Knowledge and Imagination: Images of Venus in the Renaissance
Subproject 1: Reception and Knowledge. Conceptions of Venus in Mythographic and Antiquarian Writings and Images (PD Dr. Peter Seiler, Dr. Ursula Rombach, Anna Heinze)
Subproject 2: Adaptation and Imagination. Functionalization and Differentiation of Venus Imagery in the Visual Arts and Literature (PD Dr. Peter Seiler, Dr. Ursula Rombach, Anna Heinze)
The project aims to reconstruct transformative processes in the representation of the pagan love goddess Venus in literature and the visual arts. The imaginative appropriation of pagan stores of objects and knowledge engendered images of Venus, bearing positive as well as negative connotations and sometimes associated with different Veneres, that were central to the genesis of secular mythological pictorial genres and imaginary and mythopoetic visual worlds in the Renaissance, serving a reflection on focal themes of contemporary courtly life such as love and sexuality, female beauty and aesthetic ideals. The first subproject will map continuities and transformations in the core domains of mythographic and antiquarian stores of knowledge regarding the myth, iconography, and cult of the ancient love goddess, which formed elements in the constructive process of the ancient reference culture and at once served as backdrop and basis to the functionalization and differentiation of Venus imagery in the visual arts and literature, which will subsequently be examined in the second subproject. We will focus on three domains of reference that can be considered points of departure for the transformative construction of conceptions of Venus—the examination of these domains will require art-historical and literary-critical competences—: the material inheritance of antiquity as regards Venus; references to and ecphraseis of Venus imagery in ancient literature; and ancient and late ancient reference writings that transmit mythological and mythographic knowledge. The illustrated manuscripts, whose examination will be of central importance, will be studied with a view not only to the contribution of imagery to the process of the transmission of knowledge and the formation of an iconographic repertoire of concepts of Venus, but also to the particular relation between text and image, which constitutes the act of reading as a “visual experience.” We will examine whether and to which extent processes of transformation that engendered innovative visual solutions and new imaginative mythologems of Venus drew, in the interdependency between text and image, on extra-literary, object-referential stores of knowledge, thus creating, in conjunction with an (in most cases: allegorically founded) ethical self-positioning, a new ancient love goddess that in turn became the point of departure for further transformations.
The second subproject will conceive the newly emerging mythological visual arts of the 15th century as a continuation and extension of these processes of transformation, exemplarily studying them by tracing the functionalization and differentiation of Venus imagery. New functional contexts condition the generation of new pictorial forms distinguished by the increasing adaptation of ancient works of visual art; an intensified revival of stores of mythographic-literary knowledge; and, based on the latter, the development of new imaginative-creative solutions. The focus in this subproject will be primarily on mythopoetic phenomena of the imagination. Based on two core sets of materials defined by the two artistic centres of Venice and Florence, we will examine the manifestations of conceptions of Venus in the visual arts as products of transformation differentiated by the local cultures of reception. Of particular interest, besides individual figures, will be models of narrative representation in imagery and writings. In this context, we will document the differentiation of various modes of the adaptation and transformation of stores of the ancient tradition into methodologically controlled antiquarian and archaeological practices on the one hand, and primarily creative techniques in the visual arts, literature, and poetry on the other hand. This endeavour will require the comparative synthesis of scholarly approaches from the history of science, art history, and literary history.