Nude Venus: nudity between modesty and horror

Daniela Queiroz Campos Maria Bernardete Ramos Flores About the authors

Resumo:

O texto faz análise da construção corpórea renascentista abordada, sobretudo, nas obras de dois historiadores da arte: Aby Warburg e Georges Didi-Huberman. Apresentam-se, como imagens mote, as pinturas de Sandro Botticelli. O estudo parte do impenetrável corpo branco de O Nascimento de Vênus e problematiza o horror da imagem, aparentemente, apenas marcada pelo pudor. Warburg e Didi-Huberman discutem o pathos dionisíaco na imagem a partir dos textos míticos de Homero e Poliziano. Por fim, disserta-se acerca da imagem de História de Nastagio degli Onesti com o intento de considerar o corpo aberto encoberto por todo corpo fechado no Renascimento italiano das artes.

Palavras-chave:
Corpo; Nudez; Vênus; Didi-Huberman; Warburg

Résumé:

Cet article fait une analysée de la construction du corps pendant la Renaissance italienne. Le texte aborde, notamment, les travaux de deux historiens de l’art: Aby Warburg et Georges Didi-Huberman. Comme les images primordiales, on a les peintures de Sandro Botticelli. Le début de la question est le corps blanc, opaque et impénétrable de La Naissance de Vénus. Le problème est l’horreur de l’image, apparentement, seulement signée par la pudeur. Warburg et Didi-Huberman discutent le pathos dionysiaque dans l'image à partir des textes d'Homère et de Poliziano. Enfin, on fait un rapport sur l’image d'Histoire Nastagio degli Onesti avec l'intention d’examiner le corps ouvert caché par tout le corps fermé de la Renaissance italienne des arts.

Mots-clés:
Corps; Nudité; Vénus; Didi-Huberman; Warburg

Abstract:

The text analyses the Renaissance corporal construction approached, over all, in the works of two art historians: Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman. Sandro Botticelli's paintings are presented as images motto. The study departs from the impenetrable white body of the Birth of Venus and problematizes the horror of the image, apparently only marked by modesty. Warburg and Didi-Huberman discuss the Dionysian pathos in the image from the mythical texts of Homer and Poliziano. Lastly, it is discussed the image of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti with the purpose of considering the open body concealed by the enclosed body in the Italian Renaissance of the arts.

Keywords:
Body; Nudity; Venus; Didi-Huberman; Warburg

Undressing Venus

The nude Venus of Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, a tempera on canvas dated of 1474-1475, is one of the major work of the Galleria degli Uffizi, in Florence, Italy. Hung in the walls of the Uffizi, it narrates that Italian Renaissance of the Medici - just like Vasari’s Lives, made it with words - and intrigues the art historians for the references that it brings from the Antiquity, in a tension of diverse temporalities. Aby Warburg perceived that, in Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and in Primavera (1482), the thematic elements refer both to Homer’s old Greek texts and to the ones by the Italian Angelo Poliziano, his Florentine contemporary. The birth of the goddess Aphrodite - the goddess of love - narrated in Homeric tales is reconfigured in the Renaissance between recurrences and divergences. The tresses and accessories in movement from the goddess emerged from the sea are pointed by Warburg as a symptom of a trend that dominated the artistic circles from the 15th century in northern Italy.

The British art historian Kenneth Clark, when analyzing the work of the humanist of the Quattrocento, calls attention to the existence of two Venuses in the mythology of the Classic Antiquity - celestialis and naturalis. Botticelli was appointed by Clark as one of most celebrated poets of Venus, he painted Venus in her celestial side, a morally harmless nude in its “ideal artistic form” (Clark, 1956CLARK, Kenneth. O Nu: um estudo sobre o ideal em arte. Lisboa: Editora Ulisseia, 1956., p. 76). By Sandro Botticelli’s hands, in the celebrated Renaissance, Venus would have lost great part of the power of its eroticism that Venus naturalis kept in the Antiquity. In this new life, traced and painted with tempera by the Renaissance artist, Venus appears in a beautiful, nude and impenetrable body. Her beauty is hard, cold, smooth and mineral. The nude is transcended, sublimated, perfect, ideal. Plato (2012PLATÃO. Banquete. São Paulo: Edipro, 2012.) had already written in his Banquet that, if there were one Aphrodite only, then one love only would exist. However, Didi-Huberman feels uneasy about this beauty painted in canvas as if it were sculptured in white marble. For the French art historian, if in the Antiquity Aphrodite was double, love was double too. When criticizing Kenneth Clark’s analysis, Didi-Huberman will show us that Botticelli’s Venus also holds the two Venuses: Celestialis, the celestial one, and Naturalis, the vulgar one (Didi-Huberman, 1999).

In this text, we will approach Sandro Botticelli’s Venus painting especially by means of the analyses of two art historians. Aby Warburg made of the Birth of Venus, together with Primavera, the subject of his doctoral dissertation in the last decade of the 19th century. Georges Didi-Huberman, through Warburg’s works, also wrote on Botticelli’s Venus, especially in Ouvrir Vénus from 1999 and Ninfa Fluida from 2015.

Aby Warburg was a German art and culture historian who produced his works between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. However, Aby Warburg’s works reached a considerable notoriety only from the second half of the 20th century and mainly at the beginning of the 21st century (Checa, 2010CHECA, Fernando. La biblioteca de Aby Warburg ‘orientación’ para la mente y ‘arena’ para la Historia del Arte. In: SETTIS, Salvatore. Warburg Continuatus. Descripción de una biblioteca. Barcelona: Ediciones de la Central, 2010. P. 7-23.). According to Giovanni Careri (2003CARERI, Giovanni. Aby Warburg. Rituel, Pathosformel, et forme intermédiaire. L’Homme. Revue française d’anthropologie, n. 165, p. 41-76, janv./mars 2003. ), Warburg’s texts started to be read and be edited in Italy in the 1960s. In England, in the end of the 20th century, the author would start to be revisited in the institute founded by him: the Warburg Institute. In the 1980s, the art historian Ernst Gombrich launches Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography (1986). However, it is in the 21st century, in France, that the reference to Warburg’s name intensifies and his contribution for the history of art is expressively consolidated. The philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman is distinguished, over all in France, for his readings and analyses of the Warburguean work, in which he mainly highlights an art history imbricated to the dynamics of the image, the time and the memory.

Exegete of Aby Warburg, the maître of conférences of the École Des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) of Paris, Georges Didi-Huberman has more than 50 works published on history and theory of the image. The most well-known and recent are L’œil de l´histoire (2009-2016, formed by 6 volumes), L’ Album de l’art à l’ époque du “Musée imaginaire” (2013); Phalènes. Essais sur l’apparition, 2 (2013). In Ninfa Fluida (Didi-Huberman, 2015bDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Ninfa Fluida. Essai sur le drapé-désir. Paris: Gallimard , 2015b.), when looking into Botticelli’s Primavera he completes a cycle started in Ouvrir Vénus (1999), whose motto was the Birth of Venus. The two paintings are the subject of Aby Warburg’s doctoral dissertation, from 1892, of whom the French art historian considers being a disciple. In an interview6 1 The interview with Georges Didi-Huberman and Arno Gisinger on the occasion of the exhibition in the Palais de Tokyo can be watched in the site of the Contemporary Art Museum of Paris: <http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/en/exhibition/nouvelles-histoires-de-fantomes-new-ghosts-stories>. Accessed on: June 10, 2017. in an exhibition organized in the Palais de Tokyo7 2 The exhibition Nouvelles Histoires de Fantômes had the curatorship of Georges Didi-Huberman and Arno Gisinger and took place in the Palais de Tokyo - Paris - between February 14 and September 7, 2014. , in Paris, Didi-Huberman claims to have started his readings of Aby Warburg’s works in the 1980s, while in Italy. Warburg’s works, texts, readings are key, essential for Didi-Huberman, who claims having them always with him to prepare lessons, to organize exhibitions, to analyze images and to write books.

In Brazil, it is observed an expressive expansion in the university and publishing setting concerning the works of these two art historians: Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman. In 2013, a collection of works of Aby Warburg entitled A renovação da Antiguidade pagã [The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity] was published by Editora Contexto. One of the texts is his doctoral dissertation, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera (1892). Two years later, a major Brazilian publishing house, Companhia das Letras, launched História de fantasmas para gente grande (2015). The latter was the compilation of some texts and, once again, Warburg’s dissertation was present. Concerning Georges Didi-Huberman in Brazil, the first translation of one of his works dates from the end of the 1990s - O que vemos, o que nos olha [What we see looks back at us] (1998DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. O que vemos e o que nos olha. Tradução de Paulo Neves. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1998. ), but there is a significant increase of translations in recent years8 3 T. N.: The title in Portuguese is followed by the title of the English translation, when available, or the original in French. : Ser crânio [Being a skull] (2009DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Ser Crânio. Lugar, contato, pensamento, escultura. Tradução de Vera Casa Nova e Augustin de Tugny. Belo Horizonte: C/Arte Editora, 2009.), Sobrevivência dos vaga-lumes [Survivance des lucioles] (2011DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Sobrevivência dos Vaga-lumes. Tradução de Vera Casa Nova. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2011.), A pintura encarnada [The incarnated painting] (2012DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. A Pintura Encarnada. Tradução de Leila de Aguiar Costa. São Paulo: Editora Escuta, 2012.), A imagem sobrevivente [The surviving image] (2013aDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. A Imagem Sobrevivente. História da arte e tempo dos fantasmas segundo Aby Warburg. Tradução de Vera Ribeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Contraponto, 2013a.), Diante da imagem [Confronting images] (2014DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Diante da Imagem. Tradução de Paulo Neves. São Paulo: Editora 34 , 2014.), Diante do tempo [Devant le temps] (2015aDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Diante do Tempo. História da arte e anacronismo das imagens. Tradução de Márcia Arbex e Vera Casa Nova. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG , 2015a.), A semelhança informe [La ressemblance par contact] (2015cDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. A Semelhança Informe ou i Gaio Saber Visual Segundo Georges Bataille. Tradução de Carlo Meira. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto, 2015c.), Invention of l’hysterie (2015dDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Invenção da Histeria. Charcot e a iconografia fotográfica da Salpêtriére. Tradução de Vera Ribeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto , 2015d. ), Que emoção! Que emoção? [Quelle émotion! Quelle émotion?] (2016DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Que Emoção! Que Emoção! São Paulo: Editora 34 , 2016.) and Levantes [Uprisings] (2017DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Levantes. São Paulo: SESC Edições, 2017. ).

A Modern Science of Images

For Georges Didi-Huberman, “[…] the historical discourse is never ‘born’. It always ‘restarts’” (Didi-Huberman, 2013aDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. A Imagem Sobrevivente. História da arte e tempo dos fantasmas segundo Aby Warburg. Tradução de Vera Ribeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Contraponto, 2013a., p. 13). The French art historian emphasizes that Aby Warburg would have - in the passage from the 19th to the 20th century - initiated, or tried, a new beginning for art history. He would have written the initial pages of a modern science of the images - a shaken and reassembled art history. This new phase revives in the work of figure interpretation itself, in the very power of the Renaissance Botticelli’s Venus. In the doctoral dissertation entitled Birth of Venus and Primavera, Warburg (2015) discussed the enigmatic movement expressed on the canvas. Tresses and fabrics have their movement fixed in the image. The waves in the hair, the draping in the clothes, a wind that never ceased to blow in front of stunning Venus and Nymphs. The heroine of a distant time moves and looks at us. She moves constantly between air and rock, fluid as the wind, pale and hard as the fossil. An apparition that mixes times and crosses incarnations, as in a dream.

Aby Warburg searched for relations between the forms traced and painted by Botticelli and the literary and pictorial representations, both from the Renaissance and the pagan Antiquity. This way, he established connections between art, cultural practices, preferences and mentalities from the Quattrocento men and women. Between the Antiquity and the Florentine Quattrocento, Warburg was in front of time and memory. It emerged there, latent, one of the most exquisite notions developed by Warburg: the Nachleben9 4 The German term Nachleben used by Aby Warburg would mean a posthumous life, a postmortem life. Didi-Huberman chooses to translate it as survival. It is noteworthy that the terms Nachleben and Pathosformel were not nominated like this by Warburg in his doctoral dissertation; they were coined in later works, however at that moment they were already latent. , the survival, or the recurrent re-emergence of certain forms and expressions, the Pathosformel of the Antiquity. In this conception, time - the temporality of the events - is approached in a distinct way of what other art historians had done until then. When analyzing Botticelli’s works, Warburg considered both the time of making of this image and the past times of the references and the elements to which this work alluded, as well as the times of the present appreciation. This way, he unattached the image from its time, he unattached the image from a unique time and crossed it through an assemblage of multiple times, not stuck anymore to its moment of elaboration itself. The time of the image is not the same time of the linear and chronological history. It is a multiple, impure, time not much for the dynamic of the memory. However, in front of this secular perspective, the art history proposed by Vasari - in the 16th century - and by Winckelmann - in the 18th century - had its pillars modified.

The aspects of the Antiquity used by Sandro Botticelli in the composition of his famous pictures - the Birth of Venus and Primavera - made Warburg uneasy for the junction of thematic elements that were part both in Homer’s old Greek texts and in the Renaissance contemporary texts, especially those from Angelo Poliziano. In Botticelli’s canvases there is, according to Warburg’s analysis, traits that are similar to those found in the narrative of the birth of the goddess Aphrodite, in the Antiquity. However, if the goddess emerged from the sea was a recurrence in the Renaissance works, the hair and the clothing in constant agitation in Botticelli’s canvases mean, for Warburg, the symptom of a time also marked by the movement fixed in the image. Amongst the references to the Antiquity, Warburg tries to detect elements of these other temporalities, either removed from texts or the sculptures in marble: elected and selected by Botticelli to outline and to draw figures that would be so distinguished in the European Renaissance.

Celestial Venus

Didi-Huberman seems to be troubled with the petrified desexualization of Botticelli’s image of Venus. The nude was cross-dressed in marble, what led to the softening of its eroticism. According to Kenneth Clark’s analysis, “Botticelli’s Venus is as beautiful as it is nude. But it is as hermetic, as impenetrable as beautiful. Her nudity is hard: chiseled, sculptural, mineral” (Didi-Huberman, 1999, p. 11). The fine tempera that gave shape and color to the curvilinear body of the love goddess accented the opaque, cold and smooth aspect of the Carrara marble, first material that gave form to the body of Venus in the Antiquity. Although offering herself completely nude to the gaze of the viewer, Botticelli’s Venus is presented impenetrable. The solid and cold image seems to block any gaze of sexual nature on the beautiful nude female body. Didi-Huberman also reminds us that Botticelli’s Venus (Picture 1) was painted with the gesture of Venus Pudicas, nomination given to the series of Venus in the museums that reproduced the gestures of a celebrated Greek-Roman sculpture (I A.D.) that received the name of Venus de’ Medici (Picture 2).

Picture 1
Sandro Botticelli, detail of the Birth of Venus (circa 1484-1485), tempera on canvas. Florence: Galleria degli Uffizi

Picture 2
Unknown author. Venus of Medici (Century I A.D.), copy of the Greek original. Florence: Galleria degli Uffizi

Botticelli, as a humanist painter of the Florentine Renaissance, had as a model the Venus of Medici and the platonic resonances, especially from the passage of The Banquet, that approach the peculiar aspects of each one of the Venuses: Celestialis and Naturalis. However, Didi-Huberman raises the assumption that Kenneth Clark’s project, with its neo-Kantian premises, searched for the separation between form and desire. In front of an artistic nude, the judgment should be kept, and the desire should be forgotten, the symbol should be kept and the image should be forgotten, the drawing should be kept and the flesh should be forgotten. However, if these separations were possible, says Didi-Huberman, then Botticelli’s Venus would not be anything else than a celestial and closed nude. However, to the curious and uneasy eyes of the author of Ouvrir Vénus, in front of this image, we are not exempt neither of desire, nor modesty or horror.

The efforts to desexualize and to excuse the nude as an artistic form did not prevent the desire raised by these images. David Freedberg (2010FREEDBERG, David. El Poder de las Imágenes. Estudios sobre la historia y la teoría de la respuesta. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 2010.) approached a series of stories of young people who were aroused and fell in love with images of female figures. In the Antiquity, a young man would have stolen the statue of Venus of Knidus and copulated with it. During the Middle Age Christianity, images of Venus were resented for instigating adulterous thoughts and actions. Renaissance painters, like Botticelli, often did not spare any effort to remove from the image elements that instigated the desire. However, in front of the image, it is difficult to forget the flesh, as Didi-Huberman warns us.

The pictorial strip-tease of Botticelli - a term used by the author of Ouvrir Vénus - can be considered a figurative reference to a whole discursive series beginning with Greek and Latin texts, through a humanist assimilation and reading. Among them, one of the major writings that served as a basis for Botticelli were the poems of the Italian Poliziano, already considered by Aby Warburg in his doctoral dissertation. Venus of Medici - the Venus that was nominated Venus Pudica, for containing those desexualizing aspects, widely reproduced from the Greek-Roman copy of the 1st century - is mentioned by Didi-Huberman for signaling similarities and connections between it and Botticelli’s painting, approximations that had already been mentioned by Warburg. In Botticelli’s brush strokes, the Venus Pudica is incarnated in an accomplished representation painted on canvas. Botticelli seems to have found a clothing for the nude body of his goddess of love. She is cross-dressed by the material itself that previously gave shape to her. An opaque sepia reproducing a marble image, when shaping her body, it dresses it, it closes it. The white of the marble became a type of ideological clothing weaved through alternating weaves. Literature and marble were mixed and built an impenetrable clothing for Venus. Eroticism was removed from the Birth of Venus, just like its prudish akin. The female body of the Venus of the Birth does not show the red color that characterizes the flesh and blood body. The body of the Birth, painted by Botticelli, was presented in white, it is the white of the milk and the Carrara marble (Didi-Huberman, 2013bDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Blanc Soucis. Paris: Minuit, 2013b., p. 32).

However, it is a female body totally nude painted in an almost natural size. An aphrodisiac image of powerful tactile and longing appeal. A nude body that is presented frontally. Venus is completely uncovered but for the right hand, that delicately covers the pubic region. What we perceive, then, in Ouvrir Vénus, is that the clothing on Venus nudity does not hinder Georges Didi-Huberman to continue looking at the image. Perhaps one of his great lessons is exactly the insistence and the uneasiness of the gaze. The attentive, repetitive and insistent gaze in front of the image. “[…] We can never say: there is nothing to see, there is nothing else to see. To know how to suspect of what we see, we must know more, see through everything” (Didi-Huberman, 2013cDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Cascas. Revista Serrote, São Paulo, Instituto Moreira Salles, v. 13, 2013c., p. 127). And it was this knowing more, this seeing more despite everything, that once again was carefully tried by the art historian along the analysis of Botticelli’s great work. To enter this impenetrable image, to cover the nudity coated with a symbolic language, Didi-Huberman refers to Freud and to the permanent duel between Eros and Thanatos. The duel between the instincts of life and death is present in the prudish image of Venus, to the point that we are moved by its beauty, to the point that we feel attracted and caressed by it. As nudity is not linked to desire only, according to Georges Bataille (1997BATAILLE, Georges. Las Lágrimas de Eros. Madrid: Trusquets, 1997.; 2004BATAILLE, Georges. O Erótico. São Paulo: Arx, 2004.), Georges Didi-Huberman adds cruelty to the nudity of Venus.

Art History as an Anachronistic Exercise

If Pathosformel10 5 On the concept of Pathosformel see more in: Aby Warburg (2014) and Georges Didi-Huberman (2013a). is the most distinguished concept in Aby Warburg’s work, the most emphasized concept in Georges Didi-Huberman, and causing furor in the academic environment, is anachronism, which would be a fertile way to approach the image. “We are always in front of time when in front of the image” (Didi-Huberman, 2015a, p. 31). Didi-Huberman considers the different temporalities contained in the images. For him, the image, no matter how contemporary it is, is crossed by memories, and perhaps obsessions for the past. When looking at traces and colors, it can be perceived meanings way beyond those contained in the setting lived by work’s author. When we are in front of an image, we are in front of time. The life of the image is longer than human life, says Didi-Huberman. It has more memory, more past, more present, more future, it has more times. More times that are accommodated and are assembled so that they shuffle the euchronism of the life of the historian or the artist.

Didi-Huberman proposes an epistemological turn. “To know, we need to imagine” (Didi-Huberman, 2004DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Imagen Pensé a Todo. Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2004., p. 17). It is up to the historian to see the image. In front of the image, it is up to us to detect its symptoms, to shape its mounting, to perceive its anachronisms. If the image if made visible, it is up to the historian to see what is invisible in it, as it has more than what it shows. The image extrapolates its visible. It has life and establishes relations with those who see it. If the subject looks at the image, it also has the power to look at him. This power of affecting the observer makes of it an object compounded of complexity and vivaciousness. The images can impose a visuality. They can be open to the eyes of spectator as a gap. It opens and closes, marking its distancing. “Revealing is always to unease the seeing, in its act, in its subject. To see is always an operation of the subject, therefore a breached, unease, agitated, open operation” (Didi-Huberman, 2004, p. 56). Seeing, for Didi-Huberman, brings memories and survivals with it. The act of seeing an image is crossed by relations between the subject and the image, the observer and the observed.

The image belongs to the time. It belongs, however, not to a singular, organized and clean time. It belongs to the multiple, disorganized and impure time. The time of the impure. The anachronistic. The time of the dialectic. The time of the survival. Of the survivals operating like ghosts, signals of those who have already gone and of those who still are. “The image is a secular operator of the survival” (Didi-Huberman 2015a, p. 119). The image conjugates an infinity of secular plans that, juxtaposed, form the anachronisms. Canvases, illustrations, engravings are crossed by presentations of distinct pasts. Considering that the past, as it was, is inaccessible, it could not, by itself, the object of History. When looking at traces and colors, meanings can be perceived way beyond those contained in the setting lived by the author of the work. Therefore, just like us, the individuals who created the works that we study had different secular experimentations, memories and contact with different pasts. Diverse temporalities and multiple representations. The artists manipulate times that were not theirs only. And the image is one of many objects where this plurality reverberates. According to the author, every image can be seen and be analyzed in a dis-time.

Thus, Georges Didi-Huberman criticizes the incessant search for the unit of the studied phenomena that has characterized art history. This does not have, or should not have, to establish its analyses solely in the described period. It must approach the dynamics, the movement itself in all directions. The contradictions, the secular tensions must be considered in this increasing and modern11 6 The modern term art historiography is used here to refer to the art history initiated by Aby Warburg in the end of the 19th century, as Georges Didi-Huberman considers. historiography of the art. The Nietzschean conflict and polarity, the conflict of Apollo and Dionysius, the Dionysian tragic background of the Apollonian beauty were urged to approach the nudity outlined and painted by Botticelli. As a reader of Nietzsche, Warburg shows us that the vitality of the Renaissance art was imbricated with impurity and conflict.

Animation in the Image

Botticelli’s work is crossed by strange and admirable tensions “[…] between court and empathy, distancing and contact, ‘exterior cause’ and ‘interior cause’, psychic element and objective element, Apollonian beauty and Dionysian violence, touch of Eros and touch of Thanatos […]” (Didi-Huberman, 1999DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Ouvrir Venus. Nudité, rêve, cruauté. Paris: Gallimard, 1999., p. 30). Such elements show conflict and tension in the tempera on canvas. The body, the face and the gaze of Venus remain impassive; the passion is presented in the scene from the elements that are out of the body. The wind movement was expressed in the margin. The psychic, pathic, empathic element can be perceived out of the body of Venus. This empathy, this passion, was not expressed through the curvilinear forms of Venus. In the nude, the coldness and the white marble replaced the desire, the body was configured as a place of the impassive. In the margins, in the elements that involve the body of the prudish Venus, passion and empathy emerge. A wind shakes the canvas. Its effects are perceived in the hair tresses and the draping of the fabrics.

The movement caused by the wind signals the premises of what, for Warburg, would be a dialectic reasoning (Picture 3). Georges Didi-Huberman considers that this dialectical reasoning is essential for the elaboration of one of the basic concepts of the German historian: the Pathosformel, a form of pathos. The closeness between dynamics and dialectic, exterior and interior reality, ornament and movement, form and intensity in the Renaissance Florentine art supplied the room for Warburg to have continued his thought on this concept, Pathosformel, a term first used in a text entitled Dürer and Italian Antiquity (Warburg, 2015). However, the notions for that had already been intuited in his dissertation, where he signals the wide and intense movement as a formal tool of memory of the Antiquity (Didi-Huberman, 2015a, p. 25).

Picture 3
Sandro Botticelli, detail of the Birth of Venus (circa 1484-1485), tempera on canvas. Florence: Galleria degli Uffizi

In a Warburguean perspective, the movement is transformed from a detail of the image into the main subject of analysis. It is an operation of secular pleating. This drapery, for Warburg, is not a visible cause. However, the literary sources - poetical and philosophical - already mentioned this movement. In Ninfa Fluida, once again, Georges Didi-Huberman (2015b) approaches the general impression of immobility of Botticelli’s paintings. However, such immobility, typically evoked by the medieval tapestry, seems to receive precise and isolated blows - blows from Zephyr, god of the wind. The accessories in movement work, this way, as conversion operator: between the intangible air and the visible body, between the visible movement and the movement of the soul. In the Italian Renaissance, this draping produced by the wind supplies the figurative and pathetic plastic resolution that is priceless to the artists. With such distinctions, Warburg ultimately refutes doctrinal positions of great precursors of the art history: Winckelman - who had banished the textile patheticism -, Lessing - who had ignored the poetry of the draping and its presentation by visual arts - and, lastly, Kant - who also had rejected all the elements of draping.

“Aby Warburg is probably the first western art historian who made of the wind the central object of a whole interrogation on the Renaissance art” (Didi-Huberman, 2015b, p. 63). The imaginary breeze followed the gracious draping of the Nymphs, the pictorial accessory in movement. The wind was pointed, in the last chapter of Warburg’s dissertation, as the exterior power of the image. The imaginary breeze, that put into motion the wavy and blond tresses of Botticelli’s nude Venus, was the same that draped the dress of the exiled Tartarian slave of Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Birth of St. John the Baptiste (1486-1490). In the Renaissance wind that makes tremble and move what it touches, Warburg discovers that this element that is exterior to the figures - both pictorial and sculptural - in the Renaissance, was an indication of influence of the Antiquity. The Nachleben, the survival, crossed all the animation of the image, in a conflict between the Apollonian éthos and the Dionysian pathos, as approached by Nietzsche (2007NIETZSCHE, Friedrich. O Nascimento da Tragédia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2007.) in the Birth of tragedy. It would be a conflict, an instability already identified in the classic culture. “The Quattrocento, concludes Warburg, knew how to appreciate this double wealth of the pagan Antiquity” (Didi-Huberman, 2015b, p. 41).

