Ophelia (Madness)

Mara Hernández. "Ophelia (Madness)". (2010). All rights reserved.

When the first photographs appeared in the mid 19th Century Photography was not yet considered an Art. But soon the photographers started to try to imitate paintings, then, the style named Pictorialism was born. Julia Margaret Cameron and Oscar Gustav Rejlander were the pioneers. The idea of these masters was to conceive photos as paintings, and they positioned close to the Pre-Raphaelist aesthetics.

Nowadays, more than 150 years later, we can find some examples of Pre-Raphaelitsm in modern photography. At this moment, right in the Digital Era, photos are taken with digital cameras and processed by computer with tools as Photoshop, a process quite cheap and to modify colors, textures and shapes. So, there are millions of new digital photographers who take uncountable photographs and proudly show them.

In this context we find many interesting artists. In this case I want to present the Spanish photographer Mara Hernández. She captures at the same time the two ideas I have talked about: the use of new media as digital camera with software utilities, with the idea of creating photos as paintings, just like the Pictorialists did, referring to the Pre-Raphaelite Art. This is not casual: Mara aesthetic taste is close to the Gothic scene and their pictures own this 19th century smell. This Pre-Raphaelite descent is even more emphasized in the photo I show today: “Ophelia (madness)“.

Ophelia is portrayed in the moment she has become mad after her parent’s death. She is a pure young woman, redheaded, who loves nature. She is crowned with flowers and takes a bunch in her hands, close to her breast. Her look is lost in the infinite: no more rational ideas will fill her mind, she cannot understand and the situation is too much for her. She drives herself to death too…

Ophelia’s picture colors have been saturated to emphasize this moment of madness: orange, yellow and green are quite intense, it´s just like she was in a lysergic trip. The two blue eyes are like pearls that bright in the focus of the pic centering our look in her beautiful face. Just an incredible tragic image.

This is only one take of a complete series about Ophelia which will appear in the book “Tragic Beauty”, where are more beautiful famous tragic death females such as Julieta, Cleopatra, Isadora Duncan or Ana Bolena. This book will be published by Asociación Cultural Mentenebre next winter. I must say that I´m proud to contribute to this book with poems devoted to each beautiful woman. Please, don´t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in this book.

Xavier Mellery

Xavier Mellery. "Immortalité". (1890). All rights reserved.

After a hard period, I continue developing my Art dedicated blog.

Today I wan to point my eyes to a Belgian Symbolist painter: Xavier Mellery. He is not very wellknown, there are not too much texts about him, but I think he has an interesting personality and a he has a particular way of painting.

As a brief profile, we must say that Mellery was born in Laken in 1845 and died in Brussels in 1921. He was the son of the Royal Palace gardener and this circunstance could help him to develope his career. First, he initially worked with the painter-decorator Charles Albert and later could enter into the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts from 1860 to 1867. Though he had achademic training we must empasize his style as Symbolist. We can consider him as companion of Fernand Khnopff or Jean Delville, two of the most important Belgian Symbolists.

In this post, I want to compare two works of Mellery that are very related each other. They have a similar composition and colours (golden and blue), with two main characters that are opposites but are fundamentally related. Both were composed near 1890 and their titles are Immortalité (Immortality) and La Délicatesse est fille de la Force (the Gentleness is the doughter of the Force).

As I mentioned, the composition is similar: both canvases are vertical and the composition is located inside a golden space with a semicircle at the top. This golden color could be a reference to Byzantine Art, an element used also by his neighbor and famous painter Alphonse Mucha. It´s an element that emphasizes the divine character of the represented characters.

Two opposited figures appear in Immortalité: Death and Immortality. Death is represented in a traditional way: an skeleton with an scythe loking front and sit on a kind of wood wall and Immortality, a young man who looks back to Death, wearing a blue roman dress. Close to Immortality there is a third charater, secondary one, a child. This third character could suggest that Mellery wanted to represent the three ages of men, like the classic paintings of this matter.

Xavier Mellery. "La délicatesse est fille de la force". (1890). All rights reserved.

La Délicatesse est fille de la Force presents two figures but this time both looks to the observer. Gentleness is a female character and Force is male: they are two allegories represented in different sexes because the words to design them are male or female in French language. This question has appeared in other posts: the allegories use to be represented male or female on depending the genre of the word that designs it in each language. Force is a mature man, completely nude except his covered sex by a woollen and he holds a wooden stick. Gentleness wears a transparent dress and holds on the Force hand as support. She also has a bunch that emphasizes the female side of the Gentleness allegory.

Both are very fantastic paintings. You can admire them and many more works from Mellery on the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. A nice plan for this summer if you are near there.

Fear of Elle

Gustav Adolf Mossa. "Elle". (1905). All rights reserved.

One of the sides of the Symbolism style at the end of the 19th century is to represent the femme fatale. The icon of this kind of representations is The idol of perversity by Jean Delville (1891), but Elle by Adolf Mossa (1905) is not so far from it.

As always, we should analyze the elements of the painting, including all the details to try to find an interpretation. The main figure is a female nude lied down over a mountain and with brown hair and big eyes.

Let’s start from the top. There are two crows at both sides of the head as if the hair is a nest, a bird of bad omen, that are protecting three little skulls oriented in three different directions, which could be an allegory of time: past, present and future, the same that the popular Titian painting, but there were heads and here are skulls. Is it the end of times? Probably.

Another interesting and contradictory detail is a golden aura surrounding the head of Elle. But, could be Elle a saint? Not at all, probably this is a blasphemous element.

The pale face, the earrings and the necklace indicate that the woman could belong to aristocracy, maybe Victorian, contemporary with the painter.

The nude body: proportions and gesture reveal that the technique of Mossa is not perfect, he is not painting a proportioned nude body.

We arrive to the bottom, where there is the clue of the interpretation of the painting: the peak is a mountain made by human cadavers, probably male. Respect to the human bodies, Elle is a a giant, she is no doubt the incarnation of an evil monster.

I suggest several possible interpretations: first, Elle is Babylon, the Whore city of Asyria: the maximum incarnation of lust in the Earth. Another interpretation is that Elle is the Beast of Apocalypse, again related with the Christian question. The last suggestion is that Elle is the incarnation of all the evil for men, the woman that devours all men, the Praying Mantis, the supreme femme fatale.

Just the fantasies of fin de siècle drove the artists to think that the new women, the feminist, was breaking the traditional rules and she was a menace for men. I´m fascinated by this age but I will never understand its misogyny.

The Angel of the Death

Horae Vernet. "The Angel of the Death". (1851). All rights reserved.
Horace Vernet. "The Angel of the Death". (1851). All rights reserved.

It´s very curious to find a painting like this in an artist dedicated mainly to paint battles and portraits in 19th century. I suppose his talent was not recognized in his time and he had to dedicate himself to a more commercial painting as mentioned.

This lonely painting is for me the most interesting inside his production, maybe because it´s unique. In this painting, Horace Vernet approxmates to Romanticism and in some way it is an antecedent of Symbolism. To paint the Death as he does is not frequent in the middle of 19th century, most of all because he breaks the norm -the Death  is usually a skeleton with a scythe- representing the Death as a black angel. The angel has come down to earth and arrives directly to the bed of the dying girl and holds her to drive to death. He is completely black with wings and hidden face, a very personal interpretation of what the death is.

It´s obvious the piety side of this painting: there is a man down in his knees praying to God. It´s the prayer of the man to regret all the sins of the dying girl, in order to allow her going into Heaven. On the right side of the painting there are two elements: an open book which possibly is the Bible and an icon which represents either Virgin Mary or a female saint.

It´s also obvious that it´s unfair the young maiden is dying: an illness has driven her to death. She is represented as a young blond pale face girl wearing a white nightdress, sign of purity. One of her hands points up, it´s like she is in peace and knows she is going up, right to Heaven, while a celestial ray lays over her. She also has a necklace with a golden cross, another sign of Christianity. The man should be the lover of the maiden, so the image represents a tragedy.

Apart of the meaning of the painting, I want to emphasize the composition and the colours. The composition is lead by the body of the maiden, with a beautiful face, near to Pre-Raphaelite female representations. The blonde hair, pale face and white nightdress contrast with the black angel, the deep blue walls of the room and the ocher colors of the bed, furnishing and man wear. Everything is located around her and mean the injustice of the death of a pure maiden.

The painting, dated in France in 1851, today stays at Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, Russia. I haven´t ever watched the painting physically, but I´m sure that contemplating this masterpiece directly must be extremely pleasant. Don´t forget to visit this masterpiece if you are near this city.

Crypt World

Alonso Urbanos. "Mundo Cripta". (2008). All rights reserved.

Alonso Urbanos is a young Spanish designer, DJ and musician, who sometimes creates infographies to art exhibitions. He belongs to underground scene: in music he plays noise in bands like Scumearth and his designs are mainly artworks for music bands in electronic, experimental, noise and metal styles. He also designs posters, flyers and T-shirts.

Today I want to talk about one of his works of art called Mundo Cripta (Crypt World), that has been used in the design of the artwork of the last album of the band Vrademargk. It was presented for the first time in the collective exhibition of the ESP Weekend in Madrid in 2008 together with its couple La Década Obscura, another infography of the same dimensions  taken from the design of the book of the same title that talks about the born of Post-Punk music in the 80’s.

Mundo Cripta is an allegory of the world we live today: we all are dead people because our ideals and vaules are dead. It´s a look at the real world from the underground perspective. The colors used in the composition are ocher and black, just like the color of the oxidized iron. As suggest his vertical format, the image shows what is under and over the ground. Over we can find a big cemetery with a lot of crosses and tombs located in a place where are many abandoned and unfinished buildings. It´s the metaphor of an isolated place where has happened a catastrophe. It´s the land of death, just like described Mariano José de Larra in one of his short stories: all the people are in fact living dead. I think this is the idea that underlies in the Alonso’s composition.

It´s just time to look to the underground. There exists an strange monster showing its back (we can distinguish its spine, ribs and arms that hold up the surface world). But who is this monster? In a Romantic way it could be the Greek god Atlas, who sustains the world over his shoulders. In a Christian perspective, the monster could be Satan or the Antichrist, which lives at Inferno, just below the city of dead. But knowing Alonso Urbanos the monster must be the spirit of materialism, of decadence, a kind of monster who sucks our vital essence to dominate the world.

Right or wrong in my interpretation of this image, there is, no doubt, an artistic intention to reflect about our world, an allegory of life and death, of what is happening in our world in 21st century. Enjoy the image.

Visit Alonso Urbanos portfolio at:


La bella terminal

María Menéndez. "La bella terminal" (1996). All rights reserved.

The title “Beautiful Terminal” has been chosen by María Menéndez to name this drawing. A woman dressed in black with an scythe: no doubt she is the Death. This kind of representation of the Death comes from 19th century and very specially from the Symbolist movement. I remember Carlos Schwabe’s The Death of the Grave-Digger (1895) or the several paints of Thanatos as a beautyful female by Jacek Malczewski, as examples of this allegories of Death as beautyful females.

In one of my previous posts, I referred that the genre of the allegoric figures depends on the genre of the word in your language. Many allegories use to represent abstract concepts that use to be writen in femenine genre. But this not happen always with Death. Death is a femenine word in many languages but not all. For instance in german der Tod is a masculine word and just because of it we find in german art some representations of Death as a male. Later, I´ll discuse about other possible meaning putting death as a female.

The main attribute of La bella terminal is her beauty. She is a blonde maiden dressed in an elegant and long black dress. Beauty here could symbolise that maybe death it´s not so horrible as we have also thought and as it has been represented as a skull, a vanitas. I think this beauty associated to death could come from Romanticism and concretely I want to mention the book Axel written by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam in 1890. In this book the two lovers rise to ecstasy being together and they deceide that they are in the top and the most true love should be showed dying together in this climax. To die as a way to sublimate the most pure love. In this context is perfect to represent Death as a beautiful female.

Coming back to our Beautiful Terminal, her eyes are closed and the position of the head is softly slanting to the front. It´s just like she is not happy with her task. She doesn´t like to bring people from life to death but it´s her fate. Her dress is very long and wide in the basis, as a tree is born from the ground, even more when surrounding the dress there are branches. There is also some skulls that connects again the lady with death. This element of union between a female with the groud appeared in my previous post “Illustrating Fairies” where a girl was the peak of a hill.

This fact makes us to reflect about the conection of the female being with the Earth. In this case the terminal beauty is the opposite to fertility goddess or Mother Nature: a female gives us the life and another female drives us to Death. Feminity as creator and destructive principles. These ideas can be related with a feminine conception, even feminist, maybe because the artist is a female.