A new sight in this song

Poetry has been used as inspiration for painting for centuries, whether the subject be nature, love, beauty, or a combination, artists tend to like drawing from poetic stories for their subjects. But Michael Field does the opposite, “they” reverse the process by writing a poem about a piece of art work. Interestingly enough too, many of the paintings already have been taken from poems or myths so therefore the process seems to be story, painting, and back to story. I am interested in seeing how the two stories (before and after) differ or are similar to each other.

I took a look at Spring which is written about La Primavera (1482) by Botticelli. Botticelli created this piece as a favola, a concept Botticelli created which refers to a new invention using fictions established in ancient poetry. In La Primavera Botticelli combines multiple sources about the springtime deities and the Roman Rustic Calendar. But what makes the painting interesting is the fact that it is a vernacular, contemporary painting with ancient subjects. The dress and style of the figures responded to Florentine popular culture and therefore would’ve been engaging for the viewer.

Looking at Michael Field’ poem in Sight and Song provide a feminine reading of the image that is actually very sad. The painting was suppose to be seen as a celebrate of spring and the new year, however, Field creates a depressing narrative from the perspective of Venus. Field give emotion to the painting by creating a story that describes the loneliness of Venus as the central figure. The other figures are here for a fleeting moment but will soon move on with their lives and have experiences before dying. Venus is isolated and cannot do anything but watch the Graces as they dance. Field gives emotion to the painting, more specifically to Venus, something that allows her to become more than just an object to look at by humanizing her.

The painting depicts a celebratory narrative while the poem conveys a sad portrayal of loneliness. Field creates the new narrative as a way to give a voice to the female character who is constantly objectified in art. Considering, I believe, all of the paintings are by male artist, Field gives the female figures emotions, thoughts, and freedom in a space that was not available beforehand.

2 thoughts on “A new sight in this song”

  1. I love this, and this ties so well to our conversation about the construction of female identity from class. I think “The Sleeping Venus” can also tie into this idea. From observing the painting, it is clear that the figure of Venus is intended to be a beautiful and tantalizing object for a male audience. However, the poem almost grants her power. Venus gets connected back to the earth in a way that actually fulfills her identity as a goddess. Many depictions in both poetry and visual art fail to give her the power and aspects beyond comprehension, reducing her to a pretty thing. The Michael Fields, however, give her power and rewrite her narrative from a female perspective of the self. As you pointed out, these women give the subjects of the paintings dimension, worth, and meaning beyond beauty.

  2. Reading through this, I can’t help but think about some of the ongoing debates in literary feminist circles over gendered language. Can masculine images and narratives be reclaimed through language? With so many narratives plagued with phallocentricity, can language itself be reclaimed? It seems as through the Fields may provide an example where feminine attention and feminine language reclaims traditional myths and images, such as with Venus here. Overall, your analysis provides some unique insights into the formation of narratives and tradition through a gendered lens.

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