The beautiful and draped Nymphs of the Antiquity reached the Italian Renaissance through the sculptured marble - in the arcs of triumph, in the statues and, over all, the adorned sarcophaguses. In this Apollonian and Dionysian conflict, Didi-Huberman uses the Nymph again. This time, the one from Bertoldo Giovanni, a beautiful and draped Mary Magdalen who pulls out her hair at the feet of the crucified Jesus Christ, of Crucifixion (1490). Mary Magdalen is presented in delusion as a maenad, a female figure present in several works both from Didi-Huberman and Aby Warburg. The movement of fabrics and tresses of Bertoldo Giovanni’s Mary Magdalen was presented in an uneven delusion. The female figure who, at Jesus Christ’s feet, displays an extreme suffering and an expressive pleasure by means of the same draped forms.

To analyze Botticelli’s canvases, not only the Birth of Venus, but also Primavera, both Didi-Huberman and Warburg appeal to the figure of the Nymph. Through the Nymph, both approached the vitality in movement used by the artists of the Quattrocento. It would not be only an iconographic formula, but an intensity formula, with the power of making the movement of life visible in an image. “It conjugates a certain animation of bodies with a certain power of the souls (interior cause), a certain animation of surfaces with a certain power of air (external cause), according to the expression chosen by Warburg in 1893” (Didi-Huberman 2015b, p. 43-44). In Ouvrir Vénus, Didi-Huberman emphasizes the dream as one of the great conclusions that Warburg reached in his doctoral dissertation. The so-called psychic atmosphere in Botticelli’s pictures evoke a dreaming and passive beauty, perceived through a much more empathic and phenomenological gaze than a positive and iconological one. A paradigm of the dream as interpretive and complete axle was raised in 1893 in Warburg’s dissertation, seven years before Freud’s writings.

According to Aby Warburg, it seemed that some figures of Botticelli had just awakened to the conscience of an exterior world. Those figures had just left from a dream, an obsessive dream of their minds. In this claim, Didi-Huberman says that Warburg does not approach the dream due to its interpretive content but brings it to the surface for its power of claiming for interpretation. Warburg’s writings do not analyze Botticelli’s works as images of any oneiric, they do not present us paintings of the dreams. The narrative, the bodies, the spaces in the canvas find as counter reasons the psychic task. The subjectivation of a phantasmic world is found and unfound in a presentation and a task of objectivation of a visible world. Thus, for Georges Didi-Huberman, the Pathosformel would be related to a theory of the symptoms, not to a mere theory of the expression. The images are dialectic, they are tensions in themselves. Tensions that do not necessarily obey to expressions; they are more complex, they obey, thus, to symptoms - something of the order of the unverifiable.

These tensions imply the heart of the image itself as seen by these two great art historians. The dialectics is proper of the image and, especially, of Botticelli’s canvases. Georges Didi-Huberman is an accomplished disciple of Aby Warburg when exercising, continuously and intensely, his gaze on the imagetic tensions.

Accessories in Movement

It was with this dissertation that Aby Warburg received the title of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Strasbourg in 1893 (Lescourrel, 2014LESCOURREL, Marie Anne. Aby Warburg et la Tentation du Regard. Paris: Hazan, 2014.). His first and only university work (Didi-Huberman, 2015b, p. 8) marked the erudition of the one who took “[…] art history to the dimensions of a cultural science of the image in movement” (Sierek, 2009SIEREK, Karl. Images Oiseaux: Aby Warburg et la théorie des médias. Traduction pour Pierre Rusch. Paris: Klincksieck, 2009., p. 22). As Warburg himself defended at the time, it was a dissertation of the detailed elaboration of the accessories in movement. In a whole series of sources - Botticelli’s canvases, Homer’s poem, Francesco Colonna’s archaeological romance - the Antiquity had been visited from what it was known of it at that time. Which are the questions of the Antiquity that interested to the artists of the Quattrocento? - this was the issue raised by Warburg.

The Antiquity was seen by the Renaissance artists as a model that required accenting in the movement, what made resonance with the Florentine world, at the time, in its creative expansion. And according to Warburg (2015WARBURG, Aby. História de Fantasmas para Gente Grande: escritos, esboços e conferências. Tradução Lenin Bicudo Bárbara. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras , 2015., p. 27), it is in the accessories, “[…] - like the clothing and the hair - [that] the movement is apparent”. This is the reason why the accessories are so marking in Renaissance works, what took Warburg to bequeath to the art history one of his more important contributions: attention to the detail. What was a mere detail, perhaps, for Botticelli, is highlighted as the major subject in Warburg’s Venus. The visible pathos in the image would be in the draping and the hair of the scene, as pointed by Didi-Huberman, in the dead things and in the insensitive things (Didi-Huberman, 2015b, p. 27).

The first analysis used by Warburg to problematize the Birth of Venus was written for the Italian catalogue of the Uffizi by the father of art history - Vasari -, at least of that biographical art history initiated in the Italian Renaissance. The goddess emerges from a shell among the sea. To her left, winds blow on the waves and direct the deity to the seashore. To her right, a beautiful young woman in flowery clothing welcomes the goddess (Vasari, 2005VASARI, Giorgio. Les Vies des Meilleurs Peintre, Sculpteurs et Architecte. v. 1. Traduction et édition commentée sous la direction d’André Castel. Arles: Actes Sud, 2005., p. 258). Warburg, when continuing Vanari’s analysis, goes to the Homeric hymns that, according to him, were translated and published from Florentine manuscripts, in 1488. In the Homeric hymns appears the birth of the goddess of love. Next, Warburg underlines the similarities between Botticelli’s tempera and the verses of Giostra by Angelo Poliziano, both works supported on Homeric writings. Beyond the reference to Homer, between Poliziano and Botticelli, there was another character that would be taken in account by Warburg in his venture: Lorenzo de’ Medici, maecenas and friend of both.

Warburg perceives the existence of two details that differentiate poetry and canvas. First detail, in Poliziano’s poetry, Venus stands under the shell with the left hand covering her breasts; in Botticelli’s canvas, it is the right hand that covers the breasts. Second, in the poetry the figure is welcomed by the three Horas with their lose and waving hair and dressed in monochromatic, light and draped white dresses; in the canvas, the one who welcomes Venus is a female figure only who was wearing a colorful dress, concealed with flowers. “Despite these differences, the thorough coloring that Poliziano had conferred to the accessories in movement is resumed by Botticelli with such a great conformity that it allows to take for granted the nexus between the two works of art” (Warburg, 2015, p. 32). And both “are paraphrases of the Homeric hymn” (Warburg, 2015, p. 33). The ostensive effort made both by the poets and the painters from northern Italy, since the beginning of the 15th century, was to capture the transitory movements of the hair and the clothing. It was a type of view to present the clothing and tresses in movement of these female figures.

The figure that welcomes Venus in Botticelli’s canvas received particular attention from Warburg in an appendix of his doctoral dissertation - External motivations of the pictures (Picture 4). The three Horas described by Homer and Poliziano were replaced by the beautiful and also draped goddess of the spring: Flora. Warburg weaves relations between Flora and the Nymph Simonetta, the same Simonetta Vespucci who was sung in the lines of the second book of the poem Giostra by Poliziano. Besides a beautiful apparition in Poliziano’s lines, Simonetta was the wife of Marco Vespucci and lover of Giuliano de’ Medici (Lorenzo de’ Medici’s brother). The beautiful young woman passed away at 23 years old in 1476, attacked by tuberculosis.

Picture 4
Sandro Botticelli, detail of the Birth of Venus (circa 1484-1485), tempera on canvas. Florence: Galleria degli Uffizi

The beautiful Nymph Simonetta had already been painted by Botticelli. Vasari reports having seen his portrait of the young woman. “In Duke Cosimo’s dressing room there are two quite beautiful female portraits similar to Botticelli’s: one will be the lover of Giuliano de’ Medici, Lorenzo’s brother, and the other of Lucrecia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo’s wife” (Vasari, 2005, p. 258). Warburg mentions some appearances of the Nymph as Simonetta in Renaissance canvases. The two most famous ones are those in his dissertation: Simonetta was presented as goddess of spring in the Birth of Venus and in Primavera. Warburg also wrote on two other canvases: two Picture of a young woman, one presently in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie (1480) and another one in the Städel Museum of Frankfurt (1485).

Among canvases, poems, wind and accessories in movement, Aby Warburg’s dissertation has as a major legacy almost a methodology of the detail - secondary details of the image; an attentive gaze that made of the wind the major object of his thorough analysis. Moreover, for Georges Didi-Huberman, Warburg elaborated in the dissertation his three basic essential notions: survival (Nachleben), pathos formula (Pathosformel) and empathy (Einfühlung). Notions that, along the analyses developed by Warburg, form an indissociable cycle (Didi-Huberman, 2015b).

The Impure in the Idealized and Pure Forms of Venus

For Didi-Huberman, the nudity of Botticelli’s Venus cannot be seen neither for its simplicity nor for its systematic evidences. When analyzing the Birth of Venus, Aby Warburg walked through innumerable humanist sources, but, in contrast with other art historians, he did not conceive these literary sources as a simplifier and resolutive instrument in the perception of the image. The sources are keys that open a space of times, memories and resonances. Warburg weaves a text that approaches and prioritizes the imagetic complexity. The literary sources - both from the Renaissance and the Antiquity - are like doors that open to new associations of ideas. Didi-Huberman conceives these associations as labyrinthine.

Didi-Huberman remembers that the playwright and poet Poliziano narrates in his text the horror due to the birth of the most beautiful goddess of the Greek Pantheon, when the Aegean Sea was hit by a storm. At the moment when the planets had circled and triggered a divine catastrophe, the celebrated birth happened. In the poem, it is also told that Venus was conceived from genital pieces of Uranus, removed by his own son, Saturn, and threw to the sea. Thus, the humanist poet described the birth, accomplished by the castration of the sky. In Uranus castration, two fluids were launched in the Aegean Sea: blood and sperm. Both, mixed to the salty water of the sea, led to the emergence, supported by a shell, of the goddess of love. In another poem - entitled Aphrodite Anadyomene - Poliziano describes the birth of Venus between horror and modesty: the horror of Uranus castration and the modesty of the birth of Venus.

Poliziano’s poem configures, therefore, the birth of Venus that, in her nudity, also presents the subject of the sensuality and the aphrodisiac delicacy. Also, there is blood in the poem, that disappears in the hard, cold, smooth and mineral beauty of Venus, in the transcended, sublimated, perfect and ideal nude in the iconography of Botticelli. However, the horror, the death and the castration were forming elements of the same beautiful and delicate Venus in her celestial appearance. In the canvas painted by Botticelli, the pure elements became visible; the sperm, the blood and the horror were not clearly expressed. Aby Warburg approaches exactly this displacement of the pathetic; he will call them secondary elements of the canvas. The pathetic would have been expressed in the movement of the golden hair of Venus and in the draping of the fabrics that involved the three other figures of the canvas: Aura, Hora and Zephyr. Botticelli seems to have transformed the modesty into visible and transformed the horror into an assumed invisible. This assumed invisible, the displacement of the secondary elements, appears as the pathos of the scene.

Thus, Georges Didi-Huberman questions and criticizes the pureness of Venus emphasized by Kenneth Clark, when wanting to consider the Birth of Venus as the most radiant picture in the European art, as Ronald Lightbown wanted. The French art historian looks to the same elements that a century before had enchanted Warburg: the implicit cruelty of the scene. To see this, it is necessary to look for the flesh denied to the canvas. The open flesh - the nude body consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, veins, flesh and skin - appeals to the impure character of the whole corporal presentation of the Renaissance. The mimetic presentation of the anatomical body took the scene in the Italian Quattrocento. Such presentation was only possible by means of the impurity, of the hands that, before tracing the pure forms of prudish Venus, got dirty with the blood and the impure open flesh of the bodies.

Didi-Huberman refers to the text On painting, by Alberti (2014ALBERTI, Léon Batista. Da pintura. Campinas: Editora Unicamp, 2014.), that, before Leonardo da Vinci, spoke of the opening of bodies, even though still shyly. Alberti writes that to paint a nude it would be necessary to exercise the activity of dressing the bones with muscles, the muscles with flesh and finally to cover everything with naked skin. He claims that the anatomical body, the open body, is for the naked just like what the nude is for the dressed body. The obsession for the anatomical figure would be the dialectic of the whole Renaissance nudity: the modesty concealed the horror; the harmony and the beauty concealed the fracture and the cruelty.

Venus is formed of three impurities. First, Venus is not a pure entity, she is double - the Celestial Venus was born from the castration of the sky, was born in a mythical foam of sperm and blood. Second, the beauty called Venus cannot exist without contradiction - the beauty is, as a principle, composed, there is not beauty at all in mere nature. Third, Venus could not have been born if Uranus testicles had not been thrown into the sea - Venus is born from the pain of Uranus castration (Didi-Huberman, 2015b). She is this horror, this dialectic between beauty and pain. In front of the modesty of the closed body of Botticelli’s Venus, let us not forget the horror…

The impenetrable and cold clothing of marble of Venus’ nude body involves a body of flesh, muscle and bone. However, the canvas apparently presents us a body involved to the prudish marble, as it reproduced a beautiful white sculpture of the Antiquity. The wind that blows in the hair and draped fabrics agitates and puts into motion the canvas; it presents us its pathos, caused by the movement of the wind. There is no beauty that is not associated with some degree of pain. Venus is double, she mixtures pureness and impurity, modesty and horror. Venus, who has in her heart the vitality itself of the Renaissance art, as Warburg taught to Aby, is imbricated with the impurity and the conflict. To see this, it is necessary to know seeing more.

