The Spratly Islands

May 21st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

You might have seen in the news recently a bit of fuss about China creating some artificial islands in the South China Seas on reef’s which are part of the (commonly called) Spratly Islands. These islands are actually reefs, islets, islands and atolls in the middle of one of the worlds busiest shipping routes, and are claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Phillipines. They are literally in the middle of ‘dangerous ground’. Who owns them is obviously in dispute. China claims to have claimed them as part of their territory since the 12th century. Vietnam says some of them are theirs. In the 1843 a British sea captain called Richard Spratly ‘sighted’ them, and they have carried (in english) his name since. In the 1870’s another British sea captain called James George Meads laid claim to the islands and created the nation of Morac-Songhrati-Meads (which split into ‘The Kingdom of Humanity’ for a short period). His relatives continue to claim some kind of soverignity over the islands, and have a strange website where they claim to be part of ‘Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation‘ but have some kind of grievance with the Udmurtese (it may be a joke website, but maybe not…).  The French then claimed them through their then colony of Vietnam. During the second World War they were occupied by Japan, afterwards they seem to have been reclaimed by China, but its not clear from what I can see if they were granted them –  then a Filipino Tomas Cloma claimed them as part of ‘Freedomland’. Anyway, the wikipedia entry is suspicious to say the least. Now China is building up some sand on one of the reefs and building an airport. The other countries are also building on the bits they occupy. The US isn’t happy, but is claiming to be neutral. China are reported to have called the South China Sea ‘a chinese lake’. Brunei’s official name is ‘Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace’. It’s interesting stuff. Here are some images.

 

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Map of the Spratly Islands

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Dangerous Ground

 

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Construction of ‘artificial’ islands by China

 

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‘Freedomland’ flag

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Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace

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Diego Garcia

 

Cezanne – Fruit & Skulls

May 21st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

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Reading the Bible – Ep.6 – Lot & His Daughters

May 20th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

In Genesis 19, we saw that Lot and his daughters escaped from Sodom, and Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt because she made the mistake of turning round to see the Lord destroy the city. We are now towards the end of Genesis 19, where Lot and his daughters have gone up into the mountains and are hanging out in a cave. They are alone, and this solitude worries the elder daughter. She says to her sister that their father is old, and there is no one else around, and they have to ensure their family line continues, and why don’t we get dad drunk, then I’ll sleep with him, then you can sleep with him, and we’ll get pregnant and hey presto line is continued.

So, the elder sister gets dad drunk, sleeps with him; ‘he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up'; and the next day she suggests to her sister she do the same, which she does – again, Lot doesn’t realise that any of this has happened. And so, it comes to pass that….

So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.  The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.’

CONCLUSIONS

– The daughters obviously feel that maintaining the family line is important. Perhaps, they also feel that there are not a lot of folk left after the Lord’s destruction of the cities. This is real dedication to the family, and helps ensure the longevity of Abraham’s line (the line that the Lord had promised would last). I have a feeling that this family line may, following the course of time, prove to be an important one.

– It should not be assumed that the daughters lusted after their father, or vice versa (which the following paintings generally fail to acknowledge…).

– Did they have time to collect wine before they fled Sodom?

– They must have gotten Lot very drunk for him not to realise. Twice.

– The text is very careful to ensure that Lot is not to blame for what happens, in fact, he had no idea! So, all potential shame is placed on the sisters. How can someone be guilty of something they did not know they had done?

– I am looking forward to hearing about Lot’s reaction to the pregnancies, once they start to show.

– It is possible that Lot is being punished (raped) for previously offering his daughters to the townspeople in Sodom. What he was prepared to put his daughters through, is now being done unto him.

There is an enormous amount of painting dedicated to this biblical scene. I imagine it gave artists and patrons the opportunity to have some sexy paint on their walls while still maintaining a certain amount of piousness. The range of approaches is not very wide though. I have chosen the following as some have unusual touches, or are generally representative of the subject. Also, sometimes this scene is called ‘The Rape of Lot by his Daughters’. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO GET A BIGGER IMAGE AND A BETTER VIEW OF THINGS)

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Orazio Gentileschi 1622

Firstly, the Gentileschi’s – father and daughter. Orazio (the father) has painted two L&hD’s. They are pretty restrained, the first showing a tenderness, with Lot almost being mothered. There isn’t so much sexiness, other than the daughter in yellow’s dress slipping off. The wine is knocked over, and Lot seems knocked out. I’m guessing this is inbetween daughters. The group are entwined with complexity, of limbs and colour. One daughter points off to the distance, probably to Sodom to indicate the fate of the city, and perhaps the families lack of male options to come… Its pretty serene this one.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Orazio Gentileschi c.1628

In his second, later version, there is more of a sense of space, plus a bit more sexiness. One daughter (perhaps the elder) seems to be trying to convince the other of something. Again, Lot seems to be treated with motherly/daughterly tenderness rather than sensuality. The wine is knocked over again, but there is an addition of vine leaves, which might serve to answer the question of whether they brought wine from Sodom or not. I really like the colour of the sky and vine together, a hint of bright hopefulness in the midst of the cave.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Artemisia Gentileschi c.1638

Here we have Orazio’s own daughter, Artemisia’s version. It’s interesting to think of the closeness of relationship these two may have shared (Artemisia trained in her fathers workshop) and how it might have affected their approach to the subject matter. Both certainly are straining to a complexity of emotions between all 3 characters in the paintings. Lot in this painting is clearly in the process of becoming drunk, and his affection is growing, a hand on his daughters shoulder, another approaching her elbow. It seems a plan is underway. I do wonder if its a good idea to give Lot a slice of bread though, if you’re wanting to get him drunk. The other daughter tenderly touches Lot’s own shoulder about to ask if he wants more wine. Lot’s cheeks are rosy. In the background, mother is turned to salt. Vine leaves are silhouetted in the opening of the cave.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Simon Vouet 1633

Here we get a bit more raunchy. Simon Vouet paints Lot in a stupor, happy to fondle his daughters breast. He moves his head back a bit in an attempt to regain focus of his daughters face. She meanwhile lifts a leg over his and gazes into his eyes. The second daughter is grinning a wee bit, and struggles to hold onto the grand vase which looks like it could hold plenty of vino – she also seems to be pulling something out of a purse, obviously not a condom – it looks like a digestive biscuit. Lot has lost control, and the entire episode has an unpleasant creepiness to it, which the Gentileschi’s do not.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Joachim Wtewael c.1600

Joachim Wtewaeil was a flax merchant as well as a painter, but there is a distinct lack of flax here. He was apparently known for inserting sensual, suggestive elements into his nude paintings, and I dare say the pinkish, folded cloth on the ground beneath the nude daughter may be one of these, plus all the ripe and rotting fruit. There’s also a strange bulbous white growth under the nude daughters elbow, which looks pretty testicle-like. Maybe I’m seeing too much. There is an abundance of fruit and wine here, and a difference being that the daughters too seem to have drunk a bit. Their cheeks are rosy as well (though many things make rosy cheeks). Lot’s drunk looking, but not out of control, and daughter two seems to approach him for a kiss. Again, this seems more about getting away with sexy paint than representing any complex moral situation.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Pieter van der Borcht (?) c.1630?

I can’t find much out about this one, but once again, sexual gratification for the viewer seems important here. Lot’s right knee, covered in his robe, seems to have taken on the shape of a giant cock. The see through fabric that almost comes straight out of this cock-knee is not too subtle either. Daughter is grinning, but Lot has a very forced uncomfortable expression. Daughter 2 is also topless, and pouring wine from an extravagant height. Daughter 1 has a strange necklace on, with what I’m guessing is the face of Jesus on it – I don’t know what that means, perhaps all this terrible, unavoidable sexiness is being held together by religious intent and nothing else.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Paul Cezanne 1865

I like this Paul Cezanne, not for its depiction of the scene, but because it seems that Daughter has just leapt into Lot’s lap, almost straight on to his boner. While his face suggests surprise, his right hand suggests readiness. Its the only painting which really has sexual energy in it- there is heat, darkness, fleshiness.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Marcantonio Franceschini 1676

This one is quite weird – there’s a lot of pottery, and the figures and clothing all look a bit like porcelain. They have almost transparent skin, and there is just a hint of pinkishness on Lots cheeks and nose. Lots left hand is relaxed, his right daintily begins to undress his daughter, and he gazes down in anticipation of the soon to be revealed breast. It’s all very cold and passionless, not to mention a lack of moral distress. The strangest thing though is that the rock Lot is sat on seems to be wrapped in cloth. It also (honestly) has a hint of glans penis about it. There is a glacial stillness to the painting which I quite like, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to the scene. Francheschini’s paintings all seem to have this porcelain stillness.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Jacob van Loo c.1650

Well, this one has a couple of things going for it as far as I’m concerned. First, Lot is reeking. His eyes are all over the place, his fingers aren’t working properly, his legs are spread, and there’s no chance of him standing up without causing all kinds of mess. Secondly, the daughter on the left is posing in a convincingly post-coitus manner, languid, stretching, maybe about to fall asleep. This painting feels exhausted. In fact, maybe Lot isn’t that knackered, maybe he’s attempting to get up for round two. As an aside, apparently Jacob van Loo killed a man in an inn in Amsterdam, and had to flee to Paris. Positively Caravaggian.

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‘Lot with his Daughters’ Jean-Francois de Troy 1721

Now this one is just ridiculous. What a barrel of laughs they are having, not a care in the world. Looking at some more of Jean-Francois de Troy‘s work, he seems like a class I pompoustier.

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‘Lot & his Daughters’ Joachim Wtewael (again) c.1600

This is another Joachim Wtewael. I put this one in, partly because everyone is a bit green, but also because it seems to further add to the fantasy of the (male) viewer, by adding a little touch of potential lesbian action – daughter on the left is looking over to daughter on the right adoringly, while just about to touch her with a raised big toe…I’m also intrigued by Lot’s choice of breast touching technique.

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‘Lot & His Daughter’ Johann M Rottmayr 1695

Johann Rottmayr makes the list due to the fanstastic drunken stare in Lot’s eyes. He is 100% waltered.

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‘Lot & His Daughters 2′ Marcelle Hanselaar 2007

Marcelle Hanselaar is the only contemporary artist in this list, she is also only the second woman. What I like about this is that the daughters are clearly in charge here, whether Lot likes it or not. Plus, it is the first to show the actual sexual act, and the daughter is on top and in charge, for responsible and practical reasons. I don’t know what one of the daughters is hiding, it looks like a mirror.

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‘Lot & His Daughters’ Otto Dix 1939

And finally, Otto Dix’s interpretation. This is the best drunken Lot – he is grinning with his moustache, and his gaze and raised hand are actually depicted in the act of missing the glass of wine. He cannot focus at all. His right hand is curling up at something, the nothingness just out of grasp of every true drunkard. The daughter (again on top) seems to be using the wine as a distraction while she mounts him, and this is another more complex representation of the act. The other daughter however looks a little too pleased with the proceedings. Is she undressing or covering up? In the background Sodom burns.

Why not breathe deeply?

May 18th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

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Not simply cut grass

Damp at the roots

Rising to dry at the sharp end

Cut and laid

Blanket skin shed

Wet from morning

Dry through afternoon

Sunshine drawing the smell

From stringent root to sweetened tip

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Dance/theatre review – “Ahnen” (Pina Bausch) Tanztheater Wuppertal at Sadler’s Wells

April 24th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

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It’s not possible to really explain what happens in this performance, it makes more sense as a list.

One body becomes two

Two bodies become one

Brick walls are built

Water falls on tarpaulin

A man jumps through a hoop into a wall (repeatedly)

A fully clothed woman lies in a perspex bath full of water

A lady climbs a ladder and gives painting instructions

A blind woman fires a gun

There’s a remote control helicopter (might be a reference to Vietnam?)

Someone is buried under hay

A women relentlessly polishes some sort of white chopping board

Bits of food are placed around the stage

A man dressed as a sort of hobo-native american chief sits at a microphone but doesn’t use it

And so on and so forth…

I liked this. There is no narrative that I can grasp, but the show is full of little pleasing bits and pieces. The music throughout is great; varied, interesting and well used. The first half is pretty frantic, lots of arm movements and running across stage, there’s a lot of running when a wind machine blows paper across the stage. The second half is quieter, slower and has more spoken elements and ‘conventional’ dancing. For me, its just a bit too long. It starts to become tiring and uncomfortable (maybe that’s the point! etc) and personally I wouldn’t mind a wee bit of narrative.

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Photo by Tristram Kenton (Guardian)

Generally it appears to celebrate everyday movements, moments and props. Lots of things happen at the same time, so you can choose what to devote attention to. It is farcical and slapstick and absurd, though at times I thought it wasn’t funny enough (it’s no House of Fools) but as I was thinking this, the funniest bit happened. A man and woman take turns to mime acts of cartoon violence on each other, and its funny. I’m guessing they are a couple of long-standing and long-endured irritation. There did seem to be a lot of what I will call ‘over-laughter’ from the audience “ oh ha ha ha, that is sooo funny, a woman flashed her pants”. There was another good bit where a man translates a famous operatic tune (? I think…) from German to English.

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Photo by Ursula Kaufmann

I liked the intro when a guy in leather jacket, ray bans and a kilt brought on some of the ‘characters’ to the stage with a satisfying strut. For me, some of the best bits were just the highlighting of movements that can occur everyday. The way the kilt swayed as the man swaggered. There was a point when a mid-50’s (?) woman in tight skirt and high heels ran round in a circle on the stage and I noticed the way her body was constricted, the way she had to totter on the heels to turn a corner, all of these little details are only ever possible if a mid-50’s woman in high heels, with large hips and a tight skirt runs in a circle. As pure movement it is satisfying and precarious.

