Archive for December, 2010

Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the “indelicate” Ephebe

Posted in 19th cent., Ellen Terry, John Singer Sargent, Saint-Gaudens, Wojnarowicz on December 29, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I  recently stumbled upon a controversy concerning the censorship of a work deemed obscene by the morally conservative. In the wake of the recent  Smithsonian uproar concerning David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly,  I felt a comparison of the prudery worth examining.

The controversy arose in the 1890’s around a design proposal for the “prize medal” to be given out at the World’s  Columbian Exposition of 1893 . The designer was the illustrious Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and his graceful design was initially accepted; that was until a nasty caricature made a mockery of his work prompting conservative outcry.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens


Kenyon Cox


Metropolitan Museum of Art

Saint-Gaudens was reluctant to enter the competition according to his son Homer in The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, but he was eventually persuaded ; ultimately coming up with a design that according to the actress Ellen Terry was “emblematical of young America”.

Young America was depicted as an ephebe, that loveliness of youth so admired by the Greeks, and enlightened society from the Renaissance onward.


Homer Saint-Gaudens goes into great detail concerning his fathers design,

Homer Saint-Gaudens and his Mother


John Singer Sargent

Carnegie museum of Art




Homer describes the “great distress of mind” the controversy caused his father. He also gives quite a vivid account of the design, “the obverse he created a design representing Columbus at his first landing on this hemisphere. On the reverse he placed a nude boy holding a shield which should bear the name of the recipient of the prize”.

The work was accepted, then as Homer claims ” came the catastrophe”. A perverse caricature of Saint-Gaudens  work was created by the Page Belting Company of Concord, New Hampshire that was ” so villainous that the boy, who on the original stood as a bit of artistic idealism, appeared in all the vulgar indecency that can be conveyed by the worst connotation of the word nakedness”.

Priggish outrage was the result.

It hardly seems possible that this image (on the left) could have stirred such controversy.

For a closer look follow this link.

According to the New York Times, January 20th 1894, “protests were made on the grounds of indelicacy”, ultimately forcing Saint-Gaudens work to be “modified by draping the figure”. The changes were made under the direction of Secretary of the Treasury John Griffin Carlisle. Perhaps instead of the “obscene” ephebe, this jolly image should have been minted.

The work was modified , and an acceptable design by Charles Barber, Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint replaced Saint-Gaudens design.

Apparently Barber had a long running, seemingly one-sided competitive tiff with Saint-Gaudens; he would ultimately be critical of another Saint-Gaudens design, the Double Eagle coin in 1908.

Envy is a terrible sin.

Charles E. Barber



Artistic society was not pleased with the strong-arming of the morally righteous, the actress Ellen Terry was quite vocal in voicing her outrage.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

John Singer Sargent


Tate, London

Ellen Terry found the outrage an example of “extraordinary official Puritanism”. She was incredulous as to how this “beautiful little nude figure of a boy…emblematical of young America” could have caused offense.

Never underestimate the feeble and fearful mind.

She found the work that substituted Saint-Gaudens graceful work distasteful, “I think a commonplace wreath and some lettering were substituted”.

I was unable to find an image of  the caricature which set off the tempest;but my friend Marge Miccio of Artifacts Gallery in my hometown of Trenton provided me with the sanitized medal. The image of Columbus is Saint-Gaudens work, for more info follow this link.

Thank you Marge!

The point being,  Saint-Gaudens work IS  a bit sensual, not unchaste; but certainly his art arouses (pun intended) our attention.

We all know his Diana,



Metropolitan Museum of Art

Clearly a fleshy object of beauty, created close to the time of the boy, yet the erotic overtones were tolerated.

The pretty boy, too much to handle apparently.

I have enjoyed once again poring over Saint-Gaudens work; in my research I stumbled upon this image of a very worldly Augustus with model, Just a bit unchaste.

portrait of Augustus Saint-Gaudens


Anders Zorn


Metropolitan Museum of Art

Another fleshy work is Saint-Gaudens Hiawatha.

Always a favorite when I visit the Met.




Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the end I like to think that even if Saint-Gaudens did not share Wojnarowicz aesthetic sympathies he would have fought for the work to remain. A comrade in arms.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens

b. March 1st 1848

d. August 3rd 1907

In honor of Saint-Gaudens , I will enclose A Fire in My Belly in its entirety.

Have a great evening.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque

Recquiscat in Pace Lady Tee

Posted in Teena Marie on December 27, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Driving home from holiday festivities with the Beloved’s family, I was deeply saddened to hear Teena Marie had passed on.

An early crush, most likely the coolest white lady ever, she  will be missed .

Glamour Princess Mary Christine Brockert

aka Teena Maria, Lady Tee

Lady Tee gave me instant credibilty, when as a young white suburban homo- boy working in a downtown Trenton N.J. cut-rate shoe store ,  I professed my love  for Lady Tee. Because of her talent,and perhaps her relationship with Rick James, there was an instant bond between the “cracker-fag” and my co-workers, primarily urban African American fellows.

Thank you Lady Tee.

And thank you for the music, I loved you.

More info concerning dear Lady Tee, NY Times

Respectfully submitted,


Madonna of the Goldfinch

Posted in Bach, Blessed Virgin Mary on December 22, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As Christmas nears my thoughts turn to the Madonna. I love the universality of the Blessed Mother, there is of course no denying she is a Christian image, but the glories of motherhood expand beyond dogma.

I love the many incarnations she has taken, but a favorite theme is one in which she and the Saviour are playing with a tame goldfinch. I love the domesticity, I of course love the bird, and I love the symbolism.

Madonna of the Goldfinch Giovanni Battista Tiepolo


National Gallery of Art


The Goldfinch

Carel Fabretius


The Hague


The goldfinch most often depicted is not the one I grew up with, the bright yellow beauty;the finch most often depicted has a bright happy red head.

The allegory of the goldfinch stems from thorns and thistles, the spiny thistle a source of food for this dear bird.


The symbolism is rich, the thistles and thorns can be traced from the beginning, in this case Genesis 3:17-18 “…cursed is the ground…it will produce thorns and thistles for you…”. This is of course after the fall of Adam and Eve. The Saviour to come ,will wear a crown of thorns, the thistle of Adam transformed .The goldfinch will affectionately try to relieve His suffering , in doing so blood will mark her little head, forever staining the finch.

The finch is also thought to be a symbol of our souls waiting to be saved.

Much rides on this little bundle of feather and joy.

This little charmer was captured by my dear friend Victor at  his home in  Pittsburgh which he shares with his lovely wife Clare and their enchanting brood.



The Tiepolo I featured first, happens to be a favorite, but it is not the most celebrated, Raffael’s version holds that honor.

Madonna del cardellino




I would like to look at other less familiar yet equally lovely examples; many from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, familiar friends.

The following by Baroccio really delights me, the coloring is exquisite of course; but the interplay between St. John, the finch, and the young cat is beautifully captured.

The Holy Family

Federigo Baroccio

National Gallery


There is a really delightful description of this ethereal painting at this link.

Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Jerome


Francesco Francia

active 1482-d. 1517/18

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madonna and Child with Two Angels

Vittore Crivelli

active 1465-d.1501/02

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madonna and Child


Boccaccio Boccaccino


Metropolitan Museum of Art

A particular favorite follows, I always made a point of visiting this painting. Perhaps it was the odd selection of produce overhead .

The coloring drives me mad. I love how the Child is squeezing the poor little bird just a little too tight, soon he we will be scolded.

Madonna and Child


Carlo Crivelli

active 1457-1493

Metropolitan Museum of Art

I happen to have a client, quite devout, who from time to time I have the opportunity to paint for. On my last trip I painted a small mural incorporating Catholic symbolism. I happened to squeeze in a goldfinch of the bright yellow New Jersey variety as the mistress of the house hales from the same state as the author.

Let’s close with Bach’s Magnificat in honor of the Blessed Mother.

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and soloists directed by Ton Koopman.

Pax Vobiscum

Wishing all a blessed Christmas,

Babylon Baroque

Yuletide Greetings, pining for Apollo

Posted in Apollo, Francois Boucher, Nicholas Poussin, Thor, Tiepolo, YuleGoats!! on December 20, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As the 21st is the Winter Solstice which is to occur 6:38 pm EST, I thought a post ostensibly about the sun appropriate.

Appropriate as Los Angeles is being flooded by rains, the sun so very far away.

Appropriate as I can unearth some images of dear Apollo; my readership seems to spike when I offer  images of male pulchritude.

Apollo and the Continents

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo


The Feast of Saturnalia, traditionally  celebrated on the 17th of December, is part of a long tradition of deep winter festivities.


Antoine-François Callet

18th century

Musée de Louvre

The Roman feast devoted to Sol Invictus, a collective of sun deities, was held on the 25th of December providing a happy “bait and switch” for the early Church.


The image of halos behind  Christian saints stems from the solar rays of Sol Invictus.

The winter solstice has provided  many an excuse worldwide to celebrate;  the winter festivities of  Yule  a colorful example.

I have only just begun to understand the symbolism of the Yule tradition, but the Yule goat, familiar to any IKEA shopper this time of year stems from this winter celebration.

Santa and the Yule Goat

As I am  mad for goats, I was interested to know that the Yule Goat tradition stems from the pair of goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr who were responsible for dragging the god Thor about town.

Thor’s battle with the Ertins


Mårten Eskil Winge

As much as I adore Norse mythology,

the images are often quite chaste, ; given the cold dreariness of LA right now, I desired sensual warmth.

Hence Apollo, gotta love the Greeks.

Apollo, Poetry, & Music

Aimé Millet


Palais Garnier ,Paris


Apollo and Diana


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Apollo and Daphne

Dosso Dossi


Museo e Galleria Borghese

(That green is incredible.)

Apollo e la Sibillia Cumana

17th cent.

Giovanni Domenico Cerrini


Apollo and Two Muses


Pompeo Batoni


Apollo and Daphne


Nicolas Poussin

Apollo Revealing His Divinity to the Shepherdess Isse


Francois Boucher

I appreciate your indulgence.

I send Yuletide greetings, wishing you and your kin great happiness,

Just one more really delightful goat clip, too silly, too sweet.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque

Tannenbaum Thursday, in praise of the spindly ungainly tree

Posted in 19th cent., Christmas Trees, Hans Christian Andersen, Saturnalia on December 16, 2010 by babylonbaroque

This is to be an unabashedly fluffy post, but this is the season of fluff. Even the New York Times indulged in a vacuous piece on designers “zhoosh-ing” trees for clients. I haven’t a clue as to what zhoosh means, it sounds unwholesome, and the results shown were at best predictable.

I have as my “pile” of Internet ephemera has grown to include  more and more holiday images, been inclined to pine (pun intended) for the ungainly, unstudied trees of the late 19th -early 20th century.

This marvel, replete with patriotic little flags is so much more enchanting then the offerings of this morning’s Home section.

Perhaps we have lost the charm of just “making do” when trimming a tree, a birds nest here, a Chinese puppet above,a hobgoblin tucked there; the mish-mash approach is far more visually satisfying then the self consciously decorated trees I see here in Tinsletown.

Again, I just have always loved little flags tucked into trees, I have trimmed my own trees in this manner for years. I am still surprised at how many folks assume I am some sort of right wing nationalist zealot.

I also believe you can’t have too many homemade garlands, paper, popped corn, berries, or cones, all delight.

Perhaps the great appeal of these wonky little trees is the fantasy that they were selected and culled by the family enjoying them.

A far cry from the mono culture of today’s farms.

A disheartening image .

My own tree I am ashamed to say is an artificial “pencil’ tree ( pre-lit, I know, I know…) from Target, a far cry from my fantasy; but from the street, five stories up, it evokes the spirit I so love.

The following sweet image of rugged men around their own little “feather” tree really tickles me. I love the little paper garlands we all were forced to make in grade school.

More flags!

A Facebook friend posted this clip from 1898, it really is too wonderful not to share.

Children may love the sparkle of Christmas morn, but they aren’t alone…

Concerning Christmas Trees some options are just not Kosher…

Purple Pencil Trees &…

bling bedazzled, knee-sock wearing Santas &

Perhaps the most poignant image of Christmas is the few days after, my heart has always broken seeing forlorn holiday trees abandoned to the trash heap. My sympathy may stem from my childhood reading of Hans Christian Andersen’s heart-wrenching fairy tale The Fir Tree read it here and weep. When I do have a live tree, I always remember to leave a few ornaments on the tree when I place it on the curb. A fond memento for a happy time.

As tomorrow is the traditional day for the ancient Roman festival honoring the god Saturn, I wish you all a most Joyous Saturnalia!

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque

Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Posted in Alphonse Mucha, Blessed Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili, Me, Otto Mueller, Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Although it is difficult to forget Her feast day in this City of Angels, I did.

Driving around the streets of Boyle Heights , exploring with the Beloved, I stumbled upon many charming vignettes dedicated  to Marian devotion.

Somewhere in Boyle Heights

I particularly love the images of household necessities flanking the deity.

The tale of Juan diego’s encounter on December 9th 1531 is well known.In 1754 Benedict XIV declared the Guadalupe as Patroness of New Spain.

This official recognition of this unusual apparition would henceforth inspire fierce devotion and nationalistic pride.

If the Spaniards thought that switching the goddess Tonantzin with a brown skinned Madonna would secure indigenous loyalty to the Mother Church; they probably hadn’t counted on Miguel Hidalgo’s rallying his countrymen to revolution with his 1810 Cry of Independence, “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgin of Guadalupe”.

Standard of Miguel Hidalgo



It is difficult to not feel that Virgin of Guadalupe has been used as a political tool for multiple agendas.

She isn’t the first incarnation of maternity to have aroused controversy, Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996) comes to mind. This painting caused a bit of a row in 1999 when it was part of the Brooklyn Museum’ s Sensation exhibition. Although the painting in my opinion is inoffensive, the controversy arose when area Catholics objected to Ofili’s use of elephant dung as one of the materials used to create the image. Ofili had used elephant dung in previous works as an exploration of his Nigerian heritage. That was not how the area Catholics saw it; the Holy Mother was being defamed.

The Holy Virgin Mary


Chris Ofili

b. October 10th 1968

Manchester, England


more info

Alphonse Mucha expressed his outrage at the cultural excesses of the Austro Hungarian empires desire to annihilate Czech culture. His 1912 poster the Lottery of National Unity was an elegant campaign for funds needed  to support the private schools devoted to preserving the Czech language in the face of Teutonic repression.

Lottery of National Unity


Alphonse Mucha


Although I have little to substantiate the claim  I personally  believe the German Expressionist painting by Otto Mueller (1874-1930)  The Polish Family expresses similar outrage at injustice.

The Polish Family

Otto Mueller


The unconventional interpretations of the Virgin inspired me to create  my own, drawing upon my brief tutelage under the Russian iconographer Vladislav Andreyev I attempted to create a visual Act of Contrition for Western Excess. Upon a base of reclaimed plywood, I assembled a day’s worth of my recycled trash. It is telling that although the plywood was 4 feet by 3, I was unable to make use of it all. The following is the modest result of my efforts, I am afraid it was perhaps best left as a theory. I appreciate your indulgence.

Our Lady of Perpetual Refuse

by the author


Please enjoy this feast day as it draws to a near, if you are as fortunate as I am to be able to stumble upon impromptu shrines, enjoy them for their charm and heartfelt sentiment.

Take care, and have a marvelous week.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque

Friday Frivolity

Posted in Nicholas Poussin on December 10, 2010 by babylonbaroque

After a particularly harrowing week, Moses passing into the care of Charon and finals week; I feel a well earned period of joy is due.

Date night with the Beloved perhaps an appropriate kick off…

Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan

Nicholas Poussin


National Gallery, London

Wishing  joy to all,

Babylon Baroque

The Red Shoes in Brooklyn

Posted in Hans Christian Andersen on December 10, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I stumbled upon a review in the New York Times last month, methodically filing it away for a future post. Alas life and school intruded.

It was a review for a new production of Hans Christian Andersen’s very macabre The Red Shoes , this production appears particularly gruesome.

Kneehigh Theatre production of the Red shoes

Through Dec. 12th 2010

I’m not sure what dear Han’s would think of this staging; but it isn’t at all surprising that this dark tale found such a bloody expression.

Although Andersen may have preferred a less confrontational interpretation,

the Kneehigh production certainly seems engaging. I wish I were on the East Coast, for I certainly would attempt to grab a seat before it closes on Sunday.

Hans Christian Andersen

b. April 2nd 1805

d. August 4th 1875

painting by Christian Albrecht Jensen


You might want to re-read his marvelous tale for yourself, it has been ages since I last read Andersen’s work, it is still quite captivating.

Although I may prefer more conventional interpretations,


After seeing the “trailer” from the Kneehigh production, the 1947 film version seems particularly insipid.

In the end, I really enjoy how our cultural heritage is so open to interpretation; this doll shocked and intrigued me, still not sure what I feel about it.


a bit of a stretch from this…

Putting this together I was thinking of my kind friend Kendra of the truly wonderful blog Porcelains and Peacocks. We share a love for the work of Andersen, and many other great tales from our childhood. I want to share my favorite  HCA story with Kendra ( and whoever else may be interested)  The Old House. It is a viually rich story of the life and death of an old house, creeky, outdated, richly ornamented, it seemed magical when I was a boy. Andersen had a special gift in making inanimate object seem sentient, because of that empathy, I became more inclined to be sensitive. Often when I am brash and self centered I remember Andersen’s tales of doomed houses and chipped mandarin tchotchke.

Have a great weekend,

Babylon Baroque

Feast Day of Saint Nicholas of Myra, in memory of Moses.

Posted in Ilya Repin, Moses, Nicholas of Myra, Philadelphia, R.I.P. on December 6, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I had been planning this post as today is the feast day of Blessed Nicholas of Myra, patron of thieves, sailors, students, and children. Unfortunately yesterday was an unhappy day here in Babylon,our dear cat Moses had to be put down.

