30 June 2009

Tall Poppies

This picture by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was painted in 1867 and is now in a private collection. It illustrates the story in Livy which led to the expression "tall poppy syndrome" for the delight some people take in enforcing mediocrity by cutting those who excel down to size. (image from museumsyndicate is in the public domain)

According to the story, when Sextus Tarquinius, who we've met before in the story of Lucretia, took the town of Gabii and sent a messenger to his father, Tarquinius Superbus, asking for further instructions, Tarquinius Superbus just lopped the heads off the tallest poppies in a field without saying anything. When the messenger returned and told Sextus what he'd seen, Sextus correctly interpreted his father's actions as meaning he should execute the most outstanding citizens of Gabii. Westminster Wisdom comments on the similarities between this story and a story in Herodotus.

Although I have written about him before, any excuse will do for a bit of Alma-Tadema. This site claims to have his complete works (218 paintings).

29 June 2009

Danae: the 19th Century and after

These two pictures from the 19th century do not show the naked Danae and shower of gold we have seen in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The picture on the left shows Danae watching the construction of the brazen tower where her father was to imprison her and was painted by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in 1888. It is now in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, but not on their website. The image (below) is of a photograph of an 1892 painting by John William Waterhouse showing the rescue of Danae and her baby son, Perseus. The painting was stolen in 1947 and has never been recovered. (the picture on the left is from museumsyndicate, all other pictures in this post are from wikicommons, and are in the public domain.)

The above 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt is now in a private collection.

In 1947, Richard Strauss wrote an opera, Die Liebe der Danae. (correction from David Derrick of The Toynbee Convector: Strauss completed the opera in 1940) YouTube has two extracts, one of which is embedded below (discussed in the comments to my post on Danae in the 16th century).

26 June 2009

Danae: the 18th Century

As we move on from the 16th and 17th centuries, our first painting of Danae is by Antonio Bellucci.

It was painted from 1700-1705 and is now in the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome. (Image taken from the Chamber of Deputies website as it does not appear to be possible to link directly to the picture. The link will take you to the website's home page.)

At the same time Paolo de' Matteis was painting the above picture, which is in the Detroit Institute of Arts, but not on their website.

The above picture was painted by Tiepolo around 1736 and is now in Stockholm's Universitet Konsthistoriska Institutionen, which does not seem to have a website.

Halfway through the century, Andrea Casali painted a picture of Danae which is now in Glasgow University's Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery.

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson painted the above portait of the actress Mlle Lange as Danae in 1799. It is now in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. (Except where otherwise stated, the above images come from wikicommons and are in the public domain.)

24 June 2009

Danae: the 17th Century

We start our look at Danae in the 17th century with a painting from the first years of the century by Joachim Wtewael called "Jupiter Entering Danae's Room", which is now in Paris's Louvre.

At around the same time, in 1603, Hendrick Goltzius painted the above picture, which is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The two paintings above were painted a daughter and her father. The upper painting dates to 1612 and was painted by Artemisia Gentileschi and is now in the Saint Louis Art Museum, while the lower painting was painted in 1621 by her father Orazio Gentileschi and is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art

Rembrandt worked on the above painting of Danae from 1636-1647. It is now in St. Petersburg's State Hermitage, where it was attacked with acid by a lunatic in 1985, and then carefully restored. (all images come from wikicommons and are in the public domain)

20 June 2009

Danae: the 16th Century

Ovid does not tell the story of Danae in the Metamorphoses but alludes to it several times with reference to her son. Nevertheless, she has proved a popular subject for artists. Danae was the only child of Acrisius, king of Argos, who had been told by an oracle that she would have a son who would kill him. To avoid this, Acrisius locked Danae up in a room at the top of a tall tower. That randy old god Zeus/Jupiter saw her and fell for her. He came to visit her as a shower of gold, and in time she bore a son to him. Rather than kill his relatives, which would provoke the Furies, Acrisius stuffed Danae and her son, Perseus, into a chest which he threw into the sea, thus making Poseidon/Neptune responsible for their fate. Of course they survived and Perseus grew up to become a hero.

Our first picture was painted by Jan Gossaert (aka Mabuse) in 1523. It is now in Munich's Alte Pinakotek.

The above picture was painted around 1531 by Correggio. It is now in Rome's Villa Borghese.

Titian painted various versions of Danae and the shower of gold in the 1550s. The ones shown above are in (from top to bottom):
Naples's Museo di Capodimonte (but not on their website),
Madrid's Prado (type Danae in the search box -- don't miss the informative audio file),
St. Petersburg's State Hermitage, and
Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum.
(Feel free to play spot the differences with them.)

At some point in the second half of the 16th century Tintoretto painted the above picture, which is now in Lyon's Musée des Beaux-Arts, but not on their website. (all images come from wikicommons and are in the public domain)

16 June 2009

Isis and Osiris

The story of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, their brother Set, their child Horus, and the sun god Ra is well known from a mixture of native Egyptian texts and from texts written by the 2nd century AD Greek biographer and philosopher Plutarch, and the slightly later Roman novelist Apuleius.

The Egyptian texts have been conveniently collected by reshafim. Scroll down on this page from the reshafim site for texts on mythology.

Plutarch's essay on Isis and Osiris omits many of the more salacious details to be found in the Egyptian texts but starts off with a more straightforward narration of the story before plunging into Plutarch's interpretations of the story as an allegory. Apuleius finished off his novel The Golden Ass with an account of how the main character Lucius was restored to human form by the goddess Isis and was initiated into the mysteries of Isis and of Osiris. An Elizabethan translation can be found here and a more modern, but less legible, one here.

And to finish off with, here is "Isis and Osiris" from Mozart's "The Magic Flute":