A Terrible Beauty is Born: The Art of Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke (1889-1931) was an Irish stained glass artist, painter and book illustrator born on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. Trained by his father a craftsman in stained glass he went on to become Ireland’s most accomplished and creative practitioner of the art. The waning Art Nouveau movement and the waxing Art Deco aesthetic along with continental Symbolism informed him. Clarke also brought something uniquely Celtic to his work as seen in the Geneva Window depicting Irish motifs. He was an accomplished illustrator, working on diverse projects such as Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination and Selected Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne. On April Fool’s Day, 1924 Clarke completed the illustrations for John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes, a study in blue that would later be a stained glass window. Sadly both Keats and Clarke shared not only their art but also young death from tuberculosis.

Hamams and Harems: The Occidental and Oriental Worlds

The exquisite blog Little Augury has a new banner showing the Portrait de Monsieur Levett et Mademoiselle Glavani Assis Sur un Divan en Costume Turc by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Liotard (1702 -1789) was a Swiss-French painter who often chose occidentals in oriental dress as his subject. In Woman in Turkish Costume in a Hamam instructing her Servant he depicted two Turkish women. The hamam was the Turkish bath, a popular theme in western art along with the harem. Giovanni Antonio Guardi's (1699 - 1760) Harem Scene creates a Venetian idea of a seraglio and its inhabitants. One woman was able to elevate herself from the harem. Roxelana, Hürrem Sultan (1510 - 1558) became the legal wife of Süleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. An anonymous artist shows her in a sixteenth century painting. The portrait of Süleyman is attributed to Venetian Tiziano Vecelli (1490-1576) and his workshop.

Conquering the Green Sea of Darkness: Henry the Navigator

The Monument to the Discoveries or Padrão dos Descobrimentos was built in 1960 to celebrate Portugal’s contributions during the Age of Discovery in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Originally designed in 1940, it stands overlooking the Tagus River in Belém, Lisbon. Henry the Navigator (1394 –1460) is at the forefront of the concrete vessel holding a model of a caravel. He was the Portuguese prince that encouraged explorations in a time when sailors feared the “green sea of darkness”. The mariners believed the uncharted waters held deadly sea serpents and boiling water that turned the skin black. Henry was able to employ scholars, navigators and cartographers to establish Portugal as a maritime power. He created the caravel ship, an elegant and efficient design that was also used by the Spanish as shown in the Caravel Pendant from the late sixteenth century. The story of the discoveries was depicted in the children’s book Spice and the Devil's Cave by Agnes Danforth Hewes (1874 1963) and illustrated by the American artist Lynd Ward (1905-1985).

Going-a-Maying: Guinevere and Maia

So it befell in the month of May, Queen Guenever called unto her knights of the Table Round; and she gave them warning that early upon the morrow she would ride a-Maying into woods and fields beside Westminster. Sir Thomas Malory - Le Morte d'Arthur
Now that April showers are coming to an end we can soon expect May flowers. The month of May is named for the Roman goddess of Spring Maia Majesta. She is shown with Vulcan, her sometime companion, in Flemish artist Bartholomeus Spranger’s Mannerist painting (1590). In the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a book of hours commissioned in 1410, the month of May depicts a group of nobles riding in procession through the woods and fields near Paris. It is very similar to the scene that the English writer Malory describes in his mid fifteenth century compilation of Arthurian romances. English artist Aubrey Beardsley illustrated the book in black and white during the late nineteenth century.

Classic, Traditional and Modern: Epoca San Francisco at the Los Angeles Antiques Show

Antiques dealer Eric Petsinger of Epoca San Francisco will be bringing his eclectic and esoteric eye to the Los Angeles Antiques Show again in April. Petsinger and his gallery of seven years have participated in the prestigious exhibition each year. Known for an inventory that ranges from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, that can be serious or playful, Epoca has been a welcoming environment for interior designers, collectors and dreamers. The same gracious ambiance will be found in its booth at the show. Featured this year are a dramatic American Art Deco four paneled black lacquer screen with a flock of cranes, a pair of 1960’s Murano glass lamps in periwinkle blue and a pair of French Napoleon III style carved giltwood ropetwist circular stools. The exhibit runs April 22 to April 25 and is located in the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Air Center, http://www.losangelesantiqueshow.com. View Epoca’s complete inventory virtually at http://www.epocasf.com or in person at 1700 Sixteenth Street, Sixteenth at Kansas, San Francisco.

Facing our Demons: Dragons, Serpents and Snakes

Debra Healy of the two exquisite blogs Diamonds & Rhubarb and Paris Originals commented on the last post regarding St. George and the importance of facing dragons both good and bad. Continuing that theme with Franz von Stuck (1863 - 1928), a German Symbolist/ Art Nouveau artist, designer and architect who often chose mythological subjects for his paintings. One of them was Hercules and the Hydra where the hero defeats the many headed water beast. Stuck also taught several great painters including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Josef Albers. Another artist who chose heroes facing dragons was Viktor Vasnetsov (1848 - 1926). The Russian artist was an important figure in the revivalist movement in Russian art and illustrated the heroic bogatyr battling the giant mountain serpent Zmei Gorinich. In the case of St Margaret she escapes from a dragon representing Satan as in French Romantic Antoine Auguste Ernest Hébert’s (1817 -1908) painting. Sometimes the maiden ends up marring her serpent who transforms into a handsome prince. Danish illustrator, Kay Nielson’s (1886-1957) depicted the Scandinavian folk tale Prince Lindworm for East of the Sun and west of the Moon.

The Hero, The Beauty and The Beast: St. George and Perseus

Saint George’s Day is celebrated on April 23. The Roman soldier and martyr is best remembered for the story of his slaying a mythical dragon, which goes back to the popular collection of saints' lives in The Golden Legends. In his legend, compiled during the thirteenth century by Jacopo de Voragine, a dragon dwells by a spring in the city of Silene. The pagan residents needing fresh water appease the beast with animal sacrifices. When this does not work they sacrifice their children who are chosen through a lottery. Finally the fate falls on the King’s beautiful daughter and she is dressed as a bride to await her death. Saint George saves her by slaying the dragon and the kingdom converts to Christianity.

The legend has its origins in the pagan myth of the Greek hero Perseus who saves the beautiful princess Andromeda from a sea monster. Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475) the Italian artist and mathematician who painted in a combination of late Gothic and early Renaissance styles was apparently fascinated with the subject of St. George and the Dragon. Below center is one of the paintings attributed to him. French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), an admirer of the Italian masters of the Quattrocento chose the same subject. Golden Age of Illustration artist Edmund Dulac depicts Perseus saving Andromeda from the sea monster in the 1935 book Gods and Mortals in Love.

Hades and Persephone: Death, Rebirth, Winter and Spring

Hades the dark god of the Underworld abducted the maiden Persephone on a spring like day while she was gathered flowers in a meadow with nymphs. As queen of the dead she ruled below earth during the barren Winter to return at Spring with the rebirth of the upperworld. The myth of the seasons was transformed during the plagues of medieval Europe into Death and the Maiden in which the ephemeral beauty of a virgin or lady is contrasted with a skeleton personifying Death. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne retold the story of Persephone in The Pomegranate Seeds from Tanglewood Tales (1853). Virginia Frances Sterrett illustrated the children’s book in 1921. The Baroque marble sculpture The Rape of Proserpina by Italian Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 –1680) provides a more carnal vision of the myth. German printmaker Sebald Beham (1500-1550) depicted Death pursuing a Lady in his engraving, like Persephone she is holding flowers. Edvard Munch (1863–1944) had an early fascination with death, his mother and sister both dying of tuberculosis when he was a child. The Norwegian Expressionist shows the Maiden in an erotic embrace with Death.