Mythic Images in Art

Discussion of Joseph Campbell's work with an emphasis on the personal creative impulse as well as the sociological role of the artist in today's global community.

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Mythic Images in Art

Post by noman » Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:39 pm

Greetings myth lovers,


When Joseph Campbell published his book The Mythic Image in 1974, the Web didn’t exist. I think it’s a joy to be able to retrieve the images of mythology, and famous works of art, in an instant. This thread is for favorite mythic images with perhaps an explanation of the myth, or of why the mythic image is so appealing. I have three offerings:

Aurora

1614, Guido Reni, Fresco
Casino Rospiglioso, Palazzo Pallavicini, Rome

In this painting, Apollo is being led by Aurora for his daily flight across the sky. It’s a heavenly image, bright and beautiful. There is a sense of movement from left to right in all of the twelve figures, but the four women on our side of the chariot are especially charming and graceful.

* * * * * * *

My next image is from The Book of Revelations:

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.... And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.... And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.... And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

- Revelation, Chapter 6
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

ca. 1497–98
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528)

Even though the colors of the horses are given in the scripture, this woodcut is probably the most famous rendition of the image. As with Picasso’s Guernica, color would only be a distraction, diminishing the horrific emotional impact.

* * * * * * *

My final offering is also a Christian image:
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

- Luke 1:26-33
The Annunciation

Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898
Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Artists know how to make the humble majestic. Mary is a very plain looking woman in a room of shades of brown. But there are blue and red sheets to break up the monotony of color and add a touch of royalty to the scene. The angel Gabriel is depicted in elemental form rather than the anthropometric form of an angel with wings. And that light of the angel replaces the mysterious light that comes from a source that is often out of view in earlier Christian art. But what I like about this image is the expression on Mary’s face. She’s supposed to be troubled and fearful according to the scripture. To me it looks like she’s calm and handling the whole thing rather well – just curious as to what is going to happen next. It's like she's saying, 'hmmm - what do you want?'

-NoMan
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Post by jonsjourney » Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:45 am

I'll bite here just a bit. I am not going to choose a specific work of art right now because I am a bit absorbed in Native American writings and imagery. That being said, I submit Native American Art in general. The organismic nature of the images speaks to me. I am always able to see the interconnectedness represented within the images and the mythology of the creator is well expressed. Aww heck...I just like it.

That's my two bits.

I like your links...NoMan. Nice.
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Post by noman » Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:10 pm

During the last quarter of the 15th century, in Italy, Greek and Roman mythology began to appear alongside images of the Christian myths. There was a ‘culture war’ between those liberals that welcomed this change and those conservatives who did not. This masterpiece of Raphael’s was completed during the same decade of that a German priest named Martin Luther began writing against what he felt were corrupt policies of the Catholic Church. The times were a-changin’.

Triumph of Galatea
Raphael, 1515
Villa Farnesina, Rome

I love the circular movement in this painting, the geometric balance of figures, and the general sensuousness. Images like this give us a sentimental, romantic view of ancient Greek civilization.

* * * * * * *

Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

From The Lady of Shalott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842
Though a fan of Alfred Lord Tennyson, I’ve never gotten much out of this poem. But I do like this painting it inspired.

The Lady of Shallot
John William Waterhouse, 1888
Tate Gallery, London

She’s craning her neck, anticipating something, waiting for her knight to save her.

* * * * * * *

If you open a book on European Art, you may to find this painting in it.

Landscape With Fall of Icarus
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1558
Royal Museum of Fine Art , Belgium

It is one of the masterpieces of Western art. I don’t know enough about art to explain why. There is something about the strange light. This painting inspired a poem by William Carlos Williams.
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
his field

the whole pageantry
of the year was
awake tingling
near
the edge of the sea

concerned
with itself
sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax
unsignificantly

off the coast
there was
a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

- William Carlos Williams
In contrast to the grand display of Greek mythology in Raphael’s fresco, I think this painting illustrates the idea that Europe, especially northern Europe, was advancing beyond the blind honor of the ancient cultures.

- NoMan
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Mar 09, 2009 12:08 am

I don't know noman... There is something tragic in the movement of Icarus' legs, his death struggle (the most action in the painting), while the world goes on apace, not getting it, damning itself to make the same mistake over and over and over, the world being blind to the lesson and numb to compassion.

Right there in the foreground is the great ship, its 'wings' spread wide... to do what? Seems pointed toward the sun...

And what is that farmer wearing on his head? He certainly can't see through it.

I hadn't seen that painting before. Thanks for sharing it. Wonderful.
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by ALOberhoulser » Mon Mar 09, 2009 2:16 am

Great thread in its infancy here, so I'll jump in...

I was always a fan of the legend of Faust, or anyone for that matter, who made a pact with the devil. This led me to Goethe's Faust...The Walpurgis Night scene(s) blew me away! One is in the first part - 1.3.8, the other is in the second part - Act 2.

But, also in the poem there comes a time when Faust meets Helen of Troy...I don't have the time to find the lines (They're numbered - I used to know the meeting with Helen of Troy #'s but years have passed..)...I always thought Goethe's description of her and of Faust's reaction to laying eyes on her could somehow just stop time....literally! I could just think of that playing out in my head and it would transcend anything i had ever known about art, poetry, asthetics, philosophy...inexplicable!

I'm not sure of any "famous" artworks inspired by this, but maybe Martin can help me out...Here's one Faust_1789 by Johann Heinrich Lips. Funny thing, the original Faust legend spawns from a story of a pact made in a woods on the outskirts of Wittenberg - according to this about Mephistopheles.

Of course, all of that led me to learning more about Greek Mythology and directly to Joseph Campbell...It spiraled out of control from there. No Mythology was off limits then: Hindu, Buddhist, Toaist, Native American (always my favorite as a kid), Central and South American, Aboriginal, African, Egyptian, etc....And now, since losing my mom to cancer not long ago, I've come full circle back to my roots in Christianity. It's "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world"...for me - in a nutshell from the peanut gallery.

Thanks all - and hello again!
AL
Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.
~Max Planck
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Post by noman » Tue Mar 10, 2009 3:06 am

Hello Aloberhoulser,

Yes, Faust and Mephisopheles are great mythic art subjects. Here is a larger view of Rembrandt's famous etching:

Faust
Rembrandt, 1650-52
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Perhaps someone can translate the words on the shining mandala??? I know what the four letters in the center might mean: INRI, 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'.

But for the rest 'DA GERAM ADAM TE AMRTET ALGAR ALGA S TNA' I haven't a clue.

- NoMan
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Post by ALOberhoulser » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:12 am

Hi, noman,
I guess I wanted to say that "the face that launched a thousand ships" - Helen of Troy - as a character in book 2 of Goethe's Faust was the baited hook that caught this fish out of the pool of singlemindedness.

Funny how that ties into the "hero with a thousand faces" Talk about a WOW moment - I just had one...

Oh how this place wakes me up & gets me feelin' alive again.

Peace,
AL
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Post by noman » Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:34 pm

Here are three modern images of a mythological character that is at least 2500 hundred years old and is still as popular as ever:

Krishna as Butter Thief

Krishna with Gopis

Krishna as Chariot Driver for Arjuna

Krishna gives advice to Arjuna before the great battle at Kurukshetra:
“Death is as sure for that which is born, as birth is for that which is dead. Therefore grieve not for what is inevitable.”

“Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down when reasoning is destroyed.”

“It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered, Arjuna, through regular practice and detachment. Those who lack self-control will find it difficult to progress in meditation; but those who are self-controlled, striving earnestly through the right means, will attain the goal.”

- quotes from the Bhagavad Gita
- NoMan
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Post by noman » Sun Apr 26, 2009 4:59 am

Eight images of Sacrifice:

Mithras, Museo Nazionale, Roma

Sacrifices of Cain and Able

Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio, 1598

The Crucifixion, Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)

The Sacrifice of Ipheginia,Jan Havicksz. Steen (1626-1679)

Aztec Sacrifice16th century.

Ice Maiden Five Hundred year old Peruvian mummy. She was a fourteen year old girl now named ‘Juanita’, believed to have been a human sacrifice.

Bear Sacrifice of the Ainu, Japanese scroll painting, circa 1870

- NoMan
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Post by Ercan2121 » Mon May 25, 2009 7:12 am

ALOberhoulser wrote:I'm not sure of any "famous" artworks inspired by this, but maybe Martin can help me out...Here's one Faust_1789 by Johann Heinrich Lips.
I'd humbly suggest Gustav Mahler's works, if you like classical music.
His famous choral symphony is known to be partly inspired by Goethe.
Ercan, the moderator of Turkish Forum :)
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Post by Clemsy » Sat Nov 21, 2009 3:46 pm

Welcome to the world of Vladimir Kush. Get ready for some serious eye candy. Watch the movie trailer (which my brother scored and mastered!).

Image

Image
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by Cindy B. » Sat Nov 21, 2009 7:51 pm

Clemsy,

Do you have another link? I can't get this one to play properly.

What I've seen see far, though, is super. 8) Kudos to your brother from me, please.

Cindy
If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s. --Jung
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Post by Clemsy » Sat Nov 21, 2009 8:08 pm

You may need to give the video some time to buffer. That's Kush's website, so there's really no other link that I know of. Is the rest of the site working for you?
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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