Enter the Harem

Hello darlings! Neither my tired art model’s body nor my dread over another impending snowstorm and frigid temperatures will stop me from presenting a Valentine to my readers on this Valentine’s Day. And it ain’t chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. That’s kid stuff ;-) For us it is the scandalous, seductive, come-hither gaze and frank nudity of Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque. Painted in 1814, this iconic masterpiece of Neoclassicism predictably shocked the uptight sensibilities of the Salon art establishment. Were they shocked because it was risqué and erotic? Or because the figure is anatomically disproportional? Both actually.

Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814 In the ruthless shredding this work of art received, censorious critics concluded that the model, as concubine, was given “three vertebrae too many” and that she had “neither bones nor muscle, neither blood, nor life”. The then 34 year old Ingres was accused of ignoring anatomical accuracy and having fallen victim to his wild, erotically-charged imagination. Perhaps he did. To that we can say, “so what?”. Surely there was a method to his madness. The female body is unique in its longer lines which create visually appealing curvature. Ingres clearly took it to the next level with his elongation. Proportionally, the figure is indeed strange, with some even claiming that the particular flexure of the spine with the rotation of the pelvis is physically impossible. But as an art model I’ve done some nearly impossible poses, so I’m not so sure. Although I don’t have any extra vertebrae that I’m aware of :lol:

But Ingres had a vision in his mind and he went for it. His subject is a nubile sex slave after all, and he wanted to heighten that purpose to maximum effect. Sensuality was priority number one. I’d say he succeeded, don’t you? She’s an enticing woman and she’s on view at her permanent home in the Louvre, keeping company with the Mona Lisa.

Shinto

Shinto – Jorge Luis Borges

When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.

Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us–
touch us and move on.

Edward Hopper, A Woman in the Sun:

Hopper-woman-in-the-sun1961

Promised Land

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

- Abraham Lincoln
First Inaugural Address, March 4th 1861

Angel Among the Ruins, Pierre-Amédée Marcel-Béronneau, 1897, watercolor, pencil, and gouache on paper:

Berronneau-AngelAmongtheRuins

Crimes and Misdemeanors

If for nothing else, social media interactions can spur discoveries and offer interesting shares that one might have been unfamiliar with. Block out the irritations of the Internet and some cool stuff can come your way. The Ashmolean Museum recently posted an image to Twitter that caught my attention. It was this self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the celebrated sculptor of the Baroque era. I’ve seen most of his self-portraits – he did quite a few – but I’d never seen this one before. He created it in black, red, and white chalk, circa 1635:

BerniniSelfPortrait

The drawing has a strange intimacy to it that intrigues me. His gaze is hard to pinpoint. Oddly, it is direct but a little preoccupied. Engaged but a little jaded. Cool but a little confused. I honestly can’t decide if he’s saying “You lookin’ at me, pal?” or “Whatever, dude”. His overall appearance is informal, with unkempt hair and a five o’clock shadow. He could almost be a young hipster barista making cappuccinos at a coffee bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn instead of the 17th century artistic wunderkind.

Bernini, the uniquely gifted sculptor who could turn marble into flesh and render stone creations with stunning action and theatricality, is a compelling and charismatic figure in art history. One cannot imagine a survey of Western art without his Ecstasy of St Teresa or Apollo and Daphne. The man himself possessed a personality which matched the intensity of his art. His notoriously hot temper was offset by his gregarious, outgoing disposition, well-roundedness (he was also an architect, poet, writer, and stage designer) and dedicated work ethic. It’s been said that he would chatter up a storm while he worked, telling jokes and sharing gossip with his assistants as he chiseled away in his studio. Like many sculptors he was physically strong and agile. And because his astonishing talents were evident to all, Bernini enjoyed a largely easy ride in terms of his career. He was showered with praise and recognition from his early years and it never waned. This, as I’m sure you all know, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Bernini was neither a sweetheart nor a monster. At only one point in his life did he go completely batshit crazy. And that one time sure was a doozy. A disturbing, mad, jealousy-infused doozy. Are you ready for the twisted soap opera? Fasten your seat belts.

In 1636 Bernini began an affair with Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of Bernini’s assistant Matteo Bonarelli. To describe it as “hot and heavy” would be an understatement. Bernini’s sculpture of her will tell us everything we need to know. She is tousled. She is lusty. She seems to be in some ravished stage of pre or post coitus. Her lips are parted, her blouse is undone. She is fleshy and earthy. She is not a proper aristocratic lady sitting decorously for a commissioned sculpture bust. She is, quite clearly, Bernini’s lover and object of his infatuation.

Bernini-Costanza

At the height of the torrid affair, Bernini was tipped off that Costanza was possibly sleeping with another man – not her husband but yet another lover. The lady got around apparently. The other man turned out to be none other than Bernini’s brother Luigi who was a rather unsavory character. Bernini, in the throes of unhinged jealousy, went ballistic. He spied on Costanza to confirm the rumor and, sure enough, spotted his brother emerging from her house. What ensued was pure madness. Bernini chased down Luigi and attacked him with an iron crowbar, breaking his ribs. He chased him again, this time with a sword, threatening to kill him. When his brother sought refuge in a church, the raging Bernini attempted to kick down the doors. But he wasn’t done with his vengeful impulses. Bernini ordered one of his servants to go to Costanza’s house and slash her face, which the man did, with a razor blade.

As for the fallout of this gruesome incident, Luigi fled to Bologna, fearing for his safety. Costanza, disfigured for life, was imprisoned for adultery. The servant who did the slashing was also sent to prison. And Bernini was issued a fine – a fine – which was eventually waived by his benefactor Pope Urban VIII, under the agreement that Bernini would marry, get his shit together, and live a respectable life. It pays to have friends in high places.

Another Bernini self-portrait:

GianLorenzo-Bernini-Autoritratto-1630ca-665x848

So Bernini went unpunished for his behavior, and Costanza paid the criminal price for adultery which the men eluded. This was, of course, 17th century Europe and a society structured in ways that baffle us. On the other hand, it’s not so baffling in that some aspects remain constant and are unlikely to ever change. Esteemed and advantaged people, like Bernini was then, receive special treatment, much like they do today. But for what it’s worth, Bernini did go on to marry, father eleven children, and live a pious life as a devout Catholic attending mass regularly. It appears he learned his lesson. Bernini suffered a stroke in his elderly years and died at the age of 82.

Statements and Passages

“Put up a new blog post already.” <– my mother to me on the phone the other night. See what I have to deal with? My life is a living hell!! Yes, I’m kidding :lol: Actually Mom’s right. What the heck’s going on here? A new post is way overdue. I hope you all had a good week in the interim.

Speaking of Mom, her art show at the Queens Botanical Garden is still on view, providing joy and enchantment to all the family friends and QB Garden visitors who have seen it. It closes on January 17th. I helped my mother write her artist’s statement for her show and I think it came out pretty well. I’m mentioning this because an artist I know sent an email to several of us that I got a kick out of. So I thought I’d share it here. The “artist’s statement”, which I imagine is a somewhat new formality, appears on artist’s websites and promotional materials. The artist who sent the article I’m sharing told me she has no artist’s statement on her website because she thinks it’s stupid and pretentious. She has a point. Some of them, not all, can be quite pompous, particularly the ones that use postmodern language and theoretical terminology. You can’t help but roll your eyes when you read some of them. 

So John Seed, a painter and art history professor, wrote up some artist’s statements for the old masters using postmodern rhetoric, and they’re hilarious. For example, Michelangelo’s begins with, “The pre-homoeroticized body forms both my field of action and the basis of my conceptual taxonomy.” The one for Velázquez’ reads in part, “In addressing the collapse of personal autonomy and identity in an authoritarian/monarchist space I imply a multiplicity of didactic constructions and formations.” Click here for the entire article. The ending is great.

Also, my beautiful talented niece Olivia turned 12 yesterday which boggles the mind because it feels not so long ago that I saw her for the first time, on a cold December day, at Mount Sinai Hospital when she was just a few hours old. And now she’s a young lady! Kicking butt at JV basketball, student government, and of course her voice lessons. Olivia has always been the gladdening ray of light in our family and she is now more than ever, given the circumstances. Here she is sitting on steps, like the true Upper West Side city girl that she is. Happy Birthday sweetheart <3

Olivia

And tomorrow, December 7th, will mark ten years since my father’s death. That he’s been gone a decade now is difficult to grasp. A decade since that harrowing morning when I was roused from sleep by my brother banging loudly on my door at 7 AM. Olivia was only two years old when Dad left us. Sadly, she has no memory of him, her grandfather.

Thanks for reading, friends. And yes I will post again soon  ;-)

Family Evermore

If I had the power to clap my hands twice and magically heal the fractured state of my family’s relations right now, I’d do it in a heartbeat. In fact it would have been done already. I think back on the warmth, kindness, good humor and conviviality that characterized Hajian family gatherings of my youth – and most of my adulthood – and wonder, “How did this happen? Where did all this animus and dissension come from?” :-(

But I can still give thanks, especially so now under the circumstances, that my family is still here .. to see another day … and with each day brings a chance to make things right, and begin anew. Hope is a priceless asset.

On this Thanksgiving of 2014, I offer the Prayer for Families from the Book of Common Prayer. It is particularly apropos for me today, and perhaps for some of you too:

“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary
in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in
which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee,
every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride
of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance,
patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those
who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the
hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the
children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among
us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one
to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I wish a most blessed Thanksgiving to all of you. Peace, my friends.

Pablo Picasso, Harlequin’s Family, 1905:

Picasso-harlequins-family-1905-1

Let There Be Light

One doesn’t generally associate cutting-edge technology with the Vatican. Nor does one think “efficiency” with regard to Michelangelo’s painstaking four year ordeal in completing the Sistine Chapel, a project he accepted very reluctantly and of which he wrote to a friend, “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture”. It’s interesting to wonder what old Mike would have thought of modern advancements and engineering that find their way into the arts, because this is pretty cool. The Sistine Chapel has just been outfitted with thousands of LED lights. Calibrated color temperatures, along with a climate control system, will help stave off the damage accumulated from six millions visitors a year, harmful UV rays, and poor air quality. Frescoes are more delicate than people realize. And while the Sistine has endured 500 years, it still has to be preserved with tender loving care. Check this out:

.

And if you want to read the entirety of Michelangelo’s pissed-off letter, click here, because it’s awesome :lol: