Archive for October, 2011

Ghoulish Greetings II

Posted in Apollo, Death & the Maiden, Halloween, Meso-american art, Xipe Totec with tags on October 30, 2011 by babylonbaroque

This is my second attempt at this post, the first having mysteriously disappeared, spooky.

 In my ongoing effort to better appreciate the elusive qualities of Mesoamerican art, the Better Half aand I spent our friday date night exploring the galleries of Ancient American art at LACMA. It really is a wonderful gallery, very broad in its scope, a true treasure trove. But amongst the calligraphic beauty of gracefully decorated Mayan ceramics and the beguiling jadeite baubles, there are many ghoulish artifacts of a culture long lost.

Mosaic Skull

Western Oaxaco or Puebla


human skull with inlaid turquoise, jadeite and shell


 Mexico is of course well known for its ornamental use of skulls ; living in LA, particularly this time of year, it is difficult to avoid their toothy grins. But as I explore Mesoamerican art more thoughtfully I am better understanding the cultural significance of these ghoulish delights. What I had initially dismissed as a taste for the macabre now holds greater significance; renewal of life lies at the heart of this obsession with death.

Given the season, I thought a little sampling of our recent visit was in order.

The following shell pendant is quite a delight, very small and of obvious appeal to modern taste.

Skull Pendant

Mexico, Aztec

1350- 1520



This ceramic censor has similar appeal.

Skull Shaped Censor





 I’m afraid the following hasn’t any charm at all, in fact it is quite terrifying.

It is an image fashioned of basalt in which a priest is garbed in the flayed flesh of a sacrificial victim. This costume, part of a spring equinox ritual, in which the priest is dressed as the god Xipe Totec, Our Lord of the Flayed One. The celebrant will wear this horrifying ensemble for 21 days, at which time, the flesh rotting off his body, he will emerge reborn.


But as my professor wisely pointed out, flaying seems to be a universal vice, one need to look no further then Apollo and Marsyas.

With that point made, I quickly fell off my Eurocentric high-horse.

A play upon Death and the Maiden, the beloved posing for scale and for cuteness.

Male Figure in Guise of Xipe Totec

 Mexico, Aztec




A western version of a similar image, equally ghoulish, but from my perspective more poetic.

Bartolomeo Manfredi

Apollo and Marsyas


oil on canvas

Saint Louis Art Museum

With that, I will close this post, i must rush off to the gym to fend off Death and renew this aging bag of bones.

Have quite a Happy Halloween!

Take care,

Babylon Baroque

The Consequence of Beauty

Posted in 16th cent, 17th century, Baroque, Nautilus Shells on October 25, 2011 by babylonbaroque

I consider myself relatively sensitive to God’s lesser creatures, I am essentially vegetarian (aside from the fish that I guiltily consume), I try to avoid leather, I am unaware of friends possessing garments made of fur, and of course dogs are a burning issue.

That said todays paper pointed out the atrocious exploitation of the nautilus. According to the article, millions have been slaughtered to satisfy our desire for the pretty shell. I stand amongst that crowd of greedy collectors, my own curiosity cabinet contains a few. I won’t purchase anymore, but I am appalled at my own insensitivity. I hadn’t really thought of the pretty shell as  having once belonged to this spectacular and ancient creature. I rather just accepted the shell as being something to collect and admire, my ignorance is disturbing. 

Source: Today’s New York Times

To celebrate this poor creature, I will, rather perversely highlight a few particularly lovely examples of how the creature’s sacrifice was made seemingly worthwhile, at least from an aesthetic perspective.

Nautilus Snail


nautilus shell, silver gilt 

Wadsworth Athaneum



silver gilt, polished shell

Not a nautilus shell but quite beautiful AND someone’s home

Victoria & Albert Museum

Nautilus Cup

mid 17th cent.

nautilus shell, silver gilt

Wadsworth Athaneum

I don’t believe these courtly objects were the cause of the near demise of the nautilus; it is of course the gross exploitation that pumps out hideous baubles. As the biologist Peter D. Ward, as quoted in today’s New York times states, “A horrendous slaughter is going on out here.” We need to be mindful of that. I for one will be less glib, and less tempted to purchase shells, no matter how beautiful they may be.

