@ the MoMa
Painted by the artist known as Duccio about seven hundred years ago, this could be considered the “Ur image” of Renaissance art: Vasari recognized it as such centuries later. I always visit it when I go to the Met.
I rather like this snap of the picture; very meta 🤓. Picture of a picture that initiated the Western preoccupation with illusionary pictorial space. The parapet at the bottom edge is key, nicely heightened here, strangely, by the photograph’s flattening of the whole image. Other pictures intrude into the picture of the picture.
The original frame is burned along the bottom by generations of devotional candles.
I don’t watch TV, an admission that usually meets with startled surprise from people I meet. “You mean, you don’t have a TV?!” I do have a TV, or what passes for one these days, i.e., a large flat-screen on which I watch Netflix mostly, generally on DVDs, but sometimes streaming. I also admit to watching old Hawaii Five-0 shows while I exercise. But television shows, TV series, no.
I have tried to watch a few series that have a lot of buzz around them: I made it through three episodes of “Breaking Bad,” tried, Treme, and a few others. I just don’t like the form – it makes me think of The Sims. Create a world, people it with characters, disturb it, watch what happens… I prefer to have the sense of watching a story. Something with a beginning, a middle, and an end, a dramatic arc. So, I tried True Detective, and I like it! It’s only eight episodes long (half the length of The Prisoner!) Maybe the fact that it’s written by a novelist helps. The whole point to a regular series is just to keep you watching, to keep the show going…for years, if you can.
I rather like Rust Cohle, and his worldview. I’m down with his philosophy of mind, his dismissal of the fantasy of personhood. Maybe he’s a David Hume fan too? For some reason, his cogitations get him down, instead of bringing him joy. Perhaps he needs to read Fontenelle:
“All this immense space which holds our sun and our planets will be merely a small piece of the universe? As many spaces as there are fixed stars? This confounds me — troubles me — terrifies me.”
“And as for me,” I answered, “this puts me at my ease.”
There are two sex-scenes in the first three episodes (as far as I’ve gotten to-date) that set me thinking. The first shows Marty getting it on with his hottie from the DA’s office. She’s naked, he’s not. The second shows him doing the same with his wife; she’s naked, he’s not. How come women get naked but not men, I asked my wife? “Sexism,” she replied. Not acceptable to show naked men on TV. (I avoid the word “nude,” which I associate with art history.) “Not that I want to see those guys with their clothes off, anyway,” she said. Point taken. But it emphasizes that it’s a man’s world we are seeing on the screen.
And what is the point of these scenes? The first was to deepen Marty’s character: it was supposed to be a bit of a shock after hearing him go on about family values so much to anyone within hearing, and there was only a brief hint earlier of his philandering. The second..? My wife again: “It was supposed to show that he was a tortured soul.” To me, he just seems like a guy with a lot of deeply held and self-serving ideas. But then, I’m partial to the philosopher of the pair who questions all… And I guess the fact that his deeply held ideas aren’t helping him so much is part of the drama after all.
Overall, a higher order of television than I’m used to!
The other day, I watched L’Innocente, Visconti’s film of 1971 based on a story by D’Annunzio. It was his last film, and certainly not up to the level of Senso. A narcissistic, decadent, fin de siecle rich guy, Giancarlo Giannini, likes to have affairs, despite being married to a woman who is nearly goddess-like in her voluptuousness, i.e., Laura Antonelli. (She, by the way, turns in a fine performance here: not what I expected from the Queen of Italian soft-core sex farces of the 1970s.)
When his wife, oppressed by her desperate situation, takes a lover, he suddenly rediscovers her attractions. Her lover dies on an African expedition, but she is pregnant with his child. Her husband, now infatuated with her, demands that she have an abortion, and she refuses, ostensibly on religious grounds (He’s an atheist and freethinker.) but really because she wants the child of her dead lover, whom she mourns secretly.
Possessed by old fashioned jealousy and self-absorption – “I’m a man sick with melancholy, and I enjoy my sickness,” he says – the husband murders the baby. He thinks that his wife has been seduced into loving him again by his vigorous and slightly kinky erotic ministrations to her, and that she will accept the death of the baby, and move on, with him. He is wrong – she sees through him and realizes that he killed the baby, and she reveals her measureless hatred of him, confessing that she only pretended to love him again to protect her baby whom she loves as she did his father.
He confesses all to his former mistress, an icy countess (Jennifer O’Neal) and says he is ready to take up with her again. She, despite her relative lack of conventional morals, and her rather cavalier way of dealing with his infanticide, says she’s no longer interested. She calls him a monster, in a nice way, of course.
Having nothing to live for now – only mere existence stands before him – our existential ‘hero’ shoots himself in the heart while the countess looks on. He wanted her to see how he stands by his principles. Ho hum…
The costumes are fantastic, and the stifling perfume of the period’s opulence, for this particular class of beings, is, of course – after all, this is Visconti – overpowering in its presentation. But the story is rather mechanical, and for me, D’Annunzio’s stories are simply a bit ridiculous.
Since I spend so much time looking at old art, I sometimes see things in films…
I guess Visconti knew Italian painting as well as I do. The painting of Jupiter taking on the form of a cloud in order to possess Io (at top, by Correggio) must have been in his mind when he filmed the scene of Giannini carefully and deliberately arousing his wife while making clear his complete (so he thought) dominance of her (below).
Massimo Vignelli, the designer of this “iconic” NYC subway map died today, and was written up in the NYTimes. Paul Goldberger, former architecture critic for the Times, rhapsodized about it as “more than beautiful.” I’ll say. Goldberger goes on:
Vignelli’s 1972 map wasn’t just lovely to look at. Its obsessive clarity turns out to be the perfect basis for digital information. It’s more modern looking than any of the maps that followed it.
More modern looking than its successors, yes. Is that a clear-cut virtue? Obsessive clarity? Not sure what that means. Or is it obsession with the appearance of clarity? Basis for digital information? Pleeez…
As a frequent visitor to the city in the 1970s, I found the map confusing and practically illegible. It’s resemblance to a circuit design made it worse for me, a colorblind male. Many riders felt the same way, and the map was replaced with a more cartographically realistic, and less geometrical design.
The map may be a wonder, an icon, a fetish, an object of worship for modernist designers, but if so many people found it hard to use, what good is it? Doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose of graphic design? Nothing against his work as a whole, mind you, as I love the brochures he did for the National Park Service that are still in print.
I admire his spirit. The article reports:
Mr. Vignelli said he would have liked the job of developing a corporate identity for the Vatican. “I would go to the pope and say, ‘Your holiness, the logo is O.K.,’ ” he said, referring to the cross, “but everything else has to go.”
I can try to blame it on the fantastic blog 50 Watts, or on this fine exhibit at The Morgan, but in fact, it’s all on me: I’ve loved books with woodcuts since I was a boy, and I recently went on a bit of a spree getting illustrated and limited editions of a few of my literary favorites. None of them are particularly valuable, but all are, as they say, “collectible“.
Above, is an edition of Poe’s tales that was issued in the 1940s, although I recall these images from a library book, perhaps a reprint, when I was in school. The book is in great condition, and I re-papered the tattered slipcase, one of my new hobbies. I love that Fortunato and Montresor!
This collection of Poe stories (remember the old song from Mad Magazine?) is part of a series of woodcut-illustrated classics published in paperback by Penguin Books, and featured in the Morgan exhibition. Found it online, but it has not arrived in the mail yet.
Of course, when it comes to Poe, my favorite, after Amontillado, and distiguished by being his only novel, is the Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym. I bought a few editions in French, all translated by Charles Baudelaire, who introduced Poe to France in the 1850s. This is a nicely illustrated copy from the 1970s.
And here is a first edition of Pym’s Adventures, first edition in French, that is, published in 1858. Why is it that the French were so far ahead of everyone else when it comes to paperbacks? The book on the mantle of this well-known painting by Magritte is Arthur Gordon Pym, although I can’t make out the date.
Finishing with Poe, I got this selection of tales, again in French, because I liked the wonderful lithographic illustrations.
Done with Poe! Candide is one of my all-time favorite books, so I have many copies of it, including a variety of cheap paperpacks, but I decided to upgrade my collection. This French edition is illustrated by the Italian Umberto Brunelleschi using stencils, or pochoirs. It was published in the 1930s – quite a racy little paperback.
Back to woodcuts with this 1920s edition, also heavy on the erotic aspect, as is par for the course with Candide, and why not!
Not in the greatest condition, this one, but it was cheap, and get a load of that volupté
And a tiny little softcover edition from the 1920s, complete with woodcut illustrations and vignettes. Did I mention that one of my Internet passwords is Pangloss?
I have a few editions of Candide with illustrations by Rockwell Kent – it was such a popular production that it was issued several times in different formats, but I had never even seen a copy of the Kent Moby Dick. (I read that it was a big deal that Melville’s name wasn’t on the cover, as if you needed it!) This Random House edition from 1930 is the first reissue of the Kent illustrated version, originally published in a very limited three-volume set. (There is also a fancy gold and blue covered version of this book from 1933.) Kent’s pictures are fantastic, but they are ink drawings, not woodcut prints, although they are almost always referred to as such.
I like Barry Moser’s art work a lot, and I have a few trade editions of his books – Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein – so I figured I should get a copy of his Moby Dick. It’s often cited as a superlative example of book design and production, and the original letterpress edition goes for many thousands of dollars: I settled for the hardcover University of California reprint. I like it, but it just doesn’t excite me the way Rockwell Kent’s does.
And while I was on this Herman Melville theme, I read this book about the slave trade, by a local historian. The facts of the trade are unspeakably appalling, a veritable holocaust that played out over centuries. Even the language of the traders is similar to what we know of Nazi organizers of the death camps: the main difference was that slaves were expected to reproduce, rather than simply work themselves to death. One of the benefits of a pre-industrial age.
It’s a discussion of the Atlantic slave trade, using Melville’s novella, Benito Cereno, as unifying narrative device for the history. Until I read this book, I had thought that Melville based his story on facts from the Amistad case, but actually, there really was a Captain Delano! He was an ancestor of FDR, and quite a few other people as well, and he was involved in the slave trade himself, fine old New Englander that he was. The story is based on his memoir which recounts in detail his encounter with the historical Don Benito. I purchased this limited edition illustrated edition of Benito Cereno with woodcuts by Derrick Palmer, published by the Imprint Society.
The pictures below show Delano being rowed to the captive slave ship, and Babu’s head on a pike, after the truth has been revealed.