Tag Archives: Apocalypse

Spitfire Parade

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
Battle of Britain, 1941
Oil on Canvas
(c) Imperial War Museums (art.IWM ART LD 1550)

So here’s a thing.  My grandmother was a painter, and both my parents were architects and also painted, and the tradition of mid-century English painting and design was present in my early life to such an extent that, for me as a child, it seemed that that was how painting was done…which was why my discovery of Pop or Abstract Expressionism at school such a mind-blowing revelation. Because Spencer, Nash, Moore, Ravilious, Baynes, Piper, Sutherland, Hale; that mid-century aesthetic, forged in two world wars, but coloured with the gentility of the middle class, created the way that I, we, perceive visual culture: the Home Counties Apocalypse of John Wyndam, or John Christopher, souring into the nihilistic rationalist psychedelia of Aldis and Ballard.

So it is hard for me to name this work or even see this as art, since this is a baseline from which all art (by definition, deviation) deviates. I’ve come to love it, but it is a love of nostalgia, not of knowledge. Living in the US, this work is unavailable to any real extent, in the same why that Turner, the antecedent of this work, is also a virtual unknown.  Nash’s painting as war artist of WW2 shows the conflict as a sometime surreal dream, a dream where the details, the shine of water, the tilt of the horizon from the cockpit, are more present than actual visceral realities of conflict. What strikes in this image is not the clash of man and machine, but sheer vastness of the space in which that conflict takes place.  Testimony from fighter and bomber pilots from the war are not about close contact, but about the distance between objects; the size of the canvas on which they played. And of course, for a boy (man) my age, the Battle of Britain is one of the heroic definitions of our generation. This painting makes real the revelation that the war in the air was not about ideology, men or machine, but about space (so back to Ballard and the surreal again).

We had a Nash on the wall in the JCR at college; a painting of tanks on exercise on Salisbury plain (where I was at school); though oddly I can’t find a reference for the painting online. I also knew Nash’s nephew, Peter-Paul Nash, the composer, for a while; he married a good friend of mine.

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The Cabin in The Woods

FALLINGWATER world-famous masterwork by Frank Lloyd Wright, designed in 1936 for Lilaine S. and Edgar J. Kaufmann. Endowed and given in their memory to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, 204 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa 15222. Please call or write: admission by reservation only.
South Elevation/Summer

Despite its aged appearance and style, this is postcard from no later than 1993; nearer 1991, I think, purchased by me and my now wife during one of our road-trips across country when she was at Brown, Rhode Island and needing to get back to Minnesota for the summer. I’m not sure that there’s much more to be said about the insanely ambitious (and largely just insane) Falling Water. It’s actually only a late-period Wright, but for me marks a point where he could have persisted to become a true modernist master rather than dissolving into the twiddlely world-building of the 1950’s. Those two crossed slabs suspended over the water fall in the woods; taking the ‘prairie style’ from out of Chicago and off the prairie and placing it deep in the Pennsylvania woods created a shocking and abstract clash of form and intention that has never been (and possibly) couldn’t be equaled.

Inside, the building’s a mess, dark (especially, I suppose, in the summer), small, cramped and pretty uncomfortable (just like a real cabin!). Outside it’s a surrealist/modernist sublime. Thinking about Albert Speer and his Ruinenwerttheorie, (this is the 30’s after all), one can hardly wait to return one day and see the whole thing collapsed into the rushing water, blocks strewn with weed, amongst a cloud of dragonflies and kingfishers.

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Monster

f 8

Nordenfalk’s handwriting again, but well known enough (?) not to have a caption. This is from La Somme la Roi, written in 1279 by a Dominican friar Lawrence for Phillip III the Bold of France. Translation would be the ‘Royal Summation’, but it’s more accurately a book of instructional virtues and vices. The book sets out a set of pre-existing texts as a canon of secular religious knowledge: the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Beatitudes and Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Known in more than 80 copies this was very influential book on lay religious thinking and practice towards the end of the middle ages, and set much of what we still understand to be the central tenants of Christianity. This copy, in the Library of Cardinal Mazarin in Paris (note the stamp), was copied in 1295 and illuminated in the style of Maitre Honore.

So what do we have here? Well, it’s the Seven-headed Beast of the Apocalypse, replete with ten horns and ten crowns. Regardimg us with a testy frown, he crushes a Saint beneath his horrible paws, while a hypocrite bows down before him: Revelation 13.1 – 10. describes the monster. He’s included because of his seven heads, which could correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins; hence the crushed saint and the fawning hypocrite. The British Library’s copy of this book, MS Add 54180 is generally held to be a more well finished edition, with our plate here being nearer a studio of Maitre Honore rather than the mater himself, though the composition is very similar. Perhaps Carl wanted this image to compare with the more readily accessible BL copy? I prefer this more austere version myself, but then again, I’m not a late Medieval nobleman.

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Apocalypse 1160

Verdun, Bbl. de la ville, crd 66, Commentarius in Apocalpsin
Verduner Schule, wohl um 1160

This a photograph from my old Courtauld cache of a page from the Municipal library in Verdun, Northern France. It’s labelled as an image from the Commentary on the Apocalypse of St John the Divine; and there he is, John of Patmos being boiled in oil by the Emperor Domitian. Not only did the Saint miraculously survive, but the entire audience in the Coliseum were converted to Christianity. Still, he ended up being exiled to Patmos, anyway. I’m seeing the upper panel as the sinuous figure of John on his island, being divinely inspired to write his Apocalypse by an angel and a single trumpet.  This is page 1 after all. Unfortunately the online catalogue for the Verdun Library does not list this MS, and any search for Monasterio Sancti bitoni (from which this MS presumably came) only ends up with pages and pages of the pneumatic and distressingly hardcore Audrey Bitoni (ah, the internet!); which may mean that I’m mis-reading that lowercase b. It certainly seems that there is no Saint Bitoni; maybe a search of all x-itoni religious houses in Northern France?

Carl Nordenfalk, who took the photograph, helpfully indentifies it as School of Verdun, c 1160. It’s certainly early french, with beautiful sketchy style. I’d be surprised if the figures did not come from a musterbuch of some kind; though I’m equally surprised that Nordenfalk didn’t have a stab at identifying that himself. It’s clear that one of the books owners were similarly inspired to copy the figures and provide their own inscriptions; there may have been more, since it looks from the top edgge of the page that the book was cut down and rebound at some point.

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