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Friday, August 26, 2011

Androgynous Deities

Ardhanarisvara, a deity is that half Shiva/half Shakti, represents the inseparable
masculine and feminine energies that are the roots of creation.  The river Ganges
flows from Shiva's head, and he carries a trident and a drum, while she carries a
sword and a rosary.  Beside them are their respective vahanas, or vehicles - the
bull and lion.  Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Joseph Campbell once famously said, "Myth is what we call other people's religions."  Considered true and explanatory in the cultures they were created in, myths are dismissed as mere stories in other cultures.  But myths serve as a way to explain things and educate people on various things, including social institutions.

From the Seleucid era, Mesopotamia,
circa 1st century BCE.

Many cultures have myths that address gender identity.  In polytheistic cultures it is common to see entities that are male and female simultaneously, especially in creation myths.  This unity of opposites is the central category of dialectics and can be viewed as a philosophical, metaphysical, or scientific concept.  It describes a state of affairs where the existence or identity of something depends on two opposites coexisting and dependent on one another.

From Anatolia, circa 300-100 BCE.

Androgynous god figures have their basis in truth.  According to the Intersex Society of North America, one percent of live births exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity, although true hermaphroditism (having both testes and ovarian tissue) is very rare.  Researchers at UCLA, however, published findings of a zebra finch whose entire body was split down the middle, female on one side and male on the other, hence a testicle on the right side, and an ovary on the left.  (The study focused on the sexual phenotype of the brain.)

Anasyromeno statue from the late 4th century BCE.
"Anasyromenos" refers to a style where the female
lifts up her dress to reveal male genitals.

The ancient Greeks had a legend that later Ovid recorded as the story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.  Aphrodite and Hermes had a son who was incredibly good-looking and masculine (as Greek gods are wont to be).  The nymph Salmacis saw him and latched on to him and wouldn't let him go, praying to the gods to make it that they would never be apart.  The gods fused them.  Hermaphroditus became the patron god of hermaphrodites, along with Dionysus.

Hermaphroditus Anasyromenos, a herm of
a female figure revealing an erect phallus.

Aphroditus was an androgynous form of Aphrodite from Cyprus.  S/he may have originally come from Astarte, who was known throughout the eastern Mediterranean since the bronze age, and was also known as Ashtaret, Ishtar, and Atargatis.  S/he had a female shape and wore women's clothing, but also had a phallus, hence the male name ending.  It is estimated that s/he arrived in Athens in the late fourth century BCE, since there are hermae from the fifth century.  It could be that s/he later became Hermaphroditus, or Aphroditus in a herm.

Another Hermaphroditis Anasyromenos from Erythrai, Asia Minor
of white marble dated to late Hellenistic to early Imperial period.

Agdistis was the child of Zeus and Hera, born with both male and female sexual organs.  The gods were afraid of her/him, and so s/he was castrated by them. Agdistis is associated with the Phrygian worship of Attis and Cybele, and according to Hesychius and Strabo was the same as Cybele.  This cult is estimated to have reached Attica by the third or fourth century BCE, and by 250 BCE had spread to Egypt.  Some scholars postulate that Agdistis is one in a continuum of androgynous Anatolian deities that goes back to the 2nd millennium BCE in the area of Cilicia when it was known as Kizzuwatna.  Interestingly, later on in Rome the priests of Agdistis, known as Galli, were eunuchs.

From Ephesus, 2nd century CE.

In ancient Egypt the iconography of the Nile deities - Hapy, god of the Nile river, and Wadj-wer, god of the Nile delta, or sometimes the Mediterranean Sea - were sometimes depicted as androgynous.  Tatenen/Tanen/Tannu was the androgynous protector of nature from Memphis, then known as "Men-nefer".

Hapy shown with female breast, symbolic
of the nurturing role of the Nile.

The various Indic religions that comprise Hinduism have clear examples of androgynous divinities, which may have come from the Vedic composite Yama-Yami, the lord of death and his twin sister consort, or the fire god, Agni, a bull who is also a cow.  The concept seems to have originated iconographically in the Kushan and Greek cultures simultaneously.  The earliest images in India date to the Kushan era (30- 375 CE, roughly), but were perfected in the Gupta era (320-600 CE).

Kushan bust of Ardhanarishvara,
circa 1st century from Mathura Museum.

Ardhanarishvara is the fusion of Shiva and his consort Shakti/Parvati/Uma/Devi, with usually the right half being Shiva.  The name means "lord who is half woman", and their union is the root of all creation.  There are many other names for the god/ess, some of which can be found in the Puranas and Samhitas.  In book XIII of the Mahabharata, Upamanyu states that the universe rose from the union of the sexes, which this god/ess represents.  Ardhanarishvara is referred to by the Macedonian compiler of extracts from Greek authors, Joannes Stobaeus (circa 500 CE), who quoted that Bardasanes had learned of it.  (Bardasanes, or Bardaisan, was a Syriac gnostic, scholar, philosopher, and poet who was renowned for his now lost book on India.  He lived 154-222 CE.)

Chola bronze sculpture from the 11th century of Ardhanarishvara.

Jumadi is another combined form of Shiva and Parvati, worshipped primarily in the Tulu Nadu region between Karnataka and Kerala.  As the story goes, there was a demon who ate humans and made whole civilizations vanish.  He had been granted a boon whereby he could be killed only by someone who was male and female at the same time.  Shiva and Parvati were appealed to for help.  On their way to avenge the humans, Parvati became ravenous, and nothing could sate her. Shiva finally told her to eat him to appease her hunger, but she was unable to swallow him.  They were then merged into Jumadi, who has the face of Shiva and from the throat down, the body of Parvati.  In this form they vanquished the demon.

Jumadi drawn by Moodubelle for Wikipedia.

There is a similar syncretism of the gods Shiva and Vishnu, called Harihara, symbolizing their unity as different aspects of the same divine concept.

Harihara - the blue side is Vishnu, the other Shiva.

In Japanese folklore Inari is the kami, or spirit, of agriculture and rice.  She has been portrayed as either male or female, or sometimes as an androgynous bodhisattva.  She began to be worshipped in the late fifth century CE, and her gender differs according to regional beliefs and traditions.  She has also been identified with Dakinten, a Buddhist deity who is occasionally represented as an androgynous boddhisattva riding a white fox.

Dakinten, shown here as a woman, circa mid-1300s.
This figure is a unique blend of Buddhism, Hindu
Tantrism, Shinto Kami worship, and Taoism.
Image courtesy of the Met.

In Dahomey mythology, Nanan Buluku is the androgynous supreme deity of the Fon.  The Shona people of Zimbabwe have Mwari, an androgynous creator deity.

Nana Buruku as depicted in Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion
that is a synthesis of related African religions, bits of Islam,
and Roman Catholicism.  Image by Davi Nascimento/Wikipedia.

Australian aborigines have an androgynous deity called Ungud.  There are also Labarindja, blue-skinned demon women that are sometimes shown with both penis and vagina.  Pre-Christian Philippines had the hermaphroditic Bathala and Malyari. The Ngaju Dayak of Borneo worship Mahatala-Jata, an androgynous god/ess, and the Iban Dayao people have the androgynous Menjaya Raja Manag.

Ungud is also a snake deity, associated with rainbows and the fertility
of shamans.  Here s/he is shown with neither male nor female attributes.
Image courtesy of this site.

The Inuit worship Sedna, sometimes depicted through some myths as hermaphroditic.  In the Navajo tribe, Ahsonnutli is a hermaphrodite whose name means "turquoise hermaphrodite".

Thus around the world there are examples of this unity of opposites in religion, er, myth.  Also the integration of gender roles, to my mind stressing their equality. The classic icon, which is probably understood the world over, is the one not personified above:  The yin yang, complementary opposites that interact within a great whole, part of a dynamic system.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

F Troop

Missing my dad, which happens often, I began to reminisce about happy times that we shared.  Since he worked all day and often into the evening, plus commuted over an hour each way, he just liked to veg when he came home.  But that wasn't always possible, since my mother didn't drive and we lived far from any stores. On those nights when he got home early, without any errands, he would sit with me and watch TV.  We always laughed watching F Troop.

Although it only ran for two seasons, F Troop, the satirical American television sitcom about a fictional U.S. Army outpost in the Old West, grew more popular in syndication.  Like other two-year series of that era - The Munsters, The Addams Family, and The Monkees - it became a favorite long after the show was cancelled. Seems TV execs in the 60s weren't too hep on what the public liked.

Fort Courage, Kansas, is the fictional location for the show, which is set in the time just after the Civil War in 1865.  It was named for the bogus General Sam Courage, played by Cliff Arquette (grandfather of Rosanna, Patricia, and David).  The commanding officer was Captain Parmenter (Ken Berry), who was elevated to captain when he sneezed as he was getting his commanding officer's laundry.  The sneezing was interpreted as a signal which launched the final successful charge at the Battle of Appomattox, earning him the promotion but assigning him to Fort Courage where misfits were sent.  He also received the Purple Heart (which didn't exist at that time) for the wound he received being pricked by the Medal of Honor he was awarded when it was pinned on him.

Almost completely inaccurate historically, the series was popular for its sight gags, burlesque comedy, and its characters.  Sergeant O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch) were the central figures, always scheming and entertaining new business ventures as part of "O'Rourke Enterprises".  Although they played on Captain Parmenter's naïveté, they were amiable and protective of him, and they formed a hapless trio.

Some of the historical errors are pretty obvious.  Little Bighorn is mentioned several times, although the battle didn't take place until ten years after the show was taking place.  There is reference to General Custer, but Custer's commission as general had expired at the beginning of 1866, and he was downgraded to captain. Captain Parmenter, in addition to receiving the then non-existent Purple Heart, was also awarded the Silver Star, which wasn't created until 1918.  In one episode a line from the song "Jeepers Creepers" was quoted, although the song wasn't written until 1938.  Another episode features a "Singing Mountie", but the Mounties weren't founded until 1873.  Bob Dylan's "Tambourine Man" was sung, which was written in 1964 so was fairly new then.  But nobody watched to learn history.

The local tribe was the "Hekawi", named from the time they were lost and asked, "Where the heck are we?"  It was originally "Fugawi", but the censors caught on to that one.  They produced the products for O'Rourke Enterprises, and were 50/50 partners.  They also had a still that made the whiskey for the saloon.  Alluding to the concept that Native Americans came from the 13th tribe of Israel, many of the actors were Yiddish comedy veterans and used Yiddish shtick.  Chief Wild Eagle (Frank DeKova) said the peaceful tribe originated in Massachusetts, until the Pilgrims came and "ruined the neighborhood".

Parmenter, especially in the first season, spends much of his time avoiding the matrimonial intents of shopkeeper "Wrangler Jane".  Played by Melody Patterson, there is a valid reason for his standoffishness in that first season.  She had lied about her age to get the part, and was fifteen when she auditioned and sixteen when filming, so the romance was kept low key.  She turned eighteen by the start of the second season, so things heated up and she became much more aggressive.

There were many famous guest stars, including Phil Harris, Milton Berle, Vincent Price, Sterling Holloway, Paul Lynde, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, to name but a few.  Filmed in black-and-white the first season, it was filmed in color the second season.  The show was discontinued because it was thought to be wasteful to spend so much time on Warner Ranch for a half-hour TV show, and the studio was unhappy that the costs of filming in color were so high.

In 2005, director Bobby Logan announced he is planning a film version of F Troop to begin production in the summer of 2012.  In the meantime, both seasons are available on DVD, for those who want to revisit the stumbling crew of misfits.

Images courtesy of this site.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Doménikos Theotokópoulos - El Greco

"It was a great moment.  A pure righteous conscience stood on one
 tray of the balance, an empire on the other, and it was you, man's
 conscience, that tipped the scales.  This conscience will be able to
 stand before the Lord as the Last Judgement and not be judged, 
because human dignity, purity and valor fill even God with terror... 
Art is not submission and rules, but a demon which smashes the 
moulds...Greco's inner-archangel's breast had thrust him on 
savage freedom's single hope, this world's most excellent garret."

Nikos Kazantzakis in Report to Greco.

Adoration of the Shepherds, 1612-1614.  Painted at the end of
El Greco's life, there are several versions.  This one was supposed
to hang at his pantheon, but it was placed elsewhere in the church.
Image courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Madrid. 

He was born in Crete in 1541, when it was part of the Republic of Venice and a center of post-Byzantine art.  Doménikos Theotokópoulos came from a prosperous urban family.  He was trained as an icon painter and became a master of that tradition.  Like many Greek artists, he moved to Venice when he was 26.  Here he became a disciple of Titian, who was in his 80s but still very active.  He lived there for a few years before leaving for Rome in 1570.  It was here that he was given part of the moniker by which he later would be best known - El Greco.

Portrait considered by many to be a self-portrait, 1604.

In Rome, he was able to secure quarters in the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the famous patron of the arts.  He joined a painters' academy and set up a workshop, but never received any large commissions.  Yet he established a reputation for his portraits and devotional paintings.  His criticism of Michelangelo, who died in 1564, did not endear him to the art establishment.  He made an offer to Pope Pius V to paint over the Sistine Chapel, and stated that "he [Michelangelo] was a good man, but didn't know how to paint".  This, despite Michelangelo's influence on his work.  Farnese asked him to leave.

Portrait of Giulio Clovio 1571-1572.  Clovio was a good friend and supporter.

He moved to Madrid in 1577, then to Toledo.  Toledo was at that time one of the largest cities in Europe, and the religious capital of Spain.  His first large commission there was for a group of paintings for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, where he was later interred.  Two years later, he had completed nine paintings, and his famous painting of the disrobing of Christ for the sacristy of the Cathedral of Toledo.  He did, however, fail to earn the patronage of King Philip of Spain.

The Disrobing of Christ, 1577-1579. 

He also worked as an architect and sculptor, though little of that work survives. His ideas about sculpture echoed his views on painting, seeking novelty and freedom and going against the established rules.  Because his ideas were against the mainstream, he was not accepted in the prevailing architectural circles.

The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577-1579.
Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

While in Spain, he wrote treatises on art, but these are lost.  We do know something of his ideas because he wrote marginalia in his books.  When he died, he left a working library of 130 books, including an annotated Vasari - considered the founder of art historical writing.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, 1586-1588, considered one of El Greco's finest works.
Señor Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo was the Count of Orgaz, and very pious.  The painting shows the
story of his funeral:  St. Augustine and St. Esteban were coming down from heaven to bury him
when a voice stated, "Such an award is received by those who serve God and its saints."
Painting is approximately 15' 9" by 11'10".  Image courtesy of Santo Toḿe, Toledo, Spain.

It's unclear where his nickname originated.  In Italy, calling a man by his country of origin was common, and "Greco" is Italian for "Greek".  But the "El" is the curious part.  In Spanish, he would be called "El Griego".  It could be that the "El" was taken from the Spanish, or may be from a Venetian dialect of the time.  He was not called "El Greco" until after his death.  While he was alive he was known in both Italy and Spain as Dominico Greco.

He always signed his work in Greek.  Sometimes, as in this
example, he wrote "Epoiei" - "he made it" - after his name.
He also was known to use "Deixas", "he displayed it", and
"Kres", or "Cretan".  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

His work puzzled his contemporaries.  In fact, he was ridiculed and scorned for being incomprehensible after his death.  Through the years he has been accused of being mad, under the influence of marijuana, or suffering from astigmatism (to account for his elongated figures).  However, if he was astigmatic, he would've adapted to it.  His elongated figures were his chosen style.  As a professor of Spanish, John Armstrong Crow, said, "Astigmatism could never give quality to a canvas, nor talent to a dunce."

View of Toledo, 1597 - 1599.
Image courtesy of the Met.

El Greco regarded color as the most important element in a painting, even over form.  He sought to affect his viewers' emotions.  He has been praised in particular for his portraits, where it is claimed he conveys the character of his subjects.

The Opening of the Fifth Seal, or The Vision of Saint John, 1608-1614.
Image courtesy of the Met.

Considered so much an individual, he has not been assigned to a conventional school, although his style has been called a blend of Byzantine and Western art. But scholars differ in trying to categorize him.  Some claim to see the Byzantine influence from when he was an icon painter.  Others squarely call him a Spanish artist and the founder of the Spanish school.  Yet others say his work from Italy belongs to Italian art, and his work from Spain to Spanish art.

Laocoön, 1610 - 1614.  Laocoön was a Trojan priest of Poseidon who tried
to warn the Trojans in vain about the wooden horse.  The Gods punished
him and his sons by sending sea serpents.  Image courtesy of the National Gallery.

He was not appreciated until the 20th century, where he has been regarded as a precursor of Expressionism and Cubism.  In 1908, the first comprehensive catalog of his works was published by Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, who presented him as the founder of the Spanish school.  He started to be considered as ahead of his time.

Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597 -1599.  This illustrates the story
of Saint Martin of Tours, a soldier in Roman France, who split his
coat in half to share with a beggar.  Later Christ appeared to him
wearing the cloth, praising him for his charity.
Image courtesy of the National Gallery.

His influence on other artists is well-known.  Some of the artists he had an impact on include Eugéne Delacroix, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Picasso, the Blaue Reiter group, the German Expressionists, the Symbolists, and even Jackson Pollock, who did 60 complete drawing compositions in contemplation of El Greco. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke was inspired by him, and Nikos Kazantzakis named his autobiography, Report to Greco, as a tribute to him.

Portrait of El Greco's son, Jorge Manuel Theotokópoulos, 1600-1605.
Picasso's Portrait of a Painter After El Greco, 1950.
Both images courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is much dissension about how many and what works are his.  A few new works have been discovered, and one always hopes for the possibility of more.  The exact number of his extant works is still to be determined, as scholars battle it out.

Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes, 1597 - 1599.
Image courtesy of the National Gallery.

Although he never intended to spend his whole life in Toledo, it was there that he died.  He lived in style with a female companion with whom he had a son who also became an artist.  He fell ill, and died a month later in 1614, at the age of 73.

A Cardinal (possibly Cardinal Niño de Guevara), 1600 - 1601.
Image courtesy of the Met

He was lucky to enjoy enough success during his lifetime that he was able to earn a comfortable living.  But this lonely genius has finally been vindicated, and is now celebrated as an extraordinary artist.

Unless otherwise stated, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Froggy Goes A-Courting, and A-Schooling, and A-Dining...

Le Musée des grenouilles, Switzerland. 

So, you are a Napoleonic guard who loved to take countryside walks through the area of Estavayer-le-Lac in Fribourg Canton, Switzerland.  You noticed that there are lots and lots of frogs around.  You decide to catch them and ponder what to do with them.

Something sparks your creative streak, and you decide to gut them, and fill them up with sand, allowing you to manipulate them like beanbags.  Now what?  Well, how about using them in little dioramas?  One man did...

All three images above courtesy of Wikipedia.

Le Musée des grenouilles features the work of Francois Perrier, from 1848-1860. These satirical scenes form a famous part of the museum's collections.  The building and the collection came under the ownership of Estavayer-le-Lac in May of 1927, after 27 years of effort and a world war.  The building is from the 14th century, and was owned by Humbert le Bâtard, Lord of Estavayer.

All three images above courtesy of Wikipedia.

The museum has a number of collections, handed over by families from Estavayer and nearby Fribourg. There are a wide variety of objects to view, including tools, toys, church vestments, prints, antique paintings, and books.  The prehistory exhibit has objects from the Stone and Bronze ages, mostly from Jurassic lakes and lake dwellers.

They have weapons from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century. Some come from the Sepoys, who were interned there in 1940-41.  There are also weapons from Swiss mercenaries of the Burgundian War who were in the service of France.

A Bronze Age axe.
Mustard Adrian helmet of the African troops of the French Army, 1915.
A Saber.  All three images above courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you are traveling in Europe and are in the area, this is one of those unusual regional delights that you shouldn't miss...

Le Musée des grenouilles website.