The enigmatic Sacred and Profane Love is one of the most beautiful Renaissance paintings by the Italian master Titian (died 1576). It is generally accepted that the nude figure is (Oράνιος Αφροδίτης ) Celestial Venus, while the clothed woman is the (πάνδημον Αφροδίτης) Vulgar Venus. Plato introduced the idea of two Venuses which reflect the heavenly and the worldly in his Symposium. Kenneth Clark observed that Plato’s concept “became an axiom of medieval and Renaissance philosophy,””because it symbolized a deep-seated human feeling.” The Celestial Venus satisfied more than sensual interests, the idealized figure represented the desire for the prelapsarian state or in political terms it represented a longing for utopia. Today, Sacred and Profane Love would likely be misunderstood by many viewers, the Celestial Venus may be mistaken as the profane figure. This is due to the utilitarian development of our culture, which does not respect the values associated with the feminine. Nudity is equated with sex. The current social conscience is only a very recent development.
By the late 19th century the female nude became vulgarized by the popularity of academic art and mass production. Many paintings of the period were Dionysian disasters. Artists responded in different ways, many sought to revive the spirit of the nude, which was common of the Symbolists, while the “avant-garde” became preoccupied with the vulgar. The “avant-garde” modernists had lost faith in the ideals which the nude symbolized. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon is often identified as the beginning of modern art and the subject of the painting is a scene in a brothel. Picasso represented a group of prostitutes with jagged forms, which can be read as an ascetic statement. Marcel Duchamp painted a mustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa with the initials of crude phase in French, his works were not much more than schoolboy pranks.
There is an other tendency which has been overshadowed by modernism. In the late 19th and early 20th century many artists sought to revive the ritual aspect of art through the figure, there was a widespread tendency among the Symbolists to represent youth as a form of wholeness, such images seemed to counter modern society’s artificial and rigid organization. Even Piet Mondrian began his journey to pure form by painting works like Devotion. The abstraction of Mondrian’s later work suffers from an instrumental rationality which has lost contact with the human.
The course of civilization has been compared to the maturing of an individual, with ancient times being analogous to youth, the Renaissance being akin to middle age and the modern period being akin to old age. In a sense, civilization matured too much. The rationalism of the modern period brought a dissociation from the spiritual aspects of life. The mind and ideas came to be regarded as independent of the body and physical nature. In the past a nude figure in art was not viewed as an object rather the figure was perceived as a reflection of being, a representation of the soul. There has been a tragic break down in culture, works of art which were once revered are ignored or misinterpreted from a consumption spectacle subtext. This site will reexamine the period from the 1800’s to the 1920’s and appreciate works that revive the human spirit, many of which have fallen into obscurity.