Inspirational – Raphael and Botticelli

Just a passing thought on the similarity and differences when directly comparing a couple of famous Italian Renaissance paintings by two giants of the art world. What a difference 30 years makes? Then, add another five centuries to consider how we, now, respond to these images.

Firstly we have ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) and below it ‘The Triumph of Galatea’ by Raphael (1483-1520).

the birth of venus
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli c.1486
Tempera on canvas (172.5 cm Ɨ 278.9 cm)
Uffizi, Florence, Italy
The Triumph of Galatea
The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael c. 1514
Fresco
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy

The two paintings depict different classical myths and yet each artist has devised interpretations that have a central female figure posed on an enormous shell. Initially I was looking at both pictures as inspiration for a beautiful palette as both paintings are worked with a very similar gentle, tonal range. Then it was the differences that struck me and made me ask why the Botticelli is so popular in our time (reproduced on all kinds of merchandise) compared to the Raphael. Yes, I know that generally Art Historians cite Raphael as more significant, but everyday contemporary taste leans towards the Botticelli. The flat, stylised, less naturalistic Venus appeals whereas the so-called advances made by Raphael in the ‘High Renaissance’ look more suited to a different era.

Is it how we actively ‘look’ at the world these days? With the advent of photography, the march of modernism and the subsequent development of pared back minimalism, are we so used to clean-lines, flat, screen-based imagery that overtly naturalistic art is not so appealing?

The Buzzard
Der Busant (The Buzzard)
Tapestry made in Strasbourg, Alsace, France c.1480-90
Made from wool, silk, linen, cotton, and metallic thread.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I have read that it is possible that at the time of commissioning ‘The Birth of Venus’ as a painting (tempera on canvas), was the cheaper solution to a decorative, wall covering than a tapestry of the same theme. It is suggested that the flat style and the figures appearing to float in a plane in front of the background is to mimic the appearance of a tapestry. A late-fifteenth-century tapestry of a similar size was far more expensive. Interestingly, Raphael’s ‘Galatea’ is also a ‘wall covering’ as it is part of a series of frescoes decorating the walls of the loggia of the Villa Farnesina.

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The Sincerest Form of Flattery and Botticelli’s ‘Madonna of the Book’

Recently I’ve been pondering the nature of ‘copyright’. On one side of the debate we have the most aggressive legal (though somewhat amoral) approach as practised by patent trolls suing whomever they can in Marshall, Texas (see article) and on the other side, the seemingly limitless lifting and reusing of images, text and music without reference, citations, credits or fees, like a rash all over the Internet.

madonna book botticelli
The Madonna of the Book – Botticelli. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan.
The original.
In the middle of these two extremes are ordinary people living in our everyday world trying to share interesting experiences, sometimes for gain, but often just for the joy of passing on the delightful, the fascinating and the newsworthy. Copying is a human past-time and indeed, copying was part of the training when an apprentice studied painting with a great master. The tradition of copying whether for learning or commercial reward is demonstrated by these various copies of ‘The Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli.

I absolutely appreciate the need for creative/ideas people to make a living from their endeavours if that is their chosen path. And, when you consider all the different types of creative professionals, I think photographers are having the hardest time with the unattributed reproduction of their work on the Internet. It takes skill and time to take professional photographs and often more time and work in post-production. The music industry has finally found a suitable business model in the brave new world of the web by making money from live performance and merchandise, but what about the authors and the visual artists.

Victorian copy of Madonna of the Book.
My 19th-century copy of the “Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli. Another copy.

Victorian copy of Botticelli work
Detail of my Madonna of the Book – a Victorian copy. The face is a really good version, but the hands, hair, flowers and textiles are not well copied.

It is all a very tricky area. People should get recognition for their work and their ideas, but then for how long? You would think that when the maker/creator dies that would be it – but not so. I am not at all legal so sorry if this is technically adrift, but in the UK the duration of rights for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works is 70 years from the maker’s death. Of course, there is also the notion of ‘fair use’ – not as straightforward as it sounds, and then ultimately all the copyright laws vary from country to country.

So, here’s a little conundrum, my deceased mother painted this oil painting (The Whisper) of Cardinal Ratzinger talking confidentially to another cardinal. She created it from a photograph in a newspaper and I have now photographed the oil painting – it’s making my head spin!

And, finally, my BIG ‘copyright’ gripe, why aren’t we allowed to photograph ‘owned by the nation’ works of art (out of copyright) if they are in a curated, pay for entry, ‘event’ exhibition in a museum/art gallery? It’s all as clear as mud . . . (is that a quotation from somebody, should I reference it??)