The death of the poet and artist Carlos Casagemas, Picasso’s friend and almost constant companion in Barcelona and later in Paris, precipitated a creative crisis (Podoksik 21-25). Picasso was in Madrid when the young man shot himself in the middle of a Parisian café on the Boulevard de Clichy. After first returning to Malaga with Picasso in December of 1900, Casagemas had returned to Paris alone. Picasso had taken a position in Madrid as an art editor of a new journal, Arte Joven (EBO). Casagemas was understandably despondent and had declined Picasso’s repeated ‘desperate’ invitations to re-join him in Spain (Podoksik 24). Although Picasso’s prodigious output in the year 1901 seems to contradict the proposition that his thoughts about himself as an artist had been challenged, it does not.
February 1901, and the Fall advent of the Casagemas “death cycle” mark points of transition in Picasso’s early career. As Picasso struggled against the “academic style”, he incorporated into his work the insights he gleaned from his contemporaries and explored his own psyche as a possible source of intervention. This period of transition reflected a confluence of styles: From the beginning of the year his work was still suffused with the echoes of El Greco, Zurbaran, Goya and Velazquez, as was much of his early work; these influences gradually gave way to Forain, Steinlein (the illustrators of contemporary Parisian magazines) van Gogh, Lautrec and the Nabis (especially Vuillard and Bonnard) as well as to Picasso’s own flirtatious references to the Catalan Modernists (Podoksik 19-22). Furthermore, it may be possible to trace a connection between Picasso’s search for his artistic voice during this period, and the later identification of him by Andre Breton as the ‘informing genius of Surrealism’ in 1928 (qtd in Chipp 407); or indeed, as Salmon wrote in 1912, as the “foremost artist of his age” (qtd. in Chipp 203). Apollinaire (who was slighted for his eye, but not often for his pen) best summarized the transformation of Picasso’s art during this period:
“This Malagueno bruised us like a brief frost. His meditations bared themselves silently. He came from far away, from the rich composition and the brutal decoration of the seventeenth-century Spaniards.
And those who had known him before could recall swift insolences, which were already beyond the experimental stage.
His insistence on the pursuit of beauty has since changed everything in art”(qtd in Chipp 230-31).
As early as 1899 or 1900 Picasso became increasingly concerned with the “final truth; the transience of human life and the inevitability of death” (Podoksik 20). As Anatoly Podoksik described the subjects of these works, he argued that they culminated in Picasso’s 1900 canvas The Last Moments (20). This large composition was shown in Barcelona early in 1900, and later the same year at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Podoksik tells us that the work was only recently rediscovered by X-ray analysis (20). The Last Moments was perhaps symbolically buried by Picasso beneath La Vie. The two paintings certainly share more than the same space on canvas and illustrate what Podoksik regarded as Picasso’s ability to capture “the general significance of universal human experience…due to [his] expressing, with the most exhaustive completeness, man’s internal life and all the laws of its development” (11).
Podoksik sees The Last Moments as an entirely “theoretical” painting: in its “morbid symbolism”; in its “characters”, a dying woman and the priest attending her; and in its “style, which bespeaks the artist’s affinity with the ‘spiritual’ painting of El Greco, then considered the founding father of the anti-academic, modernist tradition”(20). Picasso achieved continuity, whether consciously or not, by painting the La Vie over the earlier work. The theoretical symbols and characters of The Last Moments were displaced in La Vie, as the artist confronted his thoughts and feelings—especially his guilt—concerning the death of his friend Casagemas.
In the Casagemas “death cycle” so called because the theme was treated at least four times in 1901 alone, and reaches its apogee in 1903 with La Vie. Picasso drafted the image of the poet in two distinct moods. None of the paintings betray the circumstances that surrounded Cassagemas’ suicide (except in some of the titles). Picasso depicted his friend conventionally and sentimentally at first, then his treatments change, gradually, perhaps inexplicably. Initially, Casagemas seems to be dead, suspended in time and perhaps trapped between worlds. Casagemas may still live in the artist’s memory, but there is little that is alive about his cold, blue corpse. As the series progresses, Picasso brings his friend back to life as a surrogate for himself. In 1903, through a process of transformations expedited by Picasso, Casagemas conquers death in La Vie.
The Casagemas cycle suggests Picasso’s psychological descent into an underworld (Golding 214) that parallels the images of suffering, dementia, pathos and poverty that Picasso created following his visits St. Lazare women’s prison in the Fall of 1901 (Podoksik 32). An important distinction is made by Podoksik about the differences between the paintings from 1899 through the first half of June 1901, and Picasso’s developments during the second half of 1901. As his discussion unfolds, Podoksik uses the aphorisms generally assigned to the earlier period, such as “stained glass”, “café”, “pre-Fauve” or “Vollard” styles. He then summarizes,
…“earlier when depicting a café scene in the style of turn-of-the-century art, Picasso was attracted by the modern city’s ‘physiology’. By the anomalies of actual existence; now in the second half of 1901, the social aspect retreats far into the background; serving only to set off the universal symbolic meaning of the painted image” (Podoksik 27-28).
Podoksik also sees significant emotional and ideological links between the people who inhabit Picasso’s cafes and the Night Café that van Gogh described as “a place where one can perish, go insane, commit a crime” (qtd in Podoksik 31). Podoksik also reminds us that of the three essential elements that Pierre Daix enumerated as “ripening” in the last half of 1901, the “…predominance of form in the compositions…”, “…sentimental themes…”, and “…the use of monochromatic blue…” (qtd in Podoksik 31). In fact, it was to Daix that Picasso confessed, many years later, “…it was when thinking that Casagemas was dead that I began to paint in blue” (qtd. in Podoksik 31).
Golding introduces his readers to Jung’s assessment of Picasso’s early Blue Period:
“[It was] seen as evidence of the first stages of schizophrenia and as the symbol of ‘Nekyia’, a descent into hell and darkness. Picasso’s subsequent evolution, Jung felt, was an ever more desperate effort to shelter behind a barrage of unintelligible symbols, leading the painter inexorably into the murky gloom of a Neolithic night” (214). During a brief discussion of Evocation and La Vie, within the larger context of his analysis of The Three Dancers, Golding links Picasso’s “journey inward and downwards” with the “ultimate destination and aim of all the true Surrealists” (215). Golding remarks that the “conclusions [Picasso] reached when he had explored the labyrinths of his psyche were not those of his Surrealist friends”; Picasso did not, for example, cede primacy to the dream state over the “stimulus of the waking, visual world”; nevertheless, it was at least in part, “the Surrealist experience which endowed his work of the period with its depths of psychological meaning and emotional intensity” (215).
Jaime Sabartes summarized Picasso’s views from the period, “[he] believes Art to be the child of Sorrow and Pain…. He believes Sorrow lends itself to meditation, while Pain is the substance of life” (qtd. in Podoksik 32). Podoksik adds that what is remarkable, “unique” here, is that “[Picasso] expressed [the] leitmotif of a whole cultural era…through a purely poetic metaphor—blueness” (33). Podoksik intensifies this connection of “blueness” to poetry by recalling that
“Rainer Maria Rilke stood studying the paintings at the Salon d’Automne in 1907 and imagined someone writing the history of the colour blue in paintings throughout the ages—now spiritual; now gallant, now devoid of allegorical meaning” (33).
He suggests too that what Picasso produced was “heterogeneous and complex, not only in style but also in content” (33-34).
Podoksik also directs us to one of Picasso’s poems from the 1930’s in which he wrote, “You are the best of what exists in the world. The colour of all colours…the most blue of all the blues” (33). Whether or not Picasso believed in the transformative properties that inhere in the color blue, Jung reminds us that the Romantics did. Jung sees trans-cultural links between the ‘seven stages of transformation’, the ‘Rosie Cross’, the “golden flower” of Chinese alchemy, and the ‘Blue Flower’ of the Romantics. Jung reminds us first, that these are all symbols of solar transformative properties (“the Earth’s answer to the Sun’s countenance”); and second, that
“…the well known ‘blue flower’ of the Romantics might well be the last nostalgic perfume of the ‘rose’; it looks back in true Romantic fashion to the medievalism of ruined cloisters, yet at the same time modestly proclaims something new in earthly loveliness” (Jung 150).
Jung offers us this meditation at least three years after his often cited (and poorly received) analysis of Picasso’s Blue Period, that was reprinted in Cahiers d’Art in 1932 (Golding 360, n. 13:13). There is however, no discernable connection that leads us back to Picasso’s poem, as the mere approximation of coeval timing it is compelling, but ultimately inconclusive.
Picasso undoubtedly saw himself as having departed on a journey “inward and downward”. Casagemas’ death served him as both a catalyst and an analogue, and however derived, “blueness” was his transformative engine and cardinal metaphor. The chronology of the death cycle is not as important for our purposed here, as are the artist’s restive and incisive treatments of his subject(s). One version, Casagemas in his Coffin, (1901, Oil on Cardboard: 72.5 x 57.8 cm) is all in blues and greens. The tones are melancholy, inert and passive, as it simply proclaims that Casagemas is dead. Regardless of the order prescribed by dates, this first painting can be read as our starting point and as Picasso’s point of departure.
In a second painting, The Death of Casagemas, (1901, Oil on Wood: 27 x 35 cm.) Picasso added a candle and suddenly the corpse changed. The hoarfrost blue and green of the previous work yield to warmer, self-indulgent yellows, oranges and reds; as a result the mood of the painting softens. The forms of the candle and of Casagemas’ profile are allowed to dominate the composition. The light given-off by the candle is intended to be interpreted as a form as well. In this alternate version, the glow of the candle warms the air around it with thick, insolent, vaulted chromatic arches. The atmosphere Picasso creates is more redolent of a van Gogh sun, than of a candle set near a bier. Picasso insinuates that Casagemas is in some way transfigured by his (Picasso’s) novel illumination. Casagemas can no longer be regarded as just a death mask attached to a corpse awaiting burial, thus consigned to memory. Picasso has not yet revealed the full extent of Casagemas’ apotheosis; he has changed the way we feel as we look at his treatment of the scene in historical revision….
In the third painted sketch, Casagemas is shown with his head turned to almost three quarter’s profile. This sketch is not as disconsolate as are those more austere profiles featured in the two previous works. The head is raised and it seems that Casagemas may not be dead at all, only lost in contemplation. His eyes are closed, but only the title reveals his disposition, Le Suicide (1901, Oil on Cardboard: 52 x 34 cm.). The sheets that once shrouded him can now be interpreted as a simple white garment. Blue remains an important color, but now it must compete with the browns of Casagemas’ disheveled hair and the deep umber recesses of his closed eyes. Picasso reveals to us that Casagemas’ personality lingers somehow despite the reports of his death.
A fourth painting, Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas—Evocation, 1903: 146 x 89 cm.) is different in both scale and temperament than the other simpler paintings in the cycle. Picasso’s presentation of the events depicted in Evocation borrows heavily from El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz. In El Greco’s Burial, Christ holds court in heaven and presumable awaits the arrival of the dead Count. St. Stephen and St. Augustine attend the details of the interment or resurrection (as we might interpret them). Christ, his court, and the Saints are absent from Picasso’s painting. The court of heaven has been transposed by Picasso into small groupings of a more secular bias: a nude couple, apparently both female; a trio of partly clad female figures—perhaps the muses who inspired Casagemas’ poems; and an obscure figure on horseback who prepares to lift a waiting nude female up behind him on his mount….
The symbolic language of Picasso’s Evocation is evasive. What is immediately clear is that whatever Picasso’s figures are doing, they are not immediately involved in, nor are they moved by the drama unfolding below them. “Above” and “below” are relative terms and therefore are bound to a single point of view. If the point of view changes as we look at the picture, then the meaning becomes ambiguous; certainty, the absolute, all of the trappings of didacticism are relegated to an endless series of contingencies by Picasso’s shifting point of view. “Form” is no longer able to “dominate” the artist’s composition; and instead, his figures preoccupy languid moments: perhaps relevant, but perhaps irrelevant to the death of the poet, Picasso’s friend. Picasso’s figures exist—simultaneously apart—all in a shared space, and they are animated b their collective or individual objectives—not by the artist, nor by the events he has depicted. Words dissemble meanings; and the artist implies that we must not try to describe his painting; we can only experience it—simultaneously apart! The allegory has stripped away the personal significance [for us, for Picasso]: of the poet, of his life, his death—his transformation into something else or something other. And all that remains now is the work of art and the artist.
We note that the shroud is in relatively the same position in both paintings. Picasso’s arch of clouds in Evocation corresponds to the arch described by the hosts of Heaven, as shown by El Greco. The priest who presides over the burial of the Count is analogous to the gate of the churchyard in Picasso’s scene. Orgaz’ body lies with his head toward the priest, undoubtedly to expedite his soul’s trajectory to Christ’s paradise. In Picasso’s scene, by contrast, the young poet’s head declines away from the gate of the churchyard, but not necessarily away from ‘salvation’. With patterns of ambiguous whites Picasso leads the observer’s attention upward. His figures conduct their various pursuits amid relentless fields of ‘blueness’ and blue fields of ‘air’ and ‘ground’ to suggest “…strong allegorical overtones ranging from the mystic and religious to the profane and quasi-blasphemous…”(Golding 214). The less effusive themes and the life sized people of El Greco’s Burial have been displaced by Picasso’s frolicking, tiny ephemera.
In both paintings the faces of the dead are obscured, because these are not portraits of the dead. The actions, the personalities of the participants, the emotions attendant to the action, are all allowed to take precedence in both burial scenes. El Greco’s “ideal viewer” stands on the same ground as the ‘human’ participants involved in the episode. As we look at the painting, some of the onlookers (including the painter himself) look back at us, calling our attention to the fact that we are all the witnesses to this solemn occasion. Picasso makes his figures much smaller, less human, less personal, more mercurial and perhaps livelier and (oddly) naked. Podoksik offers this assessment:
“…there is no doubt that Picasso, in the grip of his ‘blue’ world outlook, found the universal in the concrete: symbolic, suggestive in meaning and piercing in emotion, an expression of universal sorrow. This was an existential emotion rather than an empirical one” (38).
It is precisely the inconstancy of his figures that remakes our role; we are not the spectators at an important event shown in paint, we must see Picasso’s Evocation, as an artist’s statement. Picasso’s account of The Burial of Casagemas does not represent actual events (any more than El Greco’s painting did) it requires our interpretation. We can perhaps participate in Picasso’s painting more fully than in El Greco’s because, while the former is poetry (good or bad), the latter is pageantry.
We can conclude, at least in part, that Picasso’s death portraits commemorated his friend, the poet Casagemas, as Picasso saw him. We can speculate that these portraits impart some message to us beyond their surface appearances, yet they retain a certain intimacy and solemnity that is profoundly human. In contrast, the diversity and magnitude of the events depicted in Evocation, reaches far beyond these commemorative portraits, just as it also departs from El Greco’s Burial. Evocation depends upon less tangible conceptions than ‘life or death’ and the ‘transience of human existence.’ Evocation is framed in a complex, pastoral language that we must interpret.
El Greco chronicles a funeral and foreshadows the inevitable redemption and ascension of the Count to the Christian Paradise. The Burial of Count Orgaz requires no great degree of interpretation. Picasso’s painting presents a bifurcated polemic, the meaning of its various branches are uncertain. Perhaps Picasso argues for the redemption of his friend into a simpler, more secular version of paradise? Perhaps the Evocation of the title refers to the fanciful imaginings brought to the gravesite by the mourners? Perhaps there is an alternative meaning known to and discernable by the painter himself? Each of these questions is equally problematic, and equally unanswerable.
In a sketch from 1904, (the Portrait of Casagemas, Nude; Pen and ink with blue pencil: 13.3 x 9 cm.) Casagemas is resurrected: he is nude and awkwardly covering himself; his hair is disheveled; his eyes are sullen, dark and disoriented. He stares at us, brooding, as if in defiance of the fact that even as we look at him, we know that he is dead. A year earlier, in 1903 Casagemas was enlisted by Picasso for another appearance. In the serial pentimenti La Vie (1903, Oil on canvas: 77 3/8 x 50 5/8 cm.) Picasso borrowed Casagemas’ face to put on his own nearly nude frame. A young, nude woman stands next to him and seems to lean on him. Opposite the couple, a robed woman holds an infant. The author of an article from the Cleveland Museum of Art suggests that this robed woman and the child she is holding supersede the bearded priest in Podoksik’s description of The Last Moments: “The cloaked female figure was initially a bearded male” (MPV).
This picture stands near the end of the Blue period, it is the largest, and for many critics and scholars it is Picasso’s most important work from that time. La Vie suggests that by 1903, Picasso integrated into his work the feelings he had concerning the death of Casagemas. Certainly through this process of integration (pentimenti) Picasso provides his friend with some measure of immortality. He also may offer us the sythesis that Podoksik refers to as a “universal symbolic meaning of the painted image”. Death, specifically Casagemas’ death, is an important motif that pervades the entire period of Picasso’s work. Furthermore, we can conjecture that there is a relationship among these particular paintings that links together Picasso’s thoughts on life and death, without determining what those thoughts are. For example, Picasso substitutes the priest in El Greco’s Burial with the gate to the cemetery in Evocation.
A similar exchange takes place in The Last Moments and La Vie. The permutations between these two paintings include: a robed woman substitutes for a priest; the infant she is holding (life) takes the place of death; the dying woman is replaced by the young couple in La Vie; a reinvigorated Casagemas trades his winding sheet for a loin cloth (almost) and perhaps most significantly, Picasso exchanges his own face for the death mask once worn by Casagemas. Picasso described this approach to his art in a 1935 conversation with Christian Zervos:
“In the old days pictures went forward toward completion by stages. Every day brought something new. A picture used to be a sum of additions. In my case a picture is a sum of destructions. I do a picture—then I destroy it. In the end, though, nothing is lost; the red I took away from one place turns up somewhere else. It would be very interesting to preserve photographically, not the stages, but the metamorphoses of a picture. Possibly then one might discover the path followed by the brain in materializing a dream. …A Picture doesn’t change …the first ‘vision’ remains intact, in spite of appearances” (qtd. in Chipp 267-268).
Death is addressed repeatedly throughout Picasso’s work. It should come as no great surprise that he uses ‘destruction’ as a metaphor for the process whereby his images are achieved. Art is for Picasso, a process of accumulated “deaths”; a sum of “destructions” and not a simple act of “creation”; and art is the “path followed by the brain in materializing a dream”. We might speculate that Picasso sees death as a principle of displacement, because “in the end, nothing is lost”; but since Picasso’s argument is more poetic than logical, such a transposition might be deemed unfair. It would be fair to deduce that Picasso sees his art as a way to understand creative and destructive acts and thus perhaps life and death, without arriving at any specific conclusions about either. Picasso hints at this when he says later in the same conversation with Zervos:
“While it is being done [a picture] changes as one’s thoughts change. And when it is finished, it still goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it. A picture lives a life like a living creature, undergoing changes imposed on us by our life from day to day. This is natural enough, as the picture lives only through the man who is looking at it” (qtd in Chipp 268).
Picasso’s notable omission in this passage is that he fails to draw the obvious conclusion: A picture that ‘lives like a living creature’ must also eventually die. In other words, (again without drawing a strictly logical conclusion) artists give life to a painting working from a ‘first vision’ that already has a life of its own; this vision continues to live as long as people look at it: Picasso may stop short of stating a conclusion because ‘art’ is just the path he is on, there is no specific, ‘empirical’ destination at some unknown end. He speaks of a ‘first vision’ that ‘remains intact in spite of appearances’. It is possible at this point to side with Jung, and to see Picasso’s art as a flight from the realities of life and death. It is also possible, on the other hand, to see his art as an ongoing process, of creation and destruction that Picasso understands will only end with his death.
Picasso’s statements (when applied to his paintings) allow us to consider the transformation of one character into another, one canvas to the next, or one style to another style, while retaining a sense of continuity. This transformation is obvious in the case of The Last Moments and La Vie, but it is not always so obvious or complete.
“When you begin a picture, you often make some pretty discoveries. You must be on guard against these. Destroy the thing, do it over several times. In each destroying of a beautiful discovery, the artist does not really suppress it, but rather transforms it, condenses it, makes it more substantial. What comes out in the end is the result of discarded finds. There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality. There’s no danger then, anyway, because the idea of the object will have left an indelible mark” (qtd in Chipp 270).
If we apply even the rudiments of logic to Picasso’s statement, we find by extending his thought, that to replace the one ‘reality’ with another ‘reality’ is not to lose that with which we started; if we revisit The Last Moments and La Vie, in the light of this axiom, we find that each of the transformed figures can be read as having been stamped with ‘the indelible marks’ of the figure that was ‘destroyed.’ So we should read traces of the bearded priest as now resident in the cloaked woman holding the baby; the young couple is linked to the dying woman through Picasso’s idea of ‘discarded finds’; Picasso and Casagemas must also be connected as they too have been ‘transformed’, ‘condensed’ and made more ‘substantial’.
In his discussion of the archetypal symbolism of dreams, Jung shows how very different images can be related to each other within a single dream narrative. We can appropriate his methods in order to understand Picasso’s associations because Picasso’s ‘downward and inward’ journey has led him (and us) to the labyrinthine depths of the psyche, where dreams originate. As already noted, Golding, Podoksik and many others see a connection between Picasso’s work and the Surrealists’ preoccupation with dreams. Picasso’s own reference to the ‘path the brain follows when materializing a dream’ was mentioned too, but was not sufficient by itself, to serve as a foundation on which to elaborate an argument admitting Jung’s methods of association to the interpretation of Picasso’s paintings.
Jung sees the symbolism of dreams within an established context provided by the images and processes of alchemy (117-120). Jung’s basic premise is that the images of dreams and of alchemy persist throughout all cultures, not because they have origins in each other, but because they each have origins in archetypes that are universal (120). Alchemy provides a familiar visual vocabulary for Jung’s archetypes. What he refers to as a mandala image is a more useful tool to understand a dream, a painting, or a process of painting like that described by Picasso.
“The true mandala,” Jung writes “is always an inner image, which is gradually built-up through (active) imagination, at such times when psychic equilibrium is disturbed or when a thought cannot be found and must be sought for, because it is not contained in holy doctrine” (170).
The inner image then, is composed of many parts, each which has an individual identity, an identity related to other images surrounding it, as well as an identity derived from the interplay of all of the images in the mandala. Jung continues, with regard to these images,
“…it seems to me beyond question that these Eastern symbols originated in dreams and visions, and were not invented by some Mahayana church father. On the contrary, they are among the oldest religious symbols of humanity…”(170).
The relevance of Jung’s discussion to Picasso’s description of his work and his artistic process is immediately apparent. Although, the process that Picasso describes seems far less tranquil than that described by Jung. It is true that the artist speaks of repeatedly “destroying” the image, but this implies a similarity to the gradual process that builds-up Jung’s “inner image”; the inner image or as Picasso says, “first vision”, the “picture” or the “mandala” doesn’t change, “in spite of appearances.” The mandala is created in order to find what is “missing”; and Picasso tells us, his paintings are a “sum of discarded finds”.
We might next consider Jung’s description of the “visual impression” of a common dream, and the possible relevance that his explanation of it may have for the transformation of figures we have traced among the images of The Last Moments and La Vie:
“A death’s head. The dreamer wants to kick it away, but cannot. The skull gradually changes into a red ball, then into a woman’s head which emits light.
…Evidently…a play of opposites has occurred: after being rejected the unconscious insists on itself all the more strongly. Fist it produces the classical symbol for the unity and divinity of the self, the sun; then it passes to the motif of the unknown woman who personifies the unconscious. Naturally this motif includes not merely the archetype of the anima but also the dreamer’s relationship to a real woman, who is both a human personality and a vessel for psychic projections” (Jung 157).
The threads of continuity that wind through the Casagemas Death Cycle, Evocation, The Last Moments and La Vie allow us to find both the transitory and essential bonds connecting them. Jung’s mandala may hold a key to understanding these connections. The genesis of Picasso’s mandala of images is Casagemas’ death. In the first three paintings we are watching as Picasso rejects or at least struggles with the Death’s head; Picasso slowly reforms the face of the corpse to reflect the light of the sun-like candle; but ultimately he lifts the face from the corpse in the Casagemas cycle to create a makeshift face that he wears himself in La Vie, which could be read variously as – Picasso transforming Casagemas (re-birth), or Casagemas transforming Picasso (re-death, or guilt)…. Jung’s interpretation seems even more on point for the latter part.
The two women in La Vie are quintessentially “not merely the archetype of the anima but also represent the “dreamer’s relationship to a real woman, who is both “a human personality” and a “vessel for psychic projections.” At first the substitution of a bearded priest for the woman holding a baby may seem strange, but if this woman represents the anima, the creative or generative feminine force, she would naturally be granted a sacerdotal role. This woman is holding a child so the exact nature of the hieratic function is apparent to us; she is also a “vessel” for the ultimate “psychic projection”, life itself. The woman who stands at Picasso/Casagemas’ side represents another vital feminine energy, a lover who was known to one or both of them. Judith Rodenbeck (and many others) suggests that she is Germaine, the unfortunate young woman that Casagemas tried to kill just before killing himself. It is also widely reported that Picasso had an affair with Germaine for about a year after the poet committed suicide. Germaine too, in our ironic reading of the painting, is a vessel of psychic projections, she represents Death. The young couple is visited by Life and the Generative Feminine or Feminine Sacred; they are joined together by sex and guilt, as well as by Life and Death. Picasso wears Casagemas’ face, thus becoming Death to her Life—much as she was Death to Casagemas’ Life. This is a curious if not altogether clear representation of what Jung called the “play of opposites” at work. In The Last Moments, of course the woman waits for Death, attended by a priest or holy functionary. There are many levels of this play of opposites present, but here again I don’t believe that a specific meaning was intended by Picasso, and that may be what makes the painting work for us as a form of the mandala.
Art Historians and scholars identify as many as eighty different styles in Picasso’s long and varied career (Cannaday 29). Indeed, Picasso’s early career seems to be marked by rapid changes in subject and style that demonstrate both his virtuosity as a painter, and his insecurities as an artist. Podoksik comments that he had, “passed too rapidly through modernism and, having exhausted it, found himself at a dead end, without a future” (21). He had to reinvent painting and start over—not once by many times. It seems unnecessary to categorize his art as any thing other than “Picassisme”, as Salmon calls it (qtd. in Chipp 204). To summarize his career (if that is possible) we might recall the words of Giogio de Chirico in Meditations of a Painter (1912):
“I believe that as from a certain point of view the sight of someone in a dream is a proof of his metaphysical reality, so, from the same point of view, the revelation of a work of art is the proof of the metaphysical reality of certain chance occurrences that we sometimes experience in the way and manner that something appears to us and provokes in us the image of a work of art, an image which in our souls awakens surprise—sometimes, meditation—often, and always the joy of creation” (qtd. in Chipp 398).
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Breton, Andre. “Surrealism and Painting” Theories of Modern Art: A Sourcebook by Artists and Critics. Herschel B. Chipp, with Peter B. Seltz and Joshua C. Taylor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. pp 402-416
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—-“Conversation, 1935” Theories of Modern Art: A Sourcebook by Artists and Critics. Herschel B. Chipp, with Peter B. Seltz and Joshua C. Taylor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. pp 266-273
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http://www.webcom.com/shownet/tots/picasso/picstein.html [Accessed 24 October 1999].
Salmon, Andre. “Anecdotal History of Cubism” Theories of Modern Art: A Sourcebook by Artists and Critics. Herschel B. Chipp, with Peter B. Seltz and Joshua C. Taylor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. pp 188-206.
The earliest mathematicians and scientists were neither mathematicians nor scientists. They were Babylonian priests. They adapted or co-developed a system of writing and numbers that they inherited from, or gave to the Phoenicians. [the Phoenicians did not call themselves Phoenicians–it means the “Red People”–go look it up!] They were the first astrologers and they invented the Zodiac, the lunar calendar and the clock. They divided day and night into twelve equal segments, each, and assigned each hour sixty minutes and each minute sixty seconds. They also invented numerology and other forms of divination. They were also the first Civilization to produce epic poetry. Their earliest myths tell of the defeat of the great goddess of antiquity, Tiamat at the hands of the hero Marduk. Although goddess worship survived, the myth is a poetic retelling of and justification for the primacy of the cults of the male gods and the shift away from a maternal society they once were, to the paternalistic society they had become. Ironically, most of the Priests who discovered or invented all of the above were Priests of Innana, the goddess of love, family and war!
The hero of the oldest extant example of Babylonian epic poetry lends his name to the work: Gilgamesh. At one point in the story, one of the gods is trying to sleep but can not, because Mankind is too noisy, so the god sends a flood to destroy all of Mankind. Another god, named Ea (“Yah”) takes pity on Mankind and tells Gilgamesh to build a big boat and gather animals so that they might be safe from the flood. Some time after, the Canaanite god El became confused with the Babylonian god Ea—apparently both shared the same appellations like “Adonai” (“Lord”). In Semitic cultures the name of god is sacred and may only be spoken by the priest in the temple. Everyone else uses titles as a substitution for the name. By the time the Hebrew tribes consolidate their beliefs into the Torah, they are using the names and titles of different gods interchangeably: YHWH, El and Adonai. They also use over ninety different titles that express the attributes or images of these gods; these attributes are also an amalgam of different stories about not one, but several different gods from both Babylon and Egyptian Myth.
The first line of the Hebrew Torah will suffice to prove my point, when properly translated: “Bereshith bara Elohim ha shemoyim va ha eretz.” This line is usually translated as “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” There are three problems with that translation: First, Hebrew does not have definite articles; and second, “Elohim” is the plural of “El”; and third, “Shemoyim”, “heavens” is also plural. A more accurate translation would be “In a beginning some gods created some heavens and an earth.” My point is that there are ideas that have long passed from our collective memories that remain encoded in the world around us.
We may wonder why there are twelve hours in a day and night; or why 60 minutes in an hour and sixty seconds to a minute? The answers are all based on the same premise: Numbers were sacred to the Babylonians and they used them to create their sacred geometry. Twelve is sacred because it is the product of four times three; four is the number of elements (fire, air, earth and water) the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west); and three is expressive of the great goddess, her consort, and their offspring. Three is also expressive of the nature of the goddess as maiden, mother and crone. Twelve can also be expressed as the product of two times six; six is two times three; the most holy numbers for the Babylonians were one, unity; two, union (copulation); three, fruition (offspring and trinity); four, twice the power of two; and five because of its mathematical association with Phi. [12×5=60 minutes and 60 seconds; 7 is the result of adding 2 to 5; and 8 is 4+4, 2×4, 5+3, 2+3+3 and 1+7; thus eight has all of the powers associated with those numbers, and was thought to be a symbol for perfection.] The Babylonians were the first to note that when we add the numbers from one through four, the sum is ten. They, and the Greeks after them, expressed this visually; the Greek name for the shape survives: the Tetrad.
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* * * * [If these stars don’t show up in the form of a pyramid, build one out of pennies from your pocket…if you don’t have a pocket–for God’s sake put some pants on!!]
The number thirteen was sacred to the Babylonians as well, because if you take three more stars or dots, you can create a six pointed star, composed of two interlocking triangles, and these (outer stars) also describe twelve line segments. This shape was called the tetrachys by the Greeks. If you look on the back of a dollar bill you will find this fertility symbol that was sacred to the ancient goddess of Babylon directly over the head of the American eagle! The eagle is posed so that its head, wings, talons and tail imitate this sacred shape.
* * * *
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* [Same here–you need 13 lucky pennies….]
The upward pointing triangle represents the masculine principle and the downward pointing triangle represents the feminine. The star in the middle represents the fetus in utero. This shape is full of possibilities for the geometry teacher. Students can be challenged to find how many triangles there are, how many regular shapes, irregular shapes, polygons. Students might be asked to calculate angles or build a three dimensional model out of paper or other materials. When students are told that this is a magical shape, emblematic of fertility and of the goddess, I think it becomes even more appealing to them, much as it was to the Ancient Babylonians, or the designers of the 1947 dollar bill. [Then they will all start dressing in black and listening to “Metalica” and “Alice in Chains”.]
The 1947 dollar bill has other interesting numerological associations. The American eagle clutches an olive branch with thirteen leaves in one talon and thirteen arrows in the other. One might say well these may not indicate the sacred number of the goddess, until one remembers that fewer than thirteen colonies were created as thirteen States by the founding fathers. One might note too that the eagle has nine tail feathers. Nine is probably the number most sacred to the goddess because it is 3, 3 times. It is also the number of the cube, a sacred shape, especially when viewed in relationship to a sphere that encompasses it: the relationship of such a cube to such is sphere is expressive of the value of Phi. Finally if one looks at the pyramid of thirteen tiers of stone and the inscription above it: “Annuit Coeptus” , one might wonder where this comes from or what it means? When I told my students in the past, that it means “he saw that it was good or complete” they often guessed it was from the Bible. In fact it is from the first century poet Virgil’s Aeneid, a poem about the founding of Rome written to flatter the Emperor Octavian (Augustus). The appearance of the phrase in Virgil’s poem occurs in Book IX, line 625: 6+2+5=13!
[Augustus was a title that could be conferred by the Senate; Octavian insisted it be given to him and stole it for himself. I think historians should take it away from him. He was not very “August”: he sent his own daughter into exile, and cheated friends and family members at dice. And although he did institute a kind of “family values” anti—adultery law, it only really applied to women—like his daughter Julia. His biggest crime of all was that he has been directly linked to the murder of Cleopatra. To cover-up his indiscretion, his historians “spun” the whole romantic, adder-to-the-breast myth. Even the most lethal cobra in Egypt does not kill fast enough to fit the accounts given by his so-called historian! Call him Octavian!
Cleopatra was ruthless—she had her little brother killed; but she was hot! Not because she was beautiful, necessarily, but because she was interesting; she spoke seven languages and was the richest, most powerful woman on Earth at the age of nineteen…. Julius Caesar was 54…. I am 47….Octavian was in his 30’s—and a jackass….If he had a lick of sense, he would have taken Marc Antony prisoner, divorced his wife, married Cleopatra and raised Caesarion as his son and heir. Thereby, he could have perhaps saved Rome and the world from the “seven bad Emperors”, including Nero and Caligula. Of course the Roman public did not like Cleopatra, mostly because she wore rouge on her lips. In Graeco-Roman society the only women who so adorned themselves were prostitutes who wanted to advertise their particular area of specialization.]
Recent scholarship and theory has linked the value of Phi (1:1.618) to Aesthetic theory. The value of Phi was first established by the ancient Babylonians who found it everywhere in nature, including on the human face and figure. For example, for many people, the distance from the top of the head to the naval and the distance from the top of their heads to the floor approximate the value of Phi. I suggest that Math teachers develop this into a classroom exercise. Students can take each other’s measurements and then do the math to see whose measurements come closest to expressing this ratio. Other parts of the body may also be measured and tested against this theory—in particular, the parts of the face, relative to one another: the ratio of the size of the eye to the nose; ears to the eyes, lips to the eyes and so on.
The value of Phi has been used to design buildings and to create art, since ancient times. We can find it in the Great Pyramid at Giza; The Parthenon in Athens; Notre Dam Cathedral in Paris; Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper and Mona Lisa since the concept was re-discovered in the West, after the Great Crusades. I say “re-discovered” because much of the writing of the Ancient World was destroyed when the Library at Alexandria was destroyed by overly zealous Christians in the First Century of the Common Era. For eleven hundred years European builders (there were no architects until the late Fourteenth Century) could not build a decent arch. The reason no one in the North could build an arch was because no one knew the Roman recipe for cement. The knowledge of the Ancient world, including Greek plays, the recipe for cement, the writings of philosophers to give only a few examples, had been preserved and translated by scholars in the Arab world. Western pilgrims, soldiers and clerics traveled back and forth from Europe to the Holy Land for most of three hundred years during the “crusades”. (The Church lifted the last Crusade tax in 1968, in Pueblo, Colorado.) In the following chapter on DBAE and History, we will discuss the Crusades at greater length. For our purposes here it is sufficient to note that the Golden Mean and the Golden Section and the value of Phi were all retrieved for the West from the Arab world. This recovery sparked a craze among builders and Artists to incorporate these into their work.
Math and teachers in the other sciences can browse the web for pictures of buildings and art works that incorporate the Golden Mean, Triangle, Section and the value of Phi. These can be duplicated and distributed to their classes and then the students can work in teams to find how many instances of each of the above are built into the building or incorporated into the artist’s image.
Another mathematical exercise involving art and paintings from the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries C.E, would involve first having students calculate the number of degrees of angle that the perspective used by the earlier artists, is “off”; then comparing the works of the different centuries to determine when mathematical perspective came into widespread use. The students could use transparencies, felt-tip pens, protractors and rulers to aid in their calculations. Teachers who wish to investigate this exercise further should examine the following three masterpieces: Tres riches Hueres, February, Paul, Hermann and Jean Limbourg; The Annunciation, Robert Campin; and Holy Trinity, Massacio. All three are easy to find on the internet. Teachers and students might consult Erwin Panofsky’s Perspective as Symbolic Form, for diagrams and examples.
[Take a break, come back later–that’s a lot of shit to absorb in one sitting…]
Art History is a history of cultures. Cultures are a totality of images, artifacts, ideas and events shared by people with a common memory. Main-stream History is not the study of a series of events, names and dates; it is the study of a series of interpretations of events, names and dates. Art Historians may ask more questions than they can answer, main-stream Historians try to answer more questions than they can. Main-stream Historians when asked to cite the causes of World War II, many would cite the unresolved boundary and border disputes after World War I; others might cite the struggle for possession of Middle Eastern oil fields; still others would point to widespread poverty and the almost universal collapse of the world’s great economies.
Art Historians can show all of these in the intellectual products of Art movements like dada, Surrealism, Cubism and Futurism. All four of these art movements were political as well as artistic. Dada arose among a group of ex-patriot artists living in Switzerland during the First World War. They were against practically everything; politically, socially and artistically they were Anarchists. They wrote manifestoes proclaiming the death of Academic Art; they performed ritualistically and chanted non-sense words as a means of artistic expression. None of the co-founders of dada could agree on what “dada” meant: one says it is “Yes, Yes” in many European languages; another says it is French slang for a hobby-horse; a third says it is just repetitive nonsense.
As an example, at one dada performance, the audience gathered in a large theater; the lights were lowered; the curtain was raised about eight inches—revealing a line of feet, on cue the line began to march in place. After several minutes of marching in place, the line marched off stage, the curtain was lowered. A fist-fight broke out among performers and theater goers; the brawl spilled out into the street and the authorities had to be called! The movement lasted only four years (the approximate length of the Great War). Yet the dada-ists left their stamp on all of the other “isms” that would follow.
Another movement that preceded the Great War but did not survive it, was called “Futurism”; ironically, not because it looked to the future of Art (or anything else) but because its members held that there was no future for traditional art. In their manifestoes they called for a ten year moratorium on painting the nude figure [Not my favorite group, since I only paint nudes!]. Their movement did not last for ten years, and many of the Futurists died in the war. Most of the futurists were Italians, fascists and supported both Hitler and Mussolini. Artists’ works like Constantin Brancusi’s bronze piece Bird in Space were the precursors of Minimalism and other forms of Conceptual Art.
Andre Breton was an ambulance driver and medic in the first war to end all wars; he was familiar with the dada movement and had written a manifesto. Then, in 1924 he published a manifesto for a new movement, “Surrealism”. Breton was a poet who was fond of the work of Guillaume Apollinaire who coined the term. Surrealism was a primarily literary movement that became associated with painters like Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and even Picasso. Dali, who lived in the United States for twenty-five years, enjoyed the status of one of today’s Rock stars. Picasso refused to even visit the United States, but did visit the former Soviet Union. Andre Breton died in relative obscurity.
Of the three Picasso was the most politically aware; he sensed that a second war was coming and moved his important works to safety. His masterpiece Guernica was a political statement about the fire bombing of a little Basque village by Hitler’s troops, in support of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, during the Spanish Civil War, before the outbreak of World War II. Guernica was a Royalist outpost resisting Franco’s rebellion. Picasso may or may not have been a Royalist, but he was a staunch Catalan nationalist.
Picasso, along with Georges Braque and Juan Gris, developed two or three identifiable styles of “Cubism” between the two wars. Analytic and Synthetic Cubism occupy opposite roles in the art of the painter. Painting, as has often been observed, is about “seeing”. In Analytic Cubism the artist sees and presents different facets of the thing depicted simultaneously. In Synthetic cubism the artist sees the object’s essence and presents that essence as quintessence. In the former, planes are clearly marked, in the latter, those demarcations have been removed.
Cubism faded after the Second World War, at least in part because of the revelation of the Holocaust and the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In a world of such unimaginable atrocities and distortions of human flesh at the hand of other human beings, there was no longer a place for imaginary distortions. The world had been plunged into what Kenneth Galbraith called “The Age of Uncertainty.” All of the “isms” unleashed by the Art world on an unsuspecting (and increasingly disaffected and uninterested) public, since the end of the Second World War, have been attempts to settle this endemic uncertainty.
Even a partial list of these “isms” to a non-specialist is staggering: Abstract Expressionism, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Constructivism, De-constructivism, Post-modernism and ultra-realism. Most of these movements arose out of Art theories and criticism offered by French critics like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Their basic premise removes the authority over a work of art from the artist and places it with the viewer. The artist may “pack” his or her work with meaning; but it is ultimately the well-heeled viewer who “unpacks” that meaning. Over the last fifty years of the Twentieth Century, Art and Artists, Critics and Collectors, became increasingly aloof and remote from the general public. The plastic arts ceased to exist, to a large degree, outside of the gallery movement. The plastic arts became something that required an explanation. This is what some have called “Art with Text”.
[This part is for Art Teachers only, so the rest of you little starch blockers –go do your hair or something…]
The astute teacher of High School History courses probably knows that all major events have left visual records of artists’ interpretations of those events within the culture. As Human Beings, we have always been makers of tools and have always been makers of images, of ourselves and of the world around us. From the time we first know we are able to, we are impelled to “make a mark”. We organize the contents of our consciousnesses first with our imaginations and only later according to names and words. Pictures and images precede language in the human psyche. By looking at pictures and images, for most people, is how we learn most efficiently. In the study of History, there are a wealth of pictures and images that can aide both students and teachers in learning and teaching their subject.
The principles of DBAE require that teachers do more than simply use visual aides. DBAE requires that teachers in any discipline engage their students in art making. Assignments in High School History classes should include oral and written reports or research papers. DBAE suggests that the teacher devise other art making projects that reinforce lectures and readings on a given topic, event or historical figure. In order to complete the project, students would need to do more research to gain more information about the subject of their project(s). These projects could be small or large in scale, individual or group in nature. For example, one group of students made national headlines and received TV coverage because they did a (very bad) reproduction of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.
Murals are good class projects, assuming that all of the appropriate permissions are obtained. The teacher should involve the students in writing and presenting the proposed project to the appropriate school or district authorities. My class room had two doors; I had a design contest among the students; we obtained the necessary permission, and proceeded over the course of two years, to paint all four sides. History teachers can lead the same sort of project, instead of painting a single design they could employ several designs and “wrap” the design all around the interior of their rooms. Different textures can be created on the wall to imitate the surfaces the various works from different time periods were painted on. The designs may be original if the students are talented enough. If not the students can scan pictures into the computer and print them out on transparencies that can then be used to project the image on the wall with an overhead projector. Several students working together can sketch the image on the wall with pencils or charcoal sticks.
The textures of cave walls, Egyptian tomb walls, Greek Vases, Roman Mosaics, tapestries and so forth, can all be imitated with joint compound and various tools. Cave walls can be created with a trowel and sand impregnated joint compound. Tomb walls were coated with plaster (lime) but plaster has to be painted when wet, which is very difficult to do. Joint compound can be substituted then painted white when it dries. To imitate the texture of the Bayeaux Tapestry one can smear the wall with joint compound, then starting at the top, press loose weave canvas or burlap into the wet mud. When the mud is set, but not dry, the cloth can be peeled off and it will leave the impression of the cloth behind. For shiny surfaces like Greek Vases or any glazed pottery, high-gloss latex enamel can be applied to the sanded joint compound. Gold and Silver enamels are available for painting model cars. The tiles of mosaics can be painted in semi-gloss and high-gloss enamels. The grout can be painted with flat black latex paint and a fine bristle brush.
As the students work on the project through all phases, research, selection of images, transfer and execution, the teacher can conduct lecture and discussion sessions about the various time periods covered. Handouts and worksheets can be developed for the students’ homework. Short essays can be assigned to students on topics like “Why did early man paint the animals on the walls of the Lascaux caves?” Or “What did Greek Architects do for the first time that made Greek buildings unique in the ancient world?” The first question calls for the student to reflect on human nature, their own experience and material presented by the instructor.
In other words there is no one right answer. Scholars are divided on this question. Some believe that the pictures commemorate some great event or hunt. Others think that the pictures evoke the spirit of the animal “Shaman”; a mythical being that can be wooed or appeased to ensure the return of migratory animals. We only know that the pictures have been painted not just once, but many times over at least a millennium. We know that the representations of animals are skillfully rendered and very realistically portrayed, while human beings are depicted as little more than “stick-figures”.
The second question has various elements to its answer: The main element that should constitute at least a part of the student’s answer is that Greek buildings were built on a “human” scale. The proportions of the various parts to the whole express the same ratio as those of the human body. (Usually this ratio is the ratio expressed as Phi.) The Greeks were the first “city-planners”. All of the buildings and common areas of the Acropolis in Athens were planned for commercial, ceremonial and strategic reasons.
[Hey–get back in here, you’ll want to read this!! No?! Jackass….]
The Parthenon contained, for example a temple to the Goddess Athena Parthenaos (hence the name) and a city treasury for use in times of siege. In times of war the entire population could retreat behind a large wall intended to stave-off any such attacks. Ultimately the wall failed; but even after Athens fell to Sparta at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian Wars, Sparta allowed construction to continue on the rest of the complex. This was uncharacteristic of the otherwise “laconic” Spartans. Spartan culture was centered on making war and controlling its hoplite slaves. The only way that a Spartan male could pass into the afterlife, was to die in battle. The only way for a Spartan female to pass into the afterlife, was to give birth to at least one male child. Spartans lived in simple wood, mud and thatch huts; perhaps as a consequence, when we think of Greek culture, we think of Athens.
The Ancient Greeks were a combative somewhat arrogant people; their basic attitude has often been summed up in the phrase –in Roman letters—“Hameis men Hellenes esmen, humeis de Barbaroi” [or “We speak Greek, while you go ‘Bar-bar-bar-bar-bar’”]. The Romans liked this attitude, so they copied most of what the Greeks did. They enslaved the Greeks and forced them to give them culture at the point and blade of a gladius.
Athenian Greeks were the first to integrate figurative sculpture into their architecture. The Erechtheum, for example, is a commemorative monument (that celebrates the legendary first king of Athens and his daughters, whom he sacrificed—he thought–for the sake of his city….); it is a temple at which young women would make sacrifices to secure a suitable mate; and it is a public work of art that incorporates the images of King Erechtheus’ daughters, as the pillars that once supported the roof. In this instance Greek Architects are using, for the first time, the structural elements of a building to remind people of a story.
[A really fucking abrupt transition–hold on!!]
In the middle of the Sixth Century of the Common Era, a skillful soldier and manipulative man named Flavius was busy hood-winking then Emperor Justin. Justin was a bit on the dull side but had been put into power by Flavius and others in the army. Flavius had craftsmen fashion a wooden stamp in the shape of Justin’s signature. Flavius would write documents and proclamations, “read” and “explain” the documents to Justin, and then Justin would stamp them with his signature. Not surprisingly, one of the last documents Justin signed named Flavius as his successor! Shortly after signing the document Justin died under suspicious circumstances and Flavius re-named himself as Emperor Justinian.
Justinian planned to rebuild Imperial Rome of the Caesars’. He sent his armies out from his Capitol in Constantinople to retake much of the Eastern Empire from the Moslems and the Western Empire from the various marauding tribes from Northern and Central Europe. As his armies were successful and his Empire grew, Justinian’s architects oversaw a massive building campaign; they built churches, amphitheaters, hippodromes, other public buildings and baths. Although he seldom left his seat of power in the East, Justinian saw himself as a Western, Roman Emperor. And while most History books concentrate on his Code of Laws, Public Works, and building programs, a far different picture of him emerges if we read the Secret History written about him and his wife, the Empress Theodora.
This account was written by Justinian’s official court Historian, a man named Procopius. At one point he wrote that Justinian “had killed more men than all of the other Emperors combined”(The Secret History). He also tells us that Justinian was ruthless, jealous and a cheat. If one opposed the Emperor, he might just disappear, and his family would have its property and lands confiscated by the Crown. Fairly early on in his reign taxes were so high that thousands of people gathered to protest. When it seemed to him that the throng was going to storm the Royal Palace, Justinian started to make preparations to escape; but, as the story goes, his wife Theodora intervened made a speech and convinced her husband to fight back. He did. He gave orders that all of the protesters be put to the sword. Thousands of defenseless people were slaughtered. There were no other rebellions (Secret History).
Justinian was in his fifties when he married Theodora. She was nineteen. (I’m still 47.) Procopius offers several lurid stories about Theodora. He relates that she was the daughter of one of the leaders of several rival factions of performers. Her father died when she was 11 or 12 and her mother married the leader of a rival faction (a trainer of circus animals). Her mother also turned Theodora and her two older sisters into prostitutes. He wrote that she was often known to go off into the woods with parties of as many as ten young men and their man servants. She would then proceed to service the men and then their servants. He wrote “She threw wide three gates to the ambassadors of Cupid”(Secret History). Of her behavior at court, he tells us that she liked to walk around the palace naked. She also held court with her female attendants and some male hangers-on. If one of the men looked at her in a manner that she considered unseemly, she would have him stripped naked and flogged on the spot, then sent into exile, his goods and his lands were made forfeit. Procopius tells us to that she sometimes wielded the whip herself and seemed to enjoy administering punishment (Secret History.)
Naturally, the public face of the Emperor and Empress was far different. When Justinian’s Cathedral was built in his new capitol of Ravenna, he and his Queen attended the dedication only in effigy.
The mosaics are made from tiles and many precious and semi-precious stones. The gold is gold leaf. The surfaces of all of these materials can be imitated with paint. To allow the students to gain a more authentic experience, the border could be set with plastic or glass ornaments. Larger pieces of “stone” should hot glued to the taping mud after it dries. Gold paint makes a convincing substitute for gold leaf; even imitation leaf is expensive and difficult to work with. True gold leaf is expensive and nearly impossible to work with. I have done only one painting with a true gold leaf background. One has to learn to work quickly and not breathe.
The juxtaposition of the images of Justinian and Theodora against the information given by Procopius gives the students’ not only a sense of irony, but also a sense of how governments can manipulate their public faces to appear stately and regal, while they live completely opposite lives. Justinian was an Empire Builder, a conqueror, and a thug; Theodora ruled with him as co-Regent; and was a prostitute, a nymphomaniac and a masochist. When Justinian died, she ruled alone and set the precedent for later Byzantine Empresses. [That there could be Empresses, not for how they should behave!]
[If you’re not a teacher, read this next part with your eyes closed, we’ll get back to the good stuff in a minute…]
I think that students should also come away from this type of exercise wondering if everything in their textbooks is true. Students should also wonder if everything in their textbooks is all there is to know about a person, place or event in History. If students become engaged in the subject they are learning in a way that involves all of their senses they are more likely to see that learning is not a passive thing. History textbooks, like all textbooks can be boring and anemic. We will discuss this in the next Chapter on Textbooks and DBAE. For the present, I promised a further discussion of the Crusades.
[Okay–you can open them now–Surprise!! –pretty fucking lame, but what do you expect at five in the morning?]
At this point, my discussion will be temporarily out of sequence; I should discuss the Norman Conquest instead, since it happened in 1066 and the Crusades began in 1195. Well, Urban II chatted-them-up in 1195 no one was ready to leave until about a year later. [The Crusaders must have taken dates to the Holy land?!] I feel justified in talking about the Crusades at this point because I wrote that I would in the previous chapter and because this chapter is growing rather long. Depending on the source, and what one wishes to consider a Crusade, they lasted about two to four hundred years. They lasted longer than the United States has been in existence. So, if one was to imagine all of the social, cultural, political and inter-societal changes that have transpired since the inception of the United States, and place them in a different, more ancient context, one would almost begin to surmise the earth shattering changes that reverberated out of the cultural exchange between Christian and Moslem worlds.
The word in German is Weltanschaang. “World view” does not approximate the profundity of the German word, but may have to suffice. People living in mud-huts in Europe, traveled to the middle-east and saw houses of brick, palaces and Mosques of stone with massive arches of which Europeans could only dream. Theirs was a wet-dream soaked in blood and carnage, on both sides. In the end, the Crusades proved nothing but the depths of depravity to which mankind can sink, mire itself in and ultimately, disgustingly, revel in it. The idea that European Christians had any claim to the Middle-East because of the highly dubious ministry of a problematical Rabbi should have been seen as sheer non-sense. But, because in 1195 there were no printing presses in the West, because there was no classical scholarship in the West, and because there was little culture and refinement in the West, it seemed a likely proximate cause of action.
For a Moslem scholar of the Twelfth Century, living in Acre or Jerusalem, or anywhere in the Holy Lands, it would be the equivalent experience of say, an American Ph.D., at Harvard witnessing a nuclear attack on the United States, by Great Britain, because of the persecution and death of a Native American Shaman like Geronimo. [He actually died from pneumonia at a relatively old age—His skull was reportedly stolen by members of Yale’s Skull and Bones society, including—either Prescott or the Senior George Bush.] But then, it has only been a little over a hundred years—one imagines what might happen in one thousand years!
The Great Crusades were perhaps the most significant events in world history, before the First World War. This is true, not because European forces prevailed, but despite their losses. In fact the Europeans only won the first Crusade. I believe this was due at least in part, to the fact that the Moslems and Jews did not realize that they were under attack. One of the more disastrous was the third Crusade. The Crusade was led by Richard I (Couer de lion) of England and Phillip (Augustus) of France. There were rumors in their day, and much speculation since, about whether or not the two were lovers. They gained some early victories, only to later realize that Saladin was too smart and his forces too strong for them. Phillip went home to France; Richard was kidnapped by King Leopold of Austria, a vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI. Henry VI held Richard for ransom for 150,000 marks. According to an article on Wikipedia.com[i], this was twice the annual income produced by England (Richard I).
Elinor (of Aquitaine) raised the ransom and eventually Richard went home to France. While he had been in the Holy Land, his brother John (Lackland) had schemed against him. And while John was plotting in England, French nobles were seizing Richard’s lands in the North and west of France. Richard died in one of these little skirmishes in 1199, and John became King. Richard had named Arthur, his Brother Geoffrey’s son as his heir. As Geoffrey was the older brother, his son would have a better claim than John. Geoffrey was rumored to have been killed by his own men. Although the official histories say he was trampled by a horse. [History does not record who might have spooked the horse.]
Elinor and Henry II had five sons William the count of Poitier; Henry, the Young King (his cousin was Henry III and Henry died before actually wrestling the throne away from his dad,) Richard Couer de lion, Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, and John Lackland. They also had three daughters: Matilda, Eleanor and Joan. Elinor also had two daughters with her first Husband, Louis VII of France. She married Henry a few months after her marriage was annulled. Henry also had ten other children with four other babies’ momma’s, the last of whom was Louis’ daughter by his second wife, and the half-Sister of Phillip, the product of Louis’ third marriage. [I know this seems very complicated, but it’s simply a matter of a lack of self-control, and reliable contraception. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of Royal fucking by a lot of Royal fucks… ]
Elinor had gone with Louis to the second Crusade, and led his men into battle, along with her female attendants; all of the women rode stripped to the waist. [I’ll wait here while you go back and read that again….] Elinor also led her sons (the three surviving ones—William died in infancy and Henry in adolescence) in revolt against their father. The effort was a failure, and Henry had his wife placed under House Arrest in The Tower of London. Henry’s Seat of Power was split between his courts at Achen, and Chinon. Henry was a good King, but a bad husband and father. He ruled the largest Empire in Europe since Charlemagne. He instituted what would become the English Common Law and a system of magistrates to conduct courts, thereby replacing the Church’s trial system. He was also a brutal thug; he had his best friend Thomas a Beckett the Archbishop of Canterbury, killed in his own Cathedral, at the altar while at evening prayers. Beckett had vocally opposed Henry’s reforms and Henry did not much like dissent. [Or condoms—they “just didn’t feel right.]
Elinor was released on Henry’s death in 1189, after fifteen years of captivity. Elinor died in 1204 but not until after seeing her son John crowned King. John was a bad administrator and something of a tyrant. It was during John’s reign that the Nobility of England rebelled against the Crown, and it was he who signed the Magna Carta in 1215, that limited the power of the Monarchy and pointed the way to Parliament.
The political and territorial outcomes of the various Crusades were relatively unimpressive, from a European viewpoint. The indelible impression made on European culture was incalculable. Islamic culture gave to the West coffee, dessert, paper money, the windmill, the wealth of Ancient knowledge, Greek Philosophy, Literature, theater, the Roman formula for cement, medical knowledge, including inoculation against disease, Geometry, Algebra and other Sciences and the idea of Chivalry. But the most important ideas the West received from the Arab world were the concept of zero and the use of Arabic Numerals. It was the use of Arabic Numerals and math that fueled and funded the Renaissance. European money changers could now, with Arabic numerals and double entry book keeping, become European Bankers. The men who understood how to use this system became wealthy virtually “overnight.” The Borgia’s, the Uffizi’s and the De Medici’s were the most famous and the most powerful people in both the Government and the Church.
[We’ll take up the matter of the Renaissance later, right now I need to sleep…]