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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Renaissance

Posted by on in Culture Blogs



The Pagan Botticelli

The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts' current show Botticelli and Renaissance Florence: Masterworks from the Uffizi offers a profound meditation on the nature of Embodiment. Though focused largely on devotional works from Botticelli's later, Christian period, there is much here that will be of interest to pagans.

The artistic output of Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) falls into two major periods, broadly characterizable as Pagan and Christian. During the first, under the influence of pagan antiquity, he created the Pagan masterworks for which he is primarily known today, such as the Birth of Venus and Primavera. The MIA's show features one major, if enigmatic, canvas from this period, commonly known as Pallas and the Centaur (see above).



The exhibit does an excellent job of pairing Renaissance works with the Classical works that inspired them, and in this case—to this pagan eye, at least—Botticelli is outshone by a 1st century Roman centaur which actually manages to make the pairing of equine body with human torso and head eminently believable.

Pallas and the Centaur is a work of poised contrasts: male/female, wild/tame, body/spirit, animal/plant, naked/clothed, hairy/smooth, sensuality/purity. Though the Centaur's genitals are not shown, they are hinted at by his fine crop of pubic hair, where his man's body merges into the horse's. The Roman work, by comparison, frankly displays an admirable pizzle and a generous pair of testicles.


 File:Clay Centaur figurine, Early Archaic Period, Early 7th c. BC  (27939238613).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

(Interestingly, Archaic Greek art tends to show centaurs with human genitals, but later centaurs, with the increasing naturalism that characterizes High Classical style, invariably sport those of horses instead.)

Botticelli, though, is anything but unsubtle. Pallas (=Athena, Minerva)—if indeed it is she—is clothed in the sheerest of robes (Botticelli is a master of fabrics), and the golden flower “pasties” that she wears simultaneously cover, and draw the eye.

From naked to clothed is not so very far.


Naked Babies

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A Pagan Revival in 13th Century France

What happens when you turn loose a bunch of over-educated, under-employed intellectuals on a prosperous society in the throes of social ferment?

Apparently, you get a Pagan Renaissance.

It happened in 20th century America. It also happened in 13th century France, during what—ironically enough—is known as the Age of Cathedrals.

The parallels between the two periods are striking. In both, new agricultural techniques produced a burgeoning population, a thriving mercantile class, and unprecedented prosperity. This, in medieval France and elsewhere, was what financed the building of the great cathedrals such as Notre Dame de Paris. Students from all over Europe flooded to the University of Paris.

There they learned Latin and read the Classics. There they learned about the old paganisms.

Alas, there were no suitable jobs for most of these sons of lesser houses. The system produced far more educated people than it could employ.

So a rising tide of clerici vagrantes, “wandering clerics,” washed across Europe: getting drunk (when they could afford it), getting laid (when they could manage it), and writing rhyming hymns in Latin to the old gods of the pagan world, especially (as one would expect) to Venus and Bacchus.

(Several collections of poetry and hymns from this medieval pagan renaissance have survived to inspire and delight us today, notably the famous Carmina Burana (that's CAR-min-ah, not car-MEE-nah), which in turn inspired German composer Carl Orff's pagan oratorio of the same name, one of the landmarks of 20th century pagan art.)

According to British historian Elliot Rose, these literary New Pagans—whatever the seriousness of their paganism—hooked up with the Old Pagan witch-wives of Europe to create a newly reinvigorated Witch Cult which, a hundred years later, would give rise to, and fall prey to, the horrors of the Great Persecution. Well, maybe.

Eight hundred years later, here we are again.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Birth of a Goddess

Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus (circa 1485) isn't just one of the most enduringly famous paintings in the world.

It's also a prophecy.

Even before the Old Paganisms were dead, the New Paganisms had already begun to arise.

The Old Pagans were Pagans-by-Tradition. In a sense, their paganism was unconscious; they didn't know that they were pagan. The New Pagans are Pagans-by-Choice. With full awareness of alternatives, they—we—nonetheless choose the Old Ways.

The emperor Julian (331-363) was raised Christian, but chose the Old Ways instead. In a sense, he was the first New Pagan. At the end of the Byzantine Era, the philosopher George (“Plêthon”) Gemistós (1355?-1452), also raised Christian, did the same. Several of his students were self-avowed pagans.

It was they who, after the fall of Constantinople, fled to Italy and, in so doing, sparked the self-conscious rePaganization of the West that we now call the Renaissance: the influx of Old Pagan learning, aesthetics, and values into the West, the process that was ultimately to break the power of the Church and to free the Western mind.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Thanks for mentioning Plethon! He was a hero and visionary, even if I didn't necessarily agree with all his ideas.

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