Monday, June 30, 2014

Morgan Library presents Treasures from Bodleian Library of Oxford University

Marks of Genius: Treasures from the Bodleian Library

Morgan Library and Museum

225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street, New York

June 6-September 14, 2014

Reviewed by Ed Voves
An exhibition of some of the most important cultural creations in world history is currently on view at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. The fifty-eight objects on display represent humanity's need for creative expression and showcase the role of genius in shaping civilization.

Make that Genius with a capital G.

Marks of Genius: Treasures from the Bodleian Library highlights the profound importance to humanity of the inspired creator - artist, writer and composer. These are the people whom Daniel Boorstin referred to as "heroes of the imagination." Sappho, Moses Maimonides, William Shakespeare, George Frideric Handel, Jane Austin and J. R. R. Tolkien are all represented here with carefully preserved manuscripts and art works from the collection of Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

George Frideric Handel Original conducting score of Messiah , Sept.–Oct. 1741
The role of the genius or the "great man" in history has been aggressively contested since the 1950's. However a visit to Marks of Genius may cause you to reconsider this controversy. The exhibition definitely underscores the way that gifted individuals - i.e. "geniuses" - can change the way we think, see and hear for the better.

A person of genius certainly has no easy task in making his or her contribution to humanity. One of the most poignant and thought-provoking  objects in the exhibit  is a display of thirty scraps of papyrus on which are written verses by Sappho, the first (known) woman author in history.

 Sappho, who lived from around 620 –550 B.C., was so highly esteemed during the classical era that she was referred to as the "tenth muse." Yet, only one complete poem by Sappho has survived, of the nine books of lyric poetry that she wrote. A few scattered fragments like these which date to a second century A.D. copy, have also come to light. The Bodleian fragments were found during the 1700's in a trash dump in Egypt. In an amazing feat of literary detective work they were later recognized as having been written by Sappho.


Sappho, Fragments of poems,  copies made in  second century AD

 One of the surviving verses by Sappho has a timeless message, one that the combative Greeks of her era failed to heed and we in the twenty-first century appear equally unable to grasp:

For some, it's an army of chariot fighters, for others, an infantry corps,
For others, an armada of sailing ships, on the dark face of this earth,
That is the loveliest thing of all, but I say it’s this and nothing more:
Whatever you desire with love in your heart.

The exhibition commentary for the Sappho fragments warns of "the vulnerability of even the most famous ancient literature." The ravages of war and religious fanaticism, environmental disasters and the decay inflicted by "moth and rust" take a heavy toll of the "works of genius."

The Bodleian Library, in an earlier incarnation, had been a casualty of the wave of Protestant iconoclasm that had purged England of most of its medieval art and manuscripts, commissioned by the deposed Roman Catholic hierarchy. In 1602, Sir Thomas Bodley, a retired diplomat, conceived the idea of restocking Duke Humfrey's Library at Oxford with theological works to serve what Bodley called the "republic of the learned." 

Eight years later, Bodley conceived an even better idea, indeed a master stroke. In 1610, Bodley appealed to the Stationers Company, the government-chartered guild that regulated England's publishing industry. Bodley petitioned that august body to reserve one copy of every book published in England for the Bodleian. Bodley's empty library thus became the world's first deposit library and a direct forerunner of the Library of Congress. 

In 1623, the Bodleian received the first or "copyright" copy of the most famous book ever written in the English language. This was Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. Of course nobody at the time realized the eventual status of the book we now call The First Folio. The Bodleian copy is one of the star exhibits of Marks of Genius.

William Shakespeare, Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (Bodleian First Folio) 1623

 It was a singular stroke of good fortune that the First Folio was published by Shakespeare's friends and fellow actors so quickly after his death in 1616. Incredibly, Shakespeare's reputation went into an eclipse, soon after. This was further compounded when theater-going in England was banned during the Civil Wars which climaxed with the execution of King Charles I in 1649.
Theater made a comeback in 1660 with the Restoration of King Charles II. A new folio edition of the works of Shakespeare was published in 1663. This was the Third Folio, even rarer today than the First, as most are believed to have been lost in the great fire of London of 1666.

Once the "copyright" Third Folio reached the Bodleian, some efficiency-minded member of the staff figured that one edition of Shakespeare was enough. The Bodleian's First Folio was sold and dropped out of sight. Later generations of scholars could only shake their heads in dismay.
The Bodleian got lucky – very lucky. In 1905, a student at one of the Oxford colleges brought the ex-Bodleian First Folio back to the library without realizing what it was or its value. It had been in his family’s possession for decades and was still bound in its original cover. After word leaked out, an anonymous American bibliophile offered the astronomical sum of £3,000 to purchase the First Folio. In a very-English fund-raising effort – no contribution too small – the Bodleian countered the offer and bought back its very special Shakespeare volume.

The First Folio, edited by Shakespeare’s colleagues, John Heminge and Henry Condell, is indeed a very special book. It ensured that all-but two of the Bard’s plays were published for posterity. The First Folio is the unique source for eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays. Without the First Folio, we would not have a number of the greatest plays including Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Cymbeline, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.

With the Bodleian First Folio on display, Marks of Genius engenders a sense of the mystery and wonder of creative endeavor. Similar treasures include a page from the 1816-1817 manuscript of Frankenstein and personal "keepsakes" owned by the author of this pioneering “sci-fi” novel, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Another special object from the realm of the fantasy is J. R. R. Tolkien's personal design for the dust jacket of the first edition of The Hobbit, 1937.


Reginald Easton, Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Portrait of Mary Shelley

 Marks of Genius is not exclusively devoted to the achievements of independent “heroes of the imagination.” The exhibition is arranged to highlight the “genius loci” or spirit of place. The influence of geography or national heritage marks these contributions to the human community.

Attention to collaborative effort is also made, with reference to the famous remark that great inventions and scientific discoveries are rooted in the pioneering works of others. Genius, as this time-honored expression affirms, always stands “on the Shoulders of Giants.” The numerous maps on display in the exhibition offers special testimony to our debt to the past.  John Smith's Map of Virginia, published in 1612, despite its inaccuracies, provides information on the Native American inhabitants of the the Chesapeake Bay region that would be otherwise lost  to history.

John Smith, Map of Virginia, 1612
One of the most prized examples on display is the Bodleian’s copy of Magna Carta, the charter of rights and liberties which the rebellious nobles of England forced King John I to sign in 1215 at the famous confrontation at Runnymede. The long evolution of Anglo-American legal freedom is traditionally dated to this historic event.


Magna Carta, Issue of 1217

Although the English nobility were protecting their own independence with little thought of anyone else, Magna Carta was a critical turning point. It represents the first step on the road to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation and other notable events in humanity's struggle for freedom.

 Significantly, the Bodleian’s copy of Magna Carta was issued two years after Runnymede. Bearing the seal of the Royal Chancery, the Bodleian Magna Carta is an official confirmation of what King John had been forced to sign under duress. The English barons were justly suspicious of royal duplicity and they forced his successor, Henry III, to reissue the famous document after John I died in 1216. Magna Carta was reissued on a number of occasions until the definitive version was signed by Edward I in 1297 when the first Parliament was convened.

 The cause of liberty never sleeps and the Bodleian’s copy of Magna Carta is proof of the need for vigilance. 

 One of the exhibition wall texts quotes an 1830 article from the Westminster Review, “Genius is the gift of God, in poetry, painting, or music; but the degree to which that genius can develop itself, I maintain, depends on the opportunity given it by patronage, that is, by employment.”

 The role of the patron is attested to by lavishly illustrated books such as the magnificent copy of the Qur’an, produced in Persia around 1550. The pages are almost symmetrical in shape - but not quite. Perfection is reserved for God.

Qur’an, Safavid Shiraz (Persia), 1550

Perhaps my favorite object in Marks of Genius is the beautiful Japanese picture scroll, or emaki, dating to the early years of the Edo period, the mid-seventeenth century. Following decades of fratricidal civil wars and a disastrous invasion of Korea in the 1590’s, Japan settled into a period of peace and diplomatic isolation. Works of art and literature like this emaki were commissioned to emphasize the traditions of Japan at the expense of ideas from abroad.

 In a wondrous display of serendipity, the story told on this emaki, The Tale of Urashima, has a number of themes in common with some of the great stories of Western literature. We can find parallels with the legend of Pandora from Greek mythology, the theme of travelers to a magical realm as in Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia and the time-bending tale of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. 

 In this Japanese folktale, a fisherman named Urashima, travels to an enchanted palace, the residence of Princess Otohime. Each of the four sides of the princess’ palace presents a view of a different season of the year – all at the same time!


Unknown artist, The Tale of Urashima, Japan, early Edo period

 Here we see the leaves of Japan’s signature maple trees tinged with the red and gold of autumn. When Urashima returns home – after an absence, apparently, of only a few days – he finds that he has been gone for many years. He has not aged a bit, until he opens a box given to him by the princess who had instructed him to keep it closed. Instantly, Urashima is transformed into an elderly man.

 This beautiful version of the story of Urashima is a cautionary tale for a society that did not encourage long-distance travel. It also shows the universality of great literature and human genius.

The wonderful treasures on display at the Morgan Library and Museum are preserved at Oxford University's Bodleian Library. But these hallowed manuscripts, pictures and maps cannot be kept in a box. The Bodleian Library is wise to open the lid during travelling exhibitions like this one. Unlike Urashima, these “marks of genius” never grow old.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved

Images from Marks of Genius: Treasures from the Bodleian Library, courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum, New York City, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

Introductory Image:     

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (The First Folio)
London: printed by Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount, 1623
Arch. G c.7 The Bodleian Library, Oxford

 George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) Original conducting score of Messiah Sept.–Oct. 1741
M. Tenbury 346 The Bodleian Library, Oxford

 Sappho (ca. 620–ca. 550 BC) Fragments of poems Graeco-Roman Egypt, 2nd century AD
MS. Gr. class. c. 76(P)/2 The Bodleian Library, Oxford

Reginald Easton (1807–1893) after Antoine-Philippe, duc de Montpensier (1775–1807)
Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) Sometime between 1885 and 1893

Watercolor & gouache on ivory laid on card, in an ornate gilt frame made by Asprey of LondonThe Bodleian Library, Oxford
Reginald Easton (1807–1893) Portrait of MaryShelley (1797–1851) Sometime between 1885 and 1893
Watercolor & gouache on ivory laid on card, in an ornate gilt frame made by Asprey of LondonThe Bodleian Library, Oxford
Magna Carta, Issue of 1217, sent by the royal chancery to Gloucester
MS. Ch. Gloud. 8 The Bodleian Library, Oxford

John Smith (bap. 1580, d. 1631) A Map of Virginia
Oxford: J. Barnes, 1612
Arch. G e 41(5*) The Bodleian Library, Oxford

Qur’an, Safavid Shiraz (Persia), 1550
MS. Bodl. Or. 793 The Bodleian Library, Oxford

Unknown artist, The Tale of Urashima, Japan, early Edo period (mid-seventeenth century)
MS. Jap. c. 4 (R) The Bodleian Library, Oxford

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Art Eyewitness Book Review: Velázquez: Las Meninas and the Late Royal Portraits

Velázquez, Las Meninas and the Late Royal Portraits

Edited by Javier Portús     
Thames & Hudson /176 pages/$50

 Reviewed by Ed Voves

On the night of December 24, 1734, a disastrous fire struck the Royal Alcázar, one of the palaces of the Spanish monarchy. The Alcázar was a rambling, time-worn structure which had originally been a Moorish castle. It was also the site where much of the vast and unrivaled art collection of the Spanish kings was displayed. Works by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyke and the great masters of the Spanish School graced its walls. Almost all of the 500 paintings in the Alcázar were burned to cinders.

With desperate courage, members of the Alcázar staff battled the flames and managed to save several of the paintings. These were cut from their frames and flung out windows before they were consumed in the inferno.

One of the paintings that was rescued was Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660).

Las Meninas is now recognized as the greatest Spanish work of art of all time. It is the subject of a superb, if somewhat somber, book just published by Thames & Hudson.

Why the down note for a painting that survived "a near-run thing," to borrow a favorite phrase of the Duke of Wellington?

Velázquez's masterpiece records a fleeting moment of court life during the reign of King Philip IV (1605-1665). Las Meninas was created just at the point when the bankrupt, battle-weary Spanish Empire began its long retreat from global power. That's not what Velázquez intended of course. But Las Meninas, painted in 1656, was Velázquez's final masterpiece and the last great achievement of Spain's Golden Age.

Life is brief, even for empires. Art is long.

Velázquez, Las Meninas and the Late Royal Portraits is a companion volume to the recent exhibition at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Don't expect this exhibit to make a world tour. Spain does not lend Las Meninas and for good reason. One brush with oblivion is enough.

The present volume is certainly a worthy consolation prize. The scale and fidelity of the lavish color illustrations are outstanding. The caliber of the art historians who supplied the insightful commentary is exceptionally high as well. The team of art scholars includes Javier Portús, the head of the Prado's Department of Spanish Painting, pre-1700. In terms of Velázquez scholarship, this is the mountain top.

The exhibit and the companion book focus on Velázquez and two other Spanish court painters, Juan MartÍnez del Mazo and Juan Carreño de Miranda. Mazo and Carreño attempted to carry on the brilliant school of portraiture which Velázquez perfected. Both were skillful and accomplished artists but neither possessed the extraordinary talent and perception of Velázquez. Mazo, Velázquez's son-in-law, occasionally approached the great master's workmanship but largely, as we shall see, at the expense of his own originality.

The sobering aspect of Velázquez, Las Meninas and the Late Royal Portraits relates to the fact that these magnificent paintings record the passing of Spanish cultural vitality, as well as of the political hegemony of the Spanish monarchy. Despite the incredible artistry of Las Meninas and the praiseworthy efforts of Mazo and Carreño, the decline of Spain could not be disguised.

The Spanish royal family was a branch of the Hapsburgs of Austria and the frequent intermarriage of the two households came close to being incestuous. Philip IV married a French princess, Isabel de Borbón, in an attempt to bring "new blood" to the Spanish Habsburgs. Although the marriage was a happy one, France under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu, blind-sided Spain by supporting the Protestant powers arrayed against it in the Thirty Years War.

In 1643, the marriage of Philip IV and Isabel suffered a staggering loss of the kind that haunted all the monarchies of Europe. Crown Prince Baltasar Carlos, a lively and intelligent boy whom Velázquez painted on several occasions, died from small pox. He was the only son of Philip IV and Queen Isabel, who followed her son to the grave a year later.

Diego Velázquez, Philip IV

Philip IV faced the extinction of the Spanish line of the Hapsburgs. In an ill-fated move, he married his 15-year old niece, Mariana, of the Austrian Hapsburgs. Mariana had been betrothed to Baltasar Carlos. Philip was a decent man, though an ineffectual king, and the marriage in 1649 was not as perverse as it might seem. But the desired male heir was slow in coming.

Velázquez played a role in this dynastic marriage-brokering. A number of his portraits of the Spanish Hapsburgs, Baltasar Carlos and Philip, were sent to their Austrian relatives to help with the match-making. As a result, art museums in Vienna are relatively well-supplied with Velázquez paintings, where other art collections - except in Spain - are fortunate to own one. Even the Metropolitan Museum in New York had to pay a prince's ransom in 1971 to acquire Velázquez’s portrait of his Moorish servant, Juan de Pareja, now one of the jewels of the Met's collection.

Velázquez painted so many royal portraits in this late stage of his career that he risked the criticism of jealous rivals that he could "only paint heads." This had been a charge made early in his career and Velázquez had worked diligently to disprove it. But the call of duty required him to paint portraits. Velázquez created astonishing likenesses of Philip IV, with his upswept moustaches and sad, uncertain eyes, and Mariana, the young queen looking amazingly like Philip's surviving daughter from his first marriage , Maria Teresa.

Studio of Velázquez, Queen Mariana of Austria

Eventually, children were born to Philip and Mariana. Velázquez painted the new son and heir, Felipe Prospero, in a stunning portrait in 1659. Velázquez depicted the infant prince wearing protective amulets and a badger's foot to safeguard him from harm. Felipe Prospero's brief life ended in 1661, a year after Velázquez died.

It was the daughter of Philip and Mariana, the Infanta Margarita, who was immortalized in Las Meninas. Accompanied by her maids-of-honor or meninas and court retainers, notably two dwarves, Margarita is illuminated by light from a nearby window. The angelic young princess turns her gaze from a canvas being painted by Velázquez and looks directly at her parents, unseen except as reflections in a distant mirror. She is also looking at us.

In terms of this review, further comment on this immortal painting is better directed to a smaller version long thought to be a preparatory study of Las Meninas. Javier Portús makes a very convincing case that it is a study after Velázquez.

Juan Bautista MartÍnez del Mazo, Las Meninas

With trenchant detective work, Portús maintains that this heavily-painted work was done by Velázquez's son in law, Juan MartÍnez del Mazo (16 -1667). Only Mazo would have had the degree of access to the original of Las Meninas around 1660 to paint such an accurate copy. This is indeed an accomplished copy of Las Meninas. From the standpoint of Mazo's creative individualism, however, it is too good.

Mazo spent the rest of his life trying to paint like Velázquez rather than cultivating his own considerable talents and a unique style. Mazo came close in several works to achieving an artistic breakthrough, notably The Painter's Family. This is a charming group portrait of his children, born of two different wives, who are united on the canvas in loving familiarity.

Mazo proceeded to ruin the unity of The Painter's Family by including a smaller, separate scene in the upper right hand corner. This shows himself painting a portrait of the Infanta Margarita. Velázquez had used this technique with mixed effects early in his career, whereby figures in the foreground are contrasted with a background depiction of another incident, usually from sacred scripture. The danger lies in the distraction and confusion caused by the background scene. Often this appears to be a painting hanging on a wall rather than part of the action taking place in the pictorial space. This, sadly, is the case for Mazo’s The Painter's Family.

One should not censure Mazo too severely for this. He was attempting to safeguard the legacy of his father-in-law. Mazo was acting like a good Spaniard, too, trying to hold together the disintegrating "Golden Age" of Spain. By the 1660's, Spain’s political hegemony was beyond salvation. Sadly, that decade would also see the last ripples of the astonishing wave of creativity that had surged forth in 1605 with The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha and crested in 1656 with Las Meninas.

Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614-1685,) whose paintings figure prominently in the later part of the book, faced an even more impossible task than Mazo. Carreño's style was less painterly than Mazo's, but also more vigorous and better focused. Carreño, however, had to present Philip IV's surviving heir, Charles II, in a regal and commanding manner - a daunting task.

When Philip IV and Queen Mariana finally had a son who lived, the dangerous inbreeding of the Hapsburgs produced its predictable result. "Feeble-minded" Charles II came to the throne as a young child in 1665 and ruled to 1700. Sickly and mentally unstable, his personal traits matched those of Spain, the "sick man of Europe."

Carreño was called upon to create portraits of Charles II, depicting him as a "Planet King." This had been the proud title of earlier Spanish monarchs. It was an impossible task and Carreño failed despite dedicated effort. Velázquez himself would likely have done little better.

Spain collapsed as a great power and Velázquez's reputation went into an eclipse as well. He was rediscovered by Édouard Manet in 1860. Manet grasped the degree of mastery that Velázquez brought to his painting. Las Meninas and the other surviving masterpieces of Velázquez were works of art that provided exactly the kind of inspiration that Manet needed.

