Sunday, March 29, 2015

A short history of mental illness in art

A short history of mental illness in art

From Hogarth to Van Gogh, art has challenged our understanding of mental illness. Jonathan Jones’ shares his top ten for our mental health appeal

Jonathan Jones
Tuesday 13 January 2015 10.52 GMT

Art has led the way in seeing mental illness not as alien or contemptible but part of the human condition – even as a positive and useful experience. Modern art has even celebrated mental suffering as a creative adventure. This psychiatric modernism started with the “madness” of Vincent van Gogh and led to work by patients being discovered as a new kind of art. Yet it has much deeper historical roots. Albrecht Durer portrayed genius as melancholic as early as the Renaissance and Romantic painters identified with the “mad”.
Perhaps it is not hard to see why artists often show empathy for what society calls illness: all creativity is an irrational voyage. The idea of going outside yourself to see things afresh is probably as old as the torchlit visions of cave artists and was expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato when he wrote that poetic ecstasy is the only source of divine truth. “Madness is a gift from the gods”, as Plato put it.

1. Vittore Carpaccio – The Healing of the Possessed Man at the Rialto (c. 1496)

Painting by Vittore Carpaccio (ca. 1460-1525), an Italian painter of the Venetian school, trained in the style of the Vivarini and the Bellini.
 Painting by Vittore Carpaccio (ca. 1460-1525), an Italian painter of the Venetian school, trained in the style of the Vivarini and the Bellini. Photograph: David Lees

This painting of everyday life in 15th century Venice reveals how mental illness was understood and treated in the middle ages. It is sometimes called “The Healing of the Madman”, but “possessed” is closer to contemporary ideas about the mind. For the man being miraculously healed by a priest amidst the human drama of the Rialto bridge has been taken over by a demon. His suffering is neither a medical nor social problem, but a religious experience.

2. Matthias Grunewald – The Temptation of St. Anthony (c. 1512 - 16)

The Temptations of Saint Anthony and the Conversation between Saint Anthony and Saint Paul the Hermit, from the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Mathias Grunewald (1475-1528), oil on panel.
 The Temptations of Saint Anthony and the Conversation between Saint Anthony and Saint Paul the Hermit, from the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Mathias Grunewald (1475-1528), oil on panel. Photograph: DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

Late medieval artists were fascinated by the story of the early Christian hermit Saint Anthony the Great who was tempted by devils. For Grunewald, this becomes a truly personal and psychological terror, an image of a man whose sanity is under threat. The infinite horrible shapes of the demons are like malformed thoughts. It is a compassionate work, for this is part of the Isenheim altarpiece, painted for a hospital that treated people with disfiguring illnesses. One of the devils has the sores and grey skin that appear in other parts of the altarpiece and evoke the illnesses treated there. Does this swarming scene therefore portray the threat to mental health posed by extreme physical suffering? It influenced German expressionism and is to this day a masterpiece of the threatened mind.

3. Albrecht Durer – Melancholia (1514)

Johan Wierix; after Albrecht Durer, Melancolia. Engraving on paper, Scottish National Gallery
 Johan Wierix; after Albrecht Durer, Melancolia. Engraving on paper, Scottish National Gallery. Photograph: Antonia Reeve

This visionary work of art is both a diagnosis and heroic celebration of what might now be seen as illness. Melancholia was known and experienced in the middle ages, a darkness of the mind resulting from an inbalance of the humours. That darkness is marked on the brooding face of Durer’s spirit of melancholy. In her despond, she appears unable to continue with her great works. She is to judge by her tools a mathematician, geometer, and architect: a Renaissance genius. Durer portrays through this emblem his own inner life and intuits the mind’s complexity. For Melancholy in his eyes is the badge of genius - to aspire to know and create is to slump into despair. Unhappiness is noble, for Durer. This print is arguably the beginning of modern psychology.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The top 10 female nudes in art

The top 10 female nudes in art

From the ravishing Venus of Urbino, past Ingres's sensual Odalisque, to the feminist riposte of the Guerrilla Girls, the female nude has inspired, enraptured and enraged

Jonathan Jones
Tuesday 15 April 2014 12.06 BST

Titian – Venus of Urbino (1536-38)

<Venus of Urbino> by Titian Venus of Urbino by Titian. Photograph: Nicola Lorusso
No one has ever painted naked women as gorgeously as Titian did. His ravishing Venus is a lover laying her beauty bare, and the recipient of her optical largesse is anyone who happens to stand in front of this painting in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy. Titian creates with mind-boggling skill the lavish presence of this nude: the rapture of her carnal glory. There's something divine about such beauty. Some people find profundity in religious art, in abstract art, in conceptual art. For me, there's nothing more moving in art than the breasts of the Venus of Urbino.

Juergen Teller – Vivienne Westwood (2013)

Vivienne Westwood No.3, London, 2009.
 The conventions of the nude can be enjoyed in limitless ways ... Vivienne Westwood No 3, London, 2009. Photograph: Juergen Teller

Nudity never loses its power. The conventions of the nude can be enjoyed, and challenged, in limitless ways. Vivienne Westwood glories in poses culled from painting as she exults in all the possibilities of nakedness in art, while in her 70s.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The top 10 self-portraits in art

Self-Portrait With Charlie (1995) by David Hockney.
Photograph: David Hockney

The top 10 self-portraits in art

From an anxious Lucian Freud to an enigmatic Rembrandt and a noirish Cindy Sherman, these self-portraits take the selfie to a new artistic level

Jonathan Jones
Thursday 4 September 2014 14.23 BST

David Hockney – Self-Portrait With Charlie (1995)

Hockney is ruthless in his self-portraits; he never poses or tries to look good. What he does is to record the act of self-portraiture – the fact of a painter looking in a mirror and trying to record what he sees – and give it a deliberately awkward material truth. In doing so, he paints the ideal of honest observation.

Parmigianino – Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (c 1524)

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (c 1524) by Parmigianino.
 Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (c 1524) by Parmigianino. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

It's not only modern artists who portray themselves in thought-provoking ways. In the early 16th-century, Parmigianino looked at himself in a convex mirror and painted his distorted reflection, his huge hand close to the surface of the picture, his face the focus of a selfie-like bubble image, in which time and space warp vertiginously. This precocious painting is the theme of John Ashbery's great poem, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

Pablo Picasso – Self-Portrait Facing Death (1972)

Picasso always portrayed himself with big eyes that seem to swallow up the beholder, insisting, even as he turns himself into a painted object, that it is he, not you, who does the looking. Those eyes were never bigger – or braver – than in this unillusioned, atheist painting of the artist battered by time and recognising the nearness of his own mortality.

The top 10 backs in art

The top 10 backs in art
Man Ray's violin woman, a masterpiece of Japanese erotica and David Hockney's most liberating pool painting ... check out these choice rear views

Jonathan Jones
Thursday 29 May 2014 17.32 BST 
Last modified on Tuesday 1 July 2014 16.01 BST

Kitagawa Utamaro – Lovers in an Upstairs Room (1788)

A kimono-clad Shunga masterpiece ... Lovers in an Upstairs Room by Kitagawa Utamaro (1788).
Photograph: The Trustees of the British Museum 

This is a masterpiece of the Japanese erotic art genre known as Shunga. A woman with her lover has her back to us, clad in a kimono. With this subtle and sympathetic pose, Utamaro lets us into a private moment while also intensifying the mystery and self-possession of the woman with the gracious back.

Man Ray – Le Violon d'Ingres (1924)

Man Ray - backs in art
 A visitor looks at Le Violon d'Ingres by Man Ray (1924). Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA/Corbis Facundo Arrizabalaga/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/epa/Corbis

This classic Surrealist photograph is a joke about the painter Ingres, whose nudes have dramatically violin-like proportions. Man Ray got his famous model Kiki of Montmartre to pose naked, except for a turban – like one of Ingres' orientalist fantasy women. Then, through the magic of the darkroom – actually just a paintbrush – he turned her back into an actual violin.

The 10 best beds in art

Olympia by Edouard Manet … 'a parody of the luxurious beds
on which Titian and Velazquez displayed their beauties.' 

The 10 best beds in art

From Tracey Emin's, strewn with condoms and cigarette butts, to Rembrandt's love-making couple and Munch's Sick Child, the bed in art is a cradle for our loneliness, eroticism and fears

Jonathan Jones
Wednesday 2 July 2014 17.58 BST

Edouard Manet – Olympia (1863)

The bed on which Manet's prostitute reclines is a glittering array of complicated swags of off-white linen. Just as his portrayal of Olympia is harsher and more real that the traditional nudes his painting mocks, so her bed is a parody of the luxurious beds on which Titian and Velazquez displayed their beauties.

Vincent van Gogh – The bedroom (1888)

beds in art Van Gogh
 The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh. Photograph: Corbis

The potent colours and rolling shapes of Van Gogh's bedroom in the Yellow House, the would-be art community he founded in Arles, have at their emotional heart his bed. It is the bed of an ascetic, a lonely man, a dreamer ravished by visions of the ideal. This empty bed contains Van Gogh's troubled soul.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Grimm / The pack of ragamuffins

Jacob Grimm

Wilhelm Grimm


A fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

The cock once said to the hen, "It is now the time when our nuts are ripe, so let us go to the hill together and for once eat our fill before the squirrel takes them all away." - "Yes," replied the hen, "come, we will have some pleasure together." Then they went away to the hill, and on it was a bright day they stayed till evening. Now I do not know whether it was that they had eaten till they were too fat, or whether they had become proud, but they would not go home on foot, and the cock had to build a little carriage of nut-shells. When it was ready, the little hen seated herself in it and said to the cock, "Thou canst just harness thyself to it." - "I like that!" said the cock, "I would rather go home on foot than let myself be harnessed to it; no, that is not our bargain. I do not mind being coachman and sitting on the box, but drag it myself I will not."

As they were thus disputing, a duck quacked to them, "You thieving folks, who bade you go to my nut-hill? Well, you shall suffer for it!" and ran with open beak at the cock. But the cock also was not idle, and fell boldly on the duck, and at last wounded her so with his spurs that she also begged for mercy, and willingly let herself be harnessed to the carriage as a punishment. The little cock now seated himself on the box and was coachman, and thereupon they went off in a gallop, with "Duck, go as fast as thou canst." When they had driven a part of the way they met two foot-passengers, a pin and a needle. They cried, "Stop! stop!" and said that it would soon be as dark as pitch, and then they could not go a step further, and that it was so dirty on the road, and asked if they could not get into the carriage for a while. They had been at the tailor's public- house by the gate, and had stayed too long over the beer. As they were thin people, who did not take up much room, the cock let them both get in, but they had to promise him and his little hen not to step on their feet. Late in the evening they came to an inn, and as they did not like to go further by night, and as the duck also was not strong on her feet, and fell from one side to the other, they went in. The host at first made many objections, his house was already full, besides he thought they could not be very distinguished persons; but at last, as they made pleasant speeches, and told him that he should have the egg which the little hen has laid on the way, and should likewise keep the duck, which laid one every day, he at length said that they might stay the night. And now they had themselves well served, and feasted and rioted. Early in the morning, when day was breaking, and every one was asleep, the cock awoke the hen, brought the egg, pecked it open, and they ate it together, but they threw the shell on the hearth. Then they went to the needle which was still asleep, took it by the head and stuck it into the cushion of the landlord's chair, and put the pin in his towel, and at the last without more ado they flew away over the heath. The duck who liked to sleep in the open air and had stayed in the yard, heard them going away, made herself merry and found a stream, down which she swam, which was a much quicker way of travelling than being harnessed to a carriage. The host did not get out of bed for two hours after this; he washed himself and wanted to dry himself, then the pin went over his face and made a red streak from one ear to the other. After this he went into the kitchen and wanted to light a pipe, but when he came to the hearth the egg-shell darted into his eyes. "This morning everything attacks my head, " said he, and angrily sat down on his grandfather's chair, but he quickly started up again and cried, "Woe is me, " for the needle had pricked him still worse than the pin, and not in the head. Now he was thoroughly angry, and suspected the guests who had come so late the night before, and when he went and looked about for them, they were gone. Then he made a vow to take no more ragamuffins into his house, for they consume much, pay for nothing, and play mischievous tricks into the bargain by way of gratitude.

