Rabbit Hole Thursday…Classical Art

The time I spent studying Art History at A-level was a very good time for me in my education. I have visited some fabulous museums and galleries around the world and I have found that I always love the ‘classical’ art – painting and sculpture that is not defined as modern or contemporary. The old stuff. Especially if it has a historical or – even better – a mythological reference.

Oedipus and the Sphinx by Gustav Moreau, 1864

I don’t know a lot about the art ‘world’, and this is not about ‘my art can beat up your art’ or anything. But I just find historical works so rich and with such depth. Drenched in symbols and interesting literary references. They just reach the parts other art can not reach.

Bacchanal A Faun Teased by Children by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1616-1617

And lets not even start on how these giant monolithic slabs of marble became such graceful, powerful, lyrical moments captured in time.

The story of Apollo and Daphne changing into a Bay tree is a favourite.

Jakob Auer, Apollo and Daphne (Kunsthistorisches Museum)
Lord Frederic Leighton, The Fisherman and the Siren
Judith Slaying Holofernes (Artemisia Gentileschi) 1611-12

Ouch. Sorry – didn’t mean to catch you out there. There is a version of this scene by Caravaggio in which the beheading seems effortless, as opposed to this one which is, well, you know.

The Kiss of Death in Barcelona’s Poblenou Cemetery. 1930. White marble. Attributed to Jaume Barba, but possibly created by Joan Fontbernat.

I realise I’m straying s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y from theme with the last pic, as it’s age would technically push it into the ‘Modern’ camp, but I say Nay! stay with us in the classic camp, Kiss of Death.

Dante and Virgil in Hell, 1850. William – Adolphe Bouguereau

There is a lot for your money in this depiction of Dante and Virgil. I won’t mention the homoeroticism (OK I will), but look at how gorgeous it is. And that Demon with his little crossed arms and cheeky face just kills me.

Circe Poisoning the Sea (1892) by John William Waterhouse

In mythology there are several figures named Glaucus, probably the most famous mythological tale is of Glaucus the fisherman

Glaucus was fishing in the river, he hauled in his catch, and on emptying his net noticed the fish he had already caught were reviving, and escaping back into the water, wondering what was causing this to happen, he took a closer look and realized he had emptied his catch on a patch of strange herbs on the river bank. Glaucus picked a handful of these strange herbs, and on tasting them had an urge to enter the river, he plunged in, and no sooner had he entered the water he had changed into a sea-monster with sea-green hair, huge broad shoulders and a fish-like tail. His transformation was accepted by the gods, and so Glaucus became immortal, a sea-god

One day he spied a beautiful girl, Scylla, a favorite of the water-nymphs, and fell instantly in love with her. Scylla on seeing Glaucus ran away, and no matter how he tried she kept on rejecting him. Felling sorry for himself Glaucus went to the island of Aeaea to confide in Circe, she was a sorceress and had the power to cast spells. Glaucus told Circe of his love for Scylla and of her rejection for him, he also told Circe that he could never love anyone else except Scylla.

Circe, who was very fond of Glaucus felt angered by this, and made her way to the island of Sicily, where Scylla lived. While Scylla bathed in a small spring, the jealous Circe poured a potion of herbs into the water, then cast her spell. From the lower half of her body Scylla grew six monstrous dogs, but the upper half remained intact. Totally appalled by the appearance of her body she hid herself away in a grotto on the straits of Messina, and there she stayed, but she could not stop the monstrous dogs from devouring unsuspecting sailors who steered to close to her cave, and Glaucus continued to pursue Scylla but to no avail.

Two Followers of Cadmus devoured by a Dragon, Cornelis van Haarlem (1588)

In the background of this painting is Cadmus killing the dragon. He chewed his face!

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