Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of the most polarizing holiday of the year, here are my favorite love related paintings:
This first entry is by someone I talk about way too much: Caravaggio. But, as usual, he expresses things better than most. We’re all familiar with the phrase “love conquers all.” We often take it to mean that love overcomes hardship, but the great thing about this painting is that is shows a different, darker side of love. Behind the mischievous cherub (one of Caravaggio’s beloved dark haired boys) lie the wreckage of human achievement: instruments, sheet music, armor, etc. My favorite professor often referred to this painting as “Love the Destroyer,” and I prefer that title. Yes, love is powerful enough to last through turmoil, but it can also leave turmoil in its wake. The cupid figure is also a departure from the norm. He is darkly beautiful, but not idealized. His teeth are crooked and his wings look as if they were ripped from a dead bird of prey. He looks like love: attractive, yet flawed and dangerous.
My last pick is special to me not for its art historical context, but sheer sentimental value. I first saw it over the summer at the National Gallery’s “Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection.” In a room full of overwhelming Manets and other, stormier Picassos, this was not the most eye catching or flashy piece. Still, I found myself standing in front of it. “I know that look,” my boyfriend said. “He’s saying ‘how can I help?'” That would be something the boyfriend said and says to me all the time. And it’s a surprisingly tender piece coming from art’s most famous misogynist and painters of many a sexually disturbing work.