Friday, February 29, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)

Self-Portrait (1654)

The Goldfinch (1654)
Both these portraits date from the year of Fabritius's death: he was killed in the Delft Explosion, which leveled a quarter of the city.

Words and Music in Opera

A few decades ago it was the fashion to look at a picture such as the Rubens 'Judgement of Paris' and see both a certain composition of diagonals and pyramids and a certain sensuous contrast between the painted textures of naked human flesh, landscape and peacock, and yet deliberately to exclude from one's mind - because, not being visual, it can't in the literal sense be seen - the information that one of the naked women is Juno and that is why there is a peacock in the picture.

To behave like this is certainly artificial: it is to bite back the first, childish question that comes to mind when you happen on the picture. If you happened on three naked women and a peacock in the course of a country walk instead of a visit to the National Gallery, you would certainly seek an explanation - just as the purists who make a point of not reading the libretto before sitting through Lucia di Lammermoor would certainly demand what was going on were they staying in a Scottish country-house party when a girl suddenly ran downstairs in a bloodstained nightdress.

Still, to be artificial is not necessarily wrong in artistic manners, art being by definition artificial. This particular artificiality, however, seems to me mistaken because it is not necessary. It is not a case of training and concentrating the mind on the work of art by excluding anything which could distract and interfere. It is, rather, an inhibition of an irrational kind; the 'literary' element is dreaded simply through superstition; were it admitted, it would not interfere and might enhance.

Of course, if you had to opt for either composition and texture or the 'story' of the picture, you would be bound to take the former, because those are exclusive to Rubens and constitute what is masterly in the masterpiece, whereas the subject of the Judgement of Paris is shared by several quite indifferent painters. But there is no need to choose - any more than there is to choose between words and music in opera. The mind is quite sophisticated enough to take in that one and the same area of paint is both a splendid rendering of peacock-texture and the emblem of a goddess, or that one and the same sound of a certain frequency is both top C and the heroine's shriek of distress. With all respect to the debate between the composer and the poet in Capriccio, there really is no dispute; if it's a question of which is first in importance, the music wins hands down; and it is, of course, one's musical ear one takes to the opera house: but if the experience should also happen to delight one's literary ear (as happened in the 1960s with the revelation of Congreve's words in Semele), it would be the most wantonly puritanical defiance of the Life Force to slip in an ear-plug. Literary pleasure is not anti-musical but a happy bonus - as though a person one was in love with anyway turned out also to have won on a Premium Bond.

Brigid Brophy, Reads (London, Sphere Books Ltd 1989) pp. 21-22

Current Favourite Sentence

Had I a foe whom I held at deadliest feud, I would entice his favourite child to a Fair, and buy him a Whistle and a Penny-trumpet.

Abai Redux

If you look for Abai Kunanbayev under his more Turkic (i.e. post-1991) name of Abay Qunanbayuli, then the pictures which come up are better. I particularly like the one in which he looks like Mole from The Wind in the Willows.

Fernão de Magalhães (1480-1521)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Attractin', Enticin', Temptin' and Seductin'

My older brother has posted some pictures of sea-slugs on his blog, but I got this great image of another nudibranch from here. Follow the link and it explains this post's title: isn't love wonderful?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Marian and I went away for a clean mid-week break in Aldeburgh. Aldeburgh has:
famous residents;

lovely fresh fish;

the mutilated corpses of lovely fresh fish (is this a de-winged skate?);

a shingly beach, which is quite enjoyable both in long-shot

and in close-up;

a truly terrible monument, by Maggi Hambling, to one of its famous residents (it is in the inept form of several slightly broken scallop shells: the quotation sheared through its edge is from Britten's Peter Grimes, and so refers to two of Aldeburgh's famous residents, but the monument is mainly aimed at Britten);

and clinging vines which take little pocks off the paint they cling to.

It was a great place: the good second-hand bookshop sold me David Garnett's Aspects of Love, which was both good, because it was a book by Garnett I hadn't read, and bad, because it turned out to be awful. Ah well.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Trees Like Capillaries

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fruit Mimicry

The whole great story is here. Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

William Blake

What is it men in women do require
The lineaments of Gratified Desire
What is it women do in men require
The lineaments of Gratified Desire

Monday, February 11, 2008

Birch Bark

Unidentified Fungus

This is neither Jew's Ear nor Chicken of the Woods. Nor is it King Alfred's Cakes or Sulphur Tuft. But what it is, I don't know.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Abai Kunanbayev (1845-1904)

Bard of pre-Socialist Kazakhstan. Sorry he's the size of a postage stamp. He also appears on the 20 tenge note.

Dzhambul, Bard of Socialist Kazakhstan

There's a tongue in cheek web-page to give you all the gen. Including some of his miraculous poems.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Camilo José Cela (1915-2002)

They've reopened the 2001 plagiarism case, in which Cela was alleged to have stolen large tracts of his novel La Cruz de San Andrés from Carmen Formoso's novel Carmen, Carmela, Carmiña.

Given that the novels are set in the same place and have characters with the same names doing the same things, there might be a case for the heirs of Cela to answer. The Independent has a nice article on the case which ends with a few facts about the Franco-supporter Cela, including this gem: 'Famously outspoken, he once boasted on television that he could pump a litre of water through his bottom.'

But Jon, I'd Prefer to Live Here

Kasimir Malevich, Red House 1932

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Emerald Ash Borer

An emerald-green insect which bores its way into ash trees. Who needs scientific taxonomy?

Angler Fish