Legen has it that Venus and Mars had an affair which resulted in three progeny. To the disdain of the gods, Vulcan, Venus’ husband, caught them together in a metal net. Botticelli’s Venus, meekly ponders her exhausted conquest as impish satyrs sport with his lance and helmet. Allegorically, this suggests that love and beauty will surmount war and strife. However, the erotic nuances of the work, and the swarm of wasps around Mars’ head are reminders that the victory is always temporary.
Three Ages of Man – Titian. Depicting the three stages of life (childhood, adulthood, old age) we see Cupid scrambling over sleeping babies who may mature into such as the young lovers on the right. Their passionate and highly intimate connection will ultimately be interrupted by death, symbolized by the skulls on which the old man is contemplating. The viewer is invited to meditate on the inevitable passage and transience of human life while being reminded of the everlasting nature of love, as the church in the background signals the promise of eternal life in heaven.
The Nightmare – Fuseli. Violence, horror and the supernatural are obvious themes in this work. The beautiful young woman sprawls, with her arm limply hanging down, mounted by a demonic incubus that is quite literally is a burden on her heart. The ‘night mare’ gazes rabidly through the curtains with phosphorescent eyes, leering at the pair, as link to the Danish tradition of “mara” – personifications of nightmares.
The Old Woman (Coltempo) – Giorgione. Devastation and desolation have been impressed on the curved figure. Her balding skull, few remaining teeth, and lines that are etched into her face remind the viewer of the clear transience of beauty and youth. The scroll, reading “with time” (translated) provides an even more obvious and terrible warning of what comes to every human.
Satan Arousing Rebel Angels – William Blake. The Gnostic heresy that the world is dominated by Satan is beautifully portrayed in this work. Contrary to popular contemporary portrayals, Blake’s Satan is beautiful, even beguiling. Is he arousing the rebels from apathy to action, or to sexual desire?