R.H. QUAYTMAN with Alexander Nagel and The Judgment of Paris (ca. 1510 20)
Alexander Nagel (Rail): What made you choose Raimondi?
R.H. Quaytman: I’m interested in his use of pagan imagery—he made a series of erotic prints in a book called I Modi that I wanted to use. They barely survived because they were censored and mostly destroyed. And I’m interested in the fact that we are at the beginnings of printmaking. It is the beginning of a new reality, what was becoming to the life of an image. Raimondi was one of the first artists to be charged with plagiarizing.
Rail: Censorship, originality, and plagiarism—those are big ones.
Quaytman: I think usually advances in printmaking seem to precede changes in painting. And then I was interested in how this print, The Judgment of Paris, traveled in time to Manet (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe). He saw the print in Paris in the print galleries there and copied his group from the group on the right here. And Raimondi earlier had made it by copying Raphael, so it’s three artists basically. I also think the story itself of The Judgment of Paris is still relevant.
Rail: What about the subject interests you, and this treatment of it?
Quaytman: I had made an appointment at a library in Venice to look at old prints. While there I found this strange print by Raimondi. I loved it because it seemed so utterly surreal and it reminded me of watery Venice. I remember that it felt like the two women were really the same woman.
Rail: Yes, the so-called Dream of Raphael.
Quaytman: One possible interpretation is it is Paris’s mother Hecuba dreaming the night before giving birth to Paris. It’s a bad dream, apparently, but she looks like she is “into it.” But scholars don’t for sure know what it is, although there are many suspicions. I love things that are open that way.
The Judgment of Paris has a Medusa shield that is very similar to one that can be seen in a Raimondi print I own called Mars, Venus, and Eros. I’m interested in the Medusa, because I’m interested in the lock-down of an image—the way it locks your focus into it, and not onto it. I love looking at engravings—and especially engravings as opposed to etching or aquatints or even silkscreen.
Rail: You mean that the resistance of the metal as you drive the burin through it in engraving imposes a certain rigor?
Quaytman: Yes, because to me if you are just drawing by scratching a line through an acid resistant liquid or with the waxy mark on a litho stone. Engraving gives a very beautiful line similar to how a line made with the quill of pen—out of those tapering lines volume is hatched and each element seems isolated in its own particular thingness. Later print techniques are more atmospheric. This resistance of the copper plate to the sharp engraving tools means that the plate itself had to be rotated. This resulted in some beautiful details where one shape’s painstaking cross hatching meets another object’s cross-hatching nearby resulting in a kind of weave. One can see all different kinds of approaches to line-making in The Judgment of Paris. You can see here hatching with curved lines, and hatching with straight lines. There are little dots between lines to add volume. This brings them so close to language. I really love that about prints. Like how most of them are torn out of books. I mean, this probably was made as a stand-alone print but it is still an illustration both of another artist’s painting and of another culture’s myth.
Rail: This was really a revolution, introducing the idea of broadcast authorship. What this print was saying was, “Here is Raphael, brought to you. Here’s an example of Raphael’s work which you can hold in your hands.” The inscription at the bottom says, “Raphael invented this, Marcantonio [Raimondi] made it.” So authorship is claimed at the same time as it is “distributed.”
Quaytman: And that is like a photograph or digital image. The engraving transfers the printed word’s authority to pictorial authority. Also it’s the thing that enabled western art not only to have cross-pollination but to be spread in all directions around the Atlantic. Perhaps it was partly how people could begin to understand the world as a globe. Maps, let’s not forget, are usually the most popular category in any print shop.
Rail: Authority and judgment are really at the core of this print’s theme. The Judgment of Paris depicts a beauty contest, after all.
Rail: It is about judgment and choice and the consequences of those choices. It happens in the presence of the gods, the sun and the moon, the zodiac. I love it that these gods and these named figures are figured next to these unnamed nudes populating the landscape. You have the full extension of the universe, all the way down to the earth.
Quaytman: Definitely. Also the way every element is treated as a singular thing, you know. An object or a word, in a sense. And at the same time every section is connected to the others in the strangest way. So, for example, the way the dog goes into the fabric and the fabric goes into the leg, and the tree goes into the bush, and that goes into a deep, dark, distant forest. And then the sky, because it is just untouched white, leaps right back up to the foreground.
Rail: And these tree trunks in the middle—the only landscape feature in the center of the print—are just cut off by cloud.
Quaytman: And right next to them, the drapery that’s been taken off of Athena’s body. That’s so beautiful the way he draws that. You feel like a figure’s just left it. Like it’s a skin.
Rail: Yes, it’s the potential of art. It can be form, it can be formless. It can articulate a body, it can just be a blank surface.
Quaytman: Each of these trees, I’m sure, each has a symbol, a meaning, so everything—it’s just so clearly trying to be a language, to speak.
Rail: The print lives in the tension between articulateness, which insists on a separateness of the elements, and an equally strong assertion of the connectedness of the elements.
Quaytman: It’s all nouns and the verb part is what or where I like it the best. In other words, engravings—especially of that time—were made as if every detail had a clear noun attached. Usually the entire surface is covered with an intricate composition of nouns. Unavoidably there are areas of landscape or backdrop, those areas become like the verbs or maybe that’s not the right grammatical term but they attach to the nouns in such peculiar ways. Often popping forward or juxtaposing often with genitals in ways that are—um—enlivening.
Rail: Perhaps prints introduce a new pressure, the need for pictures to have a kind of syntax. Prints create a new surface for art, a new plane for art where it’s just black and white, surface and mark, and so you have to think more about the line that does all the work of articulation.
Quaytman: Right. And they are also black and white like the printed word.
Rail: It’s more like language than painting and sculpture and the rest of the arts.
Quaytman: Exactly. That’s partly why I’m interested in it. Because I’m interested in a hieroglyphic reading of art as opposed to the more traditional monocular circuit, one-on-one engagement. I like things that read laterally. Here for me it seems to spiral out of the just past moment of the choice, thereby sealing fate to something in the future—thus the center is the backside of Athena (unlucky) and then round to the right of the image the little group of figures who seem more in our present, our world.
Rail: My eye keeps coming back to the giving of the golden apple to Venus and all that pointing going on around it. There are two hands on the orb and two pointing hands above crossing and pointing in different directions.
Quaytman: Even if you do know what it supposedly means, where they are pointing and why, it never just means that anyway. It reminds me of what Gershom Scholem said—that the image escapes in every direction. I like that idea—it seems undeniable.
ContributorR. H. Quaytman
R.H. QUAYTMAN is an artist. She lives in New York.