Suzi (k00kaburra) wrote,

Baldung's 'The Bewitched Groom'

  I had a group presentation today about Hans Baldung Grien's The Bewitched Groom.  Each person had to present on a different aspect of the print - history, artist biographies, and interpretations of the print, which you have to admit is a pretty strange image.  There's this well-dressed old man splayed across the floor with a rather prominently featured codpiece.  To the right, an old peasant woman pokes her head through the window - and don't you think she looks like she's laughing at him?  Not that she should talk, what with her tit hanging out of her dress like that.  She's holding a firebrand.  To the left, a female horse glares back - at the man or at the viewer?

I was responsible for explaining the symbolism of the print.  Short analysis: It's about sex.  (But then again, isn't everything?)  The man on the floor is thought to be a self-portrait, but it could also represent any man of a certain age and melancholic disposition.  He could be sleeping, and dreaming everything.  (There isn't anything to indicate he's dead.)  The witch, with her saggy breast exposed, wears the common clothing of a peasant, while her exposure indicates she's a procuress.  She holds a firebrand, indicating the burning passion woman inspires in man - but she has subdued the groom with her powers, indicating that he has let his desire overrule his sense, with extremely detrimental consequences.

In medieval and Renaissance art, the horse is often a symbol of passion, desire and sexuality.  For the groom, that passion has been denied - he's completely rejected by the horse, who angrily looks over her shoulder toward him.  He will not mount her or ride her or tame her.  He's just gonna lie there with his comb and his witch's broom for a while.

Why is this print though to be autobiographical?  In the upper right, there's a small shield with the family crest of Baldung (the unicorn rearing up on its hind legs), which pretty clearly associates the artist with the work.  Note that the corner of the shield is burning from the witch's torch.  The forked staff in the fallen man's right hand points toward the artist's initials, connecting the name with the figure. Finally, from a self-portrait Baldung created (which I can't find online, but found in a textbook about the artist) a few years before, a definitely physical resemblance between the artist and the bewitched groom can be drawn.

So yeah, imagine me talking about all that for about five minutes, and tossing in this lovely print to illustrate the point that even if horses weren't already potent symbols of sexuality, Baldung certainly made the connection in his own prints:

Hans Baldung Grien, Wild Horses
Yes, that is a stallion ejaculating on the ground while a mare kicks him in the head.  Feeling a little scarred now?

You're welcome.

PS - Several of my classmates came up to me after the presentation and said that my segment was the most interesting.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn, because I'm 90% sure the only reason they remember anything was the giant horse penis.  But hey, at least I keep things entertaining!

Tags: art, art history, prints, renaissance, sjsu

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