In the Sacred and Profane Love 1513-1514, by Italian Renaissance painter Tiziano Vecellio (Titian) we see two women that could be sisters, however they are the same person in two aspects. At first thought the clothed figure on the left may appear to be the representation of the sacred and the nude being profane, but actually it is the reverse. We notice in the background of the clothed figure a castle representing earthly attachment and in the nude we see a church representing spirituality. The sacred figure holds a lamp with the eternal flame, and the profane holds a bowl and flora. Cupid is between them stirring the waters within a fountain or tomb on which both are seated, joining them. We also notice they are both wearing red and white. The celestial goddess (Venus) is seated higher and looks directly at her earthly counterpart, imparting her blessing. Venus has her legs together thereby closing off her genitals, on the other hand her other side although clothed has her legs parted implying her availability for sensual love. The earthly figure looks out of the painting directly at the viewer thereby creating a triangulation, in which she is saying I am the earthly embodiment of the sacred and sensual meaning of love. The whole image is showing this duality within one woman.
The painting was officially commissioned by Niccolo Aurelio, however it maybe that it was his future wife Laura Bagarotta who may have actually done so instead. In her excellent thesis: Female Duality and Petrarchan ideals in Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, Julianne C. Kaercher makes the case for this and also expands in much more detail on the background of the painting and the inspiration for it. See link:
Beauty may be the most difficult aspect of life and art that can be defined. It may be easy to say something is beautiful, say a flower or a picture of a sunset. But what about the feeling one gets from the work of art that was not intentionally set out to be beautiful in the traditional sense? The mind’s eye that perceives this art is subjective to the individual. When Thelonious Monk composed “Ugly Beauty” he begins with a string of repeated notes that sound out of tune and ugly, it seems wrong but as things progress we see the other side. So the mind has to judge for itself if it’s beautiful. Rubens head of Medusa may strike us as ugly, but is it not a beautifully crafted painting ?The mind’s eye must judge for itself, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art is beautiful, art is ugly and needs to be both.
“…The beautiful object is an object that by virtue of it’s form delights the senses, especially sight and hearing. But those aspects perceivable with the senses are not the only factors that express the beauty of the object: In the case of the human body an importatnt role is also played by the qualities of the soul and the personality, which are perceived by the mind’s eye more than by the eye of the body….” These words are by Umberto Eco from his book History Of Beauty. And in the same book a quote by Plato from Symposium: “But what if man had eyes to see the true beauty–the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with pollutions of mortality and all the colors and vanities of human life….beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality)…regarding the attainment of this end, human nature will not easily find a better helper than love”
Below: The Penitent Mary Magdalene by Titian (The Getty Museum, Los Angeles) If we are sensitive to what the artist intended we see Mary Magdalene not as a beautiful woman physically but as a woman in sincere repentance of her life and the love that she feels for her God. It is this beauty that we see and most of all feel from this magnificent painting.
In Roman mythology and according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses Bk III, Diana was the Goddess of the Moon, the hunt and woodlands. She had the power to transform animals and people. One day Actaeon, son of a preistly herdsman was hunting with his dogs and came upon her as she was bathing with her Nymphs, all of whom had sworn an oath of virginty and devotion to her. Seeing his lustful intentions, she forbade him the power of speech. If he did try to speak would be turned into a stag. As he tried to call out to his hunting party, he was transformed and torn to pieces by his own dogs.
Above: Actaeon sees The Goddess Diana. Below: Actaeon killed by his own dogs. Paintings by Titian
Callisto was the most beautiful of Diana’s Nymphs and the most loved by her. When by chance the God Jupiter sees Callisto, he is instantly taken by her. Knowing that she will only respond to Diana, and to disguise himself from his wife Juno, he transforms himself into Diana and thereby seduces Callisto when she is seperated from Diana and the other Nymphs and impregnates her. Below: Jupiter sees Callisto. by Nicolaes Berchem
Below: Jupiter as Diana with Callisto, by Francois Boucher.
After some months pass, Diana is bathing with her Nymphs and notices Callisto is pregnant and thereby breaking her vow of virgnity and devotion to her. She banishes her from her sight and her order. Callisto is forced into the wilderness even though she did not knowingly deceive Diana. Juno meanwhile has been waiting for a chance to seek revenge on her and her husband Jupiter. She transforms Callisto into a bear. Callisto gives birth to a son, Arcas, who grows up to be a hunter. One day he is in the forest and sees a bear. Not knowing it is his mother he is about to kill her with his javelin. Seeing this Jupiter intervenes by setting mother and son amongst the Stars as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor respectively. Below: By Titian, Diana and the pregnant Callisto