Sunday 3 March 2013

Botticelli's Bad Dream Art.

 Biagio d’ Antonio, The Triumph of Camillus, 1470-75, Tempera on panel, 60 x 154 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

In the 1480s Botticelli gained commissions from families in high society. Increasingly they chose classical themes for the luxurious decoration of their town houses, like in the case of Biagio d’ Antonio’s Camillus panel. Biago was a pupil of Botticelli who in addition to being taught by a great Florentine master had to endure his endless practical jokes, if Vasari is to be believed. In addition to classical subject matter, domestic commissions included episodes from contemporary literature. In order to be able to carry out his multiple commissions, Botticelli had to work together with other painters as well as members of his own workshop. The four-part Nastagio degli Onesti cycle was produced with the aid of Bartolomeo di Giovanni, an artist who had also worked for Ghirlandaio. Bartolomeo was commissioned to paint the predella of Ghirlandaio's Adoration of the Magi in the Spedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) in Florence, in 1488, and was probably the most skilled of all the artists in Ghirlandaio's workshop. Warburg was influenced by Carl Jung and believed in a psychological dimension to art. He characterised Botticelli’s art as “dreamlike”, a result of his conviction that art recorded the inner life, as well as the outward, material aspects of existence. If Warburg did not see Botticelli as a “painter of dreams”, he saw his art evoking a dreamlike state. The fluttering hair of Venus and gently blowing draperies of the Graces in The Birth of Venus created the impression of a dream, and a dream of beauty, which is precisely what his later admirers like Burne-Jones attempted to pursue. 

Sandro Botticelli, The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (first episode), c. 1483, Tempera on panel, 83 x 138 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Second Episode.
  More recently French art historians like Damisch and Did-Hubermann have pursued the idea of dreams as implied, if not represented, in renaissance art.[1] Didi-Hubermann connected the body in Botticelli’s art with the operations of dreams, and, more importantly, the social context in which dreams occurred. Building on Warburg’s formation of Botticelli as a dream-like painter, Didi-Hubermann has examined the Nastagio panels, and according to him, these panels should be seen as occupying the “space of a bad dream.” 

Third Episode.

These panels were designed to honour the marriage of Gianozzo Pucci to Lucrezia Bini; they may well have adorned the couple’s bridal chamber. Botticelli’s panels seem to show both chivalry and its darker side. The group of a knight chasing a nude woman seems to be a perversion of the well-known chivalric convention, St George and the Dragon. The world of chivalry seems upside down here with the phantasm of the nude woman breaking into the scene of a banquet, a very odd juxtaposition. Wether Did-Hubermann is right to read Botticelli’s Nastagio degli Onesti’s panels in terms of a dream narrative, or even an enactment of the operations of dreams is debatable; but Botticelli’s panels seems a very strange subject to be chosen to celebrate the wedding of a Florentine couple.
Fourth Episode.

[1] David Packwood, “Dream Perspectives: Hubert Damisch, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Art History”, in Modern French Visual Theory: A Critical Reader (MUP, 2013).

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