Love & Death
By intruding into the mind and emotions and by studying the body, the artist impinges on the territory of priest, psychotherapist, or physician. But rather than the counseling of love or prescribing against illness, his business and pleasure is the picturing of emotional and intellectual impacts and associations. More fundamentally, one of the pleasures of the painter is to exploit basic affects, to master primal drives and perhaps also to divest himself of aggression in the manipulation of his materials, through imagery and forms which his culture regards as art.
Some of the greatest artists have, in fact, asserted their love as well as hostility for humanity or the universe through violence of technique or theme. In Christian art they could blend the powers of love and death in the crucified Christ who died through love for mortals and triumphed over death in the Resurrection. As if in denial of the ultimate destination of death and the destruction of the body, the secular outlook and pagan themes of the Renaissance permitted an exposition of physical love as an affirmation of life. The passionate reformistic zeal of the Counter Reformation directed this sensualization into voluptuously painted martyrdoms of saints.
By the early eighteenth century, the artist who wished to portray glorious suffering or intense passionateness had almost no market. Under the new conditions of patronage which called for smaller and more intimate paintings, intensity or anguish seemed to have no place; they are, after all, uncomfortable to live with at home. Today, as well, the most sophisticated art lover might find even such a great but ghastly masterpiece as Grénewald's Crucifixion too painful to contemplate as he engages in small talk with friends or tries to enjoy a meal.
Nevertheless, pleasure-seeking French patrons in the early eighteenth century did not require joy in their art to be unadulterated. A taste for