* * * END * * *

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Grimm / The Twelve Brothers

Illustration by Walter Crane

By Brothers Grimm

Translated by Margaret Hunt

There were once on a time a king and a queen who lived happily together and had twelve children, but they were all boys. Then said the King to his wife, “If the thirteenth child which thou art about to bring into the world, is a girl, the twelve boys shall die, in order that her possessions may be great, and that the kingdom may fall to her alone.” He caused likewise twelve coffins to be made, which were already filled with shavings, and in each lay the little pillow for the dead, and he had them taken into a locked-up room, and then he gave the Queen the key of it, and bade her not to speak of this to any one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grimm / The Wonderful Musician

El violinista
by Pablo Gargallo

Jacob Grimm

Wilhelm Grimm

The Wonderful Musician 

A fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

There was once a wonderful musician, who went quite alone through a forest and thought of all manner of things, and when nothing was left for him to think about, he said to himself, "Time is beginning to pass heavily with me here in the forest, I will fetch hither a good companion for myself." Then he took his fiddle from his back, and played so that it echoed through the trees. It was not long before a wolf came trotting through the thicket towards him. "Ah, here is a wolf coming! I have no desire for him!" said the musician; but the wolf came nearer and said to him, "Ah, dear musician, how beautifully thou dost play. I should like to learn that, too." - "It is soon learnt," the musician replied, "thou hast only to do all that I bid thee." - "Oh, musician," said the wolf, "I will obey thee as a scholar obeys his master." The musician bade him follow, and when they had gone part of the way together, they came to an old oak-tree which was hollow inside, and cleft in the middle. "Look," said the musician, "if thou wilt learn to fiddle, put thy fore paws into this crevice." The wolf obeyed, but the musician quickly picked up a stone and with one blow wedged his two paws so fast that he was forced to stay there like a prisoner. "Stay there until I come back again," said the musician, and went his way.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Grimm / The good bargain

Jacob Grimm

Wilhelm Grimm


A fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

There was once a peasant who had driven his cow to the fair, and sold her for seven thalers. On the way home he had to pass a pond, and already from afar he heard the frogs crying, "Aik, aik, aik, aik." - "Well," said he to himself, "they are talking without rhyme or reason, it is seven that I have received, not eight." When he got to the water, he cried to them, "Stupid animals that you are! Don't you know better than that? It is seven thalers and not eight." The frogs, however, stood to their, "aik aik, aik, aik." - "Come, then, if you won't believe it, I can count it out to you." And he took his money out of his pocket and counted out the seven thalers, always reckoning four and twenty groschen to a thaler. The frogs, however, paid no attention to his reckoning, but still cried, "aik, aik, aik, aik." - "What," cried the peasant, quite angry, "since you are determined to know better than I, count it yourselves," and threw all the money into the water to them. He stood still and wanted to wait until they were done and had brought him his own again, but the frogs maintained their opinion and cried continually, "aik, aik, aik, aik," and besides that, did not throw the money out again. He still waited a long while until evening came on and he was forced to go home. Then he abused the frogs and cried, "You water-splashers, you thick-heads, you goggle-eyes, you have great mouths and can screech till you hurt one's ears, but you cannot count seven thalers! Do you think I'm going to stand here till you get done?" And with that he went away, but the frogs still cried, "aik, aik, aik, aik," after him till he went home quite angry.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Grimm / Trusty John

Jacob Grimm

Wilhelm Grimm

Trusty John 

A fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

Grimm / Der treue Johannes 

Grimm / El fiel Juan (A short story in Spanish)
Grimm / O fiel João (A short story in Portuguese)
Grimm / Le fidèle Jean (A short story in French)
Grimm / Il fedelle Giovanni (A short story in Italian)

There was once on a time an old king who was ill, and thought to himself, "I am lying on what must be my death-bed." Then said he, " Tell Faithful John to come to me." Faithful John was his favourite servant, and was so called, because he had for his whole life long been so true to him. When therefore he came beside the bed, the King said to him, "Most faithful John, I feel my end approaching, and have no anxiety except about my son. He is still of tender age, and cannot always know how to guide himself. If thou dost not promise me to teach him everything that he ought to know, and to be his foster-father, I cannot close my eyes in peace." Then answered Faithful John, "I will not forsake him, and will serve him with fidelity, even if it should cost me my life." On this, the old King said, "Now I die in comfort and peace." Then he added, "After my death, thou shalt show him the whole castle: all the chambers, halls, and vaults, and all the treasures which lie therein, but the last chamber in the long gallery, in which is the picture of the princess of the Golden Dwelling, shalt thou not show. If he sees that picture, he will fall violently in love with her, and will drop down in a swoon, and go through great danger for her sake, therefore thou must preserve him from that." And when Faithful John had once more given his promise to the old King about this, the King said no more, but laid his head on his pillow, and died.

(Walter Crane, illustration for ‘Faithful John’, in the Brothers Grimm, Household Stories from the Collection of the Bros. Grimm, translated by Lucy Crane