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Work of Art

Title: David
Artist: Gustave Moreau
Style: Symbolism
Completion Date: 1878
Genre: religious painting
Technique: oil

Completed in 1878, Gustave Moreau’s David continued his fascination with Orientalist and Biblical themes. Here, Moreau focuses on a specific legendary figure and his own legacy. The depiction cleverly depicts King David as a withered patriarch instead of a comely youth armed with stones and sling against Goliath. Typically, images of David fixate on his youth and early kingship with Michaelangelo’s David being a prominent example. Moreau subverts this dominant iconography and portrays David as a geriatric elder bereft of human company. Alone in his magnificent palace ensconced on a jeweled throne, he has only an angel to comfort him. Absalom’s death aged him and now he awaits death with open arms knowing that Solomon will inherit his kingdom. The sun sets in the horizon, the flame burns low in the paschal lamp and the old man’s thread will soon be shorn by his God.

Deeply evocative and illustrative of Nineteenth century Gallic fascination with the Orient, Moreau does not strive for historical accuracy in David but instead constructs an extraordinary scene. Moreau’s remarkable attention to detail clearly shows itself in this work. Intending to illustrate an imagined historical scene, he incorporated stylistic intricacy into all facets of this work. Inlaid lapis lazuli bedeck the throne’s steps, mosaicked colonnades support a gilded roof and the somnolent king dozes on a marble throne decorated with emeralds. The eye is drawn toward David but also absorbs all of the painting’s facets through Moreau’s skillful use of sunlight. Fantastical and imaginative, his vision inspires sympathy for an Old Testament king and his twilight woes. Despite David’s manifold sins, he ruled under God’s will and will soon meet his Lord in his celestial Zion.

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Daily Work of Art

Title: St. Sebastian

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1869

Style: Symbolism

Genre: religious painting

Technique: oil

Dimensions: 32.2 x 23.8 cm

Painted in 1869, Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist St. Sebastian cleverly perplexes and tantalizes its viewers. Legendarily executed in 288 A.D. by order of Tetrarch Diocletian, Roman centurions bound the young Christian to a tree and repeatedly pierced him with arrows. Since his death, the Vatican considered him a patron of soldiers, plague victims and Christian martyrs. Long understood as a homoerotic image, artists as varied as El Greco, Derek Jarman and Robert Mapplethorpe devotedly illustrated the comely youth’s sacrifice and death. Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane portrayed him as a victim of a centurion’s lust, who gave up his life for his Christian faith. With striated muscles and supple skin, Jarman’s youthful saint hung from a tree while phallically pierced by Roman arrows. Moreau’s St. Sebastian further engages this subtext while simultaneously depicting the young man’s fear and piety before his final end.

Perhaps the first aspect of Moreau’s painting that speaks to the viewer is its representation of St. Sebastian’s face. Trepidation, angst and adolescent sadness all flash out of his eyes while his pulchritudinous body remains strained. His Mediterranean face inspires sympathy while his full lips and flowing hair convey femininity. Moreau wisely blurs the painting’s background causing full attention to be focused on his boyish saint. Only a few layers of oil pigments were employed in creating this image. Unlike other paintings such as Salome Dancing before Herod and Jupiter and Semele, Moreau does not utilize glazing and layers for a ‘built-up‘ effect typical of Nineteenth century academy techniques. Sebastian’s flesh is painted in golden, wan tones with delicate smudges suggestive of light body hair at armpits and chest. As graceful and blooming as his ephebic saint, his Saint Sebastian exploringly palpates traditional conceptions of martyrdom and youthful attractiveness. One of Moreau’s maturer works, St. Sebastian cleverly depicts a saint usually found in Medieval and Mannerist works through a distinctly Symbolist lens.

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Daily Work of Art

Page: Jupiter and Semele

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1895

Style: Symbolism

Genre:mythological painting

Technique:oil

Material: canvas

Dimensions: 213 x 118 cm

Gallery: Musée Gustave Moreau

““In the midst of colossal aerial buildings, with neither foundations nor roof-tops, covered with teeming, quivering vegetation, this sacred flora standing out against the dark blues of the starry vaults and the deserts of the sky, the God so often invoked appears in his still veiled splendor.”

—Gustave Moreau

Painted in 1895, Jupiter and Semele plunges its viewers in realms of myth and magic. According to Roman mythology, Jupiter seduced the mortal princess Semele and produced Bacchus by this union. Seated on his celestial throne, the King of Heaven clutches bloodied Semele like a limp doll while multitudes of deities crowd around them. Bloodied and exhausted, the princess experienced intercourse with a god and will now bear a divine son synonymous with fantastic rites and wild Maenads. Below them flock wild Pan, silent Death and terrifying Hecate. Additionally, a three-head devil and several angels crowd around the throne to see the wounded princess. Riotously colorful, the hosts of splendor crowd every inch of the canvas and invite onlookers to partake of this extraordinary spectacle.

Oppositional to Impressionism, Jupiter and Semele boldly defends both Symbolism and its artistic techniques. Unafraid to depict romantic mythology, Moreau proved he could produce works of sophistication. The painting’s detailing creates a scene of encrusted gold, heavenly glories and physical delight. Pierced by the god, Semele experienced orgasmic ecstasy unlike anything on earth. Now the bearer of Bacchus, she will be honored as the mother of an Olympian. Jupiter and Semele valorized Hellenic cosmology and in so doing created an opportunity for viewers to experience our race’s original religion. Subversive and fascinating, it compels us to slip off our bourgeois assumptions and experience the mystery cults of old Arcadia.

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Daily Work of Art


Title: Salome Dancing Before Herod

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: c.1875

Style:Symbolism

Genre: religious painting

Technique:oil

Material: canvas

Dimensions: 61 x 92 cm

Gallery: Musée national Gustave Moreau

Finished in 1875, Salome Dancing Before Herod constitutes Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau’s greatest achievement. Resplendent with Orientalist imagery, it depicts Salome lasciviously gyrating before fiendish Herod Antipas. Wreathed in translucent silk and bedecked in sapphires, the harlot contorts her sensuous, alabaster body to please Galilee’s profligate tetrarch. With every shake of quivering thigh and pouting breast, she urges spectators into frenzied lust. Flavius Josephus chronicled that Herod promised Salome anything she wished if she would dance for him. Following her terpsichorean spectacle, she legendarily demanded the head of John the Baptist.  Herod reluctantly ordered God’s prophet executed and presented his head on a silver platter to Salome. In Salome Dancing Before Herod, Moreau used his full talents in executing this scene of Biblical sumptuousness for his Parisian audiences.

Rich in color and detail, the painting invokes luxurious scenes of palatial Eastern harems. Perceptively, Moreau included a multi-breasted statue of Cybele above Herod’s throne; thereby referencing ancient whisperings of orgiastic rites. With her erotic litheness, Salome powerfully evokes concupiscence in her withered, malevolent potentate. Moreau appropriately applied multiple layers of glaze onto the canvas in order to create a gossamer wrapping over his splendorous phantasmagoria. Bright droplets of paint illuminate Salome’s milky body but Moreau wisely chose to veil them under rich lacquer. This artistic technique heightens the painting’s fantastical vision of Herodian decadence. Teasingly challenging us to scrutinize more closely, his Salome Dancing Before Herod proffers the promise of esoteric knowledge if we can pierce the veil and expose the magnificent glory before us.

 

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Landmark Collaboration Between Oxford and Vatican Libraries Brings Ancient Texts into the Digital Era

In a landmark event, two of Europe’s most extensive libraries have announced a collaborative digitalization project which will allow the general public to access never before seen historical texts from both ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew repositories.

The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) have announced an initiative which will take over 1.5 million pages of ancient text and make it available freely online in digital form. The libraries state that the effort also aims to benefit scholars “by uniting virtually materials that have been dispersed between the two collections over the centuries.”

Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the Prefect of the Vatican Library, stated that “two of the oldest libraries in Europe will join forces in an innovative approach to digitization driven by the actual needs of scholars and scholarship. With this joint initiative, the two Libraries continue to accomplish their mission for the benefit of science and culture; it represents a great step forward in the Vatican Library’s entry into the digital age.”

The collaboration aims to digitalize both ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew manuscripts including texts by Plato, Hippocrates, Homer, Sophocles, manuscripts of the New Testament and of the Church Fathers, “many of them richly decorated with Byzantine miniatures.” Additionally, the BAV plans to digitalize a manuscript that is most-likely the earliest Hebrew codex in existence, as well as a copy of the entire Hebrew Bible written in Italy in the early 12th century.  Also included in the BAV’s contribution are ancient texts covering widely the fields of medicine, philosophy, astronomy, liturgical commentaries, as well as additional ancient science-arts and polemical documents from both Christian and Jewish perspective.

The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford form the most extensive university library collection in the United Kingdom, while the BAV libraries are today still considered one of the most important research libraries in the world, without actually being attached to an academic institution. Both the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Bodleian Libraries hold valuable treasures of scholarly texts. Respectively, they are the 4th and 5th largest collections of ancient texts in the world.

The entire effort will take four years to complete and is made possible by a £2 million award from the Polonsky Foundation. The Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten of Barnes, said that Oxford is “very grateful to Dr. Polonsky for his insight into the importance of widening access to the fundamental texts which have had a major impact on the development of civilization.” It is due to the contribution by the Polonsky Foundation that the landmark historical collaborative initiative is made possible.

Source: the Vatican

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