Active during the 16th CenturyThe Chastisement of Love (Mars Whipping Cupid, Pursued by a Fury)
France, private collection.
- Chiara Naldi, in Cinquecento sacro e profano. Una selezione di dipinti italiani del XVI secolo, Galleria Canesso, Lugano, 2013, pp. 30-34;
- Camillo Botturi, "Notizie del pittore Camillo Mainardi e della sua famiglia alla luce di nuovi documenti", Civiltà Mantovana, 141, Mantua, spring 2016, p. 60, fig. 2, p. 73, note 11.
Oil on wood panel, 16 15/16 x 13 3/8 in (43 x 34 cm).
Pen and ink drawing in Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, inv. 11814, 309 x 210 mm: Mars Whipping Cupid, Pursued by a Fury, signed “Camilo mantuan” at lower right.
This enigmatic image in oil on panel is closely related to a drawing in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, a good part of which forms the basis for the painting. The central figure, seen from behind and cited almost literally, is recognizable as Mars. He is shown whipping Cupid, the bound, kneeling figure at his feet, who is guilty of having made him fall in love with Venus. Feathers plucked from Cupid's multi-coloured wings lie strewn on the ground, together with his broken bow and arrows. Mars is tormented by a monstrous winged female figure with snakes in her hair, firmly grasping his helmet. With respect to the drawing, there is no background architecture, and instead we see a nude female figure, probably Venus, with her hands tied and in a submissive pose. We do not meet the gaze of any of these figures, unless it is that of the Fury, although she is blind, as is the mind of Mars while he carries out his savage deed. On the wall above her a plaque bears a partly-legible inscription, “COMUTATIS IN/ FERRI…MAG...FULMINAT...”, perhaps an allusion to how love can subjugate or enchain. At Mars’ feet, another inscription on a curled-up sheet relates how Love conquers all: “OMNIA VINCIT/ AMOR/ (E)T NOS CEDAMUS/ AMORI” (Virgil, Eclogues, 10:69).1
The drawing is inscribed with an old signature, “Camilo mantuan”, interpreted by scholars in different ways. While Sergio Marinelli2 has identified this artist as Camillo Mainardi, who worked for the Gonzaga family in Mantua between 1587 and 1593, Giovanni Agosti3 believes that the composition emphatically reflects the style of Giuseppe Porta, called Salviati, and that its author may more plausibly be identified as Camillo Capelli, who was active between 1514 and 1568 in Mantua, but also in Venice, where he died, having worked with Giuseppe Porta. As far as our current knowledge goes, we cannot be certain of who painted either the drawing or the painting; the stylistic and iconographic complexity of the latter deserves further investigation.
The panel clearly reflects Mannerist ideals, with intense, changeant colours and sinuous forms, and thus a dating to the later sixteenth century would be plausible. Its patron must have been cultivated and sophisticated (and bordering on the voyeuristic) to have requested such a peculiar subject, with this somewhat difficult iconography. Indeed, if the theme of Cupid chastised – whether by Mars, Venus herself or other virginal deities – is not new in the history of art4, especially in ecclesiastical commissions, or associated with the Christian values of chastity and modesty, the two female figures seen here beg the greatest questions. The bound woman with the downcast and shame-filled gaze is likely to be Venus, and, in a broader sense, an allegory of feminine Eros, subjugated and mortified by brutal masculinity. In his representation of the monstrous winged figure clinging to Mars’ back, masterfully painted with fluttering drapery and multi-coloured wings, the artist seems to combine Greek and Roman mythology, and the individual elements are almost a combination of different allegories – ranging from Envy to Persecution and Chastity – which were to find themselves listed at the end of the sixteenth century in Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia. Clearly, there is an evocation of Greek Gorgons, those personifications of destructive rage who had the wings of vultures or bees, fangs and snake-infested hair, the most famous of which is Medusa, whose gaze would turn one to stone. Another reference is to the Erinyes of Greek mythology, which then became the Furies of Roman myth: winged avengers who emit terrifying screams from their gaping mouths. The figure we see could be Megera (from the Greek Μεγαιρα, "the invidious one"), the Fury responsible for envy and jealousy, and who instigates crimes and conjugal infidelity, in which case this would be an allusion to blind fury that prompts men to disdain and punish female flesh. Yet the dynamic handling of this figure suggests she is actually restraining Mars rather than thrusting him into his desperate action, almost as if this furious deity were coming to the aid of offended feminine virtue, and therefore referring back to the initial Greek sense of the Erinyes as custodians of the rights of women. Without the backing of other sources and documents it is hard to go beyond this; in any case, aside from the iconographic debate, one is still struck by both the rarity of the subject and the notable pictorial quality of this little panel, whose solid wood support has retained its original thickness, and is enhanced by a precious period frame.
1- The drawing also bore two inscriptions: “NIA VINCIT / ORETI” at lower left, and an inscription over the doorway at upper right, seemingly beginning with the word “COMITATUS”.
2- Sergio Marinelli, ed., Manierismo a Mantova: la pittura da Giulio Romano all’età di Rubens, Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 1998, p. 88 and fig. 30.
3- Giovanni Agosti, ed., Disegni del Rinascimento in Valpadana, Florence, 2001, p. 416.
4- While the depiction of Love winning over martial spirits was more frequent in the art of the Renaissance, Cupid was often understood (in the art of later periods too) as Profane Love, and thus castigated by Sacred Love: see, for example, the painting by Giovanni Baglione in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, or the Punishment of Cupidby Sebastiano Ricci in the Palazzo Marucelli, Florence. Conversely, Bartolomeo Manfredi took up the theme of Mars castigating Love in the canvas in the Art Institute of Chicago.