Art and politics (1): Obama to Titian (and back)

15 Oct

When shortly addressing the (possible) relations between art and sociology or (political) communication in the previous post, I had already in mind to further develop the topic, i.e. focusing on art and politics only.

If I am to think of a work of art in terms of political content, this will then usually be Titian‘s Pesaro Altarpiece in the Venetian church of the Frari, despite how surprising it may sound. Next to my personal passion for the Renaissance master (at his best in the Pesaro’s), it is the way the altarpiece conveys its political message to us, 21st century viewers, that appeals to me as far as ‘art and politics’ are concerned. To give you some clues before moving ahead from art history to searching for information: the turbaned man on the extreme left is led as a prisoner to Mary’s throne by the armoured warrior (possibly a member of the Pesaro’s family, Titian’s patrons), who is bearing a banner that displays both the papal and the Pesaro’s arms together with olive leaves (to read more about the painting’s symbolism you can have a look at Rona Goffen’s «Piety and patronage in Renaissance Venice», also available at the UvA-Library).

Whereas it may appear subtle to us, Titian’s political message was as straightforward as possible for the 16th century public, just as – to name two well-known 20th century examples – Leni Riefenstahl‘s and Sergei Eisenstein‘s films are to us. Which, next to making a point about the possible coexistence of creative and technical prowess with abhorred ideologies (be it a 16th century enslaved enemy or Nazism and Communism’s crimes), finally brings me to the crucial question: is it art and politics, art and propaganda or – like in Artists for Obama 2012‘s case (again, see my previous post) – the political commitment of art(ists) the topic I wish to research?

The answer to this question will be the subject of the next post 🙂

P.S.: Titian’s altarpiece reproduction comes from the Web Gallery of Art, Riefenstahl’s and Eisenstein’s photo’s from St. James Press’ «International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers», online available through the UvA-Library (restrictions may therefore apply outside the UvA-network; the same might be true for the «Oxford Art Online»‘s page about Titian, hyperlinked to above in the text).


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