It was Valentine’s Day yesterday! I spent the day in the studio with the things I love: PAINTS AND COFFEE. Such as every year, I encountered many people who have such aversion for the holiday- and this got me thinking.
Valentine’s Day is a time debated widely with the same opinions occurring every year surrounding its commercial, heteronormative and superficial aspects. I understand that many see it as a ‘hallmark’ holiday, created by the retail business to get us to spend money on chocolates, cards and jewellery. But, it’s origin is what I’m interested in and the art accompanying it more so!
Some say that the traditions of this day are rooted in an ancient Roman festival known as ‘Lupercalia’ occurring between February 13th and 15th of each year. During this festival, men would strip naked and hit young girls with whips made from animal skin to increase their fertility (I’m not entirely sure how they thought this would work?!).
Look at this work by Adam Elsheimer “The Lupercalian Festival in Rome”, there is a definite divide between the men and women. The men on the left are active, partially undressed and beast-like while the women are fully clothed and traditionally feminine. The cupid in the foreground brings the opposites together, i think, and introduces the idea of love or fertility- although these ladies resemble the way I look just after I’ve been catcalled from a passing car.
Another possibility for the origin of this day involves the Christian priest, St. Valentine. Supposedly, Roman Emperor Claudius II banned marriage and so St. Valentine agreed to perform secret marriages for those who wanted them. Alternatively, another story goes that St. Valentine was jailed and fell in love with the warden’s daughter. He wrote notes signed “Your Valentine” and eventually was beheaded. I think I prefer the idea of the first story as he sounds like a nice man, putting his life on the line for the love of others, also it involves zero beheadings (that i could find during my research).
This work is of Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples, painted in Paris in 14th century. Many Christian priest’s named Valentine were martyrs, and there are lots of ways the church celebrates V-day. The Anglican Communion has the rank of ‘commemoration’ in the calendar of saints and the calendar of saints for the Lutheran church includes the feast of St. Valentine. This is still practiced along with the more modern tradition of red roses and breakfast in bed- or whatever you do for your cat.
Here are some of my favourite artworks on the subject/ love in general.
Andy Warhol “Kiss” 1964 (16mm print, black and white, silent, approx. 54 min)
De Kooning “Valentine” 1947 oil on canvas
and my favourite…
Yoko Ono “Grow Love with me” 2013 for the Serpentine Gallery.
This work is a container housing a “magic bean” and when it grows it shows the word love! How cool.
How do I feel about the day? My heart warmed yesterday as I thought about all the things people were doing for one another. However, I empathise with all of us who love unconventionally and have to walk past a million posters and cards that don’t reflect the love we experience. We will change this.
Keep on loving yourself and the ones you care about most- celebrate it and treasure it, not just on Valentines day.
How do you feel about this day? Let me know!