State of Fragonard

Fragonard continued...

During his apprenticeship with Boucher, Frago won the coveted Prix de Rome with his version of Jeroboam Sacrificing to Idols...he and the other contestants were shut up in their respective rooms for a week, working everyday with visions of St. Peter's Square and the Trevi Fountain and the Villa Borghese dancing in their heads. His prize was three years at the Academie de France in the Eternal City.

He spent his time copying and learning from the great Italian masters like Cortona and Tiepolo, studying under contemporary virtuosos like Natoire and Piranesi. Piranesi hasn't really been considered that big of an influence in Frago's work, but the man did draw and paint a number of romantic ancient ruins overgrown with shrubbery and trees--and his drafting method mirrors the printmaker's etching technique.

His instruction with Boucher began to shine through later, and riots of foreground foliage and muted blue-greens in the atmospheric distance provided the setting for his cutesy staged scenes. Landscapes reminiscent of his time spent pouring over Ruisdaels (at the behest of Boucher) flourish in his Tivoli paintings.

The State of Fragonard at his time in the Academie: a gander at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, just outside of Rome, photos provided by Mary Ann Sullivan, found at her spectacular site documenting her trip.

The Maritime Theater:

Nymphaeum on the south side of the Piazza D'Oro:

The Greek Library:

Doorway in the Piazza D'Oro:

The Canopus:

Drawing: J.H. Fragonard. The Belvedere of the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati. c. 1759-60. Private Collection.
Painting: J.H. Fragonard. Le Petit Parc. c. 1761-1762. The Wallace Collection, London.

Swinging in the 60s--1760s, That Is

Since I'm on a Fragonard kick, I thought I'd better include a post solely about that infamous, scurvy, gorgeous painting, that little bugbear that would posthumously label him a puff in many eyes, the rococo masterpiece The Swing.

It happened one day that the baron de Saint-Julien, who held the position of receiver general of the Clergy of France, sauntered up to l'artiste du jour of the late 1760s--the painter Gabriel-Francois Doyen--and proposed a rather unusual request. Now Doyen was a good boy...there was no way in hell (literally, because he was under church patronage) that he was going to paint a picture of the baron and his beautiful young mistress on a swing being pushed by--gasp--the bishop! (The baron of course is the man gazing up at the young woman's, a-hem, legs.)

So. Doyen directed the baron to Fragonard, which is pretty revealing about our little Frago's reputation at the time, and he served it up, all pinks and blues.

It's full of Freudian symbolism; swinging implies sexual intercourse, while the twisting and writhing trunks and bursting flowers are indicative of the baron's sexual joy (and excruciation, with the presence of the bishop). And the Cupid raises his finger to his lips: "Shhh...a secret love affair!"

Works in Progress

Still painting away and honing my technique. I started painting this piece of Fragonard's Diana and Endymion last's actually just a close-up of Endymion. He's just so beautiful, I had to try him for myself...and we have the original right here at the National Gallery in D.C.

Obscure Artists p. I

OK, so maybe he's not that obscure, but I never think about him when I think "luminaries of engraving" (and I think about that a lot)...Durer and Dore and Goya and Schongauer prints flash through my mind...but Goltzius is definitely one of my favorite print artists. Compositions are amazing and dynamic....definitely a fan of Northern Mannerism.

Looked him up on Wikipedia, and interestingly enough, his right hand was brutalized by a fire when he was a child. Fortunately for him (and us), the misshapen appendage was very conducive to holding and manipulating the burin, the requisite steel cutting tool for engraving.

Above is an engraving of Icarus, the ill-fated son of Daedalus, whose waxen wings could not deliver him from his place of exile (Crete). The boy crashed into the sea near a now eponymous island--Icaria--where my husband's grandfather is from.

Horny Moses

I don't know how many times I've painted and drawn this sculpture. Michelangelo's Moses will always have a special place in my heart. The first time I saw it in person, I was the only one in San Pietro in Vincoli, and I sketched the shadow and light that consummated the shapes and contours and dimension of the statue. So bold and magnetic.

In Michelangelo's version, Moses has horns because of an alternative translation of the Exodus passage citing the prophet's meeting with God. Another interpretation has Moses' face marred by a "divine radiation burn"; however, the first translation of the root in question to "ray of light" is post-biblical Hebrew, while the alternative meaning of "horn" occurs over 90 times in the Hebrew Bible. For artistic purposes, the horns provide an identifiable attribute for the Biblical figure.

Master print of Michelangelo's Moses, Jacob Matham, 1593.
Moses baptismal font, Christoph von Urach, 1518.

Landscaping in Hell

I'm not sure why I chose this particular etching from Dore's Illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy, but it's probably something subliminal. Hmm. This is one of the pics showing some of the tenants of the middle ring of the seventh circle of the Inferno--the suicides. In Christian belief, those who take their own lives are directly usurping a sovereign power of God. So in Dante's version of hell, they're relegated to pretty nasty real estate. And they get turned into shrubs. Gnawed on by Harpies. The lost souls will not even be reunified with their bodies on Judgment Day--their corpses will hang in the branches of the shrubs for eternity.

I remember first being introduced to this book and these illustrations when I was in sixth grade. A girl named Keira asked me to come sit and look at the book with her in the library (I can't believe this was in the library)...the same girl who let me borrow the movie Seven a year later. Interesting friendship. But those images became embedded in my aesthetic...influenced my taste in the years to come...probably why I'm so attracted to print media.

Reading and Alchemy

I went to visit my parents and my sister who is on R&R from Iraq, and I've been reading Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I love this man. He has such a way with words...gets right to the point but very eloquently, and he knows how to spin a good yarn. What a raconteur.

I have an older version of the book--one that cost $2.95 when it was printed :) Love that illustration.

As it says on the cover, it is the chronicle of a family living in an enchanted little village called Macondo. Before I began reading, I had read all about the magical realism genre and went through some Kafka and Saramago but didn't know what to expect. What a pleasant surprise. Alchemy, magic carpet rides, and contagious insomnia in perpetuum. I was especially moved by the mystical charm and transcendence and absolute wretchedness of Pietro Crespi's death (I'm still relatively at the beginning).

The progenitor of the Buendia brood is Jose Arcadio, husband to Ursula Iguaran. J.A. just becomes fiendishly fascinated by the knowledge and inventions that the gypsies bring to town, and he befriends the gypsy leader Melquiades, who introduces him to alchemy.

The engraving to the right was taken from the Elementa chemicae of the Leiden chemistry professor J.C. Barchusen. In the manuscript, there are a whole series of illustrations that illuminate the process that alchemists call the Opus Magnum (Great Work), which alludes to their belief in the divinity of creation and the plan of salvation within it. Materia prima, the volatile and chaotic base of all matter, contains incompatible opposites and seeks to be regulated and transmutated to a "redeemed state of perfect harmony" (from Alexander Roob's Hermetic Cabinet)-- the Philosopher's Stone or lapis philosophorum.

In the first medallion, there are the emblems of the lapis on the crescent moon: the lion represents normal gold, which must be twice driven by antimony, the wolf, in order to be purified. The dragon represents philosophical quicksilver--mercury. In circle #2, God corroborates with the alchemist--laying to rest any fear of impiety in the work. #3 shows chaos. #4 depicts the coat of arms of the lapis, and #5 shows the four elements.

Updates Soon

Yes I have stuff to share, but not the time yet to share it :(

But here's one of my latest:

I'm off to the beach.

Last Post Till July

Last post until early July because we're going to California! Yay, vacation time is here for 11 days. From San Fran up to Mendocino to Humboldt Redwood Forest to Tahoe and Yosemite, Gold Country, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park to Napa and Sonoma and Big Sur and Santa Cruz. Whew.

I don't really like the way this little painting (5" x 5") turned out...I think the illustration board I used was about 7 years old, so maybe not so good. I'll probably fill in the background so it's solid ochre. Got the idea from the great Erte and added my own touch.

Demented and Schizo Parents

I'm watching the HBO series Rome again, and I forgot how much I absolute LOVE it. The sets are gorgeous...I'm painting all the major rooms of my house al buon fresco. And it makes me want to get back into historical fiction writing. Atia is probably my favorite...she's a grossly unorthodox mother and a diabolical bitch in general.

SO. I'm using that last bit to segue into my art topic for today: Demented and Schizo Parents. Goya's painting of Saturn Devouring His Son is a pretty well known illustrative example of this subject, and everyone knows the basic story from Hesiod...Cronus (Saturn in the Roman pantheon) was the head Titan who ate his children (a little over half of the Olympian crew) because he thought it would prevent them from taking over his turf (rational, absolutely mental, but rational). But baby Zeus was destined to dethrone his presumptuous dad, and somehow he forced Cronus to regurgitate his siblings. Hmm.

All of the paintings depicting this episode of the Theogony never portray Saturn popping the corpora whole...they alway show maniacal eyes and mouths wrenched into screwy shapes of taboo famine, ragged chunks and limbs missing from fragmentary deities in pain.

*sigh* Artists are so romantic.

And an audience loves the macabre and the gives us something to gauge beauty by.

But this...the Rubens Saturn. Dis. Tur. Bing. Cruelty and beauty combined. That Saturn is old and looks like he has a cane and the victim is a toddler makes it even worse. Like Choderlos de Laclos's Les liaisons dangereuses, or Cruel Intentions.

To cite Umberto Eco in his History of Beauty, "the beauty of bodies no longer has any spiritual connotation [with unfettered reason]; all it expresses is the cruel pleasure of the torturer or the torments of the victim, stripped of any moral frills."


Something I did that worked out for this week's topic at Illustration Friday!

The Tree of Sorrow

Arbor tristus was believed to be a native South American tree, which bloomed at night and had a trunk in the shape of a woman's body. Legend has it that the daughter of the mighty chief and warrior Parizataco fell in love with the sun. The sun rejected her and the beautiful princess went into the wilderness to seek solitude and peace to grieve. She never got over her loss, however, and could bare the pain of rejection and lovelessness no longer and killed herself.

Her body was eventually found by her people and cremated. From the ashes sprouted the tree of sorrow, whose blossoms opened under the light of the moon and stars but closed at the first hint of the sun. In the daytime, the leaves withered, and the tree appeared dead. And whenever a human hand touched the blooming tree in the calm of the night, the flowers closed shut and their sweet perfume vanished.

Barnacle Tree

Sad past few days with a funeral and tons of doctor appointments for family members and torrential downpours on top of that. BUT, everything is green and rich and happily fertile and teeming with life. And the geese are back...

Wild geese migrating south for the summer used to be a profound mystery, and according to old mariners' stories, there were goose trees growing north of Scotland on the shores of the Orkney Islands. The trees supposedly bloomed and reached maturity with barnacles as fruit, which fell into the sea when they were ripe. Behold, geese would emerge.

Apparently, the similarity between a certain species of barnacle and an embryonic goose was uncanny. Botanists and zoologists of the 16th c reported in earnest about the existence of goose trees and barnacle geese, and some scientists even included the specimens in their herbals (above engraving THE BREEDE OF BARNAKLES, from Gerard's Herball, London 1597).

Today, the riddle has been solved but the scientific terms have stuck.

Finished Products

Yay! Put the final touches on new cards I'll be adding in my brand new Etsy store soon!

new art

I have so new art, spawned from an old ink drawing I did, first of a couple, I think. I did the ink when Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette came out. I really liked the whole stylization of the film a lot...and I loved the fact that people were pissed about the pink (and decidedly anachronistic) Chuck Taylors. Psh. I'm going to put it up in my Etsy store eventually, as a print and a postcard-style note card, accompanied by a nifty envelope I just picked up from Paper Source. God, I love Paper Source.

I just finished a sketch of another Rococo girl with a wig like ocean waves, complete with schooners and galleys and other various sea craft. Also sea monster and fish! I'll probably have it done by late tomorrow. A leaves for Ethiopia at 3 o'clock tomorrow. Ahhh, Addis...I can't wait to go to Ethiopia one of these days, see where the Nile splits and the crazy cataracts begin.


This is the Norse world tree, Yggdrasill, an evergreen ash that governs the shape of the whole universe. The tree itself sprouts out of that little mountain (Asgard, where the gods get together, at the bottom of Valhalla), and the trunk is rooted by three stems in subterranean Hel. The curvilinear pathway beginning at the top of the mountain and ending at the tiny triumphal arch is Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that only heroes are permitted to use to reach Valhalla.

The first stem sprouts branches that radiate over the entire sky; the leaves are the clouds, and the fruits are the stars. The four cardinal winds are said to be stags, nibbling at stellar flower buds and dripping dew from their antlers to the earth. On the topmost branch perches the eagle (symbol of the air), and atop him perches the falcon, sentinel of the gods. The squirrel Batatosk scampers up and down the tree (symbol of precipitation) in an attempt to instigate a little tiff between the eagle and Nidhogger, the serpenty mess at the roots (symbol of vulcanic powers), always threatening the foundation.

The second stem emanates from the south in Muspellsheim where the three Norns live, and the third shoots up from Nifleheim in the north, dwelling place of the Mimir the frost-giant's fountain, from which all the knowledge of mankind flows.

This is a print from Jinn Manusen's Eddalaeren, 1824. I'm citing this nifty little book Folklore and Symolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees, put out by Dover Publications.

From the Primordial Ooze

So I came across a few images in my Hieronymus Bosch book by Laurinda Dixon, and I found they tie nicely in with my recent obsession with evolutionary biology.

Back in Bosch's golden years, the later 15 century, people believed in spontaneous generation, specifically life from water, mud, and dung. Aristotle hypothesized that the heat generated during the rotting of some substance created new organisms from the dissolution of particles during putrefaction-- organisms which later came to be regarded as deformed because of their asexual means of reproduction.

Hence, mer-creatures! These woodblocks are from the Hortus Sanitatis/Gart der Gesuntheit/Garden of Health, a pharmaceutical bestiary printed and translated a number of times during the 15 c.

Amongst others are the MONK FISH, described as having "a head like a monk...but the face is nosed like another fish and also his body." A very bookish creature. The aqueous unicorn is below him. And then there is the merknight. In Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, a merknight flirts with a siren-like creature who bends her tail backward and over her head, simulating the familiar alchemical symbol of the ouroboros. The serpent devouring its tail illustrates the cyclical essence of distillation--autocannibalism and auto-regeneration. Craziness.

The Immense Journey talks about how Darwin's On the Origin of Species stimulated more materialisic philosophies (rather than mythological, or cosmo-magical) about the wellspring of earth. Urschleim, a protoplasmic semi-animate substance on the floor of the abyssal plain, was thought to be the development of the living out of the nonliving, from which arose complex life.

Bathybius haeckelli is another interesting story.

Reading, Writing, Lunatics

Too much perversion makes me sick. Not really, just more apt to read something, ha.

So I had Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies on while I was writing, and it reminded me of my June 1 post about Beelzebub and Binsfield's classification. I read the book again a while back and recalled when I first read it and how much Simon's death really affected me. I read it over and over and over again, sickened by adolescent brutality (not even adolescent--many a time I've witnessed a little four-year-old bulldozer, flattening a smaller one to the ground, even when the weaker one is crying and on his knees and not fighting anymore), so filled with frustration and misanthropy for how pathetic and absurd it was. And then the ocean just washes him away, into its injudicious depths (very tragically beautiful, really). It really hurt my feelings...being the weak kid with the asthma problem. Did he have respiratory problems?

And then, of course, the pig and her piglets, and the pig's head on a spike...the gluttonous demon Beelzebub incarnate, foreshadowing the death of Piggy, his little porcine body rupturing like some infected pustule on the rocks. That was such a wonderfully disturbing book.

Presently, I'm in the midst of Lolita and can't get Jeremy Irons out of my mind. Way scarier than James Mason. Ehh. Creepy Creepy. Humbert Humbert, the silver-tongued rake (or so he says). Amateur poet, professional pedophiliac. BANGING writing. I'm so envious of Nabokov.

Eye Candy

So I finished a bunch of new card designs, several of which I have to add a few effects to...I figured the mushrooms would be plaid with kind of a scratchy, canvas background. The deer and the trees will be several kinds of Japanese patterns, color scheme being purple, greens, and mustard yellow--a little earthy.

Beach weekend was fun...I wasted $5 at the slots and spent $11.95 on cigarettes at Caesar's. W.T.F. Regardless, I was expecting some serious inflation. Juno shat in the house about four times. I think it messes up her sphere of territory when we take her to four different houses consistently, three of which are humongous...and the one that she has no problem with isn't a house. Our apartment is 650 square feet, which doesn't leave a lot of room for disorientation. She knows where to go and where not to go.

I was pretty much perpetually barefoot for the weekend. Score. And wine did floweth abundantly. From about 4 o'clock onwards. For 20 people being in the house, it was pretty peaceful...

Musical Death Chairs

Hard times in Pre-K today. Playing Musical Chairs was like playing Russian Roulette...depending on whoever was left standing when the music stopped. Some were normal, bummed but acquiescent and ready for another go the next time around; others did not go so quietly in the night, so to speak. Several hysterical fits ended up with me taking the little time bombs to the office because they just couldn't get over their loss. I don't know why we didn't just do what we usually do and put out as many chairs as players...everyone gets a spot, and they still have fun.

We might move to Georgia or Armenia. That could be good times.

I resurrected some old drawings and reworked them. The results will be up when my Photoshop Elements gets here (yay, I ordered it). Lots of wigs and birds' wings and tea stains.

I can't wait to go to the beach tomorrow...just A and I and Juno.

Strange Dreams and Butterflies

Dude, I had a waking dream this morning. A was getting ready for work, and I was lying in bed with Juno talking to him with my eyes closed. He disappeared to trim his beard, and just before I nodded off, I had this flash of a silhouetted hand grabbing my mouth. I could tell I was about to nod off because I nearly screamed to consciousness. And in the flash I wasn't looking at myself being grabbed, a hand just locked over my mouth, and it sounded as if cymbals were being crashed.

Since I have no way to manipulate my photos or scans, I have a few posts sitting tight on my dashboard because all the text has to do with the images, ha. I HAVE NEW ARTWORK YAY! But you can't see it because my Photoshop cut out on me. But I can post this:

This is a plate from Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani by Bernard Siegfried Albinus (1747), drawn by Jan Wandelaar. When we visited the Mutter Museum in Philly, I took home this postcard. The original is part of the collection at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

All of the butterflies in our butterfly bungalow emerged...I was surprised. The kit we used had about five chrysalises, and when we took them out of the container, they started shimmying and shaking and wiggling. I'd never seen that before...and the shells looked really viscous and gooey. Nobody would touch them (they were too squirmy and alien), so I volunteered to transfer and attach them to the inside of the tent with safety pins. We had two containers, so now we have ten little fluttering Painted Ladies.

Hellfire and Destruction

Traditional depiction of Satan in scenes of the Last Judgment during the late 15th c.:

Like some kind of diabolical port-a-potty...even though I could elaborate for days on the simile, I won't. See how the ground is divided into parallel levels in the background? The registers remind me of the relief decorations on Roman sarcophagi. They depict the fate of the damned in hell. It seems to combine several of the cardinal sins, the most obvious being gluttony, avarice, and sloth.

Not a whole lot turns up on the internet about Binsfeld's classification of demons in conjunction with the seven deadly sins (but you can always count on Wikipedia), but I thought it was an interesting tangent nonetheless, especially because Beelzebub is the demon associated with gluttony and the fact that the name has come to be synonymous with Satan (in the New Testament). In the Old Testament, however, he was the Philistine god of Ekron 25 miles outside of Jerusalem, his name, which means "lord of the flies," was probably bestowed not because he brought the flies (originally, he was thought to be a sun god, and flies typically pester during the daytime) but because he was invoked to drive away the flies at a sacrifice.

Fountain of Youth

Oh how I love four-year-olds:

Miss T: C, why do you have marker all over your nose??
C: Because I wanted freckles.
Miss T: laughs Why'd you want freckles? Did you see someone who had freckles?
C: Yeah, F and Miss M. And I always wanted freckles.

I will miss the little whippersnappers this summer.

Different interpretations are put forth about the anomalous imagery of the artist in his paintings, especially the Garden of Earthly Delights. Usually the basic message is this: humanity is naive and wreckless and taking the shortcut to hellish destruction. Boom, there it is. One historian even saw the famous triptych (Garden) as a manifesto of the heretical Adamite group. The a nut-shell, people who practiced "amoral" sexual bonding without guilt (and by abolishing marriage) in order to experience life as Adam and Eve knew it. They were also advocates of "holy nudism"...sign me up. I'm calling a revival, taking the medieval Dutch name "Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit."

I recently watched a program about the Black Death on the History Channel, and similar groups toured Europe like rock stars; everyone thought the world was coming to an end and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers fell victim to the horrible disease while priests and legit representatives of Rome ran and hid or failed to provide the spiritual answer...before neo-Platonism and Descartes and modern Western medicine...I'd definitely kick up my heels and run wild.

This engraving was used in Bosch's biography to show a similarity between his paintings and the late medieval traditions of the love garden and fountain of youth. The book elaborates on that view, citing that the bathing couples, flowers and birds in the Garden all belong to the realm of Venus--a prominent figure in astrological and humoral traditions, of which Bosch was part.


In Brunswyck's Book of Distillation, first published in 1490, the blood of the pelican brings healing and renewal and was frequently compared to the blood of Christ throughout medieval Europe. The pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, providing her own blood when no other food was available. The bird became a symbol of self-sacrifice in bestiaries.

Sometimes I experience intense crying fits in the middle of the night. In fact, I had one last night. And a lot of them have to do with suffering. Rather, thinking of the people I love suffering. So, suffering is frequently rooted in love, which can be just as detrimental as hatred, but self-sacrifice gives us a chance to reaffirm our existence and essentially substantiate ourselves (ad hominem, goddammit) with respect to those we love. Sacrifice and suffering in general are very familiar concepts to me, considering I was raised Catholic. And it's always been difficult to rid myself of the obligation to pain in order to feel purpose, or to feel alive and on the right track.  Yes, it's masochistic, and yes, it's probably unnecessary, but regardless, that's how I'm wired. Other religions posit that life's resolution is to abolish suffering, but in order to do that, one must be not only compassionate toward those one feels threatened by or hates...but you must also free yourself from love and the consequent pain it inflicts. Why would I want to do that? I would hurt those who love me by not loving them back. But I would be hurting them, which is the exact opposite of what I want to achieve. I don't know.

Life is still beautiful, and I love magnolias. They're so ancient.

The Art of Dying

Another post from way-back-when, when A and I were introduced to the demented and utterly entertaining acts put on at the Palace of Wonders last year. After witnessing the truly spew-inducing (well, maybe not spew-inducing, but I definitely pulled out a few chunks of hair) panoply of warped, self-injuring stunts of the gifted Zamora the Torture King and also in the spirit of the crazy fun times had with Thrill Kill Jill and her beau Tyler Fyre, whose props include an array of swords, an albino python (think From Dusk Till Dawn), a synthetic confetti-filled placenta, and a whole lotta fire, I present this print.

From the popular illustrated treatise The Art of Dying (Ars moriendi), this is a blockbook print of the Avaricious Man. All of the woodcuts feature a dying man lying in bed, accompanied by an angel, a devil, and other pertinent figures to show a particular form of temptation--which becomes dangerously alluring when one is at the end of his rope. The book outlines over the course of several chapters ways in which the ill-fated can overcome temptation and accomplish peace because "the devil with all his might is busy to avert fully a man from the faith in his last end." Blah blah blah.

(The Avaricious Man, from The Art of Dying, 1465-70. Blockbook)