Fold Thy Wings…

Icarus and Daedalus, Frederic Leighton,1869

 

“…Too venturous poesy O why essay
To pipe again of passion! fold thy wings
O’er daring Icarus and bid thy lay
Sleep hidden in the lyre’s silent strings,
Till thou hast found the old Castalian rill,
Or from the Lesbian waters plucked drowned Sappho’s golden quill!…”

Charmides (excerpt)

Oscar Wilde

1881

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Letter to an Erômenos

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) was unmarried, left no diary, lived alone and always traveled alone, and has often been suspected of being secretly homosexual. However, later in life it is believed he may have loved his favorite female model, Dorothy Dene. Recently there was discovered some letters from the Italian painter Giovanni Costa, a friend of Leighton, to another English artist, in which Costa says that Leighton was “without his wife” at an exhibition, and later, “his wife keeps the reception rooms barred to us”. But Dene never lived with Leighton, and these references are confusing and may come from some sort of misunderstanding, or even playfulness. They do not suggest that Leighton himself referred to Dene as his “wife”.

However Leighton’s sexuality may have developed over his lifetime, earlier in life, Leighton’s first patron and intimate friend was Henry Greville, a wealthy aristocrat whom he met in Florence in 1856. Leighton’s letters to Greville are lost. Greville’s letters to Leighton are obviously love letters: he nicknamed Frederic “Fay” and called himself “Babbo” or “Bimbo” or “Babbino”; they often begin “My dear Boy” and end “Addio, carissimo.” He frequently addresses Leighton (who was 26 at the time) as “mon petit dernier” (“my little boy”). Greville’s letters reveal him to be an old sweetie or a silly old queen, depending on how you look at such things. He died in 1872. There is also a series of letters from Leighton to “Johnny,” John Hanson Walker, one of many young male artists whom he helped and befriended, of whom he made many studies. Greville often gave commissions to these young men through Leighton, and teases Leighton by calling them his “moddles”. The following letters were written by Greville to Leighton on his return from a trip to Paris soon after they met.

My dearest Fay, –
. . . [in response to criticism of his painting of Pan] It makes me so sick, all that cant about impropriety, but there is so much of it as to make the sale of “nude figures” very improbable, and therefore I hope you will turn your thoughts entirely to well-covered limbs, and paint no more Venuses for some time to come. . . . You dear boy, I am so glad you enjoy your Venice – which is all very pretty no doubt, but I hate stinks and fleas – and they abound there. I hate wobbling in a boat and walking in dirty alleys, so I don’t envy you at all. . . .
Love.
– Your old loving father,
H.

London
September 29 [1856]

 

Pan, Frederic Leighton, 1855-6

 

*Note:

Since the publication of Kenneth Dover‘s work Greek Homosexuality, the terms erastês and erômenos have been standard for the two pederastic roles. Both words derive from the Greek verb erô, erân, “to love”; see also eros. In Dover’s strict dichotomy, the erastês (ἐραστής, plural erastai) is the older lover, seen as the active or dominant partner, with the suffix -tês (-τής) denoting agency. Erastês should be distinguished from Greek paiderastês, which meant “lover of boys” usually with a negative connotation. The erastês himself might only be in his early twenties, and thus the age difference between the two lovers might be negligible.

The word erômenos, or “beloved” (ἐρώμενος, plural eromenoi), is the masculine form of the present passive participle from erô, viewed by Dover as the passive or subordinate partner.

An Awakening Influence

Music is an awakening influence, an ethos of its own, a power of intensification, and a suggestiveness through association which aid those higher moods of contemplation that are as edifying in their way as direct moral teaching”

Sir Frederic Leighton

 

Music Lesson, Frederic Leighton,  c.1877

On Abandoment and Disappointed Love

d4051821r(c) Watts Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

George Frederic Watts first painted the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the late 1860s. This decade saw a revival of classical subject matter in British art. It is a measure of Watts’s flexibility as an artist that, in the middle of his career aged about fifty, he should become deeply involved in a new movement in art, sharing the aims of much younger painters such as Frederic Leighton and Edward Burne-Jones. His Orpheus and Eurydice paintings are among the most powerful early masterpieces of this ‘aesthetic classicism.’ As with most subjects that gripped his imagination, Watts treated it several times, refining the composition until it fully realised his ideal.

The story of Orpheus is recounted in many ancient sources. The most accessible account, and probably the one used by Watts, is found in Ovid‘s Metamorphoses (book X).

Three subjects from the story were particularly attractive to artists:

Orpheus playing in hell;
Orpheus’s loss of Eurydice’; and
Orpheus’s head and lyre, which continued to sing after his own death.

In the 1860s Watts treated many themes of abandonment and disappointed love. Clytie whose yearning for the sun god Apollo turned her into a sunflower and Ariadne deserted by Theseus, share similar themes with Orpheus and Eurydice. Watts probably exposed deep personal emotions in such subjects, for his first marriage, to the young actress Ellen Terry, ended in separation in 1865, after they had been together for only eleven months.

But Watts’s impetus was not simply personal for the Orpheus and Eurydice theme was also popular with his closest artistic friends in the 1860s. In Victorian High Renaissance, Allan Staley suggests that Watts took it up in direct response to Frederic Leighton‘s 1864 Royal Academy picture (Leighton House). This is a distinctly odd treatment of the theme in which Orpheus pushes Eurydice away. Watts’s painting may be intended to criticise this version. Leighton became Watts’s near neighbour in Kensington in 1866, and the two men exerted a strong influence on each other for the next six years. In the late 1860s Burne-Jones produced illustrations to William Morris’s unpublished Orpheus and Eurydice poem. (He later re-used them for the 1880 Graham piano, the designs for which inspired John Singer Sargent‘s portrait of Comyns Carr. Watts painted portraits of his friends Burne-Jones and Morris in 1870 (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery).

There are many studies for the various versions of the work. Most appear to date from the late 1860s when Watts conceived and developed the subject. Two drawings are in the Royal Academy, London, among the collection selected by Edward John Poynter, as President, under the terms of Watts’s will. A head study for Orpheus is in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s collection (Cecil French Bequest). A drawing for one of the horizontal format compositions is in the collection of David Loshak. Most interesting among the drawn studies is that in the collection of Sir Brinsley Ford. The upper half is very close to the composition of the present picture, but the figures are full length and a third figure (omitted from all known painted versions) appears in the bottom right corner. This emphasises the placing of this version in the sequence of Watts’s paintings between his abandonment of the horizontal format and his development of an upright one. Watts also produced sculptured studies for the figure and head of Orpheus to help him realise the difficult pose of the figure and the tormented expression, both hard for a model to hold. (Two studies, plaster casts from clay or wax originals are in the Watts Gallery, Compton.) Watts’s interest in sculpture developed in the 1860s, when he made both finished works (such as the bust of Clytie) and such studies. The production of sculptural studies for paintings was a Renaissance practice and passed into the academic tradition. The studies and the finished painting reveal Watts’s fascination with dynamic twisting poses and especially with the stretch and turn of the neck. This seems to have been a personal idiosyncracy. Found in many other works of this time (such as Clytie), it should be seen as an aspect of Watts’s enthusiasm for the Renaissance artist that earned him the nickname of ‘England’s Michelangelo.’

The Great God Pan

The Great God Pan, Frederic Leighton, 1860

 

The Great God Pan is a novella written by Arthur Machen. A version of the story was published in the magazine The Whirlwind in 1890, and Machen revised and extended it for its book publication (together with another story, The Inmost Light) in 1894. On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. Machen’s story was only one of many at the time to focus on the Greek God Pan as a useful symbol for the power of nature and paganism. The title was possibly inspired by the poem A Musical Instrument published in 1862 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in which the first line of every stanza ends “… the great god Pan.”

 

 

Literary critics such as Wesley D. Sweetser and S. T. Joshi see Machen’s works as a significant part of the late Victorian revival of the gothic novel and the decadent movement of the 1890s, bearing direct comparison to the themes found in contemporary works like Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, and Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray. At the time authors like Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and Arthur Conan Doyle were all admirers of Machen’s works.

Love Is a Fire That Burns Unseen

Flaming June, Frederic Leighton, 1895. Ponce Museum of Art (Puerto Rico).
It is thought that the woman portrayed alludes to the figures of sleeping nymphs and naiads the Greeks often sculpted. The (toxic) Oleander branch in the top right, symbolizes the fragile link between sleep and death

 
 

“Amor he hum fogo que arde sem se ver;
He ferida que doe e não se sente;
He hum contentamento descontente;
He dor que desatina sem doer;

He hum não querer mais que bem querer;
He solitario andar por entre a gente;
He hum não contentar-se de contente;
He cuidar que se ganha em se perder;

He hum estar-se preso por vontade;
He servir a quem vence o vencedor;
He hum ter com quem nos mata lealdade.

Mas como causar póde o seu favor
Nos mortaes corações conformidade,
Sendo a si tão contrário o mesmo Amor?

