This paper, "The Eugenic and Social Influence of the War" by Prof. J.A. Lindsay, published in The Eugenics Review in October 1918, ends with the words that I will begin this post with:
"There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out"
It is a paper that seems a logical extension of something from somewhere, and some of the points are common sensical--but the it is published in this eugenics thing, which pretty much dooms it to eugenics and itself. The qualities of some of his opinions are sometimes of lofty incredulity:
"The loss of life in war is a question not only of quantity, but of quality."
"War, for obvious reasons, tends to depress the birth rate."
"A remarkable and unexpected result of the war has been a decided decline in the rate of suicide."
"A very unexpected feature of war-time has been the decline of insanity."
"Perhaps the most fundamental gain from the war will be interest in education, and the larger measure of attention devoted to it."
Somehow here at the end of a war in which since 100 million people were killed or wounded Prof Lindsay seems to have written a piece on that great conflict without being somewhat cognizant of the human value of such loss.
And that, as they say, is that.
Full text is located here, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The idea of negative imaging--of forming an image "backwards", or by using a surrounding space to define the image's properties--came into play for me while looking at this beautiful portrait in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Lorenzo di Credi (Florentine, ca. 1456-1536) painted Portrait of a Woman (an oil on panel) in the last decade of the 15th century, a beautiful work presenting the portrait of a woman who was possibly in mourning, modestly dressed in very dark clothing and holding a ring. What strikes me is the "dark halo" around her head, a black space outlining her head and neck and shoulders, giving all of those features a further powerful light by the very wide border between them and the juniper in the background. I imagine that this technique was used to establish a deep luminosity, but for me it also creates the presence of a halo by painting its absence--this is admittedly tenuous, but that is the way it seems, to me.
It also reminds me in a way of Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci, (c. 1474/1478, oil on panel), though there is much more detail in Leonardo's non-halo.
though there does not seem to be a "halo" in the Leonardo, there does
seem to be a fingerprint where the non-halo isn't--evidently Leonardo
did not limit himself to just the brush in his painting technique, but
used his fingers as well.
There are many unhappy episodes during WWII of small groups from the Allied countries which gave comfort and solace and economic and physical support to the Nazis. The economic aspect gets very complex and pretty deep here in the U.S., with major companies lending assistance even in violation of the Trading with the Enemies Act into 1943, and of course there was the German-American Bund which was relatively full-throated until America got into the war on 8 December 1941, and so on. There were also occupation Nazi-fueled governments like Vichy, but what I'm interested in for this post are the volunteers who materially contributed to the Nazi war effort, with time, and effort and fighting in uniform. The hard figures for the volunteers and conscripts who fought wth the Waffen-SS during the war totaled some 350,000 men1.--and considering what was happening to the German army post-Barbarossa, that was not an insignificant figure.
General Sir Frederick Maurice (1871-1951) , one of the subjects of the leaflet, had a very long and sine-curve military career, and was an academic of some achievement--he was also along in there was head and founder of the British Legion. And it was in this capacity and under his auspices that the British Legion offered 10,000 men to help Adolf Hitler and secure a modest success in the transition of control of that country.
What an enormously disappointing handbill this was to read, coming from the press of a militant right-wing and racist organization in support of Hitler and the Nazis in their swallowing-alive of a living Czechoslovakia. The Militant Christian Patriots2 were the publishers of this handbill--this was a group were formed as part of an earlier organization called The Britons (founded in 1919), both of which were viciously anti-Semitic and severely racist, and were on board with most of the programs of the NSDAP. (The publishing arm of the Britons, the Britons Publishing Company, for example published 85 editions of the vicious and ridiculous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.) They supported Neville Chamberlain and were happy to keep the U.K. out of any confrontation with Germany. As we see in this handout, they were eager and able to support Hitler's invasion and destruction of Czechoslovakia by providing a British volunteer force of more than 1,000 to aid in the Nazi take-over by policing the supposedly audacious and Seudeten-German pillaging Czechs.
The story of the Nazis in Czechoslovakia is a complex story, riddled with nothing by treachery-lust on the part of the Nazis, and of course ending very badly for the Czechs, the Germans living out a series of aspects of the Big Lie until it was all over. The British Legion chose to believe what they needed to believe in order to sustain their own nationalist beliefs.
There were many who found Chamberlain simply wrong in his negotiation with Hitler and where he was guiding the country, not the least of whom was the Communist Party via J.R. Campbell, who expressed a general outrage in this pamphlet (published October 10, 1938), the cover telling the story:
1. These included volunteers and conscripts from Albania, 9000; Armenia, 2000; Belgium, 27,000; British Commonwealth, never more than 100 in the British Free Corps; Bulgaria, 700; Croatia, 20,000; Denmark: 8,000; Finland, 1,500; France, 9,000; Georgia, 2,000 to 3,000; Hungary: 40,000; India, 3,500; Italy, 15,000; Latvia: 60,000; Netherlands: 25,000; North Caucasus, 1,000 to 2,000; Norway, 6,000; Russian (& Belarusian): 15,000, Russian (Cossack) 20,000, Russian (Turcic),10,000; Romania, 6,000; Serbia, 8,000; Spain: 3,000 in Spanische-Freiwilligen-Kompanie der SS 101 and SS 102; Sweden, 300-500; Switzerland, 800; Ukraine: 20,000.
‘I don’t see how you can work on physics and write poetry at the same time. In science, you want to say something nobody knew before, in words everyone can understand. In poetry, you are bound to say something that everybody knows already, in words that nobody can understand.’--Paul Dirac (1902-1984, Nobel Prize in Physics for 1933 with Erwin Schrödinger, "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory"), quoted in The Book of Universes by John Barrow.
The opening sentence of this pamphlet breathes a lead: "The story of Television, as well as the smashing of the atom, must be explained in a non-technical manner, now that World War II has ended, so that the public may know the facts..."
I think that I would have preferred this quote to end a little sooner than it does--that way it might have been a little more poetical, a little on the absurd side:
the story of Television as well
asd smashing the atom
must be explained
in a non-technical manner,
now that World War II has ended.
This short pamphlet was produced in 1946, and at the time it was still possible to believe in the great possible poetry that the new medium could produce. And it certainly did produce something, even in these early days, though I do not think it was poetry. It did deliver some measure of truth and accountability, though. It is difficult to imagine seeing the image of one of the earliest post-war atomic tests delivered to the DuMont Teleset in your living room. I imagine that the societal reaction to seeing these events broadcast may have been like when photography was brought to bear in the news reporting business. Harper's Weekly started to run woodcuts of Civil War battles with the imprimatur "from a photograph" rather than something like "drawn at the scene by our correspondent", readers were immeasurably more responsive to the drawing after a photography because of the undeniable archivitization that goes on when a photograph is made, as the memory of a photograph is for the most part unimpeachable. This delivered an instantaneous increase in the belief in the reporting.
It seems as though seeing events such as an atomic explosion from a cozy home encapsulation may have had the same effect. It was a democratization of truth in a way (the title being People's Television) similar to that which you could experience seeing newsreels in the movie houses--there, everyone paid the same fee, sat where they wanted (for white people, anyway), and were exposed to the same images at the same time.
Its character leaned and leaped further away from reality and truth with each passing moment, finally reaching a point in the early part of national broadcasting where reality and entertainment and commercials all blended into one socio-molding opinion-grinding unit.
The dreammaking units responsible for creating the bigness of artificial life were quite modest in 1946, as we can see in the pamphlet's wonderful plan of a television studio:
With the description:
The next seven years would toss this pamphlet into the Obsoleteinator; 13 years more would make it seem as though this pamphlet never needed to exist. The poetry part certainly seems to have disappeared somewhere in these years--not completely and entirely to make poetry in television extinct, but certainly enough to make it an endangered sub-species.
'Imaginary universes are so much more beautiful than the stupidly constructed 'real' one'--G.H. Hardy
This image may be unusual to the modern eye but not so for Nordic vision in the mid-16th century. The appeal comes in the detail, which at least in a crafty title description seems a little odd, even though I have no doubt that it was all very sensible to the people of the time.
The scene is from Olaus Magnus (Swedish historian and geographer, born. at Skeninge, Sweden, 1490; and died at Rome, 1558) who wrote the legendary and Renaissance-high-point Historia delle genti et della natura delle cose setentrionale1… in 1555. Among many dozens of generally fabulous images we find this horse race on ice--naturally, in order for this to happen, the horses need to be specially outfitted with crampons, which is a good thing to do if you absolutely have to take your horse out on an iced-over river. Still, it just seems entirely anithetical to riding a horse.
The first image is one in a developing series on this blog concentrating on blank and empty things--in this case, the detail of faces in the small crowd in the background is the issue. It is interesting to note that the group holds on to one another to form a line for stability while moving across the ice without any special footgear--the leader however is more prepared, and pushes along the ice with a staff while wearing bone skates.
1. The full and rather lengthy title of Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus... is translated as "Olaus Magnus Gothus', the Upsala Archbishops', history of the nordic people's different manners and camps, also about the wonderful differences in customs, holy practices, superstitions, bodily exercises, government and food keeping; further on war, buildings and wonderful aids; further on metals and different kinds of animals, that live in these neighbourhoods ".
I stumbled upon this fantastic leap into science affliction, an attempt to display the absolutely enormous idea of draining the Earth of all water revealing its ultimately rocky structure. And this in the relatively young modern cartographic days of 1694.
This map ("Den Aardkloot van water ontbloot, na twee zijden aante sien", published in Amsterdam in 1694 by Wilhelm and Jan Goeree in a Dutch edition of the expansive and imaginatively suggestive cosmo-theo-geographical work, Telluris Thoeoria Sacra) reveals the half-believed idea of California being an island was we can clearly see the enormous canyon separating it from the North American mainland. On the other hand, the "opposite" (in a way) belief takes place in the north, showing a large and towering land mass at the North Pole.
All-in-all, given the state of geographical knowledge for the unseen stuff of the Earth, this was an excellent attempt to reveal the structure of the globe. Sure, the depths of the oceans are a little off, the idea and the attempt to depict it was an extraordinarily interesting display for the time, especially with limited hard data. This is even a more-remarkable series of observations considering the theoretical framework in which all of this was taking place.
Burnet (1635-1715) poured out his pounding heart into the pages of his sacred history, teaching people about the structure and history of the Earth with generally little or unsuccessful regard to science--but no matter. (Burnet did try to figure out where all of the water came for the flood, which is a great question. It is impossible for it to come from a natural rain of any sort, and Burnet probably came to the conclusion this the answer for the flood couldn't come from the surface of the Earth. So to keep things in compliance with his faith, Burnet established that the water necessary for the flood came not from the surface of the sphere, but below it, in the hollow Earth which was actually filled with water.) This was a work of structured faith and a belief system, and wasn't seen as much more than that except to the initiated. But a resulting map of the structure of a waterless Earth seems to me a more powerful piece of imaging than an Earth simply covered by water.
[Black and white image source Barry Lawrence Ruderman Rare Maps, here.; color version from Oldmaps.com, here]
"Sometimes a book is just entirely bad, and sometimes it is entirely nothing. It is impossible for a book to be both very bad and very nothing. Impossible. Except for this book, whose badness is exceeded only by its nothingness, and vice versa". --Oscar Wilde
And so into this black hole of imaged Wildeian description we go, into a very real-ish book.
I found a novel tonight, bought long ago and long ago mostly lost. It was written by a doctor who worked in the District Hospital in Lima, Ohio, and written in 1934. The Lima Hospital was the largest poured concrete structure in the world when it was built in 1915, and stayed so until the Pentagon was completed. The hospital was established for the criminally insane, had 14"-thick walls, and reinforced steel bars laid into the walls that went "right down to bedrock".
It was somewhere in there that this doctor wrote something that was really so toweringly bad that it escapes comprehension. I own the carbon copy of the unpublished work, which is typed on 14x8.5" sheets of paper, front and back, running 94 pages. It is a very crowded affair, with 90 lines of single-space typed lines, making the work about 115,000 words long.
There wasn't enough space evidently for paragraphs, which gives the work a kind of insistent, casket-cramped cruelty. To read it takes your breath away for its dullness--the book moves so weirdly and at the same time so very slowly that it doesn't move at all even while moving.
