Renaissance art depicts stages of love

Staff Writer

 Edoardo Mungiello, above, presented a talk on “Love’s Conversion in Renaissance Paintings” during an event sponsored by the Freehold Borough Arts Council. The discussion featured images of works by Botticelli, Titian and Veronese. Edoardo Mungiello, above, presented a talk on “Love’s Conversion in Renaissance Paintings” during an event sponsored by the Freehold Borough Arts Council. The discussion featured images of works by Botticelli, Titian and Veronese. Walt Disney knew it. So did 15th- and 16th-century painters like Botticelli, Titian and Veronese. The art masters, as well as the king of animation, all knew the power of a transformational kiss and purified love.

These were some of the topics touched upon by Edoardo Mungiello at a Freehold Borough Arts Council (FBAC) program, “Love’s Conversion in Renaissance Paintings,” held at Elks Lodge No. 1454, East Main Street, Freehold, on Jan. 23.

Love, marriage, lust and desire were traced through an evocative visual presentation of art images during Mungiello’s talk.

Mungiello, of Freehold Borough, holds a doctorate in European Cultural History and a master’s degree in art history with a concentration on the Italian Renaissance. He spoke to attendees with passion, knowledge, insight into the minds of the artists and a touch of light-hearted humor in certain parts of his presentation, engaging the audience as he traced the birth and development of romance through the Late Middle Ages to the Renaissance in its art and poetry.

 PHOTOS BY MATT DENTON PHOTOS BY MATT DENTON Mungiello, a member of the FBAC, spoke about Renaissance artwork, demonstrating visually the era’s artistic contributions to romance and love.

Images of works by Botticelli, Titian and Veronese, as well as an image of a Walt Disney “princess” movie that depicts the prince and princess in “the perfect happy ending,” showed how the creation of art tells a story. In addition to portraying the evolution of love and romance, the art images also portrayed the “darker” side and, sometimes, the downfall of those who used sex for personal fulfillment.

To illustrate his point, Mungiello spoke about the historical romance between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, which he said led to the fall of Camelot.

“This is an example of how physical love comes at the expense of one’s duties,” he said.

Contrast that image with the concept that all women should be “princesses” on their wedding day and that their husbands should be “knights in shining armor,” a concept that also stems from the Middle Ages.

“Walt Disney knew it,” Mungiello said as he displayed Disney’s image of the innocent kiss the speaker called “transformational” between two people, clearly eliciting an undeniable feeling of love, thereby depicting the Middle Ages concept in living color on the screen.

But love and sex are two different things, and the painters made that quite clear through their work, according to Mungiello.

From paintings of lactating mothers, depicting abundance, committed love and marriage, to artwork of those participating in orgies, using sex for their own pleasure, Mungiello spoke about the messages the painters were trying to portray through their work.

“Love throughout the ages, as well as today, that is tethered to personal happiness — rather than ‘couple happiness’ — becomes perverse,” Mungiello said.

Some paintings depicted “courtly love,” which he said does not allow for the consummation of the relationship. He said courtly love is depicted in the act of chivalry and taking care of each other.

From Botticelli to Titian to Veronese and Bronzino, Mungiello interpreted the artwork as the paintings related to love, romance and marriage, as well as lust, desire and sex.

He spoke of the goddess Venus, describing her as “purified love,” as she is pictured in various paintings amid myrtle wreaths or garland, which he said was a symbol of love.

“She is the giver of hearts, the turner of hearts, turning them around from purely physical love to committed and spiritualized love; turning desire borne of flesh to love that emanates from the heart.

“She brings us fulfillment physically, but that is only a part of her role and they [the artists] understood this,” he said.

Mungiello said he concentrated on the Neoplatonic ideas of the conversion, stressing the need to see Venus for more than just one aspect.

He used images such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus, where the goddess appears naked on a clam shell, rising from the sea as a fully grown woman, and Botticelli’s “Primavera,” or “Spring,” to illustrate the committed love messages within the artists’ works, as opposed to the sensual, erotic image of Venus that represents the carnal pleasures as depicted in Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.”

He also discussed and displayed paintings of Venus as she appears in paintings with other gods, including Chronos, god of time, Mars, god of war, and Zephyrus, god of west wind.

Samantha Daesener, who serves the council as a trustee and board member, said she was thrilled with the event.

“Dr. Mungiello’s presentation was entertaining as well as engaging. We are fortunate to have him as a member of our organization. Regardless of your knowledge of the arts, his presentation was a home run. Events like this are a great addition to our community, and the FBAC looks forward to offering more of its kind,” she said.

FBAC President Jeff Friedman said Mungiello is “representative of the caliber of artistic talent and knowledge the arts council wishes to promote in order to make historic downtown Freehold the cultural center of western Monmouth County.”

Mungiello was a scholar in residence at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford, England, and is a published author with Cambridge Scholars. He has studied traditional painting independently in Florence, Rome and New York, and teaches it privately. He has taught at many institutions and is currently an adjunct professor at Essex County College, Newark, and at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft.