were
both celebrated in verse and practiced by various members
of many such fraternities, one such being the humanist
academy of Pomponio Leto, the famous Accademia Romana,
was widely known. Machiavelli was told
about one young poet in Rome who was always to be found
in the protective company of four puttane, or prostitutes. His correspondent explaining
that that was because “he worries that because he has “a certain reputation
for being a poet, “and that the Roman Academy
wants to induct him, that he doesn’t want to run
any risk of being molested.” Perhaps Salviati’s drawing shows a young poet being initiated
into the Roman Academy. (laughter) Whatever the case,
such an image, like this composition
also by Salviati– just let your eyes
wander across this, I’m not gonna explain anything– would’ve been a source
of titillating amusement to all the Bernis,
Aretinos and Molzas, as well as to Giulio Romano,
Marcantonio Raimondi, Parmigianino and their fellows. And if all these images
strike you as not only prurient and lewd, but also clever and amusing,
you fully appreciated the Renaissance sensibility that
joined the comic to the erotic, the ironic and the burlesque. As Cardinal Bibbiena–
you all remember his niece and his bathroom and his racy
theatrical production– as Cardinal Bibbiena announces in Castiglione’s great
Renaissance dialogue, the “Courtier,” the humorous is the things
that move us to laughter. Thank you.
(applause)

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