June 19, 2024

The Untold Darkness Of The Renaissance (Waldemar Januszczak Documentary) | Perspective

Published May 19, 2023, 5:20 a.m. by Courtney

The renaissance was a time of great creativity and art. However, it was also a time of great darkness. Many of the greatest artists of the time were associated with the occult. This documentary explores the dark side of the renaissance through the eyes of waldemar januszczak.

The renaissance was a time of great creativity and art. However, it was also a time of great darkness. Many of the greatest artists of the time were associated with the occult. This documentary explores the dark side of the renaissance through the eyes of waldemar januszczak.

waldemar januszczak is a respected art critic and historian. In this documentary, he examines the dark side of the renaissance. He looks at the artists who were associated with the occult, and the dark themes that their work often explored.

The documentary is fascinating, and it sheds new light on a period of history that is often seen as being purely positive. It is eye-opening, and it will leave you with a new appreciation for the renaissance.

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i once made a film with laini

riefenstahl the notorious german film


who made propaganda films for the nazis

and she told me that hitler told her

that he decided to join the nazi party

while looking down on the world from a


now i don't know if that's true but i do


that mountains have a powerful effect on


mountains cloud your judgment

they heighten your emotions and

intoxicates you

and in renaissance times the times we're

looking at

they intoxicated that especially

disquieting renaissance

presence leonardo

da vinci


when leonardo pops up in renaissance

films he's always presented

as this great gatherer of knowledge


artist and scientist the leading genius

of the renaissance and of course he was

very clever and all that

but he was also driven unsettling

imbalanced and that's the leonardo will

be looking at in this film







personally i can't see how leonardo ever

managed to pass

for a scientific genius one look at his


tells you there was something strange

about him something

peculiar and visionary

so in this film a film about the

darkness that enveloped the renaissance

as it hurtled through the 16th century

we'll be celebrating leonardo the fiery

visionary and not leonardo

the brilliant scientist


and then when we've done with leonardo

we'll turn to all the other wild-eyed


who began popping up in the renaissance

in increasing numbers

hieronymus bosch




el greco

the renaissance is supposed to be the

first modern age of reason

but look how packed it really was

with unreason

we have to start here of course with the

world's most

famous painting

painted in around 1504

the mona lisa has spent half a


confusing people

i must have seen her a hundred times

and i still can't tell you what that


look on her face is trying to convey

it's all deliberate leonardo the cunning

so and so is playing mind games with us

with most portraits you look at the


with this one the sitter looks at

you staring slowly into your

thoughts as if she knows what you're


that's why she's got that irritating


on her face the famous mona lisa smile

dammit she knows everything

apart from these psychological games

which are brilliant

and way ahead of their time what i

really admire about her

is that she's not classically beautiful


this isn't a renaissance dolly bird

or a stand-in for venus

this is a smart older woman

independent and strong

when you admire the mona lisa you admire

her mystery not her cuteness

and that's where the mountains come in

these fabulous

leonardo mountains

the landscape here is really important

usually in art the landscape helps to

place the sitter

so you know where you are but with the

mona lisa

the opposite happens

leonardo's mountains echo her sense of


and amplify it

smuggled into renaissance art are

timeless moods

that belong in lord of the rings

the same thing happens all over his art

the pictures play mind games with you

this is the virgin of the rocks also in

the louvre

and again what a puzzling picture

with all this strange pointing going on

and another stupendous and

thoroughly mysterious mountain landscape


like a clever whodunit that will never


the art of leonardo da vinci

keeps us guessing speculating

and suspecting

it's true of so much of his art

as if he's deliberately stoking up the

sense of mystery

to keep us interested and

very often it involves mountains

in windsor castle in the royal library

there's a remarkable set of drawings

the so-called deluge drawings

made towards the end of his life

in around 1514

and all of them have this turbulent

apocalyptic power to them

when i first saw these deluge pictures i

assumed they were scientific drawings

in which leonardo was recording the


of a particularly fierce storm

and we now know that in 1513

there really was a terrible landslide

here in bellinzona near the swiss border

with italy

and that leonardo may have witnessed the


as the mountain crumbled and slid into

the valley

and guess what just recently in 2012

it happened again in this same

valley you can see it on youtube

the bellenzona landslide

it's very dramatic

so this was something that actually

happened it looks imaginary

but it wasn't it's the same with another

drawing in the royal library in windsor

called the cloudburst of material


in which all sorts of garden implements

are falling out of the sky rakes

bottles umbrellas

you can see that on youtube as well

a few months ago it happened near venice

when a tornado struck the veneto

and all this stuff began falling out of

the sky

so all this can really happen nature

can tear the world apart and reorder it

it's scientifically observable and


but there's something else going on here

if you look at the top

see leonardo has written something

in his famous mirror writing

and it actually says on this side adam

on this eve

adam and eve the first man

and the first woman in the bible

who committed the first sin

what have they got to do with any of


they've got everything to do with it

because what we've really got

in these tremendous deluge drawings

is an intense and pessimistic religious

vision disguised as science

here's another of the deluge drawings

a hurricane sweeping across the sky

uprooting the trees drowning the


and look up in the clouds hidden in the


an angry god is driving the storm

look over here in the corner see there's

a cloud load

of trumpeting angels blowing the final


we've seen angels like this before in


series back in film two

when we visited the sistine chapel

and saw michelangelo's last judgment

where another cloud load of trumpeting


is playing the final tune

these deluge drawings may look like

accurate observations of nature

things that leonardo actually saw but

what they really

are are fantastical envisionings

of the final apocalypse the end

of the world

this isn't the handiwork of a

particularly clever

scientist it's the handiwork

of a particularly pessimistic visionary

in the mind of leonardo da vinci

exquisite knowledge had turned into

exquisite despair


he sendeth the springs into the rivers

which run among


scratch the surface of the renaissance

just about

anywhere and the pessimism comes

bubbling up

like saudi crude


it's true of many renaissance hot spots


but it's especially true of this


when it comes to pessimism even leonardo

has some way to go to match the despair

of hieronymus bosch

bosch was almost an exact contemporary

of leonardo's

just a couple of years older he was born

around died

1516. so this pessimism they shared

was the pessimism of their times


as the 15th century turned into the 16th

art the truest evidence there is of

these things

got weirder and weirder

darker and darker

this is supposed to be an age of


so where did the enlightenment go

bosh was born over there in sir togen


or den bosch as they call it now in


he was christened hieronymus van aarhen

but just as veronese came from verona

and da vinci came from vinci so bosch

came from den bosch

his most famous picture the garden of

earthly delight

in the prado that extraordinary theme

park of sin

is a triptych packed with so much

bad news that i can't deal with it all

at once so i'm going to do the three

panels separately

the one on the left shows us paradise

where god has just created adam and eve

so there they all are standing under

a dragon tree

and because this is paradise satan is

there as well

but he's in disguise

he's usually shown as a snake

but bosh reinvents him as an owl

lurking in his cubby hole at the center

of paradise


the owl the dragon tree

they're all symbolic details and the


is jam-packed with them it took us

three hours to film it in the prado and

we still didn't finish


bosch was part of a large family of

painters the van arkans

who worked communally in a house

by the market in den bosch with everyone

chipping in


they all lived and worked in a studio on

the square here

and that is where the garden of earthly


would have been painted

while the left-hand panel shows us


the central panel is a picture

of disneyland oops

sorry no it isn't it's just

that it looks like it with its

cinderella castles

and its sleeping beauty fountains

and all that romping and reveling in the



what it actually shows is paradise a bit

later on as it were

once the humans and the animals have

settled in

and spurred on by satan

begin doing what humans and animals

always do

when you let them off the leash

show a man a woman and he'll sin with


show a woman a man and she'll

tempt him also

bosh is telling us as he warns us

in excruciating and marvelous detail

of the unstoppable dangers of lust

because bosch's art is so strange some

very daft suggestions have been put


to explain it particularly that middle


it's been claimed that he used


drugs to imagine this

renaissance lsd perhaps

and freudians have outed him as a


sado masochist

another popular idea is that he was a

member of a secret religious cult

and that his art was smuggling wicked

heretical ideas

into the renaissance but of course

he wasn't any of those things bosh

was a fierce and inventive catholic a


pessimist who looked around at the world

about him

and didn't like what he

in bosch's saw certain bosch

had about 18 000 people living in it

and of those 18 000

2 000 or so were religious folks


so this was an unusually religious

town and these unusually religious

moods are his moods


it's been suggested that a version of

the garden of earthly delights

used to hang here in the cathedral in

sirtogen bosch but

the nudity was too much for later times

so it was replaced

some of the strange architecture in the


was inspired by this new font

for baptizing children which arrived in

the cathedral

in 1492.


bosh converted it into an ungodly

blue totem that the locals are


in their religious disneyland

full of guilt and terror set free in


mankind gets straight down to the


of forgetting the true god


so the central panel is packed with

sinners and all that sinning can only


to one place hell

and that's what's depicted in the

right-hand panel

hell is bosh's speciality

he painted the most imaginative and


scenes of punishment and distortion

to be found anywhere in art

i don't need to describe them

you can see what they are

the only thing that needs pointing out


is that this is renaissance art as well

just as renaissance as the mona lisa

the darkness of hieronymus bosch

the sweaty guiltiness of his art

all that punishment and sin

isn't confined to renaissance painting

it's a feature too of renaissance


and particularly of the remarkable


made in renaissance france by bernard


policy was a french huguenot a


he was born in around 1510

and died aged about 80

in the bastille prison they locked him


because he was fiercely religious and

refused to denounce

his protestant faith

we're not sure where palisi learnt to


his remarkable renaissance plates

he seems to have been largely


they say he was trying to recreate


porcelain but i don't think

i buy that it's obvious

surely that palisi's plates

have a dark side

a typical policy will have a snake in

the middle

and all around will be lizards snails

frogs things that slither and creep

and come out of the deep

they're spectacularly realistic and

ahead of their times

he made them using plaster molds

taken from real snakes and lizards he

collected in the marshes

why would anyone in renaissance france

be making plates like these


in art snakes lizards

frogs have a very dark history

they've been victimized picked out of

the animal kingdom

and turned into symbols of death

and evil


when carpaccio painted his fabulous

saint george on the dragon

in the squalor san giorgio in venice

he littered the ground around his hero

with symbols of darkness mutilation

and mortality

also in venice why is this

young man painted by lorenzo lotto

being examined so intently

by a lizard because the lizard's

job in the painting is to remind the

young man

that youth is short and death

is waiting


it all starts in the bible which is


with prejudicial views of reptiles and


when a plague descends on god's chosen


in exodus it's a plague of frogs

and right at the start in genesis

when satan tempts eve in the garden of


he does it disguised as a snake

so these aren't any old religious issues

these are the critical ones


the only reason we have to die at all

according to the bible is because we

sinned in paradise

and why did we sin in paradise because a


tempted eve to commit the first

sin and bernard

palisi a religious extremist

who died in the bastille for his beliefs

would have known all about the terrible


of snakes frogs and lizards

and that's why he put them into his

revolutionary ceramics


it's a kind of renaissance action art

what do you do with a plate you put food

on it

god's bounty and you eat it

and as you eat it

the lizards the frogs

the snakes begin popping up

and reminding you that earthly pleasures

don't last for long and

that the devil is always there

always ready

always lurking


in the marvellous renaissance action art

of bernard

palisi something new appeared in the


ceramics that pack a punch

and the pessimism of the renaissance

found one of its most inventive outlets



the deeper you go in the late


the weirder it gets

especially if you stray into

renaissance prague the unlikely


of this notoriously peculiar

habsburg emperor

oh okay then this isn't really rudolph

the second

and he didn't really have an edible

chestnut for a chin

or a pear for a nose but this is

a portrait of him painted by his


court painter giuseppe archimboldo


even in this strange stretch of


that his late renaissance art

arkham boldo stands out

the renaissance always liked puzzles

tricks complexities

but with arkham boldo this taste for


reached a startling climax

although he was italian for milan


akimboldo came into his own if that's

what this can be called

in prague where he found himself at the

end of the 16th century

working for rudolph the second

plenty of people have plenty of views

on what our kim boldo was trying to do

he's an alchemist say some a magician

say others or perhaps

an occultist

it was actually simpler than all that he

was just

a man of his times if you poke about in

the recesses

of late renaissance art step just a

little bit

off the beaten track you'll find

lots of signs of an appetite that had


for mutation and strangeness

look at this thing commissioned by

rudolph the second

from his favorite jeweler abraham

yamniza the beautiful

daphne turning into a tree

made of coral as the laws of nature

are usurped by the laws of art

and speaking of nature what about this

unexpected renaissance plate at the

ashmolean museum

in oxford it's another

disguised portrait made up this time

of interlocking penises


that caption actually reads

everyone looks at me as if i were

a [ __ ] oh yes

the renaissance rebirth of



so arkham boldo wasn't going against the

renaissance grain

when he began painting these

extraordinary heads

he was continuing a renaissance


and while he was at it he was throwing


some sneaky satire


this librarian made completely of books

he's having a little dig that all the

showy renaissance

book collectors who pretended they were


because their shelves were heavy with




his beard is made out of the fur tales

that these learned renaissance types

used as dust whisks

and the curtain that's the curtain that

sealed off the reading area

in the great man's private library

shh it seems to say scholar

at work

there's so much clever pictorial


going on in our kim boldo

see this plate here for instance full of


kitchen produce look what happens

when through the magic of television

we turn it upside down

so our kim boldo was brilliant and


and you have to wonder how he managed to

get as good as he did

while working for the impossible rudolph

the second


all of the habsburgs were problematic

centuries of inbreeding had seen to that

but when it came to eccentricity

rudolf ii was in a league of his



in art he developed an uncontrollable


for the erotic and filled his castle

walls with the paintings of bartolomeo

spranger a sly eroticist from antwerp

who knew exactly where to press

rudolph's buttons


rudolph would arrange his pictures on


so he could transport them around the

castle and look at them

wherever he wanted and the other unusual

place he put them

was up on the ceiling and he'd lie

down on the ground and look up at his



and there he'd rest gazing up

at spranger's venus tempting adonis

a renaissance moment so naughty

that even the dog knows what's going on

and here's his venus in vulcan's forge

i hear it gets hot in there

very hot

his other great passion apart from

erotic art

was alchemy he invited

most of the notable alchemists in europe

here to prague with instructions

to search for

the philosopher's stone

this legendary substance was said to


lead into gold and it brought you

what rudolph the second most desired


he had his own private alchemy

laboratory where he

conducted increasingly dangerous


in this desperate search

for eternal youth

to this day prague enjoys a regrettable

reputation for alchemical experiment

and occult tinkering


it's the european capital of hocus pocus

and it has rudolph the second to thank

for that


another of rudolph's eccentricities was

to lead his life

entirely by the horoscope the stars

ruled his every move


and to mark his commitment to the cosmos

rudolph commissioned this painting

from the great tinteretto in venice

the origin of the milky way

so sure was he that the stars governed

everything that anyone seeking an

audience with him

be they pope or emperor had to have

their horoscope done first

to make sure they were suitable

and to prove that his immortality was

written in the stars

rudolph commissioned his own personal


from nostradamus unfortunately

nostradamus came back with bad news

the stars were not predicting


so rudolph did what any sensible

all-powerful renaissance despot obsessed

with magic and alchemy would do

he changed his birthday

having been born in the realm of cancer

rudolph tinkered with the cosmos

and announced that his sign was now


but the stars weren't fooled

nostradamus predicted that rudolph would


to 73. unfortunately

he only made it to 60. but in his

weird renaissance way he certainly left

his mark


for a brief but exciting moment

prague became the epicenter

of a wild wing of the renaissance

and to this day the strange things done

here in the name of rudolf ii

have not been forgotten

so perhaps he did achieve some


after all

all the way through this series i've

been arguing

that the renaissance was a wilder epoch

than we're usually

told and to make this point

i've sometimes had to deal with nuances

but other times the wildness stares you

in the face

and you just can't miss it

this is the creation of giulio romano

pupil of raphael's who

came here to mantua and produced

this preposterous chamber of the

giants in 1532

the entire room tells the story

of some uppity giants who were being

thrown out of mount olympus by jupiter

and the gods the uppity giants

had tried to overthrow the divine


but they failed and this is what

happened to them

so that's actually mount olympus up


and there's jupiter the king of the gods

with his thunderbolts and on the right

in the low-cut tunic that's juno

the queen of the gods and all the other


are up there as well there's apollo

with his liar and on the other side of

the mountain

kronos with his scythe

next to him with the two faces

there's janus what a fine name that is



now this kind of painting is called


at least that's what we call it now for


it didn't really have a name nobody knew

what to make of it

mannerism has always been a tough ism to


its defining characteristics don't seem

to define

anything sensible or rational

outrageous anatomies and weird poses

mad colors and mysterious meanings

peculiar storylines and twisty moods

why would renaissance art start

doing this

in here for instance to make a potty


even pottier the entire floor

was originally covered in river pebbles

and that's what you walked on

it's as if common sense has been thrown

out of the window

and everything has grown illogical

distorted and strange


and it wasn't just painting that was


it hit all the arts

this is the famous aponine giant by


how about that for a garden ornament

so unexpected and gargantuan

so clearly not influenced by the greeks


you get mannerist metal work as well mad

creations in silver and gold

like the famous salt cellar made by

benvenuto cellini

in 1543 which lives these days

in a bulletproof box in vienna

he's the salt she's the pepper

everybody loves cellini's salt cellar of


with its exciting mix of skill and


but they don't generally love mannerism

purists tend to look down on it as a


a sign of the renaissance going wrong

but that's not how i see it

not at all


this is by pontomo one of mannerisms

acknowledged giants

it's his visitation the moment in the


when the pregnant virgin mary

visits her pregnant cousin elizabeth

elizabeth on the right is pregnant with

john the baptist

mary on the left is pregnant with jesus

so this is a moment of momentous


a collision of divine pregnancies

and pontoormo has imagined it for us

so unusually

there are actually two marys in the


and two elizabeths one from the front

and one from the side

and all four of them are floating in a


religious dance a dance

in a distant dimension

it's true of all his art

pontomo's eerie religious pictures

tinker with the logic in the world

stretch it recolor it

it's as if renaissance art has given up

on realism

and embraced the strange the twisted

the heightened

these are not everyday moments

so why should they be painted in an

everyday manner


what we shouldn't do is see pontoomo as

a betrayer

of renaissance values or an aberration

all the way through this series i've

been banging on

about how the renaissance was never as


or as stable as we've been told

it was always full of passion

idiosyncrasy and darkness

you just had to look at it the right way


walk into the sistine chapel

look up at michelangelo

and you'll see mannerism already


the twisting figures the opal fruit

colors it's all there

in fledgling form

or peer into the paintings of leonardo

da vinci

and you'll find all the weirdness you

could ask

for spooky smiles

cryptic darknesses

obscure meanings

mannerism wasn't a reaction it was

a continuation an enlargement

instead of looking down on it as a


we should be looking up at it as a




do you know how many landscape painters

we've looked at so far in this series

none not a single one

that's partly because landscape painting

was looked down on in the renaissance

