I come across a lot of great texts in our good ol’ art reference library, many of which I never have an opportunity to use in my research but which fascinate me nonetheless. So, I decided to start a “Library Highlights” feature on our Tumblr, to shed some light on these great books that you probably didn’t know we had. All of these selections can be found at the Springfield Art Museum, on display in the Mary Louise Rosenbauer Library.
This week’s theme: HALLOWEEN, of course!
1. Goya’s Last Works (Exhibition catalog by Jonathan Brown, Susan Grace Galassi; The Frick Collection, NY, 2006.)
Some of Goya’s strongest works were produced in a time of deep political unrest and uncertainty in Spain as Enlightenment ideals clashed with Spanish religious and monarchical absolutism. Though liberal ilustrados such as Goya were routinely persecuted by the Inquisition, he remained in Spain for a period while continuing to, as the authors put it, “push further his exploration of the irrational.” Testament to this is a series of etchings from 1816-23, Los Disparates, and his fantastical and grotesque images of witchcraft, old age, and death that constitute his Black Paintings from 1820-23. Goya fled to France after completing these series and died there just four years later. His latest works are considered some of his most haunting and disturbing; many remain enigmatic and inscrutable to scholars today. (The eeriest part to me: the creepy smile Goya puts on some of these figures!)
Below: Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Se Quieren Mucho [They Love Each Other Very Much], 1824-28, black crayon on paper. Museo Nacional de Prado, Madrid.
2. The Painted Witch (Edwin Mullins; Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY, 1985.)
Actually not as spooky as the title indicates! This text explores the convention as old as institutional art itself: that of using women as images painted by men and largely for men. Mullins unpacks literally hundreds of paintings to reveal inherent anxieties about the sexuality of women, universally compartmentalized into tidy, “manageable” female stereotypes in Western art. Women are either portrayed as “mindless, harmless or bad.” (Sort of puts Goya’s frequent use of the witch archetype into perspective…although, arguably, no one is portrayed too flatteringly in his cynical later works.)
Below: Unknown weaver, The Offering of the Heart, ca. 1410, tapestry, Flemish. Louvre, Paris.
3. Shadows: The Depiction of Cast Shadows in Western Art (E.H. Gombrich; National Gallery Publications, London, 1995.)
An investigation of the portrayal and use of shadows in Western painting. This may seem like a boring topic at first glance, but think about how often shadows are used to draw out suspense, indicate the presence of an unknown entity or something fearful. Nosferatu’s ghoulish shadow comes immediately to mind, as well as Dracula’s shadow that seems to move independently in Coppola’s film. In this small text, legendary art historian Ernst Gombrich waxes poetic about the fleeting mutability of shadows, and how they subvert our conception of our world as stable and manageable. He describes shadows as being “not part of the real world,” yet indicative of the presence of real things. From Indian mythology to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, shadows have proven to be a compelling and mysterious preoccupation throughout human history and especially in art. And what would scary movies be without them?
Below: A scene from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922).
4. M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Works (F.H. Bool, et al; Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, NY, 1992.)
You’ve probably seen his posters in your English teacher’s classroom or a freshman dorm, but to really understand how influential Escher’s forays into the workings of space, time, and perspective have been across all creative pursuits, reading about his life and work is key. This text is a great start, incorporating some of Escher’s own previously unpublished materials, which have only become available to biographers after his death in 1972. Escher’s labyrinthine images have reached icon status, and have influenced such mind-bending and creepy films as Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Argento’s “Suspiria,” Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth,” and Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko.”
Below: The Escher-like mural that appears in a room in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). Fun fact: the building this room is in is located on the fictional German street “Escherstrasse.”
5. The Apocalypse Sublime (Morton D. Paley; Yale University Press, New Haven, 1986.)
What scarier event is there than the end of the world? Paley’s book focuses on the theme of Revelation and apocalypse in 19th century British art, investigating why artists in this period were so preoccupied with the concept of divine forces “breaking through the veil of nature” and disrupting human activity. Examples of work range from the sublime to the grotesque, and a great deal of demonic imagery abounds.
Below: William Blake, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, ca. 1903-05, watercolor on paper. Brooklyn Museum, NY.
6. The Encyclopedia of Tarot (Stuart R. Kaplan; U.S. Games Systems, inc. Publishers, 1986).
The practice of Tarot isn’t generally considered to be “high art,” but interpreting the complex iconography of each card just might take a trained art historian. This book traces Tarot imagery from the 15th to 19th centuries, and also identifies variegated decks popularly used throughout history. A useful guide for practitioners and collectors alike, and wildly interesting to pretty much anyone.
Below: A series of antique Tarot cards.
Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!
-Kiri Mack-Hansen, Research Assistant