Category Archives: grotesque

The eeriness of hanging, dripping mosses

Following my previous post[1], Paul Rumsey identifies the mystery print[2] as one from the hand of Georg Lemberger, an Austrian artist so obscure he does not even have an English language Wikipedia page.

One of Lemberger’s paintings, Saint George Freeing the Princess (Lemberger)[3], has an Italian-language Wikipedia page, which I’ve partly translated and partly augmented:

The scene takes place in a fantastic forest. St George is preparing to face the monstrous dragon, hitting him with a spear, while the horse rears its head and front legs, according to the traditional iconography.

On the left the princess kneels in prayer.

Despite the small size of the work, it is emblematic of the role of landscape in the German art, full of fantastic effects and symbolic meanings, which characterizes the Danube School.

The trees are particularly elongated, and seem to germinate the one above the other, waving their spectral fronds, like in a dream vision.

The forest has a feeling of great mossy humidity and the branches of the trees seem to be covered with hanging, dripping mosses, like Spanish moss.

The feeling of being lost in the dark forest prevails and the work conveys a sense of the unknown, dominated by mysterious forces of nature.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili + Bomarzo + elephant = bible illustrations

It’s funny on how returning to the blogosphere after saying goodbye to it for quite some years, I bump straight into an old virtual friend when searching for “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili + Bomarzo + elephant”. The friend in question runs the fascinating culture blog Journey to Perplexity [1].

The reason I googled the words above was that my Dutch edition (translated by Ike Cialona) of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili claims that Colonna’ work inspired these works of architecture:

One thing leading to another, as they usually do, I found this [2] fascinating woodcut, of which the colour palette reminds me of Japanese woodcuts.

I wonder if the plate is part of Cranach’s illustrated version of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible? Anyone?

The ‘fantastique naturel’: the weird axolotl

 

The Weird (2012) – [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I’m into weird stuff and anthologies. So I’m happy with the new book The Weird, dedicated to 20th century literature in the category weird fiction, a book I discovered while researching Dino Buzzati (check out this [1] and this [2]). It was put together by Jeff VanderMeer and his wife Ann.

But…

Yes, there is a but.

The cover of this anthology is ugly beyond belief.

Beyond belief is perhaps putting it too strongly and I don’t like negative criticism without at least providing an alternative.

So why not have put an axolotl on the cover? A good choice since there is also a short story by my favourite author Julio Cortázar in the anthology titled “Axolotl” and the axolotl is a creature like the star-nosed mole and the baby armadillo by Dora Maar which belongs in the category ‘fantastique naturel‘ and the fantastique is the natural precursor of weird fiction.

The fascinating and revolting love lives of gastropoda

Having recently seen the documentary film Microcosmos (to be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo here[1]), I’d like to share these two pictures of snails mating.

These images are instances of zoological horror or the zoological fantastique, depending on your view.

Both horror and the fantastique are just as much rooted in fascination as in revulsion, ergo in ambiguity of emotions. And what could be more ambivalent and cause more ‘mixed feelings’ than slimy slugs and snails ‘getting it on’, an act which may involve hermaphroditism, firing love darts (a source of the Cupid myth, state some sources), apophallation (gnawing at stuck penises) and even sexual cannibalism?

Of course, the attentive reader will have noticed that in the photo of ‘Courtship in the edible snail, Helix pomatia’ the soft bodies of the snails look exactly like the labia majora of an adult female human mammal.

It needs not to be said that the whole field of animal sexuality is highly fascinating and has been represented in art not often enough. Apart from Microcosmos, there has been Green Porno and the magnificent films of Jean Painlevé (Acera, or the Witches’ Dance[2] comes to mind).

In praise of uncertainty

Of all the works I re-examined while reading Hans Holländer‘s Hieronymus Bosch: Weltbilder und Traumwerk, the detail of The Last Judgment (Bosch triptych fragment) is the one that caught my attention most. Just look at this delightful brightly coloured critter!

Ultimately, I find it very satisfying that nothing of the work of Bosch can be said with certainty.

So: in praise of uncertainty!

‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ in motion

The Seven Deadly Sins (2011) is a video animation by Belgian artist Antoine Roegiers based on The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel is the best-known Bosch follower and Karel van Mander called him “Pieter the Droll” in his Schilder-boeck:

“Oock sietmen weynigh stucken van hem, die een aenschouwer wijslijck sonder lacchen can aensien, ja hoe stuer wijnbrouwigh en statigh hy oock is, hy moet ten minsten meese-muylen oft grinnicken.”
“There are few works by his hand which the observer can contemplate solemnly or with a straight face. However stiff, morose or surly he may be, he cannot help chuckling or at any rate smiling.”

— Here reprinted in F. Grossmann’s translation (Bruegel, The Paintings, [London, Phaidon Press, n.d.], pp. 7 ff.)

 

Lutma’s fleshy cartouches: a weak, blubbery mass of human or animal tissue

One of the highlights in bad taste are two albums by Johannes Lutma (1584 – 1669), engraved by his son Jacob Lutma.

They are albums of ornamental prints, cartouches in the auricular style, titled Festivitates aurifabris statuariis[1] and Veelderhande Nieuwe Compartemente[2].

Why did I say that these plates are in bad taste?

So says my guide Les Maîtres ornemanistes on page 508:

Ces Cartouches, composés dans le genre auriculaire exagéré, sont affreux de formes; c’est la vraie décadence de l’art.[3]

These cartouches, executed in an exaggerated auricular style, are hideously shaped; it is the veritable decadence of art. (tr. mine)

Surely, one of the reasons these plates are considered in poor taste, must be their vulvaesque nature, you have to be pretty green behind the ears not to grasp the yonic symbolism.

In equally bad taste is the Cornelis Floris (1514–1575) album Veelderleij Veranderinghe van Grotissen ende Compertimenten.

One word that keeps cropping up in the vocabulary of these Dutch ornamentists is compartment, one source translates it as panel, although it seems more likely that it has something to do with ‘compartment (heraldry)‘.

As mentioned before, the auricular style is a shape derived from the human ear. In Dutch, the style is called kwab and kwab is the word a weak, blubbery mass of human or animal tissue, such as quivering flesh, or a brain lobe.

Most art historians call this work of Lutma zoomorphic. I’d like to make a case to include in the zoological horror canon.

Illustrations:

To avoid all misunderstandings, I can see why others think these plates are in bad taste, but I love them. Publishing negative criticism of stuff I like is one my favourite discourse strategies, see also: Whenever I like something which is considered to be in poor taste.

Ornamental print of a zoomorphic vase by Enea Vico

An antique vase with handle formed by a dog by Enea Vico is an ornamental print from the series Romae ab antiquo repertum MDXXXXIII.

It is somewhat similar to this unidentified zoomorphic Art Nouveau pitcher[2], see zoomorphism.

Important ‘ornemanistes’, as the French call artists practising the art of the ornament, include:In Italy, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778); in England Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779); in France Jean Bérain the Elder (1640 – 1711), Pierre Lepautre (1648-1716), Claude Audran III (1658 – 1734), Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666 – 1719), Gilles-Marie Oppenordt (1672 – 1742), Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721), Alexis Peyrotte (1699 – 1769), Juste Aurèle Meissonier (1695 – 1750), Gabriel Huquier (1695 – 1772), Ennemond Alexandre Petitot (1720–1772) and Juste-Nathan François Boucher (1736-1782). In the Low Countries there are the precursors and major artists of the genre: Cornelis Floris (1514–1575) and Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527 – c. 1607). In Germany the names Daniel Hopfer (1470 – 1536), Peter Flötner (1490 – 1546) , Wendel Dietterlin (c.1550–1599) and Christoph Jamnitzer (1563 – 1618) need to be mentioned.

Nightmares of emptiness and nightmares of overgrowth

The Jamnitzers were a family of goldsmiths who lived in the 16th century. They worked for very rich people and filled the ‘Schatzkammer‘ of Northern Europe with highly luxurious items, fuelling the general economy.

However, it is their works on paper which interest us here.

First there is the father, Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507/08 – 1585). He is the author of Perspectiva Corporum Regularium (1568), a fabulous work on  perspective and geometry. Of special interest in the Perspectiva is a series of architectural fantasies of spheres[1], cones[2] and tori[3].

Second there is the grandson, Christoph Jamnitzer (1563–1618). Where his grandfather favoured mathematical precision and the sounding voice of reason, the grandson, author of Neuw Grottessken Buch (1610), favoured sweeping curvilinearity, abject grotesqueries and feasts of unreason. The most famous print of Neuw Grottessken Buch is the Grotesque with two hybrid gristly creatures, shown left.

If you see the work of grandfather and grandson side by side, both Jamnitzers seemed to have been plagued by the sleep of reason, the grandfather suffering from nightmares of abandonment and the grandson challenged by nightmares of being overwhelmed by the dark forces of nature.

The grotesques of Arent van Bolten

Update 8/2//2014: there is a complete version incl. images at http://archive.is/XwhgQ

It’s been quite difficult to trace the provenance of the above print. It depicts two chimerical creatures, both with drooping breasts, watched over by three disembodied grotesque masks.

First, via Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture[1], a paper on chimaera phylogeny by Sven Drühl I found the unidentified print above. Searching some more, The Cabinet of the Solar Plexus[2] says that it is by Hendrick Goltzius.

However, the inexhaustable[3] Marinni contradicts this and attributed it to Arent van Bolten (c.1573 – c.1633)[4].

End of quest.

Two other favourites from that series include a grotesque holding a club spurning another grotesque[5] and two footed phalli stabbing each other while surrounded by two grotesque drooping masks that resemble an elongated scrotum[6], that last a real find for the metamorphic genitalia category.

Note the similarity to Les Songes Drolatiques[7] (1565) and the Varie Figuri Gobbi (1616, ‘Various Hunchbacked Figures’) by Jacques Callot.

PS. Europeana.eu has easy access to all of the prints[8].