JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 563
At about the same time as the development of a tonal system in the art/print world--which appeared later of course than that in the painting world, given the means of production for the printed medium--came the introduction of the deeply and occasionally troubled vernacular. The examples below are works done in a cycle by the semi-problematic Israhel van Meckenem (ca. 1450-ca.1510), whose productive and highly-skilled period of productivity swirled around that of Mantegna*, Schongauer, Durer, de Barberi, and Raimondi. He is not well remembered in the histories of early printmaking, even though he had magnificent skills, though not as prodigious as those of his contemporaries. It is interesting to note that in addition to his artistic and technical prowess, van Meckenem also had a hard touch for business. For example, answering a particular and immodest call, he produced images exploiting fears of death and eternal death. Some prints were, upon purchase and display, supposed to ward off the Plague. Others presented images of Christ, purchased by hopefuls as indulgences to free them of the burden of thousands of years in Purgatory**.
This series captured my eye because of the eyes it captured. It is a lusty series of profane images, or at least they were one-way lusts and desires. In general, the women in this series seem pretty resistant, if not militant and disgusted, by the fumbling and obvious (or oblivious) suggestions of the men. The women are distant, arms crossed, leaning away, eyes averted. In the example above, a church-going couple are, well , going to church, but the man/husband seems to be thinking of a different sort of worship--for her part, the woman/wife keeps her hands very prayerfully clasped, knuckle-busting tight; the scrolls in the back seem to be ready for the thought-balloon legend "oh dear sweet god leave me alone!". The busty-jowled, pigdog man's emotion is clearly displayed in his fat-lidded eyes.. (As a humorous aside, if you look closely in the right bottom corner of the print you'll see a small doggie scratching itself, which I take to be the artist's statement on the whole scene. I've included a detail at the bottom of this post.)
Next is this slightly ambiguous scene of a puffy-plumed man staring hard at his "date", sitting at the edge of a bed. Her look is non-committal; his isn't. (Perhaps she is pregnant? ) The wonderful bit about this scene though is the knife in the door above the latch, sunk deep into the wood by the man to keep whatever was going to happen private.
The final image shows a dancing man--his purse loosened and on the floor to free him up, I guess--trying his best to impress his lady. The woman, obviously, wants no part of the foolishness. Her body language is slight but VERY clear. He tries to hold her hand; she only lets him touch her, her fingers straight and her thumb relaxed, not gripping anything at all. She just wants to get the hell out of there.
And so we have a modest introduction to foolish sexual dalliance, ca. 1500.
* Andreas Mantegna has been credited with beginning printmaking in Italy, as has the Master of the Playing Cards in Germany.
** Some of the prints were sold with indulgences for 45,000 years out of Purgatory. The problem with these things is that no one knew if 45,000 years meant anything at all in terms of time-in-eternity. My guess is that you'd need a whole lot of those things to make any difference at all.