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Photo: Ursula Kaufmann

There are three moments of intimacy that I liked, one where a seated man has one hand stuck out in the air (“like an Egyptian”) and a woman approaches slowly, bends slightly, then quickly sucks his hand. A woman dusted a chair with a fur jacket thing. A man breathes into his slow-dance partner’s ear.

Generally, there was a feeling of childishness, repetition, aimlessness and movement for its own sake. There was also quite a lot of female anger and male impotence/uselessness.

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Photo by Tristram Kenton (Guardian)

As the piece seemed to be nearing an end, the fire curtain came down on stage and made everything feel slightly claustrophobic. The kilt man came on and hung from a metal bar acting like a monkey, eating apples and spitting them out. Then another guy came on with a big rubber walrus. He tried to make it climb a cactus (the stage is strewn in huge cacti), then proceeded to climb into the walrus suit thing. Once inside he told two terrible jokes and clapped his flippers together. He got out, and looked at the fire curtain. He looked a bit bewildered. Two men joined the stage and started sweeping. The walrus guy didn’t know what to do. We thought this was part of the show. He left the stage, then came back on and said “the curtain is meant to go up, I don’t know what’s wrong”. We still thought it was part of the show. He came back and said “no, really, the curtain should go up, I’m sorry we will have to break for 20 minutes”. It should really have been the end, regardless. So, we left at that point, it seemed appropriate. Left on stage were two cacti and a rubber walrus. We didn’t get the chance to give them a round of applause, but it was a satisfyingly ridiculous ending nonetheless. Here is my round of applause.

Reading the Bible – Ep.5 – Sodom & Sarah

April 17th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

In Genesis 18, the Lord appeared to Abraham, and after Abraham got some food together, the Lord said that Sarah would have a son, despite her age:

“And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

Therefore Sarah laughed within herself saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

The Lord is not keen on Sarah laughing inwardly at this. She lies and says she wasn’t laughing. But she was. The Lord then walks with Abraham, and tells him that the sins of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are ‘very grevious’ but the sins aren’t explained. Abraham then manages to convince the Lord not to be too angry if there are some people in the city who are not righteous.

In Genesis 19, the Lord sends two angels to speak to Lot (Abraham’s nephew) who lives in Sodom. At this point it gets a little vague, but there is an association between Sodom and ‘sodomy’, so its easy to jump to conclusions. The men of the city surround Lot’s house and demand to see the two men (angels) ‘that we may know them’… Lot asks them to ‘do not so wickedly’ and tells them to take his own two virgin daughters instead of the male visitors – ‘do ye to them as is good in your eyes’.

The angels stand up for themselves, and blind the men of Sodom, then decide to destroy the city ‘because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD’

Lot, his wife and his daughters (mercifully) are told to leave the city quick, before it’s destroyed, but ‘look not behind thee’. So they skedaddle, but as the ‘LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven’ Lot’s wife carelessly turns around to watch and ‘she became a pillar of salt’.

Lot then has to escape to a cave with only his daughters for company (more of that later).

CONCLUSIONS

1. The LORD is aware of your thoughts, and I have a feeling he might have something in for Sarah. But, he is promising her a son, despite her having gone through menopause.

2. Sodom & Gomorrah’s sins are bad, as it seems they like to ‘know’ men, and that’s bad. But giving your daughters to them to do what they want is not such a bad sin.

3. The phrase is ‘brimstone and fire’ not ‘fire and brimstone’

4. It might seem pedantic, but how do they know Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt without looking round themselves? Did they realise she was gone, return at a later date, see the pillar of salt and say “that must be her”? Or is the disappearance of the wife into a pillar of salt symbolic for something that I’ve missed? Does she see God? Does she want to hang out with the bad men of Sodom?

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“Lot’s Wife” pillar at Mount Sodom, Israel – does kind of look like a woman in a flowing dress.

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Destruction of Sodom, Monreale Cathedral, Sicily (12th century?)

 

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Destruction of Sodom, Nuremberg Chronicle

Lot’s wife seems to be smiling at Sodom in her pillar-state. I like the topping over of the buildings by a top corner cloud blow.

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“The Destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah” John Martin (1852)

This is satisfyingly over the top, and I like that Lot’s wife is struck by salt-lightning. There is drama and pomposity here.

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“Lot Fleeing with his daughters from Sodom” Albrecht Durer (1498)

One daughter looks bored, she must be teenage. The other has some sort of spinning thing and some keys and a wee box. Lot appears to have a hot water bottle on his back. There is not a lot of drama, or pomposity here.