Opening Venus

In Ouvrir Vénus, Georges Didi-Huberman (1999) reminds us, once again, that Aby Warburg was a reader of Nietzsche and that, when analyzing Botticelli’s Venus, did not forget that in front of the Apollonian beauty he was also in front of Dionysian pathos. Similarly, we remember that George Didi-Huberman, besides being an accomplished reader of Warburg and Nietzsche, was also a reader of Bataille. Thus, his eroticism is imbricated to pain and horror. Thus, still in front of the cold, white, pretty and impenetrable Venus, Georges Didi-Huberman opens it, breaks it. Just like Botticelli breached it in the four panels of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (1483). The eternally born Venus of the Uffizi was placed, in thought, beside the eternally deceased Venus of the Prado. In the four great panels signed by Botticelli, three of them currently kept in the Prado Museum, Venus dies eternally - as in an endless nightmare. The unique grace and cruelty figured in the images are highlighted by Didi-Huberman in Ouvrir Vénus.

In the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, the beautiful and nude young woman is not born, she dies. In the panels of the Prado Museum we visualize the young woman eternally pursued by a knight and two dogs. Her nudity, with her long waving hair, makes her closer to another character of Botticelli, or would they all be the same one? In the first panel, the young woman runs nude in a forest to the seashore and is bitten by a dog. The second panel presents a multiple temporality: the character continues to run away from the knight in the plan posterior to the scene, however in the first plan her back had already been opened by the knight, who inserts his hands inside a great wound (Picture 5); in the right lower corner, two dogs eat her viscera - probably her heart. The third picture presents us another scene, a banquet, in which the young woman continues to be pursued; her body is presented in a consecutive movement of fall. Other than the persecution, the scene displays absolute calmness (Didi-Huberman 1999, p. 65). Georges Didi-Huberman informs that Vasari had signaled the charm and the grace of Botticelli’s four panels. However, he also reminds us that Vasari was a Renaissance man. According to Vasari’s analysis, “In the Pucci house, he [Botticelli] painted characters from Boccaccio’s novella, Nastagio degli Onesti, in four charming pictures full of grace […]” (Vasari, 2005, p. 258). Despite the grace and the charm, we find in the pictures images close to a nightmare, in which the scene never ceases repeating. The symptomatic image is continuous.

Picture 5
Sandro Botticelli, detail of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (panel I - detail of the hellish hunting), 1482-1483 tempera on wood. Madrid: Prado Museum

This nude, in the ideal genre of the Florentine art, was painted by Botticelli dead and open. George Didi-Huberman faces the social history of art, that usually analyzes the images by means of its functionality. Commissioned to Botticelli, the panels had the function of being a wedding gift offered to Gianozzo Pucci and his new wife, Lucrezia Bini. The first wife had died. It would be difficult to imagine how a social historian of art would analyze these four panels that were painted to decorate the four walls of a nuptial room, “[…] a place where a wedding night happens, or where one sleeps, where one makes love, where one dreams and, probably, where one dies?” (Didi-Huberman, 1999, p. 69).

The images formed in the four walls of that room a type of great canvas where a graphic novel told a Renaissance moral liturgy. The history of the four panels reassembles the scenes described by Giovanni Boccaccio in Decameron - 14th century. In the fifth day of the eighth novel the short story of the young Nastagio who, not having been loved back by a young and beautiful woman, left the town with suicidal thoughts towards a forest. In the forest by the seashore, it is seen a scene of persecution to a naked woman by a knight who kills her and offers her viscera to two dogs. When coming close to the scene, the knight explains that he and the young woman are already dead, that it is a hellish persecution. Both are in the purgatory, the knight for having committed suicide due to unreturned love and the young woman for having been hard and perverse with the one who desired her. Thus, every Friday, at the same time and place, the persecution was repeated, and the young woman was eternally killed. Nastagio organizes then a great banquet in the place, in the day and hour of the perpetual persecution, and invites, among many, the young woman who ignored him.

This moral liturgy - almost cinematographic - brings the image of a dream, of a nightmare, repeating itself symptomatically. The naked, cold and impenetrable woman, is finally penetrated by the sword of the man who desired her. The fissure of her body allows him to reach her heart, that he offers successively to the dogs. Georges Didi-Huberman approaches these screens from the eroticism of Georges Bataille, for whom eroticism and death are indissociable. The nudity in Botticelli is not pure, and neither is Venus. In front of the flesh, we cannot forget the desire. Perhaps some, like Kenneth Clark, have tried to do this. However, Sandro Botticelli, Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman assign, in the beautiful goddess of love of the Italian Renaissance of the Medici, the impurity of the humanism.

Nude Venus: Sandro Botticelli, Aby Warburg, Georges Didi-Huberman

In this paper, we have intertwined three characters: Sandro Botticelli, Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman. Botticelli with his beautiful Venus. Venus who is reborn always virgin, celestial, white, pure, prudish. The goddess whose left hand covers the pubic region and the right is displayed folded in front of the body, just above the breasts. A corporal presentation signaled by Kenneth Clark as a plastic solution that reached compact and steady character. In the eternally rising Venus of Botticelli there is no plan or profile to which the look wanders without a definite direction. “The arms encircle the body as a wrapping and by means of their movement they help to enhance the basic rhythm. The head, the left arm and the leg on which the body is supported form a line as firm as a flagpole that supports the column of a temple” (Clark, 1956, p. 86). Aby Warburg, when looking into the Birth of Venus, disassembles for us Clark’s thesis when formulating a method of assembling that allows the gaze to slide from Venus and seeing in the external details the movement denied by the British art historian. In the details, moved by the pictorially invisible wind, is the Pathosformel of the work. Georges Didi-Huberman, exegete of Warburg, also disassembles Clark’s thesis, that claims that Botticelli did not leave anything for the look to wander without clear direction. There is much more to see, in the dialectics between visible and invisible, between time and dis-time. The efforts of Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman signal the detail. It is the details that allow our eyes to enter in the image not through the central and frontal body of Venus, but through the waving forms that mark the anachronism.

It would be difficult not to finish this text with the great character that hovers on the works of these three men: the Nymph. The painter Sandro Botticelli was, besides a poet of Venus, a true poet of the Nymphs. The Nymph is a creature of the kingdom of Venus. In the mythology, both are presented in beautiful female bodies. If the Nymph is a visibly amoral creature, Venus also is, however in a covert way. We remember the mythological blackmail that she made to Paris in the Homeric writings. Venus and Nymphs are amoral, complex, impure and, ultimately, penetrated. But, if Botticelli paints a cold Venus almost disembodied according to the Celestial models, he does not make the same with his Nymphs. The drapery of the dress of the goddess of spring signal the carnal Nymph. Flora gained the beautiful face of Simonetta Vespucci, a Nymph that Botticelli painted in two of his most renown works. A female image that Botticelli also outlined in two other pictures. Marco Vespucci’s wife, Giuliano de’ Medici’s muse and lover and Botticelli’s Nymph. The young woman who died at 23 years old seems to have bewitched the Renaissance Florence, at least bewitched the gaze of a Medici and his major painter’s. In this way, Nymph Sominetta survived through the image.

