The Madonna of the Rose Garden, by Botticelli

Not all beauty is merely physical or corporeal. Although erotic beauty is a powerful force, this is not to devalue the power of spiritual beauty. Obviously, spiritual beauty is not as easily defined as erotic beauty–not that erotic beauty can be easily defined–but spiritual beauty remains a powerful element in my life. Again, as with erotic art, good art can help me enjoy this other type of beauty. Perhaps I like good art because it helps to incorporate these different types of beauty, and spiritual beauty is one of the more difficult elements of the world to depict. We can see erotic beauty in a particular art work: a beautiful women, a loving erotic scene, or something more explicit; the art of capturing spiritual beauty is much more difficult.

I like the painting above, The Madonna of the Rose Garden, by one of my favorite artists, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). What I enjoy about Botticelli’s works is his ability to combine both an erotic and spiritual element. If I can deduce anything from his work, it is that he was a man who was deeply attracted to both the spiritual and erotic elements of life. Sometimes the two are interchangeable, sometimes they are opposites. His Madonnas are always young and beautiful with a certain degree of sensuality, but a sensuality that is enhanced by a certain degree of spiritual purity. They often resemble his Venus depictions, and indeed, he may have been inspired by the same love interest when painting both. This painting captures a tenderness in her expression as she embraces the infant Jesus, something akin to the softness of femininity that I wrote about in my last post. Given her traditional physical beauty, there is a strange but evocative combination at work here: a physical beauty that is powerful, but a physical beauty that is still directed toward a divine and highly spiritual end. The rose garden in the background only adds to the delicacy of the work.

What I enjoy about much of Renaissance art is how it seems many of the artists are grappling with both the spiritual and erotic elements of life in way they had not before. The Christian spiritual had been present in art for over thousand years, but with the rediscovery of Classical art and literature, artist were confronted with a new found appreciation for physical form and the subsequent eroticism that follows such forms. It was something new, something that eventually transcended the time and help to shake the entire European world apart, religiously and otherwise. We still confront many of these same issues today, whether in the secular or religious worlds. As I have written much on this blog, they are constant elements of discord in my own life. Sometimes they are more in harmony in me, and at others times less so. There is never a perfect balance for me though, at least not yet.

Anyway. I enjoy nice art, which is what the painting above is. I find good art and literature can often be spiritual experiences in themselves.