3 thoughts on “The Tour”

  1. With respect, the ‘Liebeszauber’ painting isn’t ‘creepy’ but a fascinating representation of female sexuality at its most powerful. Bringing together all the elements in a way that gives coherence and meaning to the work is not easy, but here are a few guesses.

    The lady (witch?) is obviously casting a spell by pouring a love philtre on the boxed heart. Is it a real heart, or a model, a witchcraft dummy representing the heart that she wishes to control? Probably the latter. What’s in the philtre? Is it, like that of the witches in Macbeth:

    “Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
    Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
    Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing.”

    Or is she squeezing the blood of some small creature held captive in her fist?

    Either way, it’s possible that the male interloper is not a voyeur, but the object of the spell, drawn inexorably to her powerful sexual presence. The small dog on the floor may represent what he will become once he is fully under her spell – a pet, a plaything to be commanded to do her pleasure. (In much the same way, Circe turned the companions of Ulysses into beasts).

    The exaggeratedly pointed shoes are also a sexual signifier. Apparently, in mediaeval times and in fact until quite recently, women did not wear panties so it was possible for a man to play ‘footsie’ under a table, and illicitly pleasure a lady with his foot, suitably armed with a kind of dildo. The fact that some women also took to wearing similar footwear to return the compliment is a tribute to the resilience of female sexuality in an era when it was largely repressed by the Church.

    The flowers strewn on the floor are not accidental. Each one would have had a specific meaning or reference, but these are now lost to us. (One thinks in this context of Ophelia’s garland, where each bloom stood for something).

    And what are we to make of the bird on the right dipping into her little box and lifting out a jewel? Is it a parrot, or a thieving magpie? I doesn’t seem to be the right color for either because the tempera medium has faded (which is why we can’t read what was once written on the decorative scrolls).

    Finally, who would have commissioned or bought such a painting in an era when the biggest patrons on the block were the grandees of the Church? Was she the fetish of some wealthy merchant who kept her to himself in a secret room and enjoyed his fantasy in private? We will probably never know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.