This is a big get. Works by art history superstars – Giorgione, Rubens, Tintoretto, Titian, Velasquez – and held by the royal house of Hapsburg, are on display at the Minneapolis Institute under the title “Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty.”
But that’s not the topic of today’s column, it’s only the lead-in.
Among the 93 exhibit examples is 16th century Antonio Correggio’s painting “Jupiter and Io,” a portrayal of a female in orgiastic throes with a cloud (the mythological god Jupiter in disguise). Including this work among the “masterpieces” at the Minneapolis Institute set me to wonder why it was omitted from Huffington Post’s 15-item list of “Art History’s Most Erotic Artworks.”
It goes without saying that one person’s erotica isn’t always another’s. But if you’re going to the trouble of cataloging erotic art and posting it as if it were some kind of encyclopedia entry, your list needs to be not only credible, but also inclusive.
Let’s start with credible. What possible rationale prompted you to including Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” as erotic?
Yes, the ladies are in a brothel, but the image is not about fervor. It’s about fury. In fact, it’s downright ferocious. Not a sign of anyone’s libido anywhere.
As for inclusive, you exclude Correggio’s image of the woman having sex with a cloud – presumably because it’s too unconventional – but include Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife,” which describes a woman having sex with an octopus.
Similarly, you include Peter Paul Rubens’s copy of Michelangelo’s “Leda and the Swan,” which describes a phallic-looking neck of a swan rising between a woman’s welcoming legs. OK, the swan is Zeus in disguise, but that’s not what you see, is it?
How glaring an omission is Correggio’s “lo and Jupiter”? Let me count the ways.
The image so upset Louis d’Orleans, son of the Regent of France, reputedly a sybarite, that he struck it with a knife. Acknowledging this incident, art historian Kenneth Clark wrote in his “The Nude: A study of Ideal Art” that Correggio’s picture of “gratified desire could fell an ill-balanced nature with destructive envy.”
While Clark clearly sounds besotted, Correggio’s figure painting is unquestionably distinctive for being the antithesis of the classic sculptural figures of the Renaissance. It shows a softness, even a tenderness, as well as an unashamed hedonism. Correggio also distorted his proportions somewhat, as if to make sure that you know his figures are not idealized.
When the artist died suddenly of heat stroke at the age of forty, a Florentine nobleman imagined in an epigram why he died young. According to the epigram, the Graces loved the way Antonio painted so much that they pleaded with God to let him paint them. Answering their plea, God snatched the painter to the stars so that he might capture the Graces’ likeness from close at hand
Summing up, there’s something wrong with “Best” lists. I’m thinking of Random House’s “100 Best English Language Novels” or the American Film Institute’s top 100 “Greatest Movies of All Time.”
Draw up “best” lists, as if there were no more than the number on your list, is plain chutzpah. And as always with lists, there’s the danger of taking them too seriously. Suggestion, HuffPost: Take down “Art History’s Most Erotic Artworks.” You posted it on your site last year and kept it there as if it were a gospel truth etched in stone. And it’s not.