Sunday 3 March 2013

A Related Nightmare.

Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, 1483, Tempera on wood, 69 x 173,5 cm, National Gallery, London.

Piero di Cosimo, Venus, Mars, and Cupid, 1490, Poplar panel, 72 x 182 cm, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
This is not the only time that a scholar has placed Botticelli’s art in the context of dreams. Charles Dempsey wrote an analysis of Botticelli’s Venus and Mars. He argued that the painting’s content dealt with dreams; the little frolicking children that play with Mars’s armour while he slumbers were seen by Dempsey as “phantasms” and aerial spirits to be contrasted with the physical bodies in the picture.[1] Dempsey located the invention of the Venus and Mars within late-medieval and renaissance literary dream visions. As Dempsey says, dream visions provide the structure for literary examples; one also wonders if dream visions might also have provided the structure for some renaissance paintings. As a control it is worth comparing Piero di Cosimo’s Venus and Mars with Botticelli’s version. Piero has always been thought a strange or bizarre painter whose fantasia, or inventive imagination is rooted in renaissance ideas about artistic creation. Whilist Botticelli’s Venus and Mars undoubtedly depends upon fantasia, it is, like Piero’s, a moral allegory. Dream morality in the renaissance could be connected with fantasia that was not only about image creation, but the distinction between virtue and vice. Certain stoic and Christian writers used the notion of fantasia in relation to artistic invention: an aspect of faculty psychology that was used to guard against the encroachment of vile thoughts which might unseat virtuous ones, the former represented by the mischievous satyr children in Botticelli’s painting.[2]

[1] Charles Dempsey, Inventing the Renaissance Putto, (North Carolina, 2001), 107-146.
[2] Packwood, “Dream Perspectives.” See also Sharon Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, invention and fantasia, (Reaktion, 1993), 41-8.

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