Jocus : a personification of folly and play and an attribute of carnal love in Renaissance art

Ille, Maureen Lilian Westmoreland (1995). Jocus : a personification of folly and play and an attribute of carnal love in Renaissance art. PhD thesis The Open University.



Jocus is a virtually forgotten and unrecognised figure in Renaissance iconography today; yet this personification has a substantial history in both art and literature. This study recovers the iconographic tradition of Jocus, identifying its classical literary origins, and tracing its survival, development and transformation in early-Christian, medieval, and Renaissance literature. Thereafter, it analyses representations of Jocus within art, focussing on medieval manuscript illustrations and a selection of Renaissance paintings.

The most prestigious literary source is a couplet in Horace's Ode to Augustus describing Jocus comprising a triad with Venus and Cupid. Thus, Jocus was associated with carnal love, which this study has found to be based on commonplace euphemistic language in which iocus implied coitus. Furthermore, it identifies a related iconographic theme, "Le giuochi di putti" which also conveyed covert sexual messages based on contemporary euphemistic language.

It discusses in detail a selection of paintings in which Jocus is most readily identifiable; significantly, all produced in mid-sixteenth-century Tuscany in the circle of the Florentine painter Giorgio Va sari. Each painting represents the Horatian triad with Jocus portrayed as a Cupid-like putto carrying attributes associated with childhood and play. Moreover, since moralising medieval sources associate Jocus with human folly, folly is also signified in these paintings. By further exploring the association between Jocus and folly, this study establishes a link between Italian and northern iconographic themes, and reveals a network of northern artists and humanists in whose work play, folly and love were interconnected. It reveals that the most enduring visual image of Jocus was a drawing by the northern humanist, Conrad Celtes, which was subsequently reproduced for over two centuries in emblem books and iconolgiae.

Whilst the Horatian allusion consistantly justifies the inclusion of Jocus in literature, art and illustration, this study nevertheless argues that punning references and sexual innuendo subvert the high-mindedness of the prestigious classical roots of the motif. Identifying the evidence of such subversion is an important outcome of this research.

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