Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 004
These clouds are from Andrea Mantegna's painting Triumph of the Virtues. Painted in 1502, it has been in the Louvre since 1801. There are some extra images in these clouds, images of things that are not clouds, that we can see and share. Look carefully and you may see some pareidolia, some sculptured faces, facing to our right. (It is about 2/3 over from the left and 1/4 down from the top.) There are two more faces behind the first face, further away from us. Only the profiles of the other faces are visible. You may also see one or more additional faces that look to our left, facing those faces.

Mantegna probably had seen faces suggested by the forms of clouds, but these three specific faces are clearly more idealistically represented than any clouds Mantegna might actually have seen. As a result, these clouds appear unreal.

Think about one cloud in this painting in which you see a face. In the context of this painting, the image represents the physical object, what the thing is, which is a cloud. The face we see, suggested by the form of the cloud, is a thing the cloud is not, a spiritual, non-material object, a pareidolia. Mantegna painted both the cloud, a physical object of Nature in the context of the painting, and the faces, which existed as a spiritual objects in his mind. In addition, the form of the three faces might be intended to function to suggest another spiritual object, not an image, but an idea associated with the illusion of three faces, such as the idea of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the story in Daniel who were seen after being burned in the furnace of King Nebuchadnezzar or the three angels who appeared before Abraham in his tent. It seems reasonable to think that Mantegna intended us to make that connection, which would make those pareidolic images an allusion.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website