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.

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Fryne

Jean-Léon Gérôme. "Fryne's judgement". (1861). All rights reserved.

This painting shows one of my favourite stories of the Ancient Greece and was immortalized by the French painter and Sculptor Jean-Léon Gerome, an Academicist Artist of 19th century. This classic matter is not strange in his production, usual for the Academical Art of that age all around Europe. Maybe Gérôme is one of the most wellknown artists I use to write about, but this painting is special for me.

I´m going to tell you this story about Fryne and then I´ll analyze the painting. Fryne is not a mythological being, she was human, a very beautiful woman who modeled for the Greek sculptor Praxiteles. Fryne is a nickname, her real name was Mnésareté that means commemorator of virtue. She was born in Tepsias in 328 B.C.

Fryne was judged by the crime of merciless, because she used to compare herself with Aphrodite. She was so beauty that modeled for sculpting godesses (she was probably the model for Venus of Cnido). In the judgment she was defended by a good lawyer: Hisperides, a good friend of Praxiteles, but he was unable to convince the audience. So he showed Fryne nude and asked to the judges if was right to private the world to so incredible beauty. This argument convinced the judges and Fryne was free.

How to represent this incredible story? Gérôme does it as a master. The scene is inside a complex architecture: squared in the ceiling and circular (elliptical in perspective) on the floor. Around the circle, in the right side and the center are located all the judges. In the right side, on the focus of the ellipse, Fryne being naked by Hisperides. In the extreme left a man, probably Praxiteles. The red of the dress of the judges contrastates with the brilliant nude body of Fryne that is like the sun: everyone who looks at her must cover up. Even Fryne must cover up from her light.

Gérôme composed a great painting. He was able to capture the most intense beauty a woman may posses. I hope you enjoy this beautiful painting as I do, one of my favorite female nude paintings ever.

If you are near Germany you can watch the painting in Hamburg Kunsthalle.

Jess Ravel Iglehart

Today I want to visit the illustrations of Jess Ravel Iglehart, born American (Denver, CO) but very influenced by the British smell. His Art talent comes from his mother, the painter Elizabeth Iglehart.

I must say he has several influences as he declares: Wiener Werkstatte, Art Nouveau, silent film, Disneyland, victorian window displays and japanese ghost stories, but I want to point that British characters and cities are also a big influence for his Art, as I´m going to try to show in this post.

There is a series of images located in cities of Great Britain, such as London or Edimbourg. He combines photos of the urban landscape and there insert his characters.

Ravel Iglehart. "Edimbourg". All rights rserved.

This image, called Edimbourg, reflects an underground girl located in a crescent. This is one of my favourite of his works. She is dressed in black, with brown t-shirt and smoking. I have found this image with another title: Punk nouveau, that could reflect the meaning of the image. The point is the girl wears his jacket showing a shoulder and her belt comes undone. She really doesn´t look just as a punk (different hair dress and hair color, no studs) but her general aspect with this so called nouveau style combined could mean the contrast between these two labels.

Ravel Iglehart. "Black Frame". All rights reserved.

I think this punk nouveau attribute can be applied to several images, as Black Frame, where an elegant girl is located in an art nouveau frame.

Ravel Iglehart. "Black hat Lady". All rights reserved.

Also nouveau is the Black hat Lady. Elegance an assymetry in a bust that really could come from 19th century mood but located in a landscape with an industrial smokestack.

Ravel Iglehart. "Siouxsie Sioux". All rights reserved.

Underground music appears also in his illustrations, and it appeares in two female portraits: Siouxsie Sioux and Alison Goldfrapp. In Siouxsie we found the Queen of British punk and Gothic Rock. And again the geometry of the portrait and the secondary elements remembers echoes of Mackintosh Art Nouveau style. She is, no doubt, one of my favourite caricatures.

Ravel Iglehart. "Goldfrapp". All rights reserved.

About Alison Goldfrapp portrait we must say that belongs to a different style, there are more surrealistic elements than nouveau ones. This seem to represent another current in his Art.

If you want to keep on enjoying the Art of Jess Ravel Iglehart click here.

The Regal Twelve

Today I´m going to talk about Alexia Sinclair, a Digital Photographer, born in Newcastle in 1976 and formed as artist in Sidney where became Master in Fine Arts. She won Australian Fine Art Photographer award, ans since then she has exhibited in many numerous exhibitions including at the Australian Centre for Photography and the Art Gallery of NSW. She works with digital photography treating the images with digital software including many layers for each image.

In 2007 she presented her most acclaimed series of images called The Regal Twelve, where she took twelve important women of our History. Taking models for each photography she dressed each one to represent the historic women and later added several layers to contextualize the character in her location and time. There is a common element in each image, the beauty of the models, a way to sublimate the real characters she pretends to representate.

So, today I´m going to comment several images of this series. The first one, Isabel la Católica, Queen of Spain at the end of 15th century.

Alexia Sinclair. "Isabella of Spain (The Catholic)". (2007). All rights reserved.

The character is a young woman with brown hair and ponytails, her face is make up with dark shadws surrounding the eyes, and she wears a beautiful stamped dress. No doubt, these elements are inventions, cause the Queen was really a very austere person. On the contrary, Alexia Sinclair has located the queen in a more realistic place: a medieval cloister, where we can see a retablo with a Madonna and saints, which is related with the religious feeling of the queen. Other elements talks about the characteristics of Isabel: she holds a caravel that represents the conquer of America. In the other hand she holds a rosary, another sigh of her christian devotion. There are also some books close to her, that symbolizes her fond of reading. We know Isabel la Católica had a very important collection of books as the important “Libro de Horas de Isabel la Católica”.

Alexia Sinclair. "Elizabeth Bathory (The Countess of Blood)". (2007). All rights reserved.

Another woman in the series is the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the blood countess. She was born in Hungary in 1560 and died in 1614. I don´t know what is the reason to choose this woman, her only attribute is to be one of the first female serial killers of the History. She used to capture young maidens, to kill them with a knife and to take all their blood to take blood baths to stand always young. In the image we can see a sexy young countess who runs followed by a wolf, in a sexy pose, showing her leg. Her hair is mid brown mid red, her dress is composed by a red bodice, a blue skirt and a stole, and brings a rosary in her hand (this last element is opposite to the criminal spirit of this woman). The countess and the wolf runs through the fields, probably looking for a victim. Beside them we can see the Castle of Csetje, where she lived, but it doesn´t looks like the real castle of Elizabeth Bathory. There is also a very big moon in the sky, that means the countess is somekind of werewolf.

Alexia Sinclair. "Cleopatra (The Seductress)". (2007). All rights reserved.

The last image I´m going to comment is Cleopatra. Cleopatra is surely one of the most sexy queens of the History and because of that the model chosen for the photography is the most congruent of the whole series. Alexia Sinclair is representing probably the death of the Queen, when she is bitten by the serpent. Her imagination let’s Cleopatra appears half naked dressing somekind of mesh that partially covers her body. More realistic is the crown Cleopatra wears on her head, I think with the feather, symbol of Maat, the Justice. Cleopatra is sat in a golden throne inside an aisle painted with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

All the images try to contrast historical elements with contemporary ones. The models, as I mentioned before, are on the contrary of the real persons represented in the series, which approximates the images more to a model photo session than a historical investigation. Anyway Alexia Sinclair uses perfectly the techniques of digital photography because she is able to integrate perfectly the different layers. She is able to present us some realistic non-realistic historical women.

You can see the whole series and other works of Alexia Sinclair here.

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.

Walpurgis Night

Luis Ricardo Falero. "Vision of Faust". (1878). All rights reserved.

Today post is dedicated to a masterpiece of the Spanish 19th century painter: Luis Ricardo Falero. Falero was born in Granada in 1851 and died in London in 1896. His family could send him to study in UK in Richmond University when he was nine: a prodigy boy. Later he travelled to Paris, so his formation was multilingual and cosmopolitan. No doubt, he learnt from Victorians and Academicists to form his personal style. Surely, he was close to occultists and theosophs, and because of it he preferred magic and orientalist motives for his paintings. But the main object of his painting was always the woman. Nude women are present all over his art, as we can see in this masterpiece: Vision of Faust.

Vision of Faust (1878) is inspired in the first part of Goethe’s Faust, the passage where Mephisto shows the Walpurgis Night to Faust in Blocksberg, a peak of Harz mountains in Germany. Walpurgis Night is a traditional holiday for Nordic and Celtic people that celebrates the Spring Equinox, but later was diminished and the people considered this day as a meeting of witches with Satan. This is just the way in which Mephisto shows to Faust this celebration.

Other artists from 19th century who represented Walpurgis Night or meetings between witches were sordid and dark such as Aquelarre (1819-1823) by Goya or Walpurgis Nacht (1829) by Johann Heinrich Ramberg. However Falero’s Vision of Faust is quite sexual and orgiastic, there are devils and bats, but beautiful nude witches dominate the whole painting, doing pink the main colour of the canvas.

The Falero’s witches are disposed in several positions, are foreshortened figures, floating in the air. They are nude and their bodies are voluptuous, it´s an orgy, a painting completely indecorous to be approved by the Academy.

Apart from the witches, there are devil criatures: a bat, a reptile, an old woman, a skeleton, and most of all the incarnation of Satan in a billy-goat. There is also a nude man in the right side that could be Faust involved in the orgy, though it´s only a suggestion.

To watch this painting is just to be a voyeur, Falero wants to show us how a Sabbath should be: no terrible but extremely lascivious. Watching this paint is to be invited to contemplate a satanic bacchanal.

Sorceress by Brett Manning

Brett Manning. "Sorceress". All rights reserved.

The first question I want to discuse inthe post is why Brett Manning has used the word “sorceress” to define his illustration instead “witch”. Both words could be exchanged each other but there is a notable differencee between them: “witch” has a negative component, the witch has a pact with the devil and from it all her power emanates; however, “sorceress” is a woman who practices sorcery, makes spells, prepares ointments, always because she knows the Nature and from it comes all her wisdom and magic. So, our character of today is a pretty woman (beauty is also an attribute of sorceresses traditionally) who is in communion with the Nature and her powers come from this relationship.

I think the word “sorceress” cannot be applied in the western civilization for centuries, under the Christianism, because the women that took the role of witch doctor were accused of heresy and devil’s pact. So, we cannot find images of sorceress in the western imaginary till the Inquisition was suprimed (so lately as Spain, it finished at the beginning of 19th century). So, the first examples of representations of sorceresses appears in one of my favourite painting movement: the Pre-Raphaelites, who turn back the look to ancient legends (the Saint Grail) or cultures (Celtic). There we have two notable examples of sorceresses: The Magic Circle by Waterhouse (1886) and Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (1863-64).

But the sorcerress of this post is quite different from the Pre-Raphaelite ones, with the only similitude of the beauty of the character. Let´s examine the image to try to find the marks that help us to understand the illustration.

The image is a bust turned to the right but the head is looking front. She wears an interesting headdress from which we can understand many things: the helmet is the head of an eagle, which represents her connection with the wind, with the ability of look far and the majesty of being the queen of the air. Also, surrounding the helmet there are eagle feathers that covers her hair, that emphasize this connection. Over the eagle’s head there is a circle that represents a star: maybe the Sun or the Moon, another source of her supernatural power and link with the Nature. Her face is made up with strange symbols: an inverted triangle in the forehead and longitudinal lines with little black triangles.

All these elements let me think in two cultures: native Americans and Egyptians. The native Americans use feathers and skulls from birds of prey in their hair-dresses and paint their faces with lines and symbols. But there is an important question, the females didn´t take the role of witch doctor in this culture. Anyway, I think Brett Manning has taken inspiration from native Americans.

About Egyptians, I find two elements linked with the illustration: the eagle and the circle (the Sun), that were two very important symbols of the Egyptian religion that are connected with Horus and Ra. Anyway the look of our sorceress is aesthetically different from Egyptians.

I think Manning has created a personal illustration taking several elements from different cultures to create his own iconography. No doubt, the image of this sorceress is quite beautiful and suggestive and brings to nowadays a female icon forbidden for many time in our culture. I think it has an esoteric meaning and I enjoy a lot all the rich elements around this sorceress.

Solomon’s Eve

Simeon Solomon. "Eve". All rights reserved.

Eve is one of the most important female icons in 19th century Art. Her role is one of the supports of the misogyny and identification of woman with evil. Eve and the serpent are the satanic couple which deserved the expulsion of mankind from Paradise. This stigma drives parallel to the increasing of the woman power in society, and is identified with the femme fatale. The woman could be the angel of home or the femme fatale, these were the two options for women in 19th century society.

Eve and the serpent didn´t appear only in the Bible or Paradise Lost, they appear transformed in Lilith (first wife of Adam), Salambó (Flaubert’s novel), Baudelaire’s poem The serpent who dances or mythological tales such as Cadmus and Harmonia, Lamia or Dripoe and Apollo.

The example we found in Solomon’s Eve is totally different of those examples that I have quoted before.
Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) is a late Pre-Raphaelist devoted to historic, Judaic and Biblical themes, just like the painters of this pictorial movement. Furthermore he painted homosexual and androgynous themes as Sad Love or Erinna, because he was homosexual. He was jailed accused of sodomy like his friend Oscar Wilde.

This sexual connotation could explain the strange way of representing Eve in this post. Usually, this theme represents the moment in which Eve tastes the apple and seals the pact with the Devil. If we look this painting we find several differences with the traditional way of representation. Eve is rising up with the help of two “angels” while Adam stays asleep or fallen. Eve is completely nude and she has no shame. The beauty of Eve is elevated, and with her, the role of women, while men are decaying.

Maybe Solomon thought that mankind leave ignorance thanks to Eve, and the fact of tasting the apple saved all human beings. The paint is the triumph of beauty and knowledge.

In a second stage, we can compare this painting with a Virgin’s Ascension or, even more blasphemous, with a female crucifixion: Eve is raised by the angels that hang their arms and the position is just like a crucifixion. I think the body position is not ingenuous, I think is deliberate to suggest a transgression. Anyway, this kind of apparent crucifixion is not so obvious like fin de siècle images just like The temptation of Saint Anthony by Félicien Rops.

This is only an interpretation of a not wellknown painting by Solomon that is not a famous Pre-Raphaelite. However this painting is very interesting and not very considered in Art. This oil on canvas has been recently sold by £713,250, not so much for this interesting work of Art.

The Little Birds Lied by Nicomi Nix Turner

Nicomi Nix Turner. "The Little Birds Lied". All rights reserved.

Nicomi Nix Turner is an artist active in California. Her vision of the World is related to Nature, because of that he has studied plants and animals to take inspiration from them. She is interested also by Alchemy and very linked to its symbolism. About religion, she is close to Paganism and counter-religion beliefs. I feel near to all those elements and this means I feel very close with her Art.

As I do with the images I don´t know its meaning, I try to analyze their elements. In a first stage we find a female head that seems a maiden. There are three little birds around her and a red flower in her hair. She has a necklace and a gag that falls silent her voice. The main color of the illustration is white and ocher with several red motifs.

The little birds and the face of the maiden could tell us about a connection between femininity and Nature, a connection with the female side of the Earth. But there are elements that contradicts this first approximation. First, the gag is an element of punishment: she cannot talk because somebody stops it. And second, the red color, symbol of the blood. This color appears around the eyes of the maiden and the birds. Also the flower in her head is red. Banning and blood, these are the two messages behind the purity of the main elements. Everything that looks beauty turns into somekind of frustration.

This image remembers me the tale The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde, an association between the red of the blood of the nightingale -one of the birds has red feathers- and the red color of the rose that is created with its blood. The girl that cannot talk is the girl of the tale that refuses the present of the red rose, she prefers jewels than gifts that comes from the soul. Obviously, there is no direct relation between the tale and the illustration, but it´s possible that in a first stage Nicomi Nix Turner could have taken inspiration from this tale.

Another possible interpretation is that the image is an allegory of femininity, a woman inside the Nature but raped -she cannot talk- and red, related with the menstrual fluid. This could mean the traditional subjugation of the women in the predominant patriarchy in Occident. Maybe this second interpretation is nearer the main idea of the painter in a first degree.

You can learn more about Nicomi Nix Turner in this link.

Mary Shelley by Sarah Dolby

Sarah Dolby. "MaryShelley". (2007). All rights reserved.

Sarah Dolby is an interesting painter from New Zeland. He had success and her works has been exhibited in New York. This is due to the high quality and imagination of her images. There are two main points in her Art: she paints mainly women and all of them have a dark aura. Because of it we are right if we say she is a gothic painter.

The image I post reflects the personal vision of Sarah Dolby about the authoress of Frankenstein novel in 19th century Mary Shelley. This interest in this female writer of the Gothic novel contributes with the two ideas I expressed before: a woman with a dark component.

It would have been easier for Sarah to take as model one of the portraits of the writer from the 19th century like the famous one made by Richard Rothwell, first exhibited in 1840, and today located in the National Portrait Gallery in London. But Sarah Dolby preferred to round 180 degrees and proposed a Mary Shelley very different: like a gothic character, as one extracted from one extracted from her dark novels. So, we can see one element to refute our theory: Mary Shelley’s head.

The head reflects the agony of the woman. It looks like a contemporary gothic girl, with an obscure make up, to reflect she is a living dead or she is a phantom: deep eye shadows, dark lipstick and pale face. Also the hairstyle is strange, not in the 19th century mood.

Her dresses are very personal too. She wears a lace shirt and grey skirt with a red cloak fastened in the arm.

There is a contradiction in this dark painting, it´s an element of contrast, there are plants growing all around Shelley’s body with several types of flowers. A natural element that surrounds a purely dark icon.

There are other elements that I cannot identify or understand. Behind the female figure, suspended in a grey sky, there are objects floating in the air. I can recognize a mirror, a little portrait and some piety illustrations. Just those piety illustrations are the element that doesn´t fit in the puzzle. I cannot understand their meaning in the painting.

Again another interesting contemporary image that reflects the spirit of the 19th century. I think that the current gothic movement has its roots in the dark 19th , one of my favourite points of study. I hope you like this intriguing painting too.