Asfandiyar, heir to the Persian throne, was released from his chains several years later, when his father Gushtasp had suffered a humiliating defeat from the Turanians. Restored to favor, Asfandiyar assumed command of the Iranian armies. During the war, he was forced to deal with seven supernatural enemies. The third of these was a fire-breathing dragon, with a body like “a mountain of flint.”
At his command some carpenters were fetched,
And therewithal some long and heavy beams.
He had a goodly wooden carriage built
All set about with swords and with a box, . . .
Wherein he sat, brought forth, attached two steeds
Of noble stock, and sped toward the dragon.
Afar it heard the rumble and beheld
The prancing of the battle steeds. It came,
Like some black mountain …
Its two eyes
Seemed fountains bright with blood, while from its gullet
Fire issued, and like some dark cavern gaped
Its jaws. It bellowed at Asfandiyar,
Who, seeing the monster, drew his breath and turned
To God for help. The horses strove to 'scape
The dragon's mischief, but it sucked them in,
Them and the break, and in his box dismayed
The warrior. In the dragon's gullet stuck
The sword-blades, and blood poured forth like a sea;
It could not free its gullet, for the swords
Were sheathed within it. Tortured by the points
And chariot the dragon by degrees
Grew weak, and then the gallant warrior,
Arising from the box, clutched his keen glaive*
With lion-grip and hacked the dragon's brains
Till fumes of venom rising from the dust
O'erpowered him; he tumbled mountain-like,
And swooned away.
Warner, V, 126–27
The wonderful purple dragon in this scene, like the fanciful clouds in the sky, derives from traditional Chinese motifs that reached Persia through the trade of textiles and ceramics.
* glaive: archaic English for sword
Maribeth Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
Exhibited in "A Medieval Masterpiece from Baghdad: the Ann Arbor Shahnama"
Seligmann was the first of the Surrealists to leave Europe at the outbreak of the Second World War. During a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Seligmann struck up a conversation with art historian Meyer Schapiro. The two became good friends and collaborated on this reinterpretation of the Greek myth of Oedipus, Seligmann producing six large etchings to illustrate the tragic story. Exposed on a hillside by his father, the King of Thebes, Oedipus was rescued and raised in obscurity. Eventually the prophecy was fulfilled: Oedipus unknowingly slew his father, Laius, and, upon marrying his mother, became King of Thebes. Once the truth was revealed, his mother, Iocasta, hanged herself. Oedipus in despair blinded himself and was banished to Colonus by his sons.
Seligmann’s etchings convey a grandeur befitting one of the best-known myths of ancient Greece, and also one of the archetypal stories of modern psychoanalysis. Such deeply embedded drives of the collective unconscious were favorite topics of the Surrealists; the primal force of such stories were seen, along with dreams, as avenues into the subconscious and irrational dimensions of the imagination. Seligmann uses plate tone, the faint film of ink at the outer edges of the compositions, to contribute to the dreamlike depiction of space, and also to provide tonal nuances within the figures.
Label copy from exhibition "Dreamscapes: The Surrealist Impulse," August 22 - October 25, 1998
In dark turbulent waters under a stormy sky four nude sea nymphs support the body of a long-haired man between them on a white shroud. The face of a man with kelp in his hair appears between two of the nymphs. On the right a bearded man with a trident in his right hand rides in a chariot fashioned from a seashell and pulled by two fished-tailed horses or hippocampi. Just visible in the distance behind the back of the rightmost nymph, a lofty tower rises above the waves.
This painting depicts the drowning of Leander, a young man who was the lover of a priestess of Aphrodite named Hero. Every night Leander would swim across the Hellespont, the strait connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea, to the tower where Hero lived so as to pass the hours with his beloved. A winter storm, evoked in the painting by the turbulent waters and stormy sky, caught Leander during one of his nightly crossings, and he drowned. Four sea nymphs, accompanied by a merman and Poseidon in his sea chariot, have risen from the dark waves to support Leander's body in a white shroud. Their mourning and anguish over the dead lover foreshadows the impending sorrow and suicide of Hero, who still waits on her tower visible in the distance.
March 28, 2009
With dramatic contrasts of light and dark and swirling brushwork, Giulio Caripioni depicted on this canvas the drowning of Leander, a young man who was the lover of Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite. Every night Leander would swim across the Hellespont, the strait connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea, to the tower where Hero lived. During one of his nightly crossings Leander was caught in a winter storm, evoked in the painting by the turbulent waters and malevolent sky. The wind extinguished the light that Hero always left at the top of the tower to guide her lover, and Leander without the light became lost and drowned. Four sea nymphs, accompanied by a merman and the sea god Poseidon in his chariot, have risen from the dark waves to mourn over Leander’s body, which they support in a white shroud. Their anguish over the dead lover foreshadows the impending sorrow and suicide of Hero, who waits anxiously on her tower in the distance.
Venus and Cupid are seen sitting in a chariot pulled by two swans that are embraced by two putti. Behind is a landscape with towns and houses.
Venus and Cupid, shown with her attributes of putti and her swan-drawn chariot or car were popular images in the 16th century.
Gallery Rotation Spring/Summer 2012
Giulio di Antonio Bonasone
Italy, active 1531–1574
Landscape with Venus and Cupid Riding on a Car
Etching and engraving
Museum purchase, 1960/2.130
The popularity of classical mythology reached its zenith during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, before the Catholic Church curtailed the use of pagan themes in the arts. Like many of his contemporaries, Bonasone turned to the ancient Roman poet Ovid (43 BC–17/18 AD), and his seminal text, Metamorphoses, for inspiration. Here he shows Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, seated in a chariot pulled by swans, an attribute described in Ovid’s narration of her love affair with the beautiful mortal Adonis. In this story Venus warns her beloved against hunting the wild boar that will inevitably kill him; he does not pay heed and after departing in her chariot, she hears Adonis’s anguished, last cries. With this the goddess of love herself experiences the sorrow of loss.
Signed on plate: IVLIO BONASONO INVENTORE Watermark: