Portrait of One of the Jewish Geniuses

Franz Kafka, from Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, Andy Warhol, 1980

 
 

In October 1980, an exhibit featuring portraits of “famous Jews” opened at the Jewish Museum in New York; in June of the following year, a scaled-down version of the show had its “West Coast Premiere” at the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. Entitled Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century, the exhibit featured silk-screen prints and acrylic paintings — the Berkeley museum showed only the serigraphs — based largely on known photographs of a variety of Jewish figures no longer alive. In 1979, reviewers disliked his exhibits of portraits of 1970s personalities and celebrities, calling them superficial, facile and commercial, with no depth or indication of the significance of the subjects. They also criticized his 1980 exhibit of 10 portraits at the Jewish Museum in New York, which Warhol —who was uninterested in Judaism and Jews— had described in his diary as “They’re going to sell.” In hindsight, however, some critics have come to view Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality as “the most brilliant mirror of our times,” contending that “Warhol had captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture in the 1970s.”

Andy Warhol became fascinated with a group of influential Jewish figures – a pantheon of great thinkers, politicians, performers, musicians and writers including French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923); the first Jewish judge of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis (1856-1941); renowned philosopher and educator Martin Buber (1878-1965); the theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein (1897-1955), widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the twentieth century; the hugely influential founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939); vaudeville, stage and film comedians, the Marx Brothers: Chico (1887-1961), Groucho (1890-1977), and Harpo (1888-1964); Israel fourth Prime Minister and one of the founders of the State of Israel, Golda Meir (1898-1978); distinguished American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937); the eminent novelist, Franz Kafka (1883-1924); and avant-garde American writer, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). The collective achievements of this group changed the course of the twentieth century and may be said to have influenced every aspect of human experience.

For the most part, Warhol’s standard techniques of cropping photographs, outlining faces and figures, and overlaying collage-like blocks of color onto them seem to have little specific connection with the particular character or significance of either the portraits or the represented figures. The multicolored, fragmented surfaces Warhol applied in the 1960s and 1970s to portraits of celebrities in the world of entertainment and politics usually complemented or enhanced the poses and public images of those represented — think of his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Mao Tse-tung, or Richard Nixon.

With the possible exception of the Marx Brothers, the “famous Jews” display none of the star quality of many of Warhol’s other portraits; yet the cliché seems to rule in a similarly superficial, commercialized effort to lend the portraits a veneer of flamboyance or “modern” hip. In a rather quirky review of the New York exhibit, Carrie Rickey found in the paintings of Jews “an unexpected mix of cultural anthropology, portraiture, celebration of celebrity, and study of intelligentsia,” but she also observes that “Warhol had recast their visages to make them fit his pop iconology.” Roberta Bernstein, who has a fine critical appreciation of Warhol’s artistic abilities, notes in a discussion of his printmaking that, though his talent as portraitist functioned primarily to reveal only the surface and therefore was “entirely suitable for his portraits of glamorous celebrities and socialites, its appropriateness for historical figures of the type in this portfolio [of the ten twentieth-century Jews] is questionable,” and, she adds, his “unique ability to make insightful selections is not as apparent here as it is in other works.”

Advertisements

Thwarted by Outside Forces

Romeo and Juliet as depicted by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, 1929

 
 

“Star-crossed” or “star-crossed lovers” is a phrase describing a pair of lovers whose relationship is often thwarted by outside forces. The term encompasses other meanings, but originally means the pairing is being “thwarted by a malign star” or that the stars are working against the relationship. Astrological in origin, the phrase stems from the belief that the positions of the stars ruled over people’s fates, and is best known from the play Romeo and Juliet by the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare. Such pairings are often but not always said to be doomed from the start.

The phrase was coined in the prologue of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” (5–6).

It also refers to destiny and the inevitability of the two characters’ paths crossing each other. It usually but not always refers to unlucky outcomes, since Romeo and Juliet’s affair ended tragically. Further, it connotes that the lovers entered into their union without sufficient forethought or preparation; that the lovers may not have had adequate knowledge of each other or that they were not thinking rationally.

 
 

Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)

 
 

Examples of famous star-crossed lovers vary in written work. Pyramus and Thisbe are usually regarded as the source for Romeo and Juliet, featured in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights are considered one of the greatest love stories in literary works. In Wuthering Heights, the narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted, love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them.

 
 

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874. Albumen silver print from glass negative. David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952

 
 

Lancelot and Guinevere are often remembered for their affair. Guinevere was the queen of Camelot and wife of King Arthur, while Lancelot was a trusted knight of Arthur’s Round Table. In some versions of the tale, she is instantly smitten, and when they consummate their adulterous passion, it is an act which paves the way for the fall of Camelot and Arthur’s death.

 
 

The End of The Song,  Edmund Leighton, 1902

 
 

The legend of Tristan and Iseult (also known as Tristan and Isolde) is an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with as many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the lovers. The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art and literature since it first appeared in the 12th century. While the details of the story differ from one author to another, the overall plot structure remains much the same.

Hero and Leander is a Greek myth, relating the story of Hero (Greek: Ἡρώ), a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont, and Leander (Greek: Λέανδρος, Leandros), a young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.

 
 

Sarah Bernhardt in Pelléas et Mélisandre

 
 

Pelléas and Mélisande (French: Pelléas et Mélisande) is a Symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck about the forbidden, doomed love of the title characters. A classical myth, was a common subject for art during the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Troilus and Cressida is a tragedy by Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1602. The play (also described as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays) is not a conventional tragedy, since its protagonist (Troilus) does not die.The play ends instead on a very bleak note with the death of the noble Trojan Hector and destruction of the love between Troilus and Cressida.Venus and Adonis is classical myth during the Renaissance. Heer Ranjha is one of the four popular tragic romances of the Punjab.

 
 

The fainting of Laylah and Majnun, Author unknown, c. 1550-1600

 
 

Layla and Majnun ( by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi) is a classical Arabian love story . It is based on the real story of a young man called Qays ibn al-Mulawwah from the northern Arabian Peninsula, in the Umayyad era during the 7th century. There were two Arabic versions of the story at the time. In one version, he spent his youth together with Layla, tending their flocks. In the other version, upon seeing Layla he fell passionately in love with her. In both versions, however, he went mad when her father prevented him from marrying her; for that reason he came to be called Majnun Layla, which means “Driven mad by Layla”. To him were attributed a variety of incredibly passionate romantic Arabic poems, considered among the foremost examples of the Udhari school.

 
 


The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend about the tragic romance between two lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The legend is sometimes regarded as the Chinese equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

 
 

Other classic star-crossed lovers include Devdas and Paro (Parvati) in Devdas, Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta in The Iliad, Oedipus and Jocasta in Oedipus the King, Mark Antony and Cleopatra during the time of the Roman Empire, Khosrow and Shirin during the time of Sassanid Persia, Heloise and Peter Abelard during the Middle Ages, and Emperor Jahangir and Anarkali, Cyrano and Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac, Hagbard and Signy and Maratha Peshwa (Prime Minister) Bajirao and Mastani during the peak of Maratha Empire.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet

Sketch for a poster of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, by Alphons Marie Mucha, 1899

 
 

Definitive version of the poster illustrated by Mucha, 1899

 
 

Mortimer, Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet. New York World, June 18, 1899

 
 

Bernhardt on stage playing the role of the tragic Prince of Denmark. The costume she did wear was possibly designed by Mucha himself

To Be or Not to Be (The Melancholy Dane)

“To be, or not to be” is the famous opening phrase of a soliloquy in William Shakespeare‘s play Hamlet. Debate surrounds its meaning, and that of the speech, but most agree that it asks the fundamental question “why live?” and gives the desolate answer that death might be worse.

Hamlet speaks this on his entry to Act 3 scene 1 (known as the ‘nunnery scene’ because of the Hamlet/Ophelia dialogue after the speech) which is when Polonius and Claudius put into effect their plan, hatched in Act 2 scene 2, to watch Hamlet with Ophelia to determine whether, as Polonius thinks, his ‘madness’ springs from “neglected love”. They have planted her where it is his habit to walk and think and concealed themselves to observe the encounter. Until he notices Ophelia at the end of the speech Hamlet thinks he is alone.

 
 

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, with Yorick’s skull. Photographer: James Lafayette, c. 1885–1900)

 
 

John Barrymore in the greatest success of his theatrical career with Hamlet in 1922, which he played on for 101 performances as the Melancholy Dane, breaking Booth’s record. In February, 1925 he successfully presented his production in London despite the so-called apathy extended toward American Shakespearean actors in Britain.

 
 

Laurence Olivier’s 1948 moody black-and-white Hamlet won best picture and best actor Oscars, and is still, as of 2013, the only Shakespeare film to have done so. His interpretation stressed the Oedipal overtones of the play, and cast 28-year-old Eileen Herlie as Hamlet’s mother, opposite himself, at 41, as Hamlet.

 
 

The great Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud (who played Hamlet over 500 times in six productions), his protégé Kenneth Branagh and Sir Derek Jacobi in a BBC radio production of Hamlet .