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This article is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Sides Unseen
The David Zwirner Books Ekphrasis Series
Jena Schmitt
A friend first pointed out Rilke’s Letters to a Young Painter at a bookshop in Toronto. Months later – after seeing a statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria stepping on the head of Emperor Maxentius – a table with birds’ feet by Meret Oppenheim – Rachel Krobone’s 399 Days, with its orgiastic tangle of limbs that references Ovid, Dante, Michelangelo and Bernini – a clever floral bouquet made of glinting petal-like profusions of silverware (Ann Carrington, 2016) – and the vast expanse of the Ardabil Carpet – on a Friday evening at the V&A, I happened upon South Kensington Books, where, along with the Rilke, there was Marcel Proust’s Chardin and Rembrant, Vernon Lee’s The Psychology of an Art Writer, and John Ruskin’s Giotto and His Works in Padua. (You must bear with me, I live in a small town where the only bookshop is in a strip mall with every second or third store boarded up and for lease. To occasionally find myself in a place where I might walk freely into a shop with an abundance of books or a space brimming with art still fills me with excitement.)

Rilke and Proust, Lee and Ruskin are part of the David Zwirner Books ekphrasis series, which includes unpublished, out-of-print and new writing about art, both serious and playful (from Degas and his Model and On Contemporary Art to Pissing Figures: 1280–2014 and Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art), an assortment of slim volumes designed to slip easily into a tote or pocket and carry along anywhere, with covers as mesmerizing as the rocks and minerals section of a natural history museum – one might be sulfurous, another malachite, amethyst, ochre, ruby, aquamarine, rose quartz, citrine, lapis lazuli.


Historically, ekphrasis was a term used to describe any vivid depiction in words, though it has come to mean more specifically a description of artwork in writing. There is a long tradition of rendering a painting, sculpture or architecture into poetic language. One of the first known examples, the fourth-century rhetorician Aphthonius’s Progymnasmata, was a textbook of sorts, filled with training exercises (Common topic: Against a tyrant… Characterization: What Niobe would say on the death of her children… Description: The temple in Alexandria, together with the acropolis… Thesis: Should one marry?). This was considered an important way to learn how to write well into the Renaissance, where the notion of ut pictura poesis loosely translates ‘as is painting so is poetry’.

Instances of ekphrastic poetry are as varied as they are plentiful: Homer’s shield of Achilles influenced Hesoid’s shield of Herakles; there is Sappho’s temple of Aphrodite; the ivory cup given by the goatherd to the shepherd Thyrsis in Theocritus’s Idylls; the armour of Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid; the relief sculptures in Dante’s Purgatorio; the tapestries and frescoes in Ariosto and Spencer; Catullus 64; Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece; Shelley’s ‘On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery’; Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and ‘On Seeing the Elgin Marbles’; Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘On a Portrait of Wordsworth, by R.B. Haydon’; Hope Mirrlees’s ‘A Meditation on Donatello’s Annunciation in the Church of Santa Croce, Florence’; Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’; William Carlos Williams’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’; Mina Loy’s ‘Brancusi’s Golden Bird’ and ‘Stravinski’s Flute’; Marianne Moore’s ‘An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish’; Tomas Tranströmer’s ‘The Palace’; Rita Dove’s ‘Agosta the Winged Man and Rasha the Black Dove’; Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s ‘Garden of Flesh, Garden of Stone’:

              lengths of blue, lengths of gray,
         yards and yards of quarried white. And the boy,
who is made of stone, who has stood still for a long time,
         pissing in the stone basin…

In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, both Mikhailov and Vronsky paint Anna’s portrait, though Vronsky abandons his version; in Austen’s Emma, Emma paints Harriet’s portrait while Mr. Elton lurks nearby; in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, Lucy Snowe describes a painting of Cleopatra in a gallery – ‘that wealth of muscle, that affluence of flesh’ – before Monsieur Paul Emanuel chastises and directs her to more appropriate artwork (that is, in Snowe’s words, ‘flat, dead, pale, and formal’). In Fleur Jaeggy’s I Am the Brother of XX, nymphs that are ‘wet, rapacious’ walk in and out of paintings in a museum, Venus is uncrated and takes a breath, a portrait of an unknown woman becomes a thief.

Some of Karl Ove Knausgård’s most responsive, acutely felt moments in the My Struggle series move in and around art:

… the moment I focused my gaze on the picture again all my reasoning vanished in the surge of energy and beauty that arose in me. Yes, yes, yes, I heard. That’s where it is. That’s where I have to go.
        (from A Death in the Family)

Whether referring to Rembrandt, Turner, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Constable, Balke, Dürer, Ernst, Munch, Blake’s Newton painting, drawings from Churchill’s eighteenth-century expedition or a cabinet of curiosities, Knausgård brings them into the immediate moment, giving them modern-day relevance, a past that tethers to the present and back, a timelessness that is reassuring, connecting thoughts and ideas, feeling and understanding. Not merely a description of a work of art but what one might bring to the experience of viewing it, stirring up what has perhaps been in stasis.

For this is what ekphrasis can do, a mise-en-abyme-like variation of a variation that reveals the vivacity of beauty and the gruesome lack thereof, an otherworldly window into vulnerabilities and needs, a verbal representation of the visual that motions the reader into new experiential places and reverberates around the senses, as palpable as eating a lemon macaron in Le Marais or noticing the metallic air just before a rainstorm.

‘The power of art to harmonize the self with itself and with the world’, writes Vernon Lee in The Psychology of an Art Writer. Born Violet Paget in 1856, Lee observed the physical sensations of looking at art, the effects on the body of the beholder, how ‘the silvery sheen of an olive tree, the dove-dappled-gray colour of a lake’ might be taken in, processed and re-expressed into words, how one might feel euphoric or irritated or indifferent depending on one’s mood while studying Signorelli’s Last Judgement, Titian’s Assumption, statues by Sansovino and Canova, Botticelli in the Uffizi Gallery, a Sabine priestess at the Loggia dei Lanzi, Melpomene holding the mask of Hercules, one version at the Louvre, another at the Vatican Museum.

Sometimes Lee is ‘tired, bored, disinclined to look at anything’, at others she has ‘strong palpitations, a general sense of cat’s fur brushed the wrong way’. Sometimes there is a bubbling up of pleasure, other times a great sigh of relief, the body’s sudden satisfying decompression. Contemplating Portrait of Innocent X by Velázquez, she notices the chair and sitter askew, so ‘that we should feel, as he does, the other unseen side…’.

The direction of the gaze, the impression of planes in detail, suggestion of movement and gesture, existence in space, a sense of aliveness and feeling, something real to hold onto, are important to Lee, as is colour – ‘cold rose, warm grey, vivid geranium’, ‘pleasure, in a very deep sea-green Perugino background’, also ‘[c]ertain blues and lilacs catch me at once with a sense of bodily rapture, unlocalised but akin to that of tastes and smells. Also certain qualities of flesh, its firmness, warmth…’.

To taste a shade of violet, smell a sunlit yellow. In these synesthesia-like flashes, a transference occurs: ‘I then begin to see the relief, go into the picture…’ she writes of Baldovinetti’s Madonna and Saints. For some, art can be a sensory experience that slips around the pleasure centres of the mind, all-encompassing, insistent, transformative. ‘The work of art is the joint product’, she continues, ‘the point of intersection of the process of the attention of the artist who makes it (hence Löwy’s memory images, etc.), and of the process of attention of those who look at it’.

In photographs for exhibits of Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures, for instance, I see droplets of water gliding down a windowless window, cells dividing, dendrites, mitochondria, viruses, nerve-endings, the fins of a fish, amoeba-like entities, organisms alive and amorphous and breathing. There is airiness, a sense of floating, of expansiveness and possibility, of uncontained containment. Vivian Suter’s brightly coloured canvases hanging unframed and overlapping on the walls and from the ceiling in the middle of a gallery, free to waver and curl, drape and overlap, are compelling emotional affairs, a chattering of conversations, playful and joyous and crisp at times, at times moody and aphotic and weathered, a leaf caught in the paint, a wavelike image whipped by the wind.

‘The total impression of a work of art is, I think, the sum of a series of acts of attention’, Lee surmises. This need for concentration, focus and discipline are reaffirmed in Rilke’s Letters to a Young Painter when he addresses the young Balthus: ‘There you have it, my dear. Try, make an effort, there is nothing in life that doesn’t produce a very valuable and ultimately individual pleasure if only we are a little persistent’.

‘My dear Balthus, bon courage!’ Rilke repeats, the way Rodin used to offer bon courage to Rilke. He often followed his mentor’s advice (‘you must work, always work’, Rodin had determined, in order to dedicate one’s life to art without distraction). In writing his Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke moves no less than seven times, from Paris to Pisa to Bremen to Rome to cities in Sweden and back to Paris; in Letters to a Young Painter four times, from a castle in Zurich to a château in Valais to Vaud back to the château in Valais, in search of rest, good health, the space to think and write.

It was after leaving his wife and daughter in Germany to live in Paris for six years that he reconnected with close friend and artist Baladine Klossowska, after she separated from her husband, along with her children Pierre and Balthus, and they lived together as a family – with a stray cat named Mitsou. Klossowska and her children would eventually move to Berlin without Rilke, who had isolated himself in a state of ecstatic rapture while writing the Duino Elegies (from ‘The Second Elegy’: ‘But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we / breathe ourselves out and away…’) and Sonnets to Orpheus (‘But out of listening. Bellow, cry, and roar…’).

Letters to a Young Painter has a distinct feel from Letters to a Young Poet. Rather than the ‘nobody can counsel and help you, nobody’ and ‘we are unutterably alone’ tone of the poet-letters (signed ‘Ever yours: Rainer Maria Rilke’), the painter-letters, written twenty years later, are lighter, breezier, more affectionate and encouraging, a merging between father figure, friend and fellow artist. He recounts a story about a gap that forms at midnight:
between the day that was ending and the one about to begin, and that a very nimble and clever person who managed to slip into that gap would escape from time and find himself in a realm free of all the changes we are subject to. All the things we have lost are gathered there – Mitsou, for example… broken dolls from childhood, etc., etc.

He cautions Balthus, though, to peer into that space rather than leap right in. Later, he sends his love ‘as though I were still the / Réne of the old days’. (Born Réne, he changed his name to Rainer at the suggestion of a former lover, Lou Andreas-Salomé, who considered it stronger, more Germanic, then changed it back to the French-sounding Réne.)

The letters offer glimpses into Rilke and (through Rilke) Balthus’s day-to-day, most of the letters written near Balthus’s ‘invisible’ leap-year birthday on February 29. Interests and ideas that inform both of their arts practices are captured in a caring, easygoing manner – a Middle Ages exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale (‘it must be astonishing!’); the seventeenth-century drawings of flowers and animals at the Pavillon Marsan; the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon that adorns the Jardin des Plantes brought as a sapling in the crown of botanist Le Jussieau’s hat in 1734; the issue of Válery’s ‘Notes on Narcissus’ from the 12-volume Série de L’Horloge; a watercolour of Rilke’s parents painted by Klossowska; the copy of Nicolas Poussin’s Echo and Narcissus that Balthus paints for Rilke. Rilke’s poem ‘Narcissus’, in turn, is dedicated to Balthus (‘It’s the return of all desire that enters / toward all life embracing itself from afar…’).

And then there is the missing Mitsou, adored by Balthus, inspiration for the charmingly dramatic thick-lined drawings in Mitsou: Forty Images by Baltusz, to which Rilke writes the preface: ‘Can one lose a cat, a living thing, a living being, a life? To lose a life is death! / Well, then, it’s death’.

Cats continue to wander in and out of their lives, in Rilke’s poem ‘Black Cat’ – ‘A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place / your sight can knock on, echoing…’, and many more in Balthus’s paintings, including Le Chat de la Méditérranée (1949), Le Roi des Chats (1935), La Patience (1943), Le Chat au miroir I, II and III (1980, 1986, 1989), the Thérèse paintings (1938–1939) and Jeune fille à la mandolin (2000–2001), lapping milk from a saucer, rubbing up against the artist’s legs, slipping out from around a corner, sitting on a chair, taking the shape of a human. Klossowska, too, would paint a watercolour of Balthus’s arms around a tabby; her two children seated at an addled table set with striped tablecloth, pale-blue napkins, a splash of green, pears perhaps; Rilke resting on a sofa (La Contemplation Intérieure: Rilke dormant sur un petit sofa à Muzot, 1921).

Rilke was well aware of connection and influence, faith and the desire to create, the need to be alone, to press an ear against an invisible wall and wait as long as necessary for the words to come. In his second to last letter to Balthus, dated 24 February, 1926, ten months before his death, Rilke writes about ‘the harmony being created between your imagination and everything that happens to you’, which Balthus would echo decades later: ‘All of a sudden the vision that pre-existed incarnates itself, more or less intuitively and more or less precisely. The dream and the reality are superimposed and made one’.

For H.D., artistic expression was an aqueous cap: ‘transparent, fluid yet with definite body… like a closed sea-plant, jelly-fish or anemone’, something she called the over-mind, where ‘thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water’, or like a lens, where ‘the whole world of vision is open to us’.

    The essays in Visions and Ecstasies, many published for the first time, are filled with other intriguing, manifesto-like statements and perceptions:
Most of the so-called artists of today have lost the
use of their brain.

We begin with sympathy of thought.

The minds of the two lovers merge, interact in
sympathy of thought.  

There is no trouble about art, it is the appreciators
we want.

If you cannot be entertained and instructed by
Boccaccio, Rabelais, Montaigne, Sterne, Middleton, de Gourmont and de Régnier there is something
wrong with you physically.

There is plenty of pornographic literature that is
interesting and amusing.

There is nothing horrible in the statues of gods,
half-gods, maidens and winged deities of the
Acropolis…  

Headstrong and demonstrative, H.D is remembered predominantly for her Imagist poetry, a movement that has always confined her reputation, as movements and categories are wont to do, especially if one doesn’t quite fit in. (Another H.D. statement: ‘The new schools of destructive art theorists are on the wrong track’.)

Filled with images of the sea and flowers – roses, violets, rhododendrons, irises, poppies, hyacinths, crocuses and hepaticas that appear to be just that, roses, violets, Rhododendrons, irises, poppies, hyacinths, crocuses and hepaticas – her language teeters toward the overly tender:
My mouth is wet with your life,
my eyes blinded by your face,
a heart itself which feels
the intimate music…
       (from the poem ‘Eros’)

Yet one cannot help but appreciate the desire to recreate the garden of Dionysus, with its ‘fragrant wild azalea and wild rose-tree brush’, its honeysuckle and myrtle, a place where the crocuses are ‘walled against blue of themselves’ and saffron have ‘very golden hearts’. Who wouldn’t want to sit in such a garden, its efflorescence offering both beauty and decay, insights and, as in the Jardin des Plantes, les carrés de la perspective:
At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light…
       (from ‘Eurydice’)

In other tropistic instances, ideas and syntax bend and turn in the most engaging ways. Take ‘Toward the Piraeus’:
If I had been a boy,
I would have worshipped your grace,
I would have flung my worship
before your feet,
I would have followed apart,
glad, rent with an ecstasy
to watch you turn
your great head, set on the throat,
thick, dark with its sinews,
burned and wrought
like the olive stalk,
and the noble chin
and the throat.

I would have stood,
and watched and watched
and burned…
In short essays ‘Notes on Thought and Vision’, ‘People of Sparta’, ‘From Megara to Corinth’, ‘A Poet in the Wilderness: Songs of Anacreon’ and ‘Curled Thyme’, H.D. continues to explore gender, sexuality and the artistic process, incorporating flowers and Greek mythology into her writing, likening Euripides to a white rose, ‘lyric, feminine, a spirit’. She talks about the Eleusinian Mysteries, ‘coloured marbles and brown pottery, painted with red and vermillion…’, and its three phases – the descent, the search, the ascent – as the three stages of creative awareness. The Charioteer of Delphi – ‘the bend of his arm, the knife-cut of his chin… the fall of his drapery, in geometric precision’ – not created by ‘inspiration’, but ‘sheer, hard brain work’.

She goes on to posit the ideas of the body as an oyster, the soul a pearl, the womb as a space of creativity, and wonders if a man’s ‘love-region’ compares to that of a female’s, associating the creation of art to giving birth. In a similar manner, images of wombs and foetuses appear in many of Frida Kahlo’s paintings – in Moses, or Nucleus of Creation (1945), a womb rains tears; in Henry Ford Hospital (1932) the womb is a broken jacaranda-like flower tied to a red string; in Without Hope (1945) internal organs spew forth from her mouth; in My Birth (1932) she pushes her own bloodied head out from between her legs – so many struggles to conceive. In the poem ‘Parturition’, the painter and poet Mina Loy speaks of ‘[t]he contents of the universe’ made in and by her own body – a human being, a painting, a piece of writing:
Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which        goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself…

According to H.D., ‘it was before the birth of my child that the jelly-fish consciousness seemed to come definitely in to the field or realm of the intellect or brain’, and a wealth of poetry and prose soon followed – not only Notes on Thought and Vision (1919) but Paint It Today (1919), Translations (1920), Hymen (1921) and Heliodora and Other Poems (1924). In the novel Asphodel (written in 1921 but not published until 1992), the main character, Hermione, travels on a boat from New York to France (‘Stairs in her imagination heaved and sank under her. She seemed about to float away, lax, bodiless…’), where, seasick, disembodied, a voice repeats ‘There is nothing wrong with you’ three times before she realizes: ‘… de Maupassant was true. Literature was true. If de Maupassant was true then life and letters met, were not subdivided, hermetically shut apart. Helen thy beauty is to me…’. Helen, Zeus, Hesperus, Calypso, Odysseus, Sappho – they open their arms and mouths, breathe and battle, leap from page to page, from poem to novel to essay. As for admired artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, H.D. supposes ‘[he] saw the faces of many of his youths and babies and young women definitely in his over-mind’, that ‘his kind are never old, never dead’, that creation of any sort requires a convergence of consciousness, skill, conviction, and perhaps most important of all, devotion. If a painting such as Madonna of the Rocks is not a picture but a window, as H.D. suggests, then one must actively and diligently take the time to look through in order to truly see.

In the translator’s note to Chardin and Rembrandt, Jennie Feldman writes that ‘the leap between art and life is a dynamic one’ and that ‘[ar]rt is the spur to an imaginative exploration of the inner worlds of others’, ultimately an exploration of one’s own inner world, with so many worries and fantasies, memories and emotions milling about.

Written by Proust, Chardin and Rembrandt is perhaps the most exciting of the ekphrasis series, an unfinished essay (twenty years before the writing of the seven-volume In Search of Lost Time / Remembrance of Things Past) that ends midsentence, and even in its incompleteness reveals the progression of images and ideas that would lead to his most ambitious and celebrated work, where, after dipping a now-clichéd madeleine into lime-blossom tea, Marcel sees in exceptional detail his life before him, ‘the glimmering flame of the night-light in its bowl of Bohemian glass’ and ‘the chimney-piece of Siena marble’ in his bedroom at Combray, the V-shaped opening of Mlle Vinteuil’s crepe bodice and the depth of a blue-violet pond that suggests ‘a floor of Japanese cloisonné’, ‘the kings of chivalry with lilies in their hands’ and a ‘bloom of light’ that characterizes ‘certain passages of Lohengrin, certain paintings by Carpaccio’, the Angel’s trumpet in ‘The Dance of Death’ by Baudelaire, all of which reveal ‘a wink of connivance, a hint, a sudden meaning, a secret understanding, all the mysteries of complicity in a plot…’.

(Proust would go on to write about Chardin, in Volume III, The Guermantes Way, for example, where the painter M. Elstir is an admirer of his paintings: ‘Elstir sought to wrest from what he had just felt what he already knew; he had often been at pains to break up that medley of impressions which we call vision.’)

The start of the essay imagines an unnamed young man, bored after the midday meal, gazing at the unruly table, which bothers him less than the neatness to be found in the rest of the room. He leaves his domestic ennui, and his mother sewing – not to mention the dishes on the table, lucky him – by going to the Louvre ‘in search of Veronese’s palaces, Van Dyck’s princes, Claude Lorrain’s harbours’.

It is here that the narrator peeks into a doorway, breaking through a wall: ‘I would not put him off going to the Louvre – indeed, I would accompany him’, leading the young man through the La Caze room and the gallery of eighteenth-century French painters to get to the works of Chardin.

Chardin’s still lifes have always been more alive than still. In the colour plates that accompany the text – which include The Diligent Mother; The Buffet; Kitchen Utensils, Cauldron, Saucepan, and Eggs; The Ray – one can see the scenes of domesticity the young man has tried desperately to escape – a shiny copper saucepan, a clutch of eggs, a pyramid of glistening plums and peaches, creased white table linen. Proust’s language is evocative and memorable, from the extraordinary description of a cut-open ray’s ‘vast and delicate architecture, tinted with red blood, blue nerves, and white muscle, like the nave of a polychrome church’, to ‘[o]ysters as light as cupped mother-of-pearl and as cool as the seawater’, and dead fish in ‘stiff, desperate arcs, flat on their bellies, eyes bulging’. A self-portrait of Chardin, complete with eyeshade and peach-coloured scarf wrapped around his head and knotted at the neck, reminds Proust of an elderly woman, an English tourist, someone eccentric (this was the 1890s), but Chardin was able to capture the way he saw himself, or needed to, in soft light, wrapped in silks, Stygian shadows in the background.

Proust’s talk about Rembrandt, meanwhile, throws open the rest of the windows. In The Philosopher in Meditation there is ‘the glaze and glitter of blazing windows’, ‘how the light reddens a window like a furnace or paints it like stained glass’, which, in Proust’s mind, is ‘the gleam borrowed from beauty, the divine gaze’.

Soon after, the essay stops short, never fully realized, but with illuminating conclusions along the way: ‘We have learned that a pear is as alive as a woman, a plain earthenware vessel as beautiful as a precious stone’. That art has the ability to revel in the beauty of the everyday, what is perhaps glazed over, dismissed, diminished, taken for granted, unfinished; it ‘addresses our life, comes to touch upon it, slowly inclining us towards things … bringing us closer to the heart of them’.

There are many other sides unseen, of course. In Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art Michael Glover humorously recounts the history of the codpiece, from Titian, where ‘a mighty phallus was an object of wonder’, to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Wedding Dance (1566), where merry men think it no trouble to point themselves every which way, and Giorgione’s The Tempest, where a mother nurses her baby while a well-endowed fellow in tight embroidered breeches watches. One accoutrement might appear as though a snail’s shell between the legs, another ‘shoots up curvaceously, like a rearing horse’, a gearshift, overripe fruit hanging from a branch. In Wilde’s The Critic As Artist, Ernest and Gilbert banter back and forth all night:
Gilbert: All art is immoral.
Ernest: All art?
Gilbert: Yes.

until ‘[a] faint purple mist hangs over the Park, and the shadows of the white houses are purple’, and they decide to go to Covent Garden to gaze at the roses.

In times of great uncertainty and worry, one turns to art for consolation, escape, recognition, determination, different vantages, what Proust calls ‘a sharper awareness’, a voice for what is silent, an entrance into another space, a meaningful exchange. I might imagine, then, the radiant lapis lazuli that highlights the heavens like water in Giotto’s frescoes, how Ruskin, in Giotto and His Works in Padua, spoke of ‘[Giotto’s] love of what was most mysterious, yet most comforting and full of hope’, how in Swann’s Way Proust talks about the time it took Marcel to appreciate and understand ‘Charity devoid of charity’, and Knausgård, in A Death in the Family, of ‘the aura of vulnerability’ in people’s eyes. I might imagine seeing a version of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620–1621) at the Uffizi, a spray of blood like a burst pipe, Judith’s dress, the colour of cobalt at the Museo Capodimonte, now golden, blood-splattered, revealing; how in Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638–1639) the canvas she paints remains blank; the first major exhibition of her work, Artemisia, at the National Gallery postponed until further notice. I might imagine walking through the marbled corridors of the Louvre, past Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, through Room 17 to visit the Roman copies of the Three Graces (circle around them and one can see a scattering of timeworn bruises on their backs), Capitoline Venus standing after a bath, the perfectly tranquil Sleeping Hermaphroditus, then up the staircase to the Denon wing, where Winged Victory of Samothrace prepares for eternal flight.

Notes

The Psychology of an Art Writer by Vernon Lee, translated by Jeff Nagy (2018) £8.95
Letters to a Young Painter by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Damion Searls (2017) £8.95
Visions and Ecstasies by H.D. (2019) £8.95
Chardin and Rembrandt by Marcel Proust, translated by Jennie Feldman (2016) £8.95
Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art by Michael Glover (2019) £8.95
The Critic As Artist by Oscar Wilde (2019) £8.95
Giotto and His Works in Padua by John Ruskin (2018) £8.95

This article is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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