Archive for August, 2011

Poussin and the Exquisite Corpse

Posted in 17th century, Exquisite Corpse, Nicholas Poussin on August 28, 2011 by babylonbaroque

In my seemingly unending love affair with Nicholas Poussin, I have been visiting my local museums paying homage to his paintings. Last weekend my search led me to the Getty Center, this week , that jewel box nestled in Pasadena, the Norton Simon. Desperate perhaps to soak up some of Poussin’s mastery, I study  his paintings very closely. There is of course his signature subtle brushwork, the quiet palette and that calm that Poussin is so well known; but I have been noticing another tendency, the Ashen Mask. By studying reproductions I first became aware of this , but when I visited the Norton Simon, I was struck by the ashen faced villain depicted in Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii.

I assume Poussin is merely depicting the Schoolmaster’s loathsome temperament by casting his face with a deathly pallor. But Poussin seems to have delighted in depicting fallen figures, often heroically , often of exquisite beauty.

Nicolas Poussin

Tancred and Erminia

c. 1634

oil on canvas

 The Barber institute of Fine Arts 

click image to enlarge, same for all subsequent images.

Capturing the vitality of the flesh seems of less importance to Poussin, he left that to Caravaggio; Poussin’s inspiration was classical Rome, his desire, to capture the grace of her antiquities. He of course succeeded, the chill is what draws me in, this reserve has me banging at his studio door wanting more, like a desperate suitor.

The door is closed, and I can only grapple with the opinions of scholars far more knowledgeable then this admirer with his schoolboy crush.

I will continue to admire, study and observe, humbled by his greatness, I hesitate to use  genius as it is so often evoked (particularly in Los Angeles),  that  the word appears trite, which would not be my intention.

I settle upon greatness.

Venus Weeping over Adonis


Musée des Beaux-Arts

 What I love is how in the same year, Poussin, used the mirrored image in his Lamentation.

Virginal  grief and erotic loss splitting our heroines with tremendous pain. The character I believe to be the Magdalene, is particularly heart wrenching.



Alte Pinakothek

The fallen son is exquisite.

Death as personified by Plague was a popular theme, not just for Poussin; it is difficult to visit any museum with a collection of   16th-17th century works and NOT encounter Rome littered with ashen infants and wailing mothers. Poussin’s depiction of Plague herself is incredible in the following painting.

The Apparition of St. Francesco Romana



This may be my favorite painting by Poussin, the Louvre link offers very interesting notes concerning the painting’s history.

An example of the aforementioned Plague genre by the master.

The Plague of Ashdod


Musée du Louvre

I will close with a few snapshots of the Norton Simon Poussin, details of the Ashen Mask.


Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii


Norton Simon

The following details offer examples of manliness untarnished by the Schoolmasters sins, their flesh robust and sound.

Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii

School begins tomorrow, I have an insane schedule, my posts may be more infrequent yet. I will try to squeeze in a few , but until that time I leave you with a link to a contemporary version of the Surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse. The link is epic as described, interactive and online, for those with Luddite tendencies, myself included, here is a link to the game played with traditional paper and pencil, Directions to an Exquisite Corpse.

 Until next time,

take care,

Babylon Baroque

The Warren Cup Revisted

Posted in Antinous, Edward Perry Warren, Rodin, Warren Cup on August 22, 2011 by babylonbaroque

Gentle Readers please be advised that the following images are sexually explicit ;I believe quite beautiful, but explicit.

With that out of the way, I would like to revisit the Warren Cup, now in the holdings of the British Museum. I have become quite addicted to the now defunct but still readily available BBC podcast series A History of the World in 100 Objects, well worth a visit to the I-tunes store. That said one of the 100 objects examined was the Warren Cup; a slightly wonky silver vessel, crafted 15BC-15AD with images of love hammered from within.

I first encountered this bit of wonder several years back when I read John R. Clarke’s Looking At Lovemaking, Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art 100B.C. -A.D. 250 (well worth a visit to Amazon). When I encountered the vessel I really was taken aback, the images were sexually raw yet the figures were rendered with such loveliness.

Prudery would have to relent to Beauty.

You can imagine my pleasure when the august BBC decided to discuss the intricacies of the  orgy scene in surprisingly frank detail. I cannot imagine an institution in the United States being  so willing.


Warren Cup

15 BC-AD 15

British Museum

It really was delightful,the very direct discussion concerning images that may make so many folks squirm; the BBC boldly discussed the uncomfortable issue of age difference, placing the issue into its social context. I confess a certain discomfort with the topic, but the BBC rather blithely went about its business analyzing the social significance of the cup without bigotry or harsh judgement.

In this image the slightly older Erastes has his way with the younger Eromenos; Erastes and Eromenos, so much nicer then Top and Bottom.

Of course this talk of bearded men with beardless youth calls to mind the most famous of such couples, Hadrian and Antinous. 


110-130 A.D.

For a saucier image of dear Hadrian and Antinous, I recommend Édouard-Henri Avril’s illustration of the two randy fellows.I’m afraid I haven’t the nerve to post them myself. For more naughty bits I suggest this link for a larger collection of Avril’s illustrations.

The Warren Cup is so named because of its previous owner, the American art collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928). The Warren Cup seems to perfectly illustrate Warren’s own  views concerning male-male romance. This topic is explored in his  A Defence of Uranian Love, and he was romantically linked with the archeologist Sir John Hubert Marshall ( 1876-1958) , a fellow 16 years his junior. To further explore this relationship I suggest Bachelors of Art: Edward Perry Warren & the Lewes House Brotherhood, it’s on my “wish list”.  John Marshall would go on as Director of Archaeological Survey, India, ordering the important excavations at Harappa, the famed Indus seals the result. The BBC lists the Indus seals as one of the 100 important objects but fails to link Marshall with Warren; perhaps liberal tolerance goes only so far.

Warren’s interest in sexually charged art was not limited to homoerotic goblets, he is most famous for commissioning Rodin’s The Kiss.Whether he was antagonizing the locals of Lewes, when he tried donating the piece, I do not know; the Sussex worthies deemed the work “too big and too nude”.

Auguste Rodin

The Kiss 



Tate Collection

What on earth would they have made of his Cup?

In closing I need to thank “Ned”Warren for his progressive views and exceptional eye, exempting The Kiss perhaps.

Edward Perry Warren

b. June 8 1860

d. December 28th 1928

Until next time, take care,

Babylon Baroque

Post Script, for more info concerning Hadrian and Antinous I suggest this link, hosted by a reader.

The Cycle Continues, Vanitas, Aging and the Inevitable

Posted in 16th cent, Aubrey Beardsley, Death & the Maiden, Hans Baldung Grien, Me on August 15, 2011 by babylonbaroque

Perhaps it is merely a symptom of my summer holiday nearing to its close.

The Spouse and I spent several halcyon days in San Francisco , our daily anxieties pushed aside. But we have now returned to our regular concerns.

Upon this return,  I have been re-experiencing a bit of depression ; it might be a symptom of my own aging ( I recently turned one year shy of five decades). When I see myself in the mirror, it causes me pause. This reflection causes me to look more deeply at my situation. I attempt to avoid morbidity ( as natural an inclination as that may be for me) but one cannot escape the sand slipping through hourglass. This is a fact that I am becoming increasingly more aware of. The fortunate effect of this awareness  is that  I am now struggling with my own authenticity more aggressively. The notion of Vanitas, not merely personal admiration, but the silly distractions that seems to rear up time and again, is of pressing interest .

I am actively trying to recognize the temptation of such follies when they cross my daily path, with that in mind, my attention turns to Hans Baldung -Grien. I can think of few artists who explored the notion of Vanitas more thoroughly. I have taken impish delight in his menacing skeletal Deaths cavorting with oblivious Maidens for years; but  I am now  looking more closely. I have actually never seen a Baldung in the flesh (so to speak), only from illustrations; but even from such inferior sources I am aware of the richness of his understanding. This former apprentice of the great Dürer seems to have captured the universal struggles of Man: the conflict between  fragile beauty and pleasure and  the inflexible wall of eternity, our own  brief moment, and what we must do with it.

Baldung captured the gravitas and left room for a smile.

 Hans Baldung Grien



Death and the Maiden


oil on limewood

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

I particularly admire the theThree Ages being depicted in one panel, her infant self toying innocently with the veil (of Life?), her lovely Maiden self deeply absorbed in her  own beauty, how can one blame her?, her middle- aged, sobered Crone  rushing froward to fend away Death.

I find myself more and more identifying with the sobered Crone.

Death and the Maiden


oil on panel

 Öffentliche Kunstsammluna, Basel

Our fair Maiden seems to have lost the battle.

Three Ages of Man


oil on panel

Museo del Prado

I find the landscape of particular interest, the owl such a curious figure.

One of my own paintings has been accepted in a juried show; in order to avoid further Vanitas it is worth noting that the show is in Glendale California at the Brand Library and Art Gallery.

Glendale is perhaps best remembered as the provincial  backwater that drove dear Veda to distraction (and murder?) in the marvelous Mildred Pierce.

That said I am of course pleased.

The painting is my own modest exploration of Vanitas, it is about two years old; at the time I was a bit intrigued with LA’s Low-Brow movement, that interest has passed, but the painting lingers, a testament to Vanitas on multiple levels. 

by the author

 Nod to Aubrey


acrylic and canvas, gold leaf

 As the title suggests, the painting it is my own play on the great Aubrey Beardsley and his fascinating depictions of fetus. They have captured my imagination for years and I wished to explore the theme myself. It of course was natural/predictable to include a Death figure.

By the great A.B of course , marvelous, creepy fetus and an odd-ball assortment of fiends.

I will close with a few more images of Baldung, he not only depicted the Three Ages with much understanding, he tackled the Fall of Man time and again. What I found so interesting with the following image is that instead of poor beleaguered Eve being depicted as the Eternal Temptress once again, Adam seems to be the culprit to our Downfall. He is at the very least a lascivious accomplice. 

Adam and Eve


oil on panel

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

I will close with one last image, a detail from another Adam and Eve (1524), because he is quite a fetching Adam.

I refuse to resist Vanitas completely!

Adam and Eve , detail of Adam


oil on panel

Szépmûvészeti Museum, Budapest

I appreciate your indulgence i f I tended towards the maudlin.

Until next time, I wish you well,

Babylon Baroque