Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Slapping Game

La Main Chaude was a parlour game of forfeits fashionable in the 17th century, and a popular subject for Dutch genre painters of the time (handjeklap in Dutch). Translated it means "Hot Cockles" or the "Hot Hand", also known as the "Red Hand" and "Slaps". The game is believed to have originated in the Middle Ages, and can be seen on ivories and miniatures of the period.

One player, the "penitent," hides his face in the lap of a second (called the "confessor," a referee who monitors the game) and places his hand flat behind his back. In turn, other players slap the penitent on the hand or the bottom, and he tries to identify who hit him. The player who lets himself be discovered then becomes the penitent.

This amusing Female-led painting titled Ladies and Gentlemen Playing La Main Chaude was thought to be by Hieronymus or Jeroom Janssens (1624 - 93), nicknamed Den danser, a Flemish genre painter, but is now considered to be the work of a follower of the artist. It can probably be dated by the clothes to about 1655.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Heracles Unchained

In Greek mythology, Omphale was Queen of the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor. In her best-known myth, she is the mistress of the hero Heracles during three years of required servitude. For murdering his friend Iphitus in a fit of madness, Heracles had been remanded as a slave to Omphale by the command of the Delphic Oracle, Xenoclea.

Omphale soon alleviated Heracles' lot by making him her lover - but at a price! The demi-god was effeminised and forced by the Queen to exchange gender roles with her. Heracles had to wear women's clothing and adornments, while assigned women’s work of spinning yarn, sometimes in the presence of the Queen’s maidservants. Omphale even wore the skin of the Nemean Lion and carried Heracles' olive-wood club. After some time, Omphale freed Heracles and took him as her husband.

This classical scenario offered writers and artists opportunities to explore sexual roles and erotic themes. This particular representation of Hercules at the Feet of Omphale (1912) was by the French Academic painter, Gustave Claude Etienne Courtois ( 1859 - 1923). He was a painter of portraits, genre scenes, and religious and mythological scenes often populated by voluptuous naked males. The male featured here was the Swiss-French athlete, Maurice Deriaz.

Other striking art depictions of this memorable scene are (in order below) by Peter Paul Rubens, Gustave Boulanger, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and Francois Lemoyne.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Butterfly Sting

Taking its title from a rare species of butterfly, The Duke of Burgundy (2014) is a stylish tale of erotic obsession by the British arthouse director, Peter Strickland. Shot in Hungary, and set in a grand old house in the middle of a moss-draped forest, it tells the story of a love affair between a butterfly researcher, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her lover, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna).

Cynthia, as the stern mistress of the house, and Evelyn, her subservient maid, repeatedly enact sadomasochistic role-play, with the choreography of dom and sub, and the traditional paradox about who is really in charge. Their relationship, curious and conflicted though it is, is one based on love and, ultimately, respect. Fantasies are requested and delivered with care and understanding.

As the power dynamic swings back and forth like the needle on a broken compass, the chemistry puffs and bubbles between the two women. But as the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur, and Cynthia grows increasingly uneasy with Evelyn’s insatiable appetite for punishment, their relationship is pushed to the limit. The film's central relationship emerges, however, as a tender romance between two people who each fear losing the other, even as they acknowledge that the initial spark of passion has grown fainter over time.

Visually ravishing, emotionally wise and kinky as a coiled rope, Duke is an extravagantly artificial creation. There are no men in this world, which partly accounts for the intensity of the atmosphere. The clarity of the film's recording is hyper-real; it is as if sound carries its own erotic quality for Strickland. Laced-up in a peculiar corset of his own design, he brings extravagant artifice and overpowering indulgence to what is an unforgettably epicurean experience.

The synergy of cinematic elements in Duke is what makes it such a rare audio-visual beast. Doing laundry has never looked this lascivious.

Dripping with dreamlike imagery, Gothic atmosphere, and a lush chamber pop score by Cat’s Eyes, this critically-acclaimed, darkly comic erotic fantasia is a seductive feast for the senses.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Female Of The Nation

Housed in the preserved sixteenth century Villa Lante on the Janiculum in Rome, this majestic painting called Allegory of Italy is by the French painter, Valentin de Bologne (1591 - 1632).

It depicts the Female representation of the nation, imperious yet melancholic, with a turreted crown and a spear in her hand. At her feet are two prostrate male figures symbolising the Tiber (Rome) and Arno (Florence) Rivers. The picture was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Barberini on the occasion of the Holy Year of 1628.

Sometimes referred to as Le Valentin, he was born into a family of artists and at a very young age moved to Rome where he lived and worked until his death. Valentin was influenced by the work of Caravaggio and Bartolomeo Manfredi. He joined a society of foreign artists while in Rome known as Bentvueghels, or Birds of a Feather.

Created in 1628, the painting is rendered with a strong use of Caravaggesque chiaroscuro. Valentin was one of the finest of Caravaggio's followers.

Valentin's genius shows in the subtleness of psychological expression and interplay among his characters, as well as in the refinement and finesse of his painting technique.

His surviving body of work is made up of around seventy-five paintings which vary in subject - religious, mythological, and genre scenes and portraits.

Anecdotes report that de Boulogne died from a chill caught after bathing in a fountain following a night carousing at a tavern.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Visual Puns At Play

Polish artist, Rafal Olbinski (b. 1943) is a leading modern surrealist of provocative, prolific, and technically masterful paintings and illustrations. Echoing the works of the famed surrealist René Magritte, Olbinski describes his approach to his painting as “poetic surrealism” and cites his influences as “everybody”.

Immigrating to the United States in 1981, and with no formal arts education, he has received more than 150 awards for his artistic achievements, including the Gold and Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators and Art Directors Club of New York and the World’s Most Memorable Poster Competition (1994).

Influenced by the symbolism characteristic of the Polish school of poster design, Olbinski has created numerous distinctive and award-winning posters for major US opera companies. He has also contributed highly acclaimed set designs, completed several major murals, designed over one hundred CD covers, and illustrated many book covers.

In his visually creative works, Olbinski explores the irony of metaphysics, duality of meaning, and the limitlessness of imagination. He draws us into a different universe, and forces us to use our eyes to participate in a magical world which is the true dimension of dreams. His delightful “visual puns” become an artist’s take on wordplay, as expressed with wit, reverence and a poetic humour that is rarely found in Fine Art.

Today, Olbinski’s artwork is exhibited in many major museums throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan.