“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie,
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien’s epigraph to The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings himself, the Dark Lord, the Deceiver; those are just some of the titles that this personification of evil has been given through the ages as written by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Sauron, who started his service to darkness and evil as the most trusted servant and lieutenant of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, succeeded the position of his former master and set in motion his own conquest of Middle-earth throughout the second and third ages. He used his cunning intelligence and deceit to fool the Elves into creating the Rings of Power, culminating in the secretly forged One Ring; which had the power to dominate the other rings and enslave those bearing them to his will. Needless to say, Sauron kept the One Ring for himself, thus becoming the Lord of the Rings.
That’s as far as I’ll go into Sauron’s background, anyone who is already familiar with this legendary literary masterpiece will already know the rest of the story; anyone who isn’t already familiar with it I would strongly suggest that they read it or at least watch the movies as it is not something to be missed.
Anyway, let’s look at the artwork and talk about that. The portrait of the Dark Lord, painted as though Jerry Vanderstelt was there at the time of Sauron’s reign and commissioned to capture his likeness. Even without any real knowledge of artistry or portraiture, anyone with eyes can see that this painting is a powerful portrayal that shows without any doubt the character of the figure depicted.
I imagine this portrait to be one that would have been commissioned when the Dark Lord was in the height of his power, his Dark Tower of Barad-dûr nearing completion. Looking at this piece really puts me in mind of the monarchs and nobles of antiquity, commissioning artists to paint their portrait as a propaganda tool; adding symbolism to boast their status, power and wealth in the process. I also find it extremely ironic that Vanderstelt uses Holbein paint for his artworks.
From a historical standpoint, portraits were created in order to memorialise and immortalise individuals who had the means to have them created; that said however, they have often served as more than just a literal representation of the subject; portraits are also used to show the inner essence of the subject as well as their external qualities and importance.
The use of symbolic elements placed around the sitter (including signs, household objects, animals, and plants) was often used to encode the painting with the moral or religious character of the subject, or with symbols representing the sitter’s occupation, interests or social status. The background can be totally black and without content or a full scene which places the sitter in their social or recreational milieu.
Sauron has been depicted fully armoured and holding his menacingly gruesome looking mace, the posture of the figure and the angle of his weapon suggest to me a victorious and fearless warlord without worry or care; a being who bows to nobody and either has others in subjection to himself or simply kills them. His left foot rests upon the skull of one of his enemies, with others scattered about him, both a symbolic portrayal of how he deals with opposition and a stark reminder of the mortality of those who intend to resist his rule. In light of that, the skeleton of the Man/Elf in the foreground looks like he’s been impaled by his own sword, possibly suggesting that he took his own life rather than face the wrath of this malevolent Dark Lord.
Fittingly, the landscape that Sauron has been placed in is the dismal and decaying land of Mordor, his realm of abode and a land that has been moulded after his own desires; a land that clearly reflects the character of its ruler and looks like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Thick black clouds of noxious volcanic fumes, fire and sulphur, ash and pumice, all overlaying and engulfing a desolate waste of death and deteriorated earth and rock; scorched, parched, poisoned and ruined beyond restoration. The Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
In the immediate background we see Orodruin or Mount Doom as it is more commonly known; spitting lava and spewing out that disgusting toxic smoke, a symbol that reinforces Sauron’s character; a lethally powerful force of nature that destroys anything and everything in its path and shows no remorse for doing so. The far reaching effects of such a force are even shown in the foreground where the lava is evident through the cracked and rugged ground that Sauron stands upon.
Further back and shown as a silhouette is the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr, seemingly a phallic symbol representing both Sauron’s masculinity as well as his power and authority, visible even from such a distance and dominant over the horizon.
Everything about this painting shows the skills and creativity of Jerry Vanderstelt; the detail, the lighting, the use of colour and the fact that as much work and intricacy has gone into the surroundings as has gone into the figure just boast of the artist’s incredible aptitude with a paintbrush.
I strongly believe that although from a very different era, this masterpiece easily fits in amongst the works of the masters of old, it is artwork like this that gives me faith in the Contemporary Art scene. Knowing that there are other artists currently producing traditional paintings gives me the encouragement to keep on pursuing my own endeavours on this perilous journey through what is now the art world.
To see my current art project which is based on a scene from The Lord of the Rings – Click Here
To see more of Jerry Vanderstelt’s artwork – Click Here
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve enjoyed it, please feel free to leave a comment, share and all that other lovely stuff!