The Great God Pan


Pan teaching Daphnis to play the panpipes; Roman copy of a Greek original from the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE by Heliodoros.

“The worship of Pan never has died out,” said Mortimer. “Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn.”

So says a character in The Music on the Hill, one of the slightly more serious stories from Saki’s The Chronicles of Clovis (1911). Saki’s Pan is a youthful spirit closer to a faun than the goatish creature of legend. But being a gay writer whose tales regularly feature naked young men (surprisingly so, given the time they were written) I’m sure Saki would have appreciated the Roman statue above. There’s nothing chaste about this Pan with his “token erect of thorny thigh” as Aleister Crowley put it in his lascivious 1929 Hymn to Pan, a poem which caused a scandal when read aloud at his funeral some years later. The Roman statue was for a long while an exhibit in the restricted collection of the Naples National Archaeological Museum where all the more scurrilous and priapic artefacts unearthed at Pompeii were kept safely away from women, children and the great unwashed. These are now on public display and include the notorious statue of a goat being penetrated by a satyr.

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The Feminine Sphinx



Work this week designing a CD of readings from Colette had me searching books for pictures of the author. Of the few I found this is the most interesting, one of several Colette portraits made by photographer Leopold Reutlinger and one of at least two from 1907 which Colette used to promote her Moulin Rouge pantomime, Rêve d’Égypte. (You can see another one here.) The Egyptian theme explains the sphinx pose and her costume but there’s no indication as to whether the pose was borrowed from Franz Stuck’s famous painting (below) or whether the resemblance is coincidental.


The Sphinx by Franz Stuck (1889).

Stuck produced two nearly identical paintings on this theme; the other version is here in a rather muddy copy. I like the frame design for this one which explains in pictures the secret of the famous riddle which the Sphinx asks of Oedipus, “Which creature goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three in the evening?” Stuck painted another sphinx picture three years earlier, The Kiss of the Sphinx, which portrays a less feminine and distinctly more rapacious hybrid.


Ida Rubenstein.

Colette was famously bisexual and so too was dancer Ida Rubenstein. In the same book as the Colette picture, there’s this photo of Ida recumbent in a sphinx-like pose in a very exotic boudoir. Photographs such as these are the material connection between the extravagances of the fin de siècle and the Decadent strain of early cinema in works such as Cabiria (written by Ida Rubenstein’s friend Gabriele D’Annunzio), Intolerance and (of course) Alla Nazimova’s Salomé.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Heidi Taillefer
Dorian Gray revisited
Beardsley’s Salomé
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé
The art of Giulio Aristide Sartorio, 1860–1932

Angels 6: Paradise stands in the shadow of swords


The Guardian of Paradise by Franz Stuck (1889).

We’ll let Coil have the final word on the angel theme, the post title being taken from their Cathedral In Flames. Those words recognise—as does the painting above—that the Christian concept of Heaven is of a gated community guarded by warriors to keep the undesirable at bay.

Symbolist painter Franz Stuck was (as far as we know) robustly heterosexual but his angel isn’t far removed from the work of contemporary photographers like Anthony Gayton who specialise in teasing out the erotic undercurrents in this kind of imagery. Which brings us full circle, seeing as we started with Caravaggio and his distinct brand of religious subversion. The irony is that some of the more vocal elements of Christianity can’t help subverting themselves or their own messages, as John Patterson notes in his Guardian piece today, alluding not only to the Ted Haggard debacle but also to Haggard’s favourite artist, Thomas Blackshear, both of whom were discussed here in November. Patterson writes that the recent brand of bigoted fervour that’s swept America seems to have abated, or at least retreated, after threatening to become a mainstream force. Europe often seems a haven of healthy heathen sanity by comparison, a part of the undesirable world being kept outside the American Paradise. St. Peter now demands retinal scans, fingerprints and a biometric passport. Continual rumbles from Pope Maledict and his closeted cardinals are an increasing irrelevance, the background static of a dying regime. Paradise may be guarded by attractive angels but we can only look and never touch. As Patterson says, the devil has all the best tunes. And the best books and movies and games. And sex and fun. I know which side of the fence I’d rather be on.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The men with swords archive

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Gay for God

Angels 4: Fallen angels


The Treasures of Satan by Jean Delville (1894).

Some more favourite paintings today. Jean Delville produced a splendidly strange portrayal of Satan as an undersea monarch lording it over a sprawl of intoxicated, naked figures. When Savoy Books decided to put together the definitive version of David Lindsay’s equally strange fantasy novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, I felt this was the only painting adequate to the task of filling out the cover. That was in 2002; a year later Gollancz used the same painting on the cover of their Fantasy Masterworks paperback edition of the book. Lindsay’s book has been plagued by bad cover art for years so we managed to raise the bar for future editions. Delville was one of the great painters of the Symbolist school, all his work is worth looking at.

There are numerous representations of Lucifer but Franz Stuck’s is especially striking and apparently caused viewers to cross themselves before it when it was first exhibited.

Gustave Doré’s tumbling figure is from his illustrated edition of Paradise Lost, a book full of armour-clad, spiky-winged angels. Some of those wings have even found their way into my work via the miracle of Photoshop.


Lucifer by Franz Stuck (1890).


Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

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The art of Thomas Häfner, 1928–1985