Tag Archives: 1869

Rilke: Your dear words have poured a holy magic into my soul

4 Dec

German poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke was born on 4th December 1875 in Prague, and these days I was in a more reflective mood and I felt really drawn to his poetry and his letters which are all so beautiful and infinitely wise. Reading letters so beautiful can feel like reading letters from an old friend whom in fact you have never met and never will, unless you meet them in a ghostly form which would be eerie and fascinating both at once. I was reading certain letters that Rilke wrote to his friends and acquaintances from 1894 to 1910 and this letter written on the eve of his nineteenth birthday in 1894 to Valery David-Rhonfeld, his love-interest at the time, was particularly beautiful to me and it being Rilke’s birthday today, I thought, why no share it with you? So, that’s what I am doing, accompanied by this lovely painting by Petrus van Schendel where a girl is reading a letter in the warm light of the lantern. I imagine her as Valery reading the letter than Rilke had written to her. It’s a rather long letter so I moved some parts which weren’t particularly interesting.

Petrus van Schendel, The Love Letter, 1869

Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (1894-1910); Letter to To Valery David-Rhonfeld, December 4, 1894 before midnight

Vally mine, mine, mine! Over there in the dining room my aunt is sitting at her evening meal; I renounced my share of supper, withdrew from the to me dismal atmosphere into my room and there, not from need, rather to have a certain taste— frankly, from a mortal craving for sweets ate three pieces of the cake in question. My heart was oppressed and out of sorts without my knowing the reason at first. Then, as I sat across from Tante G. in the dining room for a few minutes, it became evident to me that the abrupt exchange of the lightflooded sphere of your presence for the dreary, humdrum atmosphere of my so infinitely remote relatives was the weighty cause of that bad mood. But that has vanished now. My heart is light and my mind is clear. Your letter, your dear letter, has banished the clouds. It is bright. The heaven of our love shines out of the quiet flooding of my soul. Sweet sensations murmur softly like strong reeds, and longing like a rustling tree in blossom spreads out its arms within me. I don’t know how often I have read your lines. I don’t know what so overwhelms me. Is it alone the consciousness that they come from you, or is it rather the aroma of a deep, warm feeling that is wafting toward me, that intoxicates me. Vally, your dear words have poured a holy magic into my soul, yes, in it glimmers that worshipful, trembling earnestness that must have pervaded the hearts of the oracle-questioning Greeks when they awaited at the temple gate, half in hope, half in trepidation, the answer of the mysterious god. For to me too it is as though my eyes were seeing farther than usual—as though the dimming walls of the cramped little room were betaking themselves away—, as though today I were permitted to take a look into the future! But before I look out into that colorful rolling sea of mists, let me first of all gaze within myself. In this night, about half past eleven, it will be exactly nineteen years that I have been alive. You know the lack-luster story of my frustrated childhood and you know those persons who are to blame for my being able to note nothing or little that is joyous in those days of growth. (….)

Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, The Love Letter, 1849

You often call me idealistic. Dearest Vally, if I am still that now, think what pure feeling must have shone in that little soul which, always lost in itself, was averse even to the simple, gay, innocent games of rowdy boys in the Primary School, and consider further, my love, how frightfully the onslaught of such wild, undeserved crudities must have echoed in the undefiled sanctuary of that childish spirit. (…) Yet I shall never be ashamed that my heart was empty before I found you, Vally, and leave the shame to those who had scorned to earn a place in it. Then came the time that you know (Linz Commercial School), whose bitter disillusionments and errors are buried in your forgiveness. Then came the fourth big division of my existence: the period of study. I was already prepared to renounce my scholastic future, weary of the everlasting, unsuccessful and aimless work, when I met you, beloved, dearest Vally, when you strengthened, healed, comforted me and gave me life, existence, hope, and future. On December 4th of the year in which I entered upon my high-school career in Schönfeld, I renounced this plan and, exhausted with work, wanted to fling myself into the arms of destiny’s stream, to go under or to land somewhere or other. But that today I am not straying through the world a purposeless wanderer, but rather as a confident fighter—my breast full of love, gratitude, and hope—am striding toward our happiness, our union, could I thank anyone but you for that, my divine Vally?

My whole previous life seems to me a road to you, like a long unlighted journey at the end of which my reward is to strive toward you and to know you will be all mine in the near future. (…) Then let us create, industrious in the practice of our arts, helping each other, taking counsel like two sturdy, blissful human beings—who over their love and their work forget the world and pity or despise people.—Then in six years, in the first year of the twentieth century, probably in the first or second of our official engagement, you will get, my much beloved panička, another letter like this which will contain a little backward glance over the worse times surmounted and a prophecy for better ones! Eleven o’clock at night it has already struck out there, and before I complete and read over this letter, nineteen years will certainly be full.— When I look briefly over them once more, the brightest point is that you stepped into my orbit and for life, as long as it beats, have given my poor heart, a stranger to love, the most worthy object of adoring, grateful devotion—in yourself!

René

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Beautiful Corpses in Art: Part II

5 Nov

At last, the Part II of the post about interesting and beautiful female corpses in art. You can read the part I here.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, The Lady of Shalott, 1875

I finished the first part of this post with Walter Crane’s painting “Lady of Shalott” painted in 1862, and in this post I am continuing with the theme of a beautiful and doomed Lady of Shalott with a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Nature surrounding the poor, pale and dead Lady of Shalott seems mystical and dreamy, almost sepia coloured, like a primordial swamp with its dreamy distant trees, slow murky water and water lilies, all ready to take the poor Elaine to the castle where her knight in shining armour is. The trees tops cast shadows on the surface of the water and it creates a slightly surreal atmosphere where one doesn’t know what is real and what illusory, what is alive and what but a shadow. Grimshaw is more known for painting street scenes of towns in the Northern England where he brilliantly captured the atmosphere of wet and gloomy autumn. So this painting of Lady of Shalott is a very different theme for Grimshaw, but he painted it with equal emphasis on the atmosphere. Sweet dead Elaine looks lovely like a doll with yellow hair.

Gabriel von Max, The Anatomist, 1869

In comparison with Grimshaw’s dreamy portrayal of the Lady of Shalott floating slowly toward eternity in her little boat, painting “The Anatomist” shows a more realistic portrayal of a female corpse. The title “Anatomist” places the man in the centre; we see the world through his eyes, we see the dead woman’s pale body through his eyes. He has slowly removed the white sheet that covers her, exposing her breast, and he seems deep in thought. Behind him are skulls and books which remind us of transience and also of his scientific, intellectual occupations. She looks very still and serene, but is she really? Will she open her eyes, will her lips move and speak? I must say, that after gazing at this painting for some time, it brought to mind a short horror film called “Kissed” which I stumbled upon this summer. You can check it out here, it’s six minutes long.

 

William Frederick Yeames, The Death of Amy Robsart, 1877

In “The Death of Amy Robsart”, William Frederick Yeames took a real historic event and portrayed it in a romantic way. Poor dead body of a Elizabethan era lady Amy Robsart has just been discovered at he bottom of the stairs leading up to her bedroom; I assume because we can see the bed in the room upstairs and she is dressed in her informal attire. Amy is mostly remembered in history for being the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; the favourite of the Queen Elizabeth, and for dying in suspicious circumstances by falling down stairs. Victorian painter William Frederick Yeames has taken this historical event and portrayed it with a very Victorian sense for tragedy; we instantly feel pity for Amy, just as we do for the poor Lady Jane Grey or Joan of Arc in other Romantic and Victorian paintings which romanticise the historical tragedies. I love the way the creases of her nightgown are painted, in that lying pose she almost looks like a sculpture.

Claude Monet, Camille Monet on her Deathbed, 1879

This painting by Monet is a really intimate portrayal of a painful moment in the painter’s life: the death of his first wife Camille. It’s almost like a visual diary entry. The painting looks as if it is covered with a thin blueish gauze, a thin line which separated the real world . The painting reminds me of a passage from María Luisa Bombal’s novel “La amortajada” or “The Shrouded Woman” where the woman is dead but she can still see and hear everything, including her burial and she remembers her entire life throughout the novel: “And after it had gotten dark, her eyes opened. But just a little, very little. It was as if she wanted to look, while she was hidden behind her long eyelashes. At the flame of the tall candles that leaned over to keep watch on her, and to observe the cleanness and transparency of the border of the eye that death had not been able to cast a pall over. Respectfully dazzled, they leaned over, not knowing that She was able to see them. Because, in fact, She could both see and feel. And that is how she looked, motionless, lying face up on the spacious bed now covered with embroidered sheets that were scented with lavender—that were always kept under lock and key—and she is wrapped in that white satin robe that always made her look so graceful. Her hands can be seen, gently crossed over her chest, pressing on a crucifix; hands that had acquired the frivolous delicacy of two peaceful doves.

Enrique Simonet Lombardo, The Autopsy (Anatomy of the Heart; She had a Heart!), 1890

Enrique Simonet’s painting “She had a heart!” is as realistic as it is poignant. The dead woman’s body and the interior of the morgue are painted with finest precision, and yet the coroner’s gesture of holding the woman’s heart makes her more humane in his eyes and in our eyes. She is not just another dead body that he is doing an autopsy on, she was a real person with a beating heart eager to love and be loved in return. Simonet gained fame and recognition with this painting and he painted it whilst studying in Rome. We can conclude that the dead woman was a prostitute because of her lavish coppery hair, red hair being symbolic of moral weakness, and also, bodies of women found in the river Tiber usually belonged to prostitutes. The real model for the woman was a dead body of an actress who committed suicide because of a heartache. The real tragedy behind the painting also adds a poignant touch to the painting.

Walter Crane, The Journey to Eternity, 1902

I am finishing this post with another very beautiful painting by Walter Crane called “The Journey to Eternity” which shows a nude angel and a beautiful redhead dead young woman lying in the boat as they both glide towards eternity. A dead lady in a little boat adorned with lilies and roses is awfully similar to the theme of the Lady of Shalott. Everything has a blueish tinge in this painting and it really adds to the mystical mood. The water looks incredibly vibrant and is painted in many shades of blue, and the blue is echoed in the angel’s wings as well. Also, the Angel’s head is covering the full moon so it almost looks as if the moon is his halo. The dead lady is comfortable on a soft pillow, she is holding a pink rose in her right hand and her journey to eternity seems as romantical as it can get. If I could die that way and travel to eternity in a boat adorned with roses, I would gladly.