Getting a mythological leg-over: Visual metaphor in Renaissance art.

The term “getting your leg over” is the modern vernacular for having sex. Yet this particular idea was the dominant visual metaphor in Renaissance painting where sexual activity was often indicated by one of the two partners getting their leg over. Graphic and explicit depictions of sexual intercourse were rare in the great art of the Renaissance so getting your leg over was as close as most painters would want to come to the depiction of sexual intercourse.

Nonetheless, there was a ready market for soft-porn erotica even during the Renaissance and many artists benefited from the desire of rich patrons to have their own porn collection.

To avoid prosecution by church authorities, Renaissance painters wishing to provide their patrons with something a bit more exciting than a picture of a saint or a nativity had to tread carefully. It was acceptable to depict religious stories and consequently the biblical story of Susannah and Elders was immensely popular because it involved a beautiful young woman naked in her garden.

Similarly, any depiction of pants-down goddess Venus whose lovers included the Gods Vulcan (her husband), Mars, Hermes, Zeus and mortals Anchises, Adonis and the Sicilian king Butes provided the artist was plenty of license.

Dutch painter Pieter Isaacsz (1569 – 1625) was court painter to the Danish king Christian IV who also became a spy in Swedish service and died of the plague in Elsinore.  This painting Mars, Venus And Amor is of the most popular leg-over merchants in Renaissance art, Mars and Venus.

Pieter isaacsz
Pieter Isaacsz

Another Venus and Mars, here being surprised by Vulcan, this time by Alessandro Varotari, known as Padovanino, who was an Italian painter of the late-Mannerist and early-Baroque Venetian school.


Another Venus and Mars legover is by Richard Conway (1742 – 1821) who was a leading English portrait painter of the Regency era and who painted the future King George IV in 1780. He was appointed Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1785 — the only time this title was ever awarded.  This painting of Venus and Mars was one of the few times he strayed from pictures of floppy-eared puppy-dogs.


Paolo Caliari, known as Paolo Veronese (1528–1588), was an Italian Renaissance painter. The critic Théophile Gautier wrote of Paolo Veronese that he was the greatest colorist who ever lived—greater than Titian, Rubens, or Rembrandt because he established the harmony of natural tones in place of the modelling in dark and light that remained the method of academic chiaroscuro.  He also did a good leg over.

Paolo Veronese
Paolo Veronese

Carlo Saraceni (1579 – 1620) was an Italian early-Baroque painter, whose reputation was as a “first-class painter of the second rank”. Like Veronese, he had a couple of shots at Venus and Mars leg-overs..

Carlo Saraceni (1579 - 1620)
Carlo Saraceni (1579 – 1620)


By far the most prolific portrayer of the leg over is Bartholomeus Spranger (1546  – 1611) a Flemish painter. His patron was Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Spranger’s paintings for Rudolf mostly depict mythological nudes in various complex and inventive poses.

Bartholomaeus Spranger. 1546 - 1611
Bartholomaeus Spranger. 1546 – 1611 Mars and Venus

Bartholomeus Spranger

Bartholomeus Spränger Mars and Venus

Bartholomäus_Spranger_021 vand a.jpg

Spranger Venus and Adonis

Angelica and Medoro were popular subjects for Romantic painters, composers and writers from the 16th until the 19th century. They are two characters from the 16th-century Italian epic Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. Angelica was an Asian princess at the court of Charlemagne who fell in love with the Saracen knight Medoro, and eloped with him to China.


 Bartholomeus Spranger: Angelica and Medoro

In her best-known myth, Omphale is the mistress of the hero Heracles during a year of required servitude, a scenario that offered writers and artists opportunities to explore sexual roles and erotic themes.

Bartholomeus Spranger, Hercule et Omphale,.jpg

Bartholomeus Spranger, Hercule et Omphale

Frans Floris, Frans Floris the Elder or Frans Floris de Vriendt (1517 – 1 October 1570) was a Flemish painter mainly known for his history paintings and portraits.

Frans Floris
Frans Floris

François Boucher ( 1703 – 1770) was famed for the eroticism as his mythological scenes. His patroness, Madame de Pompadour was the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to 1751. This is a painting of Venus and Mars, in this case being surprised in flagrant delicto by Venus’s husband Vulcan and painted in the luscious  Rococo style.

Venus and Mars surprised by Vulcan.jpg

As was his Heracles and Omphale.


Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée (1724 – 1805) was a French rococo painter appointed to the position of honorary curator-director (administration) of the Louvre museum, a position which he held until his death in 1805. He did a couple of Venus and Mars leg-over gigs.


Louis Jean François Lagrenée
Louis Jean François Lagrenée

I am indebted to Wikipedia for the biographical detail on the artists in this blog.

Another transmission from Political Lalaland

The cracks are beginning to show in the One Nation Parliamentary team.

The Age reports: A further sign of the deteriorating relationship between the two One Nation senators, they cannot even agree on who failed to show up to last night’s rendezvous.

Now, you have to feel sorry for Pauline Hanson having to deal with a serial nutcase like colleague Rodney Culleton.  However, one can only assume that she understood what he was getting when she let Culleton, his wife and his brother-in-law stand on the One Nation ticket in Western Australia.

The exchange between the two has been characterised by rapier-like repartee and intellectual standards would come to expect from this group.

Hanson: Excuse me, I’m party leader. I expect you to come to my office, right.

Culleton: She’s certainly not the boss of my office.


Humph and Double Humph

 I have always argued that the changes to the Senate voting process would produce a more  democratic Senate.  The problem is that the democratic process has a nasty habit of turning up people like Culleton.

 It’s not good for the proper government of the country for a party leader and the media to be preoccupied with the criminal activities and maniac activities of one of their representatives.

 But it’s great for the bloggers.


All is not well in the state of One Nation.

The relationship between leader Pauline Hanson and rogue West Australian senator Rod Culleton was already strained what with all those pesky constitutional questions surrounding Senator Culleton’s eligibility to be where he is.

Last night Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath asked police to investigate a letter allegedly sent by Senator Culleton to a Cairns magistrate asking for a matter before the court to be adjourned.

Senator Culleton is alleged to have attempted to pervert the course of justice or even threatened a judicial officer.

Will lifting ATAR scores lift teaching standards?

The Age reports: Only the top 30 per cent of year 12 students will be able to study teaching in Victoria following a dramatic shake-up of the profession.

Under tough new entry standards, students wishing to enrol in an undergraduate teaching course will have to achieve a minimum ATAR of 65 in 2018. This will be hiked up to 70 the following year.

Probably not!

What will do is restrict the number of students coming into teacher education programs.

In New South Wales, where similar ATAR thresholds have been introduced, the number of students enrolled in undergraduate teacher education courses has fallen by about 10 per cent.

And that will affect the Australian Catholic University which has very large teacher education programs and consequent significant government funding.

Naturally enough, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven doesn’t like the idea.  But then I’ve never regarded him as a deep thinker in matters of education despite his being appointed by Tony Abbott to the federal government’s teacher education ministerial advisory group.

untitled 2.jpeg

ACU vice-chancellor Greg Craven and his university’s declining increase standards

A number of people pointed out that ATAR scores are very poor predictors of university success. One study, many years ago, showed the random selection would have been better than the old VCE results as a predictor of academic success.

A number of Universities admit students with an ATAR score of under 60. The ACU It is one of the worst offenders in this respect. The problem with this worrying statistic is that it means that in any given classroom teacher was an ATAR score in the 50s will have an academic track record which is probably lower than nearly half of the kids in the class are going to achieve during  their schooling.

If you combine this with teaching graduates who come through university degree programs dominated by theology and dogmatism, it’s a pretty grim picture.

So the most important element of maintaining the education standards of teaching graduates is not the entry levels to program. It is a standard of education and knowledge at the end of the program. This is why revamping teacher education would probably be more important than tinkering with the entry requirements.

Less than 25 per cent of students start teaching courses via their ATAR, with the bulk of students already having completed a university degree.

Lifting the ATAR scores is really addressing the symptom rather than the cause if you’re concerned about the standard of graduate teachers. The real question is why do more bright students not want to go into teaching?

The answers to this particular question are many.

But one of them is that there is currently an oversupply of almost 2000 primary and secondary teachers in Victoria, but there are shortages in fields like high school maths, science and languages.

Many young graduate teachers are unable to get permanent employment spending a significant amount of their early career on short-term contracts which only employ them during the school term.  The attrition rate in this cohort of teachers is particularly high and has a significant impact on the number of people who choose teaching as a long-term career.

Donald Trump and the Great Awakening

Students of American history, particularly of religious  history, will be familiar with the term “The Great Awakening”. In fact, there were four Great Awakenings although the validity of the fourth one is dubious.


