Tag: Getty

March and the god Mars

March and the god Mars

March is the month named after Mars, in Roman mythology the God of War. He is also an agricultural guardian. The month March, opening the year of farming, is considered the start of the year for the Roman calendar, which had only ten months. With March being the first, September is number seven, October number eight and November and December nineth and tenth. But who is Mars? Although being the god of war, he is also a god of peace (when sleeping!), an epitome of male beauty, and the secret beau of Venus, Goddess of Love. Let’s look at a few paintings with Mars and also some together with Venus. The last painting is revealing the real scandal!

Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588 – 1629), “Mars Asleep” (1629), 107x93cm and 152x140cm with frame, Oil on Panel, Centraal Museum, Utrecht.

This is not a common soldier. This is Mars, God of War, in a 17th Century human form. The harness on the painting is a very rich and precious piece of work made in Italy. It was owned by Hendrick ter Brugghen and kept in his studio. Exactly the same harness and helmet ended up on other paintings by Ter Brugghen and by his colleagues from Utrecht. Around 1648, the end of the Eighty Years’ War and a final end to Spain’s rule over the Netherlands, the painting was placed in its current frame. The weapons and tools of war on the frame are chained together and cannot be used any longer. Mars fell asleep; he now represents peace. In the true Dutch tradition when Mars, God of War, falls asleep, Mercury, God of Trade, will get active again. A political painting in its time.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660), “Mars” (1638), 179x95cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Here is Velázquez majestic painting of Mars. Mars is lazily seating on a soft, unmade bed. The bedclothes belong to a luxurious bed much more suited to amorous struggle than to battles and war. Mars is only wearing his helmet; his shield and armour lie at the ground. This picture is a defeat of arms by love which conquers all. The painting was made for the Spanish royal hunting pavilion on the outskirts of Madrid, in a century when Spain was in continuous wars. An amorous Mars seems certainly more sympathetic than a war-god in full armour.

Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510), “Venus and Mars” (1485), 69x173cm, Oil and Tempera on Panel, National Gallery, London.

This Italian Renaissance painting by Botticelli shows Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Mars, god of war, surrounded by playful and naughty satyrs. Venus watches Mars asleep – and snoring – and she contemplates her victory: love has conquered war. Although it’s unfaithful love, as Venus was in fact married to Vulcan, god of fire and an unattractive blacksmith. The little satyr guys are playing with Mars’s armour: one put the too big helmet on his head and another crawled inside his breastplate. Even one blows a conch shell in his ear to wake Mars, but of course unsuccessfully. The couple have been making love, and Mars obeyed to the male habit of falling asleep after sex. Most likely the painting was commissioned to celebrate the marriage of a wealthy Florentine couple, and was meant to decorate the bedroom with that witty representation of sensual pleasure. There is another thought about Mars’s state of undress. It was thought that looking at an image of a beautiful man would help to conceive a boy – the most desirable heir in those days.

Louis Jean François Lagrenée (1725 – 1805), “Mars and Venus, Allegory of Peace” (1770), 65x54cm, Oil on Canvas, Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The French rococo painter Louis Jean François Lagrenée shows us Mars, throwing back the curtains to reveal a sleeping Venus. Mars is captivated by her beauty; his shield and sword lie on the ground. A pair of white doves are building a nest in Mars’s helmet. A 18th Century example of “make love not war”. Mars gives peace a chance.

Joachim Wtewael (1566 – 1638), “Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan” (1601), 21x16cm, Oil on Copper on Panel, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

This painting depicts the adultery of Venus and Mars. Venus’ husband Vulcan – god of fire and standing with his back to us on the left – has caught the couple in the act. When Vulcan heard that Venus and Mars had an affair, he – as a skilled blacksmith – made an invisible bronze net to catch them in their love bed. The metal net was so delicate that the two beautiful gods did not know that they had been captured until it was too late. Vulcan invited all the gods from Mount Olympus to come and laugh at the trapped lovers. A detail: Mercury, god of trade, is getting jealous and said he is willing to replace Mars. He can be seen above the bed and Cupido is already sending an arrow in Mercury’s direction. The still-life in the foreground is Mars’s armour, Vulcan’s hammer and Venus her red slippers, an old-fashioned symbol of adultery.

Because of the erotic subject matter, the painting’s early owners will have concealed the painting behind a curtain. For a longtime this painting was kept in depot by The Mauritshuis “to protect an immature public against itself”. Only from 1987 this small painting is shown to the public in its full splendor; painted on copper, which is excellent for expressing fine details. It’s an erotic picture, very attractive for the viewers. But it’s certainly also a showcase for the skills of the Joachim Wtewael. And above all an embarrassment for Venus and Mars!

Pontormo (1494 – 1557)

Pontormo (1494 – 1557), “Visitation of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth” (1528), Oil on Board”, 202x156cm, Church of San Michele e San Francesco, Carmignano, Italy.

On the 24th of May, 1494, birth of Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo, simply known as Pontormo. He is famous for his Mannerist way of painting, with figures in a floating, almost dancing, manner. Pontormo painted in and around Florence, often supported by the Medici family. Here is Pontormo’s “Visitation of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth”, housed in the church of San Francesco e Michele in Carmignano, about 20 km west of Florence. The Visitation is the visit of the Virgin Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, to Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, (Luke 1:39–56).

Pontormo’s work was quite out of fashion for several centuries. Though he has received renewed attention by contemporary art historians. Indeed, in 2002, Pontormo’s “Portrait of a Halberdier” was the world’s most expensive painting by an Old Master. The Halberdier holds a halberd, a combination of spear and battle-axe. The sitter’s identity has been much discussed. It could be the young nobleman Francesco Guardi at the age of around fifteen. But it has also been suggested that the portrait represents Cosimo de’ Medici himself.

Pontormo (1494 – 1557), “Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi?)” (1529), Oil on Panel transferred to Canvas, 95x73cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Pontormo’s closest pupil was Bronzino, who followed Pontormo’s style. Of several paintings it’s disputed if the author is Pontormo or Bronzino.