OIL PAINTING: In the Venusberg Tannhauser
The medieval hero Tannhauser chose to abandon his aspiration towards religious salvation when the Pope refused to grant absolution for his life of pleasure in the Venusberg unless a miracle could convince him otherwise. Collier depicts the moment when Tannhiiuser returns to the enclave of the goddess to resume an existence of sensual delight. Collier was no doubt familiar with Swinburne's poem "Laus Veneris", published in Poems and Ballads in 1866, and Burne-Jones's painting of the same title exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878, both of which convey the enervation of being trapped in a realm of sterile beauty. Through strikingly different methods Collier's image captures a similar sense of ennui as Venus languidly raises a crown of vine-leaves and roses, guarded by an attendant who looks listlessly away indifferent to the knight's act of supplication. As a Rationalist, Collier clearly had no scruples in basing his subject on a sacra conversazione, enshrining Venus in place of the Madonna, and substituting a pagan nude for a saint. By divesting the scene of any sense of mystery, he abides by the method set out in his Manual of Oil Painting: the verisimilitude of the flesh tones attained by emphasizing external observation above what he termed "misplaced anatomical knowledge". In the words of Frank Rinder, this is "essentially a scholarly production", the carpet derived from Giorgione's Castelfranco Altarpiece, the palisade based on Florentine Renaissance examples, the cypresses reminiscent of Verrocchio and Lorenzo di Credi. Such a "scholarly" approach perfectly suits the aridity of the story.