Inferno

Sandro Botticelli-Map of Hell circa 1485
Sandro Botticelli-Map of Hell circa 1485

Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of the  undisputed masterpieces of world literature and the crowning achievement of the medieval world-view. Representing the allegorical journey of the soul through the three realms of the afterlife, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, the Comedy offers a series of vividly dramatic scenes that has ignited the imagination of artists throughout the centuries, especially the unforgettable voyage through the seven circles of Hell, where Dante with his guide Virgil hear the stories of sinners as they undergo the eternal torments of the damned.

Sandro Botticelli produced a number of exquisite silverpoint illustrations, probably commissioned by Lorenzo De Medici during the latter years of the 15th Century, however the project was never completed. William Blake taught himself Italian to be able to read the Comedy in the original and spent his final days feverishly working on a series of sublime watercolours. Gustave Dore’s sombre and majestic otherworldly etchings are probably the greatest completed visual rendition of Dante’s narrative. In the twentieth century Tom Phillips produced a unique take in his limited edition of Inferno.

Below are examples of the four artists work based around episodes set in the Inferno. I have also included  Stockhausen’s Luzifers Abschied, which has to rank as the strangest, most left field, left handed experimental piece of music (or any other media, for that matter) included in Cakeland; just in case anyone wants to really immerse themselves in the infernal atmosphere of the artworks.

Sandro Botticelli-Illustration for Divine Comedy circa 1485
Sandro Botticelli-Illustration for Inferno circa 1485
William Blake-The Inscription over the Gate 1824-7
William Blake-The Inscription over the Gate 1824-7
William Blake-The Simoniac Pope 1824-7
William Blake-The Simoniac Pope 1824-7
Gustave Dore-Lucifer 1861
Gustave Dore-Lucifer 1861
Gustave Dore-Traitors 1861
Gustave Dore-Traitors 1861
Tom Phillips-Canto XIX 1981
Tom Phillips-Canto XIX 1981
Tom Phillips-Canto XIV-1982
Tom Phillips-Canto XIV-1982

 

After Bataille

Illustration for Madame Edwarda by Georges Bataille-Kuniyoshi Kaneko-1976
Illustration for Madame Edwarda by Georges Bataille-Kuniyoshi Kaneko-1976

As the tiger is to space,
So sex is to time,
Apparition of savage grace,
The prelude to crime,
A loss of all face,
A rending tear in the fabric
Stitched together by some joking maverick

Demented demiurge blind
And paralytic:
The only thing on your ravaged mind
Syphilitic,
Is where to find
The pot to piss and shit in
Which is, all things considered, rather fitting.

We’re near the limits of the I,
But I is another,
A discontinuity of cries,
All passion is other,
Into the emptiness we sigh,
Signs descend into parody,
Eggs eyes and testicles a chain of analogy.

I meet God, a lazy whore
Lolling on a bed,
Don’t you want some more?
As she opened her legs she said:
I needed her tender and raw
So I could penetrate the mystery,
Plumb the void of the coruscating divinity.

Mirror Images

mirror broken

(This is a post that has previously appeared here, however now with four illustrations by Susanne Rempt).

All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realised that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence.  It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All that was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.

Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples)voodoo mirror

are decorated with mirrors as they are conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’

In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) by Vivant Denon the artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.mirror hand

One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’

However, for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. _20180102_164940 (1)Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.

Seasons of the Witch

Francisco Goya-El_Aquelarre Witches Sabbath)1798
Francisco Goya-El_Aquelarre (Witches Sabbath) 1798

The figure of the witch has haunted many an artists work, from the strange and disturbing phantasmagorias of Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien at the time when the Early Modern witch trials were sweeping across large swathes of Europe to the feminist re-envisionings of Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Alison Blickle.

The archetypal image of the witch created in the Early Modern period is of a women, alternatively a hideous crone or a beautiful temptress, engaging in nocturnal flights upon enchanted broomsticks or diabolical animals to attend Sabbaths presided over by the Devil in animal form, where they participate in sexual orgies and blood rites. This delirious but potent fantasy contributed to the hysteria that resulted in around 50,000 executions between 1424 to 1785. Even after the witch craze abated she lingered in art as a femme fatale in the 19th Century, only to be reborn and recast in spectacular fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries as an unlikely heroine and High Priestess of a new religion.

Below is a brief tour of pictorial representations across the centuries from the 16th to the 21st that highlights the spell that the witch and her craft has cast across cultures and periods.

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Cosmic Emblems

Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra Emblem 5-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme

The German shoemaker, mystic and visionary Jacob Boehme’s dense theosophical writings are filled with alchemical references and allusions. These taken together with elements of Gnosticism and the Kabbalah make Boehme one of the most occult inclined of Christian writers.

The following illustrations are taken from the appendix to William Law’s four volume edition of Boehme’s writing translated into English. Law was an Anglican priest who lost his position when he refused to give an oath of allegiance to King George I and therefore become a private tutor. Among his students were Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall Of the Roman Empire and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, (though they fell out over Law’s admiration of Boehme).

The illustrations were undertaken by the London based German mystic Dionysuis Andreas Freher, whose work was a major influence upon the English poet, painter and prophet William Blake.

The complete series of emblems included above and below tells of Creation, the fall of Lucifer followed by the fall of Adam and man’s redemption through Jesus. Interestingly Sophia, a figure found in Gnosticism features prominently (the top S contrasting with the S of Sathan down below). The drawings of Hieroglyphica Sacra are unusual with their  near geometric abstraction, minimalism and pared down symbolism. It is alchemical art taken to its most cosmic level, an allegory of the War in the Three Realms of Heaven, Earth and HellDionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 3-William Law edition of Jacob Boehm

Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 1-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme

Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 2-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 2-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 3-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 3-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 4-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 4-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 6-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 6-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 7-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 7-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 8-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 8-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 9-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 9-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 10-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 10-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 11-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 11-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 12-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 12-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 13-William Law edition of Jacob Boehm
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 13-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme