Finally…Allegory of Fortune by Salviati

January 25, 2013

Allegory of Fortune – Francesco Salviati

I’ve been searching online for an image of this drawing that I saw at the Morgan Museum several years ago, and I finally found it.  I have attempted to (inexpertly) remove the watermarks on this large-size version of the digital image.

I’m not quite sure how Signora Fortuna is manageing to ride her wheel as if it were a unicycle.

Wheel of Fortuna!

Sarrasine’s cynosure

September 13, 2009

La Zambinella performs

“He entered and took a seat in the pit, crowded between two unconscionably stout abbati; but luckily he was quite near the  stage…Suddenly a  whirlwind of applause greeted the appearance of the prima donna.  She  came forward coquettishly to the footlights and curtsied to the  audience with infinite grace.  The brilliant light, the enthusiasm of a  vast multitude, the illusion of the stage, the glamor of a costume  which was most attractive for the time, all conspired in that woman’s  favor.  Sarrasine cried aloud with pleasure.  He saw before him at that  moment the ideal beauty whose perfections he had hitherto sought here  and there in nature, taking from one model, often of humble rank, the  rounded outline of a shapely leg, from another the contour of the  breast; from another her white shoulders; stealing the neck of that  young girl, the hands of this woman, and the polished knees of yonder  child, but never able to find beneath the cold skies of Paris the rich  and satisfying creations of ancient Greece.  La Zambinella displayed in  her single person, intensely alive and delicate beyond words, all  those exquisite proportions of the female form which he had so  ardently longed to behold, and of which a sculptor is the most severe  and at the same time the most passionate judge.  She had an expressive  mouth, eyes instinct with love, flesh of dazzling whiteness.  And add  to these details, which would have filled a painter’s soul with  rapture, all the marvelous charms of the Venuses worshiped and copied  by the chisel of the Greeks.  The artist did not tire of admiring the  inimitable grace with which the arms were attached to the body, the  wonderful roundness of the throat, the graceful curves described by  the eyebrows and the nose, and the perfect oval of the face, the  purity of its clean-cut lines, and the effect of the thick, drooping  lashes which bordered the large and voluptuous eyelids.  She was more  than a woman; she was a masterpiece! In that unhoped-for creation  there was love enough to enrapture all mankind, and beauties  calculated to satisfy the most exacting critic.

“Sarrasine devoured with his eyes what seemed to him Pygmalion’s  statue descended from its pedestal.  When La Zambinella sang, he was  beside himself.



November 30, 2008


The Temptation of Doctor Antonio is the Fellini contribution to the four stories told in Boccaccio ’70, which was released in 1962.  (Story goes, the producers joked it wouldn’t be allowed on-screen until 1970.)  The good doctor is on a crusade against filth and smut in Roman social life but he meets his match when a gargantuan billboard showing Anita Ekberg reclining seductively on a couch is erected in a park directly opposite his window.  It’s an advertisement for milk!

Slowly, the doctor’s sexual frustrations unravel him, and the billboard comes to life as a thirty-foot tall sex goddess who is a bit put out that he cannot just see things her way.  In the image above, she has reappeared as a normal-sized (but not normally endowed) woman so she can have a little fun chasing Dr. A. about.  Then she goes back to super, duper, jumbo size and begins to undress.

This story is so simple, the satire is so uncomplicated and familiar, but the treatment of it is hilarious, sexy, fresh, surprising, and all-out crazy!  Another Fellini triumph.

Dr. Antonio confronts his nemesis, by day and during a “pagan” night ritual.

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The goddess full-size, and looking very angry with the good doctor.



The doctor acts out his repressed childhood fantasy of pinching and fondling his aunt’s breasts, but with a giant-sized incarnation of the devil-woman.


Foxy Lady

July 5, 2008

This is a late 18th century print by Rowlandson called “Reynard put to his shifts.”  It is from my personal collection, and is one of my favorites because of the dense knot of allusions, mythological, sexual, political, and satirical that it contains.  Just what is it about?

“Reynard” is the French word for fox, and it is sometimes used in English fables (in the land of fox hunting) as the name as an animal character.  The Fox referred to here is Charles James Fox , Whig opponent of the Tories.  James Gillray lampooned him often and viciously, partly because Gillray was, for a while, in the pay of the Tory party.  (Though he didn’t spare James Pitt, the Tory leader, either.)  Here is a detail of a Gillray satire of Mr. Fox  that shows him assassinating British liberty in the costume of a French sans culotte revolutionary.  (He was, for a time, a supporter of that revolution, and Gillray pilloried him as an unpatriotic sympathizer with Napoleon long after the Revolution had devoured its children.)  In my print, Mr. Fox is, of course, shown as a fox chased by some vicious hounds that bark out the names of legislative bills he supported.  A fashionably dressed woman  calls out to him, “My dear fox, get into cover,”  inviting him to run and hide beneath her skirts.  The sexual innuendo is indirect, but clear.  What is going on?

In 1784, the year this print was made, two unusual things happened in British politics:  Mr. Fox had to actually compete for his seat in parliament – usually a seat once gained, was totally safe; and Mrs. Georgiana Cavendish, an educated, brilliant, cultured, and tremendously wealthy noblewoman (shown here in a portrait by Gainsborough – she was famously addicted to gambling) who was a distant cousin, friend and supporter of Fox, went out on the hustings to drum up support for him.  (He won in the end.)  Never mind the Age of Enlightenment, this was not women’s work, and she was ridiculed and lampooned for it.

Rowlandson himself, did several satires of her political canvassing, including these two, which show Mrs. Cavendish suckling foxes at her breast, and buying votes by selling kisses.  Other less subtle prints show her groping tradesmen, not just kissing them, or playing with voters on a see-saw balanced on a penis fulcrum.

There is an additional association:  the theme of “Reynard put to his shifts,” i.e., the hunted fox at his wits end, was a common theme in popular culture of the day.  Here is an image by Carrington Bowles (1779) that shows one representation of the story with some commentary:

Reynard’s Last Shift may be read satirically as a comment on the upper-class hunters’ callous indifference to the disruption their sport brings down upon a peasant family. But we know as well that the image takes place within a narrative that here begins to yield other possibilities, among them the lascivious joke of the huntsman grabbing tail, highlighted by his reach between the legs of the alarmed woman. There is also the problem of the two genteel bystanders, woman and man, whose amused nonchalance is so striking. Is this cruel indifference or is it just possible that the young man’s gesture and her gaze indicate that they share our lascivious joke, setting up a complicity with the viewer? And indeed who are we as the imagined viewer? Possibly our 18th Century counterparts—the purchasers for a print like this—would be more of the “middling sort” who would see themselves as neither gentry or peasant, but there were always openings for alignment one way or the other. It could be that part of what made “jokes” like this so resilient in the period was a fluidity of the social structure in which the boundaries were unstable, even while readily recognizable within the visual delineation the prints suggested through such markers as dress.
from Clark University

This sort of close and entertaining analysis of satirical prints from this period of English history is found in abundance in Vic Gatrell’s fabulous book, City of Laughter:  Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London.

In this image, Georgiana is given a sort of [mock] heroic aspect, standing tall and firm, while fox cowers beneath her skirts.  The dangers to Fox’s political personna are apparent – Karl Rove is not an original thinker.  My sense also is that Rowlandson here is alluding ironically to the myth of Actaeon, with which he was certainly familiar, as would any man of his standing, all of whom were educated on the classics.  That unfortunate man, Actaeon, loved nothing so much as hunting stags with his hounds, but one day he accidentally happened on the goddess Diana naked at her bath.  She splashed and cursed him, he metamorphosed into a stag, and his own beloved hunting dogs pursued himand tore him to pieces.  He couldn’t even form words to call to them to stop.  Here, the goddess is his protector, simultaneously saving him, and by implication, emasculating him, I think.

Diana is very…beautiful

December 12, 2004

John Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” but the truth of this beautiful formulation is that we don’t seem to get what beauty is, or can be at times. I admit that it may seem odd that this picture of Diana appears on my web pages and other productions with great regularity, but I’ve never been able to get it out of my mind. A slight erotic confection by F. Boucher and nothing more you say? Well, its rococo frivolity is all the more fascinating given the story behind it, as rendered here in an 18th century translation from the Metamorphoses by Ovid:

Now all undrest the shining Goddess stood,
When young Actaeon, wilder’d in the wood,
To the cool grott by his hard fate betray’d
The fountains fill’d with naked nymphs survey’d.
The frighted virgins shriek’d at the surprize
(The forest echo’d with their piercing cries).
Then in a huddle round their Goddess prest:
She, proudly eminent above the rest,
With blushes glow’d: such blushes as adorn
The ruddy welkin, or the purple morn;
And tho’ the crowding nymphs her body hide,
Half backward shrunk, and view’d him from a side.
Surpriz’d at first she would have snatch’d her bow,
But sees the circling waters round her flow;
These in the hollow of her hand she took,
And dash’d em in his face, while thus she spoke:
“Tell, if thou can’st, the wond’rous sight disclos’d,
A Goddess naked to thy view expos’d.”

Thus said, the man begun to disappear
By slow degrees, and ended in a

Actaeon was simply out hunting, his passion, with his best companions, his dogs, when he happens upon the beautiful goddes Diana, the virgin huntress, bathing with her entourage after a hot sweaty day at the chase. She punishes Actaeon for his unwitting invasion of her privacy by splashing water in his face, which has the effect of immediately starting his transformation (metamorphosis) into a a stag, which his own dogs then proceed to run down and devour. He did nothing wrong but cast his eyes upon the beauty of a goddess, a terrible beauty. Which brings me to my point, at last.

Our notion of the universe, and of beauty in it, tends to be sentimentalized. Huxley wrote an essay some years ago called “Wordsworth in the Tropics.” Would he have written so lovingly of nature if he’d grown up amongst enormous termites and voracious leeches that appeared in every burbling brook? No, the Greeks understood that beauty, in women, in nature, in the world, can be terrible, and they frequently describe the piercing flash of a goddess’s terrible eyes. Beauty, terrible to behold. Lookout Hallmark Greeting cards! Meteors crash and destroy eons of evolution’s work, galaxies collapse into peanut sized kernels of energy, taking whatever was in them there too, stars become engorged with physics and turn into red giants that destroy whole solar systems, and…from the viewpoint of our back porch, it’s such a wondrous site, those heavens up there!

So, that terrible beauty is everywhere, serving as some sort of a portal to the terribly violent and indifferent reality that is the world. Look into Hera’s eyes, and glimpse the seething ground of being. The universe is a cold and hostile, or rather, cosmically and crushingly indifferent place. A place to be fearful and feel alone. Rush back to the beauty of flowers, smiling children, the warmth of hearth and home, until you feel the need to get another shot of the great unknowing reality. Or go to the museum…

Now here’s an image that captures the terrible, the true, and the beautiful all at once – Judith severing the head of Holofernes, by Caravaggio. Look at her posture, that determined…and beautiful face…as she goes about the nasty business of saving her people while the old crone looks on. It’s a dirty job, but some fair maiden’s got to do it. As far as I know, Carravaggio didn’t do subjects from Greek mythology – what a shame.  And finally, the folds. Folds of cloth in a Renaissance Flemish masterpiece, the Merode Altarpiece at the NYC Metropolitan Museum. Huxley, in his mescaline induced euphorias rhapsodized about the “dharma in the hedge,” the Buddhist apprehension of the ultimate reality and beauty in a simple green, garden hedge. He identified it here too, in the crinkled gothic folds of a garment in oil paint. Why did they paint fabric endlessly, after all? They must have seen something there.