Merlin

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Merlin building Stonehenge (14th century) from Folio 30r of British Library, Egerton 3028.

The Arthurian magus in art and illustration. Despite the antiquity of the Arthur legend there doesn’t seem to be much early representation of Merlin outside a few drawings in old manuscripts. The British Library’s folio showing the raising of Stonehenge is the oldest known depiction of the ancient structure.

Most of the pictures here are illustrations for the Merlin and Vivien section of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the first book of which was published in 1859. Vivien (or Viviane, Nimue, etc) is the sorcerous Lady in the Lake who either imprisons Merlin underground or in a tree depending on whose account you read. Edward Burne-Jones’ The Beguiling of Merlin has long been my favourite of that artist’s paintings. This is only a very small selection of possible pictures, of course. A more complete catalogue would include Nicol Williamson in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a performance that some find overly mannered but one that I’ve always enjoyed.

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Merlin and Vivien (1867) by Gustave Doré.

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The Beguiling of Merlin (1874) by Edward Burne-Jones.

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Lachman’s Inferno

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I’ve written already about Harry Lachman’s remarkable melodrama, Dante’s Inferno (1935), but the links to the Inferno sequence are now defunct so here’s an updated one. Lachman was an artist before he became a production designer for Rex Ingram, and later a director in his own right. The French government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur for his painting but it’s this short piece of film for which he’s remembered today, a dreamlike journey through the circles of Dante’s Hell intended as a warning to the crooked fairground owner played by Spencer Tracy. The sequence is notable for closely following Gustave Doré’s illustrations, and also for the surprising amount of naked flesh given that this was made when the Hays Code was in operation.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hell, a film by Rein Raamat
Inferni
Mirko Racki’s Inferno
Albert Goodwin’s fantasies
Harry Lachman’s Inferno
Maps of the Inferno
A TV Dante by Tom Phillips and Peter Greenaway
The last circle of the Inferno

Inferni

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The Barque of Dante (1822) by Eugène Delacroix.

More infernal visions. Depictions of Hell aren’t exactly recent but the 19th century saw an increase in Dantean themes, helped, no doubt, by the Romantic taste for violent drama. There are many more such paintings, especially of the doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca whose plight is almost an artistic sub-genre. I’ve avoided the popular depictions by William Blake and Gustave Doré although the latter is represented below by a painting you don’t often see.

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Dante and Virgil in Hell (1850) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

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Dante and Virgil at the Entrance to Hell (1857) by Edgar Degas.

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More Esteban Maroto

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Psychedelic Kali from Vampirella 18.

Copies of the Dracula comics may be scarce these days but two of the artists who appeared in the title—Esteban Maroto and José Beá—were also appearing regularly in Vampirella around the same time. The Internet Archive has a large collection of Warren titles including an almost complete run of Vampirella. Esteban Maroto’s work stands out for me for his draughtsmanship, his page layouts, the atmosphere of heady eroticism, and the frequent touches of psychedelia of which the panel above is one of the more striking examples. The best strips are the ones he wrote himself; when he works with American writers the results tend to be more restrained. It’s a shame Vampirella was mostly a black-and-white title, so many of these pages would benefit from the same colour treatment as Wolff.

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Wolf Hunt from Vampirella 14.

And speaking of wolves, there’s a similar collection of witches and lycanthropes in these stories.

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Tomb of the Gods: Horus from Vampirella 17.

Tomb of the Gods is a short series in which mythological stories are explored Maroto-style. The exception is Gender Bender, a piece of science fiction with masculine and feminine psyches pitted against each other in a virtual arena. The story title is a surprise for anyone thinks that phrase originated in the 1980s.

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Tomb of the Gods: Kali from Vampirella 18.

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Gustave Doré’s Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault

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La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood).

More illustrated Perrault. Gustave Doré’s intention to produce definitive illustrations for his editions certainly paid off when he turned his attention to the French fairy tales. Doré’s work may lack the light touch required for some of these stories but a couple of the engravings—Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf, Puss-in-Boots—are reproduced endlessly whenever picture editors need a suitable illustration. Doré’s characters can be rather wooden at times but the expressions on the face of the wolf and the girl are perfect.

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Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood).

Elsewhere Doré contributes some original details: the court in Sleeping Beauty is usually shown besieged by thorns or bracken but Doré has giant fungi growing all over the floor; in Little Tom Thumb the children are described as knocking on the door of the ogre’s house then being let inside but Doré shows the ogre’s wife greeting them with a shaft of lamplight. These illustrations were published in several editions throughout the 1860s which makes that lamplight beam a very advanced pictorial effect. Incidentally, for those who read the Amon Düül II cover art post a couple of days ago, the figure of Tom Thumb stealing the ogre’s seven-league boots may be glimpsed outside the spacecraft window in the centrespread of Dance of the Lemmings.

Wikimedia Commons has more of the Doré illustrations; there’s also a set at Gallica although the quality of their scans isn’t always so good.

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La Barbe bleue (Blue Beard).

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