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Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – The Inspection

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art, Uncategorized

Viscountess Squanderfield is absent from Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – The Inspection, the third painting in the series. And my goodness, doesn’t Viscount Squanderfield look all the better for it? The arranged marriage of an exchange of money for title and the separate lives he and his new wife are living in gloriously bad taste all seem to be set aside here. However, no one else in this image is in quite as marvellous spirits; that’s unsurprising because we’re actually in a doctor’s surgery.

Marriage a la Mode, The Inspection, Hogarth

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: The Inspection, 1743, National Gallery, London

We’re in the consulting room of one doctor La Pillule (Dr Pill) along with a pretty angry looking lady who’s flicking open a pocket knife, Squanderfield and a child.

It doesn’t take too much to work out what the trio are doing there, and Hogarth has given us some very good clues as to the relationships between them.

Let’s take the Viscount first. We know that he has syphilis; the black spot on his neck in the first image of the series is ever present. He’s holding out a pill box containing three black pills.

Mercury Pills Marriage a la Mode

There’s a very similar box between his legs right by his groin, and the young lady, who is also positioned between his legs, holds a third identical box (or one of these is the lid). The suggestion is that they’re in it together, that he has passed on the disease to his young mistress and is now taking a passive aggressive approach to the doctor as he explains that his mercury pills aren’t actually working and perhaps the doctor could find a different cure. Good luck with that one!

The lady in the centre is looking back at him possibly as though he’s an absolute idiot (which frankly he is because mercury pills were just about the only known cure for syphilis), or it has been suggested that she’s mad at him because he may have just accused the girl of passing the disease to him rather than the other way round. There’s the possibility, too, that the doctor has just made this very same accusation. Whoever it is pointing the finger, or not, she’s reacting strongly. Why would she care? She cares primarily because this would be very bad for business. I think it’s safe to assume that she’s the girl’s madam. The lady herself has been branded, quite literally, as a prostitute. She has ‘FC’ for ‘female convict’ tattooed just above her left breast, plus there’s something quite bawdy about her dress and demeanour, not to mention that she has those ubiquitous black spots too.

Branded prostitute Hogarth

There are two factors that make this situation even worse: if she’s so cross that the Viscount has accused the girl of passing on the disease, the inference is that she probably sold her as a virgin; and it’s likely that she’s the girl’s mum. Look at the brocade on the woman’s sleeve and compare it to the girl’s skirt. They are made out of the same material. It subtly binds them together. The poor girl has been forced into the same profession as her mum, by her mum, and cuts quite a tragic figure, her clothes are a bit too big for her, she’s dabbing at her lip, perhaps at a sore, with her hanky – Hogarth excels at the little details.

So, in this room full of lies, accusations and tragic figures, does the doctor stand apart as an honest and moral figure? Does he heck! Look at the state of him!

Dr La Pillule Marriage a la Mode The Inspection

 

For a start he looks as though he’s been on the 18th century equivalent of special brew for at least 30 years but it isn’t just that that gives him an odd look. The large forehead, the bridge of his nose that seems to have collapsed, the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any teeth and the extremely bandy legs are all indications that he has…guess what? Congenital syphilis. Even the skull on the table to his right is full of holes suggesting that it has been eroded away by the same disease.

The summer of syphilis peaks right here!!!

As ever with Hogarth the room is another protagonist in this sorry tale.

Propositioned by a skeleton Marriage a la Mode

 

Surely you’d steer clear of a room in which a skeleton was wrapped suggestively around, not to mention groping, an anatomical model whilst a wigged mask broomstick looks on? I love the look on the anatomical model’s face but if illicit sex isn’t tangoing with death here, I don’t know what this is about! BUT the position of the trio behind the Viscount insinuates that this is going on behind his back. Does this reference the young girl or perhaps his wife, or even both? I love the way that Squanderfield pretty much points out this little vignette with his cane, even if this is unwitting on his part.

