Weekend links 514

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Athanasius Kircher welcoming two guests to the Collegio Romano, a detail from the frontispiece to his Romani Collegii Societatis Jesu Musaeum celeberrimum (1678).

Opium (1919) by Robert Reinert: “A Chinese opium dealer takes revenge on Westerners who have corrupted his wife.” With Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt a year before their pairing in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain: in which the gallery thinks that 7 minutes is enough to give us a taste of a major exhibition that we can’t otherwise see.

Joe Pulver (RIP): His Highness in Yellow. A memorial piece that includes artist Michael Hutter talking about his paintings of Carcosa.

Court Mann on the strange history of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 50 years old this month.

• “Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague by John Glassie.

Sophie Monks Kaufman on why literary lesbians are having a moment on screen.

• Photographer Ryan McGinley: “I was taught to believe in Satan. It scared me.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ellen Burstyn Day, and the ghostly novels of WG Sebald.

Dorian Lynskey on where to start with Nina Simone’s back catalogue.

• Wie funktioniert ein Synthesizer? (1972). Bruno Spoerri explains.

• Banham avec Ballard: On style and violence by Mark Dorrian.

John Boardley on the most dangerous book in the world.

Improvisation for Sonic Cure by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• The Strange World of…JG Thirlwell.

Diet Of Worms (1979) by This Heat | Stomach Worm (1992) by Stereolab | Heartworms (1998) by Coil

Athanasius Kircher’s Pan

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More from the Kircher archives at the University of Heidelberg. As before, it’s good to see illustrations familiar from countless reprintings in books in their place of origin. The volume in question is Obeliscus Pamphilius: hoc est, Interpretatio noua & Hucusque Intentata Obelisci Hieroglyphici (1650), one of Kircher’s attempts at deciphering the hieroglyphics on Egyptian obelisks. I’m still not sure how the Great God Pan fits into these speculations even as a diagrammatic figure, unless in this case it’s Pan as a representative of Nature as a whole.

Whatever the explanation, the Pan picture often turns up in occult anthologies although you’re as likely to see the copy from Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928) as the original. Hall’s rendering is useful for the translation of the Latin although he also says it may represent the god Jupiter (?) and he censors the not-very-obtrusive penis, a rather fatuous bit of prudery for a book that’s supposedly concerned with universal truths.

A few more plates follow, one of which features a serpent I swiped several years ago for a Cradle of Filth T-shirt design.

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Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids

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Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids aren’t as vast as Thomas Cole’s dream construction—for size you need Kircher’s Tower of Babel—but they’re still eccentric inasmuch as they don’t correspond to any group of Egyptian structures. One of the great things about the etchings in Kircher’s books is the way their detail gives a sense of veracity to their depictions. Go slightly further back in time and you’ll find scenes that are just as eccentric but much more crudely rendered; go forward a few years and too much was known about ancient ruins to ever depict them this way again. The illustration is the frontispiece to Kircher’s Sphinx Mystagoga (1676) which can be seen in full at the University of Heidelberg. The details in Kircher’s illustrations benefit from the high-resolution scans.

Steve in the comments to yesterday’s post mentions another painting featuring an impossible view of architecture through the ages (pyramids included), The Professor’s Dream (1848) by Charles Robert Cockerell. BLDGBLOG ran a post about Cockrell’s paintings a couple of years ago.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Athanasius Kircher’s Tower of Babel
China Monumentis by Athanasius Kircher

Athanasius Kircher’s Tower of Babel

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Here’s a picture whose myriad details I’ve wanted to scrutinise for many years. Lieven Cruyl was the draughtsman and Coenraet Decker the etcher while the picture itself appears as an illustration in Athanasius Kircher’s (deep breath) Turris Babel, Sive Archontologia Qua Primo Priscorum post diluvium hominum vita, mores rerumque gestarum magnitudo, Secundo Turris fabrica civitatumque exstructio, confusio linguarum, & inde gentium transmigrationis, cum principalium inde enatorum idiomatum historia, multiplici eruditione describuntur & explicantur. The book was published in 1679 and, among other speculations, features Kircher’s eye-popping illustration (below) showing how tall the Tower of Babel would have to be in order to reach the Moon. I used part of the big illustration in a cover design for metal band Melechesh in 2006.

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The copies here are from a scanned volume at the University of Heidelberg where the pages have suffered slightly from bookworm. But the resolution is high enough to explore a picture crawling with tiny details, from the bristling scaffolding at the top of the structure, and the houses (for the workers?) built on the ramps lower down, to a procession of camels and other beasts being led towards the main entrance. In the background there are smaller towers and a few pyramids (Kircher explored the latter elsewhere in the book), and also a harbour with beast-headed sailing ships. The full-size picture may be explored here.

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