While the Renaissance phrase Every painter paints himself uses the masculine to denote both genders, as the English of my youth did too, the artists themselves were under no delusion that their male minds would be sufficient to become like God (see The Divine Artist). They needed a feminine side too (or a masculine one in the case of female artists) because a mind reflecting the cosmos – whether God’s or a visual poet’s – contains both genders as any reasonable thinker since Plato would have known. This is important to grasp because the patriarchal norms of everyday life in the Renaissance, of particular interest to feminist art historians, were markedly different from the intellectual concepts so important to mystical thought.
Although some historians believe that Marsilio Ficino, the Florentine mystic and translator of Plato's writings, rediscovered the subject of androgyny in the late fifteenth century,1 it had always been present in one form or another, including among the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages. Caroline Walker Bynum has shown, for example, how large numbers of devout people described and thought of Jesus as Mother. Indeed, even more surprisingly, “authors [in the medieval period] found it far easier than we seem to find it to apply characteristics stereotyped as male or female to the opposite sex.”2
Although artists from the Enlightenment onwards may not have been as religious as their earlier colleagues, many remained spiritually-inclined, even mystically-inclined, and continued to present their psychic life as androgynous. In the nineteenth century artists like Edouard Manet, a man not easily linked to mysticism or esotericism, demonstrated with startling clarity that their minds (or at least the mind they imagined) was androgynous, a position which by the twentieth century was receiving outside support from discoveries in analytical psychology.
1. Janusz. Walek, “The Czartoryski Portrait of a Youth by Raphael”, Artibus et Historiae 12, 1991, p. 219
2. Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1982, p. 162
All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)
One way to make sense of Miró's abstractions is to remember, as ever, that 'every painter paints himself.'
If a self-portrait was collected by Picasso as this one was, there must be a reason beyond remembrance. It's our job to find out what.
Keeping alert to differences in style within a painting can help unlock its meaning
Find out why so many of Perugino's faces look alike
"Genius" is derided nowadays in academia but, if there is no such thing, how did a 13-year old Picasso know what art historians never have?
Two protagonists in one painting must both represent the artist. It's a given in art so it's your job to find out how.
Here is a very obvious example of one artist's identification with another
See how Picasso turns one scene into another in ways that have never been seen
See how Picasso understood Manet's meaning, a meaning that still escapes art historians who think and see superficially
When you discover what is underneath Picasso's early Blue Period paintings, the meaning changes...drastically.
Learn how to use double-vision, a critical tool for interpretation
Learn how the young Picasso played around with several themes in a relatively simple composition
Not a particularly successful picture but an excellent learning tool
There is always more in Picasso than meets the eye
Never forget the importance of an artist's hand. It can pop up anywhere.
Hear how Karen Kleinfelder interprets Picasso's scene
Just like Michelangelo's, Picasso's women are masculine too....here's how and why.
Ignore the title of a painting; they can lead you far astray
Don't accept your first understanding of a line. Think again; because artists do before drawing it.
New revelations, as always, about one of the world's most famous portraits
Beware of biographical stories trying to explain a great portrait; they are rarely, if ever, true.
Sometimes the most difficult features to see in art are the most obvious
How the setting is so rarely what you think....you must think differently
See how Rembrandt concisely expresses the underlying idea of art in a Roman myth
Learn about other methods Rembrandt used to convey his message
Learn how to look and what to look for, and how touching is painting
The presence of a mystery in an artwork, intentionally made mysterious by the artist, does not mean that the mystery cannot be solved. Mysteries are made to be resolved.
An essential question about any picture: does the figure resemble an artist at work?
Discover a common way how artists demonstrate their identity with their protagonist. You can use the method to interpret other paintings by other artists.
If you like Renoir but can't see Raphael, you won't see Renoir's Raphael
Learn how a mythological scene represents the anatomy of the brain/mind
The concise expression of meaning is as aesthetically satisfying in art as it is in poetry
Don't take portraits at face value. If they're art, there's always more to them.
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