There are all sorts of other random objects that tell us that Dr La Pillule has a rich and versatile professional life. The contraptions to the right, according to the open book are his own inventions. One is to reset your shoulders and the other is a cork screw. Rather like the image of Medusa in the first painting, there is a creepy head on the shelf that looks as though it has a bone going through it although if you look more closely it’s clear that the bone is attached to the wall. The National Gallery suggest that the head could have been used as an apothecary’s shop sign which tells us that the good doctor is  a chemist too. It would seem, however, that now he’s so sure of receiving customers that he no longer needs to advertise. Either that or he’s under the radar?

Whatever the situation, I think it might be just about to get worse for the young lady. Dr La Pillule is gearing up for an inspection by the way he’s polishing those glasses. The image, after all is entitled ‘The Inspection’. Poor child.

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

Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – Tête-à-tête

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art, Uncategorized

The last time we saw this pair, in the first of Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode series, she was a distraught, pale faced young lady who was being handed over to a vain, snuff sniffing dandy with syphilis. The transaction between their fathers was one of a title for money.

Hogarth Marriage a la Mode series Tete a Tete

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: Tête-à-tête, 1743, National Gallery, London

Looking at this, we might feel that they’ve actually done rather well. They are in sumptuous surroundings and after all the image is called ‘tête-à-tête’ indicating an intimate conversation, literally ‘head to head’ but look slightly more closely and it’s quite clear that the title is somewhat ironic.

Viscountess Squander Tete a Tete

Let’s take the lady first. She looks very self-satisfied or perhaps just satisfied. Her languid yawn with her arms up reveals her open bodice; we can see her corset which is not terribly ladylike but even worse is the way she’s sitting with her legs akimbo and erm, is that a large wet patch in the centre of her skirt? I’m afraid it is! She’s giving her husband the side-eye so if we were going to be generous, we might decide that they’ve had a riotous time together.

discarded cards Marriage a la Mode Tete a Tete

There’s a pack of cards discarded on the floor, and the violin cases and the music book suggest not so much music in this instance but sex.

Music was often used as an allusion to sexual activity and just look at the way the violin cases happen to be placed on top of each other, and the way that the violin on top protrudes from the case. Hogarth is keen for us to get the picture!Violins Tete a Tete

But looking at him, he’s not so full of himself. Actually I would say that he looks rather dejected, as well as utterly dissipated and hungover. We can see that huge black spot on his neck indicating syphilis so has he perhaps been abstaining? Well, if we read the clues, yes and no.

Remember the dogs in the first image that were chained together but couldn’t even look at each other? It’s man’s best friend that is giving the game away here, too!

What’s the dog sniffing? It’s a bonnet in the Viscount’s pocket and it almost certainly doesn’t belong to the Viscountess. So, it is very much suggested that he’s been out, perhaps to a brothel, whilst she’s stayed at home. However, take a look at the sword on the floor next to him. It’s broken. If a sword is a common phallic symbol, a broken one is a symbol of impotence. So perhaps he abstained through no desire of his own.

Viscount Squander Hogarth

There’s another aspect of the work that could lead us to think of impotence; the bust on the mantlepiece has a broken nose. That is sometimes a signifier of impotence but other readings could be that it indicates adultery (throughout the centuries and across cultures, it hasn’t been uncommon for adulterers to have their nose broken in a fight or otherwise – there’s a story of a wronged wife almost chopping off her rival’s nose in 18th century Paris. It was saved by a surgeon), but I would also conject that it’s another sign of syphilis. My summer obsession!!!

Hideous mantlepiece Tete a Tete

So, it becomes obvious that the Viscount has been out and about and his wife has entertained at home. There are two further clues to note on that score; she’s holding up a mirror in quite an unusual way suggesting that she’s perhaps signalling to her lover who made a hasty exit out of the room, and out of the painting, knocking over a chair in the process.

There’s of course another possibility that they’ve run away from the sheer volume of bad taste in what should be a very elegant room. That’s not an actual theory, it’s just allowed me to segue seamlessly back to the mantlepiece where there’s a lot of tat on display in a mishmash of different guises from Buddhas to weird saint type figurines with big hands. They are the sort of second rate antiquities that were palmed off to gullible 18th century collectors who had more money than sense and taste. Even the bust has a man’s face but the hairstyle of a Roman matron. There’s so much available to be picked apart and discussed by the people viewing this image, who, don’t forget were largely the middle classes who would have been delighted I’m sure to have had the opportunity to have ridiculed the aristocracy for their terrible taste and manners.

It’s the clock, however, that is usually reserved for the most ridicule. Elaborate isn’t the word! A cat flanked by fish ‘swimming’ amongst a whole load of foliage with another Buddha at the base holding a couple of candles. Classy! It also reads 12.10 ish by the looks of things which serves as an indication of just how debauched this pair is. It’s clearly not just past midnight, by the way, otherwise the despairing accountant with a stack of bills and receipts surely wouldn’t be there at all. He’s another indication of the couple’s bad behaviour as is the slovenly servant to the rear of the image who still has his nightcap on by the look of things.

Slovenly servant, Tete a Tete

The servant draws our attention to this area of the room which has four large paintings of saints, (again, the lovely irony!), several smaller images that can’t be made out and then a work with a curtain partially drawn over it. 18th century audiences would immediately identify this as something saucy or lewd, especially as we can see a well turned ankle and a dainty foot poking out. Infrared technology has revealed that Hogarth actually painted a Madonna and child that he later decided to cover up. Perhaps the joke is partially on us?!

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

Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – The Marriage Contract

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art

We’re going to spend the next weeks doing a deep dive under the very murky covers of Hogarth’s extremely famous series of images, collectively called Marriage a la Mode.

Hogarth Marriage a la Mode

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: The Marriage Settlement, 1743, National Gallery, London

We start here in this rather claustrophobic and cluttered bedroom. How do we know it’s a bedroom? The piece of canopied furniture in the top right is a bed. The bedroom as a very private space is a relatively new concept which is lucky because Earl Squanderfield has invited quite a number of people in to a) witness it’s opulence and b) for a rather important negotiation.

I know what you’re thinking at this stage. You’re wondering how I know that this guy is called Earl Squanderfield?

Hogarth created these images to be engraved so they came with captions.

Marriage a la Mode

Let’s look at this negotiation. There’s quite a lot of money on that table, all heading in the Earl’s direction and presided over by a very keen eyed, slender gentleman who is presumably helping to broker the deal. Evidently it’s going well because the burning candle indicates that the documents are about to be sealed with hot wax.

We know that the money belongs or belonged to the man on the left because there’s an almost empty bag at his feet with just a couple of coins spilling out – it seems they’re all that’s left! It’s a good dowry. Is the Alderman willing to pay because his daughter is absolutely besotted with his son and vice versa? Erm, looking at them I don’t think so. They couldn’t seem less interested in each other if they tried. The reason for his willingness to part with a significant amount of cash is Squanderfield’s lineage.

Squanderfield gestures himself with one hand and with the other he’s pointing at a rather comical version of a family tree in which an entire tree appears to have grown out of the stomach of William the Conqueror, or at least a medieval knight. A piece of nonsense? Definitely! But the message is clear. One family have the title, the other the money – match made in heaven. Or not.

Earl of Squander

At this point you may be thinking well, that’s all fine regarding the title but Squanderfield seems to be doing well for himself too. You don’t get gout (which is what the bandaged foot and crutches tell us he’s suffering with) on a vegan, teetotal diet. For that you generally need rich, expensive food and alcohol. Plus, he has a bed that is sumptuous enough to be shown off to illustrious guests and a lot of very fancy paintings on the wall, including a large self-portrait.

Earl of Squander's portrait after Van Loo

Let’s linger on that for a moment because it’s a great insight into Hogarth’s sense of humour.

He used to become particularly agitated on the subject of foreign portraitists who he felt dominated the genre in England to the detriment of English artists. I say English rather than British because Hogarth was known to sign works W Hogarth ‘Anglus’ (English). Van Loo a French portraitist was the favourite at the time so he’s borrowed his style and depicted the Earl wearing the French Order of Saint Esprit, or the Order of the Holy Ghost, a chivalric honour an Englishman could never have been awarded.

It’s hard to know whether Hogarth disliked foreign portraitists or painting portraits himself more. He called it ‘phiz-mongering’!

BUT there’s a clue to suggest that perhaps Squanderfield needs more money, and it’s not just in his name. The fellow looking out of the window is holding a document that has ‘a plan for the new building’ written across the top of it. The fancy building the architect is gazing towards is Squanderfield’s new house so he’s going to want huge sums of money; this marriage is most definitely also in his interest.

Squanderfield's new house Marriage a la Mode
The unhappy couple Marriage Contract

So we should feel sorry for this couple who are merely pawns in a game of wealth and status. The daughter certainly gets my sympathy here. She looks absolutely distraught, wringing her hanky whilst a smarmy looking lawyer called Silvertongue is paying her rather more attention than he should whilst perhaps trying to outline the benefits of this union which she knows she would do well to avoid (but doesn’t have the choice). Just look at her husband to be. He’s certainly impressed with himself even if she isn’t, and is gazing lovingly at his own reflection in the mirror as he takes a pinch of snuff. He’s all dressed up in the latest French fashions, and he even looks to have the French disease. Notice the black spot on his neck?

There may be trouble ahead.

The chained dogs (who can’t even look at each other) reflect that!

As an added extra, the images on the wall are all recognisable as famous works.

The central image on the wall to the left shows a Medusa’s head (after Caravaggio)
To the right of the Medusa is Prometheus gnawed by a vulture (nice!) (after Titian)
Below this is Cain killing Abel (after Titian)
On the upper left The Martyrdom of St. Agnes (after Domenichino)
Below this the Martyrdom of St Lawrence (after Le Sueur, originally after Titian)

On the right hand side, the large image to the left of the portrait is David and Goliath (after Titian)
Beneath this on the lower left St Sebastian (after Titian)
Below to the right Judith and Holofernes (after Titian)

Do you think Hogarth had an artist’s crush on Titian?? Or was he snubbing him by putting him on the wall of such a vulgar fellow as with the Van Loo??

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

The Barfing Bride

By Bad Royal Marriage, Elevenses, Talking art

The barfing bride?! Um, yes. But first, here’s the barfing bride 15 years on…

George Knapton, The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751

George Knapton, The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751, State Dining Room, Windsor Castle

I want to start with this rather saccharine but clever example of 18th century portraiture which happens to grace the walls of the state dining room at Windsor Castle.

In the centre beneath this huge canopy of state is Augusta Saxe-Gotha and surrounding her are her nine children. Arguably, however, the whole work is dominated by a portrait within a portrait; there’s a rather demonstrative fellow in a painting in the top left corner pointing directly at Augusta and she, in turn, is gazing at the young lad in the blue who happens to be her eldest son who has just become heir apparent and will later become George III.

If we take a closer look she is wearing a widow’s veil. The situation is this:

Augusta Saxe-Gothe was married to Frederick, Prince of Wales whose father was George II. They had nine children, the last of which was born after Frederick shuffled off this mortal coil, apparently as a result of being (accidently) hit in the head by a cricket ball. It’s possible that as a direct result of the blow, he developed an abscess on the lung which burst. And that was the end of him, much to his parents’ ‘delight’. I’m sure they were sad somewhere inside but they didn’t seem to like him much. In fact by all accounts they hated him.

His mother, Queen Caroline is reported to have called him not just an ass or a canaille (meaning dog, riff raff) or a liar or a beast but the GREATEST of all these.

His son, the future George III had more love in him. He said on hearing of his father’s death that he felt something ‘here’ (in his heart), just as he did when a couple of workmen fell off the scaffolding at Kew.

Not a close, loving family then?! Bear all that in mind!

I mentioned that this is quite a clever group portrait. To the right of the work is another work of art within the work of art. This is Britannia a symbol of pride, unity and strength, beneath her is a British lion a symbol of valour and bravery and loyalty. The ‘Magna Carta’ and the ‘Act of Settlement’ to secure Protestant succession to the throne are also included. The symbols of the Constitution are, therefore, on one side, balanced with the line of succession on the other.

Notice too how the young princes are looking at a map referencing the large Empire that Britain ruled over at the time (ironic in retrospect as George III famously ‘lost’ Britain’s colonies in America), and their brothers are playing with ships and flags.

The girls, on the other hand, are all about music and dancing and pets. So cute! Except this one who I think has the cruel family trait. Is she not suffocating that dog?? It’s cross eyed for sure.

A cold cruel family? Maybe. Frankly they could have been anything when Augusta arrived to marry Frederick. She wouldn’t have known because she had barely even time to say ‘Guten Tag’ before she was winched into a wedding dress and marched up the aisle.

This is the real or at least the original theme of this Elevenses. Finally!

Terrible marriages.

So let’s rewind 15 years.

Here’s Augusta aged 16 by an artist called Charles Philips. Poor love.

Augusta the barfing bride

Charles Philips, Portrait of Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, 1736, National Portrait Gallery, London

She’d been sent from Germany speaking virtually no English or French, and the story goes that when she met her parents in law to be, she threw herself at their feet in submission. They may have been impressed at that but not so much that she was still playing with her favourite doll when she arrived. Her sister in law told her to stop when she appeared with her dolly in the window of her residence for anyone to see.

But now we come to the wedding day. Beautiful wedding dress, mother of the groom (Queen Caroline) dressed to the nines. What does the bride do? She pukes all over herself and her prospective mother-in-law. It must have been quite a memorable day to say vows that you don’t understand smelling of vomit with an equally foul smelling Queen translating in your ear.

All that and she never got to be Queen herself!

Here she is again at around the same age in a portrait by Hogarth.

Hogarth. Famously terrible marriages. We have more of that theme coming over the next few weeks…

hogarth augusta saxe gotha

William Hogarth, Portrait of Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, 1736 – 38, National Museum in Warsaw

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

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.

Madame X

By Elevenses, Singer Sargent's Madame X, Talking art

Let’s talk about Madame X. I am not talking about Madonna’s album of a few years back but this amazing portrait by John Singer Sargent.

Madame X John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1883–84, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

It’s so striking! That’s partly because of the contrast between the model’s pale, flawless skin and the sumptuous black gown she’s wearing but the clean lines of her silhouette against a very neutral background  also help. The background was originally, by the way, painted in blues and greens but Sargent wasn’t happy with it and he re-painted it after the image was in the frame; bits of the original blue can be seen round the edges.

So who is Madame X and how did she get to have such amazing skin?

Madame X was Madame Pierre Gautreau an American living in Paris who was renowned for her beauty and panache. Her skin is so gorgeous because a) she’s only in her early 20s and b) she used a powder made of potato starch to cover her skin. I have also read that she used to consume arsenic to make her pale but this is unlikely to be true.

Anyway, loads of artists wanted to paint her but she generally said no, perhaps because she knew she would hate being still for a such a long time? Sargent was to find that out.

After pursuing her for a couple of years telling her what an incredibly talented artist he was, and how his painting her portrait would be the making of them both, she sat for him – but not for long. She was restless, she then demanded months off and the whole thing turned into a bit of a nightmare and then got a whole lot worse.

The portrait was accepted at the Paris Salon in 1884 where artists were still either made or completely undone. His portrait which was originally entitled Madame XXX a convention to maintain her anonymity rather than a statement about its sex rating, was absolutely vilified. Critics said that she was a caricature and looked like a corpse but moreover, the xxx might as well have stood for the sex rating because she was seen as essentially as a prostitute. What we would see today as the poise and sensuality of a confident woman was cause for outrage and scandal in late 19th century society.

It didn’t help that the strap of her gown was originally falling off her right shoulder (Sargent later repainted it), which jarred with the wedding ring on her left hand. Nor that she is wearing an unusual tiara that could be equated to the goddess of the hunt, Diana.

Detail of Sargent’s Madame X, 1884, Met, NY

Detail from Titian Diana and Acteon, National Gallery

Detail of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, 1556-59, National Gallery, London

Diana, as depicted in Titian’s wonderful Diana and Actaeon, is a chaste goddess who has the moon as one of her symbols; check out her headdress which is the same as the one Madame X is wearing. Fine. But if you transfer the idea of hunting under the moonlight to the context of Parisian high society, you could get a different idea.

Mme Pierre Gautreau or Virginie Amélie Avegno as she was before she married a wealthy banker more than 20 years her senior, did, perhaps, have a wild side shall we say? She was also the ‘it’ girl of the age but all that stopped after the Salon.

Her mum, who seems to have been a bit pushy and probably orchestrated the marriage and perhaps the portrait, hoping for more fame, was horrified when the reception of the work was less than warm and demanded that the painting be removed from the salon, claiming that her poor daughter might die of chagrin. She didn’t die of chagrin but her image was tainted irreparably. Some of the more dramatic stories about her claim that she took all the mirrors off her wall and would only go out at night. I’d doubt the veracity of this as she subsequently commissioned another couple of portraits but she never regained her former status.

Singer Sargent in artists Studio with portrait of Madame X

John Singer Sargent in his Paris studio, ca. 1883–4. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Sargent suffered from the fallout of the Salon too. He had been banking on the portrait being a hit and securing commissions. He hadn’t been paid for this one because it was only at his request that Virginie sat for him. So it was a bit of a disaster all round. He fled the country and came to London and kept the portrait for 30 years until a year after her death in 1915, he sold it to the Met. He wrote to one of the museum’s curators: “I should prefer, on account of the row I had with the lady years ago, that the picture should not be called by her name.” Hence it is now displayed as Madame X. He also commented, “I suppose it is the best thing I have done,”. It’s quite a portrait.

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

Hard Candy

By Conceptual Art, Elevenses, Installations, Talking art

Today we are talking candy as the Americans would say. Hard candy, actually. I’m not American so I’m going for sweeties. Art made of sweets. Sweets in art.

I might be breaking new Elevenses ground here by going for an installation crossed with conceptual art. The truth is that when I think of sweets there are two works that immediately come to mind and both are installations. I’m posting about one today and the other will find its way into a post at the start of June.

I remember hearing about this particular work 30 years ago and when spoken about it always came accompanied by a huge eye-roll. ‘What makes it art?’ people cried. ‘I could have done that – look I’ll do a little version of it now’ they said as they emptied a packet of glacier mints into the corner of the room (where, frankly they could stay in my opinion; not my favourite by a long shot).

The installation that I’m talking about is this one, or one like it, by Felix Gonzales Torres, a gay Cuban born American artist who did a series of works (19 in total) in 1990 /1991 using wrapped sweets. He would put a pile of them in a corner of a gallery AND you were allowed to eat them. As many as you wanted. And then you could go back the next day or the next week and eat some more. That is the part of the artwork that, unsurprisingly, I remember the most!!

Felix Gonzales Torres Candy Spill

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Candy Spill or Portrait of Ross in L.A., 1991, Art Institute Chicago

This work relies on people like me wanting to eat the sweets. Gonzalez Torres was quoted as saying that he needed the public to complete the work. The installation depicted here, consisting of a pile of sweets placed in the corner of a gallery, is called ‘Candy Spill’ or more poignantly ‘Portrait of Ross’. They represent his lover who died of an AIDS related illness. The weight of the installation should ideally be 175 pounds or 12.5 stone, Ross’s ideal weight. The shrinking pile of course represented Ross’s own weight loss as he lost his life to the disease. The audience is therefore acting as the AIDS virus as they deplete the pile.

There’s more.

One of the conditions of a gallery displaying the work is that they are obliged to replenish the pile every day. If we stay with the metaphor of the sweets representing Ross’s body, the fact that it was forever replenished grants him everlasting life which in turn raises the notion of transubstantiation. This was absolutely something that was in Gonzales Torres’s mind when he created the work. He said:

‘You put it in your mouth and you suck on someone else’s body, and in this way my work becomes part of so many other people’s bodies. For just a few seconds, I have put something sweet in someone’s mouth, and that is very sexy.’

Add all that to the layer of meaning that comes in when you consider how often we give sweets as gifts, all those boxes of chocolates as declarations of love, and you get a very poignant and rather elegant work.

Felix Gonzales Torres also succumbed to AIDS at just 38 years old in 1996.

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