The art historian Aby Warburg made of the Nymph his great theoretical character. In his Mnemosyne Atlas, Warburg (2010WARBURG, Aby. Atlas Mnemosyne. Madrid: Ediciones Akal, 2010.) intended to tell a history of the art without words, and also made it through the forms of the Nymphs that do not cease to pass from one panel to the other. The Nymph had already been present in his doctoral dissertation of 1893. However, it was truly re-found by Warburg in front of the fresco Birth of St. John the Baptiste (1490) by Domenino Ghrilandaio. In front of the image in the Santa Maria Novella church, Warburg claims having had a particular feeling: - “Where have I already seen you” (Warburg, 2014, p. 2). It was a maid with a draped lose and white dress. For him, she was not a maid, she was a classic Nymph that presented herself as an interruption of time, against the time, in the image.

Georges Didi-Huberman also made of the Nymph his theoretical character. He dedicated two books exclusively to them, but they equally hover thorough countless of the many works of the art historian, over all those in which he refers to Aby Warburg. Is his Nymph Aby Warburg’s Nymph? It would be the same as claiming that Aby Warburg’s Nymph is the Ghirlandaio’s Nymph or that Botticelli’s Nymph would be Simonetta. No… The Nymph is the Nymph, not simply because it is indeed complex. Incarnation, theoretical character, the foreigner who only appears to disappear, she is the amoral creature. The Nymph is a creature of the kingdom of Venus. In a diverse cultural crossroad, for Agamben the Nymph is the object of the loving passion par excellence (Agamben, 2007AGAMBEN, Giogio. Ninfe. Torino: Bollari Borighieri, 2007., p. 40). In the Paracelsus treaty, just like for Aby Warburg, the Nymph would be an elementary spirit, an elementary creature linked to the water. Although apparently identical to the man, her creation does not result from Adam. She has flesh and blood, but she moves like spirits. And it was exactly the incredible power of the movement of the Nymphs that paralyzed the eyes of Botticelli, Warburg and Didi-Huberman.

Just like the Nymph, Venus is not pure, just like no beauty is. The accessories in movement, by the blow that Zephyr’s mouth, provide plasticity to the pathetic that was removed from the body of an apparently pure Venus. The wind livens up hair and fabrics to remember that Venus is born from the castration of her father, Uranus. She emerges from the water, but from a water that has little of limpid. She emerges from the salty water of the Aegean Sea between blood and sperm. Venus figures the complexity and pagan conflictuality that the Renaissance knew how to appreciate so well. The beautiful and closed bodies of the Venuses Pudicas also were bodies of open flesh. Of flesh, muscles, tendons and viscera of the bodies that were dissected by the Renaissance artists. The mimetic presentation of the anatomical body appeals to the impure character of the whole corporal presentation of the Renaissance. In the panels of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, Botticelli offers to us the hermetically closed Venus’s open body. Fissured, breached and penetrated by the desire. The sword breaches the cold clothing of marble and shows to us that, in the interior of that beautiful pure and corporal construction, there is also blood, flesh and viscera. The Venus that eternally is born and the Venus that eternally dies.

Botticelli’s temperas on canvas are like images of dreams, he is the interpretive axle of Aby Warburg. Botticelli does not paint any oneiric images, but he makes of the image power that claims for interpretation, as of a dream. The image of the rising Venus seems to have left from a dream, while the images of the hellish hunting from a nightmare. Both in one and the other, both in the dream and in the nightmare, the desire is the paint that forms the image, the wire that builds the weave. The dream elucidates the paradox of the imagetic complexity, it is like the symptom. In the dreams, the images always see again, like the image of the knight who pursues the eternally nude young woman. However, the image never is repeated exactly the same way, neither in the dream nor in Botticelli’s painting.

The dreams have the erratic and circular character of the imagetic symptom. They repetitively tell us stories of the unconscious that have past and desire as foundations. They always see again, but never in an identical form… they never cease. Perhaps because the desire does not cease. Freud concludes magnificently his Interpretation of dreams claiming “[…] that the dreams are accomplishments of desires” (Freud, 1967FREUD, Sigmund. L’Interprétation des Rêves. Paris: Presses universitaire de France, 1967., p. 287).

In the current pages, we approached two images that significantly evoke dream and nightmare. Our first body was the hermetically closed of a marble Venus painted with tempera by Botticelli, a body of Venus that, in her celebrated birth, seems to be conceived like the wakening of a dream. The second body was of a young and nude woman repetitively open, the figure that, in the four panels of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, seems not to cease to happen again - like in a nightmare desired of being dreamed each night. Through the analyses proposed by Warburg and Didi-Huberman, we problematized the closed body and the open body - so dear to and characteristic of the Italian Renaissance. The intent was to search for the horror hidden by the modesty of the beautiful nudity. Two nude bodies, one closed and the other open, one marked by modesty and the other by horror. The question that guided this text was to think whether these bodies are really two. Like a Warburguean exercise, we consider modesty and horror, the closed body and the open body like two sides of one same coin. We evoke the nudity not for its pure white marble form, but for its impure materiality of bone, flesh and blood.

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  • DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Ser Crânio. Lugar, contato, pensamento, escultura. Tradução de Vera Casa Nova e Augustin de Tugny. Belo Horizonte: C/Arte Editora, 2009.
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  • 1
    The interview with Georges Didi-Huberman and Arno Gisinger on the occasion of the exhibition in the Palais de Tokyo can be watched in the site of the Contemporary Art Museum of Paris: <http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/en/exhibition/nouvelles-histoires-de-fantomes-new-ghosts-stories>. Accessed on: June 10, 2017.

  • 2
    The exhibition Nouvelles Histoires de Fantômes had the curatorship of Georges Didi-Huberman and Arno Gisinger and took place in the Palais de Tokyo - Paris - between February 14 and September 7, 2014.

  • 3
    T. N.: The title in Portuguese is followed by the title of the English translation, when available, or the original in French.

  • 4
    The German term Nachleben used by Aby Warburg would mean a posthumous life, a postmortem life. Didi-Huberman chooses to translate it as survival. It is noteworthy that the terms Nachleben and Pathosformel were not nominated like this by Warburg in his doctoral dissertation; they were coined in later works, however at that moment they were already latent.

  • 5
    On the concept of Pathosformel see more in: Aby Warburg (2014WARBURG, Aby. A Renovação da Antiguidade Pagã. Contribuições científico-culturais para a história do Renascimento europeu. Tradução de Markus Heideger. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Contraponto , 2014. ) and Georges Didi-Huberman (2013aDIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. A Imagem Sobrevivente. História da arte e tempo dos fantasmas segundo Aby Warburg. Tradução de Vera Ribeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Contraponto, 2013a.).

  • 6
    The modern term art historiography is used here to refer to the art history initiated by Aby Warburg in the end of the 19th century, as Georges Didi-Huberman considers.

  • This unpublished text, translated by Ananyr Porto Fajardo, is also published in Portuguese in this issue.

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    June 2018

History

  • Received
    15 June 2017
  • Accepted
    03 Jan 2018
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