I dedicate this post to his fuzzy memory.

Saint Nicholas of Myra

270 AD

6th December 336 AD

The Bishop of Myra, Nicholas is often referred to as Nikolas the Wonderworker, he is the model for our beloved Sinterklaas, Santa Claus.

As the Wonderworker, the Bishop was known for many miracles.


This 19th century prayer card illustrates one such miracle, a particularly grisly tale. A famine had struck , starvation rampant, an evil Butcher lures three little boys to his home, the Evil butcher swiftly slaughters the wee ones, expertly butchering them and cures them as hams for market. Beloved Nicholas, sees through this false marketing and resurrects the little ones.

Tales like this little gem are the reason I cannot abandon the Church.

The following image by the masterful Ilya Repin illustrates a similar tale but I have yet found specifics. It is of course a marvelous image, Repin spun magic.

Saint nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents from Death


Ilya Yefimovich Repin


The State Russian Museum

Nicholas is of course most famous for his charity.

The most famous tale being of a poor fellow with three young daughters ( three being a theme);poor fellow is unable to provide a dowry for the lasses. Nichiolas seeing the man’s dire situation saves the girls from a life of slavery and prostitution. Nicholas also spares the fellow’s pride by tossing three bags of gold through an open window.

Another tale, is Nicholas tosses the bags down the chimney, in their descent they land in the stockings that have been left by the hearth to dry.

Gentile De Fabriano

ca, 1425

We have certainly strayed a bit from the origin of this tale in the excesses of our  celebration of Christmas.

We may have strayed, but Nicholas understood his charity as symbolic of a greatness beyond his own actions.

He is famous for saying”The Giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves”.

I need to keep that in mind.

The Virgin and Child with St. Julian and St. Nicholas of Myra

ca. 1490-92

Lorenzo Di Credi

Musée de Louvre

A novena to Saint Nicholas , Bishop of Myra is available here.

As I mentioned we lost our dear cat Moses yesterday.

Moses was fourteen, born on the streets of Philly, feral, spooked, and beautiful.

He suffered from an anxiety that left him ambivalent about affection.

He demanded love, yet would swat you away if you nuzzled too closely.

Moses was a grey Manx, he hopped like a bunny perhaps due to the absence of a tail.

Poor bugger suffered with cystitis throughout the fourteen years, awakening us in his kittenhood with the most chilling scream. He continued with painful outbreaks throughout his life; we dealt with them as best as we could.

For the most part we managed his suffering, he rewarded us with dead lizards he proudly hunted down.

Moses 1996

His anxiety and grumpiness earned him the nickname Moses Bin Laden.

He was a funny boy, demanding, affectionate, vocal.

We missed not hearing his 6 am wake up yowl this morning.

Recquiscat in Pace Moses.



5th December 2010

Take care dear boy.

Saturday Morning Cartoons, Krtek the Mole

Posted in 20th century, animation, Krtek the Mole, Zdenĕk Miler on December 4, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Like a school boy hounded by peer pressure, I have switched my Facebook profile image to a cartoon character.

The theory is if all profiles are switched to cartoon figures, children will no longer suffer abuse. I wish it were that easy, but awareness cannot be a bad thing.

That said, the FB instructions were to pick a beloved childhood animated character. I was befuddled  as I didn’t have one. Would a character from Punch magazine count? I doubted it. So I went google searching and stumbled upon this very adorable little critter Krtek the Mole.

Krtek the Mole

by Zdenĕk Miler

born 1921


I was a snotty little boy I really disliked Disney, the Flintstones bugged me because they only had one background frame; woe to the schoolyard chum who dared ask me for a  rendering  of the Mouse, no ten year old had such withering contempt as this little sissy-boy-artiste.

For all of our Red-White-&-Blue bashing of godless Commies, we failed to produce anything as charming and uplifting as Miler’s Krtek.

The series first appeared in 1956 in Soviet Era Prague, it appears to have continued until 2002. The artist is still alive, but does not appear to be currently working on the series.  A loss.

how cute is this?

Although the 1956 episode was narrated ,subsequent episode were not. Like a silent film star, Krtek and his buddies, Rabbit and Hedgehog express themselves through facial/body movements, exclamations, and delightful music, provided by Vadim Petrov.  Miler’s noble intention was for his utopian vision to be available to all children, worldwide.  He succeeded.

Zdenĕk Miler

1921 to present


Thank you Mr. Miler for a delightful Saturday Morning!

Have a great weekend,

Babylon Baroque