Category Archives: Art

Vampires and Elephants

Today would have been the birthday or author/illustrator Edward Gorey.

I first registered Gorey as the illustrator for a children’s mystery series that I liked and a little later as the creator of the wonderful openings of PBS’s old Masterpiece Mystery! series. (As an adult, his illustrations aged much better than the books themselves.)​

I remember the back of my Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with his illustrations described Gorey as someone people assumed was English and dead, and that at that point he was neither. His work is both hard to describe and amazingly recognizable. Very small illustrations with lots of obelisks and sort of Victorian/Edwardian men, improbably architecture, and even more improbable creatures, all meticulously rendered in fine ink.

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Erte’s Emeralds

Since it’s the last day of May and emerald birthstones, have some emerald art by Erte. He certainly seems to have been taken by this gem!


Emerald, part of Erte’s Precious Stones series.


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Some Untidy Spot

Landscape with fall of Icarus

Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden


About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.



In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

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Brilliant Strokes of Madness

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. One of Los Caprichos by Goya, the concept still feels contemporary.

“The fact is that genius and madness are intertwined functions of the brain. A work of art is the result of two mental processes and his illness: acquiring the visual impression and elaboration of the latter to transform it into a work of art.” Felisati and Sperati


Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes and Vincent van Gogh were born on the same day over a century apart. Both men are renowned for the expressiveness of their work and the hint of madness that at times seemed to fuel it.

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The Thing With Feathers


Puerto Rico Amazons by Pia Ravenari


Mostly sneaking back by to give a brief shout out to a kickstarter. I’d spoken about it on here before and it didn’t run, this time its going and they’re at reach goals now.


The project is called Losing Altitude. It’s a collaborative art book featuring threatened and endangered bird species from allover the world, illustrated by over fifty artists, also from all over the world. Arras, who is spearheading this, will be researching each species, so this should be an awesome mix of art and information. I’m excited to be getting my copy next year!


I don’t have the requisite illustrative skills, so I’m contributing some key and tree pendants towards the kickstarter incentives.


Bird's nest ringThough, since it is a bird themed entry, a quick look at a very WIP project: an adjustable bird’s nest wire wrapped ring. This one is antiqued copper, bright copper and freshwater pearls.


Front view bird's nest ringA friend sent me a link to a bird nest pendant tutorial. I’ve seen plenty of the pendants, and make enough other styles, but most of the rings I’d seen involved a wire nest glued to a base. Since I don’t have the setup for soldering I decided to try to make the nest and ring from the same wire. It’s a bit bulky, I found the thickness of wire that makes a stronger ring shank makes for a large nest, but as said, work in progress.

And now for gratuitous Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –


I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.


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The Worm at the Heart of the Rose

Songs of innocence and of experienceAs I’ve confessed before, William Blake tends to wax a bit too metaphysical for me. I do appreciate their very visual nature. After all, who reads The Tyger without fantastic images filling their mind?


Even if it’s the images of others and not his own that come to mind first!


I think perhaps one of the Flemish floral still life paintings would suit this poem more than his own illustration.

I suppose they are big, enveloping pieces too large for a small poem, but the textures and fine details seem to fit it better.


Take his poem,


“The Sick Rose”


O Rose thou art sick.

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm:


Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.



In the case of still life painting during the Northern Renaissance they might even have shared a certain metaphysical/metaphorical point of view.


Hans Gillisz. Bollongier. Floral Piece. The most expensive bloom was normally placed at the top. In this it is a Semper Augustus tulip, the most expensive bulb of its time. This unique pattern was caused by a particular form of mosaic virus and died out with the last of the affected bulbs.

Hans Gillisz Bollongier. Floral Piece.

Flowers in still life painting were popular because they were a way to show off detail, and also the wealth of the individual. Often the flowers were rare, a tulip bulb could cost more than a painting!


The most expensive bloom was normally placed at the top of the bouquet. In the painting to the right it is a Semper Augustus tulip, the most expensive bulb of its time. According to some records it was worth 100x the average working man’s yearly salary! Its unique pattern was caused by a particular form of mosaic virus, so the only way to get it was in offsets of the original bulb. It no longer exists.


Sometimes they would be collections of flowers from different continents, or that bloomed at different times of the year. An artist might use a reference book for the flowers and/or insects-something similar to what Maria Sibylla Merian would be creating a century or so later.


Besides being prestigious, they could also act as a subtle vanitas painting- after all, flowers very beautiful but don’t live very long!



Roelant Savery. Still Life. It includes 44 different animal and 63 floral species.

On a tour the guide told us that in some of the paintings the flowers are slightly overblown and that the insects were symbols of the coming decay. So there was a hint of mortality about overindulgence tucked into some of the paintings.


The worm at the heart of the rose, if you will.


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Google Prompt and Metamorphosis

Embarrassingly enough, I’m finally posting this because of Google. I’ve had notes for ages, but I’m not always good at scrunching a complicated life into a handful of lines, so I’ve been procrastinating on writing about Maria Sibylla Merian. I saw one of her books on display at the Library of Congress last week. Then I saw the Google doodle proclaiming her birthday, and was finally shamed into it!


I have a lot of unusual reference books on my shelves. Perhaps the one that gets the most second glances is my copy of Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, nestled between my art books.


It is by Maria Sibylla Merian, whose work I first saw years ago at a Rembrandt House special exhibit.


Merian (1647-1717) was one of the first documenters of insect metamorphosis.


She was born into an artistic family–her father was an engraver and publisher, and her stepfather a still life painter who encouraged her talents and taught her along with his (male) students. She was interested in flowers and insects and observed the life cycles of both.


She married her stepfather’s apprentice, moved to Nuremburg, had children, continued painting, designed embroidery patterns and took on (female) students of her own. By teaching their children she got access of the gardens of the elite and studied their insects.


In her time scholars still held onto spontaneous generation–basically the belief than insects and other ‘lower’ creatures were spontaneously created from mud or other debris. For example, that flies came to life from rotted meat.


She illustrated the metamorphosis of insects-showed that caterpillars wove cocoons and turned into butterflies. She painted the stages of these transformations and their host plants. These were collected into her first book in 1675.  The New Book of Flowers ultimately took three volumes to complete. It showed each flower distinctly so that it could be used as a reference for artists and designers of embroidery patterns.


She had a second daughter, published a second book and returned home after her stepfather died. After his estate was settled she left her husband to live in a religious commune.


There she met the governor of the Dutch colonies in Surinam and was introduced to its flora and fauna.


She later moved to Amsterdam, where her work was noticed by the scientific community. She was able to study the collections gathered by the intelligentsia. Her older daughter married a merchant and moved to Surinam, and Merian sold her belongings and was partially sponsored by the city of Amsterdam to travel to Surinam with her younger daughter, Dorthea Maria. They spent two years there studying the local animals and plants–recording the native names and uses–and collecting specimens. She contracted malaria and returned home, publishing books about her experiences and selling the specimens she collected.


She suffered a stroke and died in relative obscurity. It was Peter the Great who ultimately saved her for posterity. He had seen her work before, and heard that the then ailing artist had many works in her collection. Dorthea Maria sold 300 of her mother’s remaining paintings to an agent representing Peter the Great.


He opened his country’s first museum to exhibit them. He also invited Dorthea Maria and her family to Russia. She designed one of his largest scientific exhibitions and her husband became a court painter. After their first exhibition, most of Maria Sibylla Merian’s paintings were closed away in the libraries of St. Petersburg. This kept the delicate paintings safe from sunlight and abuse until their rediscovery centuries later.


It was an adventurous life for a woman of her time. (Anyone, anytime actually.) She traveled long distances to collect information and samples nearly a century before scientific expeditions became the norm. Her studies and use of native names influenced the European terms for some of the creatures, though since she published in the common tongue at a time when science was Latin only, her influence was limited and her observations against spontaneous generation largely ignored. She was a talented outsider rather than part of the scientific community. (If you’d like to read more on her and other early adventure/naturalists, check out Eaten by a Giant Clam, by Joseph Cummins. You’ll probably learn alot about a number of names that sound vaguely familiar.)



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