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Fra Filippo Lippi's Portrait of a Woman and a Man at a Casement (ca. 1440-44)

   
       
 

 Love in Renaissance Italy

   
 

Give-and-Take! 

   

 

  

 

There is the pleasure of giving, and the quite different pleasure of receiving, a gift.  The savoir-faire that goes into selecting the proper gift is a subtle art.  And there's the pleasure of watching the delight of the person unwrapping what one has chosen…love tokens, birthday presents, Christmas gifts, Valentine's Day's surprises….  Gifts have also played an important role throughout history in the world of diplomacy, as an expression of culture or perhaps an opening salvo in the chess game of international relations.  And then there is the gift of love - one could argue that true love is perhaps the only time exchange or trade is quite equal in the spectrum of human relations between two people. 

The tradition of giving gifts on wedding anniversaries has been ritualized in contemporary society, with different materials expressing different years: paper, aluminum, silver, gold.  The link between gift-giving, love, and marriage is explored in the Metropolitan Museum's exhibition Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.  The show presents over one hundred and fifty objects which date from the early fifteenth to the mid-sixteenth century.  Many of these objects were given as wedding gifts, usually by members of the Italian haute bourgeoisie and aristocracy.  Refined maiolica and jewelry, lovely glassware, birth trays, drawings, and even large oil paintings are among the objects on display.  A fascinating aside: until the edicts of the Council of Trent systematized the institution of marriage in 1563, church or governmental approval was unnecessary and only the mutual consent of the lovers was required to wed.

Cupid, that most capricious of matchmakers, is playfully depicted in a 20 by 67-inch tempera titled Venus Reclining on Pillows (1440-1445), painted on the inner lid of a cassone or wedding chest by the Florentine artist Paolo di Stefano Badaloni (Paolo Schiavo).  A tiny Cupid with dark red wings pulls on a cloth cord held in the hand of a Rubenesque beauty reclining naked on cushions. (Cassoni were traditionally offered by the bride's family during a wedding for her to store her wedding gifts and prized possessions.)  Marriage is depicted as an expression of true love in some of the objects, while in other works such as Fra Filippo Lippi's Portrait of a Woman and a Man at a Casement (ca. 1440-44), the opposite is implied.  Here the lovers' eyes look past each other and their faces lack emotion, signifying that perhaps their union has been arranged.  The woman's cuff is inscribed with the Italian word for loyalty, lealtà.  A covert romantic statement perhaps, an insinuation that without love marriage can be a tomb;  this is after all Fra Filippo Lippi - the painter monk who perhaps knew something about passion - the same monk who is immortalized in Robert Browning's Fra Lippo Lippi: "Take away love, and our earth is a tomb!"  

 

See: Art and Love in Renaissance Italy 

 

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