Monday, May 20, 2019

The Lady From Lavinium

A fragment of a life-sized terracotta statue of an Etruscan woman
from ancient Lavinium housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
(Click-on images to enlarge)

"The legendary king Aeneas, father of the Latin race, fled from Troy to Macedonia, then Sicily, and finally to the Italian peninsula. There he founded a city called Lavinium (modern Pratica di Mare), a site eighteen miles south of Rome, which became a major religious center for the Latin people. The distinctive clothing and jewelry on this life-sized statue closely resemble those on fourth and third century B.C. terracottas found there. The elaborate necklaces and armband appear to be reproduced from molds of actual jewelry. Some of the pendants are decorated with reliefs depicting various Etruscan deities and heroes. Originally, this woman wore a pair of grape-cluster earrings. The one on her left ear is visible behind her long hair. When complete, the statue probably stood in a sanctuary and showed the young woman holding an incense box in her extended right hand. This rare statue is an exceptional example of the awakening sophistication of Italic artists, who over the following two centuries fused native traditions with imported ones and gave birth to the multifaceted art of Late Republican Rome."

- A description of the Lady from Lavinium - the terracotta statue fragment (shown centered above and inset right) from this New York Metropolitan Museum page. (Note: I am somewhat flummoxed as to why this statue is referred to as having "long" hair when, in fact it's shorter and straighter than the hair on most statues of women from any time period.)

"The tradition of making sculpture in terracotta represents one of the signal artistic accomplishments of ancient Italian cultures before and during the rise of Rome as the dominant regional power... The first recorded artist names on the peninsula in fact belong to sculptors who worked in clay, Vulca of Veii and Gorgasus and Damophilus of Magna Graecia...

Mass produced and finished by hand, terracottas were ubiquitous in the ancient Mediterranean. Usually modest in scale, statuettes circulated widely over long periods and through multiple generations of molds, providing critical evidence for regional styles, patterns of trade, and local cults. Commonly found in dwellings, graves, and sanctuaries, terracottas gave tangible form both to private spiritual beliefs and to public religious observances."

- An excerpt sourced from this .pdf. Inset left is a more common, classically-featured terracotta head from the same period.

"I began to feel an overwhelming obligation to question history. As a woman, I wanted to take this idea one step further. Since the dawn of written records, the vast majority of materials that scholars consider academically acceptable have been created by men of a certain social and political strata. We believe, usually without question, in the veracity of documents simply because they can be "authenticated" to a specific time period. Rarely do we take into account that they were written during darker days when women held a status lower than livestock and were believed to have no souls! How many magnificent stories have been lost to us because the women who starred in them weren't deemed important enough, even human enough, to merit mention? How many woman have been removed completely from history? And, would this apply most certainly to the women of the first century?"

- From the novel The Expected One by Kathleen McGowen (2006).

 "A new generation might forget where their freedoms came from, drifting back once again into the sandbar of silence. Sara Evans thinks that concern helps explain why so many second-wave women became scholars. 'Certainly I am not the only historian,' she writes, 'who wishes to spare the next generation the rage we experienced about having been cut off from our own history in all its complexity.'"

- Excerpt from Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 2007.


No, this post is not another interlude; it's actually what would've and should've been a prelude to the entire series of empowerment posts I've been slowly churning out for months; the last of which (alas) is still "under construction." As it happened, I was looking through a book on classical Greek and Roman art the other day when I came upon the photo (seen above) of a statue of an anonymous woman from Lavinium, a port city in ancient Italy. I confess, I was startled. It is so unlike what one expects to find when looking at classical art, either Roman, Greek, Etruscan, Celtic, etc.  She almost seems medieval except that this isn't possible; she was created well over 2000 years ago. And, yet, nothing about the woman's image (inset right) is classical; not even the length of her neck. Note the intensity in her eyes, the generous mouth, her 20th century hairstyle: a straight bob framing her face. Note, too, her striking individuality, the unmistakable character in her face; she's an actual woman, not a generic, idealized version of a woman.

Then again, maybe it's just me. Perhaps, I'm merely in the dark about the true scope of ancient art and there's nothing anomalous about this piece at all. But, then again, much of Lavinium art from this period has only recently come to light.* And, what is coming to light is fairly strange. There is, for instance, the discovery of thousands of buried sculptures of various human body parts - referred to as "votives" - found all across Italy. The hypotheses is that they were offerings to the gods and goddesses in hopes of regaining health for various physical afflictions. Some of them are pictured below. (See the article: Why were thousands of clay body parts buried in ancient Italy?)

In any case, something tells me that sculptors in the early Roman empire were in high demand, not to mention highly respected. And, I would assume that many of the gynecological-related body parts were very often created by those who knew them best: women. And, as there's thousands of them, I'm guessing they must've worked!

Oddly enough, our lady from Lavinium looks very much like a statue I thought I saw in a cemetery a number of years ago while photographing its impressive grave monuments. Unfortunately, it was late in the day, so, I decided to come back and photograph her the following day. But, this was not to be. Eerily, after returning to the graveyard as intended, and searching for her for over two hours, I couldn't find her. I began to fear that I never saw the statue to begin with, and, slowly it occurred to me that, no, I actually hadn't. Because, when I really thought about it, the statue in my memory did not have the same classical facial features as every single one of the other statues in the cemetery. It also occurred to me that, In my memory, she was standing with a bluish glow around her as if it were nightfall and she was standing beneath the moon. But, this could not have been true; I had left the cemetery at twilight.

In the end I concluded the statue must have appeared in a dream I experienced the night before... an anomalous statue of a woman holding a chalice in one hand and a disc in the other... more like a pagan goddess than anything you'd find in a Roman Catholic cemetery in New England. Which was very spooky at the time and disorientating.... especially because I had confused reality with a dream.

So, what was that all about? To this day I don't know. But, seeing the lady of Lavinium opened that particular file in my memory banks. In other words, I guess it kind of shook me up to encounter a similar anomalous statue again.

As it was, smaller terracotta pieces were numerous in Rome and Greece at the time, allegedly made by men (of course) who were referred to as "modelers of girls." I don't think our featured statue portrayed a girl, however. She was young, but judging by her low-hanging breasts, a young adult. Speaking of her breasts, I also note that they are small and uneven, that is, not symmetrical - hardly the idealized specimens we'd expect in a work of art. Normally, I would not make a point of addressing this, but, as breasts are one of the issues that surface in my upcoming empowerment post I might as well broach the topic here.

Let's face it, one part of a woman's anatomy male artists - especially classical artists - would not fail to idealize is a woman's breasts... the fuller and more perfectly round the better.** In fact, one gets the impression that if it weren't for breasts, there would be a great deal less art and fewer male artists!

But, I digress. It was, however, with this thought in mind, that I had a kind of epiphany. And, this is how it went: there are few male artists who would devote their efforts to the expression on a woman's face while, at the same time, completely overlook the contours of her chest. Inset right is a perfect example of what a man might produce (no, darlings, the delicate folds of her headdress were not designed to frame her face). So, I think we can safely say, this is the work of a male artist. The lady from Lavinium, however, well, I have a strange intuition that she may have been a woman's work. Moreover, the woman was a renegade and a genius. In terms of enigmatic expressions, the Mona Lisa has nothing on our Lady of Lavinium!

And, yes, it could've happened. Etruscan women were amongst the more liberated women of the classical world and some assume the lady was created by an Etruscan artist. Moreover, we mustn't forget those fierce Italian women painters of the Italian Renaissance. Did we actually assume they appeared out of thin air? No, I don't believe they did. Others came before them; ancestors from a pre-Christian world and, specifically, a pagan world.*** So, if I were an art historian, you can bet I'd do a lot of digging around this particular place and time period. Perhaps, there are more silenced voices we need to listen to... and there is no time like the present.

As for the lady of Lavinium, she might be gazing into a mirror... assessing herself, scrutinizing herself as if she were, in actuality, her own subject. Might this be the case: our lady from Lavinium was a sculptress who modeled her own portrait in clay? Stranger things have happened.


* According to information found on this history blog page, the Lavinium Archaeological Museum wasn't opened till 2005 due to a lot of red tape involving private land owners, bureaucrats and the "Archaeological Superintendency for metropolitan Rome." Apparently, in 2017, the archaeological site itself had just been opened to visitors.

Inset left is one of the terracotta statue fragments featured in the museum: an amazing woman holding what appears to be an elegantly-shaped container of some sort. Everything about this noblewoman is outstanding and has an almost contemporary appeal... from her clothing to the expression on her face. (Note: I want that hat!)

I think I've seen the future... and it looks like this woman...

(... and, it looks as if this woman is empowered.)

** Interestingly, classical statues of women often featured asymmetrical breasts; that is, one breast was often larger or differently-shaped than the other and/or misaligned with the other. We can see this on the lady from Lavinium as well. But, why was this, do you suppose? Was it some sort of code known only to artists?  Or, possibly a symbolic tribute to Amazonian culture and the warrior women who allegedly removed one breast?

Whatever the case, I found that bit of information on this wonderful UK site from 2013: Nemi to Nottingham: In the Footsteps of Fundilia. Happily, it seems as if other women - actual scholars - are also asking questions about pre-Christian artifacts... specifically those found at Nemi near the Temple of Diana... which somehow made their way to Nottingham Castle museum in the UK. Nemi, incidentally, was an area of ancient Latium as was Lavinium.

The website specifically centers on one enigmatic statue (as this post does): the Herm of Fundilla... who was allegedly sculpted by the "actor" Fundilius. Hmmm... you should definitely check out Fundilia!

*** How and why a pre-Christian civilization might allow a woman more equality and autonomy than the sum total of the patriarchal religious/political structures which followed is easily illustrated by the pagan pantheons of gods and goddesses; particularly (but not limited to) those deemed highest in the hierarchy.

In both Greece and Rome there were 12 major dieties: 6 male gods and 6 goddesses. Of the goddesses, 3 were virgin - Minerva (Menrva or Athena), Diana (Artemis), and Vesta (Hestia) - that is, without offspring. So, while there were most certainly Mother Goddesses for women to identify with, emulate and seek help from, there were also goddesses for women who would never bear children, either due to physical disability, personal preference, economic hardship... or lack of a mate. In other words, the virgin goddesses might have represented an honorable place in society for women who chose (or, were "chosen" for) an alternative route through life, up to and including those of artistic, intellectual and even mystical persuasion (i.e., the sibyls, and the vestals). Inset left is a Roman mosaic of an androgynous Minerva with an image of a gorgon on her chest.

Incidentally, the Etruscans had a very surprising sacred trinity. It was composed of 1 god and two goddesses: Tinia and his wife, Uni, and their daughter, Menrva!  Menrva was the Etruscan equivalent of Minerva (Athena), virgin goddess of wisdom, war, art, education, and medicine. She was also a lightning deity. (Note: the Celtic equivalent of Minerva might be Sulis.)

Meanwhile, the goddess Diana (inset right), although a virgin herself, was the goddess of childbirth and women in general. In her Wiki entry we read:

"Diana is the only pagan goddess mentioned by name in the New Testament (Acts 19). As a result, she became associated with many folk beliefs involving goddess-like supernatural figures that Catholic clergy wished to demonize.

In the Middle Ages, legends of night-time processions of spirits led by a female figure are recorded in the church records of Northern Italy, western Germany, and southern France. The spirits were said to enter houses and consume food which then miraculously re-appeared. They would sing and dance, and dispense advise regarding healing herbs and the whereabouts of lost objects. If the house was in good order, they would bring fertility and plenty. If not, they would bring curses to the family. Some women reported participating in these processions while their bodies still lay in bed. Historian Carlo Ginzburg has referred to these legendary spirit gatherings as "The Society of Diana."


Lastly, there were the mysterious sibyls - oracles, prophetesses and trance mediums - who allegedly channeled the gods.  Above are two sibyls from the Sistine Chapel painted by Michaelangelo. The first (left) is the Greek Delphic sibyl reading a scroll, and the second (right) is the amazing sibyl of Cumae studying a book... possibly one of the Sibylline Books of prophecies about which Wiki relates this legend:

"Centuries ago, concurrent with the 50th Olympiad, not long before the expulsion of Rome's kings, an old woman "who was not a native of the country" arrived incognita in Rome. She offered nine books of prophecies to King Tarquin; and as the king declined to purchase them, owing to the exorbitant price she demanded, she burned three and offered the remaining six to Tarquin at the same stiff price, which he again refused, whereupon she burned three more and repeated her offer. Tarquin then relented and purchased the last three at the full original price, whereupon she "disappeared from among men."

I love that story.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Journey to the Bottom of a Rabbit Hole (Interlude #3)

Rosslyn Chapel - window on north side. Photo credit ©: Rob Farrow.
(All images in this post can be clicked-on for original size.)

"The building of cathedrals was part of a colossal and cleverly devised plan which permitted the existence of entirely free philosophical and psychological schools in the rude, absurd, cruel, superstitious, bigoted and scholastic Middle Ages. These schools have left us an immense heritage, almost all of which we have already wasted without understanding its meaning and value."

- A quote attributed to P.D. Ouspensky. sourced from Tim Wallace Murphy's Enigma of the Freemasons: Their History and Mystical Connections (2006). Inset right is a column from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, featuring the Kabbalistic Tree of Life symbol.

"The Gothic cathedral, that sanctuary of tradition, science and Art, should not be regarded as a work dedicated solely to the glory of Christianity, but rather as a vast concretion of ideas, of tendencies, of popular beliefs, a perfect whole to which we can refer without fear, whenever we would penetrate the religious, secular, philosophic or social thoughts of our ancestors."

- Another quote sourced from Murphy's book which originated from Le Mystère des Cathédrales (1926) by a mysterious French alchemist known only as "Fulcanelli." Inset left is another - more enigmatic - column from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

From Chartres Cathedral in France: a mechanized astrological clock added in 1528.

What's this? A third Interlude?

Alas, yes. As you may have guessed, I've been tottering on the brink of one rabbit hole or another for months now, so, I suppose it was inevitable I'd lose my footing eventually. Originally, I intended to add 2 quotes I found recently (now posted above) to the Chinese Sewing Basket addendum - in which I mention Notre Dame de Paris - and, for all sensible reasons, that's where the operation should've ended.

But, no. Instead, I decided to Google the French alchemist Fulcanelli (who wrote the second quote above)... a man I was unfamiliar with. After all, a writer should know her subject matter, right?

Famous Last Words. For, at that very moment, although unbeknownst to myself, a massive black rabbit hole was silently opening directly beneath my feet like the mouth of a terrestrial Moby Dick.

Maybe it's the topic itself: alchemy - specifically hermeticism - the black hole of the esoteric world. The further you go, the less you know. And, as for Fulcanelli... ah, yes, Fulcanelli, now there's a name to conjure with. And, certainly many have. For some he's the man-who-never-was with an ongoing archive of potential identities (see the Fr. Wiki entry).

But, ultimately, this post isn't about Fulcanelli any more than it's about cathedrals. As it so happened, while ferreting out info about Fulcanelli I discovered his friend, Julien Champagne, also a French alchemist and an artist. It was he who created the frontispiece emblem (inset left) for Fulcanelli's Mystère des Cathédrales.

Champagne is somewhat less of a mystery than Fulcanelli, but, don't be deceived. Some researchers believe he was Fulcanelli. Regardless, a female alchemist by the name of Louise Barbe (sometimes referred to as Marguerite-Louise Barbe) allegedly died in Champagne's laboratory either by drinking the elixir aurum potable (drinkable gold) - which is sometimes referred to as the Philosopher's Stone (as so many things are!) - or in a fire which broke out in the laboratory. Anyway, she was supposed to have died (according to one sentence in a Wiki article devoted to her alleged husband, Dr. Serge Voronoff of "monkey gland" fame) in 1910, the same year Champagne used her services as a model for his painting Le Vaisseau du Grand Oeuvre (Vessel of the Great Work), inset right.

"Of course, the 'Great Work' is Alchemy," one researcher explains, "and the painting is filled with alchemical symbolism.  The nude female figure is a personification of the philosopher's stone; she stands within a glass flask and is surrounded by myriad blazing flames. Off the right shoulder of the young woman is the word 'POTERE' meaning 'power' in English; off of her left shoulder is the word 'AVDERE' meaning 'to dare' in English. The background on the left and right sides of the flask contain the names of certain philosophers and alchemists written in Latin letters."

One other notable symbol in the painting is the large skull she's standing on...  formed by the "blazing flames". So, did she actually die in 1910 as stated in the Voronoff Wiki article? In which case, did Champagne have some presentiment of her death or did the skull represent the first stage of the Great Work: nigredo? (Inset left, is an image of Champagne sourced from this intensive French Julien Champagne site.)

Then again, alchemists had a habit of faking their own deaths and another source tells us that Barbe was The Praemonstratrix (an officer) of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn's Paris Temple - Temple Ahathoor - for another 15 years! Go figure. Another key factor in the ongoing narrative is her involvement with writer and filmmaker Irène Hillel-Erlanger who, incidentally, was also New Woman Germaine Dulac's collaborator and business partner from 1915 to 1920, the year of Erlanger's death.

Apparently, Irène Hillel-Erlanger wrote the scripts for many of Dulac's earlier films and was also the author of the "veiled and multi-layered Dadaist work" Voyages en Kaleidescope - which some speculate was an alchemical treatise and one praised by Fulcanelli. Very possibly, the illustrious André Breton - a man who frequently insinuates himself into my blogposts - was a close acquaintance, as a copy of her book (inset right) was found on this Breton page. Her dedication in the book reads: "... to the Great Soul of L.B. I piously offer these pages."

"Piously"? Was "L.B." a reference to Louise Barbe? According to the preface of a recent reprint of Voyages en Kaleidescope (linked to above) both woman died in 1920 within months of each other; Erlanger either having contracted typhus from tainted oysters, or deliberately having been poisoned by an unknown foe. However, in Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations, Erlanger's death is attributed to tuberculosis.

In any event, after her death most copies of her book mysteriously disappeared. Some speculate that both women were murdered for having divulged too many hermetic top secrets. Having read bits of Erlanger's cryptic book, however, this seems unlikely. Moreover, the mysterious Fulcanetti purportedly had high praise for the book. But, if Erlanger and Barbe were murdered, might it have been due more to what they knew - as women - rather than what they divulged? Some metaphysical ability peculiar to the "fair sex," perhaps. I merely  speculate. Inset right is a Green Person (I swear it looks like a woman I used to work with in a factory back in my early days) from Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Note the image of the downward dove - generally a symbol of the "Holy Spirit" - incised on the Green Person's forehead.

One passage in Voyages en Kaleidescope describes a woman with a diamond in her forehead which had the power to detonate a thousand bombs and does eventually destroy the magical kaleidoscope and half the neighborhood along with it. (See here.) Then again, this Golden Dawn page informs us: "The erotic nature of the Hermetic alchemy is symbolized not only by the female figure, but also by the fire which burns beneath her. Her wings indicate that, for a man, woman holds the wings to spiritual ascent." There is even a statement in the Wiki article that although it was said that Fulcanelli's Master was medieval alchemist Basil Valentine (who I intuited was female in this post) his actual "initiator" may have been his wife. (Note: Incidentally, throughout all my Fulcaelli research, this is and was the only mention I read of Fulcanelli actually having a wife.) In any case, one gets the impression that there is a great deal more to this story which we will never know till some female investigators start digging around! Inset right is another of the many esoteric symbols carved into the walls of the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel found here.

By the way, Florence Farr (1860-1917) - both a feminist and a Praemonstratrix of the London branch of the Golden Dawn - had these words of wisdom for women: "We must kill the force in us that says we cannot become all we desire, for that force is our evil star that turns all opportunity into grotesque failure..."

So, maybe it all boils down to "evil stars." In any case, when it comes to researching female alchemists, the virtual trail on the internet grows cold quickly. Then again, I'm guessing ferreting out female alchemists would've been a challenge during any period of history. Not that they weren't there... I've found a number of them in recent months*, it's just that male historians - and occultists - tend to both focus on their fellow male's accomplishments and champion those members of their own gender; only recently have women learned to champion their own... (especially on the internet)!

That being said, Louise Barbe's identity remains illusive. Was she even the same Louise Barbe who married Vorloff? It was that question which led me to the very bottom of the rabbit hole where lay (yet) another mystery. As it happened, in an attempt to find an image of Barbe (I've yet to find any), I came across what was purportedly a biographical page about Vorloff in which I found a version of the drawing inset left. A drawing by (none other than) Julien Champagne! Oddly enough, It is a drawing of the Queen Mary sundial found in Holyrood, Scotland.

Now, that Champagne should travel to Scotland - if he actually did - is not altogether unusual. Scotland has some breath-taking scenery. There was also, at one time, the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. That he might take the time to sketch a unique sundial doesn't necessarily set off any alarms. Queen Mary's sundial (inset left), however, just happens to be one of a number of similarly unique sundials in Scotland that sprouted up during the 16th century and, to this day, no can explain quite why.** They were not particularly fashionable in England nor other parts of Europe at the time, and Scotland isn't exactly the ideal place to rely upon the sun to set your pocket-watch.

Furthermore, the dials aren't just your average, flat sundials; they are complex structures (see here and here, where the photo inset left was found) and, to quote David Stevenson "stone exercises in solid geometry." He goes on to say that "'Dialling' was one of the skills of an architect, as defined by Vitruvius, and he had stated that knowledge of astronomy was essential to the architect so he could construct sundials. Did these remarkable objects develop partly as a means whereby the working mason could demonstrate his mathematical skills and the connection between his craft and the heavens above?"

Ultimately, Stevenson suspects that the sundials are evidence of early Scottish Freemasonry and, from what I've read, he might be right. Queen Mary's sundial was documented as having been built in 1663 by John Mylne, Master Mason to King Charles I. Mylne's name also appears above the door of Mary's Chapel in Edinburgh, which just happens to be the Ancient Lodge of Edinburgh, the oldest Masonic Lodge in the world! (See this BBC article.) Inset left is the Masonic symbol engraved on the front of Mary's Chapel... a symbol which should be familiar to dedicated readers of this blog and is fully investigated in this post.

As for a connection between Scottish and French Freemasonry, we might look to a man named Andrew Michael Ramsey (or "Chevalier Ramsey"), a Scottish writer who spent most of his life in France, where he wrote his famous Discourse pronounced at the reception of Freemasons. In his discourse he made the historic connection between the Crusader Knights and Freemasonry which, while not exactly a direct reference to the Templars, was very possibly an indirect one and was interpreted as such. The darling boy inset right is an 18th century illustration of a French Mason of Scottish persuasion wearing Templar regalia.

Of course, you ask, how does any of this apply to Julien Champagne? Well, according to Tim Wallace Murphy, the Champagne family is considered one of the most important Rex Deus families, and were the original patrons of Chrétien de Troyes, French poet, troubadour and author of the first Arthurian tales, so, if true, it stands to reason that Champagne would have an interest in his family's history.***

Then, too, Champagne (as well as Fulcanelli) allegedly owned a gold "baphometic" ring which came from the "Templars of the Commandery of Hennebont" in Brittany. (Note: I can't locate any information about a Templar Commandery at Hennebont.) Lastly, we have this: "Champagne also provided another curious clue when he completed his last emblem in Le Mystère des Cathédrales ... This shows a knight hiding behind a helmet and a heraldic shield surrounded by the phrase: UBER CAMPA AGNA."  (See here and here.)

Anyway, so (kind of) ends the mystery of Champagne's sundial and it appears we have arrived at the bottom of our rabbit hole; a journey I hope you enjoyed. While rabbit holes generally do not lead us to the answer of our original question, they sure do take us on one hell of a ride. In other words, while we haven't exactly learned any absolute truths - overrated, relative, and transient commodities - certainly our "little grey cells" have been invigorated!

BTW, as you may have guessed (or already known), regarding the three cathedrals featured in this post - Rosslyn, Chartres and St. John the Divine - all have alleged Templar and/or Masonic connections. Inset right is the Master Mason column from Rosslyn, and below is a bit of vintage Masonic ephemera regarding the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.


* My interest in female alchemists began while writing the Voynich MS posts on my other blog. Discovering that the Hungarian Empress, Barbara von Celje, was an alchemist was an eye-opener. (See here and here.) But, during my research I found a few others, and, while I haven't yet fallen down that rabbit hole... well, give me time.

** Oddly enough, the sundials aren't the only mysterious, geometric artifacts found almost exclusively in Scotland. There are also numerous, small, carved stone petrospheres dating from the Neolithic period which nobody can explain. The one pictured inset right (circa 3200–2500 BC) is from Aberdeenshire.

*** From the Wiki entry for Hugh, Count of Champagne. "When Hugh became a Knight Templar himself in 1125, the Order comprised few more than a dozen knights, and the first Grand Master of the Templars was a vassal of his, Hugues de Payens, who had been with him at Jerusalem in 1114."

Also see: Knights Templar in Scotland.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Sub Rosa (Another Interlude)

At the Garden Gate - digital - 2019, DS.
(Click-on post images for enlargements.)

"In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose."

- Attributed to the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi.

“Mystery glows in the rose bed and the secret is hidden in the rose...”

- Attributed to the twelfth-century Persian poet and alchemist, Farid ud-din Attar, about whom Rumi once said: "Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love, We are still at the turn of one street."

"Le ciel clair de minuit, sous mes paupières closes,
Rayonne encor… Je suis ivre de tant de roses
Plus rouges que le vin.

Délaissant leur jardin, les roses m’ont suivie…
Je bois leur souffle bref, je respire leur vie.
Toutes, elles sont là."

(The clear midnight sky, under my closed lids,
Still shines....I am drunk from so many roses
Redder than wine.

Leaving their garden, the roses have followed me....
I drink their brief breath, I breathe their life.
All of them are here.)

- From the poem Les roses sont entrées (Roses Rising) by Symbolist poète maudit, Renée Vivien. I've written more about Vivien here. Inset right is Pre-Raphaelite John Waterhouse's 1908 painting The Soul of the Rose.

"Come into the garden, Maud, 
For the black bat, night, has flown, 
Come into the garden, Maud, 
I am here at the gate alone; 
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, 
And the musk of the rose is blown.

For a breeze of morning moves, 
And the planet of Love is on high, 
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves 
In a bed of daffodil sky, 
To faint in the light of the sun she loves, 
To faint in his light, and to die."

- From Alfred, Lord Tennyson's controversial 1854 "monodrama" Maud, which was eventually set to music. Part I of the poem can be found here, and Part II here. Inset left is the 1875 image Maud by the British photographer Julia Cameron.

"I am the dove whose wings are murder.
My name is love."

- From the short poem Au Revoir by the poet Charles Causley, the "most unfashionable poet alive." Like the symbol of the rose, the dove is also associated with Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love. The pentagram, on the other hand, is often associated with the planet Venus.


Spring is officially here, and, like most humans, my thoughts predictably turn to... well, love.   Suffice to say, while duty calls me back to my feminist artist series, my muse - who generally errs on the side of passion - has other intentions. And, for an artist, there is no dilemma involved. The answer is simple: follow the muse or be damned. Hence, another interlude.

Today's offering emerged from the image which introduces this post... an image which has haunted me this past month, inspired by a similar rose and pentagram motif on the ruined facade of a Templar church (found here). In my vision, it lies in shadow on the exterior of a garden wall flanking a wrought-iron gate. But, not just any garden, mind you; specifically a night garden... the garden of poets.

Inset left is another image I finished recently which had originally been intended for this post - a live scan of a bracelet - (added April 9).

Judging by his poem Maud, Tennyson would've known the night garden intimately... but, then, many critics and scholars came to regard his "monodrama" Maud as the work of deluded man with bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, Tennyson considered it his favorite and most successful composition. Inset right is an image of Tennyson reading Maud by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The moral to this story? For an artist or poet, attending to the opinions of critics and scholars is comparable to throwing ones body beneath a swiftly moving vehicle.

As it happens, my purpose of writing this post is not entirely clear to me. But, something about the relativity of love, roses... souls... and silence seems to be the underlying theme. Ultimately, it is silence which enables the ancient mystery of love to survive. For an artist, the allusion (and illusion) must suffice. And, yet, while I can't exactly elucidate, I can leave you with this: a definition of sub rosa I found in a book about Freemasonry:

"The rose, and especially the red rose had been from ancient times the symbol of Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love. It was symbolic of love, and making love was something private and not to be discussed openly. Cupid (Eros) therefore dedicated the rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence. Hence, the red rose of Aphrodite became the general symbol of silence and secrecy, and perhaps also of invisibility. Anything spoken sub rosa - under the rose - was confidential."

- From The Origins of Freemasonry, Scotlands Century 1590 - 1710  (via a discussion about the Rosicrucians) by David Stevenson, 1988.

On the other hand, from the Wiki article on Harpocrates we have: "One other tale relates the story about the Greek gods. Aphrodite gave a rose to her son Eros, the god of love; he, in turn, gave it to Harpocrates to ensure that his mother's indiscretions (or those of the gods in general, in other accounts) were kept under wraps. This gave roses the connotation of secrecy (a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber pledged all present – sub rosa "under the rose"), which continued through the Middle Ages and through the modern era."

Friday, March 1, 2019

Reflections on a Chinese Sewing Basket (an Interlude post) (New image added 4/15/19)

Lid of a Chinese Sewing Basket -
live scans/digital - 2019, DS
(Click to enlarge.)

"Collected baskets have survived for decades, some for a century or more, each one having a diverse history. Countless baskets no longer belong to their original owners... Put simply, the old Chinese sewing baskets have traveled and experienced long, varied and in most cases, tough roads throughout the years."

- From the definitive book: Chinese sewing baskets by Betty-Lou Mukerji.

"Gu embroidery is rather a family style than a local style originated from Gu Mingshi's family during the Ming Dynasty in Shanghai. Gu embroidery is also named Lu Xiang Yuan embroidery after the place where the Gu family lived. Gu embroidery is different from other styles as it specialized in painting and calligraphy. The inventor of Gu embroidery was a concubine of Gu Mingshi's first son, Gu Huihai. Later, Han Ximeng, the wife of the second grandson of Gu Mingshi developed the skill and was reputed as "Needle Saint" (针圣). Some of her masterpieces are kept in the Forbidden City. Today Gu embroidery has become a special local product in Shanghai."

- Quote and photograph (inset left) via the Wiki entry for Chinese Embroidery.  (Feminist alert! Note that woman who invented Gu embroidery - a concubine - remains anonymous.)

"By the T'ang Dynasty, considered the Golden Age of China, thousands of women were employed as seamstresses and embroideresses, and Chang An, then capitol of China, became a trade center for woven and embroidered textiles. By the Song Dynasty, embroidery embellished parasols, fans and shoes, as well as household items such as screens and bed coverlets were being produced. The Ming Dynasty saw the development of the ranking badges, worn on the front and back of robes by military and civilian officials and by their wives. Many of the Imperial Dragon Robes that you see in museums also date from the late Ming Dynasty."

- Excerpt from an article about Chinese textiles found here.

"My new wife is clever at embroidering silk;
My old wife was good at plain sewing.
Of silk embroidery one can do an inch a day;
Of plain sewing, more than five feet.
Putting her silks by the side of your sewing,
I see now that the new will not compare with the old."

- Dialogue between a man and his "old" wife from the poem "Old and New" by an anonymous Chinese poet, 1st century BC. Source: A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems compiled by Juyi Bai, 1919. (Feminist alert #2: Interesting set of cultural stereotypes here: the "frivolously" artistic New Wife, the industriously productive Old Wife and the man who chooses quantity and economy over beauty!)

"After the initial awe, I felt like one of the blind men on the bridge in the classic Zen drawing -- I had no idea where I was going or how to arrive.  Despite these challenges, the intention to affirm my aspiration to practice persisted. As the teacher led me across the  bridge, stitch-by-stitch, I watched myself reflected in the sewing.

Continuing to practice and learn, I noticed that sewing and wearing Buddha's Robe  deepened my understanding... Buddha's Robe began to express for me the essence of compassionate bodhisattva practice.  First came the effort of offering stitches without thought of gaining anything -- even finishing.  Then, in treating the robe with gentle respect as if we were  one, not two, the robe became tangibly steeped in the caring stillness and openness cultivated by practice..."

- Drawing parallels between Zen and sewing; specifically the practice of sewing a replica of
Buddha's RobeInset right (above) is an antique Chinese table apron. Below (inset left) is another. Both were sourced here.


It's been spring-like in New Mexico for the past three days... which - if nothing else - informs me that winter's on its way out and it's time for a change. Oh yeah, and it feels really nice, too... puts a little "spring" into your step... makes you think like: "Hey, maybe things aren't so bad, after all."

And maybe they're not.

Then again, I haven't posted an Interlude in some time and this blog is due for one.  You know, the slice-of-life kind of thing. For the (virtual) record, the last "slice" I blogged about was in January of last year... when I was still living in my car, photographing Sandia Crest. (See here and here.) Despite how harrowing the word "homeless" sounds, the situation was not unbearable. I was surviving; I had a self-appointed mission. And, the winter was unusually mild.

Which was okay... till my car was broken into one night (as I slept in a motel) and my camera was stolen. Although I did trying utilizing my phone's camera, the truth was the magic was gone and my mission over.

Cutting to the chase - and I always do - shortly thereafter I was to come across the star of this post: a Chinese Sewing Basket I picked up in a thrift store for one dollar and fifty cents ($1.50 USD). Apparently, those who sold it placed no great value on it. This is commonly referred to as "Buyer's Luck"; in this case, mine.

Every old artifact has a story, wouldn't you say? I can't help but wonder what this basket's was. But, I think I know. It's kind of like when two vagabonds meet or two wild entities cross each other's path. While actual words might never be spoken, a certain recognition, an insight exists. If boundaries are respected, sometimes the strangers fall in together... like this basket and I. Although technically without a home, we share an indoor space together at night. And, maybe even something more: some encoded shreds of cellular-history or a narrative... or a sub-cellular impression of movement and color.

Or, whatever dreams are made of. (Perhaps, nothing, nothing at all.)

Inset right (above) is an example of antique Chinese embroidery sourced from this site. Directly inset left is another lovely piece found here. More about Chinese embroidery can be found here. There are also Chinese Minority textiles, and an interesting, somewhat-related article here.

BTW, I sometimes have some newly-acquired quality time with my computer these days, and have begun to really work again. The image of the Chinese Sewing Basket lid was my first image this year... and, is basically a manipulation of several "live scans." Well, it's a start... just in time for the first month of the Chinese New Year.


Addition (April 15, 2019)

Joy - digital - 2019, DS

Well, the news around the world is sad today. Tears came to my eyes when I read about the fire at the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. (See the BBC report). Oddly enough, I had only learned last year that the Hunchback of Notre Dame was Victor Hugo's literary attempt to prevent the demolition of Notre Dame during the 19th century (see this blogpost). But, meanwhile, I just finished a reworking of the Chinese Sewing Basket - the last of my detours - and I was in a dead heat to put it up.

Which is not say I didn't like my original graphic... (nor is this to say I didn't keep the original file). It has a mandala-like effect that (I swear) informed a series of my dreams, embellishing them with delicate, Asian-like symbols.

But, the basket lid seemed lonely... so, I gave it an audience... a trio of brass frogs! (See The Significance of Frogs in Chinese Culture.)

Incidentally, the Chinese characters on the tag translate into the word "Joy"... something the world can never have enough of.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Qualifying Feminism: Empowerment and the Arts (Part IIIb) - (New photo added 2/19/2019) (New footnote and quotes added April 8. 2019)

The late, great sculptress Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and her sculpture Fillette in
a 1982 portrait by the brilliant (and often-censored) photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
(Click-on post images for actual sizes.)

“'I am lucky to have been brought up by a mother who was a feminist and fortunate enough to have married a husband who was a feminist, and I have raised sons who are feminists,' Germaine Greer quoted her as saying in The Guardian, not long after Bourgeois’ death in 2010. The artist, famous for her mammoth sculptures of spiders, pointedly leaves herself out of the list, insinuating not a rejection of the -ism, necessarily, but perhaps a bit of condescension toward critics eager to associate her with the term, no matter her opinions.

Bourgeois does owe a lot to the feminist movement. Born in Paris in 1911, she spent many of her early years known merely as the wife of Robert Goldwater, the American art historian with whom she moved to New York in the late 1930s. Though she drew, painted, sculpted and printed throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, Bourgeois didn’t receive real art world attention until her 50s. She had to wait more than a few years before she moved from the periphery of art critics’ minds to somewhere closer to the center. During that time, the feminist movement was blooming."

- Excerpt from a December 25 (Bourgeois' birthday), 2017 Huffington Post article by Katherine Brooks entitled A Love Letter To Louise Bourgeois, A Feminist Icon Whether She Likes It Or Not. Inset right is one of Bourgeois' "mammoth spiders."

"O'Keeffe, whose comfort with her sexuality is evident in the nude photographs taken of her by her husband Alfred Stieglitz, was not comfortable with the way that the paintings were interpreted as erotic images. This may have more to do with the degrading ways that the paintings were discussed. Stieglitz marketed her flower paintings in sexual terms, including quotes from men who were influenced by Stieglitz's viewpoints. She asked her friend, Mabel Dodge Luhan, to write of her work from a feminine perspective to counter interpretations by men.

Judy Chicago gave O'Keeffe a prominent place in her The Dinner Party (1979) in recognition of what many prominent feminist artists considered groundbreaking introduction of sensual and feminist imagery in her works of art, seeing it as a sign of female empowerment."

- From the Wiki entry for Flower Paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. Inset left is an O'Keeffe orchid found there. Inset right is an element from Judy Chicago's tribute to O'Keeffe: a dinner plate from her ground-breaking, 1979 feminist art installation, The Dinner Party.

"I thought you could write something about me that men can't – What I want written – I do not know – I have no definite idea of what it should be. – but a woman who has lived many things and who sees lines and colors as an expression of living – might say something that a man can't – I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore – Men have done all they can do about it. Does that mean anything to you – or doesn't it?"

- American artist, Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), from a 1925 letter to Mabel Dodge Luhan found in the Wiki entry (linked above). Inset left is a photograph of O'Keefe by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.

"Louise Nevelson has been a fundamental key in the feminist art movement. Credited with triggering the examination of femininity in art, Nevelson challenged the vision of what type of art women would be creating with her dark, monumental, masculine and totem-like artworks. Nevelson believed that art reflected the individual, not "masculine-feminine labels", and chose to take on her role as an artist, not specifically a female artist. Reviews of Nevelson's works in the 1940s wrote her off as just a woman artist. A reviewer of her 1941 exhibition at Nierendorf Gallery stated: "We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm. Had it been otherwise, we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns." Another review was similar in its sexism: "Nevelson is a sculptor; she comes from Portland, Maine. You'll deny both these facts and you might even insist Nevelson is a man, when you see her Portraits in Paint, showing this month at the Nierendorf Gallery."

Even with her influence upon future generations of feminist artists, Nevelson's opinion of discrimination within the art world bordered on the belief that artists who were not gaining success based on gender suffered from a lack of confidence. When asked by Feminist Art Journal if she suffered from sexism within the art world, Nevelson replied "I am a woman's liberation."

- Sourced from the Wikiwand entry for Louise Nevelson. Inset right above is a portrait of Nevelson by Richard Avedon. Inset left is her 1985 piece, Mirror-Shadow VIII.

"The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem."

"Patriarchy both creates the rage in boys and then contains it for later use, making it a resource to exploit later on as boys become men. As a national product, this rage can be garnered to further imperialism, hatred and oppression of women and men globally. This rage is needed if boys are to become men willing to travel around the world to fight wars without ever demanding that other ways of solving conflict can be found.”

- A quote from feminist (and wise woman), bell hooks, (found here). Her photograph was sourced here. And, here's her blog (last updated September 29, 2016.)

(Update, April 8, 2019: I've just added a quote from a Vietnam vet that supports hooks' insight. It can be found in a footnote at the end of the post. I've also added another quote by hooks.)

The Newer Woman

Well, I guess the operative question is: what became of the New Woman? Did she simply morph into a Newer Woman?

No, not exactly. Two world wars got in the way. And, by the end of the second one, patriarchal society reasserted itself once again. The upshot is (in as few words as possible), after the disastrous effects of toxic-masculinity-in-action (i.e., war and genocide) depleted the world's population by millions (upon millions) of humans; the world's "little ladies" were obligated to return to the confines of the home, and dedicate their lives to what nature (and the state) intended: motherhood. In reality, the war machine needed new blood (literally) and more human fodder, the bloated corporate sector needed fresh regiments of gullible consumers, and the government needed its tax revenue which, in the form of new taxpayers (requiring new Social Security numbers) it was a patriotic citizen's "duty" to provide. Women were expected to push more and more babies out of their wombs (and purchase the latest soap-powder) while men were obliged to finance the whole deal (or die trying).*

Needless to say, the New Woman movement lost much of its momentum during the post-war years of the mid-1900s. But, then, in (almost) Karmic retaliation, the Baby Boomer generation was spawned. And, the Baby Boomers, in turn, beget the 60s... a time when pretty much all the best-laid plans of white mice and white men went straight to hell. Well, at least, for a decade or two. It was as if, suddenly, all the King's horses, vassals and concubines no longer gave a hoot about putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, but, instead, decided to make an omelet (with his remains) which all might share... regardless of race, religion, nationality, gene-pools or gender. And, it was from this mighty upheaval that second-wave feminism was born.

This is not to say that all females of artistic persuasion were driven underground during the post-war period. No, the feminist spirit was kept alive by a number of female artists who had been born later in the time-frame, at the very end of the 19th century. Many of these women also gravitated to Paris, and it is their artwork which illuminates this section.

First in line: the 1939 painting, Rhythm Colour no. 1076,  by Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)  - above, inset left - who co-founded Orphism (a form of cubism) with her more celebrated husband, French artist, Robert Delauney. Wiki tells us that "she was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre in 1964."

As it was, she was one of four female artists initially considered Cubists and one of three who survived the wars to witness the next wave of feminism in bloom. The one Cubist who tragically missed the new resurgence was Spanish artist María Blanchard (1881-1939), whose 1916 painting Composición cubista appears next (above, inset right). Above, inset left, is Composition cubiste by Polish painter Alice (or Alicja) Halicka (1894-1975), while (directly) inset right is a portrait of artist Diego Rivera by Russian-born (Cubist-turned-pointillist) Marie Bronislava Vorobyeva-Stebelska (1892-1984)... also known as Marevna. Of note: in 1919 Marevna gave birth to a daughter fathered by Rivera who, as we know, later married (Patron Saint) Frida Kahlo. More of Marevna's work can be found here.

Speaking of Patron Saints, there was another, German-American visionary and Transcendentalist artist, Agnes Pelton (1881–1961), who can be counted among the women who appear here. Her Patron Saint article is here. Her 1939 painting below, Sea Change, was sourced from a Whitney Museum of American art page. As it was, Pelton was one of two female artists asked to join the Transcendentalist Painting Goup, the other was Florence Miller Pierce (1918-2007). You can find her work here.

And, then, in the latter years of the 19th century, something marvelous occurred... and the 19th century dealt us one of its last cards: an American pioneer, an artist who, living for almost 100 years (1887-1986), would take us into the 20th century and beyond, finally setting the record straight for all female artists while inspiring countless others (myself included). That is, yes, women could be innovators in the art world, and yes, women could be masters at their craft, and, most definitely, women could contribute to the human footprint sans the obligatory "baby-bump." Her name was Georgia Totto O'Keeffe and she broke every rule in the book, besting the men at their own game without batting an eyelash. She is, in fact, Trans-D's missing Patron Saint #12... but, if I never get to her, know that I meant to. Of all her prolific work she is best known for her massive flower paintings (Inset left is Red Canna (1924); another painting is below the jump); organic marvels of which she said: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.”