Thursday, September 28, 2023

Leonardo's so-called "Cartoon" ... hesitating on the borderline between Enigma and Allegory


Leonardo’s so-called cartoon … why did he keep it beside him ?  Why was it unfinished ?    These questions continue to annoy me. 

First guess … he might have abandoned it to finish other paintings.

Second guess … he wasn’t sure HOW to finish it … he might have been undecided about the background … he was certainly undecided about the foreground.  He might have been “paralyzed” by a difficult choice.

Third guess … he hesitated to include imagery that might have been unacceptable to the church if it conflicted with their dogmatic adherence to the standard biblical narrative.  He might have wanted to depart from the Church’s conventional iconography in some small way.  In those days patrons and purchasers were inclined to specify and even dictate the details to be shown by the artist.  Contracts were often entered by artist and patron.

The notes in Wikipedia are very helpful, but not fruitfully speculative.

The Cartoon’s vaguely sketched foreground intrigues me.  At first I never noticed it.  I think Leonardo hesitated because he had two or three choices. 

First Choice … It is possible a client wanted the Queen of Heaven to be royally shod as befitting her status.  In both versions of THE VIRGIN OF THE ROCKS Leonardo didn’t show her feet.


Second Choice … if her feet were to rest on solid ground, then there would be the question of appropriate flowers and plants, or floor boards or flagstones, etc.

Third Choice … I like to think that the unshod foot and the vaguely drawn stones or pebbles in the foreground of The Cartoon were intended to be partly submerged in a crystal-clear stream … some kind of metaphor for the “River of Life”. 

For instance, water might offer a hint that one must dip one’s toe in the stream of life in order to reach one’s supposed destiny.  It might be that a stream would represent a moment of choice when one must either cross or turn aside.  Or ... it might only be that the Lady was enjoying the sensual coolness of the water after a long walk.  I’m not sure a simple human pleasure would have been on any client’s agenda back in those difficult times.

There is no reasonable justification for my suggestion, but this is the helpful advice I would have given Leonardo if he was well-and-truly, nail-bitingly stuck, and if he’d asked me nicely, man-to-man.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Some DRAWN AND PAINTED ALLEGORIES ... you could argue that every painting includes an element of allegory by its very existence AT THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE REAL AND THE IMAGINED, and by the possibility that it could be reduced by a philosopher or a critic to being just a series of statements inside ( or outside ) a framework ... but if a painting's content extends beyond that of a fleeting moment in existence, then it will accumulate layers of meaning each time someone responds to it

pieter bruegel's painting of "the blind leading the blind"  ... coupled with  ...  john singer sargent's "gassed"

i have only just realized i wouldn't be able to explain the difference between allegory and metaphor and simile to an eleven-year-old ... so this is just a long-ish pause to reflect ... i shall not be making definitive statements !

allegory is a noun



plural:  allegories


the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence

a writer known for his use of allegory

also an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression

The poem is an allegory of love and jealousy.


a symbolic representation


What is the difference between an allegory and a metaphor?

Allegory is the expression of truths or generalizations about human existence by means of symbolic fictional figures and their actions. It encompasses such forms as fable and parable. A metaphor, broadly, is figurative language; specifically, it is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. Aesop’s Fables are an example of allegory; "the ship plows the seas" is an example of metaphor.


What are different types of allegory?

Personification allegory is a type of allegory in which a fictional character represents a concept or a type. The character Everyman in the medieval play of that name and the Lover in The Romance of the Rose are figures of personification allegory. Symbolic allegory is one in which a character or material thing is not merely a transparent vehicle for an idea, but also has a recognizable identity or a narrative autonomy apart from the message it conveys. The poet Virgil in Dante's Inferno, a historical figure representing human reason within the poem, is an example of a symbolic allegorical figure.


What is the difference between allegory and simile?

simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared, often introduced by like or as ("he had eyes like agates"). Allegory is a more or less symbolic fictional narrative that conveys a secondary meaning (or meanings) not explicitly set forth in the literal narrative. Parables, myths, and fables are all considered types of allegories.


start here ... with an excellent clarification of what goes on in one of Courbet's most intriguing works ... clicketty-click !

Project for a Cartouche: An Allegory of Minerva, Fame, History, and Faith Overcoming Ignorance and Time ... painted by Francois Boucher.  

Allegories often involve the PERSONIFICATION of abstract or intangible concepts.

I wondered if the pendant in Artemisia Gentileschi's self-portrait is an important feature ?  It isn't a crucifix.  It looks like a mask ... but is it COMEDY ? or is it TRAGEDY ?  Is this an understated painting that represents some of her own very human passions and is it a sign of a HUMANISTIC outlook ?

Simon Vouet and Artemisia Gentileschi were great friends.  This is his TIME DEFEATED BY HOPE AND BEAUTY from 1627.  I have a feeling the models for Hope and Beauty may have been Simon Vouet's lovely new wife and her sister.

Michael Ayrton was a passionate sculptor famous for an obsession with the story of the Minotaur.  He always managed to picture people whose passions were clearly latent even when not kinetically so.

Almost everything that Poussin painted in later life was allegorical, perhaps to suit his clients' needs for a little dignity.  Many of his clients were popes and bishops who had their own private passions.  Look closely.  This painting shows a mythical landscape through which the blinded hunter Orion is guided towards the rising sun ... it is a complicated story in which every figure represents a human or divine trait of some kind ...  clicketty click for a possible explanation ...

... and some ...

... and some more ...

Alex Gray was a keen student of anatomy and worked in a morgue before becoming a professional painter.  His view of human existence seems to be that we need to seek harmony with the entire cosmos if we are to find joy in this lifetime.

Karel Dujardin's allegory of a boy blowing bubbles is a meditation on the brevity of life that delightedly rejects morbidity in favour of wonder.

Angelo Bronzino, VENUS, CUPID, FOLLY & TIME, c1545,_Cupid,_Folly_and_Time

Despite this painting's spectacular sensuous vivacity and the claustrophobic construction of so many complex human interactions, the underlying morality demanded by Bronzino's clients for this allegory have probably stifled the kind of expression he might have depicted.  But it is PRETTY DAMNED AMAZING and so we mustn't grumble !



An Allegory with Venus and Time
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

This huge oval-shaped painting, which is about 3 metres long, was commissioned to decorate a ceiling in a palazzo belonging to the Contarini family. The scale of the figures and the sense that they are above us hint at the intended destination: this work was made to be seen from below, and at a great distance.

The imagery suggests it was made to celebrate a new heir. Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, gestures lovingly towards an infant, who is held by a winged figure – a personification of Time, who has here laid aside his scythe. The act symbolises immortality, although the hourglass at his waist suggests the inevitable passing of time. In the clouds above, the Three Graces bless the child by scattering flowers.

Tiepolo’s characteristic loose handling of paint can be seen in Time’s feathery wings, and his delicate colouring in Venus' pale flesh and striking pink drapery, in contrast with Time’s brown skin and brilliant blue loincloth.

Minerva protects Pax from Mars ('Peace and War')
Peter Paul Rubens

This picture was made for King Charles I of England and given to him by Rubens, who was acting as an envoy of Philip IV of Spain in 1630. 

The two countries had been at war for five years and both sides were keen for a peace deal. The painting is an allegory, the figures representing different virtues and other abstract concepts, and there is a clear moral narrative.

Among the key figures, the woman in the centre represents both Pax (Peace) and Ceres, goddess of the earth, and she is sharing her bounty with a group of children in the foreground. These represent future generations, but are also portraits of the children of Sir Balthasar Gerbier, Rubens’s host. Just behind Pax, Minerva, goddess of wisdom, is protecting the group from Mars, god of war. 

The overall message is clear: rejecting war and embracing peace will bring prosperity and plenty. Rubens’s mission bore fruit: a peace treaty between England and Spain was signed in November 1630.

it is tempting to juxtapose magritte's LA CORDE SENSIBLE, 1960 ...

and either ... this ...

an atomic explosion ... or ... thomas cole's the titan's goblet ...

... or both !  why not ?

magritte scorned those who looked for such links but he painted LA CORDE SENSIBLE during the years when the nuclear arms race was at its most dangerous

... and he was far too acute to be insensible to such connections

Simon Fokke, An Allegory of the Art of Writing

Version One about 1745, and Version Two a year or so later.

Why did he re-purpose and drastically alter this design ?

The first print seems to have been a cover or a frontispiece for a weekly magazine called THE SNAPPER.

I'm guessing he realized it was a very nice bit of work and that it was detachable from its original purpose.

Maybe there were political shifts that made his first design redundant.

... the linked article gives us the "flavour" and political inclination of THE SNAPPER


The journalist, historian and political activist Rousset de Missy was outspokenly pro-prince and expressed sharp criticism in his writings of the regent oligarchy and of public enemy number 1: his native France.
This radical political preference is clearly reflected in the Amsterdam Snapper . This frequently reports on acts of war in which the Republic was directly or indirectly involved. It was therefore intended, according to the advertisement in the Leydse Courant of November 2, 1744,

to give the Readers a fair idea of ​​the present affairs of State and War, and a knowledge without prejudice of the daily cases and changing Circumstances of the Interests of the Courts and Princes, through political and subsidiary observations.

The texts show that the writer was well versed in the relevant ordinances, treatises and legal theoretical doctrines (Grotius, Puffendorf). They are presented in detail in the analyzes of the international political situation. Due to the extensive explanations of the political course that Orange wished to take, the magazine appears to be a mouthpiece for the stadtholder and his advisors. It is not clear to what extent someone like Willem Bentinck, who knew Rousset well, was indeed involved in the latter's journalistic work.
The episodes are often concluded with some appropriate lines of poetry.

A proper student of Dutch history would probably be able to identify political and historical features in the content, such as the coats-of-arms.

We can assume that the naked lady being unveiled by Father Time most probably represents that most fugitive of ideals, THE NAKED TRUTH.

Maybe the winged lady represents the MUSE OF HISTORY, who knows ?

Some painters' allegories are more like directly or literally and explanatorily simple illustrations.  Most of the allegories of the five senses, for instance.  Take Philip Mercier's paintings, perhaps ...


here's an earnest allegory on the perplexities of peaceful governance ..

Allegory on the Difficulty of Governing, 1578, Pieter van der Borcht

and then ... 

succesful allegorical devices may become recurring or persistent memes ...

8th November 2023 ... noting my belated realization that the category of allegories in painting is vast ... it looks as if WIKIPEDIA has already done a lot of work on this topic ...

for instance ...

... and it would be profitable for me to list all of their links on this subject, despite so may images being of very poor quality, or interest ... and one or two being more enigmatic than allegorical

... to be continued ...