Lizards!

March 8, 2012

After seeing the Tegu by Maria Sibylla Merian at The Morgan Library & Museum the other day, I was gripped by an acquisitive frenzy, and went off to Argosy Books in Manhattan in search of representations of lizards.  Ms. Merian’s prints fetch upwards of $3,000 – the Tegu goes for over $8,000 where I’ve seen it – so I settled for a charming plate by her father, part of large publication on natural history, available in full, online here.  Click the print for a large image of the plate at top.

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Beastial

March 6, 2012

Here in this dehumanizing machine known as Manhattan, there’s a lot to be seen on one’s lunch hour – a slack work-ethic helps.

I went to the Morgan Library to see its exhibit on animals in art, music, and literature.  Yes, there were some bestiaries devoted to the theme of love.  I hope Santorum is alerted.

I was drawn to the show by the magnificent Tegu lizard in the newspaper review:  I love that pose!

The Grandeville satire below is typical of his sly work, which always shows French bourgeois mores in an animal light.  Here a boring teacher drills his students who parrot his words and respond to his demands for conjugation with the fresh lines:  “we are tired; you tire us.”

James Gillray’s early work was filled with animals because that was a very long tradition in satirical caricature, and because, how could he resist?, one of his principal subjects was James Fox, always referred to as Monsieur Reynard.  This print, lacking his later complexity and pizzazz, nevertheless packs a lot into its simple composition.  Note the understated slyness of the fox’s expression, peering down his long muzzle and over his paunch, and the attitudes of the rat-headed retainers.  Art Spiegelman comes to mind, of course.

I love serial small images on paper.  This page is titled, Affordable Animals, and was a cheap Dutch production intended for instructing young children.


Burning in the City

March 5, 2012

Nearing on the end of Augustine’s The City of God, I continue to be entertained by Saint A’s withering sarcasm towards his ‘opponents,’ i.e., the pagans, and his dogmatic torturing of ‘rationality.’  One man’s rational is another man’s fanaticism.

In this later book, Number XXI, he is discussing the nature of eternal torment meted out to the sinners after the Second Coming, and dealing with difficult ‘scientific’ issues, e.g., how can a sinner’s body continue burning for eternity?  After all, would it not be consumed after a while?  Augustine uses a fascinating argument, what I call the argument from ignorance, which essentially states, “You [pagans] cannot explain everything we see in the world – we are all ignorant of things.  Therefore, you should not object to my assertion that God performs miracles.”  Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then, it’s a line of reasoning heard today, as are so many things the Saint says.  Rick Santorum comes to mind often when I read him…

Here, the Saint makes an interesting point about the relative authority of texts:

But, as I said in the eighteenth book of this work, we are not obliged to believe everything contained in the historical records of the pagans, since their chroniclers…seem to be at pains to differ from one another …But we are free to believe, if we so choose, those reports which are not in conflict with the books which, as we have no doubt, we are obliged to believe.  XXI 6: Not all marvels are natural; many are devised by man’s ingenuity, many by the craft of demons 

Obviously, it’s all clear and simple which texts ‘we are obliged to believe.’  Following on, Augustine discusses many ‘marvels’ that are generally accepted as true, although they seem laughable to us.  So, he argues, if you accept them, you might as well believe me too.  Certainly, the miracles God performs are no more absurd than these ‘marvels.’  But, of course, he does believe in some of those marvels:  He’s not just being funny.

…My purpose here is to demonstrate the kind of marvels recorded in profusion in pagan literature, and generally believed by our opponents, although no rational explanation is offered, whereas the same people cannot bring themselves to believe us, even though rational grounds are produced, when we say that Almighty God is to perform an action which lies outside their experience and contravenes the evidences of the senses. … XXI 8:  The omnipotence of the Creator is the ground of belief in marvels

 Marvelous things are abounding in the world, and, really, is a man rising from the dead so much more remarkable than some of the animals and natural wonders we come across?  At one point, he cites the numerous volcanoes in Italy, mountains that burn continuously without being consumed!  And, my goodness, Fire turns stones white, but turns wood black!  And charcoal, which is created when fire consumes wood, cannot itself be destroyed by fire or earth!  Thus, people put charcoal under stone property markers, knowing that it will never decay, so that if the stone markers are moved, they can prove the original location!  What a weird manner of pre-scientific reasoning…Fire destroys, so there must be something magical about charcoal which will not be further destroyed.

…For in any case, I have sufficiently argued that it is possible for a living creature to remain alive in the fire, being burnt without being consumed, feeling pain without incurring death; and this by means of a miracle of the omnipotent Creator.  Anyone who says that this is impossible for the Creator does not realize who is responsible for whatever marvels he finds in the whole of the world of nature.  It is, in fact, God himself who has created all that is wonderful in this world, the great miracles, and the minor marvels that I have mentioned…The nature of eternal punishment: XXI 10

The salamander was thought to have the ability to live in fire – that’s strong!- and so become the symbol of the French kings. Later, the amphibian was shown as a fire-breather. It shows up on several facades in New York City, most notably here on the Alwyn Court building, which is swarming with them.


Back to Basics

February 21, 2009

Vacation is a time to relax and think about what’s really important in life.