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Tuesday 30 April 2013



Natura Morta (Still Life): Giorgio Morandi, 1943, oil on canvas, 22.8 x 35.3 cm (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden/Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

After inside upheavals, it is important to fix on imperturbable things. Their imperturbableness, their air that nothing has happened renews our guarantee. Pictures would not be hung plumb over the centers of fireplaces or wallpapers pasted on with such precision that their seams make no break in the pattern if life were really not possible to adjudicate for. These things are what we mean when we speak of civilization: they remind us how exceedingly seldom the unseemly or unforeseeable rears its head. In this sense, the destruction of buildings and furniture is more palpably dreadful to the spirit than the destruction of human life.

Elizabeth Bowen: from The Death of the Heart, 1938

Still Life (Natura morta): Giorgio Morandi, 1959, oil on canvas, 30.5 x 35.4 cm (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond)

Natura morta (Still Life)
Natura morta (Still Life): Giorgio Morandi, 1952, oil on canvas, 54.29 x 59.37 cm (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

Monday 29 April 2013

Profane Illumination (The Card Sharps)


Cheater with the Ace of Diamonds: Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), 1635, oil on canvas, 106 x 46cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

La Tour’s gambling pictures are rather different in atmosphere and intent.

Here, the mood is comic, as a crew of practised tricksters gang up on a well-dressed young dupe and proceed to fleece him at cards. The game is primero, a forerunner of poker, and contemporary viewers with any experience of the game would have known that the cards the sharpers are about to play will make an unbeatable grand point or full house.

The subject can be traced back to Caravaggio, whose cheat looks so obviously menacing -- a young tough straight off the Roman streets -- that only a very innocent dupe indeed could possibly be taken in by him. Again, La Tour dispenses with the low-life aspect and turns instead to the drama of deception inscribed in the players’ faces. A splendidly attired courtesan signals to her accomplice that now is the moment to play the concealed ace, while her sidelong glance cues her maid to step forward with the wine and cause a diversion. As with his religious scenes, La Tour uses lighting and the meanings of lighting as the basis of his picture, though now in a register of profane rather than sacred illumination.

The villains’ success depends on manipulating both what they show and what they conceal, and the lighting works with them; the courtesan, in her gleaming pearls and jewels, deceives through her brilliant appearance, while her accomplice hides his face and his secret cache of cards in the shadow. If, in La Tour’s meditative nocturnes, light is handled so as to imply inwardness and withdrawal from the world, here, the light is very different: flat and external, it stays with the surfaces of things, a worldly light that is the exact opposite of the nocturnes’ light of conscience.

La Tour’s pictures of gamblers, cheats and fortune-tellers are works whose immediate narrative appeal seems to collapse the historical interval between ourselves and the seventeenth century; no viewer needs to know the rules of primero to see who is cheating whom.

Norman Bryson: from Bring them out of the light: a review of Georges de La Tour and His World at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in TLS, 20 December 1996

File:Georges de La Tour - The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs - Google Art Project.jpg

The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs: Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), 1630-34, oil on canvas, 97.8 x 156.2 cm (Kimbell Museum of Art, Fort Worth)

File:Georges de La Tour 031.jpg

The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs (detail): Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), 1630-34, oil on canvas (Kimbell Museum of Art, Fort Worth)

The Card Players: Theodor Rombouts (1597-1637), n.d., oil on canvas (Residenzgalerie, Salzburg)

The Cardsharps
: Caravaggio (1573-1610), c. 1596, oil on canvas, 92 x 129 cm (Kimbell Museum of Art, Fort Worth)

The Cardsharps (detail): Caravaggio, c. 1596, oil on canvas (Kimbell Museum of Art, Fort Worth)

Sunday 28 April 2013

Christina Georgina Rossetti: A House of Cards


 The House of Cards: Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779), 1736-1737, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 cm (National Gallery, London)

A house of cards
...Is neat and small:
Shake the table,
...It must fall. 

Find the Court cards
...One by one;
Raise it, roof it, --
...Now it's done: --
Shake the table!
...That's the fun.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894): A House of Cards, from Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872)

 The House of Cards: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), 1737, oil on canvas, 82 x 66 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Saturday 27 April 2013

The Warp (I'm on an Island)


Canary Islands. The rugged landscape of the Canary Islands stood out in sharp contrast to the smooth blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the flat tan land of northwestern Africa on 21 December 2011, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this true-color image. The Canary Islands are a group of seven large islands and several smaller islets, all volcanic in origin. The eastern edge of the chain lies only 100 kilometers from the coasts of Morocco and Western Sahara, and the chain stretches for about 500 kilometers across the Atlantic. All the islands are mountainous, and Tenerife, the central island in this image is home to Pico de Teinde, the highest peak, which rises 12,198 feet (3,718 meters) above sea level. From east to west, the islands are named Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palmera and El Hierro. A bright swirl of peacock blue marks the ocean south of El Hierro, a stain on the sea from an ongoing eruption of a volcano under the waters: image by NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team (NASA)

Do not try to adopt me
I am not a pigmy soothed
Boy or baby hitchhiker saint

What is wrong suddenly
Is that I swallow a cold
Blast of air, I mean fright

Spill coffee on my book
And hear the kinks
In the great universe

The warp in the coffin
Phantom men fly out of
Anywhere in this world


File:Fogo, Cape Verde Islands.jpg

Aerial view of Pico do Fogo, a volcano on Cabo Verde, showing the volcano's nine-kilometre-wide caldera, Cha Caldera.The crater wall in the west towers one kilometre above the crater floor. The eastern half of the crater wall is gone, erased in a massive collapse deep in its ancient history. Evidence of the volcano’s more recent eruptive history is written on the surface of the crater as well. In the centre of the crater, a steep cone named Pico rises about 100 meters above the crater rim (more than a kilometre from the crater floor). The young peak reaches 2,829 meters above sea level, making it the island’s highest point. Dark trails of hardened lava from the volcano's most recent eruptions stream out of the crater east into the Atlantic Ocean. The volcano last erupted in 1995. The sepia stream of lava from that eruption is pooled near the crater rim west of Pico. Remarkably, the crater is inhabited. A straight road cuts between the crater wall and Pico, ending near the vent that erupted in 1995. Bright white dots on the north side of the crater are villages. Residents of the Cha Caldera evacuated during the eruption: image by Jesse Allen for NASA Earth Observatory, 10 June 2009 (NASA) 

File:Coral reef in Ras Muhammad nature park (Iolanda reef).jpg

Iolanda Reef, Ras Muhammad Nature Park: photo by Mikhail Rogov, 7 February 2006

Water islands: image by @Doug88888, 4 September 2011

Friday 26 April 2013


File:Bouncing ball strobe edit.jpg

A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic flash at 25 images per second. Note that the ball becomes significantly non-spherical after each bounce, especially after the first. That, along with spin and air-resistance, causes the curve swept out to deviate slightly from the expected perfect parabola. Spin also causes the angle of first bounce to be shallower than expected. As a ball falls freely under the influence of gravity, it accelerates downward, its initial potential energy converting into kinetic energy. On impact with a hard surface the ball deforms, converting the kinetic energy into elastic potential energy. As the ball springs back, the energy converts back firstly to kinetic energy and then as the ball re-gains height into potential energy. Energy losses due to inelastic deformation and air resistance cause each successive bounce to be lower than the last. The image is of a child's ball about the size of a tennis ball: image by Michael Maggs, 29 September 2007; edit by Richard Bartz

You approach me carrying a book
The instructions you read carry me back beyond birth
To childhood and a courtyard bouncing a ball
The town is silent there is only one recreation
It’s throwing the ball against the wall and waiting
To see if it returns
One day
The wall reverses
The ball bounces the other way
Across this barrier into the future
Where it begets occupations names
This is known as the human heart a muscle
A woman adopts it it enters her chest
She falls from a train
The woman rebounds 500 miles back to her childhood
The heart falls from her clothing you retrieve it
Turn it over in your hand the trademark
Gives the name of a noted maker of balls

Elastic flexible yes but this is awful
You say
Her body is limp not plastic
Your heart is missing from it
You replace your heart in your breast and go on your way

The concrete map of unknown places: image by di de, 22 January 2006

Thursday 25 April 2013

Guillaume Apollinaire: La Jolie Rousse (The Pretty Redhead)


Tears of a Pyromaniac: photo by _Bernie_, 19 June 2012

I stand here in the sight of everyone a man full of sense
Knowing life and knowing of death what a living man can know
Having gone through the griefs and happinesses of love
Having known sometimes how to impose his ideas
Knowing several languages
Having travelled more than a little
Having seen war in the artillery and the infantry
Wounded in the head trepanned under chloroform
Having lost his best friends in the horror of battle

I know as much as one man alone can know
Of the ancient and the new
And without troubling myself about this war today
Between us and for us my friends
I judge this long quarrel between tradition and imagination
Between order and adventure

You whose mouth is made in the image of God's mouth
Mouth which is order itself
Judge kindly when you compare us
With those who were the very perfection of order
We who are seeking everywhere for adventure

We are not your enemies
Who want to give ourselves vast strange domains
Where mystery flowers into any hands that long for it
Where there are new fires colors never seen
A thousand fantasies difficult to make sense out of
They must be made real
All we want is to explore kindness the enormous country where
     everything is silent
And there is time which somebody can banish or welcome home
Pity for us who fight always on the frontiers
Of the illimitable and the future
Pity our mistakes pity our sins

Here summer is coming the violent season
And so my youth is as dead as spring
Oh Sun it is the time of reason grown passionate
And I am still waiting
To follow the forms she takes noble and gentle
So I may love her alone

She comes and draws me as a magnet draws filaments of iron
She has the lovely appearance
Of an adorable redhead
Her hair turns golden you would say
A beautiful lightning flash that goes on and on
Or the flames that spread out their feathers
In wilting tea roses

But laugh laugh at me
Men everywhere especially people from here
For there are so many things that I don't dare to tell you
So many things that you would not let me say
Have pity on me

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918): La Jolie Rousse (The Pretty Redhead), English version by James Wright, from Collected Poems, 1971

Old Perspex Redheads Sign: photo by painter girl (Gemma Jones), 29 October 2007

Me voici devant tous un homme plein de sens
Connaissant la vie et de la mort ce qu'un vivant peut connaître
Ayant éprouvé les douleurs et les joies de l'amour
Ayant su quelquefois imposer ses idées
Connaissant plusieurs langages
Ayant pas mal voyagé
Ayant vu la guerre dans l'Artillerie et l'Infanterie
Blessé à la tête trépané sous le chloroforme
Ayant perdu ses meilleurs amis dans l'effroyable lutte
Je sais d'ancien et de nouveau autant qu'un homme seul pourrait des deux savoir
Et sans m'inquiéter aujourd'hui de cette guerre
Entre nous et pour nous mes amis
Je juge cette longue querelle de la tradition et de l'invention
De l'Ordre de l'Aventure

Vous dont la bouche est faite à l'image de celle de Dieu
Bouche qui est l'ordre même
Soyez indulgents quand vous nous comparez
A ceux qui furent la perfection de l'ordre
Nous qui quêtons partout l'aventure

Nous ne sommes pas vos ennemis

Nous voulons nous donner de vastes et d'étranges domaines
Où le mystère en fleurs s'offre à qui veut le cueillir
Il y a là des feux nouveaux des couleurs jamais vues
Mille phantasmes impondérables
Auxquels il faut donner de la réalité

Nous voulons explorer la bonté contrée énorme où tout se tait
Il y a aussi le temps qu'on peut chasser ou faire revenir
Pitié pour nous qui combattons toujours aux frontières
De l'illimité et de l'avenir
Pitié pour nos erreurs pitié pour nos péchés

Voici que vient l'été la saison violente
Et ma jeunesse est morte ainsi que le printemps
O Soleil c'est le temps de la raison ardente
Et j'attends
Pour la suivre toujours la forme noble et douce
Qu'elle prend afin que je l'aime seulement
Elle vient et m'attire ainsi qu'un fer l'aimant
Elle a l'aspect charmant
D'une adorable rousse

Ses cheveux sont d'or on dirait
Un bel éclair qui durerait
Ou ces flammes qui se pavanent
Dans les roses-thé qui se fanent

Mais riez de moi
Hommes de partout surtout gens d'ici
Car il y a tant de choses que je n'ose vous dire
Tant de choses que vous ne me laisseriez pas dire
Ayez pitié de moi


Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918): La Jolie Rousse, from Calligrammes, 1918

Match Box 03 (Redhead Match Box): photo by Michael Dawes, 18 May 2007

Gemini Twins: photo by AnnetteB, 17 May 2011

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Marguerite Yourcenar: The School of Seville


Cup of Water and a Rose on a Silver Plate: Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), c. 1630, oil on canvas, 21.2 x 30.1 cm (National Gallery, London)

The painting of Seville (and we may put under this rubric those painters born in Seville, like Murillo and Valdés Leal, those who did their apprenticeship there, like Velásquez, and those who made their careers there, like Zurbarán) is wholly contained within one century, the eighteenth, but its fruit is truly that of the Hesperides. These painters who were lifted to the skies by their individual lyricism or their pitiless realism are nonetheless strongly Italianate: there is nothing in their work that had not already occurred in the Venetians and in Caravaggio -- nothing except, naturally, the temperament and the inimitable accent. Their favorite subjects are characteristically Spanish insofar as they testify to the choice of the artist or his Spanish patron in the seventeenth century; nevertheless, they follow the main currents of European Counter-Reformation art -- religious melodramas, portraits of aristocratic clients or men of the Church, and genre scenes or still lifes inspired by the art of the North. Yet, in Spanish religious painting, a fervor inherited from the Middle Ages still sustains those forms of male and female saints who are otherwise so pompously oratorical or voluptuously soft. In portraits, the Spanish painter individualizes where the Italian painter personalizes: a great sixteenth-century Italian portrait is a meditation on beauty, ambition, or the flight of youth, or even on old age and guile, as in Titian's Paul III; however unique, these beings express more than themselves; they contain within themselves the highest aspirations or most hidden vices of the race; they are fleeting moments of an eternal theme. Here, in contrast, the profound Christianity and dark realism of Spain come together to clothe with tragic dignity and singularity that hunchback, that anemic Infanta, that vermin-ridden pauper, or that Knight of Calatrava, each marked with the individual characteristics he will carry to the grave, enclosed within a body through which he must seek damnation or salvation. Even in the greatest -- Velásquez, for example, whose genius seems to draw classical conclusions from this perpetual confrontation of the moment with the object, lessons which we feel are universal -- the meaning of those lessons remains a mystery to us for lack of evidence, just as the inner secrets and raison d'être of each individual we meet in life remain a mystery to us. No art is more stripped of metaphysics than this art which is so nourished with religious intentions: it is not death which is presented to us in that picture of Valdés Leal which Murillo claimed reeked with stench; it is a cadaver, and the cadaver is a portrait. Murillo's Saint Elizabeth is not a symbol of charity: she is a woman washing a man suffering from scurvy. In Zurbarán's or Alonso Cano's pictures of saints in ecstasy, we are not shown the beatific vision; we are shown the look of the visionary. This obsession with the individual marks the final victory of West over East, yet at the same time baroque showiness eliminates the last traces of Arab or Mudejar refinement. Moreover, whole areas of classical humanism will continue to remain foreign in Spanish painting -- for example, the glory of the nude. The Venus of Velásquez is a masterpiece that goes against the current in this land dominated by Christian preconceptions and, more clandestinely, by Oriental atavism, and also, perhaps, too obsessed with detail, the accidental, and the momentary to take pleasure in the pure melody of form. In contrast, the Maja desnuda of Goya, which is not at all Andalusian and would not have shocked a Sevillian cigar-maker, enters the tradition of realism with its sensuous but ill-formed body. Even the swarthy, golden flesh of Murillo's little beggars is inseparable from their rags, which seem a part of their very being.
In genre scenes or still lifes, the Andalusian school asserts itself with this same typically Spanish realism -- and to give that word its full force one must perhaps include the dialectical meaning it had in medieval philosophy. Not the Essence or the Idea, but the Thing Itself. Not the dreamy meditation of a Rembrandt or a Soutine on the secrets of matter, not the almost mystical vision of a Vermeer or the formal, intellectual rearrangements of a Chardin or a Cézanne. But the object itself -- that fish, that onion, that pink, that lemon beside that orange. And perhaps it has not been sufficiently observed that these powerful realist painters of the School of Seville represent only one point of view, extraordinarily intense, to be sure, but limited to certain almost obsessive aspects of Spain: the carefree languor of Seville is virtually absent. Until Goya, who will sketch the beautiful strollers of Madrid (and the ugly ones, too), or the hubbub of pilgrimages with the same clean line with which he elsewhere notes down an accident or a scuffle in some public square, Spanish painting had rarely attempted to render freely life out-of-doors and in full daylight. Flemish, Florentine, and Venetian painters, respectively, teach us far more about their sky and the air in their streets than the Sevillian painters of the Golden Age teach us about Seville.

Marguerite Yourcenar: from Andalusia, or the Hesperides, revised version of an essay originally titled Regard sur les Hespérides, as published in Cahiers du Sud 315 (1952); reprinted in Le temps, ce grand sculpteur, 1983; translated by Walter Kaiser in collaboration with the author in That Mighty Sculptor, Time, 1992

Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose: Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), 1633, oil on canvas, 107 X 60 cm (Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena)

Still-life with Pottery Jars: Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), c. 1630, oil on canvas, 84 x 46 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

The Miracle at the Well
: Alonso Cano (1601-1667), 1646-48, oil on canvas, 216 x 149 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

St Elizabeth of Hungary Tending the Sick and the Leprous: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1681), c. 1671-74, oil on canvas, 345 x 228 cm; image by folcoll (János), 1 December 2012 (Hospital de la Caridad, Seville)

The Young Begga
r: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1681), 1645-50, oil on canvas, 63 x 43 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Young Boys Playing Dice: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1681), c. 1675, oil on canvas, 145 x 108 cm (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

The Waterseller of Seville: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), 1623, oil on canvas, 106.7 x 81 cm (Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London)

The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano, Called "El Niño de Vallecas": Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, 1643-45, oil on canvas, 107 x 83 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

The Dwarf Don Juan Calabazas, called Calabacillas: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, 1637-39, oil on canvas, 106 x 83 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, c. 1645, oil on canvas, 106.5 x 81.5 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Infanta Margarita: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), c. 1654, oil on canvas, 128.5 x 100 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Infanta Margarita (detail): Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), c.1654 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Infanta Margarita: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), 1654-5, oil on canvas, 70 x 59 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Venus at her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus): Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), 1649-51, oil on canvas, 177 x 122.5 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

In Ictu Oculi: Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690), 1670-72, oil on canvas, 220 x 216 cm (Hospital de la Caridad, Seville)

Finis Gloriae Mundi: Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690), 1670-72, oil on canvas, 220 x 216 cm (Hospital de la Caridad, Seville)

Las Meniñas, or the family of Philip IV: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, 1656-1657, oil on canvas, 318 x 276 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Tuesday 23 April 2013

"The green world thinks the sun..."


Study of the Sky at Sunset: Eugène Delacroix, 1849, pastel on grey paper, 190 x 240 mm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

The green world thinks the sun
Into one flower, then outraces
It to the sea in sunken pipes.
But twisting in sleep to poetry
Their blood pumps its flares out
Of earth and scatters them. And
They become, when they shine on
Beauty to honor her, a part of
Her laconic azure, her façade.

Study of Sky: Setting Sun: Eugène Delacroix, c. 1849, pastel, 190 x 240 mm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Monday 22 April 2013

Bugs ate this lake clean


Tessellated pavement sunrise landscape, Hobart, Tasmania: photo by JJ Harrison, 28 January 2009

is dying
by loving


To live in the world as it is
& save your soul too
is a lot to do


Bugs ate this lake clean.

from TC: Bugs ate this lake clean, in The Paris Review # 51 (Winter 1971)

Fortesque Bay, Tasmania, sunrise: photo by JJ Harrison, 7 July 2009

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania: photo by JJ Harrison, 29 September 2009

Sunday 21 April 2013

Robert Herrick: To Groves


Paper Bark tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia), Australian native, Sao Paulo, Brazil: photo by mauroguarandi, 29 November 2009

Yee silent shades, whose each tree here
Some Relique of a Saint doth weare:
Who for some sweet-hearts sake, did prove
The fire, and martyrdome of love.
Here is the Legend of those Saints
That di'd for love; and their complaints:
Their wounded hearts; and names we find
Encarv'd upon the Leaves and Rind.
Give way, give way to me, who come
Scorch't with the selfe-same martyrdome:
And have deserv'd as much (Love knowes)
As to be canoniz'd 'mongst those,
Whose deeds, and deaths here written are
Within your Greenie-Kalendar:
By all those Virgins Fillets hung
Upon your Boughs, and Requiems sung
For Saints and Soules departed hence,
(Here honour'd still with Frankincense)
By all those teares that have been shed,
As a Drink-offering, to the dead:
By all those True-love-knots, that be
With Motto's carv'd on every tree,
By sweet S. Phillis; pity me:
By deare S. Iphis; and the rest,
Of all those other Saints now blest;
Me, me, forsaken, here admit
Among your Mirtles to be writ:
That my poore name may have the glory
To live remembred in your story.


Robert Herrick (1591-1674): To Groves, from Hesperides, 1648

Paper Bark Birch: photo by Aubrey Guymn, 16 December 2005

Paperbark Maple, Mendocino Botanical Gardens: photo by jidarius, 13 May 2010

Paperbark Tree: photo by Joel Bramley, 5 April 2013

Paper Bark Tree, Point Loma, California: photo by Lee Edwin Coursey, 13 April 2008

Paperbark wetland, Mungo Brush, Hawks Nest, New South Wales
: photo by my_elbow, 22 July 2009

Paperbarks (Melaleuca quinguenervia) in wetland, Broadwater National Park, New South Wales
: photo by dustaway, 19 July 2012

Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Brookside Gardens, Maryland: photo by John Winder, 18 November 2012