Mary and Venus: A Crib by Jack Kristiansen

Mary and Venus: A Crib

The Renaissance put things
in perspective, painting Mary

as winsome and bringing Venus
back to life. Mannerism stretched

Mary’s lovely neck, twisted Venus
into giving her son an open-mouthed kiss.

The Baroque showed off Mary
as barefoot, Venus as enamored

with her mirror. What could it mean
that Dutch interiors highlighted

the play of light on firm furnishings
and left the young women adrift

in their musings? Any Rococo Mary
would have cavorted, her skirts

fluffing out with a venereal flounce.
Neo-classical bodies conform

to decorum, Mary demure,
Venus naked and disarming.

Romanticism favored energy
and disarray, a rifle brandishing,

bare-breasted Liberty leading
the charge. Realism gave

a frank look to everyday life,
Mary a bather drying off,

Venus a self-assured prostitute
staring straight at our eyes.

Impressionism took easels
outdoors and, later, filled museums

with the lasting impression
that many things, even women,

need exist only as brush strokes.
Expressionism altered vision,

Mary becoming languorous,
provocative, Venus’ hair rising

in a scary flare. Cubism puzzled
women’s violin bodies apart.

Then Surrealism rendered
accurate dreams of Mary

as an earful and Venus
as a chest of drawers.

by Jack Kristiansen


Editor’s Note: This is the ultimate ekphrastic poem — a visual history of Mary versus Venus throughout multiple art eras. The ending is particularly apropos for our modern trend toward meaninglessness.

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