Botticelli, “Venus and Mars”

Thanks to Ruthie for her insights.

“Venus and Mars” (may take a while to download) | Wikipedia article

So a male is almost boorish in his exhaustion after intercourse. There’s not much new there. What’s curious is her. She is staring at him, but I’d venture that gaze is more business than anything else. She’s fully clothed. Sure, she has to be that way, otherwise this is 15th c. porn. But she’s a bit on the overdressed side, no?

She’s looking past the satyrs. Are they part of her gaze, part of her fantasizing? I don’t think so; I’m tempted to say the relation between Love and War is all in his head. I’m differing a bit with the National Gallery who claims this is “love conquers all” and siding more with the idea that there may be a drug in the lower right-hand corner.

He’s about to get a rude wake-up call from the satyr with the shell between his lance and him. But he’s also getting bitten up by wasps and the most devilish satyr in the lower right has his breastplate, probably the most important part of his armor. He’s been tempted into something: is he shirking his martial duties?

Perhaps not. The satyrs are executing a plan of sorts and laying siege. They’re armed because of him. He’s satisfied. War attempts to conquer and is gleeful in victories true or false. That’s when the falling-apart begins. Truth be told, there’s ample reason for one who would be dressed like a knight to not be subordinate to Love. He’s supposed to be noble. Love is had when duties are accomplished and honors bestowed. And yet this picture is anything but that.

The real relation between Love and War is that war happens because people love. That can be rendered playfully, to a degree. I imagine part of the experience of war is realizing the seriousness of love. If she’s staring at him like “he’ll never get it,” that brings us back to an almost Homeric theme. Things that are trivial to the gods – beauty contests, playing favorites, etc. – are deadly serious here on Earth.

1 Comment

  1. Hm… When I look at it, I immediately agree that he seems boorish and she seems composed.

    But he also seems more vulnerable. Look at him lying back, his neck completely exposed, hardly even guarding his genitals. Upright, she could attack him at any moment.

    And isn’t the direction of the lance interesting? Pointing at the man. Isn’t the usual direction of the weapon towards the woman ie. a phallic metaphor? (I wonder if there’s some visual pun there on ‘maidenhead’ and the only helmet being near the woman.)

    The man has a weapon too, but it’s discarded and he’s laying on top of it!

    And what is one to make of the amused satyrs? The only one that looks serious and concerned is the one trying to wake up the man (before he is stabbed by the lance that the others are carrying?)

    I am, in fact, reminded in general of the story of Judith and Holofernes, or Samson and Delilah. The woman is deadly and able to strike *after* the sex while the man is disabled by the slaking of his lust.* (How often we see in literature or nonfiction warnings against the paradoxical strength of women to ruin men…)

    It seems to fit. The man thinks he has won by winning the maiden, but by winning he has laid himself low and vulnerable, explaining the counterintuitive positions and weapons.

    * Yeah I know the Bible claims Holofernes was only passed out drunk, but if you believe that one…

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