In the hands of Manet, Edgar Degas, John Singer Sergent and other "New Painters," the Spanish-style of the mid-nineteenth century triumphed over the neo-classicism of French Salon art. Velázquez's reputation soared and he was deemed the "first Impressionist." Careful study of his brushstrokes does indeed confirm Velazquez's pioneering use of modernist technique. As the eighteenth century Spanish writer, Antonio Palomino, had noted about Velazquez's brushwork , "one cannot understand it if standing too close, but from a distance it is a miracle."

Velázquez, Las Meninas and the Late Royal Portraits will de-mystify the creative process of Velázquez. But Palomino is certainly correct about Las Meninas. This iconic painting, that so nearly perished in the flames of the Alcázar, was and always will be a miracle of art.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved

Images Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

Introductory Image: Velázquez: Las Meninas and the Late Royal Portraits 2014 (Cover)

Diego Velázquez, Philip IV, ca. 1654. Oil on canvas, 69 x 56 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, P1185. (Photo credit: Archivo Fotográfico del Museo Nacional del Prado).

Studio of Velázquez, Queen Mariana of Austria, ca. 1652-1653. Oil on canvas, 209 x 125 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, RF 1941-31. (Photo credit: Paris, Agence Photographique de la RMN © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Franck Raux.)

Juan Bautista MartÍnez del Mazo, Las Meninas, ca. 1660. Oil on canvas, 142 x 122 cm. Kingston Lacy, The Bankes Collection (The National Trust), 1257140. (Photo credit: Swindon, National Trust Images.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Picasso Prints and Flash Photography Exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Philadelphia Museum of Art

Picasso Prints: Myths, Minotaurs and Muses

Artificial Light: Flash Photography in the Twentieth Century

May 24- August 3, 2014

Reviewed by Ed Voves
Great art always speaks for itself. A notable work of art - whatever the medium - is a unique and timeless assertion of each artist's creative insight.

 Art exhibitions showcase the individual contributions of artists. Exhibits also show trace common themes and the ways that innovative or over-looked forms of creative expression are utilized by artists to "speak" for art in new ways.

Two thoughtful and eclectic exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art address the process whereby an artistic medium, unappreciated or seldom studied by art scholars, can reveal profound truths and unforgettable imagery. Artificial Light: Flash Photography in the Twentieth Century and Picasso Prints: Myths, Minotaurs and Muses also complement each other by drawing attention to a human value often undervalued today: compassion.

Why compassion? Flash photography often has an opposite effect, of invading someone's life in a sudden assault of paralyzing, probing light. Some of the photos in the exhibit, like Harold Edgerton’s Tumblers (1942), evoke a clinical, dispassionate perspective, namely that of science.  Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which inspired many of Picasso's prints, is not a notably compassionate work.  Pablo Picasso, himself, was more known for his personal passions than concern for those around him.

Yet many of the art works in Artificial Light and Picasso Prints powerfully evoke the need for human empathy.

A photo by Mark Cohen, on display in Artificial Light, is a good starting point. Now based in Philadelphia after many years in Wilkes-Barre, PA, Cohen specializes in what he describes as "intrusive" street-photography.

Mark Cohen, Untitled (Girls' Faces Flashed in Bus Window)
In Cohen's 1973 photo, Untitled (Girls' Faces Flashed in Bus Window), we see exactly what the title says - and something more. The reflection of Cohen's flash replicates the effect of human breath on a window, in this case of the smiling, vivacious young woman beaming at us from inside the bus. This effect makes the young woman the active party in the photo. She is the beholder, her breath marking her presence as she reaches out to us, with an open-handed act of friendship.

Of course, this startling detail is just a trick of the camera and the young woman's waved hand little more than a spontaneous gesture. But in that fleeting moment, her eyes meet ours and the artificial barriers between human beings melt away.

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) aimed to bridge the dividing gulf between people too, but his photo process was a bit more deliberate.

Hine, the great Progressive-era photographer, documented the plight of child workers, immigrants and hard-luck outcasts with a large format camera. Hine's night-time photography carried on the work of an earlier social activist, Jacob Riis, one of the first to experiment with flash photography. Hine's Midnight at the Bowery Mission Breadline, 1909, on display in the exhibit, is a superb example of the psychological awareness that he brought to his work.

Hine was a master of giving artful form to awful reality. Many of his famous photos of immigrant mothers and children directly borrowed poses from Raphael's Renaissance Madonnas. When he photographed a young, barefoot factory girl from Vermont, Addie Card, in front of the cotton-spinning loom of the North Pownal Cotton Mill, Hine was surely aware of the country lasses painted over a century earlier by Thomas Gainsborough.

With aesthetically acceptable photos like these, Hine was able to deliver a shocking glimpse of the harshness of life in a format that would not cause the viewer to immediately wince and look away. In his nighttime pictures, however, Hine had to use the flash to illuminate the scene, a dangerous and unforgiving technique at that time. Hine ignited magnesium powder to light the scene. This gave little or no opportunity to arrange the subjects to conform to preconceived notions of fine art. The flash photo would have to stand or fall on whether it caught and held this specific moment of time.

Lewis W. Hine, Midnight at the Bowery Mission Breadline
Midnight at the Bowery Mission Breadline certainly succeeded in capturing the raw, social-Darwinian brutalities of pre-World War I America. This group portrait is all the more powerful for the wide range of ages of the picture's subjects, with a touch of intriguing mystery. Who are these men trying to hold hunger at bay with a free cup of coffee and a slice of bread? Hobos? Laid-off factory workers? Immigrants just arrived from Ellis Island?

Hine's Breadline protagonists have the defeated faces of wartime POWs. Their varying expressions recall Winslow Homer's Prisoners from the Front. But these hungry men are not defeated "enemy" soldiers. They are fellow-Americans. They stare at us through the lens of Hine's camera. And since their clothes are so non-descript, so lacking in period details - except for the rounded derby hat of the second man from the left - these men might well be from the "brother can you spare a dime" 1930's or from our own time. They could be us, just as the beaming, smiling Girls' Faces Flashed in a Bus Window could be ours too, on a better, happier day.

These two pictures are indicative of the way that flash photos help us to reach beyond the "us vs. them" divide that separates human beings. We can embrace the "other" in other people more readily because of the enhanced spontaneity of the photograph taken with a flash camera. And in doing so, we can get in touch with the "other" in ourselves.

Nicholas Nixon's West Springfield, Massachusetts extends this embrace to other species, indeed to all of nature. Nixon is one of the most sensitive photographers of the contemporary era. His photos of AIDS patients and dying elderly people are haunting portraits, entirely free of cloying sentimentality.

Here, an affectionate hand is extended to a sleeping calf. Nixon captured an endearing image of innocent new life - and of human empathy. The calf, however, is not pet, not a puppy or kitten who will be showered with affection and treats. The calf, when it matures, is fated to serve the material needs of people, producing milk or meat for the dinner table. It is unsettling to look at this photo, taken in 1978, and reflect that this beautiful animal is long since dead, unremembered but for this memorable image.

Nicholas Nixon, West Springfield, Massachusetts
mages of cattle are comparatively rare in art, but in the ancient Mediterranean world religious cults flourished where bulls were worshipped or ritually slaughtered. We see echoes of these practices in the second of the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibits, Picasso Prints: Myths, Minotaurs and Muses.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who created mythology-themed prints during the first half of the 1930's, focused on the legend of the Minotaur. This became a dominant motif in Picasso's art, partly in response to his own tumultuous life, but also expressing his anguish over the Spanish Civil War which began in 1936.

Picasso's creative genius was so caught-up in the revolutionary atmosphere of pre-World War I Paris that his imagination remained little affected by ancient art until a 1917 visit to Italy. The "return to order" urged by Jean Cocteau a year later further directed him toward classical antiquity. When the great art dealer, Ambrose Vollard, commissioned Picasso to illustrate the mythological stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it appeared to be a perfect match of artist and subject.

A different destiny awaited the Vollard Suite and the great etching and engraving, Minotauromachy, created in 1935. These classically-inspired works mirror Picasso's bitter disputes at that time with his wife, Olga Khokhlova and his young mistress and model, Marie-Thérèse Walter. The violence in many of these prints also reflects the savage Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936.

Marie-Thérèse Walter, idolized by Picasso for her classical beauty, appears in most of these prints. We see her Grecian profile as she gazes down at Picasso's alter ego, the Minotaur. Picasso identified with this bull-headed "monster" and later, toward the end of his life, he declared, "If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a Minotaur."

Pablo Picasso, Sleeping Minotaur Watched by a Woman
In a 1933 print, Sleeping Minotaur Watched by a Woman, Picasso presents the Minotaur as a weary, exhausted creature rather than a dangerous predator. Indeed, the face of the sleeping Minotaur, behind the delicate curtain, is surprisingly like that of the calf in West Springfield, Massachusetts!

A year later, Picasso shows a young girl with the facial features of Marie-Thérèse guiding a blinded, suffering Minotaur.  The print is filled with dense, cryptic images, the tortured Minotaur reflecting his own inner turmoil.

These images climax with the 1935 print, Minotauromachy or "Minotaur fight." All of the elements here relate to Picasso's explosive conflict with his wife and Marie-Thérèse.  Olga Khokhlova discovered the relationship between Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, who was pregnant with his child. Picasso's handling of the situation was notably insensitive to both wife and mistress and a short time later he commenced a new liaison, with Dora Marr.

Pablo Picasso,  Minotauromachy
The elements of Minotauromachy, however, shortly reappeared in another work that would yield a great deal of credit to Picasso. The face of Marie-Thérèse with outstretched hand holding a light, the anguished rearing horse, the great bull's head, the crumpled, dying figure holding a sword - all would emerge again in Guernica!

Minotauromachy and the prints of the Vollard Suite, by the strange alchemy that is art, paved the way to Picasso's greatest painting. It is a process that we can see at work in the flash photos and classically inspired prints of these fine exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: the dross of daily life transformed into the gold of compassionate creativity.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved

Images Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Blind Minotaur Guided by a Girl at Night, 1934. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, Spanish, 1881 - 1973. Aquatint, scraper, and drypoint, Plate: 9 11/16 x 13 11/16 inches (24.6 x 34.8 cm), Sheet: 13 x 15 15/16 inches (33 x 40.5 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 Untitled (Girls' Faces Flashed in Bus Window), 1973. Mark Cohen, American, born 1943. Gelatin silver print, Image: 11 13/16 x 17 5/8 inches (30 x 44.8 cm), Sheet: 15 7/8 x 19 13/16 inches (40.3 x 50.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art

 Midnight at the Bowery Mission Breadline, 1909. Lewis W. Hine, American, 1874   1940. Gelatin silver print, Sheet: 4 9/16 x 5 7/8 inches (116 x 149 mm) Mount: 11 15/16 x 9 13/16 inches (30.3 x 24.9 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1997.

 West Springfield, Massachusetts, 1978. Nicholas Nixon, American, born 1947. Gelatin silver print, Image: 7 11/16 x 9 11/16 inches (19.5 x 24.6 cm) Sheet: 8 x 9 15/16 inches (20.3 x 25.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro.

 Sleeping Minotaur Watched by a Woman, 1933. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, Spanish, 1881 - 1973. Etching, Plate: 7 9/16 x 10 9/16 inches (19.2 x 26.8 cm), Sheet: 12 1/8 x 17 1/16 inches (30.8 x 43.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 Minotauromachy, 1935. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, Spanish, 1881 - 1973. Etching and engraving (seventh state of seven), Plate: 19 9/16 x 27 3/8 inches (49.7 x 69.5 cm), Sheet: 22 5/16 x 30 3/8 inches (56.7 x 77.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York