As part of the first year art history module Exploring the School of Art Collections, students have the opportunity to write a small piece for this blog page. This year the group focused on images portraying different narratives be it a myth, fable, a play, a poem or even a historical or biblical account. Each student had the opportunity to choose from a selection of pictures. They only had one week to undertake some research before presenting their drafts. They all worked very hard on these projects so please take the time to view their efforts!
Gerry McGandy – Art History
Hudibras Beats Sidrophel and his Man Whackum, (1725), is an engraving by William Hogarth which came from his first public set of original engravings. These illustrate Samuel Butler’s epic of the same name which satirises puritanism. The engraving shows Hudibras confronting Sidophon, an astrologer and scientist. Hudibras’ man is sent for the “officer” exiting to the right while Sidopon’s assistant Whackum looks on in fear and horror. Balancing the figure in the doorway is a skeleton in a cupboard on the left. The scene is the astrologer’s laboratory which is strewn with all manner of astrological and scientific equipment. There is a table with tattered cloth in the middle separating the indignant wizard and Whackum from the belligerent Hudibras. Above hangs a crocodile accompanied by an array of animals including bat, snake toad and turtle. These are the raw materials of a wizard. The floor and table are covered with various scientific instruments and astrological charts. Balance is reiterated by two globes; one on the floor bottom left, the other on the table to the right. A conch shell lamp in the centre of the picture lights the scene. A cat arches it’s back bottom right as it watches the scene descend into violence.
Hudibras was Butler’s satire on Puritan hypocrisy and self-righteousness and criticism of religious fanaticism is a recurring theme in Hogarth’s work. The character portrayed by Butler is vain and conceited. Of his religious fervour Butler has this to say:
“For he was of that” stubborn crew / Of errant saints, whom all men grant / To be the true Church Militant; / Such as do build their faith upon / The holy text of pike and gun; / Decide all controversies by / Infallible artillery.”
It is worth noting that this religious warrior is drawing his sword on a man of science. This echoes themes from The Enlightenment which was beginning to undermine religious domination in Europe, replacing it with science and rational thinking. The scientific instruments scattered around give another clue as to where Hogarth’s sympathies lay but he is not blind to the fact that superstition plagued both religion and science.
Alice Prussia – Art History
“[..] She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.”
So writes the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his long form poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, and from this poem Garrick Palmer takes the title and subject matter for this wood engraving. The poem and print describe the sinking of the S.S. Deutschland, a boat from Germany heading towards America. On its journey, the vessel hit a sandbank in the Thames Estuary due to stormy weather. The same conditions prevented the wreck being seen so no assistance came. Even though there were around fifty-seven deaths, both the poem and the print focus in on the five Franciscan nuns who drowned in the tragedy, exiled from their homeland by the Falk Laws. The Falk Laws came from the Kulturkampf in Germany. At the time there was unrest between the church and the state as Prince Otto von Bismarck’s struggled with the Roman Catholic Church in his efforts to unify Germany. From this these Sisters of St. Francis wanted to escape and join the new Franciscan Order who relocated to America just a few months earlier. The poem itself is an exploration of suffering in the light of God, a theme that is replicated in the print. The dark saturated look of the print mimics the darkness created by the night and the storm. It also creates an immediacy, a bold attraction that draws the viewer’s eye into the inky depths, creating a closeness with the subject matter.
The wood block was carved with the grain running across the print length ways, the grain is visible at the top of the print as the sky has what looks like a knot running across it. The waves follow the grain roughly, and they continue over the nuns so they appear to already be consumed by the sea. The black corpse-like eyes of the nuns and their expressions calling out into the sky, to God, imbue the piece with a sense of despair and hopelessness. This is emphasised further by the detailed boat already receding into the horizon and under the water. The cross overlay shows the ever presence of God even in the light of these tragedies, calling to mind Christ’s suffering and the Nun’s plea in the poem extract, with the cross literally being called to her. Written below the print in pencil by Palmer, there is a dated pencil signature, the title of the engraving The Wreck of the Deutschland, with the initials G.M.H (referencing Gerard Manley Hopkins) beside it, along with a significant dedication. It reads: ‘1st Proof to: John Elwyn.’ The two were close friends while both were at Winchester School of Art; the print is a sign of this closeness.
Sophie Lewis – Fine Art and Art History
Johann Baptiste Zwecker (1814-1876) presents a curious scene with his watercolour painting. Designed for use as a book illustration, the simple composition The Troll (1860-66) depicts a calm and serene landscape with blue washes and frozen waterfall. However, the calming effect is interrupted by the expressive and cold nature of the emerging hands in the foreground. It’s difficult not to be drawn in by the hands. Their drained colour and stiffened placement suggests an aggressive event has taken place, but what story is Zwecker trying to tell us?
The Troll is based on Icelandic folk law and tells us the story of Jóra the Troll. A woman with a fearsome temper, Jóra worked as a maid servant for her father. One day Jóra’s father took her favourite horse to participate in a horse fight. Seeing that her horse was struggling, Jóra furiously ripped off the hind leg of the other horse and made a quick escape so as no one could catch her. She ran far until she reached Heingill Mountain where she set up home in a cave – since known as Jóra’s Cave. Here Jóra became a fearsome troll; she sat on the high peak, killing and eating any man or beast that came into her path. The people living in the villages near to Jóra’s Cave were terrified of the fearsome creature and the surrounding areas were abandoned. Men and armies tried and failed to kill her. Eventually a young man from Iceland – once a sailor – went to the King of Norway to seek advice on how to destroy the troll. The king gave him an axe of silver and with it the knowledge he required to end the people’s fear. During their confrontation Jóra drowned at the hands of the man – her reign of terror finally ending.
The placement of the hands is surprising given the aggressive nature of the story; Jóra isn’t quite portrayed as the monster she was. The hands have a strong, masculine appearance – not the hands of a delicate woman but not the hands of a monster either. The hands are open and the palms raised – not the clenched fists you’d expect of this fearsome troll.
John Roberts – Art History
Wenceslaus Hollar’s (1600-1676) etching The File and the Viper is an illustration from the book ‘The fables of Aesop paraphras’d in verse, and adorn’d with sculpture and illustrated with annotations’ by John Ogilby, second edition published in 1665, printed by Thomas Roycroft for John Ogilby in London. The scene is set in a foundry. On a workbench a snake is writhing as it bites an iron file. On the floor is the severed head of a male Gorgon, staring upwards at a winged dragon sitting on an anvil raised on a block. Various foundry tools are scattered in disarray around the floor. An empty tool rack hangs above the dragon. There is a small open window above the bench. The accompanying verse tells the reader that this is the foundry of a sculptor and that the Dragon and the Gorgon’s head are recently completed works. A snake has wandered into the room, and in hunger, or in vengeful anger at the work the file has done to the Gorgon, has attacked the file. The more it fights, the bloodier and weaker it becomes. The file remains unscathed.
The moral of the fable by Aesop is that it is fruitless and harmful to attack that which can’t be hurt. The file can only take, it can never give back. The picture is highly allegorical. As well as the fable, it refers to recent political events around the English civil war, Cromwell and the restoration of Charles II. Cromwell’s elite Cavalry regiment was known as the ‘ironsides’. The winged dragon was a symbol for both the parliamentarians, representing oppression by the monarchy, and later a symbol for Charles II. In 1661, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I, Cromwell’s body was exhumed, and his severed head displayed on a pole in Westminster for at least 20 years, so it would have been there when the book was published. In Greek mythology the female Gorgon Medusa was beheaded by Perseus. The medusa in the picture has a male face however, which could represent Cromwell. The moral, ‘don’t fight what it is impossible to beat’ could refer to the divine right of the king to rule; Ogilby was a Royalist during the civil war. These visual allegories would have been well understood by viewers unable to read. The book was very popular and was reprinted five times by 1676.
Wenceslas Hollar was born in Prague. War forced him to move to Frankfurt where he trained in the workshop of Matthaus Merian, engraver and publisher. He moved to England working for the Earl of Arundel, and finally settled in London. He produced some 3000 plates on a wide range of subjects. He is most well known for his topographical views, including ‘Views of London’ and for his architectural drawings. Despite his success, he died in London in extreme poverty.
This picture tells a tale, but also has a dark, ghostly horror that can be enjoyed in its own right.
Kate Ackroyd – Welsh
The title above is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth identifying the central figures of this work as the grotesque, supernatural, androgynous ‘sisters’ who waylaid Macbeth prophesying his future military and political success. These witches tempted Macbeth, encouraging his delusions of grandeur and thus precipitating his future actions – murder and war – which ultimately brought about his own death. In the etching the three faces are illuminated by the moon, their fingers raised to their mouths – intent, mysterious and fierce.
Gillray’s dedication is ‘To H Fuzelli Esq! this attempt in the Caricature-Sublime…’ Gillray famously produced caricatures according to the current fashion of the 1780s. It was not just an era of the art of caricature but one of exploration of the romantic sublime and supernatural. Henry Fuselli was one of these romantic artists using dramatic poses and exaggerated contrasts of light and dark to give intensity to his work. In his portrayal of the Witches from Macbeth he arranged the faces in a row with reflected light on their faces. They are pointing and staring at something in the distance with dramatic intensity. Gillray mimics this structure and style.
In Gillray’s parody, or caricature, of Fuselli’s work the people portrayed are recognisable not just as the characters from fiction but as prominent members of the late Eighteenth Century Establishment. The three witches are Lord Dundas (Home Secretary), William Pitt (Prime Minister) and Lord Thurlow (Lord Chancellor). The sleeping face of the moon is George III and the brightly lit face of the moon is Queen Charlotte. Gillray uses the story of the Three Witches to draw attention to the conflict, chaos and treachery of his political time. George III had had his first bout of madness so Parliament, led by William Pitt, had attempted to pass a bill replacing the king. This was unsuccessful due to the apparent recovery of the king. It was an age of uncertainty with a weak king in poor mental health and a strong queen perhaps assuming more power than her position would usually merit. Politicians assumed unexpected alliances and aristocrats felt under threat as the French Revolution threatened the social order of the day.
Thus Gillray brings together the current fashion for romantic subject matter and intensity of style. He conjures up the chaos and darkness of the witches from Macbeth and juxtaposes that with the political and social uncertainty of his time.
Natalie Wynne – Art History
In a room of intricately detailed and bold prints, Hans Erni’s simplistic print titled ‘Alpheus and Arethusa’ (1958) stood out. The use of negative space, in contrast to the traditional full detail and colour used in printing, grants the piece its striking and minimalistic nature.
The engraving depicts the Greek legend by the same title. The story states that Arethusa, a huntress, slipped into a stream to bathe after a tiring day of hunting. Suddenly the God of the river, Alpheus, catches her and falls in love with her. She slips away and runs for her life while Alpheus chases her. She calls to the Goddess of Hunting Artemis who turns her into a stream to protect her. The Earth was cracked so that an underground channel was made, from Greece to Sicily.
Hans Erni is an artist most concerned with abstract art, heavily influenced by Picasso. As such this style of print appear to be a departure from the idea of the abstract. The piece is similar to a series of prints, also depicting Greek myths and legends, that were created for a book of poetry titled ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Ovid, a Roman poet. This is probably why the process of etching was chosen, as it is quick to produce many reproductions. This book is just one poem that depicts 250 myths telling the story of the world’s creation. The simple print appears almost rushed in its subtlety, but it remains thought-provoking nonetheless, even more so when you learn the myth behind the etching.
Lauren Evans – Fine Art
A piece that stood out whilst looking through the collections of the School of Art is a woodcut in black on Japanese paper created by the British artist Mabel Royds (1874-1941). The piece, called ‘The Sun and the Traveller’s Cloak’ was originally an illustration to one of Aesop’s Fables, ‘The North Wind and the Sun’. Royds was unable to afford the traditional pear wood boards for woodcuts and instead purchased breadboards from Woolworths on which to create her works. This woodcut is brilliantly detailed in the right places; the sun beams shining down on the traveller stand out particularly well.
The story concerns a competition between the North Wind and the Sun to decide which is the stronger of the two. The challenge was to make a passing traveller remove his cloak. The North Wind blew so hard the traveller only wrapped his cloak tighter to keep warm. When the Sun shone, the traveller was overcome with heat and soon removed his cloak. To escape the blazing sunshine, he threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside. Initially the piece can appear mysterious without the context of the fable, as the position and posture of the man implies a struggle. When presented with the story, the piece serves to help emphases the moral of the tale – “Kindness effects more than severity.”
