Botticelli’s love drug

Mayo 31st, 2010 Mayo 31st, 2010
Posted in General, Textos
Jonathan Jones

A new discovery suggests that Botticelli’s masterpiece Venus and Mars shows the effects of a hallucinogenic plant – but is the real drug the painting itself?

Sandro Botticelli's Venus and Mars at the National Gallery

Practical magic? Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars at the National Gallery. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

The Florentine Renaissance weaver of floral fantasies Sandro Botticelli is a magical artist. Just to look at his masterpiece the Primavera is to have your spirits lifted, as if he knows how to release pleasure-giving chemicals in the human brain by particular combinations of colour and form.

The question is, how literal is the magic in Botticelli’s art? Are his paintings allegories, or entertainments, or something more – how shall we say this – practical? A fascinating new idea about Botticelli’s alluring idyll Venus and Mars in London’s National Gallery gives an old debate a contemporary twist. According to art historian David Bellingham, a strange plant pawed by a young satyr who plays about, clad in the discarded cuirass of Mars, at the bottom right of the panel, is a specimen of the hallucinogenic Datura stramonium, also known as “poor man’s acid”. According to this latest theory the pacified and disarmed war god Mars has actually been drugged by Venus, deity of love, who reclines wide awake and clothed beside his slumberous nude form.

This is not the first attempt to interpret Venus and Mars as something more tangible and efficacious than just a visualisation of Greek myth. In the past, the hermetic magical thought of the Florentine intellectual Marsilio Ficino was adduced by the Warburg Institute scholars EH Gombrich and Frances Yates to see Botticelli’s paintings as “talismans”: magical artefacts designed to actually exert benevolent effects on the beholder.

Personally I think both theories are very plausible. Botticelli’s paintings do suggest real magic, real eroticism – they have an occult quality. Nor would it be surprising if the Medici court circles who supported his art at this time (Venus and Mars was painted about 1485) were taking love drugs. Such potions were well-known and were taken seriously in the Renaissance – you can see an aphrodisiac bottle decorated with snogging lovers in the Renaissance galleries at the V&A. Those same galleries boast a Florentine mirror from this period that has a Medici emblem and is emblazoned with Venus and Mars – associating the theme with actual bedrooms, not just classicist studies.

Love is a drug, and Botticelli painted its effects with rare conviction. It would hardly be surprising to find a hallucinogenic on the shelves of his art’s life-giving pharmacy.

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Money for nothing

Mayo 27th, 2010 Mayo 27th, 2010
Posted in Exposiciones

NSFS logo

Tuesday May 18, 2010 | 15:47 by Ossian Ward in London

For its tenth birthday weekend just gone, Tate Modern staged No Soul For Sale, a non-profit ‘Festival of Independents’, bringing 70 artists’ collectives, publishers and non-commercial spaces from all over the world to fill its Turbine Hall. Well, perhaps ‘inviting’ would be a more accurate word to use, rather than ‘bringing’, as each participant had to pay their own way, with resourceful galleries doing last minute fundraising events and even garage sales to afford their flights to London from as far and wide as Beijing, Rio and Melbourne. A necessarily scrappy and messy affair ensued, with many No Soul For Salers showing only what they’d been able to squeeze through hand luggage or the symbolically empty packages they’d sent ahead of themselves.

This perceived lack of financial support drew fire from an anonymous British group of artists and arts professionals, calling themselves Making A Living. In an open letter to Tate, widely emailed and posted online, they took umbrage with No Soul For Sale’s ‘romantic connotations of the soulful artist, who makes art from inner necessity without thought of recompense’ as well as the concomitant expectation that ‘we should expect to work for free and that it is acceptable to forego the right to be paid for our labour.’

In an interview I conducted beforehand with the curators of No Soul For Sale – Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani, with Vicente Todolí on behalf of Tate – here, they defend the event (once previously staged as part of X-Initiative in New York) variously as ‘a tribute to the people, the artists and the art lovers who work beyond the traditional market system’ (Cattelan), or an act of ‘hospitality and generosity’ (Alemani). While Gioni adds that, ‘Nobody really ever pays respect to the people who work in situations in which there is very little money involved and yet a lot of energy and enthusiasm’, Todolí qualifies this by saying: ‘Obviously we are not the only ones being hospitable here. All the participants are … as generous as Tate, if not more. But that’s when things get interesting: when people are willing to share, going beyond any immediate quantifiable gain.’

No Soul For Sale?

Not everyone was in sharing mood, however. The greatest visual equivalent of this underclass attitude among the half-empty and shambolic spaces of No Soul For Sale was the padlocked façade of a foreclosed home presented by the Brooklyn-based Not An Alternative. In the installation’s accompanying essay, filmmaker Astra Taylor posits a critical stance towards such participatory celebrations, in which: ‘Every action is subsumed by a new framework, including our very sociability – our likes and desires, our heartfelt comments and curiosities – which are mined, analyzed, and monetized by the new powerbrokers.’ Rather than looking towards the wider economic crisis or social media’s digital encroachment onto privacy, maybe they should have looked closer to home.

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