Tag Archives: arts

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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Topaz seems to be winning…

Erte’s Topaz, a part of his Precious Stones Suite, is a November gem of a different sort. It’s inspired by one of November’s traditional birthstones. (The other two being citrine and tigerseye. Since topaz also inspired a piece by Mucha, I think topaz is hogging the limelight…)

 

I’ve known of Erte for a long time, and in many ways he’s my touchstone image for Art Deco, but outside of knowing his style I never thought much too much about him.

 

So I hadn’t stopped to think about that iconic name, as streamlined and deco as his art. Not a surprise that it’s a pseudonym. I always link Erte to Paris, so it was a little more of a surprise is that he was born in Russia. His birth name was Romain de Tirtoff. He used the French pronunciation of his initials to distance himself from his career military family.

 

Erte was famous for his Art Deco fashion and set designs. Born in 1892 he was lucky enough to not only enjoy being part of the emergence of deco in the 1920s, but lived help its revival in the 1960s and his enduring influence on art and the fashion industry.

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Magic In Your Pocket

I turn my head and you may go where you want.
I turn it again, you will stay till you rot.
I have no face, but I live or die by my crooked teeth
Who am I?*

 

I admit, sometimes I look too deeply into the symbolism in things and it can ruin an on the surface enjoyable experience. (Eg- The Christian symbolism in the Narnia books, or the attitude towards women in so many Disney movies…) Perhaps it’s in my blood from one too many literature or art history classes.

Other times I feel like I don’t look deeply enough, or question why things have become symbols. A few months ago on Extribulum Sam wrote a short articles about symbols in writer’s tool kit and the power of things like mirrors, coins and keys and looked at the whys.

I enjoyed it in part because such a kit is not exclusive to writers, it creeps in everywhere. Besides interesting textures and colors, symbols pop up in crafts all the time. Coins bring to mind values, perhaps of different places and times. I’ve used keys in charm collages, as a symbol they are shorthand for thoughts about freedom and escape, or of feeling trapped. As Sam pointed out, a key found out of context is a mystery.  

So I read his entry and went along my way. Then thought of it again last night, sort of laughing at myself. Before things went pear shaped at Brimfield last week I’d purchased a handful of old foreign coins to wrap-little vestiges of times past with portraits of rulers long dead.

I’ve also been making wire work keys recently. Not for any great reason, saw something that made me think that when you see Alice in Wonderland things the keys never match the description of small, golden and ornate from the book and I decided to make one. Didn’t get just the right key for Wonderland yet, but I’ve been enjoying making them. I didn’t give much thought to why they strike me, or anyone, as an appropriate focal point for a piece of jewelry. (Perhaps as a symbol it’s so ingrained that we don’t conciously think about it anymore?)

I’ve seen wire wrap keys around (well, around the internet, never in person) and many were gorgeous, but so intricate it felt like they were losing the outline of a key, which was sort of the essence. So I went in the opposite direction to make something simple, like the sketch of a key with an outline that might still fit in, if you found the right lock.

We discussed that a little on dA, guessing where the keys might lead if you found the right lock…

*does anyone know where this comes from? It’s one of those I remembered it but tried to look online and found it plenty of places, but never with a provenance.

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Pendants and Papyri

“I arrive as a dweller on earth-I do what is right”

– the coffin of Hor, incense priest of Amun, Late New Kingdom (22nd Dynasty, circa 850 BCE)

 

First, props to the ancient Egyptian scribes. Papyrus is not easy to paint on.

Ancient Egyptian scribes started young, probably around age 9. They had an intricate language to learn!  

Egyptian hieroglyphics consisted of several hundred symbols, most of which could be used phonetically or as more of an ideogram, depending on their context and nearby modifying symbols. Hieroglyphics is used to refer to the most formal written form of their language, the version represented on public buildings and funerary art. It could run right to left, left to right, or top to bottom.

There was a cursive version called hieratic that scribes used for contracts, records and letters. In later times another variant called demotic appeared. It was probably a descendant of the hieratic styles of northern Egypt and became more common once the Greeks conquered Egypt.

So by the late period a scribe would have to know at least three written versions of his native tongue plus Greek. (Hieroglyphics were still used for public buildings and religious regalia.)

A scribe’s basic materials were simple: a wooden palette with a few holes for different colors of ink (made from soot or ground minerals plus beeswax) and reed pens.

The ancient Egyptians were the first to write on paper. They created theirs from the papyrus plant, a tall reed with a thick triangular body. The outer layers were peeled off, then the pith was cut into strips. Those strips would be placed in two layers, one horizontal and the other vertical. They’d be covered in linen and pressed. The fibers would adhere together with their own sap to form a durable paper.

My papyrus was in the form of a notebook I was given as a gift years ago. (Ah, modern comforts!)

This piece is, oddly enough, based on one of my favorite t-shirts. I bought it at the British Museum when I was there years ago. I loved the saying, but almost never wear t-shirts anymore. So somewhere along the line of sealing images behind glass to wire wrap, my brain went well you have that papyrus that you never used…

I made a few attempts to scale down the hieroglyphics. Based on a t-shirt. Based on the painting on a coffin. So it’s at least once again removed from the original. If anyone has a proper image of this inscription I’d love to see it! I found the exhibit information listed on the British Museum’s website, but they didn’t have images of the right portion of the coffin.

(I’m sure it’s somewhere along the perimeter of the wooden coffin, that’s where the styles match up…)

I wasn’t sure what colors to use. The shirt wasn’t terribly close to the original colors and the coffin was paint on wood rather than ink on papyrus. So I chose copper, green, blue and brown metallic paints since those colors crop up in Ancient Egyptian art fairly often, and I thought the metallic colors were pretty and might be a nod to their jewelry. I outline the hieroglyphs in black to try to preserve their shape.

(Given the texture of the papyrus I’m thinking a stiffer brush might be worth trying the next time, though I suspect paint texture has a lot to do with how well it would flow.)

Then I sealed the papyrus behind glass and waterproofed the papyrus from behind as well. I usually paint the back before sealing it, but I wanted to keep the texture of the papyrus. You can see the two directions of the stems and I was afraid that painting the back would lessen that effect.

Once it was dry I wrapped it in silver coated copper, bronze and blue colored copper. I topped it off with a blue lapis bead, because, really, it was that or carnelian for classic Egyptian jewelry gems, and carnelian didn’t match!

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