Dreams of Desire 23 (Elle)

Elle-Gustav Adolphe-Mossa 1905
A delirious summation of late Decadent motifs and misogyny, Mossa’s Elle presents a vision of the cosmic and mythological femme fatale. A gigantic female figure, Elle, whose baby doll face contrasts sharply with the full sensuous body sits provocatively atop a mountain of predominantly male corpses and bodies. The only colouration on her pale skin is the tiny hand prints of blood left on her fleshy thighs by her doomed victims. Her shadowed gaze is seductively direct beneath the three skulls she sports in her hairdo, watched over by two ill-omened ravens.

A potent if somewhat tawdry (but the Symbolists were never very restrained) combination of Biblical and mythological references, Elle could represent the apocalyptic Whore of Babylon or is maybe an allusion to the Valkyries of Norse Mythology (Wagner was the favourite composer of the Symbolists). The Valkyries would choose half the slain of the battlefield to come to Valhalla in preparation for Ragnarok (or Gotterdammerung in German, the twilight of the gods). Ravens were a bird considered sacred and intimately connected to Odin the All-Father who was always accompanied by two named Huginn and Muginn (Thought and Memory).

26 thoughts on “Dreams of Desire 23 (Elle)

      1. Symbolist/decadence was an artistic movement that started with Charles Baudelaire in around the 1850s. He translated Edgar Allan Poe into French and if you have read the fall of the house of usher you have read the basic text of decadence. Decadence and symbolism are synonymous terms because in his poem Correspondences he places great emphasis on the symbol. Decadence themes are:decay, death,artifice, addiction,madness,sexual perversion, ennui and affects a general world weariness. It was also wildly misogynist, women are femme fatales luring weak willed men to there doom. The movement peaked in French in around the 1880’s but it went international and there were decadent writers in England in the 1890’s and a particular demented version in Russia in the 1900’s. Obviously for a style that promotes a lack of vigour as a plus and the finite nature of themes and material in its latter stages it got more and more outrageous while the quality diminished. Symbolist elements can be found in Expressionism and later Surrealism. Symbolism could also be seen as the decay of Romanticism. Sorry if I went on too long and bored you.

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  1. And the two pieces of writing? I wasn’t able to make out what they say… Is the one supposed to be a certificate of some sort? Sealed (splattered) with blood? And the “halo” at her head? I like the possible connection to Norse mythology.

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    1. I cannot quite make them out either…I am presuming it is probably something from the Bible in Latin, that is only a guess however…the halo is blasphemous, of course. I am only guessing at the Norse connection and even if Wagner is an inspiration Elle is a mixing of various elements. It is quite a lurid painting.

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  2. This is absolutely amazing and I see why you connected it to the Valkyries of Norse Mythology … And Odin…. Now that you mentioned, It seems Apollo was always accompanied by ravens. Hence th raven became his symbol…
    Coronis was one of his lovers. Apollo ordered his divine messenger, a pure white raven, to guard her. … after discovering she was cheaiting on him with Ischys, he killed both Ischys and Coronis…The account says that Apollo flung a curse so furious the raven’s white plumage was scorched black by his solar flames.
    After his act of vengeance, Apollo felt a pang of grief as he watched Coronis be placed on the pyre and the flames ignite around her. At the last moment, he removed his son from her womb and gave his newborn son, Asclepius, to Chiron, the wise centaur who mentored Asclepius in the art of healing herbs. Thereafter, Apollo became associated with healing through his son, Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Coronis was set among the stars as Corvus, the crow… 😉
    Excellent post, dear Alan… ⭐ sending love & best wishes 😉

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