The Great Awakenings are periods when there was a huge upsurge in religious fervour. The first one, which began in 1738, is generally regarded to be the result of the preachings of the Grand Itinerant,  British Evangelist and firebrand preacher  George Whitfield.

The  orthodox Christian explanation for these upsurges of religious fervour is simply that people were turning to God and Jesus.

There is, however, another explanation and it is particularly pertinent today with the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and the emergence of Christians for Trump groups.


This phenomenon is explained by William Sargant in his book, Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing – How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians, and Medicine Men Can Change Your Beliefs and Behavior


“Various types of beliefs can be implanted after brain function has been sufficiently disturbed by accidentally or deliberately induced fear, anger or excitement. Its various group manifestations are sometimes classed under the heading of ‘herd instinct’ which increase anxiety and so (increase) individual and mass suggestibility.”

Sargent, a psychiatrist, drew parallels between the techniques of the evangelical preachers and the North Koreans who effectively brainwashed a number of US soldiers during the Korean War.


The technique used by the North Koreans is to either find people in, or reduce them to, a state of psychological vulnerability. This state is normally a result of some form of privation, physical, emotional or economic. If, at this point, you can make them feel guilty for their state or blame someone else, so much the better. You then offer them a solution to a problem,  in this case convert to communism. But it could be believe in Jesus, Big Brother, a shaman, communism or simply vote for some demagogue.

 A point that Sargant makes is that the great awakenings occurred during times of great hardship either famine, plague, drought, floods, pestilence or economic hardship.

 The preacher would tell the congregation that the  famine, plague, drought was God punishing them for their evil ways and they were will doomed to fire and brimstone unless they should repent and be converted to a better life, which many of them did.

 Anyone who has watched people like evangelist Billy Graham in action will see the parallels.


There have been a long discussions of the reasons for Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the US presidential election. Most of this discussion has centred on identifying certain demographics, economic condition and sources of dissatisfaction with all manner of seaboard elites. This has been seen as providing the basis of Trump’s victory.

 My thesis is somewhat different and follows Sargant’s argument.

 This is a quasi religious revival and, in many cases, it is a real religious revival with many groups believing suggestions that God has sent Donald Trump to save America from 1,000 Years Of Darkness.

 When you think that 42% of Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, the earth was created in seven days and dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time, is not difficult to see them believing that Donald Trump represents the second coming.

They certainly will believe that Donald can deliver them from the evils of unemployment, Muslim extremism, Mexicans, ISIS or any of the shibboleths that he conjured up during his election campaign.


 Their wrath, when they find that he cannot, will fall like the sword of retribution.

Donald Trump and the emergence of Twitter-Truth

Donald Trump has been going around the country for this part of the last year addressing large crowds who cheered uproariously at everything he said, no matter how stupid illogical or far-fetched.


You wouldn’t be human if, subjected to this amount of uncritical adulation, you didn’t begin to think that everything you said was true.  And Trump is not someone who is going to surround himself with people who don’t agree with him, who may say, “Hey, hold on that’s ridiculous.”  So contradiction will not be part of his presidency.

In Australia, whenever ex-PM Tony Abbott had something particularly nonsensical to say he simply kept repeating it over and over again, often in the same sentence. It appeared that his theory was that if you repeat something often enough people begin to believe it.


The advantage that politicians have is that they can choose when they make their outrageous statements and they normally do it in a situation where there is little chance of contradiction or debate, curb-side interviews, sound grabs, TV interviews with compliant interviewers, election speeches to adoring audiences.

Donald Trump mastered this particular art very early in his political career. Think how many times he said he was going to build a wall along the Mexican border, how he would make America great again.

Now he has developed a new technique.

It is the art of “Twitter-Truth” which is when you write something on Twitter like

Will be working all weekend in choosing the great men and women who will be helping to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

My transition team, which is working long hours and doing a fantastic job, will be seeing many great candidates today. 

Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!

It’s a combination of the newsy, the folksy and it doesn’t matter whether rhe statement may or may not be true but because no one can contradicted it or subject to any form of debate. This just out there.  But over time all and with enough repetition, it helps shape  the perception of the President. And there is no counter-narrative.

Twitter-Truth by its very nature is also very brief and to the point but also lends itself to oversimplification and sloganeering.

It’s also a perfect medium to establish and reinforce the idea that “I’m the President. Everything I say must be true.”

There are a large number of people who truly believe that God has sent Donald Trump to save America.

Prophecy: God Sent Donald Trump to Wage War Against Destructive Spirits


Ann Coulter: God Raised Up Trump To Save Us From 1,000 Years Of Darkness

And if you believe this, you will probably believe almost anything. All you need is someone to tell you what to believe and who better than the President of the United States.

When you combine this  religious fanaticism with political demagoguery, you have a powerful and dangerous mix.

And Twitter and Donald Trump will keep things simple enough for people like Ann Coulter to understand.

Just watch how Donald Trump and his media advisors exploit this new powerful political medium.

Update:  Given that the president-elect’s team has spread fake news before, and that he himself has actively peddled conspiracy theories – from the “birther” lie about Obama to insinuating Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination – as he enters the White House, the relationship between what’s real and what’s fake in the news will grow ever more complex.

A comment on Section 18C, racial discrimination and humour

Writing in The Age, Louise Adler, the chief executive at Melbourne University Publishing, comments on racial prejudice and what is acceptable  racially-based humour.


The article is of particular relevance given the controversy surrounding a cartoon by Bill Leak.

“Deciding what is a laughing matter depends on your point of view. The cartoon that purports to speak a truth requires a reader who shares the creator’s worldview. For others the generalisation offends: all Indigenous men are negligent, Jews have big noses, Muslims are terrorists, and feminists are hysterics. If the comic’s task is to make us think then doesn’t the comic also have a duty to think about how their work will be received?

The objectors to 18C and18D cite the constraints on their civil liberties imposed by the guardians of political correctness. However, a cohesive society depends on curbing the individual’s antipathy to social constraints, the desire to say whatever we like whenever we like. My dissatisfaction with the company director’s allusion to Jewish accounting is not preciousness or undue sensitivity. I want him to discard a stereotype, to stop unconsciously equating Jews with miserliness or trickiness. Which is why legislation matters, it serves as an educative tool and a moral compass for a decent society.”


Is Peter Dutton just a simple man trying to deal with a complex problem?

The ABC reports: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has suggested that the Fraser government made a mistake by resettling Lebanese refugees.

Mr Dutton last week stated that former prime minister Malcolm Fraser “did make mistakes in bringing some people in” as part of his immigration policies in the 1970s.


Malcolm Fraser: Prime Minister of Australia (1975–1983)

When pressed on those comments during Question Time today, Mr Dutton singled out people of Lebanese-Muslim background.


“The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background,” he said.

His statement in parliament today falls in the category of “so bad it’s difficult to start explaining it”.

Let’s start with the issue of  racial prejudice which is attributing certain patterns of behaviour to a group of people on the basis of their ethnicity.

In this case it’s “You’re a Lebanese-Muslim, so you must be a terrorist” or even better “You’re a Lebanese-Muslim,so your grandchildren will be terrorists.”

Yes, it’s stupid, illogical and discriminatory  but it’s a kind of thing that feeds into the core beliefs of some of the least desirable elements of our society.

Unfortunately, it will do nothing to endear the coalition government to the local Muslim community and will certainly reinforce the views of young alienated Muslims.

It is disgraceful that a Minister of the Crown should be saying this in Parliament. Malcolm Turnbull should hang his head in shame if he does not reprimand Dutton and publicly repudiates his comments.

The main reason for Turnbull to do this is that what Dutton is saying is deeply divisive and will only serve to inflame relations between right-wing fascist elements of the community and radicalised Muslims.

To suggest that people charged with terrorist-related offences have committed those offences because their parents or grandparents came from Lebanon demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the causes of radicalisation amongst young Muslims.

Making this statement also suggests that the solution to people committing acts of terrorism in Australia is simply to stop people migrating from Lebanon.

Unfortunately, no matter what Peter Dutton thinks, it’s just not that simple.

Presumably, he thinks we can solve the problem by simply banning those people who would be likely to have grandchildren who would become terrorists.

But that would be a really difficult task, to say nothing of time-consuming and expensive. And it also assumes there are good predictive tools available to help make these decisions, which there are not.

What is so profoundly offensive about Dutton’s behaviour is that it mimics some of the worst aspects of Donald Trump’s outrageous behaviour during the presidential election.

And why does he do?

Because he and Malcolm Turnbull both think that this is the kind of rhetoric that will endear them to Australian voters.

It probably won’t because many people are not going to change their mind as result of what Peter Dutton says and people who are going to be impressed by what he says already vote for One Nation.