A few months ago I found the seven-foot-long scroll of the book's plan--a work of crowded magnificence of nothing and confusion, being very orderly at the same time. It went to a friend of mine who created artwork around it, and as it happens made a very noticeable appearance in a very significant yearly show in NYC last week. I was stunned to find that there was actually a text to go with the scroll-outline--it emerged from the warehouse this week, so perhaps this too will find a very celebrated life as art as well. Certainly the book would go nowhere on its own as a book, though it stood a chance at surviving on the grounds of its considerble design weirdness, which is of a complexified beauty.
In the meantime, before all of the letters slide themselves off the page from sheer boredom and before the thing is resurrected as a magnificent artistic effort, I'll share some ianges of the extra-ordinary book of reversed brilliant badness. I've also culled a few imaginary descriptions of the book from writers known and not:
"He couldn't speak. He could barely see. Blinded by the flames ignited inside his eyeballs from the novel in his lap. The words were like molten lead, sucked off the page by his eyes, forming a vacuum in his brain. It was a bad book".
The first-time published novelist's approach:
"He couldn't speak the words of the thoughts in his head, because they and all of his breath were stolen by the magic of the complete badness of the book in his lap".
"The book was bad and bad, and bad was the book. Even the badness of the bad was bad, a whole new insight into being bad. It was the bad book by which bad books are called bad".
"He didn't read the book so much as he looked through it. It was easy--there was nothing there. As bad as it was, it could get no worse. So he shot it, and poured a drink".
There are, in my experience, very few antiquarian images
depicting the end of the world in which we see the entire globe exploding or in
pieces or in flames. This sort of image gets more play in the 20th
century, especially after 8 August 1945, but prior to that it is really very
scarce.I own a few images that appear
in the 17th and 19th centuries, and another from 1929 (Das Weltbild which show a “giant ice
ball” colliding into and completely destroying the earth). .Then there is this new find, S.L. Lacy’s The End of the World, (necessarily) self-published
in West Point, Virginia, in 1941.It is a short and stocky, and bound in orange
wrappers—its spine title (The End of the
World) begs the casual reader to pull it from the shelf. It’s a simple
book—studying the Bible prophecies and revelations on the end of all things—and
it annoys and is insulting but doesn’t disappoint.
I started to breeze through the book (back-to-front as always) and opened the
book to Chapter XIII, finding this delicious chapter heading:“The Chronological Order of Final Things”,
this being a full page pre-PowerPoint summation of the time-shrinking fireball
that is rolling inexorably towards us all.To say that one is able to put a period at the end of the world's flow
of time, that someone is able to identify the point in the future where the
future is no more, is "presumptive"--this in the most understated
fashion as to offend even the highest of high-Victorians' sense of restrained
propriety.Wrapped in a comfortable
Christian chrysalis of pre- and post-apocalyptic religious certitude, Mr. Lacy
delivers his interpretation of biblical prophecy for the coming of the end,
hustling it to the front of the religious line of things to come.
It seems that in 1941 the end was beginning, and Lacy saw
all of the images implied by prophecy that were necessary to announce the
glorious final days of broad retribution. This includes the list if the ten
things indicating "the sign of The Times", one of which (Number 5)
was "The Automobile" and another (Number 7) was "Increased
Knowledge and Travel" (announced by Nathum 2: 3,4 and old dependable
Daniel. 12:4, respectively.There's
nothing that doesn't fit into Daniel's visions or revelations, though Mr. Cash
has certainly made a lovely song of them.)When everything fits perfectly into a predictive model with no possibility
of falsification (or of proof or disproof), then the model has no validity
outside of a belief system in itself. Very tidy.
It is an annoying, cloying minor treatise, promising little
more than The Lake of Fire awaiting almost all of us, even the sleeping dead,
who would be scraped from their graves to be spit into this burning
Lacy does a lot of inspired interpretation and
philosophizing, much of which he doesn’t seem to bother separating from
biblical quotations—I don’t think it is intentional, just bad writing.A random
find in Lacy’s thinking dislodges the following nugget:
“Satan is in the atmosphere above the earth, with access to
heaven and earth with a circumscribed power over the atmospheric elements and
the earth including the inhabitants”.
But enough of this nonsense. What brought me to this work is
the folding schematic map at the front of the book.It is a slightly complex jumble of
semi-circles and circular reasoning, and I have no interest in straightening
out this jumbled linguine. What has my interest is the dissolving Earth part of
the diagram, a part of the dead earth that comes between Calvary
and Heaven-on-Earth.What makes this
image different from the others though is that the Earth reappears—different from
its former self having been vanquished and cleansed by all consuming fire, but
the Earth nevertheless.Or something
like it.Or nothing like it.
Looking through some of the books here at home today I found Thoughts on Prison Labor, etc etc...by a Student of the Inner Temple1, a book on prison and punishment, published anonymously in London in 1824. What struck me right away was the plan of the Cold Bath Fields Prison, and the unusual dark line that ran along the left side of the image, connecting a "regulating fly" to this:
"tread wheels" are just what they sound like. They were used as a means of punishment and control, keeping the prison population busy and occupied. In general, the tread wheel was used in many prisons, and even though there were hundreds of people working on them int he course of a day employing thousands and thousands of steps to move the giant wheels, the large devices were connected to nothing. I guess they could have been connected to a grinder or something that would transmit the generated power into some purpose, but--at least in this case--the only thing the wheel was connected to was a fly wheel, which I assume helped govern the amount of force necessary to produce motion in the tread wheel.
Cold Field Baths was a prison of long standing and had been functioning for about 200 years at the time of publication of the book. For the most part the prison held low-level criminals, mostly with sentences of two years and under. People--men, women and children--served time there for vagrancy, some felonies, misdemeanors and unresolved debt (which is where most of the children come into the picture, as the debtor often found himself imprisoned with his family).
Each of the ganged three wheels would accommodate 30 people. There were six units of three tread wheels at work, meaning that there could be 360 people working the wheels at any given time. That's a lot of energy produced in the pursuit of obedience. And punishment.
This is the detail from the frontispiece map, in full below:
(There were additions to the prison performed in 1850, which greatly expanded the place. The original prison though is still visible in the plans. See Note 2.)
Here's a view of what those treadmills looked like, giving a prisoners'-eye view of the proceedings, this coming from 1864:
Evidently people would work on the tread wheel for periods of 10-15 minutes, which would explain the lines of men walking to their turns, above. Standing and slow walking was the cool-down exercise.
[All images via the lovely and easy to maneuver Google Patents here]
Fortune telling and divination is mostly the subject of the pretty patents (below), a quick penny-ante for the fulfillment of the instant treatment of possibility. reckoning via mechanical means,easing folks out of the necessity to think about What May Come, and also, possibly, relieving some of them of the possibilities of worry should the fortunes agree with their hopes. And desires. Opposite, for the opposite.
This thinking goes back a long way into dark and dusty time, though it becomes interesting (to me, anyway) when it gets wrapped up in Renaissance magic and science.
I'm not sure what it reveals except for what people might have wanted to believe in during different periods of time.
Anyway, the patent drawings are pretty.
The ways of telling fortunes are broad and numerous and may have been dictated by the stuff that was readily available at hand; a veritable alphabet can be quickly summoned to deal with the most common of the sort:
Alectromancy (telling the future by relatively brainless modern dinosaur roosters pecking at the ground for stuff);
(thinking that the motions of stars that are light years away from the
observer in a vast sea of space and their annotation on an
infinitesimally small speck of universe dust called "Earth" can somehow
interact with living organisms that are 1030000 the amount of space that can be affected by the light from the stars that are 1/1,000,000,000 of the age of those stars);
Returning to Jean-Jacques Scheuchzer's1 magical, inventive, fact-bending naive-surreal work on universal history based on the Old Testament, I've found these two glorious and odd images of the Tower of Babel. The first ("Genesis Cap.XI.v.4. Orthographia Turris.Mediummetalis") is terrific, shocking even in its abrupt construction and flat-out stumpiness, because it is one of a very small minority that shows the structure to be canonical, with a little church at top. The enormous stairway is just completely out of proportion to the purpose of the structure, the effort falling into some sort of odd advanced-child category.
If Italo Calvin's "Invisible Cities" or (better yet) Jorge Borges' "The Circular Ruins" were to be illustrated, this image would fit right in.
The other very unusual bit here, is that Scheuchzer also provides a plan for the city that was to be built around the tower--I'm pretty sure that I haven't seen references to this before, and the Biblical references to it are no help whatsoever in determining its physical aspects.
There are probably very few things that could be as blank or as empty as combative, competing, nonsensical and completely self-referential language or communication. Well, except for Scheuchzer's very empty town plan locating the tower in an urban setting--a listless place of surrounded circles of nothingness for a place in which everything is said and nothing is understood. Ground Zero for blank language.
Two interesting books that I should mention that address the ideas
of fantastic/imaginary architecture and decay are C. W. Thomsen, Visionary
Architecture: From Babylon to Virtual Reality, (Prestel, 1994) ; and Paul Zucker, Fascination of Decay (Gregg Press, 1968).
1. Kupfer-Bibel, in welcher die Physica sacra, oder geheiligte
Natur-Wissenschafft derer in heil. Schrifft vorkommenden naturlichen
sachen, deutlich erklart und bewahrt, printed in Augsburg and Ulm
by C.U. Wagner, 1731-1735. Offered in four volumes, illustrated with
758 plates, it is a magnificent work, if not altogether correct, or
even near- correct, with an enormously confused pedigree, implying the
wisdom and text of the Bible (and the old Testament at that) as the
background for a physical history of the world.
In my adventures in collecting antique art made by children, antique children making antique art, I found the following three letters. I'm hoping that by posting these lost letters to Santa that the dreams and sentiments they contain will somehow be at least read by Santa, and then perhaps even addressed in some way to another girl or boy, even if the requests come 120 years after they were made.
The first and perhaps most important of these letters is a beautiful little note, by a very young hand, written in 1924. It reads, simply:
"Thank you dear/ Santa Claus"
and addressed to "Mr. Santa Claws" at Chimny, R.I.". It may be that the child sent the letter to his own chimney for Santa to pick up on Christmas Eve.
Next, this illustrated letter, which was being around 1890/1900
I want a sweter for my big baby doll.
The sleeves are to be eight in. long. The back is to be 8 in, and a half.
My Mother wants a table crumber. A silver crumber. I want a nurses dress and a cap. Dear Santa. I have out grown my golashers that is a nother thing I would I would like.
"Where is abstract without solids, I ask you?" -- William Gaddis, on the solids in Uccello, The Recognitions, 1955
Actually, I think that there's plenty of abstract without solids, so long as you've seen solids before.
I've returned to a slightly recurrent theme in this blog dealing with the great Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) and his study of perspective--but most directly as he was observed by William Gaddis in his Great American Novel The Recognitions. (I am forever grateful to my brilliant Patti Digh for really hooking me into Gaddis so many years ago--Patti was long intrigued by Gaddis and wrote her UVa master dissertation on his Big Book. Gaddis' book can be found here.) Among other things Uccello is recognized as being one of the greatest and among the earliest artist to re-discover the science of perspective, and was throughout his life a passionate student and practioner.
[Much of Uccello's work can be found at Paolo Uccello Complete Works website, here.]
"Painting is exquisite as the punishment for the thinker."--William Gaddis, The Recognitions
The “solids’ recognized by Gaddis (and not really
discussed, and mentioned only twice in the book I believe) are incredible to me. Looking at his painting Battle of San Romano
(1457) we see Perspective in her place; but when we look at, say, the rumps
of the horses, we see almost no detail, just a mass of color, a solid,
with spectacular plainness. What in the world was he thinking? He could
certainly have painted the horse and the other solids with texture and
detail, but he didn’t, and to me it seems antithetical to the painting.
What in the name of all motherly things was he thinking? And who else
on earth was using such huge amounts of plain solids in their
paintings? I’m not aware that anyone else was, and I am relatively
clueless as to why he did it, abandoning detail in order to raise awareness of the surrounding parts of the painting, or perhaps heightening a sense of the not-yet-existent abstract, or drawing attention to the perspectival aspect of the work?
[A detail of the missing detail, above.]
But the solids are not just limited to Uccello, though they may have appeared there first, especially as the "exhibited" variety of this thinking. Jacopo Bellini (ca. 1400-ca. 1470) was a contemporary, living pretty much during the same period of time as Uccello, and who was responsible as much as anyone else for introducing oils in painting and establishing the Venetian style. He was a brilliant artist, the teacher of Mantegna, ran a fabulous studio, and was the father of two great artists. (One son, Giovanni, was a highly regarded artist who was also the teacher of Girgione and Titian.)
In looking through two volumes of Jacopo's drawings, I was struck by the number of times that horses and other objects appeared without detail, as solid solids, or mostly solid, quite outside the way in which these things were painted in the 15th century. Pacing though the books flipping through the open pages is like looking at a pop-up book in reverse--each set of pages opened are like looking into, looking through, the book, into space. They are collections of perspective. And they are populated by those other solids, which was surprising.
His horses appear very much like those in Uccello--except of course that these images were personal, workbooks for the artist, idea-machines and memory devices. There was plenty of detail in other aspects of these drawings, but the lack of the detail int he Uccellian manner really struck me.
Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier's "Jacopo Bellini's Interest in Perspective and its Iconographical Significance" found in Zeitschrift fuer Kunstgeschichte (1975)
makes a very learned and eloquent case for the overwhelming interest
that Belinni had in the study of perspective--not to the exclusion of
all other things, because there were still patrons to be satisfied and
religious and triumphal scenes that needed to be painted--and
concentrated on that interpretation focusing on Bellini's stylebooks.
(Most of Bellini's output has been lost, but there are two volumes of
manuscript studies that have survived.)
many of Jacopo Bellini's drawings are reminiscent of model-book notions
in that they illustrate a variety of suggestions for the representation
of traditional themes - for example Flagellations, Adorations, Davids,
and animals -they are, taken as a whole, entirely different from model
book drawings. Jacopo rarely concentrated on a subject for the sake of
its thematic content. Almost never does a bald statement of fact appear
to describe, for example, a biblical event. Rather than focusing on the
event itself, Jacopo's compositions characteristically are concerned
with other things. In the vast majority of cases the subject is set
within the context of a variety of architectural motifs or in that of an
extensive naturalistic world. It would appear that for Jacopo Bellini
biblical subject matter was a justification for his participation in a
variety of other new interests. Primary among these was the special
attention given to perspective..."
No mention of course of the Uccello horses. And perhaps they're really not there there, but it certainly looks like they are, at least to me. They might not have been there for Gaddis, either, as Bellini doesn't show up in the book, Gaddis thinking more about Uccello, and then even more so of Hieronymous Bosch, Hugo van der Goes, and Hans Memling.
And here it is, Bellini's solids, an example:
There are others as well, examples of what, I am not sure--fantastic visions into blankness and into the future of what painting would become 450 years hence.
Perhaps they were just place-keepers, to be filled-in as neededm just a shrt-hand expression of a horse rather than a transcendental imperative. After all, Bellini knew horse muscles, and decided in his workbooks that he just didn't need to draw them, or that in the sense of Bartleby the scrivener that he'd prefer not to.
[A photo of the place on the wall in the Louvre where the Mona Lisa lived until stolen in 1911.]
I bumped into a Google search page that was filled with entries for designers and jewelers with business names invoking the Mona Lisa--Mona Lisa Jewelry and so on. This coupling could well be found in the crushed metaphor jar in the back of the refrigerator. One thing is for certain: no doubt the real Mona Lisa had plenty of money (probably the wife of a successful merchant named Francesco de Giocondo) and privilege to afford jewelry, but in the Leonardo's painting she is pictured quite plainly, wearing none. Her hair is also very simply portrayed. This was a rare thing to do in portrait--as a real people who portraits were being made usually wore as much jewelry as they could or in some sensical variation of that. The hair too was a big deal--all you have to do is take a quick survey of hairstyles of Renaissance women in paintings and it will become instantly clear hairstyles were complex and involved. Mona Lisa's dress, too, is very simple--plain even--and in understated, muted color.
All of this was exceptionally unusual for the time.
There's not a speck of jewelry on the Mona Lisa, and her hair is simply parted, falling to her shoulders. Maybe Leonardo didn't want anything in the painting to fix it at any specific point in time, as the whole entity seems to be in a state of suspended completion, or complete but not quite there, still becoming something. Perhaps highly defined hair and jewelry on her fingers would have been unacceptable anchors, giving places for the eyes to land and move away from the lush layers of light and tone that give the painting some of its enormous "motion".
It is hard to imagine the hands of Mona Lisa like those seen in the portrait by Raphael of Maddalena Strozzi Doni. Painted at about the same time as the Mona Lisa, the 22-year-old master Raphael achieved a great image of course, but one very much in opposition to Leonardo's. (The next year Raphael would paint St. Catherine, who would have no jewelry and simple hair, but of course she was also a saint--but he did give her some pretty fancy and involved clothing, in spite of the wheel she was leaning against. Depictions of saints and religious icons are different from secular portraits--but even here it is difficult to break away from imaging luxurious cloth and clothing.)
[The hands of Raphael's Maddalena Strozzi Doni, 1506.]
So in the history of missing things, or of missing jewelry and finery, the Mona Lisa must rank pretty high. It was just unusual to think of a business name invoking the antithesis of what the business is about.
The Mona Lisa of course became one of the most famous missing things in the history of missing things when she was stolen by the not-very-bright Vincenzo Peruggia in 1911, but that's another story (and one which I talk a little about in the post The Most Famous Missing Doorknob in the History of Art).
A while ago I wrote a post on Herman Soergel's plan for extending the landmass of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea by damming the straits of Gibraltar, lowering the sea and irrigating the Sahara--an original, interesting but not very good idea, filled with briney cultivation and racial politics. In the past on this blog I've written about other city plans--and in particular, for New York City--that have involved floating Manhattan into the harbor, or filling up large chunks of the Narrows, or floating the city on an enormous anti-gravity platform, and so on. Some of those plans were real, some science fiction, and some were plainly beyond both. The plan presented above is another monster, but at least this one could work, if not for the doing of it, and the expense. And the will.
But the bottom line, according to the engineer doing the thinking on this project, Kennard Thomson, would supposedly net the city a cool billion dollars after everything was said and done, and that would be 1916 dollars--that was equal to about 5% of the American GDP (!) in 1916, which would be about $400 billion in terms of 2010 GDP. I'm not sure how Thomson came up with this very big/very round number, though it must have been done for effect--I can just imagine him standing before a smokey room filled with civil engineers talking about his massive plan for enlarging NYC and throwing out the billion-dollar figure, watching the cigars glow red in exhaled disbelief.
Thomson did know what he was talking about--he was a busy (and "leading" according to the NYT) Manhattan civil engineer of stature, working on the Canal Barge and being the principal engineer for the Municipal and Singer buildings, for example--and his project seems to be well within the scope of possibility. Their sensical aspects however are, well, questionable.
Here's the story--around 1911, while examining proposals to repair and extend New York's wharves, Thomson came upon the idea--a magnificent, fabulous idea--of adding new wharves by adding new lands to the city. In short, the overall plan was to fill in the East River (!!) and reclaim the new land for city living, dam Hell Gate, construct a New East River (from Flushing to Jamaica Bay), extend the tip of Manhattan Island from the Battery to within a quarter-mile of Staten Island (!), create a new 40-square-mile island between Sandy Hook and Staten Island, extend the Jersey shoreline, add two new Manhattan-sized appendages to the east shore of Staten Island, and more. All of this would be connected by various new bridges and roads and tunnels, as well as a 6-track elevated railway that would circumnavigate the city. The purpose of all of this would be to add 100 miles of new docks, an enormous amount ("50 square miles of reclaimed land") of new land and the capacity for NYC to house 20+ million people, all of which would be worth a billion dollars.
Thomson really meant "really" in the title for the proposal. There have been reclamation projects undertaken in New York Bay since then of course, and I think that virtually all of what Thomson talked about could be done. I think it would be a very interesting project for a class of some sort to undertake an estimation of what such a thing would cost today (and I would guess to duplicate the idea in real terms now would take up a sizable chunk of the GDP). Maybe all of this will make sense at some more future point.
And along this line of thinking I include a very interesting drawing made by architect Lebbeus Woods, showing the bedrock part of Manhattan. He empties the East River and damns (?) the Hudson, and also builds some new port extending from Staten Island or out from Jersey...but the effect of the dry river bed between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Andthen some--he empties the river, and then deepens/excavates, heightening the depths (?!) of Manhattan Canyon. The depth of the river where we can see it in the drawing is maybe 100 feet, and certainly (judging the depth against the heights of the structures in the lower island) the canyon is deeper than that--maybe an order of magnitude deeper.