Ashlii Prigmore – Fine Art
Mabel Royds is known for her work with woodcuts. She and her husband, the etcher Ernest Lumsden, travelled the world including places such as the Middle East, Continental Europe and India. Due to her cosmopolitan nature she incorporated many influences from other cultures in her woodcut prints. With her colour woodcut piece, ‘The Flight Into Egypt’ she depicts a Biblical scene, namely The Holy Family in Christianity’s escape from the Massacre of the Innocents carried out by King Herod. Royds chose to depict the scene in a traditional Japanese style of colour woodcut known as ukiyo-e (literally translating as ‘Pictures of the Floating World’ in Japanese) perhaps under the influence of Frank Morley Fletcher, renowned for popularising ukiyo-e as a medium within the United Kingdom. The strong colours and the use of chiaroscuro on the Holy Family gives the piece a powerful impact that quickly attracts the attention of the viewer. The juxtaposition of Eastern styles with a Christian narrative is intriguing and raises a lot of questions. The piece encompasses the story of a well-travelled woman who sought to incorporate the art styles of various cultures into her own work and a compelling look into a love of Japanese culture that still grips Western society, almost 100 years later.
Charlotte Lloyd – Fine Art
Adam and Eve and the Birth of Cosmic Consciousness depicts the biblical theme of Original Sin from the perspective of a 1970s feminist artist. The Feminist Art movement began in the late 1960’s and feminist artists focused on changing the world around them through their artworks. Christine Penn was a feminist and political activist and lived an ‘alternative’ way of life.
This engraving features a stark contrast of the black ink upon the cream wove Arches paper. Adam and Eve are depicted hanging their heads in shame due to their eating of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Above and below them are God and Satan respectively, representing the eternal struggle set in motion by the pair. Adam and Eve seem to be contained in a box, in a world of their own, emphasised by the contrasting shades and detailed mark-making. Overall, this picture represents the birth of sin and the world awakening to this. This is what ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ could mean. Feminist Artists wanted to show that art wasn’t just something to be admired, but should get the viewer to question the social and political landscape around them. You can see this in the picture behind Adam and Eve. The landscape is full of cut down trees, smoking volcanoes and barren land. Penn tries to create a dialogue between the viewer and picture in her artwork, by including the woman’s perspective, (Eve), in the situation.
Ji Hye Woo – Fine Art
The engraving “Perseus”, produced by William Evan Charles Morgan in 1929, depicts the mythic hero surrounded by serene images of nature, contrasted with the violent and blunt image of Medusa’s severed head in the foreground. This juxtaposition gives the piece a strange atmosphere of peace contrasted against violence, while also being an accurate representation of the original Greek myth.
As the famous hero who slayed Medusa, Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. Danae’s father, Acrisius, believed that Danae’s son would be killed by the Oracle of Apollo. He therefore locked her in the basement of a tower to prevent her marrying and having children. However, she was later impregnated by Zeus. As a result, King Acrisius cast Danae and Perseus into the sea. Somehow they arrived safely at Seriphos Island, governed by King Polydectes. After several years, as Perseus grew into a man, Polydectes regarded him as an obstacle in his desire to court Danae. In an effort to get rid of Perseus, the king challenged the hero to bring him Medusa’s head, which was thought to be impossible due to the gorgon’s power to turn anybody who looked in her eyes to stone. However, against expectations, Perseus killed Medusa
Morgan was born in London, England on 19th of October, 1903. He was the only child of William H. Morgan and his wife Emily. He enrolled at Camberwell School of Art when he was seventeen years old, then he transferred to London University’s Slade School to study under Professor Henry Tonks. Morgan was one of the major exponents of wood engraving in England during the 1920’s; he was awarded the Prix de Rome for wood engraving in 1924.
Chloe Hayward Art History
Mrozewski’s woodcut was one of twelve woodcuts illustrations for Wolfram Von Eschenbacks German poem ‘Parzival’, inspired by Richard Wagner’s ‘Parzival’. The image relates to the story of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail. The detail on the lion is so exact and brings him to focus, and his prominence in the image suggests his ferocity, wildness and the heroic nature of Gawan’s ability to slay such a creature. The creepy boorish figure watching is the man who released the lion, determined to see the result of his work. The long corridors represent the long road Gawan has travelled to get where he is. Gawan encounters this lion while on a search to find the Wonder Bed, while being informed that he must not let go of his Shield and Sword. This explains the tight grip he has on both and his shield covering his face enforces this. The violent nature of the piece is contrasted against the fairytale-like appearance of Gawan. This gives the image a grand atmosphere, as though it is presenting the climax to an epic tale.