Until take time, take care,

Babylon Baroque

Vanquishing Goliath

Posted in 16th cent, Castiglione, David, Donatello, Machiavelli, Medici, Pontormo on October 19, 2011 by babylonbaroque

I have as I have mentioned been preoccupied with course work, it has been a rigorous class. With mixed emotions, this class is ending Saturday, the upside being more time for “life”, this blog being part of that. The downside, I will truly miss the thoughtful conversation. That said, I am posting the intro to my paper Vanquishing Goliath, I have focused my research on Machiavelli’s The Prince and Castiglione’s The Courtier.

I argue my point concerning the superiority of Castiglione’s patrician approach versus Machiavelli’s pragmatic ruthlessness.

To illustrate the this point I open with Donatello’s David.

The following is a snippet:

In the courtyard of Medici’s palace stood a lithesome boy cast of bronze, the first free standing bronze of a male nude since antiquity. This depiction of David by Donatello created sometime between 1420 and 1440 was of such loveliness that Giorgio Vasari, author of The Lives of the Artists, describes it thusly “This statue is so natural in its vitality and delicacy that other artisans find it impossible to believe that the work is not moulded around a living body.” (152).




bronze, life size

Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

This “delicate “ depiction of David, the very symbol of Florence and her might (Donatello had fashioned a previous depiction of the brave youth in marble,



and Michelangelo’s monumental representation is of course iconic)

stood triumphant in Cosimo’s courtyard,

heralding Medici majesty and humanist accomplishments. But Donatello’s vision of David is a peculiar one, this ephebe with laurelled chapeau and dainty boots,

sartorial accessories that only emphasize his nakedness, has a suggestive lilt to his hip that seems far more provocative then classical contrapposto. Is this louche boy really the most appropriate means of depicting fair Florence?

 To the fiery Savonarola surely this pretty boy would represent the debauched excesses of the Medici court.

Girolamo Savonarola


 To Niccolò Machiavelli, this very public display of magnificence was in sharp contrast to his dictate that a ruler must abstain from profligacy.

Niccolò Machiavelli


The Medici’s would fail time and again to heed his warning “…that when princes have given more thought to personal luxuries then to arms, they have lost their state.”  (Jacobus ed., 40); we are fortunate that his advice fell upon deaf ears.

Jacopo Pontormo

Portrait Cosimo il Vecchio de Medici


oil on canvas

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

 Gilded laurels to this fine “prince”.

Thank you for the indulgence,

until next time, take care,

Babylon Baroque

Remembrance of a Dark Day

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15, 2011 by babylonbaroque

Another year, another remembrance of that dark October noonday in which Marie Antoinette lost her head. A blow to Catholic monarchy, but a deeper blow to humanity; man’s brute ruthlessness exhibited its might.

I won’t bore my readers with my oft repeated monarchist drivel, I will instead commemorate her sad day with a few images.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

anonymous artist, engraving, 18th cent.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

b. 2nd November 1755

d.16th October 1793, 12:15 pm

Recquiscat in Pace 

Plaque of Marie Antoinette

Josia Wedgewood and Sons


Victoria and Albert Museum

For quite some time I had been in the habit of featuring a chair, often once a week. I haven’t for some time, but this beauty popped up and I could not resist, as it was made for her most holy highness.


Maker Jean Baptiste Claude Sené


Victoria and Albert Museum

print after work by Jean Baptiste-Andre Gautier-Dagony



I thought I would close with this recording of Stabat Mater by Vivaldi, it is very beautiful and felt fitting.

Recquiscat in Pace dear Queen.

Until next,

take care,

Babylon Baroque

On a personal note, a fellow(s) and his dogs

Posted in Me, Pugs on October 12, 2011 by babylonbaroque

For my Facebook friends, pardon the redundancy, but for my other readers, just a little snippet of my personal life. I live in a dog friendly neighborhood, so much so that my neighbor, the photographer Scott Witter  has put together a series entitled Dog People. My daily walks with the four beasts , two carried about in a flamboyant John Deere wagon aroused Scott’s attention. He graciously asked us to be part of his series. We of course were tickled, the result follows.

photograph by Scott Witter

Family Portrait

The Better Half, buddy the daschund, Rose the tripod  pug-dog, Speck, the most perfect chihuahua, and Viola the pug-dog


click on image to enlarge

Arts district , Los Angeles Not only was Scott gracious enough to include our little family in his project, he named us “Dog People of the Day”, blog post follows.

Thank you Scott!

Happy 182nd Birthday to our 21st President

Posted in 19th Century, Aesthetic Movement, President Chester Arthur, Tiffany & Comp., White House on October 4, 2011 by babylonbaroque

The 5th of October is President Arthur’s birthday, he is probably my favorite president for all the wrong reasons.He wasn’t in office for terribly long, frankly if Garfield hadn’t been shot we probably wouldn’t remember Arthur. But Garfield was shot, and Arthur became our dandiest president ever. I am so terribly fond of him not because of policy or programs but because he took such a keen interest in redecorating the White House. I’ve explored this theme before, so i will not bore you with details, for a refresher check out this earlier post.

So happy happy Mr. President, thank you for making the White House , at least for a short moment such an aesthetic wonderland.

Chester A. Arthur

21st President of the United States of America

b. October 5th 1829

d. November 18th 1886

Recquiscat in Pace

A bit of the Chester-Tiffany magic, see post for more details.

Reconstruction of the Blue Room under President Arthur, pure magic.

Until next time,

good night,

Babylon Baroque

Philoctetes, Nasty Snake Bites and Traitorous Comrades (plus other hot, fallen, half -naked guys)

Posted in Babylon Beefcake, Guido Reni, Hercules, LACMA, Mantegna, Philoctetes on October 3, 2011 by babylonbaroque

The better half is writing an article on Philoctetes, the Greek warrior favored by Herakles,  who suffered a snake wound, abandonment by his comrades and psychological agony.

My task of course was to find suitable images.

So here they are.

Nicolai AbrahamAbildgaard

The Wounded Philoctetes


Upon entering his own funeral pyre, Hercules entrusted Philoctetes with his bow and poisoned arrows, with which Philoctetes shot Paris. A final victory for the Greeks in the Trojan War.

His comrades proved to be far less valiant.

Guido Reni

Heracles and the Hydra (snake theme)


Philoctetes and his mates were advised by an oracle to make a sacrifice to the  god Chryse. As Philoctetes had made a  similar sacrifice with Hercules in his youth, (the two seemed to be un-naturally close) Philoctetes was chosen to lead the way. As first man in line, he encounters a snake and suffers a vicious bite.

Nicolas Poussin

Landscape with a Man Frightened by a Snake


Montreal Museum of Fine Art

(interesting note, this painting was purchased by the Bloomsbury artist duncan Grant in 1920)

So painful the bite, his howling made the sacrifice impossible to perform. Irritated by his incessant agony and quite stinky festering wound, his loyal comrades abandon him to the nearby island of Lemnos. As Hephaestus had his own foul smelling shop there no one would be bothered by his wails and stench.

Nice fellows.

Jean Germain Drovais 1763-1788

Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos


Andrea Mantegna



Frankly, not sure how the story ends, seems to be a bunch of angst, will need to read the Beloved’s paper.

Until then, beefcake with wounds.

Jean-Simon Berthélemy 1743-1811

Death of a Gladiator

(I know not Greek, but hot, and a local favorite)



It has been quite some time since I posted but early in September, the very handsome Andy Whitfield died, without being glib, he was known for having played a particularly striking gladiator. I confess I have never seen the show, but this Welshman, of quite striking looks was difficult not to notice. To die so young, 39, adds to the pathos. 

Recquiscat in Pace

I appreciate the patience of my readers, my classes have been quite difficult, even this abbreviated post has taken me away from tasks that need attending to. Until next time, take care, Babylon Baroque