Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year

In Bed, 1878, Federico Zandomeneghi. While this girl isn't necessarily labeled as being "ill," the motif of the sick girl in bed was gaining in popularity at this time, building up to the political crisis known as World War I. While the subject isn't particularly unusual--American Impressionist painter Mary Cassat and French painter Edgar Degas (and sometimes Renoir), were popularizing the details of daily routines and life "behind the scenes," such as getting ready to go into public, or relaxing after one had been in public--the pose of the woman is unusual. We know that women symbolize "the motherland," and younger women in particular denote the future of the motherland, that land which "gives birth" to us and is responsible for us being the way we are, so the subject of young women who were ill (mostly terminally ill with a malaise or some undiagnoseable disease) offered a quiet but definite political commentary on the social and cultural state of the state. In this particular image, the coverlet is blue: blue, as we know, symbolizes both depression and wisdom; given the small blue flower bouquets on the duvet, we can deduct that the girl/woman has grown in maturity and reaped the "benefits" of her experiences (another possible interpretation is the sexual: the young woman has not yet been "de-flowered," i.e., is still a virgin, but her languorous pose suggests a sexual awakening; that her face is turned objectifies her, that is, she is understanding the role of sex in relationships, however, she sees herself as an object to be desired, not a sexual being in her own right). Let's pause at this point to look at the frame of the bed: black. Beds are traditionally associated with coffins, not only because there was a long-standing tradition of religious sleeping in coffins for beds, to remind them they would soon be leaving earth, but because our nightly repose mimics the permanent repose of the body in death. Another important detail of the painting is the sun: please notice all the light in the image, with bright light reflecting off the wall. It's well into the day, as opposed to early in the morning, and still, the woman stays in bed, not getting up and being productive. With these two details, we can now understand the white bed sheets and her gown: white is either the color of faith, purity and innocence, or it's the color of a corpse who has no faith, purity and innocence. If we interpret the bed to be a coffin, and the woman's reluctance to leave in spite of the advancing day, then we have an image of a young woman resigned to death, being held up artificially by the bolster pillow behind her (this would translate to some social norm or political mechanization "holding up" the Belle Epoque in France at the time). There is a great deal more to the interpretation of this image, however, I myself need to be getting back to bed.
I have had viral pneumonia since Monday, December 21, which means I have been confined to bed and have felt horrible. I am terribly sorry. It's really no fun at all, especially at Christmas and New Year's. I have been so sick, my mom had to remind me that tonight is the airing of the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman Sherlock Holmes Victorian Christmas special, The Abominable Bride. If you don't get PBS, on which it shall be airing, you should be able to watch it online at PBS at this link.
Unfortunately, the virus appears to be taking 3-4 weeks to run its course, but I am not feeling as badly as I was, so I hope to work on a post this weekend. I am terribly sorry. Please accept my warmest wishes for your joyous and prosperous New Year, that our Lord will shine His Face upon you and all you love, and give you the peace that is His alone to give. Happy New Year!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner