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Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time: Analysis of Cultural Context, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 651

Essay

The painting in question, most commonly known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, was painted by Agnolo Bronzino around 1545 C.E. The painting is a part of the later High Renaissance period and more specifically of the Mannerist movement. Bronzino uses many of the key concepts of the Mannerist movement, for example, in the so-called allegorical theme of the painting itself, alongside the manner in which the figures are themselves painted. In this regard, it can be suggested that Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time is an archetypical example of this style of art.

The Mannerist influences of the painting are clear in the subject matter chosen by Bronzino. He portrays numerous figures, such as Venus, Cupid, Time, and other personages that are subject to debate as to what their identity is in the academic literature. The reason why this can be considered Mannerist is that Mannerist work often used allegorical meanings that are not always clear, in combination with themes such as eroticism and suffering. Eroticism is demonstrated in the Venus and Cupid relationship, while suffering is demonstrated in the old woman clutching her head. Furthermore, Time appears angered, adding another emotional dimension to the work. The reason why these themes are Mannerist is because this school had a “fondness for extremely learned and intricate allegories that often had lascivious undertones, a shift from the simple and monumental statements and forms of the High Renaissance.” (Gardner, 530) All these motifs are clear in Bronzino’s work. The numerous figures in the painting present a complicated relationship and symbolic network that is not easy to decipher and indeed still remains subject to many different interpretations to this day. Many emotions are contrasted, as mentioned, such as incestuous lust, anger and suffering. At the same time, what Gardner calls “lascivious” themes is demonstrated in the notion of mother and son, Venus and Cupid, appearing to have an erotic encounter.

The artwork therefore has some clear historical context that shapes it. For example, as Gardner mentioned above, Mannerism tried to break from the simple statements of the High Renaissance. Mannerism therefore tried to show a complex spectrum of emotions and puzzle the viewer. In this view, Mannerism as exemplified in Bronzino’s work can be considered as a reaction to Renaissance and its exultation of existence, showing that life is perhaps more complicated and often times possesses a darker side. As Woldemar Janson and Janson note, “Mannerism style itself came to be regarded by many as decadent” (625), which shows that it challenged the dominant social and political world-views of the period.

Bronzino’s work therefore tells us that the period of the High Renaissance was not merely a monolithic movement, but also possessed its own counter-culture. Certainly, Bronzino does borrow from High Renaissance, as do other Mannerist painters. Hence, Woldemar Janson and Janson write that Mannerism “resulted from the High Renaissance quest for originality as a projection of the individual’s character.” (173) Here, we see some of the wide range of such themes that preoccupied Bronzino and makes this work original. At the same time, the work also deviates from High Renaissance because the quest for originality investigates some uncomfortable ideas for the High Renaissance, while also remaining unclear as to what these ideas are, giving no easy answers.

Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time therefore demonstrates fundamental Mannerist themes. At the same time, it shows a clear example of what made Mannerism both related to and different from the High Renaissance. What is at stake in Bronzino’s work is a more complicated version of human existence depicted through the aesthetic form, challenging the context and conventions of not only the artistic medium, but also of the social context to which the painting’s symbolic ambiguity represents a departure.

Works Cited

Gardner, Helen. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2006.

Woldemar Janson, Horst & Janson, Anthony F. History of Art: The Western Tradition. New York: Prentice Hall Professional, 2004.

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