Archive for Februar, 2014

Dalí’s Elephants and the Monsters of Bomarzo

In Allgemein by Francesca / 26. Februar 2014 / 0 Comments

Fondly known as “monster park”, the sculpture garden of Bomarzo’s Villa Orsini is as viscerally appealing as it is arcane and mystifying. “To astonish rather than to please” is its declared aim, as visitors will be able to read on enigmatic inscriptions in old Italian which, far from explaining anything about the sculptures, repeatedly encourage visitors to relish in their wonder, disbelief and bewilderment, not to analyze overmuch in an effort to detect the method in a madness that, really, is impervious to reason.

Even so, researchers have sought to explain the scenes and characters that populate this garden, and found that—in keeping, I’m sure, with the Italian Renaissance’s love of literature—a plethora of Greco-Roman and Etruscan myths, medieval chivalrous poetry, and Italian vernacular epics, all had a place in the learned artistic imagination which brought forth this park of monsters.

Leaning on the grotesque, not shying away from representing violent strife and the distorted faces of hybrid creatures with toothless grins or uncanny bodily excrescences, these sculptures appeal to “us” today, and yet, since their erection in the 16th century, they have enjoyed only mixed popularity. Full of unclear paths and mysterious forks in the way that lead to unexpected spaces with surprise fountains, or dragons, or nymphs, this grove was unusual already for its own time, when the fashion for garden design was rather to have geometric patterns with straight paths and neat patches. During the late 18th, throughout the 19th, and into the early 20th century, the grove was entirely deserted by its erstwhile admirers and entered a process of slow decay, overgrown by the local vegetation, withering away in its dark and strangely hallucinatory charm.

In 1938, Salvador Dalí paid the park a visit. The metamorphic shapes and faces here, with their intense and yet arcane symbolism, the oneiric topography and the derelict state in which he found them, strongly appealed to the surrealist. Just so, the park appeals to the surrealist in ourselves. A wander around this park—provided that one will, like the inscriptions admonish, suspend disbelief—feels like roaming around the dream of another, like a hands-on experience of Freud’s theory that the unconscious mind is like an archaeological field, where half-forgotten stories and mythologies are aggregated together in their half-decomposed state, only indistinctly recognizable, and shuffled out of order. There is something mad, something personal, about this park. Much as it features traditional patrimony, it is also a memorial to Orsini’s late wife, and the philosophical journey through topics such as love, death, memory and truth which it offers, does smack of darkness at its core.

It is said, although it probably can never be fully proven, that the inspiration for Dalí’s famous painting “The Temptation of St Anthony” came from the monster park. The war-elephant, with a castle on its back, recalls the story of Hannibal and appears in the Bible as well, and was a fairly popular image subject of medieval art. In the 1946 painting “The Temptation of St. Anthony” and a handful of further works by Dalí after that, the iconography of elephant and castle suddenly returns to life and it seems plausible that the visit to Bomarzo had something to do with it.

Dalí once said about his elephants, whom he gave stilt-like, staggeringly high legs with supple joints so that they appear almost spider-like, that they represented the fragility of stability and of balance. Visualizing how a body as big and weighty as that of an elephant stands and moves on such long and thin legs, even balancing castles and pyramids on their backs, can symbolize focus and restraint, but also, as I think, the anxiety of making mistakes and the fear of moving on forward. And that, somehow, takes us back to the monster park and the timeless world of symbolic journeys through dreams and memory, strife and fear, reconnecting the interrupted line of surreal and symbolic iconography, from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and to us today.

 

References/ Further reading:

Blog on literary sources : http://renaissanceutterances.blogspot.it/2012/06/bomarzo-and-ariosto-moon-madness-and.html

Courtauld Institute slideshow and talk : http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/stories/stonard_bomarzo.html

A Real Disney Cinderella Castle in Germany?

In Allgemein by Francesca / 16. Februar 2014 / 0 Comments

At the center of Disneyworld, the tall Cinderella Castle dazzles and enchants, as visitors make bee lines for it over the perfectly recreated „Main Street USA“ to see its staggering illusionist heights, fairy-tale turrets and recluse windows from up close.

A lifelike match of the cartoon castle of Disney’s 1950 Cinderella picture, the Walt Disney studio’s first big hit since its pre-war Snow White production (1937), the castle’s appearance and design go back a long way into Europe’s traditions and folklore.

The Disney cartoonists took inspiration for the Cinderella castle from a whole selection of European castles, including Versailles and Chambord, as they themselves were keen to acknowledge. Most recognizably of all, the forms and aura of the Bavarian Neuschwanstein castle emerge beneath the Disney building.

And perhaps this shouldn’t come as too great a surprise, seeing as the Neuschwanstein castle itself was deliberately planned and designed with German folklore in mind. At the orders of Bavaria’s Ludwig II, a recluse and perhaps insane king, construction began in 1869 and continued through 1892, ultimately remaining unfinished. As an immoderate Wagner-enthusiast and dubbed „The Dream King“, Ludwig II had set out to have a castle built that would pay homage to the German legends of Lohengrin, the Swan Knight – hence the castle’s name, which translates as „New Swan Stone“.

Who might this Swan Knight have been, one may ask. Wagner’s Lohengrin opera is the testimony most present to our minds today, but Wagner himself went back to the Arthurian epic Parzival, composed in the 13th century by the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, who, himself, derived the story from the medieval tale of the Swan Knight, a mysterious knight without a name who comes to the rescue of a damsel in a swan-drawn boat and remains anonymous throughout.

This tale existed not only in the German, but also medieval French folklore and is also recorded in the Dolopathos, a Latin version of the Seven Sages of Rome from the 12th century.

19th century man king Ludwig II’s profound love for traditional folklore and fairy tales was particularly pronounced and earned him a variety of names („Dream King“ being only one besides „Fairy-tale king“ and more), although on a broader scale this man’s mindset falls within the general framework of aristocratic attitudes during that epoch. For, during the time of rapid industrialization and the rise to money of many middle class entrepreneurs, members of the aristocracy were eager to remind themselves of their feudal roots and the beauty of age-old chivalrous traditions and lore. Thus the Neuschwanstein castle doesn’t stand alone in its romanesque, historicist yearning for a return to the past and its copious allusions to absolutism, the middle ages and its old sagas. King Ludwig II of Bavaria went down in history as a profoundly wagnerian king always wavering in his mind between dream and reality, truth and fancy.

And Cinderella? What better place for a magical tale like hers to end in a castle that no-one quite knows it if was real, or only a dream. The Disney animators fully embraced the spirit of imaginary wish fulfillment that aligns them with the mad fairy-tale king, who was actually real, and do so not only in terms of graphic design, but also in terms of sharing a piece of the fantasy that if you believe, dreams will come true.