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“Lot and his Daughters” Lucas van Leyden (1520)

Durer drew a portrait of van Leyden, I guess they were friends. This painting combines the destruction and the following episode of Lot and his daughters in the cave. Wine is flowing, cuddling is happening…..

 

Valentino spring/summer 2015

April 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

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Reading the Bible – Ep.4 – Abraham & Hagar

March 31st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

 

So, Genesis chapter 16. Recently, Abraham has been in a big battle (Genesis 14) and protected some slaughtered animals from birds (Genesis 15) and God has revealed to him that 1. His seed will be numerous and 2. Abraham’s seed “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years”. However, in chapter 16, there seems to be a bit of a threat to this, as Abraham’s wife, Sarai (Sarah) “bare him no seed”. So, what Sarah suggests is that Abraham sleep with her handmaid instead, and the handmaid can have Abraham’s children. The handmaid is an Egyptian called Hagar (not this Hagar).

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Sarah actually ‘gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife’. Hagar and Abraham get together, she becomes pregnant, but Sarah now realises she doesn’t like the whole situation. Sarah is mean to Hagar, she runs off to a well in the desert, where the LORD reveals himself to her (ooh er..etc). God tells Hagar that her seed shall be multiplied exceedingly, to call her son Ishmael, that Ishmael shall be a ‘wild man’, and that he will face a number of difficulties. She seems to relax, and returns to Abraham and gives birth to Ishmael. Abraham is currently 86 years old.

CONCLUSIONS

– It’s ok to sleep with your wife’s handmaid, as long as it’s her idea.

– The handmaid doesn’t get to have a say in this.

– Abraham’s seed has longevity.

– Has Sarah lost patience with God, and is she trying to speed up the multiplication of Abraham’s seed with this idea?

There are a number of artworks based on this scene, here are some.

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“Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham” Matthias Stom (1637)

This one shows Hagar already getting undressed, and she seems to be concerned for Abraham, reaching out to him, but with a little encouragement from Sarah. Abraham seems a bit not bothered either way, though obviously is ready for bed. His left hand and eyes seem to say “you sure?”, though who he might be directing the question to is debatable.

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“Sarah presenting Hagar to Abraham” ‘Spranger’ (16th century)

‘Spranger’ here is a little racier – Abraham seems distracted by her naked breasts, while Sarah looks a little like she’s trying to convince him it’s a good idea. He isn’t really listening though. While Abraham looks relatively ‘old testament’, Hagar doesn’t look that Egyptian. She is obviously a fine figure of a woman though, and is wearing some very thin material over her hip. Why the artist bothered with that I’m not sure, unless its just to suggest some tension, something holding her back (barely). I don’t know what that monster in the corner is.

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“Sarai showing Hagar to Abraham” Matthias Stomer

This is also by Stomer, and is a little creepier. Hagar has waddled in, and Abraham is ready to go, inspecting her and peeling off the blanket. He may also have a boner under the blanket. The wee dog is symbolic of his lust I guess, though the dog seems to be looking the wrong way. The little boy (perhaps a dwarf) on the other hand seems to be almost bowled over by Hagar. This time Sarah doesn’t seek Abraham’s approval, instead she is performing a purely perfunctory role. Everything is a little rubbery looking.

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“Hagar & the Angel in the Desert” James Tissot (1896)

This one is a little different, showing Hagar by the well. I guess the angel is a personification of the LORD (angelification?). I quite like this, Hagar is desperate, feet on the edge of the well, holding a big pot thing – perhaps she is considering jumping in, weighed down by the pot. The angel pretty chilled out though.

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Sarah presenting Hagar to Abraham – Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media

 

I might put these illustrations in future posts. They seem to have done a number for Genesis. At least here Hagar has a hint of Egyptian (I do wonder what bible illustrators are thinking when they draw such fabric tension between the breasts of Hagar, and also “are Sarah’s breasts old enough”?)- she is also embarrassed looking, casting her eyes to the floor. Abraham seems ready to spring from his chair. Sarah is positively delighted to present her handmaid to her mulleted 86 year old husband.

 

Reading the Bible – Episode 3: The Generations of Noah

March 26th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

So, Genesis 10 & 11 is basically a long list of the generations of Noah, all but one of whom is a man. Also, judging by the amount of sons that some people had, I reckon Canaan and Eber are going to have big roles to play.

Sons of Noah

 

I found it all very confusing so made a handy diagram to make sense of it all (click on image to increase size). Apparently this is also known as a Table of Nations. Here are some other people’s versions.

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Youtube Compilation

March 25th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink