Surprise Discovery Of Magdalenian Mega-Art On The Aix Mountain: Majestic Open Secret Of The Lost Civilization (cont.)
By William Glyn-Jones
Details of clouds in Mantegna's St. Sebastian(left) and Virtue Expelling the Vices (right)
Titian visited Mantua and viewed Mantegna's paintings in 1519 so we should not be too surprised to find a similar mystery which may lurk in part of his own work, though the difference here may be that as far as I know it has not previously been recognized.
The painting is Bellini's Feast of the Gods. Although the original painting was by Bellini from a few years before Titian was brought into the project, it was later brought more into line with the other paintings in Alfonso d'Este's Alabaster Chamber by the younger painter Titian, who painted the new background with the rocky mountain, which in fact continues the sloping horizon from The Andrians which hung to its left. Looking at this feature which Titian added to the painting, it occurs to me that there may in fact be a simulacrum of a face in profile, and it further seems to me possible that this is Titian's sneaky way of getting a self-portrait into the frame. Note the similarity to his self-portrait here shown to the right.
I believe I may have uncovered another example of this type of subtle inclusion, to be found in a work by a classical painter of the following century. As Peter Humfrey's text in The Age of Titian tells us, Nicholas Poussin "is known to have made a close study of the Ferrara Bacchanals." Humpfrey notes that "his own Bacchanal with the Guitar Player...is manifestly inspired as much by Bellini's The Feast of the Gods [just discussed above] as by Titian's three bacchanals [which hung next to it], and the figure of the river god on the left is directly borrowed from Bellini's Mercury." As Humphrey notes, there is even a close copy of the Feast painting which may have been painted by Poussin.
So if he had noticed the face while copying the Bellini, he may well have thought about putting something similar into one of his own paintings.
Kate and I are now in Paris. It's sweltering, and Kate has already paddled in the pools outside the Louvre Pyramid in an attempt to cool down, and now we've descended below the glass pyramid and have entered the museum's Sully wing. We have a train to catch that evening, so this can't be a long visit. Mainly, we want to take a look at Poussin's Et In Arcadia Ego painting, the one that Granet placed on the walls above Poussin's deathbed, as discussed earlier, because I think I've noticed something, another possible simulacrum..
This one is quite faint, but the strength of my assertion rests on the back-story. The first two Et In Arcadia paintings, the original by Guercino, and also Poussin's own first version, both feature skulls being contemplated by the shepherds. In the Poussin the skull is located on top of the tomb.
Detail showing skull on tomb in Poussin's Shepherds of Arcadia I
This skull was a truly central feature of these paintings. Contemplation of a skull was linked to the melancholic humour of Saturn, the god who had ruled heaven in the Golden Age when the goddess Justice (Astraea) had not yet left the Earth and escaped to the stars. The Arcadian shepherds are envisaged as living in this Golden Age. This humour, melancholia, when it "catches fire", was in turn linked in the De Occulta Philosophia of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (following on from the ideas of Ficino of the Florentine Academy) to the ability to prophesy of the coming of figures like Christ as in Eclogue IV (where there is a prophesy about the birth of a divine child). Agrippa published as early as 1531, a century before the Et In Arcadia paintings. But though the feature was central to the first two Et In Arcadia paintings, there is no skull in the third, Poussin's Shepherds of Arcadia II¸ which is strange. Until we take a closer look.
We wend our way towards the French paintings section. Poussin chose Rome as his home but there is no doubt that the French view him as their own. We get sidetracked by an awesome room of ancient statues - the famous hermaphrodite, a centaur, satyrs, a silenus, a maenad, various Venuses and statues of Hermes. Then we see the Venus de Milo in a corridor and are drawn to her like a magnet. Eventually we tear ourselves away and go upstairs to the rooms of French painting. Kate and I manage to lose each other for a while, during which time I happen upon the Titian-influenced Poussin painting mentioned above, the Bacchanal with the Guitar Player, as well as the one we've come to see, The Shepherds of Arcadia II. I'm able to get up really close to have a proper look. Hmmm...I think it's there. Yes, it's there, surely.
Look at this close-up below of the mountain peak behind the tomb. There in the formation of the rock is the simulacrum of a skull-like head, looking to the left, as with the original, and similarly above the tomb, with perspective subtracted. There is the dome-like top of the head, the shadow of the eye socket, the hollow of the cheek below it, a hint of a mouth with the chin below. I don't know if anyone has noticed this before, but I've not read of it.
Skull above Tomb in Second Shepherds After All?
Jerusalem had its Golgotha, the "Place of the Skull", and the return of the Golden Age was linked to the realisation of the New Jerusalem. Rome of course had its Capitoline hill (Capital means head), and the gods such as Pan who had been Et In Arcadia had according to Ovid in his Fasti been transferred to Rome by the mythical Arcadian settler of early Rome, Evander, since which time were held there "the rites of two-horned Faunus." Even London has its association between the "White Hill" and the head of the Brythonic landscape giant Bran, the "Wondrous Head" which had caused a fabulous enchantment and transcending of mundane time upon a group that had sat in contemplation of it.
I bump into Kate again and drag her to have a look. She looks closely, but is not so sure. My conviction is shaken; perhaps it's just a coincidence, I wonder. Either way, our chief interest here has been, by intriguing coincidence, the actual mountain that Granet believed was the one that I think Poussin gave this skull-like face - Sainte-Victoire, the mountain of Aix.
I get the photo, and we continue through the Louvre. The Mona Lisa gives us a second goal (I've never seen her in the flesh), but I'm overwhelmed by the wealth of treasures along the way. We flit past Botticelli's, Mantegna's and Rafael's, then I'm stunned by the sheer size of Veronese's Wedding at Cana taking up an entire wall. Mona, at the opposite end of the great room, is a mere fraction of the size, but she still manages to hold centre stage for her great crowd of adoring pilgrims.
"What interests me about that is the continuing power that art has over people," says Kate, indicating the vast crowd looking at this small painting.
Picasso was right. Nothing's changed. We still seek out our sacred icons.