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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Gavin Hamilton, Venus Presenting Helen to Paris, Museo di Roma. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.;www.artres.com; scalarchives.com, Rights (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Gavin Hamilton, Venus Presenting Helen to Paris, Museo di Roma. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; http://www.artres.com; scalarchives.com, Rights (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?”

So asks the title character in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus upon seeing the radiant ghost of Helen of Troy. Marlowe was not the only artist to be captivated by Helen and her fabled beauty. Indeed, for millennia, painters, sculptors, poets and playwrights have been inspired by her story.

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Aubrey Beardsley, Le Morte D'Arthur; "La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard", 1893. Image and catalog data provided by Allan T. Kohl, Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Aubrey Beardsley, Le Morte D’Arthur; “La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard”, 1893. Image and catalog data provided by Allan T. Kohl, Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Aubrey Beardsley was born on August 21, 1872. Despite dying of tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-five in 1898, the artist managed to have a brilliant career full of controversy and scandal. He shot to fame with his illustrations for Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in 1893, and then became notorious for his illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1894).

Recurring images throughout his career follow two seemingly incongruous paths. There is an emphasis on sly, clever wickedness; a youthful disregard for propriety; and an interest in the perverse and profane. Overlapping imagery of melancholia and death lead the second path. These two broad and inconsistent currents each render distinct images of the same artist who was drawn to scandal and associated himself with the 1890s Symbolist crowd often scorned by the arts elite and general public alike.

The images in this post come from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and George Eastman House collections in the Artstor Digital Library.

Elizabeth Darocha Berenz

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Visitors viewing display cases and Bird Dome, Hall of the Birds of the World, 1927, American Museum of Natural History, Photographer: H. S. Rice. Image and original data provided by Library, American Museum of Natural History

Visitors viewing display cases and Bird Dome, Hall of the Birds of the World, 1927, American Museum of Natural History, Photographer: H. S. Rice. Image and original data provided by Library, American Museum of Natural History

Visiting the Museum of Natural History was high on my list of priorities on my first trip to New York City. This was in big part due to its mention in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye—even if, to be honest, I didn’t quite remember the role it played in the book.

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Vincenzo Petroncini Gozzini | La Divina commedia, 1846 | Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library: Fiske Dante Collection

Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divina Commedia has had an incalculable impact on Western culture, not least through its inspiration of visual artists. After all, Dante’s descriptions of grotesque figures, fantastic landscapes, and inventive punishments virtually beg to be depicted visually. (more…)

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Luca Signorelli | Dante, 1499-1504 | San Brizio Chapel, Duomo di Orvieto | Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y. artres.com / scalarchives.com | (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

From those fabulous poems by Roman bad-boy Catullus (84-54 BC) to today’s contemporary poet rock-stars like Billy Collins, poetry might not enjoy the same mass popularity as it did in ancient times, but when you dive in, poetry is its own universe of aural, oral, and cerebral pleasures. Poetry and art are intertwined—two art forms in constant dialogue, creating and recreating each other. Countless poets have also written on art, from William Butler Yeats to Gertrude Stein to Ted Hughes, and their work has shaped the development of painting, sculpture, performance, dance, theater, literature, music, and film (see Poets on Painters, ed. J.D. McClatchy, 1998)

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Burt Glinn | Writer Jack Kerouac reads at Seven Arts Café, New York City, 1959 | Image and original data provided by Magnum Photos, magnumphotos.com | ©Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos

While the 1950s are popularly remembered as a decade of “button down” conformity, the postwar era saw the rise of two groups of American writers and artists who broke with tradition and social norms in an exaltation of unfettered personal expression.

The Beat Generation scandalized the country with their licentious lives and confessional writings. Allen Ginsberg’s rousing poem Howl (1956), Jack Kerouac’s semi-fictional novel On the Road (1957), and William S. Burroughs’s acerbic satire Naked Lunch (1959) spurned materialism, reveled in sexuality, and celebrated the use of illegal drugs. The writers were in turn reviled as “beatniks,” conflating the popular conception of bohemia with juvenile delinquency, another perceived social threat of the times.

Burt Glinn | A back table at The Five Spot. From left to right: sculptor David Smith, painter Helen Frankenthaler (back to camera), art guru Frank O’Hara, painter Larry Rivers, painter Grace Hartigan, unidentified man, sculptor Anita Huffington, and poet Kenneth Koch, New York City, 1957 | Image and original data provided by Magnum Photos, magnumphotos.com | ©Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos

The Abstract Expressionists, a loose group of modern artists that included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, were breaking boundaries in the visual arts at roughly the same time. While they did not make their equally unconventional personal lives public, their work elicited the same type of shocked reactions from the media and the public as the Beats did, such as Pollock being called “Jack the Dripper” in a famous 1956 article in Time titled “The Wild Ones” (partly in reference to “The Wild One,” a film about motorcycle gangs starring Marlon Brando).

Legendary Magnum photographer Burt Glinn captured many of the key protagonists in these movements in the late 1950s. In the images included here, we see a table at the legendary jazz club the Five Spot that includes sculptor David Smith, painters Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Grace Hartigan, and poets Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara. There are also iconic images of Jack Kerouac performing at the Seven Arts Café, and Frankenthaler and Hartigan with fellow painter Joan Mitchell at an art opening.

You can find these and many other fascinating photographs of these seminal figures in the Magnum Photos collection in the ARTstor Digital Library. Search for upper bohemians to find Glinn’s 1957 series that includes writers and artists of the Abstract Expressionist scene, and beatniks to see his 1959 series on the writers and poets of the Beat Generation.

- Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Burt Glinn | Painters Joan Mitchell (left), Helen Frankenthaler (center), and Grace Hartigan (right) at the opening of an exhibition of Frankenthaler paintings, New York City, 1957 | Image and original data provided by Magnum Photos, magnumphotos.com | ©Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos

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André Derain | Untitled, pg. 16, in the book Pantagruel by François Rabelais, 1943 | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco | © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

André Derain | Plaideurs, pg. 70, in the book Pantagruel by François Rabelais, 1943 | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco | © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Horrible and Terrifying Deeds and Words of the Very Renowned Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua (better known as simply Pantagruel) was the first in a series of five satirical books by the Franciscan monk and physician François Rabelais chronicling the outrageous adventures of the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel and friends. Published around 1532, Pantagruel is rife with vulgarity, scatological humor, and violence. In spite (or possibly because) of being condemned by the church and deemed obscene by the censors of the Sorbonne, the books proved very popular. In testimony to the author’s continuing influence, Merriam-Webster defines Rabelaisian as “marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism.”

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