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June 2021

The Scream

By Elevenses, Talking art, The Scream
the scream

Today we’re talking about an emoji.

It’s probably one of my most frequently used emoji’s too so what does that say about me? Maybe not that I’m constantly in fear, but the painting that it derives directly from is absolutely a universal symbol of anxiety.

It’s a painting that doesn’t need much introduction. It’s almost as famous as the Mona Lisa. It’s Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

The Scream 1893

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

The Scream 1910

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway

The Scream Lithograph

Edvard Munch, Lithograph of The Scream

Thing is that there isn’t just one Scream but 4 plus a lithograph so that he could create black and white prints. There’s a painted version and a crayon version from 1893, a pastel version from 1895 and a later painted version from 1910.

It is a pretty compelling image largely because it’s quite simple.

The bridge creates some spatial recession and along with the two figures in the background it’s a straight line in a world of swirls. The lake or fjord beneath the bridge merges into the shoreline to the right and to hills and then sky above; this part of the painting is really flat which makes it ambiguous, just as the ‘screaming’ figure in the foreground is shrouded in ambiguity. Gender, age, even ethnicity are unarticulated which it what makes this figure so universally captivating. It’s nobody and everybody.

Returning to the composition, it’s interesting that this figure is different to the people in the background – there are no straight lines here – it blends far more easily into the swirls of nature; the sky, fjord and landscape. This was Munch’s intention. The figure probably isn’t screaming but was trying to block out a (possibly much more terrifying) ‘scream of nature’. Munch did write that The Scream was a work about remembered sensation and as such it may be recalling the extraordinary blood red sunsets from a decade previously which were caused by an eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia. He wrote that he had been walking with a couple of friends when the sky seemed to engulf the landscape in flames, triggering an unnerving sense of fear in him. The original name of the piece translates as The Scream of Nature which was a phrase he used in a poem describing the event.

Peruvian Mummy

Chachapoya mummy, 16th century, Musee de l’Homme, Paris, France. Photo: Francois Guillot / AFP / Getty Images

He may have also been recalling something that he saw at the 1889 Trocadero exhibition in Paris with Gaugin. This mummy had recently been discovered in Peru. I’m not surprised it stuck in his mind! Is there a resemblance to the painting? I think so.

Analysis showed that in life the mummy had been male and was shot in the back in the mid-16th century.

That said, some scholars think that it could also be about suicide. The bridge depicted was a known spot for jumpers and it’s near a slaughterhouse and the asylum that housed Munch’s schizophrenic sister. He was terrified of developing the mental illness that ran through his family, plus at the time he created the first images of The Scream, he was broke financially and heart-broken from a failed love affair.

I’m not so convinced about the ‘suicide’ interpretation although a tiny pencil inscription on the top left corner of the 1893 version has added fuel to theory. It reads “Can only have been painted by a madman” and has now been attributed to Munch himself, apparently scrawled after a meeting with a medical student who commented that that the painting must be the work of a disturbed mind.

Arguably it’s disturbed minds that have led to The Scream being stolen twice! Well, the painted versions have each been stolen once.

The first theft was in 1994 on the day that the Winter Olympics opened in Lillehammer. Unbelievably all the thieves had to do was pop a ladder up to a window of the National Gallery in Oslo, to climb inside and make off with the 1893 painting. They were so pleased with the ease of this crime that they added insult to robbery, leaving a note that read, “Thanks for the poor security.” Thankfully, the painting was recovered within three months.

Then in 2004 it was the turn of the 1910 version. There was rather more drama this time. In a daring daytime heist, two masked men armed with guns stole The Scream and Munch’s Madonna from Oslo’s Munch Museum. The thieves were caught and convicted fairly rapidly but a couple of years later, the paintings were still missing despite a hefty reward.

Any guesses as to how the paintings were finally recovered? The plan involved 2 million dark chocolate M&Ms.

Basically Mars came up with a marketing ploy that turned out to be a work of genius. They ran an advert of a red M&M playing hopscotch with the painting and offered a reward of 2 million dark chocolate M&Ms for information.

It only took a few days for a convict with a penchant for the sweets to come forward with information on the works’ whereabouts in exchange for conjugal visits and the 2.2 tons of M&Ms.

He didn’t get what he wanted but the cash value of almost £20k went to the Munch Museum.

Of course The Scream has provided inspiration for many a media mogul.

I give you Macauly Caulkin’s famous scream in Home Alone; the aliens known as the Silence in Dr Who (back to aliens!) and most terrifying of all, the mask in Wes Craven’s Scream movies. Whooooa!!!

The Scream, Wes Craven

‘The Silence’ from Doctor Who

The Silence Dr Who

The mask from Scream

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Zombie Apocalypse

By Elevenses, Talking art, Zombie Apocalypse

We’re working up to a Zombie Apocalypse in this post but firstly I don’t know what your initial thoughts are when looking at this image but I have to say I’m thinking that some men are utterly shameless! The poor girls are all dead, trying to cover their modesty even as two of them are ravaged by maggots, and the man on the right, a King no less, is giving them the eye. At least the Pope on the left is averting his eyes, or I thought he was but now I’m wondering whether he’s actually locked eyes with the whitest, least decomposed corpse on the right? The Emperor, in the middle, is more interested in the Pope which could be a whole other story!

three living three dead, Harley MS

Unknown artist, The Three Living and The Three Dead from a French Book of Hours, c. 1480-90, Harley MS 2917, f. 119r, British Library

This is the same sort of idea – three healthy fellows (rather effete noblemen this time) encounter three terribly cheerful dead people in varying degrees of decomposition. The one on the right is possibly performing some kind of Charleston whilst the other two are waving so frantically that surely there must be some worry that body parts might start to fly off?

The text in old English beneath the men tells us that one of them is actually pretty freaked out by what he’s experiencing. You can make out three words to the right: ‘ich am agast’. They may well be aghast; the text beneath the dead people is essentially a response along the lines of ‘yeah, you bloody well should be. I was once like you, one day you’ll be like me and you’d better buck your ideas up before you meet your maker and it’s too late for redemption.’  Not hugely comforting.

Happy chappies from three living three dead image

Unknown artist, The Three Living and The Three Dead from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 179v-180r, British Library

Cheerful dead people, three living three dead

Unknown artist, The Three Living and The Three Dead from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 179v-180r, British Library

No one quite knows what the origins of the “Three Living and the Three Dead” trope but there are loads of versions dating back to the 13th C mostly from France and England.

This is all very well as a not so gentle warning but what happens when the dead actually start to kill people?

Death comes for Plague victim

Unknown artist, Death Strangles a Plague Victim, Stiny Codex, 14th century, University Library, Prague

I’m going to say that this scenario isn’t ideal.

You’re just lying in your bed having a little snooze and a corpse comes and strangles you! Rude!

If I say that this illustration, like many others, was created in response to a plague, it makes more sense. This dates to the 14th century when the biggest plague (still, I think!) to sweep through Europe had done just done its worst. Between 1347 and 1351 a third of the population died.

So this is death coming for a plague victim rather than an actual homicidal corpse.

Death coming for you might, however, look like a pretty face. This is a vignette for a 19th century translation of an epic poem entitled Syphilis by a 16th century Italian poet and physician called Fracastoro.

The disease first became prevalent in the 1480s and all of a sudden people were dropping like flies.

Let’s just talk about the effects of syphilis for a moment. The strain that ripped through Europe in the late 15th century was particularly horrible.

Firstly you start to notice genital ulcers, and then you might get a fever and perhaps some joint and muscle pain. Then, at some point, you break out in abscesses and sores all over your body. They smell appalling but the smell is the least of your worries because they eat into your skin and then your bones. Many victims lost their nose, lips, eyes…

Illustration of Syphilis for 19th century translation of Fracastro poem

Unknown artist, page title vignette for 19th century translation of Fracastoro’s Syphilis

head of syphilitic prostitute

This is an etching from the 18th century simply titled Syphilitic Prostitute and it’s clear that the disease wasn’t pretty. Nor was it merciful. It often took a while for sufferers to die and hence reports of a particularly bad outbreak in Naples in 1495 talk of the ‘walking dead’. Infected people were walking, even crawling, through the streets. Body parts gone or being eaten away. Literally the living dead.

Durer Nuremberg Syphilis

Albrecht Dürer, Broadsheet: text and wood cut of a syphilitic man, 1484, Wellcome Collection, London

I’m going to end this post with this image by Albrecht Dürer.

Covered in lesions this man is maybe not the ‘zombie’ we’re really searching for but nonetheless he’s not looking the best, I’d say. This is definitely a depiction of someone with syphilis.

When the disease ripped through Nuremberg in 1484, it was violent, unexpected and unexplained which led the population to make an obvious connection. Syphilis was linked to planetary activity which signified the end of the world! An actual real life zombie apocalypse. Above the victim’s head is a sphere with astrological signs and the year that the world comes to an end. To ensure any potential survivors were aware that the good (or perhaps not so good?!) people of Nuremberg had sussed this out, the city’s coats of arms are clearly displayed.

Note to self: it was all going on in Nuremberg. Just under 80 years later in 1561, they had an alien invasion. See last week’s post, ‘Alien Invasion!’ for all the strange details.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Alien Invasion!

By Aliens, Elevenses, Talking art
Saxo alien invasion

Alien invasion!! Ladies and gentlemen, the aliens have landed but they haven’t JUST landed, they arrived yonks ago and were best mates with Moses who could have also been one of them!

moses with aliens and horns

Unknown artist and date, Moses on Mount Sinai, drawer decoration from Warfusée Castle(?) in Belgium

I love the idea that Moses was an alien life form or at least fraternised with them which brings me to this image, which, as far as I can make out, is secreted away on a drawer in a castle in Belgium.

Here he is with his tablet and for my money, no less than four flying saucers. This may also be an early depiction of  a cable car but that idea hasn’t taken off (no pun intended!).

If we think of the story of Moses, according to the Old Testament, he had a chat with a burning bush. Who is to say that the burning bush wasn’t in fact a UFO which had perhaps landed in a volcano? Was Mt Sinai on the site of a volcano? Possibly! He came back, after a second visit, I might add, with some pretty good commandments. I have a theory that he was supposed to write them down as dictated by the aliens on the first visit but forgot because he was either having such a great time with old friends, or because he was so freaked out by the helpful, friendly aliens. My imagination tells me that they had to summon him back to give him the list they’d prepared for him when they realised that he might not get it right. He needed to get it right because the aliens were setting down the tenets of Christianity!

The thing is, is that this is a fairly established theory (apart from my reasons as to why he returned twice) and I, for one, can’t disprove it. Are these space ships in this image? They could well be.

What I can say with a little more certainty is that, yes, Moses does have horns in this image. St Jerome had some trouble with the translation here. The term that he was looking for was probably something more like ‘radiant’ but in Hebrew the word can also mean ‘horn’ so unfortunately Moses ended up with a horned face rather than an ethereal radiance as he returned from Mt Sinai.

Alien invasion 12th century manuscript

Our friends from Mars, or from where ever they hail, also visited us in 776 as detailed in the Annales Laurissenses to see off Saxon crusaders during a siege on Sigiburg Castle in France.

Picture this: the godly, Christian French are in the castle surrounded by ungodly, smelly marauding Saxons. Fighting is at its peak and the Saxons are about to take the castle when a very dashing French chap, perhaps even the King of this castle (although as accounts are sketchy who really knows?) spots something in the sky.



Images from Annales Laurissenses, 12th century French manuscript

That ‘something’ is joined by a similar object, helpfully pointed out by a blank faced but surrendering Saxon. According to a contemporary account, people watching from the town square “saw something resembling two large flaming shields of reddish colour moving above the church itself.” The Saxons thought that the French were protected by the UFOs and they fled, saving the castle. Intervention from God or by aliens??

Saxo alien invasion

There’s more…

This is a newspaper cutting of sorts from 1561. The image is a woodcut created by Hans Glaser and it depicts an event that took place in the wee hours of April 14, 1561 in Nuremburg.  The sky is full of strange objects, some of which also seem to have crashed to the earth. According to contemporary descriptions, there were a lot of things flying around and a lot of smoke. The general consensus was that it was a sign from God and folk on the ground were certainly upset but I love the fact that they all managed to get fully dressed!

Modern scholars and sceptics have wondered if the account was figurative or potentially describe a solar or lunar phenomenon such as a sun dog, in which the sun’s light appears as a halo around the sun, even creating spots of brightly shining light around the sun.

Alien invasion over Nuremburg

Hans Glaser, broadsheet woodcut of Himmelserscheinung über Nürnberg, 1561

I’m going to end this post on this image of a fresco.

This is simply called “The Crucifixion” and it’s a fresco in a monastery in Serbia. Painted in 1350, the artist has signed his name ‘Serdge’ but there are sadly no further records of him.

Crucifixion with aliens

Fresco by Serdge, in the Visoki Decani Monastery in Serbia

Now Serdge probably didn’t have that much say over what he actually depicted so it seems that he was told to show what looks to be a couple of angels in spaceships top right and left by the monks who commissioned the work.

No matter that spaceships didn’t exist in 1350!

Shall I quietly mention that Byzantine scholars believe the little space-angels to actually be human representations of the Sun and the Moon. They were, they think, included to demonstrate that even celestial bodies were impacted by the crucifixion.

I know what I think but I couldn’t possibly influence you!

Space-angel on the left of Serdge’s fresco in the Visoki Decani Monastery

Space-angel on the right of Serdge’s fresco in the Visoki Decani Monastery

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Janine Antoni’s ‘Gnaw’

By Conceptual Art, Installations, Talking art
Gnaw Janine Antoni with Lynne Hanley eating chocolate

Janine Antoni, Gnaw, 1992, installed at Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

Random person eating chocolate is NOT part of the work!

When I first heard about ‘Gnaw’ Janine Antoni’s 1993 installation I have to confess that I thought she had basically eaten as much chocolate as she could and whacked the remaining (huge) block of it on a marble pedestal.

I was so wrong!

Gnaw began life as a pair of large cubes, one of chocolate, one of lard, each weighing in at 600 pounds. Antoni literally then gnawed away at each but, and this disappointed me slightly when I realised, she didn’t actually eat the bits that she’d managed to extract with her teeth (I was in awe of her eating lard and perhaps a little jealous of the huge block of chocolate). The finished work comprises of the two tooth and face marked blocks, now elevated on marble pedestals, and 27 heart-shaped packages of chocolate made from the chocolate removed and chewed from the cube and 130 lipsticks made with pigment, beeswax, and the lard removed and chewed from that cube. These are displayed in cabinets near the sculptures. This part of the display is called Lipstick/Phenethylamine Display.

What is phenethylamine and how do you pronounce it? Phenethylamine is a stimulant found in chocolate and is also produced in the body when we fall in love. Don’t listen to the corresponding Elevenses with Lynne to find out how to pronounce it though!!

So it’s clear that Antoni has a message here, and to me she’s asking questions about what it means to be a woman both with desires and who is, and wants to be, desired.

Janine Antoni, Lipstick/Phenethylamine Display, 1992, detail

The little by-products are either desirable (the empty chocolate box – so desirable all the chocolates have ‘gone’!) and a red lipstick that might aid in desirability, but there is a distinctly undesirable element to the way that they have been produced, unless perhaps you happen to be Antoni’s lover. Would you want to put something chewed by a stranger in or near your mouth? Perhaps not?!

But think about babies! They want to put everything in their mouths because it’s a way of discovering the world. That one bite of the apple was what got Eve and womankind into all manner of trouble but it also gave knowledge. The desire to know. What is the relationship between seduction, desire and knowledge? I’m not sure the work promises answers but it definitely asks questions.

It also rather marvellously references and then somewhat trashes the distinction between two hitherto disparate art movements from the 60s and 70s. Works by artists such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris were all about the cube. Minimalist, machine cut, intellectual in tone and above all, clean, they had no relationship to the messy, visceral performance art that was generally the domain of female artists often with a feminist agenda. Until Antoni came along and started taking chunks out of those perfect cubes with her teeth.

If you wanted something to ponder once you have the pronunciation of phenethylamine perfected, ‘Gnaw’ is definitely food for thought.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.