Voltaire on Freedom

January 25, 2014

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41 Antinous The ancient world saw the birth of pantheons and singular gods who emerged as icons to be piously worshiped and duly feared (like the Greek word “thambos” suggests) but was particularly the heyday of mortals deified  by deeds of such audacious character or so astounding a trait people could not refrain eventually granting them supernatural statute. From the much-revered Osiris to the now less popular Asclepius,  faith elevated the extraordinary to heights unparalleled ever since and Antinous, reputedly the most handsome creature to have pleased the eyes of men, perhaps best exemplifies these hasty canonizations that were ultimately ensued by the plethora of mythological figures currently known.

But what did this ostensibly  common youth, whose  pulchritude seemed his sole distinctive  feature, to deserve being an object of veneration for a cult even our contemporaries perpetuate?

What they all do: make themselves fervently loved.

Apparently, Antinous, a Bithynian Greek of no aristocratic breed, stirred a most unlikely passion in the eminent Roman Emperor Hadrian that would not cease to consume him the whole span of his lengthy life, which turns the case quite similar to Alexander and Hephaestion‘s. Thus the story goes that the named Augustus from Nervan-Antonine dynasty, being a declared philhellene who took a liking to the old Greek habits, penchant for homosexuality included, so ardently cherished the boy that when he was found drowned in the Nile river a whole sophisticated mechanism of propaganda ensured his place between the immortals. Countless statues bearing his marvelously beauteous features were consequently produced, sanctuaries erected to commemorate him and at one point Hadrian had coins struck with Antinous’ profile, a prerogative previously resumed to the gods or their earthly representatives, the Imperial family.

Across time, this most handsome lover of royalty secretly inspired all the gay intellectuals and J.J. Winckelmann, reputedly the father of art history, is said to have more ore less been influenced by Antinous in his pursuit of Greek and Roman culture.

How do you feel about it, though? to learn it’s outrageously easy to ascend a heavenly reputation through a very humane sovereign’s obsessive infatuation?

39 Antinous

My, that’s love to shape destinies. Wonder what Freud would comment.

Voltaire’s Nude

July 6, 2013

Voltaire by Jean Baptiste Pigalle, Louvre

“There was a statue made not long since of Voltaire, which the sculptor, not having that respect for the prejudices of mankind which he ought to have, has made entirely naked and as meagre and emaciated as the original is said to be. The consequence is what might be expected; it has remained in the sculptor’s shop, though it was intended as a public ornament and a public honor to Voltaire, as it was procured at the expense of his contemporary wits and admirers.”

(Reynolds, “Seven Discourses on Art“)

Fortunately, since Pigalle’s Voltaire now neighbors Michelangelo’s Slaves in the Louvre with the blessing of a reputed curator, Reynold’s valuation of the peace doesn’t prove equitable enough to concur immediately. Indeed, the great philosopher’s nude realistically depicts the atrophied, skeletal physique of a septuagenarian crooked by age, secular and spiritual difficulties to an admirably small degree. No attempt to idealization being made, François-Marie Arouet‘s body appears feeble, humane in what may seem a depreciating way, as the English portraitist put it. Besides these features of decay, though, one can find that the sagacious expression on his face, together with a dynamic pose, redeem the decrepit members so as to convey the “triumph of mind over matter”.

And it was this victory Jean Baptiste Pigalle wanted to illustrate when “a literary society whose members included Diderot and d’Alembert (the authors of the Encyclopédie) decided to pay tribute to Voltaire” by commissioning a “marble statue in his likeness”.

Drawing inspiration from the majestic masterpieces of Greek and Roman art, Pigalle’s idea was to sculpt his model “entirely naked except for the flowing drapery that crosses his left shoulder and covers his loins. Such a portrayal, unprecedented in the modern period, caused a scandal and prompted a multitude of sarcastic comments, King Gustavus III of Sweden offering to contribute to the cost of a coat. Fearing ridicule, Voltaire attempted to dissuade the sculptor, but finally agreed to his project in the name of artistic freedom.”

But there’s no surprise such an “overly naturalist portrayal of the patriarch philosopher prompted unanimous disgust and rejection” since only “Jean-Antoine Houdon approach to the problem with a statue of Voltaire Seated, his whole body wrapped in swathes of timeless cloth”  met with general approval and was finally displayed in the foyer of  the Comédie Française.

