Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Case of the Dissappearing Skull

A very happy All Hallow's Eve to you! My recent ghoulish posts referencing the Day of the Dead, Cat Mummies, and Russian Witches have all been in celebration of this, Halloween, the Anglicized version of the ancient Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain. Here we go plunging into the dark side of the year, an experience that prompted our ancestors to listen closely to the chill Autumnal winds for the voices of their beloved departed. On this night, the veil between the worlds is at its very thinnest. It is a night when one may catch a glimpse of things most often unseen.
The Crystal Ball, John William Waterhouse, Oil on canvas, 1902

The Crystal Ball, by preeminent Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse hung for years in the dining room of Glenborrodale Castle in Scotland. When the castle, and with it the painting, changed hands in the 1950s the new owners had the skull painted over, covered up by the "curtains". The painting later sold again and with an old photograph and an X-Ray the skull was rediscovered. Because the original painting had been protected with a layer of varnish conservators were able to restore it and the skull emerged once again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Russian Folk Art Meets Art Nouveau

Illustration for Russian Fairy Tales, Baba Yaga, Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, 1899

From Russia and the Slavic counties comes Baba Yaga, a witch who flies through the night sky in a mortar using a broom of silver birch to navigate. She lives in the forest in a log cabin that dances on chicken’s feet and is surrounded by a palisade of poles, each one holding up a human skull. She is the guardian between the real world and the land of the dead. Seeking her aid can be a very dangerous pursuit. And yet, it is said, that is just what the beautiful Vasilissa finds she must do.

Illustration for Russian Fairy Tales, Vasilissa the Beautiful, Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, 1899

Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin was a Russian illustrator and a set designer for the Ballets Russes. It was while traveling through the Russian north that he developed a passion for Russian folk arts. His renowned illustrations of Russian Fairy Tales were published in 1899. Resonating with the popular graphic arts of Europe during that period his art nouveau style was also influenced by Japanese prints. 

 Portrait of Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, Boris Kustodiey, 1901

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Egyptian Cat Cults

Egyptian Cat Mummy, Upper Egypt, Roman Period - British Museum

Egyptians were not only the first to domesticate cats, they worshiped cats. They built temples to the Cat Goddess, Bastet, their fierce protector. They adorned their precious tabbys with jewelry, most notably earrings, and mummified poor puss with sacred burial rites when she died. The Egyptian Prince Thutmose had his cat Ta-Miewet buried beside him in her own stone sarcophagus.

 Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose cat Ta-Miewet, Carved stone, 18th Dynasty (1550-1292 BC)

From the Old Kingdom (2613-2160 BC) through the Greek and Roman periods Cat Cults thrived on the Nile Delta. Cats were thought to be house protectors and the burial of a cat mummy was considered a demonstration of piety toward Bastet “she of the ointment jar” the protector Cat Goddess. Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC) wrote about the festival of Bastet saying, “The festival procession was by boat, the occupants playing musical instruments, singing and clapping. The boats approached the shore when they passed towns and the inhabitants would run or dance alongside the boats, calling to the procession. The festival took place in the temple of Bastet and consisted of a large number of sacrifices and the consumption of copius amounts of wine by the huge crowds that attended.”

It is hard to know just how fanciful this depiction of an Egyptian cat's last rites painted by the 19th C Englishman, John Reinhard Weguelin might be, but note the statue of Bastet in the stairwell on the right. From what we do know, he may not have been too far off.

The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat, John Reinhard Weguelin, 1886

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frida Kahlo and the Day of the Dead

Frida Kahlo

Andre Breton, the philosopher central to the Surrealist movement in Paris, traveled to Mexico in 1938 to address a surrealism conference at the University of Mexico. After getting lost in Mexico City he said, "I don't know why I came here. Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world". In Mexico, Breton spent time with a group of artists and intellectuals including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The self-reflective surrealist style of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo found a kinship with the European artists who, influenced by Freud, were exploring their subconscious through dreams. Frida Kahlo was influenced by the art of both Paris and New York at that time but she remained deeply rooted in the mystical folk arts of Mexico.

My Nurse and I - Frida Kahlo, Oil on metal, 1937

The folk arts of Mexico seem to acknowledge the bond and return the affection. Today, when the Day of the Dead draws near, Frida Kahlo is embraced. People wear Frida Kahlo charms and you will see Frida Kahlo - Day of the Dead figurines among the the sugar skulls, marigolds, dripping candles and dancing skeletons where ever Mexican people honor their remembered loved ones.

Day of the Dead Frida Kahlo - Tex Mex Curios

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hildegard von Bingen: Medieval Visonary

Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen

A new film on the life of Hildegard von Bingen opens this week in New York City. This extraordinary woman was a visionary, healer, composer and artist who at a time and place, 12th century Germany, when power was forbidden to women was, as leader of a religious order, one of the most powerful people in Europe.

NYT Review: Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen

 Self-Portrait (detail), Hildegard von Bingen, Illuminated manuscript, 12C, Germany

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Etsy: 21st Century Arts and Crafts

Is Etsy fostering a new Arts and Crafts movement on the Internet? It would seem so. With the saggy economy, I read recently on Huffington Post, that more and more unemployed people are turning to making and selling handmade crafts to add a little pocket change to those unemployment checks.  A few of these new craftspeople are actually making a living selling their wares through Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade things. 

 Felt iphone case, latelierdeluluu, 
Available on Etsy 

Etsy's Mission and Vision: Our mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice:  buy, sell and live handmade.

Etsy Headquarters: 9,000 square feet of space with 75 employees 
Etsy HQ is the buzzing hub of a growing internet based, 
global arts and crafts movement.

Tina Roth Eisenberg of the design blog, Swiss Miss, in NYC lives in the neighborhood of Etsy headquarters. She dropped in for a visit and then wrote, "Not only do they have a full time chef (!), they also bought all their furniture and decoration off Etsy. What struck me is that their office is 100% true to their brand. The office maintains the handmade feel of the products they carry. Impressive." 

 "Did you see those giant orange lamps? And the curtains?" 
Tina Roth Eisenberg/Swiss Miss

(lower 2 images from: Apartment Therapy)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Quick Spin on the Color Wheel

Color Wheel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1810 
Color Wheel: It’s the first assignment in beginning art class. But where did the idea come from? Here in two parts, Jude Stewart brings us a concise history, lavishly illustrated, of the color wheel. The Wonderful Color Wheel: Part 1 starts in the 1700s and concludes with the publication of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Theory of Colours in 1810 in which he rebutts Newton's color spectrum theory. According to Goethe both light and dark are active forces that spark different colors when they collide.
Cylindrical Color System, Albert Henry Munsell, 1900

In The Wonderful Color Wheel: Part 2 the color wheel morphs into triangular shapes before returning to the circle. Says Stewart, “However inadequate, scientifically speaking, it is to describe the color-spectrum using a wheel-shaped model, there’s an irresistible fitness about marrying circles with color... For an entity as slippery and ubiquitous as color, only a circle can be imagined as a perfect enough shape to contain all of it.

Jude Stewart is a Print contributing editor and she tweets about color.

Tol's Color Wheel, Miss Shawn's Studio