This is another painting from the series “Oh, where I’ve been yesterday!” (*) or, in a less poetic way, “look at yet another work with a mirror I bumped into in a museum.” Such was the case with Rombouts, and with other couple of paintings I discovered (about which I thought I have already written, but alas, this is not yet the case.)
I found this one in the same Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg, where I’ve also seen the polyptych by Memling. I was too lazy at the time to write a story about this museum – I usually do after the trips to new museums – but I remember being shocked with its shabby conditions and provincial atmosphere (yet very impressed with its amazing collection of art – some of the works can be seen in a set on Flickr; many of them are of very poor quality photography-wise, because the light in the museum was very poor, too).
This very painting was hanging in a pass-through corridor, right across a huge bright window, making it virtually impossible to take a good picture. The light flares lit the whole canvas while I was standing in front of the work, so this picture was taken standing literally five meters aside (and then (re)distorting it, to get the shape right). A total shame to place art works in that way.
[A small tangent rant, about museums in general:
I recently wrote, in one of my generic (=non-mirror) postings about museums (in that case it was M-Museum in Leuven), that I always suspect a misinformation (if not plain lie) from the museum; I was told then that I shouldn’t insult ‘highly devoted professionals’ with such suspiciousness.
When I come to a museum, and see that it fails to deliver good, art enhancing/art enriching experience for us… that’s not good, but I can forgive, we all are still learning how to design these experiences properly. But they can’t even handle their direct business properly – like, not providing accurate information about the artworks in their possession, or distorting the access to them, in various ways – that’s when I get angry (also because we, the public, are paying them for this work (or lack of it, for that matter).]
Anyway, back to this painting. It’s described unpretentiously, as Venus Reclining, and dated c.1510. Yet its anonymous author is attributed to the School of Fontainebleau!
Even the first wave of the School of Fontainebleau has began later, from the 1530s onward. And this painting clearly belong to the second wave, that emerged around the end of 16th century; some elements in it (including its mirror) are similar to the ones on the famous La Belle Gabrielle, created around 1595.
Even the Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which this work clearly alludes to, was painted in 1538(!) Yes, his earlier Venus, the one started by Giorgione, was finished by Titian in 1510, but despite some similarities between latter Venus and the work by anonymous master (for example, Venus is asleep in both of them), these paintings are lightyears apart of each other, stylistically and technically.
Basically, it’s a blunt lie; that’s why my general attitude towards museum is driven by presumption of guilt – they are wrong unless convince me otherwise.
But back to the mirrors.
(I deliberately wrote ‘to the mirrors’, because I will not be able to write something meaningful about this work as a whole, or rather it would require to make a lot of tangents, weaving multiple meaning and artifacts together; I will park it for a moment).
But mirror-wise it was very interesting, and in many senses insightful for me:
Not only the mirror itself, but the whole group, a ‘semantic unit’ of the woman doing her needlework, the mirror on the wall, and the fireplace, the table with a green cloth – all these elements are very similar to the double portrait of Gabrielle and her alleged sister:
Notice that the mirror of Gabrielle is much more basic – it’s smaller, in a more simple frame, and it hangs on simple hook (concealed suspensions will came only later). The Strasbourg mirror is much bigger and placed in a lavishly carved frame (which means that it was made even later; there is a chance that the painting is, therefore, of 1610, not 1510 year; plus-minus century, yeah, who cares?
The issues is I can’t say much more at the moment besides noticing these similarities of the elements; I can’t comment on the exact semantics of all these Lego blocks, that wander from one picture to another: all these “maids”, “embroideries”, “tables”, “fireplaces” – and “mirrors”, of course. More explorations ahead!
There is another interesting element in this picture, too; it’s missed in the Gabrielle, but present in another mirror work I was once writing about, the so-called Session of Erotomagic. Both there and here we see a carpet of scattered flowers – in the case of Venus, the flowers smoothly transgress into the pattern embroidered on the sheets; it’s difficult even to say with certainty what was the intention, to depict the real flowers, or to show the flowers on the fabric:
To compare, this is how the flowers had been depicted by (also anonymous) master of the Lower Rhine (notice that there was a fireplace there, too, and the dog):
And again, I’d need extra help to decode the meaning of all these flowers.
(*) In Russian it’s also an allusion to the same-name chanson by Vladimir Vysotky