Olive Schreiner’s Solitary Plain

Olive Schreiner

The following are excerpts from the first chapter of The Story of an African Farm (1883) by Olive Schreiner:

 

 

 

 

The Watch.

The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain. The dry, sandy earth, with its coating of stunted karoo bushes a few inches high, the low hills that skirted the plain, the milk-bushes with their long finger-like leaves, all were touched by a weird and an almost oppressive beauty as they lay in the white light.

In one spot only was the solemn monotony of the plain broken. Near the centre a small solitary kopje rose. Alone it lay there, a heap of round ironstones piled one upon another, as over some giant’s grave. Here and there a few tufts of grass or small succulent plants had sprung up among its stones, and on the very summit a clump of prickly-pears lifted their thorny arms, and reflected, as from mirrors, the moonlight on their broad fleshy leaves. At the foot of the kopje lay the homestead. First, the stone-walled sheep kraals and Kaffer huts; beyond them the dwelling-house—a square, red-brick building with thatched roof. Even on its bare red walls, and the wooden ladder that led up to the loft, the moonlight cast a kind of dreamy beauty, and quite etherealized the low brick wall that ran before the house, and which inclosed a bare patch of sand and two straggling sunflowers. On the zinc roof of the great open wagon-house, on the roofs of the outbuildings that jutted from its side, the moonlight glinted with a quite peculiar brightness, till it seemed that every rib in the metal was of burnished silver.

Sleep ruled everywhere, and the homestead was not less quiet than the solitary plain.

The Sacrifice.

The farm by daylight was not as the farm by moonlight. The plain was a weary flat of loose red sand, sparsely covered by dry karoo bushes, that cracked beneath the tread like tinder, and showed the red earth everywhere. Here and there a milk-bush lifted its pale-coloured rods, and in every direction the ants and beetles ran about in the blazing sand. The red walls of the farmhouse, the zinc roofs of the outbuildings, the stone walls of the kraals, all reflected the fierce sunlight, till the eye ached and blenched. No tree or shrub was to be seen far or near. The two sunflowers that stood before the door, out-stared by the sun, drooped their brazen faces to the sand; and the little cicada-like insects cried aloud among the stones of the kopje.

Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), The Sheepfold, Moonlight, oil on panel, 45.3 cm (17.8 in). X 63.4 cm (25 in), between 1856 and 1860, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), The Sheepfold, Moonlight, oil on panel, 45.3 cm (17.8 in). X 63.4 cm (25 in), between 1856 and 1860, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Samuel Palmer’s Shadowy Vision

Self-portrait, c. 1825

Self-portrait, c. 1825

Samuel Palmer’s (January 27, 1805 – May 24, 1881) best paintings and graphic work were a reflection of the natural world filtered through his rich, shadowy imagination. Palmer himself was very much a product of the Romantic era in which he lived. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Milton were among his major literary influences, while Turner stands out as one of the strongest forces in painting to have an effect on his development. Above all of these, though, it was perhaps William Blake who became the most important. While Blake’s work could be seen as more purely visionary, Palmer stood firmly in both the natural and the imagined world. At various times throughout his career, the imagery in his work might sway more one way than the other, but the visionary landscapes that mark both early and late periods in his life are the ones that maintain their power and have a continued presence even in contemporary painting.

Samuel Palmer, Early Morning, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18.8 x 23.2 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Samuel Palmer, Early Morning, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18.8 x 23.2 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Samuel Palmer, Late Twilight, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18 x 23.8 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Samuel Palmer, Late Twilight, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18 x 23.8 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The shadows in Samuel Palmer’s paintings convey a deep sense of mystery, the same profundity he once experienced as a young boy and tried to convey in his work throughout his life:

When less than four years old I was standing with my nurse, Mary Ward, watching the shadows on the wall from branches of an elm behind which the moon had risen. I have never forgot those shadows and am often trying to paint them.
                                                                                                                                – Samuel Palmer

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Tale of the Heike

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Minori: Taira no Tomomori, woodblock print, Edo period 1845-46

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Minori: Taira no Tomomori, woodblock print, Edo period 1845-46

The Heike Monogatari, or Tale of the Heike, is a legendary prose narrative that depicts the epic battle between the Taira, or Heike, and the Minamoto, or Genji, clans. During what is known as The Genpei War, the two groups were battling for control of Japan in the late 12th century. In the great climactic naval battle at Dan-no-ura, the Taira are defeated, which leads to the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, and nearly 700 years of shogun rule. As the end draws near for the heroes of the Taira, most famously Taira no Tomomori, they weigh themselves down with armor and even anchors and leap together into the sea. The legend has been retold and portrayed many times in literature, art, theater, and film. Below are some of Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s famous Ukiyo-e woodblock prints on the subject, along with an excerpt from the original English translation by A. L. Sadler (1918–1921).

 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tamomori tied to a huge anchor ready to cast himself into the sea, woodblock print, Edo period c. 1840’s

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tomomori tied to a huge anchor ready to cast himself into the sea, woodblock print, Edo period c. 1840’s

Then Shin-Chunagon Tomomori-no-Kyo, who had been watching how the day was going, at length saw that nothing remained but to put an end to his life, and calling his foster-brother Iga-no-Heinaisaemon Ienaga, he said: ” Is it not time to fulfil the promise we made? ” ” Certainly; ” replied Ienaga. And he assisted Tomomori to don two suits of armour, afterwards doing the same himself, and the two leaped into the sea clasped in each other’s arms. Some twenty samurai who were with them at once followed them into the waves; but Etchu-no-Jirohyoye Moritsugu, Kazusa-no-Gorohyoe, Akushichi-byoye Kagekiyo and Hida-no-Jirohyoye managed to elude the enemy somehow and escape. And now the whole sea was red with the banners and insignia that they tore off and cut away, so that it looked like the waters of the Tatsuta-gawa when it is flecked with the maple leaves that the wind brings down in autumn, while the white breakers that rolled up on the beach were dyed a scarlet colour. The deserted empty ships rocked mournfully on the waves, driven aimlessly hither and Hither by the wind and tide.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Ghost of Tomomori, woodblock print, Edo period c. 1840’s

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Ghost of Tomomori, woodblock print, Edo period c. 1840’s

Kuniyoshi HeikeganiThere is a species of crab in the waters of Japan called Heikegani whose shell resembles a human face, and it is believed that these are the reincarnation of the fallen Heike.

 

 

Books…
Ten Foot Square Hut & Tales of the Heike
Ukiyo-E Master #01: Samurai Ghost and Monster Wars: Supernatural Art by Kuniyoshi
Drawings by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Collection of the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Hardy’s Queen

One of the best of all of Thomas Hardy’s descriptive passages and undoubtedly one of the greatest character portraits in all of modern literature, here in its entirety is Book First, Chapter VII of Hardy’s Return of the Native:

Queen of Night

Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess, that is, those which make not quite a model woman. Had it been possible for the earth and mankind to be entirely in her grasp for a while, she had handled the distaff, the spindle, and the shears at her own free will, few in the world would have noticed the change of government. There would have been the same inequality of lot, the same heaping up of favours here, of contumely there, the same generosity before justice, the same perpetual dilemmas, the same captious alteration of caresses and blows that we endure now.

Thomas Francis Dicksee, Ophelia, Oil on canvas, 141.6 x 101 cm, 1873, Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service, UK

Thomas Francis Dicksee, Ophelia, Oil on canvas, 141.6 x 101 cm, 1873, Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service, UK

Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

The Seven Thrones of Jami

The Haft Awrang, or Seven Thrones, is a classic of Persian literature that spans seven books and was written by poet Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami between 1468 and 1485. In the mid sixteenth century, Prince Sultan Ibrahim Mirza commissioned an illuminated version of the work which became a masterpiece of Persian miniature painting. Referred to as the Freer Jami, it now resides in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Scene from The Haft Awrang by Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami, opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, folio: 35.9 x 23.2 cm, 1556-65, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Scene from The Haft Awrang by Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami, opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, folio: 35.9 x 23.2 cm, 1556-65, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Scene from The Haft Awrang by Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami, opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, folio: 35.9 x 23.2 cm, 1556-65, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Scene from The Haft Awrang by Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami, opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, folio: 35.9 x 23.2 cm, 1556-65, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Scene from The Haft Awrang by Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami, opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, folio: 35.9 x 23.2 cm, 1556-65, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Scene from The Haft Awrang by Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami, opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, folio: 35.9 x 23.2 cm, 1556-65, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Book…

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Ruskin on Landscape

John Ruskin

John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) believed that the purpose of landscape painting was to represent the human condition via our surroundings, or as he put it, “The interest of a landscape consists wholly in its relation either to figures present—or to figures past—or to human powers conceived.”

 

The following are excerpts from lectures on the subject given by Ruskin to his students at Oxford in 1871, taken from the book Lectures on Landscape, Delivered at Oxford in Lent Term, 1871:

 Landscape painting is the thoughtful and passionate representation of the physical conditions appointed for human existence. It imitates the aspects, and records the phenomena, of the visible things which are dangerous or beneficial to men; and displays the human methods of dealing with these, and of enjoying them or suffering from them, which are either exemplary or deserving of sympathetic contemplation.

I have limited, you have just heard, landscape painting to the representation of phenomena relating to human life. You will scarcely be disposed to admit the propriety of such a limitation; and you will still less be likely to conceive its necessary strictness and severity, unless I convince you of it by somewhat detailed examples.

Here are two landscapes by Turner in his greatest time—Vesuvius in repose, Vesuvius in eruption.

One is a beautiful harmony of cool color; and the other of hot, and they are both exquisitely designed in ornamental lines. But they are not painted for those qualities. They are painted because the state of the scene in one case is full of delight to men; and in the other of pain and danger. And it is not Turner’s object at all to exhibit or illustrate natural phenomena, however interesting in themselves.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851), Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry), shown in the book as Vesuvius in Eruption, watercolor on paper, 176 x 284 mm, c.1817, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851), Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry), shown in the book as Vesuvius in Eruption, watercolor on paper, 176 x 284 mm, c.1817, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, *Vesuvius in Repose is in a private collection, and no image is currently available.

He does not want to paint blue mist in order to teach you the nature of evaporation; nor this lava stream, to explain to you the operation of gravity on ponderous and viscous materials. He paints the blue mist, because it brings life and joy to men, and the lava stream because it is death to them.

Only natural phenomena in their direct relation to humanity—these are to be your subjects in landscape. Rocks and water and air may no more be painted for their own sakes, than the armor carved without the warrior.

The physical conditions there are so numerous, and the spiritual ones so occult, that you are sure to be overpowered by the materialism, unless your sentiment is strong. No man is naturally likely to think first of anatomy in painting a pretty woman; but he is very apt to do so in painting a mountain. No man of ordinary sense will take pleasure in features that have no meaning, but he may easily take it in heath, woods or waterfalls, that have no expression. So that it needs much greater strength of heart and intellect to paint landscape than figure: many commonplace persons, bred in good schools, have painted the figure pleasantly or even well; but none but the strongest—John Bellini, Titian, Velasquez, Tintoret, Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, Carpaccio and Turner—have ever painted a fragment of good landscape.

Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900.

Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900.

Books…

John Ruskin, Lectures on Landscape (WorldCat link)

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

The Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine

Written by Samuel Rid, also known simply as S. R., Sa. Rid, and sometimes attributed to Samuel Rowlands or possibly even Samuel Rand, which happens to be the name of the book’s publisher, The Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine was first published in 1612 and describes the practices of street magicians, grifters, and sleight of hand artists that one might encounter in Renaissance Europe. The following excerpts, written in Early Modern English, introduce the art of legerdemaine and detail the special technique of manipulating balls:

…these fellowes seeing that no profit comes by wandring, but hazard of their liues, doe daily decrease and breake off their wonted society, and betake themselues many of them, some to be Pedlers, some Tinkers, some Iuglers, and some to one kinde of life or other, insomuch that Iugling is now become common, I meane the professors who make an occupation and profession of the same: which I must needs say, that some deserue commendation for the nimblenes and agillity of their hands, and might be thought to performe as excellent things by their Legerdemaine, as any of your wisards, witches, or magitians whatsoeuer. For these kinde of people doe performe that in action, which the other do make shew of: and no doubt many when they heare of any rare exploit performed which cannot enter into their capacity, and is beyond their reach, straight they attribute it to be done by the Deuill, and that they worke by some familiar spirit, when indeede it is nothing els but meere illusion, cosoning, and legerdemaine.

The Conjurer - Bosch

The Conjurer, Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) and workshop or Workshop of Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) or After Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516), oil on panel, created between 1496 and 1520, Height: 53 cm (20.9 in). Width: 65 cm (25.6 in), Musée Municipal, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

Feates of Legerdemaine vsed with the
Balls, with one or more.

Concerning the Ball, the playes and deuises thereof are infinite: insomuch, as if you can vse them wel, you may shew an hundred feats, but whether you seeme to throw the Ball into the ayre, or into your mouth, or into your left hand, or as you list, it must be kept still in your right hand: if you practise first with the leaden bullet, you shall the sooner, and better do it with balls of Corke: the first place at your first learning, where you are to bestow a great ball, is in the palme of your hand, with your ring finger, but a small ball is to be placed with your thumbe betwixt your ring finger and middle finger: then are you to practise to do it betwixt your other fingers, then betwixt the forefinger & the thumbe, with the forefinger & middle finger ioyntly, and therein is the greatest and the strangest conueying shewed. Lastly the same small ball is to be practised in the palme of your hand, and so by vse, you shall not only seeme to put any ball from you, and yet retaine it in your hand, but you shall keepe fower or fiue, as clenly and certaine as one, this being first learned and sleight attayned vnto, you shall worke wonderfull feates: as for ensample.

Note for this feate yow must haue fower boxes made in the manner of extinguishers that are made to put out candles, but as big againe: but for want of them, you may take smal candlesticks, or saltseller couers, or som such like.

Lay three or fower balls before you, and as many boxes or small candlesticks &c, then first seeme to put one ball into your left hand, and therewithall seeme to holde the same fast. Then take one of the boxes &c. or any other thing (hauing a hollow foote, and being great) and seeme to put the ball which is thought to be in your left hand vnderneath the same, and so vnder the other candlesticks Boxes &c. seeme to bestow the other balls, and all this while the beholders will suppose each ball to be vnder each box, or candlestick &c. this done vse some charme or forme of words (before set downe) as hey Fortuna furie nunquam credo, passe passe: then take vp the candlestick with one hand and blow, saying thats gone you see: and so likewise looke vnder each candlestick with like grace and words (for you must remember to carry a good grace and face on the matter) and the beholders will wonder where they are become: But if you in lifting vp the candlesticks with your right hand leaue all those three or fower balls vnder one of them (as by vse you may easily doe) hauing turned them all downe into your hand and holding them fast with your little, and ring finger, and take the box or candlestick &c. with your other fingers and cast the balls vp into the hollownes thereof (for so they will not rowle so soone away) the standers by will be much astonished, but it will seeme wonderfull strange, if also in shewing how there remaineth nothing vnder an other of the said candlesticks taken vp with your left hand you leaue behinde you a great ball, or any other thing, the miracle will be the greater. For first, they will thinke you haue pulled away all the balls by miracle, then that you haue brought them againe by like meanes and they nether thinke, or looke that any other thing remaineth behinde vnder any of them, and therfore after many other feates don returne to your candlesticks, remembring where you left the great ball, and in no wise touch the same, but hauing another great ball about you, seeme to bestow the same in manner and forme aforesaid vnder a candlestick which standeth farthest from that where the ball lyeth, and when you shall with words and charmes seeme to conuey the same ball from vnder the same box or candlestick &c. (and afterward bring it vnder the box &c. which you touched not) it will (I say) seeme wonderfull strange.

There are thought to be only a few remaining first editions of this book in the world, one of which is kept in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

WorldCat link…

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Towers of Babel

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Construction of the Tower of Babel, oil on panel, Height: 1,140 mm (44.88 in). Width: 1,550 mm (61.02 in), 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Construction of the Tower of Babel, oil on panel, Height: 1,140 mm (44.88 in). Width: 1,550 mm (61.02 in), 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Beginning with the most famous, here are just a few of the many depictions of the Tower of Babel painted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

 

 

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Isle of the Dead

Five versions of Isle of the Dead by Swiss symbolist painter, Arnold Böcklin (16 October 1827 – 16 January 1901):

 Oil on canvas, 111 x 155 cm, 1880, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Kunstmuseum, Basel.

Oil on canvas, 111 x 155 cm, 1880, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Kunstmuseum, Basel

Oil on board, 74 x 122 cm, 1880, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Oil on board, 74 x 122 cm, 1880, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Oil on board, 80 x 150 cm, 1883, Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Oil on board, 80 x 150 cm, 1883, Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Oil on board, 80 x 150 cm, 1886, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig

Oil on board, 80 x 150 cm, 1886, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig

Oil on copper, 81 x 151 cm, 1884, destroyed in Berlin during World War II

Oil on copper, 81 x 151 cm, 1884, destroyed in Berlin during World War II

 

Arnold Böcklin, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 75 × 61 cm (29.5 × 24 in), 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie

Arnold Böcklin, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 75 × 61 cm (29.5 × 24 in), 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie

Read about symbolist art…

 

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail