Maligned Throughout History
For the longest of time, eras at least, these two woefully pathetic souls, venetian by birth, idly sitting side by side adorned in fine clothes, jeweled necklaces and pained expressions were believed to be ladies of the night. A curious conclusion when considering the presence of a white kerchief, strands of pearls, and a pair of cooing doves, (the bird of Venus), all representing symbols of chastity. Something was clearly amiss.
Further investigation of their slumped, dispirited and exhaustive bearing might make one wonder if, perhaps, their patrons were either too few, or too many, in which case they could well be — comatose.
This wonderfully quaint observation of daily life, painted around 1490, by the famed scuola artist par excellence in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Vittore Carpaccio (also known as Carpathius, Carpatio, Scharpaza and by various other versions of his name), who was well renowned as the ” Painter of Stories,” has had historians grappling for years over what tale he was meaning to tell.
Had the women been seized by remorse, ennui, impatience? Or were they merely taking a well earned breather? Communing with the dogs, enjoying the day, reveling in the “now” with their Lilliputian man servant at the ready?
The title “Two Venetian Ladies” (c. 1495 from the Correr Museum in Venice), provided no clue. Hence, these dreary damsels were maligned for nearly all of history as ladies of ill repute. Naturally, this being history, (it was well before the time of “defamation of character” suits, after all), there was little recourse to be had in preserving one’s reputation.
Who might have guessed that centuries would pass before the learned academicians discovered, rather sheepishly, one would think, that this historic depiction was but a section of the original work of art. Not until 1944, was it realized, that ‘Two Venetian Women’ was but a panel (or if you prefer, shutter or cupboard door), part of the same work as another panel, entitled “Hunting on the Lagoon,” (c. 1495 from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles), that portrayed several boats fishing in a lagoon. When the historians were made aware of the error and concluded that the two panels were at one time hinged together to form a diptych or folding door or shutter, a far more chaste version of the story emerged.
The revised narrative now explained the meaning of the scene as two rather prosperous women awaiting the return of their husbands after an expedition hunting, or fishing with cormorants, in the Venetian lagoon. Mystery solved! The damsels, puzzled over for centuries, were not, after all, enchanting seductresses of men, but simply bored housewives. Alas! The facts were not nearly as titillating as the endearingly rumored, but imperfectly flawed fantasy. Dreams do die hard.