Remedios Varo (1908 – 1963) was a Spanish/Mexican surrealist artist best known for her enigmatic, mystical and “alchemical” paintings, that “[blended] surrealist techniques and images, Freudian and Jungian psychology, science, magic, and the occult” [Vosburg N. (2005) Strange Yet “Familiar”: Cats and Birds in Remedios Varo’s Artistic Universe. In: Figuring Animals, 2016]. Below, I present and briefly discuss her three paintings.
I. Hacia la Torre (Towards the Tower) (1960)
Towards the Tower depicts a number of identical girls dressed in identical clothing that are whisked away by a man and a woman on bicycles. They are moving away from houses that resemble a beehive. Given Varo’s catholic upbringing, the wide interpretation of the painting is that the woman leading the girls on the bicycle is a nun and the girls are pupils in a convent. The girls share similar features as the artist wanted to underline the rigid conformity of the place. The beehive-shaped houses also underline the idea that the girls work towards one common goal (like bees) and their individuality is supressed or ignored. The “magic” numbers are also present here – we see twelve houses (for example, there are also twelve months), and seven girls (there are also seven days in a week). This is the first painting in the series of three paintings that depict the same women who first flee the houses (the convent) to get to the Tower, and then escape. The third painting (The Escape) shows a girl on a journey with her love. Continue reading “Paintings of Remedios Varo”→
My readers probably already know that I love allegorical and symbolic paintings, and, thus, I could not resist to share and discuss a series of other ones – The Five Senses [1617-18] by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. The inspiration behind them was probably a series of tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn [circa 1500], each depicting one of the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch (as well as the mysterious “sixth sense”). Brueghel and Rubens’s The Five Senses now have their home in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Since this painting is supposed to represent sight, it is all about art, and, in particular, paintings, which are appreciated through sight. In this painting, Venus, a Roman goddess, and Cupid, a little boy, are in a cabinet (room) of curiosities. Cupid is showing Venus one of the Christian paintings – The Healing of the Blind Man, which is about the miraculous sight recovery of a man. Among other objects in this room are antique busts and scientific instruments, such as a telescope, which can also only be used through having vision. Continue reading “Allegorical Art: The Five Senses”→
René Magritte [1898 – 1967] was a Belgian surrealist artist known for his thought-provoking and enigmatic paintings. Many of his paintings play with the concepts of reality, identity and truth, and some of the most recognised painting are The Lovers , Not to Be Reproduced , Golconda , The Son of Man  and The Man with the Bowler Hat . In this post, I would like to draw attention to and discuss the three others: Memory, The Survivor and The Masterpiece or The Mysteries of the Horizon.
I. Memory 
Unlike other paintings on this list, Memory is an allegorical painting, a painting with a hidden meaning. It is a striking painting for many reasons and one of those is the contrast of the white and the red – a beautiful white bust here is tainted with blood. That “injury” on the bust may represent this woman’s traumatic and painful memory which she now has to bear. The irony here is that this blood is what makes this bust “come alive” – it gives this woman’s head the qualities of a real person, probably, a person in pain. Memory forms such an integral part of who we are, and what is our reality and daily life that, without it, we are lost. The possible “bleeding” out of “memory” in this image may hint at this person slowly being converted into a statue, which she has become – since we are looking at a bust. One trivia for film lovers here is that this painting probably served as an inspiration for one of the murder scenes in Anthony Minghella’s film The Talented Mr Ripley (1999). Continue reading “René Magritte”→
Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) was a Swiss painter known for his realistic and later symbolic paintings. He is also said to have “shaped the image and identity of Switzerland” through his artistic creations. Hodler invented the style of painting – “parallelism” to describe his own way of arranging and presenting his figures in painting. That style focuses on symmetry, harmony and rhythm.
I. The Tired of Life  by Ferdinand Hodler. This painting shows five old men sitting on the bench facing the viewer, without looking or communicating with each other. The striking feature is their symmetrical positions and their expressionless, tired faces. They are different men, but dressed in similar clothing and adopting similar sitting positions, which may hint at them being united in their destiny and outlook on life past. All this produces an arresting impression, and the near-naked man in the middle emphasised this symmetry and collective hopelessness even more. There is something too honest and isolated in these men’s gazes, probably letting the viewer know that each person’s end is pretty much solitary, definite and final. Continue reading “Ferdinand Hodler: Symbolism”→
It seems that every allegorical painting opens some door to deeper truth. The Calumny of Appelles was painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1494 from the description of a lost painting by Apelles, a Greek painter, who lived in the 4th century BC. Now, the painting resides in the Uffizi in Florence, and does not stop to amaze gallery visitors with its beauty and metaphorical insight. In the centre of this painting is an innocent man on the floor who is being dragged to King Midas on the throne who has to decide on his fate. Calumny (Slander), in blue and white, is dragging the man by his hair, while Perfidy (Deceit) and Fraud are behind her, arranging her hair. A man dressed in black, holding Calumny’s hand, is Rancour (Envy) who is stretching his hand to the King. The old woman in black is Remorse, who glances at the naked Truth, a young woman who points to the sky. The lady is naked because, like the man on the floor, she has nothing to hide, and she urges the others to consider higher values in life. By pointing at heaven, she also gives a sign to others that a fair judgement is reserved for all after their deaths. However, King Midas, who has to pass a judgement on the innocent man, has his eyes downcast, not seeing the picture fully and clearly in front of him. He is guided by Ignorance and Suspicion, the two ladies on each side of him, who whisper in his donkey ears their suggestions on the course of action to take.
These are the portraits painted by Guiseppe Arcimboldo, who was born in Milan in 1527. During his lifetime, he became famous for creating a number of bizarre, thought-provoking paintings showing people composed of fruit, vegetables (plus other inanimate objects), as well plants and animals. The left painting is titled “Water”, showing a person composed of marine animals, while the right painting is called “Fire”, being another life force, showing a person composed of fire paraphernalia. They form part of the collection of four paintings titled “The Four Elements”, commissioned by Maximilian II, and were supposed to represent “chaos brought into harmony”. Continue reading “The Art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo”→
Calvani and The Desert of Somonites, showing the Time Portal – Images from L’Archiviste , an album by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters, which is also part of their series Les Cites obscures. In the album, the archivist tries to demystify the nature and existence of the Obscure Cities.