Painting the Henge


Wiltonia sive Comitatus Wiltoniensis; Anglice Wilshire (1649) by Atlas van Loon.

Avebury doth as much exceed Stonehenge in grandeur as a Cathedral doth an ordinary Parish Church.

John Aubrey

John Aubrey (1626–1697) was the pioneering antiquarian and archaeologist whose interest in the ancient sites of southern England made him the first person to subject Avebury to any serious study. As a consequence his comparison between Avebury and Stonehenge may contain some bias—Stonehenge’s site on the desolate Salisbury Plain made its presence well-known even if it was little understood—but it should be noted that in Aubrey’s time there were more stones at Avebury than there are today, and the long avenues leading to and from the outer circle were still intact. The stones of Avebury were unfortunately small enough to be broken up by the locals for building materials.


Stonehenge (1835) by John Constable.

The size of the stones, and the isolation of the site explains why Stonehenge has proved more attractive to the arts than other Neolithic monuments. William Macready in the 19th century added Stonehenge-like trilithons to his stage designs for King Lear, an addition that persisted for decades; Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) famously ends with a scene at the stones, while in the 20th century Stonehenge was shoehorned into Night of the Demon (1957), Jacques Tourneur and Charles Bennett’s film adaptation of Casting the Runes by MR James. James was an antiquarian himself so may well have approved of the inclusion, especially the way the stones are used in the opening scene.


Stonehenge at Sunset (1835) by John Constable.

Painted renderings of the stones tend to be a mixture of archaeological studies and depictions like those featured here. The site had an understandable attraction to the Romantics, and drew both Constable and Turner there. (See Turner’s paintings and sketches here.) Constable’s watercolour of the stones against a turbulent sky is oft-reproduced. Some of the stones seen in 19th paintings and drawings lean more than they do today, having been restored to the vertical in the 20th century.


Stonehenge – Twilight (c. 1840) by William Turner of Oxford (not to be confused with his more famous namesake).

Closer to our own time there’s Henry Moore’s marvellous series of lithograph prints from 1973 which study the stones from a variety of angles. These include close views, something few other artists seem to attempt. The photo print below shows the site as it was in the 1890s with cart tracks passing nearer to the stones than visitors today are allowed to venture.


Previously on { feuilleton }
Stonehenge panorama

Hermann Obrist: Art Nouveau Sculptor


Cyclamen (1895).

An exhibition close enough for me to easily visit, Hermann Obrist: Art Nouveau Sculptor is a display of work by the German artist at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Obrist (1863–1927) is featured in numerous histories of Art Nouveau for his Cyclamen wall-hanging of 1895, also known as The Whiplash on account of its writhing curves. This and other stylised studies Obrist made of natural forms were very influential. The gallery site only shows us one of the items on display (so much for advertising) but the trusty A Journey Round My Skull has further examples of the artist’s work.

Hermann Obrist: Art Nouveau Sculptor runs to 29th August, 2010.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Atelier Elvira
Karl Blossfeldt

Against Nature: The hybrid forms of modern sculpture


left: Morgan Le Fay by Pierre Roche (1904).
right: The Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein (1913–14).

An exhibition of ‘fantastic’ sculpture opened at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds last week with some fascinating juxtapositions, ranging from Fernand Khnopff’s Mask to Jacob Epstein’s marvellous Rock Drill which is more commonly one of the landmarks of the Tate Britain collection. Also on display is some work by a Romanian artist I hadn’t come across before, Dimitrie Paciurea (1873–1932), whose chimeras might seem influenced by Symbolism but which look a lot stranger than the usual Symbolist statuary.

Against Nature runs until May 4th, 2008.

Sculpture has frequently been used as a medium of metamorphosis. Its malleable materials allow fantastic forms to become real as it mixes human, animal and vegetal components. This was never more so than during the late 19th century when many sculptors turned their back on classical notions of anatomy and used sculpture as a vehicle for the imagination. This exhibition begins in the late 19th century and presents a common fascination with the world of the hybrid across the various art movements of the 20th century right up to recent years with the work of Louise Bourgeois.

Figures drawn from classical mythology—sphinxes, chimeras and centaurs—were the stock subjects of late 19th century Salon exhibitions. Meanwhile, outside the gallery, the pressures of industrialisation and of Darwin’s theory of evolution provided compelling new contexts for the hybrid. To say that sculpture was ‘against nature’ at this time is to suggest two lines of enquiry: firstly that sculpture could create impossible beings that went beyond the natural order, but which evolution could potentially deliver; secondly, that sculpture presents absurd fantasy creatures by means of realistic modelling so as to suggest their ‘real life’ existence.

