Thursday, January 11, 2007

now you see it

Along with a Google account comes a bunch of options for personalizing your homepage. There's a virtual Post-it notepad, a tiny e-pony that loiters on your screen munching grass (and occasionally needing his mane brushed out), and the super-cool Art of the Day. Real geeks scoff, but non-technoids like me think this stuff is great. A week or so ago one of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes was featured on AOTD, and I remarked to my husband that a modern image of a nude man and woman in that particular pose would probably be considered pornography in our culture. He wryly remarked back something along the lines of, "Well, we're a country founded on Puritanism. What can you say?"

Then, about a week later, a painting depicting the same apple-eating event that basically ruined life for the rest of us showed up on my Google homepage, only this one was painted by Hugo Van Der Goes, a Netherlandish artist who was only about 35 years older than Mr. Buonarotti (and whose name I remember by thinking of a North Dakotan shouting, "Der goes a van!"). I couldn't help but notice the disparity between their depictions of the same scene. For one thing, there's the obvious nudity issue. Michelangelo has Adam and Eve both hanging it all out there (so to speak) while Van der Goes has painted a strategically-placed orchid and hand (which I could understand if the apple in VdG's painting had already been eaten, but it doesn't appear to be so). There's also the difference in the two painters' serpents: Mike's is a female snake-like creature with arms only, while VdG has created a creepy Gollum-like (almost child-like) beast with legs (that it won't have for much longer, payback being what it is).

So, what gives? I'm sure all of this is covered in any Art History 101 class, but having (gasp) never taken a single Art History class, I am left to wonder about these things with my simple, unschooled brain. Is this a cultural thing? Italian vs. Netherlander? Is it an age thing? Certainly, people who are 35 years older than me are - if not dead - under a significantly different impression of what is acceptable modesty-wise. Maybe not so much, though; I have a strong prudish element in my personality.

Regardless, this difference in artistic perspectives - of two men from nearly the same era painting essentially the same thing - fascinates me, and I'm not done thinking about it. I'd love some feedback on this if you're similarly interested, so tell me what you think. And forgive me for referring to the great painter as Mike; my parents had a Basset hound named Michelangelo Buonarroti before having kids, but as a little girl I only knew the old dog guessed it. Old habits die hard.


  1. OHHH NICOOOOLLLEE!! Your Vernunft is showing again.. You REALLY need to cover that thing up..

    Okay, miss brainiac, I will bite. *I* personally never paid much attention to either of these paintings, because frankly, art or no, I'm not "in my comfy zone" checking out a mans *Elephunk* with their wife in the vicinity.. ::snortle:: With that said, I actually studied both of these paintings last night, and read a little info on the two men who painted them. Remember I said A LITTLE. And here's my two cents. In questioning the nudity issue, I think Mike was much more comfortable with nudity than Hugo was. Possibly because he was the student of a sculptor, and I think in general, sculptors have a more accepting regard for the naked body as a whole. Take Mike's sculpture of "David" for instance. The poor guy is..Hung Out There. He's supposed to be preparing to battle a Giant, but *his loins* sure aren't being girded. So, obviously Mike was quite open to nudity as art form. Another likely reason is that he studied Greek and Roman Antiquity, i.e. Mythology. In most mythological depictions, men are dominant, muscular, and usually buck neked (I'm biting my tongue here) And the women (at least most of them) while also often naked, are trampy, vicious, devious, angry, vengeful, etc. (add any descriptive text that goes along with PMS) Which is why I believe Mike depicted his "snake" as being a voluptuous female.

    In opposition to Mikes Pagan influences, Hugo's work seems more conservative and 'Catholic' in nature. Most of the women in his works are fully clothed (some seemingly overdressed) and have a serene, or sad countenance to them. The men have a tranquil look, rather than 'macho'. I believe he had much more of a 'Christian' influence in his work, which is why I think his "snake" seems to have a more biblical, demonic representation. And for the record, I agree with your sense of observation; Hugo missed the mark when he censored Adam and Eve. Indeed, the apple had not yet been tasted.
    So there you have it. My 2 Cents..spend it wisely.

    PS..thanks alot, NOW my friggin BRAIN hurts ::going to search the cupboard for some Tylenol::

  2. 1) The Netherlands is colder than Italy, so even a fig leaf will seem warmer than nothing at all.

    2) Didn't the Puritan movement have its origins in the Netherlands? They moved from Holland to England, and then on to America, right?

    I'm just guessing, of course, as I don't even remember taking an art history class, much less remember any art history.

  3. dys. house: Okay, a) there's no good way to shorten your screen name. b) You bring up a good point about the whole sculptor thing. Also, I hadn't thought about the general Alanis Morissette-ish depiction of women in mythological art. Hmmm...I shall study up.

  4. dys house: Also, what the heck is a vernunft!?

  5. Bonnie, you're good. This from "In 1608 a group of Puritan separatists, attempting to escape religious persecution, fled England for the Netherlands. They remained there until 1620, but, fearing that they were losing their cultural identity, they decided to settle in Delaware in the New World." I always tend to think of the Mayflower voyagers as having come straight from England (well, some of them did). This is an interesting connection to the Van der Goes painting. I wish an art historian would chime in here.

  6. Hmmm.. Not sure the Puritan movement would have influenced Hugo's work. He died over 100 years *before* the seperatists fled from England. But then on the other hand, nothing is known of his life up until he came to Ghent in 1467.