Category Archives: Drawings

Monochord

Robert FluddA single stringed instrument used to scientifically measure pitched tones, the monochord was also considered by some to be an important alchemical tool. The 16th and 17th century paracelsian physician Robert Fludd (1574–1637) made use of what he called his mundane monochord to express not only his theories of music but also his esoteric ideas about divine cosmic harmonies.

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1617, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1617, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1624, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1624, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An exhibition titled High Matter, Dark Language: The Philosophy of Robert Fludd was organized in 1984 at the Wellcome Library in London. The catalog for the exhibition states:

Fludd used the monochord mostly to depict the musical intervals and numerical
proportions, but he also went further than this and integrated other relationships such as
parts of the human body or the stars into the framework of the musical instrument… It is clear enough that Fludd meant to present in this way an ensemble of harmonies that was shown in its completest form in the Monochordum mundi. But he was never affected by the difference which exists for us between the harmony of an instrument and the symbolism of all the other harmonies.

Titlepage of Robert Fludd's "Utriusque cosmi maioris scilice, engraving by T. de Bry, 1617

Titlepage of Robert Fludd’s “Utriusque cosmi maioris scilice, engraving by T. de Bry, 1617

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Sylvanus Griswold Morley: Spy Among the Ruins

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley (b. 1883) was an American archaeologist and pre-Columbian Mayan scholar. Some of his most important work included excavations of Chichen Itza on behalf of the Carnegie Institution and the study and publication of Mayan inscriptions. What is less known about Morley, is that he worked as a spy for the United States during World War I. Some time after his death, it became known that he had been employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence to track German and anti-U.S. Activities in Mexico. His cover as an archaeologist being a legitimate one, however, and despite new discoveries and re-evaluations of his work, his scholarly legacy remains intact. The following is an excerpt from his 1915 book, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs:

…there is encountered at the very outset in the study of these elements a condition which renders progress slow and results uncertain. In Egyptian texts of any given period the simple phonetic elements or signs are unchanging under all conditions of composition. Like the letters of our own alphabet, they never vary and may be recognized as unfailingly. On the other hand, in Maya texts each glyph is in itself a finished picture, dependent on no other for its meaning, and consequently the various elements entering into it undergo very considerable modifications in order that the resulting composite character may not only be a balanced and harmonious design, but also may exactly fill its allotted space. All such modifications probably in no way affect the meaning of the element thus mutilated.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Though Morley was an important figure in the study of Mayan culture and language, it seems that he devoted more time to his covert activities than to his archaeological research during the period of the Great War. During that time, it came to light that others in the field were also involved in espionage, and the practice of spying under the guise of science and exploration was, of course, controversial. In 1919, the well known anthropologist, Franz Boas, published a letter of protest in The Nation, stating:

…A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.

Much of Morley’s work and his publications on the Maya are now outdated, however he is still highly regarded for his important restoration work on Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, as well as for initiating research programs for the Carnegie Institution for Science. He is remembered favorably as a voice for the Mayan people and culture. Sylvanus Griswold Morley died in 1948 at the age of 65 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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…

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Annie Besant’s Thought-Forms

Annie BesantAnnie Besant (British, October 1, 1847 – September 20, 1933) was a theosophist, activist for women’s rights, socialist, public speaker, and author who supported the independence of Ireland and India. She was associated with such groups as The National Secular Society, The Social Democratic Federation, and the Fabian Society, and was a strong proponent of unions and workers’ rights. Besant joined the Theosophical Society after meeting the occultist, Helena Blavatsky in 1890, and gave many lectures on the subject.

She was a prolific writer and among her most interesting works is a volume from 1901 that she co-wrote with Charles Webster Leadbeater, titled Thought-Forms. The book is concerned with the visual manifestation of mental energy and includes many drawings and illustrations that attempt to represent the powers of the mind. The following are some examples with excerpts from their descriptions:

The Intention to Know.—Fig. 19 is of interest as showing us something of the growth of a thought-form. The earlier stage, which is indicated by the upper form, is not uncommon, and indicates the determination to solve some problem—the intention to know and to understand. Sometimes a theosophical lecturer sees many of these yellow serpentine forms projecting towards him from his audience, and welcomes them as a token that his hearers are following his arguments intelligently, and have an earnest desire to understand and to know more. A form of this kind frequently accompanies a question, and if, as is sometimes unfortunately the case, the question is put less with the genuine desire for knowledge than for the purpose of exhibiting the acumen of the questioner, the form is strongly tinged with the deep orange that indicates conceit…

The Intention to Know

High Ambition.—Fig. 20 gives us another manifestation of desire—the ambition for place or power. The ambitious quality is shown by the rich deep orange colour, and the desire by the hooked extensions which precede the form as it moves. The thought is a good and pure one of its kind, for if there were anything base or selfish in the desire it would inevitably show itself in the darkening of the clear orange hue by dull reds, browns, or greys…

High Ambition

Vague Selfish Affection.—Fig. 9 shows us also a cloud of affection, but this time it is deeply tinged with a far less desirable feeling. The dull hard brown-grey of selfishness shows itself very decidedly among the carmine of love, and thus we see that the affection which is indicated is closely connected with satisfaction at favours already received, and with a lively anticipation of others to come in the near future…

Vague Selfish Affection

In attempting to explain the phenomena of thought creating form, the authors use the example of Chladni’s sound plate, a device that uses the vibration of sound to create patterns in sand:

Chladni's Sound Plate
And, they go on to elaborate on the difficulties of making thought-form representations:

There are some serious difficulties in our way, for our conception of space is limited to three dimensions, and when we attempt to make a drawing we practically limit ourselves to two…

It is possible to do this only because similar objects are already familiar to those who look at the picture and accept the suggestion which it conveys. A person who had never seen a tree could form but little idea of one from even the most skilful painting. If to this difficulty we add the other and far more serious one of a limitation of consciousness, and suppose ourselves to be showing the picture to a being who knew only two dimensions, we see how utterly impossible it would be to convey to him any adequate impression of such a landscape as we see… The vast majority of those who look at the picture are absolutely limited to the consciousness of three dimensions, and furthermore, have not the slightest conception of that inner world to which thought-forms belong, with all its splendid light and colour.

Annie Besant had been a friend and follower of Jiddu Krishnamurti, who, though once a leader in the Theosophical Society, eventually left theosophy altogether to travel and teach his own original ideas for which he is widely known today. Though she remained a theosophist, Besant continued to follow Krishnamurti and to try and incorporate his new teachings, though somewhat unsuccessfully. The two remained friends until Besant’s death in India, in 1933, at the age of 85.

 

 

 

 

 

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Odilon Redon Against Nature

Redon_crying-spider

Odilon Redon, The Crying Spider, charcoal on paper, 49.5 cm (19.5 in) x 37.5 cm (14.8 in), 1881, private collection, Netherlands

In the 1870’s, Odilon Redon worked mostly in charcoal and lithography, creating visionary works that he called “noirs”.

Though he had published an album of lithographs, titled Dans le Rêve, in 1879, it was not until Joris-Karl Huysmans published his book, À rebours or Against Nature, in 1884 that he received larger notoriety. In the book, an aristocratic art collector named Jean Des Esseintes is fascinated by Redon’s work:

…Des Esseintes had a special weakness for the other frames adorning the room.
They were signed: Odilon Redon.

They enclosed inconceivable apparitions in their rough, gold-striped pear-tree wood. A head of a Merovingian style, resting against a bowl, a bearded man, at once resembling a Buddhist priest and an orator at a public reunion, touching the ball of a gigantic cannon with his fingers; a frightful spider revealing a human face in its body. The charcoal drawings went even farther into dream terrors. Here, an enormous die in which a sad eye winked; there, dry and arid landscapes, dusty plains, shifting ground, volcanic upheavals catching rebellious clouds, stagnant and livid skies. Sometimes the subjects even seemed to have borrowed from the cacodemons of science, reverting to prehistoric times. A monstrous plant on the rocks, queer blocks everywhere, glacial mud, figures whose simian shapes, heavy jaws, beetling eyebrows, retreating foreheads and flat skulls, recalled the ancestral heads of the first quaternary periods, when inarticulate man still devoured fruits and seeds, and was still contemporaneous with the mammoth, the rhinoceros and the big bear. These designs were beyond anything imaginable; they leaped, for the most part, beyond the limits of painting and introduced a fantasy that was unique, the fantasy of a diseased and delirious mind.

And, indeed, certain of these faces, with their monstrous, insane eyes, certain of these swollen, deformed bodies resembling carafes, induced in Des Esseintes recollections of typhoid, memories of feverish nights and of the shocking visions of his infancy which persisted and would not be suppressed.

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, oil on canvas, 739 mm (29.09 in) x 549 mm (21.61 in), circa 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, oil on canvas, 739 mm (29.09 in) x 549 mm (21.61 in), circa 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York

By the late nineteenth century Redon had switched to oils and pastels, and in 1913 he was featured in the New York Armory Show. Both he and Joris-Karl Huysmans became important figures in the history of symbolist art and literature.

 

 

 

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Turin-Milan Hours

The Turin-Milan Hours, which was partially destroyed by a fire in 1904, is an illuminated manuscript and book of hours. It was begun in the late fourteenth century and was completed in various stages. At times in the possession of Jean, Duc de Berry and eventually John III Duke of Bavaria (Count of Holland), the Turin and Milan Hours was worked on by a number of different artists and was originally thought to be two separate volumes. Several miniatures completed in the latter stages of the work, probably around 1420, are credited to an artist called “Hand G”.

The Birth of John the Baptist (above) and the Baptism of Christ below, The Turin-Milan Hours (also Les Très Belles Heures de Notre Dame de Jean de Berry), illumination on parchment, circa 1420, Museo Civico d'Arte Antica di Torino

Hand G (Jan Van Eyck), The Birth of John the Baptist (above) and the Baptism of Christ below, The Turin-Milan Hours (also Les Très Belles Heures de Notre Dame de Jean de Berry), illumination on parchment, circa 1420, Museo Civico d’Arte Antica di Torino

Jan Van Eyck, illumination on parchment, 28 × 19 cm (11 × 7.5 in), circa 1420, Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino, destroyed by fire

Hand G (Jan Van Eyck), illumination on parchment, 28 × 19 cm (11 × 7.5 in), circa 1420, Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino, destroyed by fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is most likely the Van Eyck brothers, Jan and Hubert, legendary, especially Jan Van Eyck, for revolutionizing painting in Europe in the fifteenth century. The parts of the manuscript attributed to them are widely regarded as the most masterful and interesting.

Jan Van Eyck, Self-portrait?, oil on panel, 26 × 19 cm (10.2 × 7.5 in), 1433, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Jan Van Eyck, Self-portrait?, oil on panel, 26 × 19 cm (10.2 × 7.5 in), 1433, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Hubert van Eyck (1366–1426) by Edme de Boulonois, Illustration from a book by Isaac Bullart, Académie des Sciences et des Arts…, 1682

Hubert van Eyck (1366–1426) by Edme de Boulonois, Illustration from a book by Isaac Bullart, Académie des Sciences et des Arts…, 1682

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Turin National University Library, partially destroyed by fire in 1904 and subsequently bombed in 1942, photo 2008 by Claudio Cavallero.

The Turin National University Library, partially destroyed by fire in 1904 and subsequently bombed in 1942, photo 2008 by Claudio Cavallero.

It was reported that an electrical fire in the Turin National University Library was responsible for the destruction of the portions of the Turin-Milan Hours that were kept there and along with it around 100,000 volumes and other priceless manuscripts. Fortunately, photographic reproductions of the destroyed parts remain intact.


Books about Jan Van Eyck…

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Earth’s Answer

Blake's illustration and print of "Earth's Answer" in Copy B of Song's of Innocence and Experience, 1789, 1794, The British Museum

Blake’s illustration and print of “Earth’s Answer” in Copy B of Song’s of Innocence and Experience, 1789, 1794, The British Museum

Earth’s Answer by William Blake
from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, 1794

 

EARTH’S ANSWER

Earth raised up her head
From the darkness dread and drear,
Her light fled,
Stony, dread,
And her locks covered with grey despair.

Prisoned on watery shore,
Starry jealousy does keep my den
Cold and hoar;
Weeping o’er,
I hear the father of the ancient men.

Selfish father of men!
Cruel, jealous, selfish fear!
Can delight,
Chained in night,
The virgins of youth and morning bear.

Does spring hide its joy,
When buds and blossoms grow?
Does the sower
Sow by night,
Or the ploughman in darkness plough?

Break this heavy chain,
That does freeze my bones around!
Selfish, vain,
Eternal bane,
That free love with bondage bound.

 

Books by or about William Blake

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Blackwood’s Dark Nature

Some snippets from the weird tales of Algernon Blackwood

From The Willows (1907)

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch Art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

 

The change came suddenly, as when a series of bioscope pictures snaps down on the streets of a town and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest. We entered the land of desolation on wings, and in less than half an hour there was neither boat nor fishing-hut nor red roof, nor any single sign of human habitation and civilization within sight. The sense of remoteness from the world of humankind, the utter isolation, the fascination of this singular world of willows, winds, and waters, instantly laid its spell upon us both, so that we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic—a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers for those who had the imagination to discover them.

From The Man Whom the Trees Loved (1912)

He painted trees as by some special divining instinct of their essential qualities. He understood them. He knew why in an oak forest, for instance, each individual was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why no two beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him down to paint a favorite lime or silver birch, for he caught the individuality of a tree as some catch the individuality of a horse. How he managed it was something of a puzzle, for he never had painting lessons, his drawing was often wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might almost approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and personality of that particular tree stood there alive beneath his brush—shining, frowning, dreaming, as the case might be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It emerged.

And finally, from Sand (1912)

Already something in himself had changed. A restlessness, as of that wandering wind, woke in his heart—the desire to be off and away. Other things could rouse this wildness too: falling water, the singing of a bird, an odour of wood-fire, a glimpse of winding road. But the cry of wind, always searching, questioning, travelling the world’s great routes, remained ever the master-touch. High longing took his mood in hand. Mid seven millions he felt suddenly—lonely.

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

 

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