Tag Archives: art history


10 Jan

Evidently Herbert Draper (1863-1920) was an artist dedicated to solving one of the age-old problems of mankind, i.e. the impossibility of a man getting his end away with a sexy mermaid when she’s a fish from the waist down. Herbert– the dirty perv– provided an ingenious answer: when they emerge from the water their tails turn into legs. Brilliant.


Herbert Draper, ‘Ulysses and the Sirens’, 1909. Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull.

As the caption says, technically these are sirens rather than mermaids. The picture shows a story from The Odyssey, in which Ulysses has himself tied to the mast of his ship so he can hear the fatal call of the sirens without being lured into wrecking his ship, as was their desire. The crew had their ears stopped with wax. Until their mythology got completely jumbled up with mermaid stories in the middle ages, sirens were originally depicted as vulture-like, with the heads of women, and talons. One of the old school Greek sirens seen here seems to be plunging to her death in the water, either in suicidal failure or because the sirens were fated only to live until somebody evaded their song. In any case it proves that she doesn’t normally spend her time there.


Red-figured stamnos by an unknown artist from Attica, circa 480-470BC. British Museum.

Belatedly it was realised that clawed vulture-women didn’t make such good wanking material, and so the dual purpose amphibious Draper mermaid-siren was born.


29 Jul

UtamaroOchiePortrait of the young geisha Ochie from Kitagawa Utamaro’s series Edo’s Celebrated Beauties (circa 1792). She’s reading a kibyoshi (“yellow-covered book”)– thirty or so woodblock printed images hand stitched into paper covers– making this one of the first ever depictions of a teenager reading a comic.


25 Jul

The Tempest, c. 1507 by Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco).

Although I often have a go at contemporary art– and a lot of it is absolute bullshit because the artists who make it have less self-awareness and intelligence than your average contestant on Britain’s Got Talent– I also don’t have much sympathy for the view that proper art is old art, proper art is figurative art, proper art is something that looks pretty hanging on the wall. Just because a painting is old that doesn’t mean it’s good. Loads of bad art works are still around and they probably shouldn’t be, many good ones have been lost. I’ve seen the actual painting reproduced above; it’s quite small, and it hangs in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice. Yes, I know, wankorama, in the last post I was casually dropping it in that I saw this and that in Tokyo, now Venice…

Various art critics and academics have had a stab at unravelling what Giorgione was trying to say with this painting. It used to be referred to as a picture of Mercury and Isis, even though these two mythological characters don’t even come from the same cosmologies as each other. It’s been spoken of as an allegory of charity, death and other things that you’re fairly safe in speculating that a 16th century painting’s about. I think I can slice right through this particular Gordian knot and explain all instantly. The painting is not enigmatic. Superficially it’s well done and everything, but this painting is total shit. Continue reading

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