Lacremae Rerum

From one language to the other the most confusing subject to learn is prepositions: there are no correspondences between them. Is this why a quantity of ink was spilled over translating Virgil’s “tears for things?” I guess preposition could be at the heart of the problem. Although choosing between for and of seems like a strange issue: things do not really cry.

Nevertheless, there is an order of things, like Hallmark cards, that has a potential for touching various sentimental cords in our bosom, and therefore should merit an appelation of tearful, or capable of invoking sad thoughts. Undoubtedly, the French Revolution left in its wake such hot buttons that vie with antiquity for the emotional pool of those given to contemplation. A new unfathomable pool was created, stretching from sublime to ridiculous and back to sublime, that even the Romantic XIX century failed to drain. Tearful things were left for us to muse over, weighing thoughtfully prepositions, moving words on the page, words about tears and their things. It’s not easy to find the right preposition there, especially when there is none.


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“Et in Arcadia ego.” At the end of his essay on Poussin’s painting, Irwin Panofski mentions Goethe. Goethe’s travel journal made use of that Latin expression  in a different way — “Me too I’ve been to Arcadia” seems to say the poet. “Auch ich war in Arkadien.” There is no reference to death, assures us the art critic. What we have is a tourist sending home a postcard and nothing else. It would be a morbid idea to think otherwise, to suppose that every time such a postcard is sent, we receive a momento mori, for that would be similar to believing that any time we post a selfie, the photo inevitably contains a reference to our death. A sinful thought — delictatio morosa.

But wait! What would Poussin say? There are two possible interpretations for the Latin inscription that the Greek shepherds are trying to decipher in the painting. One that assumes  that this is a real grave site of another shepherd and the epitaph confirms that he is local. The other is a little more abstract and awkward, for it is in poor Latin. What else to expect from an Arcadian? And so it conveys a bizarre idea that death itself speaks to us here. That is there is no dead body inside the sepulcher and the empty sarcophagus serves as a personification of our mortality, for even in Arcadia that beautiful thing called life has to end. And in the end we see that there is really no contradiction between the variant interpretations, for cemeteries, funerals and coffins bring about not very cheerful ideas that are relevant to us and are usually quite awkward to express.

And now comes the surprise. You see, I am not at all concerned about tourists and their postcards. This is my blog and it is mostly about me. And naturally every entry here should be potentially treated as the last one. And I am writing all this to prepare my reader for the disclosure that I am no longer in Versailles, but have moved to Brest, and like Goethe on his way from Italy I say, “Et in Arcadia ergo.”

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The Crown and its Mystery

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Medieval Western Europe was made out of three traditions: Classical, Judaic and Germanic, where Christianity served as a cement for what was there before and what came after. This large topaz was carved in antiquity and later framed by the Merovingian jewelers – precious stones were believed to have apotropaic qualities, warded off evil and were likely to end up in treasuries of famous cathedrals.

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All Medieval jewelry had a meaning of talisman. The wedding ring, for example, was symbolically placed on three different fingers; this is why Eleanor of Aquitaine wore three of them on her right hand.

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This crown displays all the properties of talisman: it is not just a victor’s wreath, the way it was understood in antiquity, but primarily a reliquary that is a repository of physical remains of holy men – their teeth, hair, nails, and pieces of bones, as well as various splinters, shreds and threads of coffins, crosses and shrouds, especially the much prized souvenir of war tourism, the True Cross from Golgotha.

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This crown, which is the crown of Louis XV, was also used as a repository of precious stones — the so called jewels of the crown. Right away we feel the ambiguity of expression, for the jewels of the crown means the jewels that belong to that frame on the day of coronation and are later pried out to be worn separately, as well as all the jewels of extraordinary value that happened to touch the royal person, and are of historical significance. All that is easy enough; however, there is the third meaning that can be challenging: Did you know that even to this day the French Republic doesn’t rule in its own right, but serves as a regent to the crown?

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Anish Kapoor and Versailles

A couple of days ago Anish Kapoor invaded the historical park of Versailles; and the reaction of the press was as negative as it had ever been on such occasions. I think it was something he said about his installation on the Green Carpet of the central axle that provoked the journalists: the Queen’s Vagina! He didn’t have to spell it, it was enough to install it there. See the last picture in the series.P6107011 (FILEminimizer)

The first work I want to show you I find the best; and its location seems appropriate — the famous Tennis Court — the cradle of the French Revolution! There we find a platform with a cannon discharging buckets of red paint — its title is also not without sexual connotation — Shooting in the CornerP6107031 (FILEminimizer)

The second Anish Kapoor piece is on display right outside the Crystal Gallery, a convex-concave mirror — a giant selfie and a big success with tourists, one of its sides offers an upside-down image of the onlooker — the usual case with mirrors: the reflection is quite true, but somehow backwards. He should have kept the journalists at this location.   P6107038 (FILEminimizer)

Then we see the second mirror at the viewpoint on the Grand Canal, which reminds me of the opening in The Snow Queen where Anderson describes demons flying this symbol of vanity toward God. I must say Anish Kapoor’s mirror is also very big, yet for all the distortions, not big enough for Versailles.P6107043 (FILEminimizer)

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A New Fountain

P6096980 (FILEminimizer)It is commonly believed that men lead in a dance; or at least generations of skillful female dancers gave us that impression; for in those dances where the sequence of steps is a bewildering multitude, men are commonly at a disadvantage — it was a woman who held the crib notes jotted down on her fan and surreptitiously suggested to her dancing partner which ones to take next. The fountain inaugurated last month in the gardens of Chateau Versailles pays tribute to those crib notes.

P6096973 (FILEminimizer)Perhaps I have spilled the beans too soon — erudite approach to an aesthetic object is so patronizing; but isn’t it how pundits dominate the first impression? I was caught on the horns of dilemma, trying to give this subject a charitable introduction, while staying true to my opinion; and what was my opinion, that first impression?

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Entering the grove, I thought that the architect gave us his fanciest signature in the middle; and it had been preceded by plenty of squiggles in the margins,  as if trying out a new pen: first ones he didn’t like, and honestly neither did I.

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Versailles Easter

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This chocolate portrait of Louis XIV decorates the shop window at 82 rue de la Paroisse. Easter came and went and I’ve just checked, nobody bought it. It is not hollow — thirty-two-kilo-solid chunk. Even if you had a party of thirty people, each one of your guests would have to eat at least a kilo of dark chocolate. That is something for Guinness Book of Records or Ripley Believe It or Not Museum. Amazing, you say, but none of it really surprises me. I have already mentioned how extravagant Easter presents can get around here: miniature anecdotes represented on the inside of a regular size egg, or something as big as statue hiding inside the shell. The mood is contagious, yet to help consume conspicuously, we need an institution; otherwise, it ends up looking like we can’t…. Yes, ridiculous. Last weekend I got a bunny ten times my appetite. The best I could do was nibble on his ears.

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Luxembourg Garden by Jacques-Louis David

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Perhaps I should remind my reader that in the days of the French Revolution, most of the parks were given away for pasture or raising crops and were often divided into lots; and though this anecdote seems to find its way into the painting, it cannot prevail over Jacques-Louis David’s situation. And his situation wasn’t enviable. After the execution of Robespierre, people associated with him followed suit; and in 1794 Jacques-Louis David painted this view of Luxembourg Garden as it presented itself out of his prison window, which gives us a very personal and at the same time brutally objective interpretation of his window into reality — not only composition, the very freedom of choice seems to be in question; and though there is little room there for pathetic  fallacy — any Romantic inclination being out of question, the emotional need is obvious — the painter ought to paint. This is why the framing ideas for this work of art are the absence of choice and the need to paint. In the context of so rigorously defined formalism, the discussion of any other formal attributes — the foreground, middle ground, landscape, city-scape, human figures; the fence, the alley; vertical, horizontal, diagonal lines, colors, shadows — any kind of discussion seems ridiculous. What is the meaning of the work? Why did he paint it? We see that consistently his brush was applied to canvass.


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