Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Coreggio: Head in the Clouds?

Antonio de Coreggio was by all accounts an introverted character prone to fits of melancholy. A post-High Renaissance artist, he was born into a large, poor family in rural Italy, and while he married a local girl, she died ten years after their union.

Specific origins for his enormous skills are hard to trace, and he's considered something of an enigma because there's not much of a thread to connect his productions.

In mid-career, he takes time off from Christian Madonnas and Adorations of the Magi's to paint a series of deeply sensual and daringly erotic paintings, including Jupiter and Io (left), 1531-32.

Originally intended for a wealthy patron's "private Ovid room" (just what I've always ... wanted?), these paintings illustrate the loves of Zeus/Jupiter.

As tallied by Ovid in Metamorphoses, the Olympian tries to stay under his wife Hera's radar by appearing to his paramours in various disguises including a swan, a stream of gold, and a cloud. Coreggio's interpretation of the latter manifestation, in which Jupiter nebulously envelopes a young woman named Io, is striking.

Look carefully at the area of cloud near Io's face. That's Jupiter peering out as he makes love to the maiden. the god's "arm" - really a giant thundercloud paw - rests on her hip.

In Leda and the Swan, painted the same year, it appears there's something of a cygnerian orgy going on - three young women in various stages of seduction by swans! Understanding what's going on with the woman who's being dressed by an attendant suggests a different interpretation - the idea that Leda is, as one encyclopedia puts it, "shy but satisfied,"suggests that we're meant to read the scene as a sequence.

To the far right then, Zeus approaches Leda via the stream to tempt her with his swanly wiles - she resists but she's clearly charmed. In the center of the painting, the main attraction: Coreggio paints Leda openly yielding to Zeus's lust. And in the final scene, the one with the attendant dressed in red (red=passion) about to cover Leda's body, we perceive the flushed gratitude of the "satisfied" maiden, and the god-in-the-form-of-a-swan flies off.

Coreggio, Leda and the Swan, 1532

Heady stuff for deeply Christian 16th century Italy! But interesting to look at, no?


  1. Swannee, how I love ya, how I love ya . . .

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  3. Modern scholars read paintings like this, in which women are shown pleasurably yielding to various forms of sexual coercion, as instances of male rape fantasy visually encoded in the western canon. Surely, Coreggio merely re-imagines the myth as a playful tableau - but precisely thereby, say proponents of cultural criticism, the ideological damage is done.