Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary and Obama:Ill- Matched Lovers

“To get real about how we actually win this election and get real about the challenges facing America. It’s time we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions.”Hillary Clinton

Massys settled in Antwerp in 1491, soon becoming its leading painter and an influential citizen. His fame was enhanced by stories, probably exaggerations of the truth, that he had been a blacksmith and taught himself to paint. Among his acquaintances were several of the city's leading humanists. Perhaps his contacts with these men prompted Massys to take up the kind of moralizing secular subject seen here.

Quentin Massys
Netherlandish, c. 1465/1466 - 1530

c. 1520/1525- the painting Ill-Matched lovers

An old lecher, whom Massys modeled after a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, fondles a willing young woman. She meanwhile slips his purse to a gnomelike accomplice in a fool’s cap. The large, brightly lit figures press close to the front of the painting, as if seen through a window. This separation makes us aware that we are witnesses of the scene, not participants, and therefore free to judge and make a moral choice. Messages like this one about the consequences of vice were familiar to audiences in Antwerp, not only from books like Sebastian Brandt’s Ship of Fools and Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly, but from a large body of popular poetry and from moralizing skits performed during city festivals. Massys’ painting evokes these lines from an anonymous Dutch poet:

A rover—short, old, and free
With purse running over with gold,
Took a Venusberg lass for a spree
Who took clients like him in her hold.
That lass has her loose, lowly wiles,
Undoing his purse with its glut
While showing a face full of smiles
Like the grin of a flat halibut.

In today's world, we don't often think of painting as having much to do with morals unless, that is, some English artist steps on some hypersensitive mayoral toes. For the most part, painting in recent years has been so wrapped up in contemplating its own navel, that any immorality it might convey might best be described as the sin of self-indulgence. Whatever morality or immorality depicted in the arts has, by now, moved on to more viable artforms such as movies or television, leaving painting largely amoral in context. However that has hardly been the case in the past. For centuries painters carried with them in their paint boxes a strong moral code both when they were bought and paid for by the church and in later years when the content of their secular work tended to reflect Judeo-Christian ethics largely taken for granted (officially at least) by the upper classes in society who bought and paid for it.
In the past, most painters taught morality by presenting positive role models, often straight from the Bible. Even when painting mythological subjects, no matter how erotic, there was always a story with an implied moral lesson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog! You have a really interesting site; I look forward to reading more of it later...