Mitología, artes y leyendas - Ángel de Cáceres García
Portraits and Allegories
“When I work in a portrait everyday life mingles with signs of an imagined life. That is how I conceive the exercise of painting a portrait, building up at the same time what is real and what is imaginary, the form and the content, the figure and its imprint. That inner element, the spirit, should live in the canvas in the same way that it lives in the portrayed person. If the features, the limbs, the body in general, constitute the most demanding nature and the foundation of the harmonies, the imprint they leave on the retina when they vanish is its essence, that which endures and outlives them.
The allegory, understood as an abstraction that has just adopted specific forms, means to me the plastic transcription of the world of ideas, the projection of feelings through symbols, and therefore an ideal resource to complete what is strictly real.
Both disciplines, the portrait and the allegory, offer me the possibility of a setting that is tailored to the impulse, where observation transforms into signs, thought is hidden under the harmony, the chaos of dreams can be summarized in fictitious ornaments... All as an answer to a core idea: reason chases beauty in the same way that the portrait chases the interior of the person”.
“To paint Venus or Eve, or Rusalka or Ligeia, or Andromeda or Danae... to look for an image that represents the trace of Camille Claudel or Jeanne Hébuterne... turning me in this way into a traveller among their histories or their times, is like paying a visit to the dreams. In both of them I have found a reflection of a great majority of our passions, so that the concepts of myth and legend blend themselves in each case with the effects of love and with states that range from despair to ecstasy.
Each one of these interpretations was therefore intended as an excuse to bring closer qualities, states and feelings, which sometimes renders it useless to put a limit to their scope. The goddesses, the myths, the fables or the legends of ancient times, the characters taken out of literary works, live together with the women that left a profound imprint in the arts of Painting, Music or Sculpture”.
From dawn till dusk, from Monday to Sunday, the four seasons of the year; in between the allegory titled “Time Asleep” can be considered as a synthesis of what this series represents: the passing of time in accordance to our most everyday parameters, trapped in the unaltered beauty of the woman in her splendour.
Foreground portraits reflect the lights of a full day, female figures sitting on carpets, wrapped in clothes and symbols that act as metaphors of the days of the week, or lying on exclusive divans in order to evoke the essence of summer, autumn, spring or winter.
“Time, a destroyer by nature, does not affect beauty in the slightest. Here time does not mean before or after, it does not corrode, it does not mutate, here time, or times, is nothing more than different moments of beauty, a vibration of light, a movement, a gesture, an anticipated breeze. [...] If beauty is able to escape from death and aging it is because what is measured is not time, but beauty itself. That means that harmony is taken to the point that it immediately caresses the eye and the spirits of the beholder, not just the figures, the forms themselves, which would turn into metaphors of other things. And thus, what has been painted transcends the own painting”.
Comments on “Measured Time”, December 2016. José Luis Sánchez Lora (Modern History, University of Huelva).
The connection of certain species of flowers with the concept of immortality gives birth to this series where the female figure hides part of its nudity under white translucent cloths and places itself on stone platforms made up of symbols and references to each flower. All of the materials chosen here possess the constituents that are usually associated with the features of these species of flowers: polished stone, gold, the cloths whiteness, the exposed skin, etc.
“Immortality flees, but it always flees. It is a magical concept that is sometimes very close to its opposite, mortality. That makes it exceedingly mysterious. If death disturbs us, immortality disturbs us even more, and we also react to it with an eagerness to transcend. This has been our attitude since prehistoric times, which is made clear in ancient and modern offerings and in the way that desires and feelings are visually expressed, by associating them to the species of flowers and materials that represent purity and eternity”.
“Rodin’s work has usually been categorized as a sequence of sculpted paintings. The unfinished look, almost liquefied, of most of his works, together with the intentional contrasts in textures, especially between figures and pedestals, or outline blocks, represent the essence of his identity. There also lies the origin of my identification with him and his legacy. It is something that goes beyond the “Rodinian” imprint and directs itself to that appreciation of “sculpted painting”, which has then been inverted by painting a collection of sculpture works.
As Rodin himself did with the hours he spent reading up on the subject, I have taken an interest here in connecting messages that come from several artistic disciplines, in a way that some of these works have originated from literary or religious texts (Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, fragments from the Bible), musical pieces (Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes and Gymnopédies) and elements treated with sculptural textures.
The premise upon which I build this series is to paint sculptures. Its purpose is to pay a tribute to Rodin’s work, and especially to his relationship with Camille Claudel. I have significantly toned down the female nudity with intimate or acrobatic poses in accordance with the polishing that the master applied to his own figures. Similarly, in the pedestal zones or outline stone blocks that he used to leave unpolished I have introduced rough-looking and neutral-colouring irregular volumes, thus contributing to the effect of contrast that identifies Rodin’s sculptures”.
Clío (name derived from the Greek root “to sing” or “to praise”), is the inspiring muse of History and Epic Poetry. His songs recalled the past times in order to glorify great feats of humanity, while also served as an inspiration to poets for their texts to transmit that heroic legacy to future generations. It is usually represneted crowned with a laurel branch, carryng the book of Thucydides (historian and athenian military, father of scientific historiography), a trumpet (as a symbol of fame) and elements alluding to the persistence of history in all places and times through a terrestrial globe and objects representative of Time.
Although its origins, number and genealogy are vague, the Nine Muses of Olympus reach our days, coming from Greek mythology, and already accepted as daughters of Zeus, under the nickname of “the inspiring goddesses of the arts”, initially of Poetry and Music, also Dance, Love, prophecy, etc.
The figure of Flora, whose equivalent in ancient Greece was Cloris, comes from Roman mythology. Considered goddess of flowers and by extensión, of gardens and spring, she also came to be linked with fertility. In his honor, Floralia was celebrated between April and May, a festive event with which the cycle of life was symbolically renewed.
Recreation of Ligeia, protagonist of the short story by Edgar Allan Poe (“Ligeia”, 1838).
The character of Ligeia is enthroned, combining the beauty, the mystery and the daydreams described by the narrator, in the style of the “seated virgins” of sixteenth-century Flemish Painting. The blackness that acts as a support is visible in every area as a symbol of the lightness of her image, of the evanescence of a memory or a vision.
“For eyes (of Ligeia) we have no models in the remotely antique (…). They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race (…) Her beauty –in my heated fancy thus it appeared perhaps-, the beauty of beings either above or apart of the earth (…) The hue of the orbs was the most brilliant of black, and, far over them, hung jetty lashes of great length. The brows, slightly irregular in outline, had the same tint. The “strangeness”, however, wich I found in the eyes, was of a nature distinct from the formation, or the color, or the brilliancy of the features, and must, after all, be referred to the expression (…) And thus how frequently, in my intense scrutiny of Ligeia’s eyes, have I felt approaching the full Knowledge of their expression –felt it approaching- yet not quite be mine –and so at length entirely depart!
(…) I mean to say that, subsequently to the period when Ligeia’s beauty passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine, I derived, from many existences in the material world, a sentiment such as I felt always aroused within me by her large and luminous orbs.
(…) Of all the women whom I have ever known, she, the outwardly calm, the ever-placid Ligeia, was the most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion.”
(“Ligeia”. Edgar Allan Poe, 1838).
In ancient Greek mythology, Danaë (Perseus’ mother) was the daughter of Eurydice and Acrisius (King of Argos). His lack of male issue led him to consult an oracle that foretold he would be murdered by his daughter’s son. Faced with this response, Acrisius commanded that Danaë be imprisoned in a bronze chamber to prevent her pregnancy. However, Zeus, disguised as a shower of gold, entered the cell and possessed her, a union from which Perseus would later be born.
Conceived to be observed from all directions, this scene of Danaë and the transformation of Zeus in a golden dust is recreated following the explicit and sensual interpretation that Gustav Klimt made of it in 1907. The young woman’s nude body when she receives the shower of gold gravitates enclosed in a frame that exhibits elements that refer to sensuality, confinement and fertility.
OPHELIA Y EL SAUCE
Inspired by the character Ophelia (“Hamlet”, William Shakespeare, 1603).
Deprived of Hamlet’s love and after the death of his father, by mistake, at the hands of the Prince of Denmark himself, Ophelia wanders disoriented around the palace. It is the queen who announces that the young woman reached the branch of a willow that grows beside the river:
“(…) There with fantastic garlandsdid she come/Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,/That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,/But our cold maids do dead-men’s-fingers call them./There on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds/Clambering to hang, an envious silver broke,/When down the weedy trophies and herself/Fell in the weeping brook, Her clothes spread wide,/And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up;/Wich time she chanted snatches of old tunes,/As one incapable of her own distress,/Or like a creature native and endued/Unto that element… ”
(“Hamlet”. W. Shakespeare, 1.603)
The painting describes metaphorically the end of the young woman: the branch of the willow breaks, Ophelia is going to fall into the river and, oblivious to the danger, she remains seated, almost levitating, absorbed in the elaboration of an undone necklace; the flowers are scattered through the air and the water; the robin flutters; her clothes begin to sink. Several allusions to the fateful ending can be observed in the crossing of the nude feet, the lilies mythicized with the colour of gold, and in the set of tensions created around the seated figure of the young Ophelia.
ECHO. MY VOICE, NOT MY WORD
In Greek mythology Echo was an extremely beautiful, loquacious and seductive voice nymph of the mountain, qualities that she often used to distract the attention of the goddess Hera while Zeus, her husband, satiated his desires with other nymphs. It was the goddess herself who discovered that ruse, inflicting on Echo the punishment that Ovid narrates in his “Metamorphoses” (Book III):
“[…] Your tongue, so freely wagged at my expense,
shall be of little use; your endless voice,
much shorter than your tongue. […]”
Since then, the nymph could only use her voice to repeat the end of the speeches of others. Embarrassed, she decided to avoid dealing with her peers by hiding in the thick of the forests. It was there where, without being seen, she fell in love when from the foliage emerged the figure of Narcissus, that handsome young man who despised any possibility of falling in love and of whom a prediction told he would have a long life “[…] If he would not get to know himself”. The chance encounter, when it finally takes place, culminates in the contempt of the arrogant Narcissus, to which Echo reacts by retreating into a cave until she disappears. According to the legend there remains the resonance of her voice, as well as her bones, now part of the stone on which she fell prostrate. As a result of that affront, Narcissus suffered the punishment of falling madly in love with his own image reflected in the water of a river:
“[…] But why, O foolish boy,
so vainly catching at this flitting form?
The cheat that you are seeking has no place.
Avert your gaze and you will lose your love,
for this that holds your eyes is nothing save
the image of yourself reflected back to you.
It comes and waits with you; it has no life;
it will depart if you will only go. […]”
In this way Narcissus lived until the end of his days and, as Ovid concludes, when his sisters went to bury him, instead of the lying body they found a flower of white petals and yellowish in its centre.
Jeanne Hébuterne (1898-1920) and the painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) shared the last three years of their lives. In that short period, marked by the illness of Amedeo, but also by the feverish inspiration that she produced on him, the couple of artists had to overcome all kinds of adversities. The fateful events of their last days, especially their last hours, have nonetheless given lustre and an extreme authenticity to their love relationship.
Linked to the song “Lovesong” (The Cure, 1989), this idealization of the Jeanne that lived with Modigliani personifies her figure, whose look and pose allude to that intimate and true complicity and places it in a kind of golden limbo decorated with abstractions that symbolize her love, her passion and her intense creativity.
PTELEA. NYMPH OF THE ELM
In ancient Greece the gifts of nature were linked to the action or presence of some divinity, hence, that divine favour was sensed in diverse spots, especially those that provided the human being with some kind of goodness. Within the endless list of nymphs (minor goddesses of Greek mythology, associated with natural spaces, such as fountains, rivers, forests, etc.) are the Hamadryads, guards and benefactors of certain trees. Such is the case of Ptelea, nymph of the elm tree, whose qualities and legends have also prompted countless artistic interpretations, taking as a reference the belief that the nymphs were dwelling on their trunks, that they were transfigured in the trees themselves (partially or totally) or that it was their spirit what protected the trees from human action. In any case, the nymphs have always been assigned the appearance of beautiful, charming and sensual young women, in the same way that they are often represented naked or with light garments.
Although its origins, number and genealogy are vague, the Nine Muses of Olympus reach our days, coming from Greek mythology and already accepted as the daughters of Zeus under the nickname of “the inspiring goddesses of the arts”, initially of Poetry and Music, also Dance, Love, prophecy, etc.
The muse Thalia (“the jolly one”) is regarded as an inspirer of comedy and pastoral poetry, hence that she frequently appears wearing a comic mask, a shepherd’s rod, sometimes also an ivy crown. From her character we gather that she was a noble, vivacious and jolly young woman.
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend. The brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act. And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
(William Shakespeare, prologue to “Henry V”).
“To the music of these verses, which Thalia,
the pastoral, but not less cultured muse,
dictated to me […]”
(Luis de Góngora, “The Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea”).
From the series “Rodin and Me” (variation of the “Danaïd” by Auguste Rodin). Tribute to Camille Claudel. Linked to “Gnossienne no. 3” by Erik Satie and the poem “Damned Women (I)” from The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire.
Among the myths of antiquity we find the figure of the Danaïds, the fifty daughters of Danaus, forty-nine of whom were condemned to pour water eternally on a bottomless barrel for murdering their husbands during their wedding night.
Auguste Rodin addressed this issue by including it in his “The Gates of Hell”, from where he finally withdrew it (together with “The Kiss”, and replicas of other sculptures) as he considered it to have an “excessive relief”. It was also surely to give more relevance to a sculpture that, in addition to reproducing the body of his partner, model and lover Camille Claudel, was created based on two concepts that are masterfully expressed in its composition: the descending flow of water and the despair for its uselessness. When he conceived “The Gates of Hell”, as well as his utterly beautiful “Danaïd” (marble, 1889), Rodin was inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy and by Charles Baudelaire’s book of poems “The Flowers of Evil”.
The painting partly picks up on the subject of Rodin’s compositional idea of a resting young woman, descending, upon a stone mound. Here the figure wears a short purple garment (in antiquity the colour of the condemned) and holds, lying down, the jug by which she pours the water into a hollow. The damaged marble that originates that opening takes a spiral form, sign of what is infinite, eternal.
Comme un bétail pensif sur le sable couchées,
elles tournent leurs yeux vers l’horizon des mers,
et leurs pieds se cherchent et leurs mains rapprochées
ont de douces langueurs et des frissons amers.
Les unes, coeurs épris des longues confidences,
dans le fond des bosquets où jasent les ruisseaux,<
vont épelant l’amour des craintives enfances
et creusent le bois vert des jeunes arbrisseaux;
D’autres, comme des soeurs, marchent lentes et graves
á travers les rochers pleins d’apparitions,
où saint Antoine a vu surgir comme des laves
les seins nus et pourprés de ses tentations;
Il en est, aux lueurs des résines croulantes,
oui dans le creux muet des vieux antres païens
t’appellent au secours de leurs fièvres hurlantes,
ó Bacchus, endormeur des remords anciens!
Et d’autres, dont la gorge aime les scapulaires,
qui, recélant un fouet sous leurs longs vêtements,
mêlent, dans le bois sombre et les nuits solitaires,
l’écume du plaisir aux larmes des tourments.
Ó vierges, ó démons, ó monstres, ó martyres,
de la réalité grands esprits contempteurs,
chercheuses d’infini dévotes et satyres,
tantót pleines de cris, tantôt pleines de pleurs,
vous que dans votre enfer mon áme a poursuivies,
auvres soeurs, je vous aime autant que je vous plains,
pour vos mornes douleurs, vos soifs inassouvies,
et les urnes d’amour dont vos grands coeurs sont pleins.
Charles Baudelaire, “Les Fleurs du Mal” – CXI – 1857
RUSALKA. IN THE DEPTHS
Inspired by the aria “Song to the Moon”, from the opera “Rusalka” (Antonín Dvorak, 1901).
The figure of Rusalka comes from the Slavic mythology and her legend appears in very old fairy tales. She is an elemental spirit that lives in lakes or rivers and belongs to an intermediate realm of existence. Her desire is to become a human being to know earthly love, even if that means losing her valuable immortality. From this legend arose Antonín Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka” (Prague, 1901, Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil.). It includes the aria that the protagonist presents to the moon, almost as a prayer, after her father, aware of her infatuation with a human prince who comes to hunt near the lake, warns him of the sacrifice that will mean to him to materialize that love.
The painting places Rusalka in the depths of the lake, sitting on a golden chair decorated with universal symbols. The moonlight filters from the surface towards her, “bathing” her body and her dress. Her long hair flutters like seaweed. Her eyelids fall. She crosses her hands over her breast and sets out to entrust her requests to the Moon:
“Moon, high and deep in the sky
Your light sees far, you travel around the wide world, and see into people’s homes.
Moon, stand still a while and tell me where is my dear.
Tell him, silvery moon, that I am embracing him.
For at least momentarily let him recall of dreaming of me.
Illuminate him far away, and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!
If his human soul is, in fact, dreaming of me,
may the memory awaken him!
Moonlight, don’t disappear!”
“Song To The Moon” (“Rusalka”, A. Dvorak).