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…)
Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category
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.
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.
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 Rabelaisianas “marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism.”
In the late 1930s, André Derain was commissioned by Swiss publisher Skira to illustrate Pantagruel. Inspired by medieval hand-colored playing cards, the artist created more than 128 woodcuts to illustrate the story. Derain, who by this time was painting in a traditional realist vein, returned to the exuberant colors of Fauvism, the movement he had co-founded decades earlier. Instead of using separate blocks for individual colors, each illustration was printed from a single block with all colors applied simultaneously (a process known as à la poupée), a method so rigorous that it took two years to print an edition of 275. The book was released in 1943 and became a highlight in the history of modern illustrated books.
The ARTstor Digital Library is the only place online that features all 128 illustrations, the cover, and a hand-drawn frontispiece, courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Collection; search for Pantagruel and Derain to find them. From the same collection, you may also be interested in Gustave Doré’s fulsome illustrations for a 19th century edition of Oeuvres de Rabelais (search for Dore and Rabelais), or Derain’s primitivist woodcut illustrations for L’Enchanteur Pourrissant, Guillaume Apollinaire’s first collection of poetry from 1909 (search for Derain and Apollinaire).
Julia Reinhard Lupton
Professor of English and Comparative Literature, The University of California, Irvine
With its extraordinary image collection and sensitive search functions, ARTstor has changed the way I teach Shakespeare. Images of the Globe Theater and panoramic maps of Elizabethan London set the stage for our engagement with the plays. When teaching The Merchant of Venice and Othello, I use paintings by Venetian artists to introduce students to this city of canals, carnival, and liturgical spectacle. Ignazio Danti’s full-color map provides an aerial view of the city in Shakespeare’s century. Veronese’s Wedding at Cana puts the cosmopolitan world of sixteenth-century Venice on extravagant display, with an African cup-bearer, turbaned Turks and Moors, court musicians, fantastical wedding costumes, and a stage-like setting. Gentile Bellini’s Procession in Piazza San Marco graphs the political and theological axes of public pageantry in Renaissance Venice. A thoughtful illumination of a man and woman dressed for carnival gives further insight into the Venetian theater of life. Jacob de Barbari’s woodcut map of Venice provides a detail of the Jewish ghetto, which I supplement with photographs of the ghetto today. Images of Epiphany kings represent noble Africans as members of a Pauline community, a theme tapped by Shakespeare in Othello.
When I teach A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale, I develop the extensive analogies between the metamorphic, seasonal, and amatory mythologies of Shakespeare’s plays and Botticelli’s Primavera. All three works display the glorious weave of holiday celebration, natural history, mythography, and courtship narratives in the Renaissance society of festival. I supplement Botticelli with examples of medieval and Renaissance calendar art. We also discuss the cassone tradition (marriage chests painted with mythological scenes) and their relevance to both the artistic output of Botticelli and the ways in which humanists and artisans in northern Europe wove classical mythology into the décor of daily life through tapestries, embroideries, and other household objects.
The Taming of the Shrew draws on falconry and animal husbandry discourses, which I introduce to students through medieval falconry guides. I also fill out Shakespeare’s bestiary with images of the hunt and animal social life.
I illuminate Richard II through the Wilton Diptych, a portable votive portrait depicting the coronation of the King by Mary and a host of angels. The painting demonstrates the power of political theology in Richard’s lifetime, tropes that Shakespeare both takes apart and rebuilds over the course of his play.
Banquets figure as settings for key scenes in plays as diverse as Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, and The Taming of the Shrew. At court, Shakespeare’s plays were performed in banqueting houses. Images of Renaissance banquets bring to life the intimate relationship between hospitality, commensality and theater in the Renaissance.
Finally, in addition to these more historical and illustrative uses of visual art, I design backdrops for student readings of scenes from Shakespeare using ARTstor images (often updated in Photoshop). By projecting the images against a screen, I can create instant environments for our in-class performances, greatly enhancing student learning and experience.
To view the complete image groups that accompany this and other Travel Awards-winning essays, visit the ARTstor Digital Library’s Featured Groups and click on Travel Awards.