Juergen Boettcher´s experimental film “Venus nach Giorgione” made me realize how blind we are concerning images! Because they assault us from all sides, we´ve came to grow indifferent and sometimes even misread them, probably as a survival strategy. Throughout 22 minutes and 20 seconds Boettcher subjects a postcard with Giorgione´s “Venus Asleep” to multiple backgrounds, colors, filters and so we are forced to rediscover it surpassing cultural prejudice as it keeps changing before your own very eyes.
It is true that while looking at images our subjectivity and cultural background comes into play, inducing us in a certain direction. As such, the speech produced around Giorgioni´s Venus, our awareness of other famous classical depictions of this Goddess, impede us of seeing it for what it really is.
Revolutionary for the time (c.1510), we are before a totally naked woman laying down in an outdoor environment. And as many authors have stressed, she is indeed a starting point for modern art. Its composition had great influence, from Tizian´s depictions of Venus to Manet´s “Olympia“. And as Plenert rightly understood, Giorgione´s “Venus Asleep” did change the state of things; she is the first large-size representation of a Venus in complete nakedness, consciously breaking tradition. One must only compare it to Botticelli´s “Birth of Venus” (1485) to realize just that. Against what many say, her hand is not covering her lap, nor hiding her sex, and so I have my doubts whereas to see her within the Venus Pudica tradition. One should stress thought, that this painting has been subjected to changes. Not only was it finished by Tizian but, it has also seen severe restauration work throughout time. Despite this fact, it seems that Venus´ body itself and the positioning of the hand suffered little change.
I believe Giorgione, though making use of iconographic codes accepted at the time (composition, landscape background, etc) is giving us an insight to female sexuality disguising it along the way as a Venus-type-of-painting. Reading it within cultural tradition shouldn´t keep us from looking at it in new ways. This is a painting about the pleasure of looking. The same way the “Naked Maja” (c.1800- 1803) will depict a naked woman for the male gaze, except the Maja is proudly laying her arms behind her head, her eyes challenging us directly. Both paintings are about – among other things – the male gaze over female sexuality but, we will leave politics of gender aside for the time being.
With this I am only stressing the fact that our cultural filter has prevent us from seeing it in different ways. By filming it, Juergen Boettcher is not only talking about the very essence of film – gaze – but also, about giving a new perspective to the original painting.
Giorgione´s merit is exactly making us look at a painting that keeps facing us back in challenging new ways. Whereas, Boettcher´s film shows an icon under transformation thus also favoring unexpected meanings to appear before our own very eyes. In a sense, he is deconstructing an image that we all take for granted, thus admitting that a true work of art will always keep challenging us right in the eye.