Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Diego Velázquez, La Venus del Espejo (1648-51)
"This nakedness is not, however, an expression of her own feelings; it is a sign of her submission to the owner's feelings or demands. (The owner of both woman and painting.) The painting ... demonstrates this submission ..."
-- John Berger, Ways of Seeing, p.53 (referring to a different painting)
The above image is the figure of a woman who exists for no more reason than the leisurely contemplation and enjoyment of her own beauty, i.e., the satisfaction of herself not as self but as an object of sight. I haven't done enough research to make an educated guess on Velázquez's motives, but regardless of them, I can suggest that the image offers a way out of the unsavory tradition of the Western nude: that by presenting the woman's back to the spectator, and the face as a blurry reflection (also optically impossible), this Venus is presented as obviously an object, immediately and apparently an image for our pleasure and consumption. An iconographic explication of the presence of the mirror might indicate the theme of vanity ... but we can't intuit any emotion or thought to this Venus. She's gazing into a mirror, taking in her own beauty and objecthood, but we are not presented with psychological evidence of her (moral failing of) vanity. She is Image: her Imageness is manifest.
Idle speculation: I have not yet read Deleuze on the Baroque: but if the Baroque is marked by some kind of figure of "the fold," is the productivity of our latter-day engagement with the Baroque marked by our willingness to 'unfold' what was hidden in the folds? That is to say, in the complexity of (say) an image, an oil painting, in the later 17th century, might the interest to us, post-contemporaries, be in the accordion-like flexibility that this furled-up information pack (or stream) provides us? It's what I'll be thinking about in the future. Maybe I'm completely wrong.
Above is an image of Mary "Slasher" Richardson, who attacked the Velázquez with a meat cleaver in 1914. She was a militant suffragette; according to this white nationalist forum page she was also a supporter of the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists.