Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Betwixt the green brink

I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides yesterday. I will not divulge any secrets of the movie if you have yet to see it, but I have to admit...the mermaids in it were REALLY cool. Beautiful, alluring but dangerous! And now I'm on a mermaid kick.

Following the movie, my friend Alice (whut up, Alice!) and I went to karaoke at one of our fave bars...and surprisingly, this painting is hanging in the bar (Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896):

Now, I can't say why the Bluebird has this painting in it. It's a bar and performance hall. So, let's talk about the painting itself instead. :)

Hylas, according to Ovid, is the son of Heracles (Hercules) and the wife of King Theiodamas. He received his good looks from his Mom and his military skills from his demigod father. This affair caused a war between Theiodamas and Heracles. Heracles ends up killing Theiodamas and taking the boy on as an arms bearer. Heracles takes Hylas to Argo where he is kidnapped by nymphs that he later falls in love with. Heracles and Polyphemus (NOT the cyclops) search for young Hylas, but he is never found.

John William Waterhouse, the artist of these lovely pieces, is an Englishman born in Italy around 1849 to artistic parents. He was trained at the Royal Academy and is known for his Pre-Raphaelite style. Pre-Raphaelite is a style emulating the simplicity and academic sincerity of Italian artists that came before Raphael. Waterhouse's works most frequently involve Greek mythology or Arthurian legend as their historical themes.

But today, I'm not gonna talk about the works you might recognize of his like Ophelia and The Lady of Shalott. I just wanted to share...you guessed it. The mermaids!

Okay, there aren't many. But that's my theme and I'm sticking to it. The piece posted in the middle of the mermaid with the lyre is called The Siren from 1900 and the one directly above is The Mermaid, 1901. I really like the textural quality of his paint strokes. It kind of looks like he did the painting with a scratchy, coarse-hair brush. The Mermaid looks much smoother than the other two, but you can still tell it belongs to Waterhouse...dark, moody atmosphere, fanciful themes, and natural, curvaceous, exceptionally pale female figures.

Here's the study for The Mermaid!

This painting is The Naiad, 1905. Now, Naiades aren't really mermaids, but they're intimately connected with their watery home, like mermaids, so I thought I'd include it. To clarify, in mythology, Naiades were the nymphs of fresh water. The other large water nymph classifications included the Nereides, nymphs of the Mediterranean, and Oceanids, nymphs of the oceans.

Mermaids, on the other hand, are your half-fish, half-woman with "mer" meaning "sea" and "maid" obviously denoting "woman." Mermaids are known, like sirens, for singing in such an enchanting way that they can distract men and gods and cause them to run astray from their course or wreck their ship. There are stories of mermaids squeezing drowning men to death in an attempt to save them, others speak of mermaids' intentional drowning of humans. According to Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, mermaids forget that men can't breathe beneath water and the drowning is unintentional. There are lots of stories. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides picks up on one of these lines...the dangerous one. ;) VERY cool.

This last piece, Thisbe (1909), is obviously not a mermaid. But if you read my last piece on the House of Loreius Tiburtinus, you would now be familiar with this lovely lady! I thought it was cool that Waterhouse did a painting of her. :)

"Since once I sat upon a promontory/ And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back/ Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath/ That the rude sea grew civil at her song/ And certain stars shot madly from their spheres/ To hear the sea-maid's music."
- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

1 comment:

  1. Two things:

    One, The Mermaid (the 1901 painting) is one of my favorites. Serious. I love me some mermaids!

    Two, My fifth grade class did 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' for the class play... it was epic, especially when the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play occurred.