but also because the catholic church

banned it

at the council of trent where all


subjects were deemed unsuitable for art

so you had to be a real rebel to paint

landscapes in the renaissance

and that's what we've got here in toledo

one of the fiercest rebels

ever to pick up a paintbrush

in spain they called him el greco

the greek he looks

ordinary doesn't he but he wasn't

o'greco was actually born in crete which

was a colony of venice at the time

and the first paintings we know by him

are byzantine

icons so stylized and orthodox

they could have been painted in the 10th


and not the sixteenth which is when

o'greco was actually born

in 1541


at some point in his twenties he left


and moved to venice where he worked

briefly in titian's studio

absorbing the big colorific lessons of

venetian art

and changing his style into something

more western

with a twist of byzantium in it


by 1577 he'd fetched up here

in toledo which was so far off the

beaten track

that the usual renaissance rules didn't


but and it was a big but

there was lots of money here all that

silver and gold

that was being shipped over from the


in which the catholic church was busily


on art


here in the cathedral in toledo

el greco painted a sensational

disrobing of christ

christ is about to be tortured and


so the crowd is pressing in around him

eager to strip off his clothes

and expose him fully to the pain

i think el greco is one of the most


of all the old masters when i was a kid

i used to cut out pictures of paintings

from a magazine

called knowledge and hang them on my


and one of the first ones i cut out was

el greco's

saint martin and the beggar i couldn't

stop looking at it

saint martin who's rich meets a beggar

while he's out riding

the beggar is cold

so martin cuts his cloak in two

and shares it with him

it's such a haunting picture with two


stretched out flickering like candles

against the sky


the renaissance hadn't seen art

like this before no one had

this is more than mannerism

this is mannerism plus

extreme moods unusual

colors wired poses

here in toledo they've recently been


the 400th anniversary of el greco's


in 1614. so they cleaned up

all his pictures and we can finally see

his colors

as they were meant to be seen

yellows that sing like canaries

greens so vibrant and tangy

you can taste them on your tongue

purples so vivid titian himself

would have been proud of them

this is the hospital of saint john the


the hospital tavera and that

is el greco's baptism of christ

look at all these figures who turned up

to watch

twisting pushing

to get a better look all except

god himself who's sitting up there

on a cloud with his crystal ball

so he knows what's going to happen

and he's not celebrating

el greco who was so remarkable and


that art history took 300 years

to understand him it wasn't to the

beginning of the 20th century

that he was plucked out of obscurity and


at last as a fabulously inventive


one of the pioneers of this new

understanding of el greco

was picasso who borrowed so much

from his distant master

there's a painting in new york at the

met called the opening of the fifth

seal and it shows that moment

in saint john's revelations when the

fifth seal is opened

just before the end of the world

and the christian martyrs call up

to god to avenge them for their tortures

and up in the sky

the heavens crack open

as if someone has thrown a brick at them

the opening of the fifth seal used to

hang around the corner from picasso

in paris and it inspired his most famous

painting the demoiselle d'avignon

the picture that started cubism

fractured planes thrusting

bodies el greco's

spiky disruption was such an

inspirational gift to the future

what i've tried to do in this series is

challenge the idea

that the renaissance was neat and


that the knowledge of the ancients was


and the civilization of the greeks


a bit of that went on but most of the


in most corners of the renaissance art

wasn't pursuing knowledge or remembering

the greeks

it was doing what art always does


imagining the unimaginable

and inventing things

expressing its emotions and describing

its fears enjoying itself

and breaking the rules

so if anyone tells you the renaissance

was a period of civilized calm


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