I just came from the studio, where Trudi Ludwig has been working on her wood-cut adaptation of the mannerist painting, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid by Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo). The original work, now hanging in the National Gallery in London, portrays a nude Venus being kissed by an equally nude Cupid, surrounded by personifications of play, pleasure, fraud, jealousy, and other figures, including Time as an old man with wings and an hourglass. It was painted around 1545, probably as a gift from Cosimo I de’Medici, ruler of Florence, to King Francis I of France.
Dead Bob, Venus, and Cupid
Like Trudi’s visual commentaries on other famous paintings, the image slowly emerging on the large, wooden panel reduces each of these human forms to its essence, the bones. As she is fond of pointing out, the elegant poses are not only improbable, they are anatomically impossible. Cupid is especially odd – we’ve been laughing about the difficulty of connecting his head to the shoulder that tucks under the armpit of Venus, and connecting that shoulder and back to the lower torso and legs. Venus, too, has her own improbabilities – just try, for a moment, to contort your own body into that pose. Yet, somehow, with the help of Dead Bob, the artist’s skeleton, and a mirror that allows her to compare a reproduction of the original with her backwards copy, Trudi makes me believe that a body could, in fact, twist like that.
heads of Venus and Cupid,
It will take many, many more hours to complete this image, drawing, erasing, redrawing each tiny bone in hands and feet, each lobe and opening of pelvis and skull, each juncture of bone to bone, until the angle is right. Then, there will be more hours of careful carving, removing just the right amount of wood so that simple black and white will read as an entire range of grays when it is finally printed. One might say that investing all this time in re-imagining a 500-year-old painting is folly, but there is a profound truth to be discovered in the gradual emergence of something from nothing, a reminder of what lies beneath all our flesh.