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.

Roger and Angelica

Arnold Böcklin. "Roger and Angelica" (1871-74). Nationalgalerie, Berlin. All rights reserved.
The story of Roger and Angelica comes from an epic poem called Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto, published in 1532. It´s a very long poem that continues another poem from Matteo Maria Boiardo. Concretely, the tale belongs to the 10th chant, verse 92. It talks about a beautiful woman captured and watched over by a dragon. Roger, the hero, wish to deliver Angelica from this situation by which he fights and kills the monster.

This is not a new story, we have some examples very similar, from the ancient Greece, pagan traditions and Christianity. The oldest is the story of Andromeda and Perseus, who has to kill the gorgon Medusa to save the princess (you can read more about this in my previous post “Contemporary Medusa”). In pagan traditions from Capadoce there exists the legend of the God Sabacio who has to kill a big serpent riding a white horse. The Christian hagiography in the Golden Legend talks about Saint George and the dragon, another tale with the same protagonists: the knight, the princess and the dragon.

This theme was popularised by the painting of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1812 called Roger delivering Angelica, made in classical academic style. But the painting of this post is later and belongs to the Symbolist style, just because Arnold Böcklin is one of the principal painters of this fin de siècle movement. There is no doubt that Ingres painting is a masterpiece, but the Böcklin one, not so wellknown, is important too.

This painting represents the moment just before Roger starts to fight with the dragon, we see him coming from the horizon. In front, there are Angelica tied to a tree and a very big turquoise dragon which tail rounds the body of Angelica.

In Symbolism the woman use to play a role of femme fatal in many cases, and a role of subordination to the male in many others. This reflects the misoginy that leads this movement. In this painting, clearly the woman plays the role of captive, that cannot be free without the help of a man. To emphasize this subordination, Angelica appears half nude, and Roger carries a long lance like a phalic element, both give the scene a sexual content, there is a sexual sublimation by symbolism. Even more, the tail of the dragon around the half naked body of Angelica could represent another sexual vinculation. In this case the dragon could play the role of the serpent in Paradise: there are three characters: female, male and devil, like Eve, Adam and the serpent in the Genesis.

Again, a painting plenty of meaning and symbolism.

Le monde secret des automates

Dkillerpanda. "Profesor Fahnenfluch (1827 – 1904)". All rights reserved.

The work of the catalonian graphic designers Dkillerpanda has a dark component that comes, mostly, from 19th century culture. Most of their characters are writers (Goethe, Poe, Mary Shelley), or characters taken from dark folk tales, even taken from Gothic Novell. Apart from these characters from the 19th century literature Dkillerpanda has created a singular series: “Le monde secret des automates”. In this series Dkillerpanda creates new characters by taking elements from the 19th century european culture. This series was exhibited in Café Lil (Barcelona) in March/April 2007. Also mention that, close to the images, there is a text that describes a story in which you can locate each character.

The leading role is Profesor Fahnenfluch (1827 – 1904), fond of travelling to strange places of Europe. He is going to find there all kind of weird people: rare, fantastic, sinister, odd, twisted, devious… The Proffessor, whose main hobby was to create automatons, is going to create mechanic beings inspired by those people.

Indirectly, we can mention a possible source for this exhibition: the tale Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann, where we can find also the Professor Spallanzani that creates Olympia, a so perfect female automaton that the main character, Nataniel, falls in love with her thinking she is real. This tale, representative of the sinister in 19th century, could be connected with this series of Dkillerpanda.

The series is composed by eleven characters, all of them showing the attributes of the identity of Dkillerpanda –simple geometric elements, head very big respect to the body, circle eyes, etc.- But this series is new in one important point: the use of the colour, just because their main production is black and white. They use the colour in a very right way: they don´t use flat inks, they use textures that don´t imitate skin or dress, they are dirty, we could say noisy textures. I think there is influence from circus in the use of the colour, even more when they use colours very saturated. In this way, the characters have strength and power.

Dkillerpanda. ‘EL NIÑO TONTO’ (ESPAÑA FECHA DESCONOCIDA). All rights reserved.

I´m going to talk only about few of these characters and I want to start with the spanish one: the silly boy, punished to wear a pointed hood in which you can read “silly boy”. He had to wear it till he learnt the lesson. He took three years. This character reminds me one of the mockery elements used by Spanish Inquisition, that survived till beginings of 19th century. We can see this hat in paintings as Auto de fe de la Inquisición (1815-19) by Goya, there are two prisoners that wears capirote. So, it seems adequate to put this element in the spanish automaton.

Dkillerpanda. ‘EL HOMBRE PIRAÑA’ (DINAMARCA ¿ - 1830). All rights reserved.

Another interesting character is the piranha-man. Apart from the big and fierce mouth with sharp teeth, he has a second and terrifying mouth placed in the stomach. This second mouth is an attribute of the Devil. From Middleages till Renaissance is frequently to find Devil’s paintings with this second mouth, as the example of Livre de la Vigne Nostre Seigneur (1450-70). This time, Dkillerpanda have chosen a medieval element to define one of their characters.

Dkillerpanda. ‘MR. SAW DE LONDRES’ (INGLATERRA 1841 - 1888). All rights reserved.

Mr. Saw comes from London. He has a nice squared moustache and gel hair, so he looks like a Charleston dancer. He was expert playing the saw, and every time he played he invented a new way of playing with new melodies, even better than the previous. But in August 15th 1888, he played his best concert and received an ovation over twenty minutes, and after it he beheaded himself in front of the audience. In 19th century was usual to play the saw but it´s not common to hear it nowadays. There is a contemporary band that still plays the saw, The Tiger Lillies, which look and lyrics have many elements from 19th century. I think Dkillerpanda, that knows this band, probably has taking the saw from them.

Maybe in later posts I´ll talk about more of these interesting automatons because they are very rich in meanings and it´s not easy to find so complex characters in contemporary Art.

If you want to see more images by Dkillerpanda:



Image wars in the age of Reformation

When you see the Lutheran Reformation, one interesting fact is the apocalytic climate that felt the people at that age, near the year 1500. In this date, even more than first millenium, the people feared the end of the times, thought that the Apocalypse just come. We realise this fact because of the numerous illustrated Apocalypses at that time: the one of Albrecht Dürer (he illustrated it by his own wish) and the other one of Lucas Cranach. Just the people really thought that in 1500 went to happen the prophecy of Saint John.

Close to this idea, it was the coming of Antichrist, Fact that brought the mankind to the end of the times. Then, the legend of the Book of Daniel about the coming of the Antichrist was very widespread.

So, quickly the people started to identified the Antichrist with several people: the Turk, the anabaptist Thomas Müntzer, Martin Luther and even the Pope of the Roman Church, who was the target of the reformators. Maybe this climate of premonition of the end of the World favors the intense and virulent attack of Lutero to the Roman Church.

To identify the Pope with the Antichrist was the main theme of Reformation propaganda. This happens in books as “The Mirror of Christianity” where appears the opulent Roman Church, identifying the Pope with the Antichrist, or Melanchton’s “Pasional Christi und Antichristi”, illustrated by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Apart from these books, there were many engraved panphlets spread as a Reformation weapon of propaganda.

The Roman Church did the same, today survives some prints, but there were less intensity in the images propaganda in the Roman Church than in the side of Reformation.

An example of print attacks inbetween Roman Church and Lutherans are the two engravings I show below.

Hans Brosamer, Seven-headed Martin Luther - 1529 Engraving. Book cover of Johannes Cochelu’s "Sieben köpfe Martini Luthers" Leipzig. All rights reserved

In a few years, Catholics consolidated their critics against Reformation through the print image. “Martin Luther as Seven-headed Beast” happened at the same time that Johannes Cochlaeus was expeled from the Protestant Sacramental Altar.

Probably designed by Hans Brosamer, this engraving shows Luther as the Dragon of Apocalypse or the Antichrist described in Johannes text. The seven heads are: a doctor, a saint, an unfaithful, a priest, a fanatic, a Church supervisor and Barrabás. In it, we can see Luther reading a book, whose opinions would ve as diverse as his seven heads.

Anonymous, The seven-headed papal beast, 1530, coloured woodcut. All rights reserved.

The year after the release of “Seven-headed Martin Luther”, the Reformators stroke back with this woodcut. This image is focused to diverse Catholic Church members. The Antichist has the heads of the Pope and his lieutenants, and makes fun of the mock about the Luther satiric portraits. The Beast is sat in an Mammon altar. The text close to the image explains that the Pope’s court has impersonated the God’s altar and declares itself God. It´s identified as an idol, demanding monetary tributes as Indulgences. So, the Roman Church is condemned by its proper representations. The altar is located over a chest plenty of money with the Devil: it´s the Reign of Satan. The intention of this print is to mock about an instrument of catholic piety: devotional prints.

This is one of the first, and interesting, propaganda war.

Contemporary Medusa

All rights reserved

An interesting area of study is the Art behind the music albums artwork. It has been a very enriching experience for me to watch the covers and booklets and I can assure that it´s one of the points to deceide  me to study Art History. I met Pre-Raphaelism, Symbolism, Art Nouveu for the first time in artworks of gothic music. I found not only these 19th century styles but many contemporary artists that use the cover design to spread their art. So, in this post I want to talk about one of them: Daniel Faoro and his photography “Medusa”.

Unfortunately Daniel Faoro is not a very wellknown photographer, he has worked in underground musical scene participating in covers for bands like Play Dead or Elijah’s Mantle. He has also participated in some collective exhibitions in the gay scene.

The photo I present belongs to the cover of Elijah’s Mantle “Sorrows of Sphia” album (1995). This album is completely dedicated to female godesses from diverse religions and cults and it´s an enhancement of matriarchy as the first state of the humankind. Just “Medusa” it´s the most celebrated song of the album and just because of it this image appears in the cover.

Elijah’s Mantle is a project rooted in the french Symbolist movement of 19th century. The music is based in orchestral instrumentation that loops again and again, over whom appears the solemn voice of Mark Ellis that sings as he would be reciting poetry. No doubt Elijah’s Mantle is one of my favourite music projects. Unfortunately Ellis stopped making music some years ago.

The decadent halo of the music makes us to view a Medusa whose first attribute is beauty. But the Faoro’s beauty is androginous –it remembers me the faces of Fernand Khnopff-. I want to emphasize this point: Medusa is beauty. Though the artistic tradition has represented her sometimes terrifying, as a monster –I quote Caravaggio’s “Medusa”- the Ovid text Metamorphosis describes her as a divine being, of original supreme beauty, but a malediction transforms her in a monstruous gorgon with terrifying face and serpents as hair.

Faoro’s photography combine two aspects: the original beauty of Medusa and the serpents hair. It brings us to the moment in which Medusa’s look converts to anyone she watchs in stone, even when she is beheaded. To represent it, Faoro has chosen sepia colour, and this gives the photography a halo of eternity: Medisa is an archetype, she has no present, she stands forever. The election of the tone enhance the photo.

I have extracted this photo from its original context to give it the importante it deserves cause in my honest opinión this photo should be contemplated much more than a cover of a music album.