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Release the Kraken

By Elevenses, Kraken, Talking art

Last week was all about Behemoth and Leviathan, but is the Kraken the same as Leviathan? In some mentions in popular culture, they are interchangeable but I did some digging and as you can see from these images, they are indeed similar but not quite the same…

Leviathan

Behemouth, Leviathan and Ziz, 1236, Ambrosiana Bible, Ulm (Germany), Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Kraken

Kraken, 2011, Wasted Talents Blogspot at wasted-talents.blogspot.com

As you can see from these images, they are indeed similar but not quite the same.

Leviathan (the ‘fish’ to the right of the first image) is wrapped around an island, the Kraken IS an island.

The image of the Kraken is from a website called wasted talent – the strapline is ‘Corporate Artists wasting their talent by day, and unleashing their art super powers by night’. Love it!

The story goes that in around 1,000 AD a bishop was travelling from Norway to Greenland, spotted an island, celebrated mass on it and was very surprised to find that, after returning to his boat, he turned to take a last look but it had disappeared.

Anyway, said bishop was lucky to escape because this island was, in fact, what King Sverre of Norway termed in 1180 AD, ‘The Kraken’.

So the story of the Kraken is a Norse myth that actually has nothing to do with ancient Greece at all, no matter what you were led to believe in the Clash of the Titans.

The Kraken was described as a huge creature with tentacles and eyes the size of dinner plates. Some stories claim that the tentacles of the Kraken are more than a mile long which would make sense if it was mistaken for an island.

Kraken 1650 image of creature devouring boat

A kraken attacking a ship, c. 1650, getty images

Accounts of what the Kraken liked to eat were varied. According to the more bloody thirsty legends, the giant beast would rapidly ascend from the depths to wrap its monstrous tentacles around a ship, pulling it under the waves where it could devour the sailors.

Or it would swim around and around the vessel to create a maelstrom and sink the ship that way. Is that reminiscent of anything? Remember Charybdis?

Some say that it was more interested in fish which was such a terrifying prospect for the fish that they would swim near to the surface of the water, basically trying to escape. All that did was enable brave sailors to profit by making an easy catch. Nice choice, the Kraken or the fishing net! But the real kicker for the fish was that once the Kraken had eaten and digested them, it would poo out its waste but this waste would be so irresistible to the fish (seriously who came up with this theory?) that they were attracted back to the vicinity of the Kraken so that the cycle was put on repeat.

Much of this was noted, albeit rather less sensationally, when the Kraken made an appearance in scientific journals, which it did quite frequently. The first is dated to around 1250 and describes the Kraken in great detail. It also comments on the monster’s unique feeding habits but has a slightly different twist; it claims that the Kraken would regurgitate food particles from its mouth into the sea. Fish would be attracted to the food and swarm to feed. The Kraken could then scoop up the school of fish in one gulp. Is that less disgusting? Not sure.

When Swedish botanist and zoologist, Carl Linnaeus first undertook the task of classifying all living creatures on Earth, he also included the Kraken. The 1735 edition of his Systema Naturae has an entry for the Kraken, which he categorized as a cephalopod and named Microcosmus marinus. Subsequent reprints omitted the Kraken entry which was a shame. Perhaps that’s because, in another work, Linnaeus noted that the Kraken was a ‘unique monster that inhabits the seas of Norway, but I have not seen this animal.’

Nonetheless, it appears again in a description by the Danish historian and bishop, Erik Pontoppidan in his Natural History of Norway from 1755 which includes, by the way, mention of a ‘strong and peculiar’ scent that is particularly alluring to fish.

Pontoppidan didn’t go overboard (pardon the pun) in his claims about the terrifying nature of the Kraken, which, unfortunately cannot be said for Pierre Denys de Montfort. Granted he had figured out that, surprise, surprise, the Kraken was either a giant squid or octopus, and indeed he is known today for his pioneering inquiries into the existence of the gigantic octopuses.

Montfort turned out, however, to be a bit of a sensationalist. He claimed that ten British warships that had mysteriously disappeared one night in 1782 must have been attacked and sunk by giant octopuses. Unfortunately for Montfort, the British knew what had actually happened to the ships, and called him out on his claims. Suffice to say, his career went down the pan and never recovered.

de Montfort giant octopus attacking ship

Pierre Denys de Montfort, a colossal octopus, 1801

Not so for Jules Verne who’s original edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea included this illustration which pays homage to the Kraken.

So what was reported by the bishop who took mass on the island all those years ago? The description of the ‘emissions’ and the numerous tentacles suggest that it might well have been an octopus or a squid, and indeed several have washed up on northern shores over the centuries. As they are soft-bodied cephalopods, however, they wouldn’t leave behind fossil evidence so who knows?

Jules Verne giant squid

The crew of Nautilus battles a giant squid in Jules Vernes 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, illustration from original 1870 edition

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

Behemoth and Leviathan

By Behemoth and Leviathan, Elevenses, Talking art

I bet you’ve heard of Behemoth and Leviathan but who are/were they?

Here they are depicted as an ox (Behemoth) and as a huge fish (Leviathan) in a 13th century manuscript that was created in northern France but is written in Hebrew. The story of the pair is found in the book of Job but is far more developed in the Jewish tradition than Christian.

Behemoth British Library

Behemoth, The Northern French Miscellany, 1277-1286, British Library

Leviathan British Library

Leviathan, The Northern French Miscellany, 1277-1286, British Library

So it’s a story about an ox and a fish? Sort of but the ox is an animal so large that it covers the earth and the fish is of a similar size in the oceans.

The myth of Behemoth and Leviathan goes back to the beginning of time.

God created Leviathan on the fifth day and then Behemoth on the sixth. In some stories they both have wives created at the same time but in others only Leviathan gets female company. This doesn’t last long as Chaos comes along (like many things created at the beginning of time, chaos was both a concept and a living entity) and corrupts Leviathan. This means that Leviathan is now capable of evil intent and therefore God, quite sensibly, got rid of Mrs L. to avoid double trouble. As the pair were more powerful than any other creatures on land or earth, but equal in strength to each other, the world was held in equilibrium; evil existed but couldn’t prevail.

Ziz, British Library

Ziz, The Northern French Miscellany, 1277-1286, British Library

If you’re wondering whether the sky was represented in the same way, say hello to Ziz, the original big bird. According to a tale in the Babylonian Talmud, a bird was seen by sailors standing up to it’s ankles in water. They assumed that the water wasn’t deep but a voice warned them that they were very much deceived. Apparently a carpenter had dropped his axe seven years previously and it STILL hadn’t reached the bottom! I don’t, however, know how they knew it hadn’t reached the bottom?! If you watch the video, you will notice that I get this tale somewhat wrong but the essence is correct. These animals are massive.

So how do you represent animals of unfathomable size pictorially? You take your cue from written descriptions and think of animals that would garner the appropriate amount of respect and fear within your society.

The book of Job describes Behemoth as a strong herbivore with a tail like a cedar tree (to give some sense of scale). Leviathan is a scaly, twisty creature with sharp teeth.

Here they are again in a 13th century German manuscript. Ziz is a griffin type animal this time, Leviathan is huge enough to encircle an island and Behemoth is frankly just a happy ox chewing on a (presumably) very tall tree.

Behemoth, Leviathan, Ziz, Ambrosiana Bible

Behemouth, Leviathan and Ziz, 1236, Ambrosiana Bible, Ulm (Germany), Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana

I wonder, though, whether this mosaic from the House of the Faun references the same myth? It can’t refer to a Christian context as it was created late in the 1st century BC. The hippopotamus and crocodile in the centre are certainly engaged in a little contretemps but don’t seem to be about to take it to the next level!

The mosaic depicts scenes from the Nile and these were the most feared of the animals to be found there. They also correspond with later tradition in that the hippo is a giant herbivore and the crocodile is known for its teeth and ability to twist. Could this particular creation myth have ancient roots?

House of the Faun Nile Mosaic

 Late 1st century BC mosaic, Scenes from the Nile, House of the Faun, Pompeii

So that’s what happened at the beginning of time, but how does it end? With a feast of course!

This is the image directly below Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz from the Ambrosiana Bible. The story goes that at the end of the world, God will command Behemoth and Leviathan to engage in combat. But as they are equally matched, it will be a fight to the death for both of them. Once dead, they will join the mother of all roast birds (Ziz – aww!) on the banquet table for all the righteous. And what a banquet this will be as it will herald the beginning of the Messianic Age when everyone will live in a world without evil.  At least this what the Jewish tradition states. The book of Job in the bible is quiet on the matter but the apocryphal Old Testament tells the same tale.

Ambrosiana Bible end of the world feast

Feast of the Righteous, 1236, Ambrosiana Bible, Ulm (Germany), Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana

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

Scylla and Charybdis

By Elevenses, Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis, Talking art

Today we are between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. In times past folks may have been more worried about being between Scylla and Charybdis which, to be honest, is a pretty terrible place to be as anyone who has ever passed through the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily will know.

Who or what are Scylla and Charybdis?

This is a fresco from a cycle of works about Ulysses or Odysseus who had the journey of all journeys home from Troy, and as part of this nightmare had to pass through the Straits of Messina.

Ulysses fresco Scylla nd Charybdis

Alessandro Allori, Scylla from the Ulysses Cycle, 1575, Palazzo Salviati, Florence

Charybdis is depicted on the bottom right of the fresco and was thought to be the daughter of Poseidon, the Sea God, and Gaia, the Earth Goddess, which is funny because I always thought of her as a man; she definitely looks like an old man here.

As with many stories in Greek mythology, Charybdis had a better start in life which, thanks to Zeus, has now somewhat gone down the drain.

Being the daughter of Poseidon, she was closer to him than she was to her uncle Zeus and so when Poseidon requested that she help him increase the size of his realm by flooding large areas of land with seawater, she acquiesced only to incur the wrath of Zeus. No one wants the wrath of Zeus because he’s nothing if not inventive. As Charybdis’s punishment, she was turned into a monster that would eternally swallow sea water, creating whirlpools.

Scylla may have had an even more dramatic and terrible transformation as she was a beautiful nymph, possibly or possibly not the daughter of Lamia, who got herself turned into a terrible monster, destined to be trapped in the rocks opposite Charybdis. Her monstrosity took the form of six ravenous heads that yapped like dogs and had three rows of sharp teeth to tear apart any sailor that came within reach. Unfortunately, six of Odysseus’s men were lost to her as we see here. You have to love the fact that the remaining men simply seem mildly curious at the fate of their fellow sailors.

The Strait of Messina is, by the way, extremely dangerous so who knows, perhaps the legends were created to fit the geography rather than the other way round?! Controversial!

Here Scylla is again on this krater from classical antiquity. I’m not sure those dogs look particularly terrifying?! It’s curious that she has a serpentine tail and carries a fish knife. Arguably depictions of her altered after Ovid’s Metamorphosis became widely known and most artists took their cue from his description:

She frantically felt for the flesh of her thighs, her legs and her feet,
but all that she found was a cluster of gaping hell-hounds.
She’d nothing to stand on but rabid dogs whose bestial backs she was holding
in check beneath her truncated loins and protuberant belly (trans. David Raeburn)

Louvre Krater, Scylla

Krater from Classical period, circa 450-425BC, Louvre, Paris

Let’s go back to the story of Scylla because you would imagine that she must have done something truly horrific to have such a grim destiny.

The truth is that she did absolutely nothing wrong except attract the wrong man. Here he is. This is Glaucus, at least as Rubens imagined him, and I find it very hard to believe that Scylla wasn’t interested but she wasn’t.

Glaucus Rubens

Glaucus was extremely interested in her, however, oh yes! So much so that he went to the witch Circe to ask her make him a love potion to give to Scylla. But what does Circe do instead? She gives him a draft that turns Scylla into a monster. Why? Because Glaucus is irresistible to at least one lady in this story! Circe doesn’t get her man, however, she gets exiled instead and wreaks havoc elsewhere.

Circe isn’t in this image but here is the lovely Scylla who looks as though she’s just taken all her unruly dogs for a walk by the sea wearing only a transparent wisp of material and hopefully a lot of SPF 50. The model was Rubens’ second wife Helen Fourment who was 37 years his junior and to his evident delight, very happy to pose nude.

Rubens, Scylla and Glaucus, 1636, Musée Bonnat-Hellau, France

If we know what Rubens’ main concern was (he painted Helen as often as he could and absolutely adored her), Turner’s is also obvious. Same scene, completely different focus! Look at that sun – the light is just fantastic as you would expect from Turner. BUT although we know that he excelled at painting dramatic light effects, the sun is sort of part of the story. Guess who Circe’s father was? Helios the Sun God. Circe’s presence can be said, therefore, to radiate throughout this work. Apparently, although it’s square, it was also intended to be framed in a circular frame making the reference to the sun even more implicit. This was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1841 where it was ridiculed for being indistinct and lacking detail.

Glaucus and Scylla Turner

J. M. W. Turner, Scylla and Glaucus, 1841, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

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

Lamia

By Elevenses, Lamia, Talking art

I can say with some certainty that you wouldn’t want to meet Lamia. Why not? John William Waterhouse has depicted her as a pretty lady sitting pensively beside a lake maybe checking out her hair in the reflection. There’s a lot of detail in this image (Waterhouse adopted the style of the pre-Raphelites, so called because they championed a return to art pre Raphael who they felt led the charge towards art becoming less precise and less detailed) and it’s all very lovely, so much so that it might take a while to notice that the beautiful blue and gold cloth on her lap is in fact a snake skin and that there are a couple of snakes either side of her too.

Lamia

John William Waterhouse, Lamia, 1909

What are the snakes all about? That’s a fair question. Waterhouse’s painting references a poem by Keats.

This beautiful woman, Lamia, starts the poem as a snake. Ah ha! She persuades Hermes to return her to human form and in exchange she will reveal the hiding place of a nymph with whom he’s fallen madly in love. The clue to whether the love is reciprocated is in the fact that the nymph has hidden from him.

Sisterly love? Very much not!

Lamia herself has her eye on a delicious fellow and, as the beautiful woman she has been transformed into, she seduces him and they live a solitary life together until one day he says that they really ought to marry.

Lamia doesn’t go a bundle on this but she agrees as long as the philosopher Apollonius isn’t invited. What did he ever do to her? Nothing but she knows that he will recognise her as the serpent she truly is.

Apollonius pitches up anyway, reveals her as a serpent, ruins the wedding feast and she vanishes and her new husband dies. A bad marriage that didn’t even really begin!

Here’s another painting by Waterhouse in which she’s seen seducing the knight. Again, the devil is in the detail; notice the snake at the bottom of the work and the way Lamia is rocking snake skin accessories!

Lamia and the Knight, Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse, Lamia and the Soldier, 1905, private collection

So where did Keats get his inspiration from?

Greek mythology, obviously!

Disappointingly I can’t find a painting of any part of the Lamia story from Greek mythology – I suppose that’s because it’s relatively unknown, but I did find examples such as the two below on scienceinfo.net.

So now we have a snake and babies involved. The Greeks really knew how to tell a good story – and with this one they managed to create one that is still used to threaten naughty children today in some countries.

Lamia started life in many of the tales as the beautiful Queen of Libya. In some she is also the daughter of the sea god Poseidon and a nymph.

Unfortunately for Lamia she caught the eye of Zeus and they had a rapturous affair, even though she’s his niece. What happens when you get jiggy with Zeus? There are offspring. Always. What also happens when you have an affair with Zeus? His wife finds out and exacts retribution. Not on her husband but on the object of his affections, although in this case, Zeus must have been pretty devastated too because Hera killed the children he had with Lamia. Well, except one possible daughter Scylla, who became a six headed monster who killed sailors. I say ‘possible’ because her parentage is uncertain. Anyway, the grief destroyed Lamia and not only did she also turn into a monster, but she completely flipped and began to kill any child she could lay her hands on. Some say that she even ate them.

Some of you, even as I speak, might be wondering why no plan was hatched to kill the crazy baby murderess. All you’d have to do is wait until she fell asleep, right? That might have been a good plan BUT in some versions of the story, Hera wasn’t done with killing her children and making Lamia mad. Oh no, the coup de grace was that she caused Lamia to be sleepless by preventing her from ever being able to close her eyes. Luckily for Lamia the ever practical Zeus was on hand with a remedy for that. He made her eyes removable so that she could take them out when she needed rest.

So now Lamia exists in mythology as a vampiric child killer and, largely thanks to Keats, as a dangerous shapeshifting seducer of men.

Lamia Edward Topsell woodcut

Woodcut depicting Lamia, 1607, from Edward Topsell‘s The History of Four-Footed Beasts

Oh, she was possibly also inspiration for this creature to be found in Edward Topsell’s 17th century book, The History of Four-Footed Beasts. The beast which has the head and breasts of a woman, forelegs like a bear, hindlegs like a goat and the body of a serpent but with scales like a dragon (snakes and dragons have often been interchangeable), they preyed on humans and sucked the blood of children.

They probably ruin your hardy perennials too so I’d say they wouldn’t be a welcome visitor. All that from a roll in the hay with Zeus!

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

Marriage a la Mode – The Lady’s Death

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art

This is the final painting in Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode series and it’s descriptively called ‘The Lady’s Death’. Ouch.

We don’t see what happened after Silvertongue killed the Countess’s husband in a sword fight in a dodgy bagnio and fled out of the window, but Hogarth has filled in the gaps for us, leading us to this moment.

Marriage a la Mode - The Lady's Death

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: The Lady’s Death, 1743, National Gallery, London

It is clear, for instance that Silvertongue and the Countess had a room on the ground floor because the lawyer survived long enough to be arrested, brought to trial and hanged for murder. We know this because at the lady’s feet is a discarded broadsheet that has a drawing of a gallows at the top and the headline that includes the words ‘Counsellor Silvertongue’ and ‘last dying speech’. Just next to this is a presumably empty bottle with a label reading ‘laudanum’ visible. So, from her surroundings and the fact that her Dad is next to her (remember him from the first painting?) we can deduce that she returned to her father’s home to lie low with her child, who also makes his or her first and last appearance here. Perhaps she has spent frantic weeks pouring over the papers for news of her lover, or following his trial because the suggestion is that the news of his death has made her so desperate that she has now chosen to take her own life surrounded by her loving family and faithful servants. Or not.

bad news and laudanum, hogarth

Let’s talk about her Dad first. Is he distraught that she’s breathing her last? No. He’s removing the ring from her finger. Okay, so in the case of suicide all of her possessions would have had to have been turned over to the crown so you could say that he’s making the best of a terrible situation but in all honesty I feel he could have waited just a while longer and allowed her to give one final (or perhaps one single – we know she wasn’t maternal!) cuddle to the child that is being presented to her by the maid.

Hogarth Marriage a la Mode Death of Lady

 

The child isn’t, it has to be said, the cutest little thing. It could be a boy or a girl as both wore dresses until the age of around 8, but whichever sex he or she is, they haven’t been given the best start in life. We’ve seen that sunken bridge on the nose before in Dr. M. La Pillule and we’ve certainly seen the black spot. The poor child is suffering from congenital syphilis. If you recall, the doctor was rather bandy legged but here the disease is so far advanced that surgical boots and braces are required, all suggesting that the heir to the Squanderfield title won’t last long at all. Cast your mind back again to the first image and the ostentatious family tree that started with William the Conqueror. That’s about to come to abrupt end.

The blame for the ‘abrupt end’ of the Countess is, it seems, being put firmly at the feet of the footman. Is he a footman? A servant, certainly. He’s not the brightest and the apothecary (I’m very disappointed not to meet Dr La Pillule again) appears to be berating him for not preventing the lady’s death. The items in his pocket have been identified as a stomach pump 18th century style, and a bottle of syrup which was used to induce vomiting. Apparently that’s all too late now.

The blame game Hogarth Marriage a la Mode

I’ve said that I’m sad not to see Dr La Pillule but, wait, there is another shadowy figure heading out the door to the left of the work. Could that be him? It’s hard to tell as he’s half hidden and has his back to us. Having delivered the news that has prompted the Alderman to remove the ring from the Countess’s finger, he may well be admiring the line of buckets on the wall. Each is marked with an ‘S’ for sand. Once again, we are invited to look back to the earlier works and perhaps think of that marvellous proverb ‘don’t kindle a fire you can’t extinguish’ that was suggested by a smouldering corset ribbon in The Bagnio. Doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago now?

Smouldering corset

Doctor's departure Marriage a la Mode

The ostentatious bad taste of the young couple’s marital home is also lightyears away from the strange meal on the table. I would worry that they aren’t getting enough nutrients if they eat like this: an egg on what the National Gallery suggest is a plate of rice, a couple of slices of bread and a pig’s head that the dog is tucking into. I’d say that the fact that the dog is warily about to slide it off the table by the ear makes reference to their ‘pig’s ear’ of a marriage but the expression wasn’t in common use until the mid 20th century. However, the old proverb ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ dates from the 16th century and I think that just about sums up the whole charade!

Pig's Ear marriage a la mode Hogarth

Who can identify, by the way which bridge the Alderman’s house has a view of? It’s not the one I mention in the live talk because that wasn’t built until the 19th century – doh! Sometimes I have to make a ‘deliberate’ mistake!!! I made the same mistake back in February too in the post about Valentine’s cards which you can watch here or read about here. It’s London Bridge, not Tower Bridge, obviously…

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

Marriage a la Mode – The Bagnio

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

So, the last we saw of Viscount (now Earl) Squander, he was at a dodgy doctors with his mistress looking for a cure for syphilis. The last we saw of the Countess, she was flirting with Silvertongue the lawyer who suggested they attend a masked ball together. It seems that one thing led to another and the pair ended up in the insalubrious setting of a bagnio – a Turkish bath cum coffee shop that also sold rooms by the hour.

Marriage a la Mode The Bagnio

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

I don’t want to use my imagination too much here because this isn’t a scene I want playing in my head but clearly things were a bit frenzied when they got to the room. There are clothes strewn everywhere, her shoes have been abandoned next to a mask and the invitation to the ball, her corset has also been discarded and has landed on top of a bundle of sticks meant for the fire. This bundle of sticks was also known as a bundle of faggots, faggot being a derogatory term for a prostitute so Hogarth is giving us more than a nudge as to what he thinks of all this carry-on!

smouldering corset Marriage a la Mode Hogarth

You might notice too that a ribbon from the corset is beginning to smoulder. This is not a reference to how sexy and smouldering the couple are but a reference to a proverb ‘kindle not a fire that you cannot extinguish’; a warning that I’m going to say comes rather too late judging by the state of the bed!

Anyway, somehow the Earl has burst in on the delightful pair. Has he been told of their tryst or did he just happen to wandering by the same bagnio?? Who can say?! What we can say is that it’s likely he wished he hadn’t because now he’s been stabbed by sleazy old Silvertongue who is showing us his best side as he scarpers out of the window in his nightshirt. What a sweetheart.

Sleazy Silvertongue makes an exit

Earl Squander's dramatic death

The Countess is suddenly contrite and begging forgiveness on her knees with Silvertongue’s blood soaked sword next to her but I don’t think that’s uppermost in the Earl’s mind as he slides dramatically to the floor. At least he didn’t die of syphilis in the end (although the reminder that he has it is ever present)! It’s been pointed out that his head is framed by a mirror, a reminder of his vanity in the first painting where he only had eyes for himself.

He evidently hasn’t gone quietly either as the proprietor has alerted the local constabulary and they make their appearance at the door over to the right of the work.

Now, I have never been in a room that might be rented by the hour but I don’t imagine that they would be lavishly furnished with works of art. So what, you might wonder, is the deal with a wall that is not only adorned with a tapestry, but has works of art hanging over the top of the tapestry. Tapestries weren’t cheap either!

The tapestry is of the Judgement of Solomon who carried out a novel maternity test on two women both claiming to be the mother of the same child. He suggested that the baby get cut in two so that they could have half each. Obviously there was no way that the real mother would let this happen. I’m not sure whose body the portrait of the lady obscures but the work has been strategically placed for comic effect (note where the parasol she’s holding is positioned) and as yet another dig at Countess Squander because she’s holding a squirrel which, guess what, was also slang for a prostitute.

Apparently these legs are rather similar to those of an engraving of Samuel McPherson who, at the time that Hogarth was painting Marriage a la Mode, became infamous for being shot for desertion. No surprise that they are right next to the rather less attractive legs of Silvertongue.

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

Marriage a la Mode – The Toilette

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art

The fourth work in the Marriage a la Mode series is ‘The Toilette’. In the last painting Viscount Squanderfield was seen at the dodgy doctors. Here, back at the Squanderfield residence, the Viscountess is having a high old time.

Marriage a la Mode - The Toilette

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

We are once again in a bedroom, and there above the bed is a coronet (there’s one on top of the canopy in the first image as well) which signifies to those in the know that the couple are now the Earl and Countess of Squander, meaning that the old Earl has passed away. They are clearly proud of their new status as the Countess is also displaying the coronet on her mirror of her dressing table.

They have a successor too – on the back of the Countesses chair is a coral teether.

I have to say, however, that the Countess doesn’t look the maternal type. She’s surrounded by an interesting array of visitors in the manner of the French aristocracy who would receive visitors for the grand levée which was made famous by Louis XIV and followed a strict protocol that denoted rank and status depending on the role you were given. Basically it was people helping the King or Queen get ready for the day in front of an audience. So far so pretentious. We know that this is morning because her guests are being offered hot chocolate and the countess herself is having her hair curled.

What a morning this is! It’s definitely not for anyone who needs peace and quiet before their cornflakes. The opera singer to the left is probably a castrati, possibly modelled on a famous singer of the day, hired along with his flautist to entertain this motley crew. Judging by his sumptuous attire and abundant jewellery, I think we can assume that he’s well paid and therefore expensive to hire.

It’s a mixed response from the guests. The gentleman in the middle is enraptured. I wonder whether he has made a trip to Dr Pillule at some point because he is suffering from syphilis too judging by the black spot on his face? The lady in white is practically swooning and completely absorbed so that she doesn’t notice the manservant trying to offer her a cup of chocolate. On the other hand the guy with the riding crop (!) is fast asleep.

Castrati in Marriage a la Mode
Gannymede Michaelangelo

The fellow with the curling papers in his hair is delicately sipping his chocolate whilst absorbed in his thoughts. Hogarth makes it pretty evident that he won’t be dreaming of young ladies: the image behind him is very like Michelangelo’s Gannymede which is the story of how Zeus fell in love with a beautiful young boy who he abducted in the guise of an eagle. Despite the shock, Gannymede became his cupbearer and constant companion.

And what of Countess Squanderfield, is she enjoying the performance she’s paid such a lot of money to hear? Er, I doubt she is even aware of it, so mesmerised is she by the fellow sitting to the right of the image. He’s made himself properly at home with his feet (rudely) on the sofa, and is obviously well acquainted with the lady of the house as he holds out an invitation to her and gestures towards the screen behind him. The screen shows a couple dressed as a friar and a nun attending a masked ball, suggesting that he is inviting her to a similar event and that he has even thought about the costumes they could wear. Do you recognise him? He’s Silvertongue the lawyer who was so solicitous in the first painting of the series. It’s quite evident that they are close because the portrait on the wall above Gannymede is of him. Was Squanderfield too absorbed in his own shenanigans to notice or doesn’t he care?! Hmmm.

Obviously the beauty of a masked ball is that you go in disguise so no one knows it’s you which means that it’s also easier to slip into a room rented out by the hour. But they wouldn’t do that – would they? The book inconsequentially tucked down the side of the sofa on which Silvertongue sits would suggest that they would. It’s called ‘La Sopha’ and was an erotic novel about a soul that was condemned to inhabit sofas until a pair of virgin lovers lost their virginity on top of them. Classy.

Speaking of classy, the countess still loves her tat. In the foreground is a collection of bibelots still with auction numbers attached. The catalogue is in the bottom right corner beneath the basket the contents of which are being enjoyed by the young black boy wearing a turban. This is another crass opportunity for the couple to demonstrate their wealth and fashionable status as it was popular for wealthy households to have black pageboys and to treat them as part of the family almost as a pet until they tired of them.

Actaeon, pageboy and bibelots

Here, the pageboy serves another purpose. He has pulled out the figure of a man with horns on is head and is pointing at him and laughing. I can’t imagine that the child is aware of the story of Diana and Acteon, nor that horns were symbolic of the cuckold. They are more confirmation, as though it were required, that the Countess has, or is about to take, Silvertongue as her lover.

The final two aspects to mention are the invitations mixed in with playing cards strewn all over the floor – clearly the Countess is part of the fast set – and the final two paintings on the wall, both of which are recognisable as works after Corregio.

Lot and his daughters

The image on the left is Io being seduced by Zeus disguised as a cloud this time – note that this is also about disguise and masquerade.

The image above is Lot and his daughters. They believed that the world had been destroyed and got their father drunk so that he would sleep with them and perpetuate the human race. I’m not sure about the meaning of this with the reference to incest, perhaps it’s more about family betrayal and there’s plenty of that going on, right from the start!

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

If you’d like to know more about the story of Diana and Actaeon, I discuss Titian’s rendition of the myth in my poesie series. They are all available to watch on the ‘Free Art Videos’ page, but to make things easy, here are the specific links:

The story of Diana and Actaeon

An analysis of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon

The strange biography of Titian’s painting of Diana and Actaeon

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.