 
 

_____________________________

 
 

“Love is a fire that burns unseen,
A wound that aches yet isn’t felt,
An always discontent contentment,
A pain that rages without hurting,
A longing for nothing but to long,
A loneliness in the midst of people,
A never feeling pleased when pleased,
A passion that gains when lost in thought.

It’s being enslaved of your own free will;
It’s counting your defeat a victory;
It’s staying loyal to your killer.

But if it’s so self-contradictory,
How can Love, when Love chooses,
Bring human hearts into sympathy?”

Luís Vaz de Camões

Rimas (translated by Richard Zenith)

How Do I Love Thee?

Idyll, Frederic Leighton, c. 1880-81

 
 

NUMBER 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnets from the Portuguese

 
 

Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poems largely chronicle the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet’s lifetime and it remains so today.

Barrett Browning was initially hesitant to publish the poems, feeling that they were too personal. However, her husband insisted that they were the best sequence of English-language sonnets since William Shakespeare‘s time and urged her to publish them. To offer the couple some privacy, she decided that she might publish them as translations of foreign sonnets. Therefore, the collection was first to be known as Sonnets from the Bosnian, until Robert suggested that she change their imaginary original language to Portuguese, probably after her admiration for Luís Vaz de Camões and his nickname for her: “my little Portuguese.” The title is also a reference to Les Lettres portugaises. By far the most famous poems from this collection, with one of the most famous opening lines in the English language, are numbers 33 and 43.

Still Climbing Trees in The Hesperides

The Garden of The Hesperides, Frederic Leighton, c. 1892

 
 

BEROWNE: Have at you, then, affection’s men-at-arms!
Consider what you first did swear unto:
To fast, to study, and to see no woman–
Flat treason ‘gainst the kingly state of youth.
Say, can you fast? Your stomachs are too young,
And abstinence engenders maladies.
O, we have made a vow to study, lords,
And in that vow we have forsworn our books;
For when would you, my liege, or you, or you,
In leaden contemplation have found out
Such fiery numbers as the prompting eyes
Of beauty’s tutors have enriched you with?
Others slow arts entirely keep the brain,
And therefore, finding the barren practisers,
Scarce show a harvest of their heavy toil;
But love, first learnèd in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immurèd in the brain,
But, with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.
It adds a precious seeing to the eye:
A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind.
A lover’s ear will hear the lowest sound,
When the suspicious head of theft is stopped.
Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of cockled snails.
Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste.
For valor, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical
As bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair.
And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Make heaven drowsy with the harmony.
Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were temp’red with Love’s sighs;
O, then his lines would ravish savage ears
And plant in tyrants mild humility.
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive.
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world;
Else none at all in aught proves excellent.
Then fools you were these women to forswear,
Or, keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools.
For wisdom’s sake, a word that all men love,
Or for love’s sake, a word that loves all men,
Or for men’s sake, the authors of these women,
Or women’s sake, by whom we men are men,
Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.
It is religion to be thus forsworn,
For charity itself fulfils the law
And who can sever love from charity?

William Shakespeare

A monologue from the play Love’s Labor’s Lost

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.

Leda and the Swan

Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes, Leda. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In the W.B. Yeats version, it is subtly suggested that Clytemnestra, although being the daughter of Tyndareus, has somehow been traumatized by what the swan has done to her mother. According to many versions of the story, Zeus took the form of a swan and raped or seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched.In other versions, Helen is a daughter of Nemesis, the goddess who personified the disaster that awaited those suffering from the pride of Hubris.

 
 

Greco-roman mosaic

 
 

Giovanni Battista

 
 

(atributed to) Leonardo da Vinci

 
 

Raphael

 
 

Virgil Solis

 
 

Cesare da Sesto

 
 

Michelangelo Buonarroti

 
 

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio

 
 

Paolo Veronese

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

François-Edouard Picot

 
 

Théodore Géricault

 
 

Giovanni Boldini

 
 

Paul Cézanne

 
 

Gustav Klimt

 
 

Henri Matisse

 
 

Cy Twombly

 
 

Jerzy Hulewicz

 
 

François Boucher

 
 

Gustave Moreau

 
 

Salvador Dalí

 
 

Jacopo Robusti (Tintoretto)

 
 

Arturo Michelena

 
 

Fernando Botero

 
 

Constantin Brâncuși

 
 

Frederic Leighton

 
 

Warwick Globe

 
 

Louis Icart

 
 

Sam Taylor Wood

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Joel Peter Witkin

 
 

Kate Moss photographed by Steve Klein

 
 

Derrick Santini