Byzantium

Watercolor and gouache on paper by John Singer Sargent, ca. 1898

 

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miraclc than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.
At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

William Butler Yeats

 

Yeats certainly shares many traits with William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and other, nineteenth century precursors. Nevertheless, despite all the intensity of its emotion and the rich intricacies of its imagery, Byzantium is hardly the sort of effusive outburst one has come to associate with the ode; the speaker seems to be more engulfed in his vision than in any attempt to share its emotional quadrants with the reader.

Yeats never abandoned the Symbolist tradition that shaped him as a poet in his youth. Though Byzantium is a product of his later years, written well after he had transformed himself into a modernist poet, surely the chief device that gives the poem its other-worldly ambiance is the symbol.

Yeats’s studies had taught him that the ancient Romans used dolphins to depict the spirit’s voyage from this world to the next; that the starry dome was symbolic of the soul’s astral destiny in the ancient mystery cults associated with Mithra and Orpheus; that a crowing cock carved on a tombstone was intended to ward off evil spirits and influences; that the Byzantine emperors had mechanical birds that sang to the delight of visitors; that the golden bough signifies that point at which the temporal and eternal mingle their mysteries.

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From Babel Tower to Metropolis

Movie Poster

 
 

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) features a range of elaborate special effects and set designs, ranging from a huge gothic cathedral to a futuristic cityscape. In an interview,  Lang reported that “the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924”. He had visited New York for the first time and remarked “I looked into the streets – the glaring lights and the tall buildings – and there I conceived Metropolis.” Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that “the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize”. He added “The sight of Neuyork [sic] alone should be enough to turn this beacon of beauty into the center of a film”

The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. A silent film, it was produced by Erich Pommer in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G.. It is regarded as a pioneering work of science fiction genre in movies, being among the first feature length movies of the genre.

Filmstudio Babelsberg or The Babelsberg Film Studio located in Potsdam-Babelsberg outside Berlin, Germany, is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world, producing films since 1912. Today it covers an area of about 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft) and thus is Europe’s largest film studio. Hundreds of films, including Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel were filmed there. More recent productions include V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2006) , The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007) , Valkyrie (Bryan Singer, 2008), Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009), Cloud Atlas (The Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer, 2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Francis Lawrence, 2014).

 
 

 
 

Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city’s ruler, and Maria, a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city. Metropolis was filmed in 1925, at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks, making it the most expensive film ever released up to that point. The motion picture’s futuristic style is influenced by the work of Futurist Italian architect, Antonio Sant’Elia.

The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly informed by the Art Deco movement; however it also incorporates elements from other traditions. Ingeborg Hoesterey described the architecture featured in Metropolis as eclectic, writing how its locales represent both “functionalist modernism [and] art deco” whilst also featuring “the scientist’s archaic little house with its high-powered laboratory, the catacombs [and] the Gothic cathedral”. The film’s use of art deco architecture was highly influential, and has been reported to have contributed to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.

 
 

The New Tower of Babel, Fredersen’s headquarters in Metropolis

 
 

The Tower of Babel in Maria’s recounting of the fable was modeled after this 1563 painting by Pieter Brueghel

 
 

The film drew heavily on Biblical sources for several of its key set-pieces. During her first talk to the workers, Maria uses the story of the Tower of Babel to highlight the discord between the intellectuals and the workers. Additionally, a delusional Freder imagines the false-Maria as the Whore of Babylon, riding on the back of a many-headed dragon. Also, the name of the Yoshiwara club alludes to the famous red-light district of Tokyo.

Creative Optic

Illustration by Jiří Slíva

 
 

First row: А. П. Че́хов (Anton Chekhov); J.R.R. Tolkien; Franz Kafka; Betty MacDonald (misspelled McDonald)

Second row: Jack Kerouac; Marcel Proust; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; R. Kipling

Third row: Marcel Duchamp; Stendhal; Karl May; Karl Marx

Fourth row: Magritte; S. Freud; Louis Pasteur; Günter Grass

Fifth row: Salvador Dalí; E.M. Remarque; Jaroslav Hašek; Isaac B. Singer

Acquaintances and Literary Influences

“I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person.”

Franz Kafka

 
 

 
 

A Friend of Kafka, a collection of Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short stories, was published in 1970 with most of the stories appearing in the previous decade. He and his readers had plenty of time to dwell on the growing feeling of alienation that came from decades of broken promises. One of the most powerful themes in these stories is the exhausting banality of life and a total feeling of rootless isolation.

The plot of A Friend of Kafka is about a bohemian amateur philosophy and former actor, Jaques Kohn, who spent his life pursuing women, drinking and otherwise living the hedonist lifestyle that his life philosophy demanded. He was an intriguing figure for the narrator who saw in him glimpses of Western Europe. “The very way he carried his silver-handled cane seemed exotic to me. He even smoked his cigarettes differently from the way we did in Warsaw.”

Supposedly, Kohn was the first to recognize Franz Kafka’s talent, and he has corresponded with other important figures: Marc Chagall, Stefan Zweig, and Martin Buber. As the narrator’s cultural guide, Kohn shows him his letters and photographs, and he even arranges for him to meet Madam Tschissik, with whom Kohn performed and whom Kafka allegedly loved.

Kohn likes to tell a story about Kafka’s failure in a brothel. His sexual reservations are the same as the reservations he had about writing. Kohn is obsessed with the idea that he is playing a game of chess with fate. “My partner wants to play a slow game. He’ll go on taking my pieces one by one. First he removed my appeal as an actor and turned me into a so-called writer. He’d no sooner done that than he provided me with writer’s cramps. His next move was to deprive me of my potency.” In short, while he finds something invigorating about the struggle, he is slowly dying. His stories of his acting career and his knowledge of Kafka are all that keeps him from total fatalism. Many if the characters in this collection are involved in same sort of slow death. No longer capable of a projectural life, they limp along, trying to find meaning in banalities, religious, hedonism, of their own delusions.

Isaac Bashevis Singer had many literary influences; besides the religious texts he studied, he grew up with a rich array of Jewish folktales and worldly Yiddish detective-stories about “Max Spitzkopf” and his assistant Fuchs. He read Russian, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment at the age of fourteen. He wrote in memoirs about the importance of the Yiddish translations donated in book-crates from America, which he studied as a teenager in Bilgoraj: “I read everything: Stories, novels, plays, essays… I read Avrom Reyzen,Johan August Strindberg, Don Kaplanowitsch, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov.” He studied many philosophers, among them Baruch Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger. Among his Yiddish contemporaries, Singer considered his older brother to be his greatest artistic example; he was also life-long friend and admirer of the author and poet Aaron Zeitlin. Singer had translated Thomas Mann‘s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) into Yiddish as a young writer.

Pierced by Arrows

Anonymous Nuremberg (XV cent) : St Sebastian (c. 1440). Bibilothèque Nationale (Paris, France). Woodcut.

 
 

Saint Sebastian is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Sometimes Sebastian is known as the saint who was martyred twice.

The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy) dated between 527 and 565. The right lateral wall of the basilica contains large mosaics representing a procession of 26 martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Sebastian. The martyrs are represented in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, and have all identical expressions.

As protector of potential plague victims (a connection popularized by the Golden Legend) and soldiers, Sebastian occupied an important place in the popular medieval mind. He was among the most frequently depicted of all saints by Late Gothic and Renaissance artists, in the period after the Black Death. The opportunity to show a semi-nude male, often in a contorted pose, also made Sebastian a favourite subject.

 
 

His shooting with arrows was the subject of the largest engraving by the Master of the Playing Cards in the 1430s, when there were few other current subjects with male nudes other than Christ.

 
 

Andrea Mantegna

 
 

It has been suggested that the first picture was made after Mantegna had recovered from the plague in Padua (1456–1457). Probably commissioned by the city’s podestà to celebrate the end of the pestilence, it was finished before the artist left the city for Mantua. According to Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation. A rider is present in the clouds at the upper left corner (pic. 1). As specified in John’s work, the cloud is white and the rider has a scythe, which he is using to cut the cloud. The rider has been interpreted as Saturn, the Roman-Greek god: in ancient times Saturn was identified with the Time that passed by and all left destroyed behind him.

 
 

Giovanni Bellini (1460-64)

 
 

Sandro Botticelli (1474)

 
 

Albretch Dürer

 
 

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi “Il Sodoma” (1525)

 
 

The saint is ordinarily depicted as a handsome youth pierced by arrows. Predella scenes when required, often depicted his arrest, confrontation with the Emperor, and final beheading. The illustration in the infobox is the Saint Sebastian of Il Sodoma, at the Pitti Palace, Florence.

 
 

Cesare Da Sesto (1523)

 
 


El Greco

 
 

 San Sebastiano curato da un angelo (St Sebastian Healed by an Angel), Giovanni Baglione, c. 1603

 
 

Anton Van Dyck (1621-1627)

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

José de Ribera (1651)

 
 

St Sebastien Attended by St Irene, Georges de La Tour, (c. 1649)

 
 

Honoré Daumier, 1849-52

 
 

A mainly 17th-century subject, though found in predella scenes as early as the 15th century, was St Sebastian tended by St Irene, painted by Georges de La Tour, Trophime Bigot (four times), José de Ribera, Hendrick ter Brugghen and others.

 
 

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, by Ángel Zárraga (1911)

 
 

This may have been a deliberate attempt by the Church to get away from the single nude subject, which is already recorded in Vasari as sometimes arousing inappropriate thoughts among female churchgoers. The Baroque artists usually treated it as a nocturnal chiaroscuro scene, illuminated by a single candle, torch or lantern, in the style fashionable in the first half of the 17th century. There exist several cycles depicting the life of Saint Sebastian. Among them are the frescos in the “Basilica di San Sebastiano” of Acireale (Italy) with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta.

 
 

Antonio Bellucci, c. 1716-8

 
 

Saint Roch with Saint Jerome and Saint Sebastian (after a picture attributed to Alessandro Oliverio), John Singer Sargent, circa 1880-1881

 
 

Egon Schiele painted a self-portrait as Saint Sebastian in 1915

 
 

During Salvador Dalí’s “Lorca (Federico García Lorca) Period”, he painted Sebastian several times, most notably in his “Neo-Cubist Academy”

 
 

While Lorca was not a practicing Catholic, he was fascinated by Catholic liturgy and ritual, leading him to seek inspiration from religious themes such as the lives of saints which he would have studied while reading The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Vorgine. Sebastian relate to Lorca’s poetics as well as his relationship to Salvador Dalí.

 
 

Gabriele  d’Annunzio come S. Sebastiano, A. Salvini. In 1911, the Italian playwright Gabriele d’Annunzio in conjunction with Claude Debussy produced a mystery play on the subject.

 
 

St. Sebastian with St. Irene and Attendant,Eugène Delacroix, 1858

 
 

The American composer Gian Carlo Menotti composed a ballet score for a Ballets Russes production which was first given in 1944. In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the “Sebastian-Figure” as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of differentiated forms; beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian’s suffering, associated with the writerly professionalism of the novella’s protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach, provides a model for the “heroism born of weakness”, which characterizes poise amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one’s fate as, beyond mere patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph.

Sebastian’s death was depicted in the 1949 film Fabiola, in which he was played by Massimo Girotti.

 
 

In 1976, the British director Derek Jarman made his debut film, Sebastiane, which caused controversy in its treatment of the martyr as a homosexual icon. However, as several critics have noted, this has been a subtext of the imagery since the Renaissance.

 
 

Also in 1976, a figure of Saint Sebastian appeared throughout the American horror film Carrie, directed by Brian de Palma

 
 

Pietro Vannucci Perugino’s painting (c. 1495) of Saint Sebastian is featured in the  movie Wit  (Mike Nichols, 2001) starring Emma Thompson. Thompson’s character, as a college student, visits her professor’s office, where an almost life-size painting of Saint Sebastian hangs on the wall. Later, when the main character is a professor herself, diagnosed with cancer, she keeps a small print of this same painting of Saint Sebastian next to her hospital bed. The allusion appears to be to Sebastian’s stoic martyrdom – a role the Thompson character has willingly accepted for the betterment of all mankind. There may be a touch of authorial (or directorial) cynicism in making this “saintly” connection.

 
 

tumblr_lm64izZk8c1qcdvnmo1_1280Still from R.E.M.’s  Losing My Religion (Tarsem Singh, 1991) promotional music video

 
 

*I will be posting more artistic representations of St Sebastian on The Genealogy of Style´s new Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.597637210325056.1073741828.597542157001228&type=1&l=9328e23d78

After a Royal Mistress

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher, 1759

 
 

Pompadour refers to a hairstyle which is named for Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), mistress of King Louis XV. Although there are numerous variations of the style for both women and men, the basic concept is hair swept upwards from the face and worn high over the forehead, and sometimes upswept around the sides and back as well.

After its initial popularity among fashionable women in the 18th century, the style was revived as part of the Gibson Girl look in the 1890s and continued to be in vogue until World War I. The style was in vogue for women once again in the 1940s. Variations of the pompadour style continue to be worn by men and women in the 21st century.

 
 

The Weaker Sex: The young man imagines himself the latest victim of some fair entomologist“, Charles Dana Gibson, 1903

 
 

Portrait of Lady Astor, John Singer Sargent, 1908-1909

 
 

Among women, the hairstyle has become marginally popular again in the first few years of this century. It can be created by ratting at the roots of the hair on the sides of the pompadour towards the top of the head. Then the hair is combed up and over the ratted hair, off the forehead, the front up in a curl straight back, and the sides pulled back towards the center.

 
 

James Dean. Photo: Phil Stern, c. 1955

 
 

Elvis Presley, circa 1956

 
 

Elvis Presley. Photographer unknown, 1957

 
 

Pompadour style quickly became a stereotypical feature of rebels and nonconformists, and gained popularity especially after the rise of rock ‘n roll legend Elvis Presley, who sported the same look. In recent years the pompadour hair style has been adopted by those enamoured with vintage culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s that includes antique cars, hot rods, American folk music, rockabilly bands, Little Richard, and Elvis , as well as actors such as James Dean and Desi Arnaz.

 
 

Morrissey’s hairdo is inspired by his evergreen idols Elvis and Jimmy Dean

 
 

Nowadays, the pompadour hairstyle is worn on celebrities which include Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Macklemore, David Beckham, Zac Efron, Zayn Malik of One Direction, Alex Turner of Arctic MonkeysJustin Timberlake and many others.

The Unpaintable Beauty

John Singer Sargent in his studio with his painting Portrait of Madame X, photographer unknown, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France, though it may have helped him establish a successful career in Britain and America.

Renowned for her beauty, Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for her sophistication. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional beauty made her an object of fascination for artists; the American painter Edward Simmons claimed that he “could not stop stalking her as one does a deer.” Sargent was also impressed, and anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the upcoming Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. He wrote to a friend:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”

Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer in February 1883.Sargent was an expatriate like Gautreau, and their collaboration has been interpreted as motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society.

 
 

A figure study of  Madame Gautreau in watercolor and graphite, John Singer Sargent, circa 1883

 
 

Little progress was made during the winter of 1883, as Gautreau was distracted by social engagements, and was not by nature inclined to the discipline of sitting for a portrait. At her suggestion, Sargent traveled to her estate in Brittany in June, where he commenced a series of preparatory works in pencil, watercolors, and oils. About thirty drawings resulted from these sessions, in which many poses were attempted.

Gautreau was bored by the process of sitting; here, too, there were social engagements, as well as the responsibilities of tending to her four-year-old daughter, her mother, house guests, and a full domestic staff. Sargent complained of “the unpaintable beauty and hopeless laziness of Madame Gautreau.”

 
 

Nicole in Oscar de la Renta photographed by Steven Meisel, 1999

 
 

Julianne Moore photographed by Peter Lindbergh, 2008

 
 

For Spring 2008 Christian Dior Haute couture collection, John Galliano’s primrose path of inspiration had, he said, wended its way from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X  through to the gilded swirls and bejeweled geometrics of Gustav Klimt.