Dream that descend as waterfalls
Illuminating diamond brilliance deepest night
The glowing tail of a shooting star
Flashes of lightning amidst menacing clouds
Lamp shining in an assassin’s cave
Upon awakening transparent as bubbles
Illusions in the watery morning light
See the endless things as a dewdrop
This place has the shimmer of an illusory construct Though rumour has it exists in actuality The tales told suggest some impossible fable Realised through masses of stone and marble In certain lights disappearing, rendered invisible Then when the mists disperse, dissipate, revealing, Floating above the void, Sinking into the abyss; The Capital of Impermanence.
Guiseppe Arcimboldo is a hazy peripheral figure in art history. Enjoying noble and royal patronage he was honoured during his lifetime before completely falling out of fashion during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries only to be rediscovered by the Surrealists in the 20th. Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Man Ray were all admirers and Arcimboldo’s visual puns and double meanings undoubtedly influenced Dali’s infamous paranoiac-critical method. Other art historians posited Arcimboldo as the most mannered of all the Mannerists. His composite portraits certainly show the period’s taste for enigmas and riddles taken far into the hinterlands of the grotesque and the whimsically bizarre.
Vertumnus is Arcimboldo’s most famous painting, a composite portrait of his patron, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman God of metamorphosis, the seasons, gardens and vegetable growth. The plants, flowers and fruits that form the portrait of Rudolf II are from every season and are taken to represent the perfect harmony and balance with nature that his reign would re-establish. Unfortunately events and history had other things in mind for the studious, occult inclined Rudolf II and his notably tolerant court of Prague, leading eventually to the calamity of the Thirty Year War between competing Catholic and Protestant states before engulfing the majority of European great powers.
Other notable composite portraits painted by Arcimboldo include the Four Seasons, the Four Elements and the witty The Librarian (below).
A supremely thought provoking and troubling philosophical painting by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte. We are presented with a meretriciously drawn image of a pipe while beneath the neat legend paradoxically informs us that Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It seems that before us is less a painting than another one of Magritte’s monstrously banal, and ultimately terrifying, pictorial mysteries.
The pipe drawn with such painstaking exactitude is of course just a representation of a pipe. You cannot hold in your hands, stuff it with tobacco and smoke it, which is surely what is required of a pipe for it to be a pipe. Yet we feel perplexed and somehow obscurely cheated. If it the case that ‘perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves’, then all we can know are images of the world, and images are by their very nature treacherous. All we have is the map, and as everyone knows, the map is not the territory.
I saw you clearly, as you are,
For the first time in a long while
From the perspective of the hallway
In the stillness of the afternoon
The bedroom (our bedroom) door
Wide open of any passing voyeur
To see and stare at the scene
Spot-lit by a pellucid light
Glaucous and migraine inducing
Nearly naked but of an undone bra
Twisted black satin and frilled lace
Lying almost still on the bed (our bed)
Pale flesh limpid in the peculiar glow
Your limbs entwined entangling
Intimately with his legs and arms
I flatten myself against the wall
But never for a second avert my gaze
Still my breath, strain to catch
Any stray whispered endearments
Sweet nothings or talking dirty
Hypnotic mesmerizing scandals
From this vantage point, this angle
I am unsure as to the identity
Of my lover’s lover, he could be
My brother, best friend or any
Stray random other, my betrayer
I am enraged, ashamed, enraptured
After all these years how could she?
The shame should be theirs but I’m
Intruding on an illicit secret passion
My skin burns hot with rushing blood
Perversely enjoying the raging hellfire
Of a jealously never to be quenched
Fanning ever anew with fierce delight
At the thought of this vivid tableau
Unknowingly arranged and presented
For my vast ever constant delectation,
A whole world of infinite heartbreak
In a pair of hastily cast-aside shoes.