Ah, the red. Ah, the passion. Ah, the flowers.
Like love itself, Saint Valentine, as it turns out, is something of a mystery. Way back when, in ancient Rome, several martyred saints were named Valentine, or Valentinus. And whichever individual or composite of them emerged to eventually become the Saint Valentine seems always to have been floating in the realm of myth. One early writer, Jacobus de Voragine, refers to the saint in his book Legenda Aurea as a fellow who was beheaded because he wouldn’t deny Christ in front of Emperor Claudius — in the year 280, almost a thousand years before Voragine’s book became a sensation of the High Middle Ages. This Valentine is revered for having restored the sight and hearing to his jailer’s daughter before getting his head lopped off.
How did Valentine become linked with chubby cherubs and love arrows, let alone chocolate and Champagne?
Again, no one’s quite sure, least of all Mr. Scatter, even after long and laborious research of, well, several minutes in an obscure repository of arcane information called Wikipedia. The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, referring to possibly the same Valentinus as Voragine, suggests he was beheaded because he’d been caught marrying Christian couples at a time when Claudius II was busy persecuting pretty much any Christian his soldiers ran across. The act of marrying people, of bringing lovers together, might be the seed of the legend. Others suggest that the sentiment of the tradition was pretty much invented by Geoffrey Chaucer and his crowd in the process of mythologizing chivalry and medieval romance, and others yet argue that what Claudius and Chaucer might have begun, those frisky Victorians grabbed by the lacy undergarments and made wholly their own. Exactly when FTD and the nursery industry of America entered the picture is not fully explained.
How we got here is a puzzle, and yet, here we are, at the Valentine’s Day of modern times, with all of its traditions, temptations and demands. Not, all in all, a bad place to be, unless like a dope you forget all about it and schedule a poker game with the boys instead.
To help you celebrate, we here at Art Scatter World Headquarters are offering a quick virtual tour of some of Portland’s museums and galleries with an eye for artworks that resonate with the holiday. We’ve also thrown in a guest artwork, not available for viewing in the flesh. Details are below.
As our waitron says, Enjoy. And have a lovely day.
ILLUSTRATIONS, from top:
- Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2007, from Blooming, A Scattering of Blossoms & Other Things, Acrylic on panel, The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica. Â© Cy Twombly. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. It’s part of a small but significant showing of recent works by the legendary contemporary painter on view through May 16 at the Portland Art Museum.
- Michele Rainier, “Anatomically Exaggerated Sock Monkeys.” It’s part of a group show, “Erotica — Be My (Naughty) Valentine,” at Beet Gallery, Portland, through Feb. 27.
- Xiaoze Xie, “Library of Congress (Music Division M1060),” 2009 oil on canvas 24″ x 42″. This passion of the book is part of the group show “Re-Present,” at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, through March 27.
- Jacopo Bassano, “Saint Valentine Baptizing Saint Lucilla,” 1500s. Wikimedia Commons. Note the chubby winged babes bestowing their approval. This one’s not in Portland, folks.