24 December 2014

A Giovanni Agostino da Lodi Christmas

In sweet rejoicing,
now sing and be glad!
Our hearts' joy
lies in the manger;
And it shines like the sun
in the mother's lap.
 - excerpt from In dulce jubilo , a carol from the Medieval period, originating in a mixture of Latin and German.

To readers of The Blue Lantern and those who have shared your thoughts, my wish for peace and joy to all.

Image: Giovanni Agostino da Lodi - The Holy Family,   c.1495-1520, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Not much is known about the.painter Giovanni Agostino da Lodi.  He was active in the period roughly bounded by 1495 and 1520.   For this reason attributions of his work has been fluid, to say the least, for centuries.  Nevertheless, the quiet work represents the wonder oc creation in a manner that transcends the particulasr of religious beliefs.  The folds of the fabric of their clothing carry expressive weight , and the austere linear style were not particularly characteristic of Agostino da Lodi's work, but they do share the style of the 12th-century Lombard school of painting.

22 December 2014

The Nativity Poems: Joseph Brodsky

“Snow is falling, leaving the whole world unmanned,
in the minority.  Now your private detective
agency comes into its own and
you catch up with yourself  because your prints are so
recognizably defective.

Not that you're about to collect a reward
for turning yourself in.  A noiseless, nothing of note
precinct.  With the onset of night, so much light's packed
into one star-shard.

It's like refugees packed into one boat.
Mind you don't go blind.  You, yourself are on the street,
an orphan, a social pariah, an outcast
who, for all your pocket slapping, have come up with sweet
damn all.  From your mouth there issues only a dragon blast
of hot air.  Maybe the time has come for you, another
Nazarene, to offer

up a prayer for all those hotshot
wise men, from both sides of the planet, schlepping along
with their groaning coffers,
for all th little children in their carry cots.”
 translated from the Russian by Paul Muldoon, 1986, in Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2001.

From the time he was a young man, Joseph Brodsky tried to compose a Christmas poem each year “as a sort of birthday greeting.”  To Brodsky, Christmas was a holiday and Christianity as a religion were markers of the passing of time.  Christianity, with its ordering of time – B.C. And A.D. – showed its “temerity.”   “What is included in this 'before”  he asked.? Although as a native of Russia, Brodsky might have been expected to follow the Russian Orthodox Church, he pointed out that celebrating Christmas is a more important event in Roman Catholicism. Because water is about movement and therefore connected to chronos, Brodsky liked to celebrate the holiday in Venice.  
In,"Snow is falling" we can find elements from the Christmas story, refracted through the realities of life under the Soviet regime.  Brodsky undoubtedly had read the early satirists of the regime: Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov. You don't have to read The Twelve Chairs to get Brodsky' slant here, but you shoudl treat yourself.

Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad.  He began writing poetry in his twenties while working a s a geologist’s assistant.  His work attracted the attention of the great poet of Russia’s ‘Silver Age’, Anna Akhmatova.  Less fortunately, it also attracted the attention of the authorities.  Brodsky was a writer who believed the maxim “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.  Notwithstanding that when he was forced to emigrate, first to Vienna and then  to the United States, his application was supported most strongly  W.H. Auden, a homosexual, when Brodsky came to write a book about Venice (Watermark,1992 ), he included a number of gratuitous swipes at homosexuals, sounding like nothing so much as a cranky old man.  Brodsky, who died at age fifty-six, looked like an old man even in his forties.  Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1987.

Image: Mikhail Lemkhin - untitled (Xmas star) from Nativity Poems.

26 November 2014

The Polymathic Career of Edouard-Marcel Sandoz

"And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;"
 - excerpt from "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" by Wallace Stevens

To make a bronze rabbit look alive, to achieve what Wallace Stevens called "rabbit-light+,  and, further, to make a cocked ear that looks as though it will twitch at any moment, takes the combined talents of a polymath, someone who knows the properties of the materials, the ways of animals, and a deep spatial sense.   Someone like Edoaurd-Marcel Sandoz.    The same master of verisimilitude who could carve a falcon on a branch, out of a branch, could also make porcelain appear to be origami paper birds (saliere en forme de cocotte en papier), a winsome feat  trompe-l'oieil.

Edouard Marcel Sandoz (1881-1971)  was born  in Basel, Switzerland.  His father, Edward, founded  the Sandoz  Pharmaceutical  Company (now Novartis).
After  a period in Rome, Sandoz studied at the School of Industrial Arts in Geneva from 1900-03. Then he enrolled at  l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris for two years of training  with  sculptors Antonin Mercie (1845-1916), Antoine Injalbert (1845-1933), and the painter Fernand Cormon (1854-1924).  Sandoz was most influenced by a sculptor he apparently never worked with, Francois Pompon (1855-1933). Pompon had worked as an assistant to Auguste Rodin.  His L’Ours Blanc (1922), some translated as The Polar Bear in Stride, is one of the most loved works at the Musee d’Orsay .

The career Sandoz fashioned from his many interests  encompassed painter-decorator, engineer, physicist, chemist (researching dyes and their applications), inventor (the invention of the black light has been attributed to Sandoz.  “Art must include love, nature, and science,” Sandoz wrote (the translation is mine). His heart belonged to sculpture, with a special chamber for  his love of animals.
It was a shortage of bronze and stone for sculpture during World War I that led Sandoz to begin working with porcelain and to his association with the Haviland  Limoges firm from 1915-1952.  His porcelain  boxes, bottles, carafes, tea and coffee services  were  among its most sought after items.  Sandoz worked  with  other materials, such as  marble, bronze when he turned to sculpture.  Stylistically, Sandoz  easily embraced the  transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco.  Even today, these styles may seem peculiarly foreign, even though Rockefeller Center is the center of a mythic Art Deco Manhattan, but Sandoz would surely be better known in North America if his work could travel, no small undertaking for sculptures.

That deep spatial sense I mentioned enabled Sandoz to create his masterpiece, The Crossroads of Life  (1967), that stands in the garden of the Musee Oceanograhpique  in Monaco.   The four-sided figure represents the stages in the life of a woman:  infancy, youth, maturity, age.    Viewed from the front,  she is a nubile young woman, in the curvilinear Art Nouveau style.  On the back of the statue, her hair becomes a drape, she is covered with a robe and it is the child who is naked.  The right profile, under a veil of  hair, is the face of a mature woman.  The left profile shows the face of an old woman.
Sandoz founded the French Wildlife  Society in 1933 and, with his brother Aurelius, an animal sanctuary. Sandoz's relationship with animals was deep.   There are photographs of him at work in his studio at  Denantou in Lausanne surrounded  by  a panther, fennecs, monkeys, cubs,  fish, frogs, turtles, dogs, cats, parrots, and even a cheetah.

In recognition of his many and various achievements, Sandoz was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and also a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
He died in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1971.

For more, visit Fondation Sandoz.
1. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Lapin a l'oreille dressee (Rabbit with a cocked ear), La Piscine, Roubai.
2. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Falcon on a Branch, Fondation Sandoz, Basel.
3. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Owl, private collection, France.
4. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Saliere en forme de cocotte, La Piscine, Roubaix.
5. unidentified photographer - Sandoz in his studio.