Despite the various positions of each successive avant-garde movement—symbolism, futurism, vorticism, constructivism, surrealism—fantasy sculpture and anatomical reinvention run across them all. Sculptors soon moved from taking on mythological subjects to inventing their own modern monsters, drawing on the machine as much as on myth, as with Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill (1913-14).

This exhibition introduces little known sculptors from across Europe and the Americas and places them in a freakish family tree which also includes some of the ‘iconic’ images of modern sculpture. Thus the exhibition includes works by Hans Arp, Umberto Boccioni, Max Ernst, Julio González and Germaine Richier alongside Thomas Theodor Heine and Dimitrie Paciurea. It suggests a new way of looking at the emergence of modern sculpture and at its underlying continuities c.1890s–1980s.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Cult of Antinous

Hadrian and Greek love


Hadrian: Empire and Conflict is an exhibition based around the life of the Roman emperor which opens at the British Museum on 24 July and runs until 26 October, 2008.

This special exhibition will explore the life, love and legacy of Rome’s most enigmatic emperor, Hadrian (reigned AD 117–138).

Ruling an empire that comprised much of Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East, Hadrian was a capable and, at times, ruthless military leader. He realigned borders and quashed revolt, stabilising a territory critically overstretched by his predecessor, Trajan.

Hadrian had a great passion for architecture and Greek culture. His extensive building programme included the Pantheon in Rome, his villa in Tivoli and the city of Antinopolis, which he founded and named after his male lover Antinous.

This unprecedented exhibition will provide fresh insight into the sharp contradictions of Hadrian’s character and challenges faced during his reign.

Objects from 31 museums worldwide and finds from recent excavations will be shown together for the first time to reassess his legacy, which remains strikingly relevant today.

The Henry Moore Institute had an exhibition devoted to Hadrian’s lover Antinous last year. This week The Independent was looking at their relationship in light of the exhibition announcement, probably the most celebrated gay relationship in the ancient world.

Several of the artefacts (in the exhibition) relate to his male consort, Antinous, who accompanied him on his travels around the empire. These items include a poem written on papyrus, featuring the two men hunting together, and new finds that include memorials to the dead lover at Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli.

Although it was not uncommon for his predecessors to have taken gay lovers alongside a female spouse, Hadrian was unique in making his love “official” in a way that no other emperor had before him.


Ruined Gallery of the Villa Adriana at Tivoli.

I managed to see Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli when I visited Rome, a very well-preserved estate. One of my favourite places in the city, partly as a result of Piranesi’s drawings of the place, was the Castel Sant’Angelo which was built on the site of Hadrian’s Mausoleum. Piranesi also produced some renderings of the villa, including this splendid view of the ruined statue gallery.


And while we’re on the subject of antique sexuality, the provocative Greek sculpture known as the Barberini Faun appears in cropped form on the cover of a new book about homophilia in Ancient Greece, The Greeks and Greek Love by James Davidson. Davidson’s book looks like a fascinating work if this Guardian article on the subject is anything to go by, and a welcome tonic in the light of Frank Miller’s recent fabulations in 300.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Cult of Antinous

The Cult of Antinous


Antinous Mondragone (c.130 AD).

Antinous: the face of the Antique
Main Galleries, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Exhibition: 25.05.06 – 27.08.06

The Emperor Hadrian’s young lover was Antinous, a beautiful youth who drowned mysteriously in the Nile before his 20th birthday. The Emperor, in his grief, commissioned busts and statues of his beloved, and as the cult of Antinous spread throughout the Roman Empire, many more were erected by his subjects.

Today Antinous has more sculptures to his name than almost any other figure from classical antiquity. The earliest of these finds were identified by comparison to tiny coin-portraits, each with an identifying legend, so that by the sixteenth century his aquiline nose and full lips were well known. Yet such was his appeal that as more and more heads, busts and statues were unearthed, there was a temptation to call those of any young pretty boy “Antinous”. Into the modern age, archaeologists and scholars have worked studiously to define the corpus of Antinous portraiture, basing their identification primarily on his hairstyle.

Drawing together loans from all over Europe, this is the first exhibition dedicated to Antique sculpture to be held at the Institute and the first in Britain to explore the mythical image of Antinous. As a subject, Antinous works not only to provide a very human way into looking at Antique sculpture, but also as an introduction to some of the thorniest issues surrounding work of this period. Issues of recognition, restoration and re-naming are all present, and to a degree we can deal with these by simply asking: does it look like him?

This exhibition has been selected by Dr Caroline Vout, of the University of Nottingham, and will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, with essay and entries by Dr Vout, along with extracts from more historical texts.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive