Dante Gabriel Rossetti; a translator, illustrator, poet and most importantly for this post, an incredible artist. As one of the founding fathers of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he inspired and influenced an entire generation of artists and writers both contemporaries and successive to himself. Dante was born on the 12th May 1828 and he died on the 9th April 1882, leaving behind a wealth of work and a strong legacy that would live on long beyond his own lifetime.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti spent a lot of time working on English translations of Italian poetry and found himself strongly influenced by the famous Italian poet, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) with whom he strongly identified. It was Rossetti’s identification to Dante Alighieri that inspired the painting which is the subject of this post.
With that said we’re going to be looking at one piece of work in particular; a painting full of meaning and symbolism, painted in Rossetti’s signature style and telling a powerful story rife with emotion and feeling.
So I had to come up with an idea for my next artwork project and with my goal of interpreting and bringing back to life British history, myths, legends and folklore, I have decided to work with a popular medieval romance tale that stems from Celtic legend; the story of ²Tristan and Yseult.
There are numerous versions of this tale, but all of them contain prominent features and I will most probably play on the different aspects of each telling that appeal to me the most. As a base idea to work from I might even write up a short version of the story combining the various aspects and suiting to my own interpretation, thus making me able to create more works from this further down the line, that’s not presently set in stone though I’ll have to think about that¹.
With that in mind I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of the legend just yet although I have linked to the Britannica version of the tale.
As promised before, I will use the series of posts and updates on this project to show my preliminary studies, sketches and ideas, as well as a bit of prose or poetry that I intend to write for the particular scene that I will show in my finished painting. I have chosen the scene that I want to capture and have begun sketches, mainly to work out composition and background scenery, I’m also implementing a fair few symbolic features as well so I’ll have to hit the books and see what I come up with; some symbols I am certain of and relate to the story itself and therefore will definitely be added.
I’ll leave that there for now and my next post will contain my preparatory work that I’ve create up until that point, which will most probably be next Wednesday, when my posting schedule is due, this post is more of a taster for what’s to come and to give awareness of the project I am currently pursuing now that I’ve set my heart upon it.
¹More of a note to self than a definitive idea
²Link to the Britannica version of the legend Tristan and Yseult
I’ve structured my days now to help me with my efforts to self-teach different aspects of the art that I wish to learn; the aspects that I have decided to learn are anatomy, figure studies, drawing in many aspects such as observational, still life and drapery, perspective, architecture, and again human form. I also spend time trying different techniques with watercolour paints and I’m slowly experimenting with oil paint; which ultimately will be my medium of choice.
I also have more theoretical subjects to learn and my rotor for those at the moment consists of symbolism in art, colour theory and artist research. Those are the artsy theoretical readings, I’m also always researching history, reading about the ancient Romans in particular and I’m presently reading a book about King Charles I which I will review once finished; as well as Greek mythology, these last few are more for inspirational reasons.
However the reason for that two paragraphs of information is that every month I intend to issue myself a project to work on alongside these other subjects to keep me motivated in creating my own work rather than just all work and no play, I therefore intend to create at least one final work for each project I give myself. I’m thinking ahead a bit here as I don’t intend to issue myself this project until 5th July; that said though, I can here announce my umbrella theme which others will fall under.
My main theme, the subject of artwork that I intend to create for the foreseeable future is British myth, legend and folklore. As an enthusiastic reader of the work of J.R.R Tolkien, it’s my understanding that he created his body of literature around the basis of giving Britain a mythology of its own, one to rival the Greeks and even outdo them in the long run (let’s face it, we’ve all heard of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and Gollum; how many average people can name four Greek deities). This thought process inspired Tolkien to create the most incredibly well crafted epic fantasy saga that was bursting at the seams with richness and remains the most influential piece of literature of the modern age (that’s my opinion I’m not certain how it stands nowadays with Game of Thrones growing as much as it has). I am of a similar vision, but what I intend to do is bring to life and recreate the existing British mythology and interpret it into a series of visual narratives, both figurative and landscape and breathe new life into our forgotten history.
There is already a wealth of subject matter available to me to work with, more than enough to ensure I’m kept busy for the rest of my life in fact, and who knows, one day I may even start writing my own mythologies and legends of British history, but that’s an idea for a time in the far off future yet. My main inspiration for British myth/legend/folklore/history is the Arthurian legend. Some historians say he lived, others say he didn’t, most scholars deny his existence because of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fabrications. I stand in an area where I do believe he existed, just that the story of his existence has been contorted somewhat over the centuries since his age, akin to Chinese whispers these legends grow and have bits added and taken away to the current point where some people are expecting Arthur’s second coming; elevating this long dead king to the status of the son of God. The most convincing and realistic telling of the Arthurian legend, albeit a work of historical fiction, was the brilliant saga of books written by Jack Whyte – A Dream of Eagles (original series title in Canada) or Camulod Chronicles (USA series title) or Legends of Camelot (UK series title). Without going into too much detail about this incredible series of books on this post, here’s the link to a short review I wrote about them previously.
With Arthurian legend being my main source of inspiration however, I don’t intend to just limit myself to being known as a painter of Arthurian legend, like I said I want to revive as much of British mythology as I can so I’ll also be focusing on other areas as well, it’s just the that Arthur story is the one I am most drawn to.
All that said then, my next post will probably be before my scheduled post, and will be to announce the exact nature of the project I intend to create. I will post everything related to my project including sketches, research, thoughts and such and then follow all that up with the final piece that I create. So if you have happened to stumble across this post, then please check back every fortnight or so to see updates and some new artwork.
Until next time…..
Featured Image: Edward Burne-Jones – The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon – 1881-1898
By the 17th Century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming increasingly popular across the whole continent. The opposition were overly cautious, calling this new beverage from the Arab lands the “bitter invention of Satan”. With the arrival of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy immediately condemned it; causing a controversy so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. The Pope decided to try the beverage before making his decision and he found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.
In relation to my identity and following the theme “Who are you?”, I wanted to create a piece of work that not only told a story, but also related and described my own personality through symbolism, thus creating an artwork with two meanings.
The painting that I created is a narrative piece and was painted entirely using coffee as my medium. It depicts when coffee first came to Europe, arriving in Venice in 1615 aboard a merchant ship, awaited and opposed by the clergy. This entire piece is full of symbolism pertaining to who I am and my identity, so I’ll have to break it down into further parts.
Coffee as a medium – Every single morning of my life is centred around one very important, and never-changing ritual, coffee. It begins every single morning of my life and continues on into the day. That being the case, plus with the exhibition being set up on a table in the college Atrium Café, it made sense to me to use coffee as my medium to paint with. In my research of coffee I delved into the history and discovered plenty of opportunities to create a narrative painting, which is my favourite form of art, art that tells a story.
Venice – I decided to base my narrative in Venice as this is where coffee came into Europe and the story behind it really appealed to me to create a narrative scene of. Also, I have a very deep fondness of Italy and it is intrinsic to a lot of what I do, to the point that my love of Italy is almost an obsession, this made my choice of story to tell very easy and enjoyable at the same time. My scene is based at Riva Degli Schiavoni, with the isle of San Maggiore faded in the distance across the entrance to Venice’s Grand Canal.
The Clergy – The clergy, depicted standing on a small jetty, in opposition of the merchant ship bringing coffee to port, are symbolic of the opposition I feel I face with artwork, whether real or imagined it seems that in the Contemporary art industry, traditional painting and values are frowned upon and neglected, whilst Conceptual art, Installation and challenging conventions is what is the art that wins awards and sells.
Whilst the clergy show how close I feel to opposition, the distant view of the church San Giorgio di Maggiore shows how far I feel from salvation, not in a religious sense but a metaphorical one, in the industry I’m entering.
Myself – I depicted myself literally into this painting as well; situated to the right of the narrative scene I am sitting in a small boat, sketching the scene before me into a book. This shows my personality, my introversion, close by and very aware of the events unfolding around me and sketching what I see; at the same time situated solitarily, alone but comfortable to be so, concentrating on what I’m seeing and analysing it onto the paper.
This is the first piece of work that I have created entirely how I want to and have been able to project a narrative through which not only tells a story, but describes aspects of myself within it.
This work was exhibited at the Atrium Café for the day in my first real exhibition and the feedback that I received was incredible, very encouraging comments were made and a lot of interest was shown in both the work itself and the meanings behind it.