It remained with the notorious sitter who eventually “bequeathed the work to his grand-nephew”, reaching the Louvre due to a donation at the beginning of the 19th century.

(Incidentally, the Louvre has an extended version of this article on its public site, from which descend all quotes here employed, plus a few more.)

So, what’s your personal opinion of it?

Mere tasteless representation of an old Voltaire or an image that rightfully invites to ponder on the triumph of mind over matter?

Having recently been to Austria (again) and inevitably but  nevertheless unpremeditatedly  stumbled upon an earthly remnant of the famed Sissi, Franz Joseph’s bohemian Empress, in the form of a palace called Kaiservilla, my fascination with her legend instantly rekindled. Thus I ended up buying yet another biography depicting the bizarre destiny of the much idolized monarch whose blazing icon still lingers over the lore-inspired part of our collective memory quite as if time would not attempt diminishing such rarefied a charm – although perhaps time in itself shares not half the merits for its transcendence in the detriment of intensive propaganda which doubtlessly enhances the Austrian economy with its touristic value. So, out of a melange of eagerness and spontaneous, exceptional magnanimity, I made my pecuniary contribution by purchasing Sophie Zavadill’s “Elisabeth, Empress of Austria” and Jean des Cars’ “Sissi, Empress of Austria” (do note I’m aware of the phenomenal difference between these two exceedingly dissimilar titles), managing to devour them in a bit under 2 days.

Here’s one delicious fragment to justify my enthusiasm and concomitantly provide an insight in Sissi’s complex personality:

Sissi, portrait by Hungarian artist Gyula Benczúr

During a carnival she and Ida Ferenczy attended a masked ball in secret. It was the Redoute, which is still held annually in the grand ballroom of the Hofburg. The emperor knew nothing of his wife’s escapade. She also deceived her servants by having herself undressed as usual, going to bed, and pretending to sleep – just as in a novel.  When her servants had withdrawn, Ida Ferenczy slipped into her room with the fancy-dress costume, a magnificent yellow domino made of heavy brocade. Ida also brought the empress a red blonde wig and mask with long black tassels to completely cover her face. Ida wore a red domino and was also masked- as is still the custom at the Redoute.

‘The two slipped into the hall and at first only watched the goings-on from the the balcony. Elisabeth was fascinated. She had been to every sort of functioning by then but never to a masked ball. When she became tired of looking, the empress selected from the crownd a young man who was obviously without an escort. Ida brought him, a government employee in his late twenties, to the masked empress, who spent the rest of the evening in the company of this Fritz Pacher. She questioned him about politics, asked whether he was satisfied with the government, inquired what he thought of the empress and finally spoke about her favorite poet, Heinrich Heine. She flirted with the young man but could not be moved to lift her mask by a centimeter. The ball of the yellow domino was followed by a series of letters between the blonde “Gabrielle” and Pacher. These letters have survived and confirm the fairy-tale story.

More than ten years later, Elisabeth wrote a poem called “Long, long ago: the song of the yellow domino”.’

(“Elisabeth, Empress of Austria” by Sophie Zavadill)

A Gallery of Beauties

June 17, 2013

Everybody at a certain point harbors the desire or curiosity or simple, sheer interest to gather a collection of various things in diverse quantities, some parameters more eccentric than others. Empress Elisabeth of Austria, commonly nicknamed “Sissi“, a character to whom Madame has dedicated a plethora of posts, had her own phenomenal assortment which put together a considerable number of photos immortalizing the most beauteous women of the age. But I already wrote about it here. Yet what I didn’t know at the time when that account of her oddities was given and subsequently learned to be a crucial factor in explaining her peculiar idea of a collection refers to the strikingly similar propensity for putting together images of beautiful ladies which dominated the life of  Sissi’s uncle, King Ludwig I o Bavaria. No longer content with getting most of the pulchritudinous grand dames of the time in his bed for fleeting moments of passion, the monarch who is (in)famous for abdicating the throne following a tempestuous scandal involving his mistress, Lola Montez, determined to forever own the marvelous physical charm of these resplendent females. And thus took shape the Gallery of Beauties, the original inspiration for Empress Elisabeth’s identically themed albums.

beauties

This chamber, wholly dedicated to the celebration of corporal attractiveness, exhibits a selection of 36 portraits ordered by Ludwig between 1827 and 1850. They were all commissioned to have the same size so as to perfectly fit in the allocated space and all feature the enchanting profiles of mid 19th century women coming from sundry social backgrounds like the German aristocracy or the European middle-class. This way, characters who otherwise never spoke in real life were forced by circumstance to keep each other company while hanging on the walls of the King’s gallery of visual splendor inside Nymphenburg Palace. So Ludwig’s sister, Sophie (between brackets: the mother of Emperor Franz of Austria, Sissi’s husband), rested alongside such notorious figures as English aristocrat Jane Digby, actress Charlotte von Hagn (a former concubine to Franz Liszt) and, inevitably, Lola Montez, quite an outrageous arrangement, given the epoch. Sort of like compelling Whistler’s Mother to face Courbet’s “Origin of the World” non-stop.

Don’t you just fancy having a place resembling this?

Love triangles and promiscuity seldom flourished so exquisitely than at the Papal Court in Rome up to about 3-400 years ago. As some “The Borgias” fans might’ve already noticed, Vatican city was quite a den of lavish sins back in the days of Michelangelo and didn’t stop being one until long after Bernini’s days, which is why the following episode of his life should not come as a surprise.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the preeminent protege of the Popes Urban VIII and Alexander VII, like all reputed artists, had some apprentices to do his less important commissions in exchange for advice and guidance. And these anonymous apprentices, emphasizing one in particular, had wives. Female presences to whose charms the great sculptor could not frequently resist.

One such ravishing woman by law reserved for a single husband, was Constanza Piccolomini Bonarelli, spouse of Matteo Bonarelli and licentious lover of Bernini.

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So much was he enamored with her that, to fully convey his passionate sentiments, Gian Lorenzo produces the above bust, a Constanza he could caress in marble, the immortal, unwithering variant of his beloved. It was the zenith of their affection.

And soon they’d reach their nadir… one terrible way too.

Since Constanza was unfaithful to her hubby, cheating came natural to her and not long after her storming affair with Bernini commenced, she found herself involved with a second paramour, none other than Gian Lorenzo’s younger brother, Luigi.

Alas, a naturally suspicious Bernini soon felt her betrayal and thought a most basic scheme to catch the two in flagrant delicto: he simply announced his going to the countryside to tend to some business, insidiously expecting the couple to make a wrong move… which didn’t let itself waited.

Luigi, unconscious of any danger, immediately visited a lonely Constanza yearning for consolation to be “welcomed” by a furious Bernini who almost beat him to death.

Amusingly (or tragically, depending on your point of view), this telenovela-like story didn’t stop here, but to continue it and learn the climax of the whole affair, I recommend the following documentary:

The Art Clique

April 26, 2013

sylph2.jpg

Behold my novel blog I finally managed to give shape after the toil of settling on a particular design & color theme! It’s called the Art Clique and is predestined to live up to the expectations ensuing the reading of  its title with numerous accounts of art (from visual to more abstract: literature) between which spring some shameless propagandistic posts to (let’s unleash optimism) financially support my incurable penchant for luxury.

There might not be a plethora of articles just yet given my industrious-bee work in real life, the recurrent spring depression I’m preoccupied to combat and some extra diverting factors but, since the two currently available explore topics one might find of interest, you can pass by confidently, produce highly appreciated feedback and ultimately do charity work that God (or Allah, Jehovah, Brahman et cetera) will indubitably quantify in your right of admission to Paradise…

ART: JUST ONE CLIQUE AWAY

The pas week has been a hectic ping-pong with several events I had to squeeze in my program and diligently prepare, though I cannot complain for taking part in any of them since they are direct fruits of either my work or my resolute desires across the last few years.

I’ve been invited to make a visit to the town residence of the Royal House of Romania and been (briefly) received by Princess Marguerite, I’ve had to pull through an essay meant to be my entry for quite a promising contest then finish the editing of my novel novella (“Vicious“) to be able to publish it in time and handled its launch concomitantly with that of my author blog. This, plus a couple of other troubles.

No wonder the “Parties of the Past Century” series has yet to be completed.

However, here’s the next roaring social gathering which brought together most of the era’s elite:

Le Bal du Siecle

Ball of the Century

The Mexican multimillionaire Charles Beistegui, a professed eccentric also known as the modern “Count of Monte Cristo”, was the host to the most lavish, flamboyant and altogether magnificent masked ball ever given in honor of the old aristocratic times. His Venice Palazzo Labia, a splendid 17th century residence, was put to its use glamorously and costly decorated to fit the magnitude of the event Charles promised to be the assembly of the century.

bal

Luxurious rococo gowns of rich materials were displayed with a profusion of jewels and thus the elegantly adorned guests could only be distinguished from the likewise decor by the mere barrier of movement. Famed names such as Orson Welles, the Aga Khan, Barbara Hutton, Dali, Gene Tierny or Jacqueline de Ribes relished the extraordinary parade of refinement, the presence of exotic black people with their peculiar animals (camels included), the amazing atmosphere.

It was an evening of perpetual wonder, the sort wars exclusively can impel one to organize just for the most humane need of forgetting one’s misery.

Versatile Blogger Award

Back when Madame was a mere beginner in blogging, “Versatile” and the “Kreativ Blogger” distinction were the first she’d ever aspired to. Surely, along the way, the debonair lady of this site acquired a few others she hadn’t previously heard of, like the “Liebster Lauds“, “Lovely Blog” or “Blog of the Year 2012” (forgive the exceeding repetition of the word “blog” which apparently all awards contain…) but never ceased to hope she’ll one day seize those honors initially desired.

Ironically, it is a namesake of mine that bestowed upon Madame the coveted laurels: Patricia Jordan (http://westcoastlivingcanada.com/) , passionate photographer, writer and traveler whom I thank for the esteem.

And now, having passed through the introductions to more pragmatic matters, the VBA rules:

  1.  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  2.  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy.
  3.  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  4.  Include a link to the mother-site: Versatile Blogger.
  5.  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Nominations

(in a perfectly random manner as not the divulge any preference) 

  1. Tiaras and Trianon
  2. the Pragmatic Costumer
  3. Empress Chronicles
  4. Life Takes Lemons
  5.  Saints, Sisters and Sluts
  6. Team Gloria
  7.  Splatter
  8. Sifting the Past
  9.  Good Gentlewomen
  10.  Versailles Gossip
  11. Cafe Royal
  12. Education of Madame X
  13. Les Favorites Royale
  14. Edwardian Promenade
  15. WTF Art History

7 Things about Myself

  1. I’m the proud master of a miniature Schnauzer imaginatively called Nyx after the Greek goddess of night… because she’s black.
  2. I’m a decided bibliophile who also owns 3 over 100 years-old books… and works to increase the number.
  3. I’ve never genuinely been in love with anything but art… and myself. Save some cursory infatuations.
  4. My personal verb is “to be“.
  5. I’m an INTJ of a psychological profile similar to Hannibal Lecter’s.
  6. I’m a dedicated admirer of all novels Salman Rushdie.
  7. I’m decisively myself… since everybody else is already taken.

FIN

Le Bal Black & White

1966: Truman Capote, prodigious writer much celebrated on his mother-continent,  throws a party that instantly has him conquer the lavish high society worldwide, a ball whose promise of superlatives makes invitations paramount concerns of elites across both America and Europe (no wonder he gathered 5 thousand friends but gained 15 thousand enemies when anyone known as someone vied for a possibility to attend).

The New York Plaza Hotel, meticulously decorated, reaches its zenith.

After a period of seclusion dedicated to laborious preparations, Capote returns with repetitive “I’m beside myself! Beside myself!” to take it over and welcome the masqued guests nevertheless recognized by the photographs galore who fenced in the red carpet.

party

Glittering names as those of Frank Sinatra, Cecil Beaton, Mia Farrow, Jacqueline de Ribes, Oscar de la Renta, Marlene Dietrich, Maharajah and Maharani of Jaipur,  Vivien Leigh, Shirley MacLaine,Baroness Cecile de Rothschild, Baron and Baroness Guy de Rothschild, Mr and Mrs John Steinbeck, Andy Warhol, Tennessee Williams and even the expatriated Duke and Duchess of Windsor figured on the privileged guest list. It was indeed the egocentric celebration of a silver age, a kaleidoscope of savory juxtapositions of class, titles, secular manners and social status to garrison the last remnants of decadence.

Half the Hall of Fame and Best Dressed list attended Capote’s hubristic feast in the most mesmerizing costumes possible (note: I’m far from resorting to hyperbole for that depiction)…

If in Truman’s shoes, is there anyone you would’ve coveted to see there but was not, caught in various circumstances, able to come?

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