Saturday, August 28, 2010

Planetary Renaissance

Occult Forms in Renaissance Printmaking
Eduoard Manet's painting Luncheon on the Grass has always held a certain fascination for me. Why did Manet include a Grecian-looking woman bathing ankle deep in a pool of water, in a painting that is clearly set in 19th Century, Paris, France? What is the reason behind the reclining figure's head scarf, and to whom is he gesticulating with his pointed finger? The answer to some of these questions come from the origins of the painting's composition. The dispositions of the main figures are derived from a detail in the work of Marcantonio Raimondi entitled The Judgement of Paris. Considered to be a masterpiece of Renaissance printmaking, The Judgement of Paris represents a high point in the collaboration between Raimondi and the the esteemed painter Raphael.

If we examine the angular configuration of the figures in Manet's Impressionist work, we find a blueprint for an occult symbol known as the Unicursal Hexagram. This is a hexagram, or six-pointed star, created using only one line. However, this particular symbol could not have formed the basis for his composition, because it was not discovered until several decades after its execution. So what could account for this strange occurrence? Well, luckily for me, there is another sigil that is unicursal in nature and bears a striking similarity to a hexagram. It is the Seal of Saturn - that was spoken about in the last post. This planetary seal, or sigil, is based on the sequential order of the numbers in the magic square size-9; and was used by magicians and astrologers to evoke the influence of its planetary name-sake.

While the Seal of Saturn forms an adequate match for the disposition of the main figures in Manet's painting, the correlation is even more striking when it is placed over the figures in Raimondi's print. We might ask why Saturn is refered to in this engraving at all, because at no point in the story of the Judgement of Paris does the God Saturn make an appearance. Also, why does the sigil only form the basis for part of the image and not the entire composition as a whole? Perhaps the answer comes from Saturn's demoted status within the pantheon of the Gods, leading him to become little more than a footnote, (while still being important enough to be referenced). Arguably, the most prominent figure in the story of the Judgement of Paris is the Goddess Venus. A brief summary of the story is reproduced here below from the Met website;

At the wedding of King Peleus of Thessaly and the sea goddess Thetis, Strife showed up uninvited and threw into the midst of the guests a golden apple inscribed "to the fairest." To put an end to the squabbling between Minerva (Athena), Venus (Aphrodite), and his wife Juno (the Greek Hera), Jupiter decreed that the handsomest man on earth, a Trojan prince raised as a shepherd, would be the judge. All of the goddesses bribed Paris, but Venus—promising him the most beautiful woman in the world as his bride—won the contest. Unfortunately, her candidate was already married, and Paris' abduction of Helen from her Greek husband sparked the Trojan War.
 Marcantonio Raimondi, designed by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi): The Judgment of Paris (19.74.1) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art


There are seven Planetary Seals in all, each of which is derived from their own magic square, and pertain to one of the celestial spheres of Ancient Times. Given that the Goddess Venus plays such an important role in the story (and that the Seal of Saturn has already been identified in the engraving), we should expect to find a close match between the Planetary Seal of Venus and the composition of the engraving.
We find that the print contains many of the elements of the Planetary Seal, where we expect to find them. The diagonal lines of the seal are echoed in the sloping terrain and the raised arm of the Goddess Juno; as seen in the print. However, in order for the match to be obvious the seal of Venus needs to be inverted, therefore flipped horizontally. The reason why this is necessary is do to with the act of printmaking, where the print itself is the mirror image of the engraving on the plate. Raphael may have neglected to reverse his compostion when making the preliminary drawings, which is understandable, considering that he was a painter and draughtsman first and foremost.

Melencolia I (1514) Albrecht Durer.
Despite the correlation between the composition of The Judgement of Paris and the planetary seals of Venus and Saturn, is there any reason to suggest that Raimondi and Raphael would have used these esoteric symbols to form the basis for their work? Well, actually there is. Before embarking on his collaboration with Raphael, Raimondi reproduced the works of German Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer; Durer is cited as a major influence on the work of Raimondi for this reason. In 1514, a year before the conception and completion of The Judgement of Paris, Durer unveiled a print that contained the first instance of a magic square, in the history of the Western Artistic Tradition. The print, entitled Melencolia 1, showed the magic square on which the planetary seal of Jupiter is based. No doubt Durer was aware of this, as the title of the print is derived from the teachings of Cornelius Agrippe, who wrote extensively about the planetary seals, and developed methods of creating his own seals and ciphers in the process. I believe that Durer's use of this magic square influenced Raphael and Raimondi to create compostions based on the planetary seals derived from other magic squares. 
 Detail from Melencolia 1 by Albrecht Durer showing magic square size-4.
If this is true, there should be other examples of engravings, based upon the drawings of Raphael, that exhibit this same method of composition. The disposition of the figures in Two Women with the Signs Virgo and Scorpio lead me to conclude that they were based upon the sequential ordering of the magic square size-4; the same one used in Durer's Melencolia print. The unusual stance of the two women in Raimondi's engraving appear to be directly correlative with the peculiarly broken consequitive order of numbers in the Jupiter magic square. The exact date for the completion of this print is not known, but I suspect that the approximate date for its conception could be determined by discovering when the planet Jupiter was in the vicinity of the signs Virgo and Scorpio. Trying to find this information out, using horoscope charts, is proving troublesome, however.
Due to the fact that Manet derived the disposition of his figures from a Renaissance engraving dealing with Classical themes, it is not difficult to understand why he placed a Grecian-looking women in the background of his work. The man in the head scarf is obviously meant to denote Paris choosing Venus as the fairest of all the Goddesses. Or perhaps, the subject of the Judgement of Paris has been transfered to the city itself, in which case the identity of the man remains unknown.

No comments:

Post a Comment