Hades I “Serapeum”

I

… is gelukkig niet echt … eg … eg echt weg
Al weet zij er heg noch steg
In haar rode jurk, blauwe jurk
Rood-blauwe bloemenjurk.

Want het stroomt, alles.
Alles stroomt. Volgens de analoog pathonoom
Is de taartpunt de oorsprong van lipogenese.
Lipopotamus in de Po Popotomac.
Het zwaarste beest in een beest van een kist.
Een granieten kist, diep, diep onder het woestijnzand.
Waar het tentdoek klappert in de hete wind.

Salmonella, Salporeum, Peristilium, Peristalticus.
Serapis, Sepaleum, Serapeum. Apis, Apis!
Waar zijt gij Apis?
Uw kolossale sarcofaag is leeg. Hoe!
Hoe kregen ze dat voor elkaar? Hoe?
Meneer de pathograaf, hoe?

“Ik ben autonoom pathograaf. Ex Officio, zogezegd.
Van de Oostelijke Necropool.”
“Dank u. Aangenaam.”
“Insgelijks.”
Lino, linoleums; de zwartste de eerste.
Ik vind het, vind het, want het…

Naar mijn Nederlandse website voor een toelichting.

English translation*

I

… is not really re re really gone, fortunately
Although she is lost
In her red dress, blue dress
Red-blue flowery dress.

Because it all flows, everything.
Everything is in flux. According to the analogous pathonomist
The piece of cake is the origin of lipogenesis.
Lipopotamus in the Po Popotomac.
The heaviest beast in a beastly coffin.
A chest of granite, deep, deep under the sand of the desert.
Where hot winds flap the canvas of the tent.

Salmonella, Salporeum, Peristilium, Peristalticus.
Serapis, Sepaleum, Serapeum. Apis, Apis!
Apis, where art thou?
Your colossal sarcophagus is empty. How!
How did they do it? How?
Mister pathograph, how?

“I am the autonomous pathographer. Ex Officio, so to say.
Of the Eastern Necropolis.”
“Many thanks. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.”
Lino, linoleums; the blackest go first.
I will find it, find it, because it…

Comment

* Ok, I’m not really a translator by trade, so probably someone else might do a better job translating my own poems. When I write in English, official documents, or literary text, poems, or haiku’s, I find it much less difficult to find the right words, because they come to me in English. The poem in Dutch is the first of a series of 48 poems that I will post from today on. They consist primarily of associations, colours, moods, that are derived from a period of uneasy sleep in which I became semi-conscious about the idiotic stuff my mind was producing, while at the same time I more or less realised how closely James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ actually approaches dream language. So while floating back and forth between waking and sleeping, at the same time suffering from a bad white wine induced splitting headache, an uncontrollable ‘stream of semi-consciousness’ flowed through my mind. I was standing on the river bank of this stream with a little net, trying to catch some of the jewels that shot past me like small silvery fish. Mostly neologisms, or concatenations of loosely related words, partly repetitive images, talking heads. It was quite fearsome.

This morning I started drafting the first poems in a notebook with 96 pages. I use the recto-side and leave the verso open for notes and clues, hence the 48 poems.

Inspired by the strange phenomenon of “Masquerade” by Kit Williams in the late seventies, I decided to start illustrating this work in progress, and to inoculate the poems with a serum of clues that will eventually lead the person who finds the solution to the location of the Underworld where the likes of Euridice, Orpheus, and Beatrice were lost, and found, and lost. There will be a prize. More details will follow.

See for my Dutch site, freshly started, for an introduction in Dutch.

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“Is this a… what day is this?”

Is this a... what day is this? Figurine of The Dude, Jefrey Lebowski.
“Is this a… what day is this?”

Heavy books and the Royal Collection

Today I would like to share some images taken from two large books that belonged to my great-aunt. To say she was an eccentric lady is an understatement. Life-long spinster, smoking like a chimney, a voice like a drill-sergeant, she travelled the world in cargo-ships, found these books who-knows-where and shipped them to her gloomy apartment in The Hague. When I was still a child I tried to escape from the intense and smokey family gatherings in her boudoir by sitting in a corner of the room and slowly turning the large pages, pretending to be completely absorbed by the content.

The room was filled to the brim with ominous cabinets, large and extremely dangerous furniture, and frightening paintings of big nude women that seemed to want to jump off the wall. The experience was suffocating, to say the least. As these gatherings were traditionally held on January 1st, the weather was invariably gloomy and the world was shrouded in the deepest darkness. As I sat in that distant corner my rib-cage hurt, and I thought I would not live to the end of the dreadful evening. It was probably just a mixture of growing pains and melancholy. It was the sixties and all adults continuously drank and smoked cigarettes.

My great-aunt noticed my interest in the engravings (I did not know what they were then), and declared with a loud booming hoarse voice: “Aha! The lad likes the books. He likes art. So when I’m dead, he will have them.” Well … she eventually died. But the bequest seemed to be forgotten by everyone, except my cousin, who kept the books safe for years, and then decided it was time to hand them over, also because he needed the living space they claimed, living in a large city. Battered and damaged from the outside, the engravings are still in very good condition. I have stored them away from my house in a safe place and sometimes take them home to take a few pictures. Engravings like these are not en vogue so selling them is not an option. The volumes are so heavy that handling the books is almost impossible. It’s the story behind them that gives them value, to me. If I snif these pages I still notice a whiff of stale smoke, wine and gin.

‘Lady Constance’ after F. Winterhalter. Royal Collection Osborne, ca. 1852. 19th Century reproduction engraving.
‘Lady Constance’, after a painting by F. Winterhalter. Royal Collection Osborne, ca. 1852. 19th Century reproduction engraving.

Reproducing images and art in the era before photography, digital photography, scanners, Facebook and Flickr was a painfully slow affair, if you wanted to do it right. When I was an art history student I became fascinated by the concept of ‘reproduction graphic’. A phenomenon that flourished in the 19th century. Suppose you had a swiftly brushed painting of a vase with flowers, and you wanted to reproduce it, for a book, or as a separate print. You would bring it to a graphic artist who would painstakingly copy the work in steel. These steel engravings look superficially similar to engravings on copper, or etches, but they are quite different. It reminded me of something, but the books were deeply buried in my subconscious.

The lines are incredibly regular, and thin. Every nuance is being rendered by the artist. A bohemian swirly flower vase would take the painter less time to produce than this graphical craftsman to reproduce. If you look at these engravings, at first you might be put off by a certain ‘mechanical stiffness’, but upon closer inspection you cannot but marvel at the incredible skill. These people were human scanners. This portrait of a painting in the Royal Collection Osbourne proves that the freshness of the original can be transferred in a work of great clarity.

It’s not comparable to artist’s engravings, like Rembrandt’s drypoint engravings, or his etchings, or other free artistic creations. Their job was not to be original, but to be faithful and translate a work of art into an entirely different medium. In this respect these people deserve our respect.

Reproduction engraving of ‘Childhood’ by Greuze. Royl Collection, Buckingham Palace.
Reproduction engraving of ‘Childhood’ by jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace.

These are some images from the two enormous ornate volumes of steel engravings, commissioned by the firm P. & D. Colnaghi Co. between 1854 and 1860, which I used to escape from the dreadful New Years parties at my great-aunts place. The descriptions accompanying the engravings are written by Samuel Carter Hall (1800 – 1889). The full title of the work is:

“The Royal Gallery of Art,
Ancient and Modern
engravings from the private collections of
Her Majesty The Queen and
His Royal Highness Prince Albert
and the art heirlooms of The Crown,
at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Osborne”

The book-block (i.e. the paper part inside) measures 66,5 x 49 cm, the cover of course is somewhat taller and wider (68 x 50 cm). So they are quite big … and very heavy.

The engravings were made, and sold in a series, by subscription. The original size (“quarto grand eagle”) was used to create these big volumes. After approximately 400 impressions the steel plates were cut down, and another run was produced, to be published in the Art-Journal.
The author of the descriptions S. C. Hall, was, according to the online sources I found, rather a contentious figure. Trained as a lawyer, he somehow ended up as a publisher / art journalist. Creating series like this was the only way to show the private collection of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to a wider audience. A number of engravers has been admitted to the palaces where the royal art collection has been kept for a number of years. Photography already existed of course, but was still in the stages of its development where extended series of copies were not possible. Steel engravings were the visual medium that accompanied the printing press in the 19th century, and beyond.
Due to the subjects, and the way they are rendered, these engravings now have a distinct old-fashionedness about them. They don’t fetch high prices at online auctions, and they linger in the display windows of antiquarian bookshops.
But look at the details. And be cautious, because you might develop an appetite for these neglected works of graphic art.

Detail of an engraving after Jean-baptiste Greuze
Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Detail.

Looking at the details you also recognise the presence of mechanical tools used to cover larger areas with tonal values. If you compare the engraving with the original, you see that it isn’t a mechanical reproduction but an interpretation.

‘Portrait of a Young Girl’ by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace.
‘Head of a Girl’ by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace. (Image downloaded from the website of the Royal Collection Trust, in accordance with the copyright statement, for non-commercial use only) – Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015

We are blessed now with an unprecedented access to the royal collections thanks to the website of the Royal Collection Trust. The description of the painting on this website learns us that the engraving was executed by Joseph Alfred Annedouche. Queen Victoria wrote in her journal on May 17th 1844: “Albert has bought 3 beautiful pictures from Mrs Nicholls’s collection (…) and I have bought a lovely child’s head by Greuze.” Somehow the child in the engraving is more childlike and innocent than the original. And there is another striking difference. The girl in the engraving is looking straight at the spectator while the girl in the painting seems to look just past you, as if someone was standing behind the artist. The engraver did not pick up on this characteristic feature of the painting. It’s remarkable that the title of the reproduction does not match the title of the original. Where the original is catalogued as “Head of a girl”, which is quite matter-of-fact, and places it in genre-painting, the title of the reproduction “Childhood” suggests that it’s allegoric.

Detail of the engraving after a painting by F. Winterhalter. Royal Collection Osbourne.
Detail of the engraving after a painting by F. Winterhalter. Royal Collection Osbourne.

The engraver of this elegant portrait of Lady Constance Leveson-Gower (1834-1880), later Duchess of Westminster by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805 – 1873), had a similar approach. The eyes are vivid and clear. And the reflection of the light is more prominent than in the original portrait. He did a splendid job in rendering the details like the flowers in the hair. It’s delightful to study the lines, building up the portrait, in detail. You can find more about the original on the website of the Royal Collection Trust

Lady Constance Leveson-Gower (1834-80), later Duchess of Westminster
Lady Constance Leveson-Gower (1834-80), later Duchess of Westminster – 1850. (Image downloaded from the website of the Royal Collection Trust, in accordance with the copyright statement, for non-commercial use only) – Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Queen Victoria wrote about this portrait: “‘Constance’s Picture has enchanted us; it is exquisite & I am delighted to possess this Portrait of your beautiful Child. (…)”. Franz Xaver Winterhalter was a well-know portrait painter who made his living by painting portraits of the haute bourgeoisie and royalty. If you enter his name in the search box of the Royal Collection Trust’s website you will discover many works by him. I must admit that I never heard of him before.

We see everything in retrospect, but this painting was relatively new when the crew hired by Hall started copying the paintings. The selection of reproduced paintings included both Old Masters and contemporary art.

These engravings, although not original works of art, just have a charm, and a life of their own.

That’s it, for now. I will come back here and post some follow-up information and new images soon.

Covered

The discreet art of the book cover.

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“Typograaafia mundanea!” by Bruno Bronowski – 5 – D (hermetic)

typograaafia mundanea 5 C
typograaafia mundanea 5 C

As dr. Bronowski is slowly discovering a trail leading him steadily into the realm of the ‘subtle arts’, the plot is definitely thickening. Although chemistry did not belong to the 7 Artes Liberales, as they were more poised toward logic, mathematics, grammar, and law, the medieval fascination with the transformation of matter itself, especially where Aristotelic, and Neoplatonic traditions collided, has lead to quite a bit of interesting experimentation on the side, and also to some essential categorization, taken up by the likes of Dimitry Mendelejev, Marie Curie, Otto Hahn, and Oppenheimer, without whom, after all, we wouldn’t have such charming tools as the H-bomb. But, where does this leave us? And what is the connection with the predicted End of the World? Darn…, I love a good story! If I have a spare moment,I will try to scan and clean up the next page.

The image on the page is interesting. The letter ‘d’ is somehow formed as the result of some kind of chemical reaction, or synthesis. Bronowski links the image with Hermes Trismegistos, and, thus with the hermetic arts. Whether that is a logical inference, I don’t know. The identification of the letter itself as ‘Fraktur’, which is a distinctive german script, is, I think, premature. It could easily be a mid XVth century French letter. It also is much closer to a general littera textualis than to the more flamboyant hybrida, which developed in the chanceries of the Dukes of Burgundy. All in all, difficult to say without access to the original. We now must see everything through Bronowski’s eyes. I’m seriously considering to start a hunt for the original.

 

“Typograaaaa….aah!” by Bruno Bronowski – 3 – B

Being something of an insomniac lately, I decided to add an extra post to the previous post about the strange study in esoterical typography tonight, escaping a BBC documentary about Marina Abramovic in the same time.

Although the text is obviously going somewhere, the illustrations in the book are remarkably inconsistent. I still haven’t found out why the titles are in French. I have scanned and processed the C and D pages, and will add them tomorrow. Why is the B considered ‘melancholical’? I will consult Burton’s ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ for clues.

Typograaafia Mundanea B
Typograaafia Mundanea B

“Typograaaaa….aah!” by Bruno Bronowski – 2 – A

Typograaafia - A
Typograaafia – The letter A

Fortunately I have still some time this evening to add the page with the letter A. The caption is ‘A-menaçant’ (Threatening A). The steel engraving on the left side of the page shows a man in what appears to be a dungeon, or tower, being threatened by the shadow of the letter A. The author, Bronowski, of whom we know nothing about, refers to a book he found, a bit like me, finding his book, which contains information about a threat to the human race, 123 years from ‘his’ present time. This might be an interesting read after all.

“Typograaaaa….aah!” by Bruno Bronowski – 1 – Cover

Found this strange and smudged book on the market last september. The toothless bookseller told me that the subject of the book was ‘saving the world by typography’, well … I wonder how that works. The design of the book, and its subject, typography, appealed to the paleographer and book historian in me. Disciplines I thought I had long laid to rest were rekindled in an instant. The text of the book is strange, and at times apparently inconsistent. It seems to meander around the central theme, another book with illustrations, depicting characters in iconographic settings that seem both esoteric, and teleologic (= directed toward a certain goal, or final situation). My research into the author of this book, and the book to which he refers in the text, or the origin of the historiated alphabet, has hitherto been largely unsuccessful. I will post images from the book in a series of post over the next weeks. In this post the cover, and title page.

typograaa_cover
Cover of the book “Typograaah! …” By Bruno Bronowski.
title page
“Typograaah!” Title page

 

 

A 10 minutes indoors Penguin, Puffin, and Pelican safari

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I started the day with an amusing game. How many Penguin, Pelican and Puffin books could be found by walking around for 10 minutes and randomly picking books from the bookcases. Most of the literary books are kept in a room that we call the ‘library’, because it contains, well … books, but since it is on the first floor, I didn’t go there.

I photographed the picks, ordering them in random pairs on a black paper near the window.