Ashurbanipal

In this relief, created around 645 BCE or so, excavated two thousand four hundredsome years later in 1853 or so in what’s now Iraq, brought to The British Museum, we see the ruler Ashurbanipal lounging and listening to tunes while to the left the decapitated head of Teumman, king of Elam, hangs from a tree.

Ashurbanipal was a rough guy. Also at The British Museum you can find this relief of his dudes flaying and torturing captured Elamites:

And at the Vatican Museum they’ve got one of bodies floating in the river flowing his arrival somewhere:

But Ashurbanipal did create a magnificent library, which (of course) they’ve hauled off to The British Museum as well.

In the library was a tablet that told some of the story of Gilgamesh, including an account of a great flood. It’s said that when George Smith was translated this tablet, and realized what he’d found, he started shouting and taking his clothes off.


Warhol/Rothko

from a profile of Dana White of UFC in the Financial Times. Pretty interesting article, actually: White claims he left Boston for Nevada after Whitey Bulger goons demanded $2,500 in shakedown money. And:

He says there are three main types of people in the world: nerds, jocks and stoners, none of whom truly understand the others. There’s also a small fourth group: fighters. They’re outsiders who lack social skills and operate on a base level. As a kid, he thought he might be one.

(I disagree, I think most people are a blend, but fun system.)


The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

It’s 1953, Aldous Huxley’s in California.  He’s close to sixty, a literary man who’s also made a good living as a screenwriter.  A friend, one of the “sleuths – biochemists, psychiatrists, psychologists” – has got some mescaline, the active ingredient in peyote.  He gives four-tenths of a gram to Aldous and we’re off.

What if you could “know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about?”  That’s what he’s after.

The mescaline kicks in.  Aldous looks at flowers, and the furniture.  He looks at a book of Van Gogh paintings, and then a book of Botticelli.  He ponders, in particular, the folds of drapery in the pictures.

I knew that Botticelli – and not Botticelli alone, but many others too – had looked at draperies with the same transfigured and transfiguring eyes as had been mine that morning.  They had seen the Istigkeit, the Allness and Infinity of folded cloth and had done their best to render it in paint and stone.

Cool.  He lies down and his friend hands him a color reproduction of a Cezanne self-portrait.

For the consummate painter, with his little pipeline to Mind at Large by-passing the brain valve and ego-filter, was also just as genuinely this whiskered goblin with the unfriendly eye.

Huxley feels an experience of connecting to “a divine essential Not-self.”  Vermeer, Chinese landscape painting, the Biblical story of Mary and Martha, all pass through his mind.  William Blake comes up, from him Huxley took his title.  Huxley listens to Mozart’s C-Minor Piano Concerto but it leaves him feeling cold.  He does appreciate some madrigals of Gesauldo.  He finds Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite kind of funny.  He’s offered a lunch he’s not interested in, he’s taken for a drive where he “sees what Guardi had seen.”

he comes down.

OK, says Huxley, ideally we’d have some kind of better mescaline that doesn’t last this long and doesn’t cause a small percentage of takers to really spin out.  But: we’ve got something here.  A possible help on the road to salvation.  A substance which allows you to perceive the Mind at Large, to feel the connection to the divine superpower, what he calls in the next essay “out there.”

However, once you go through the Door In The Wall (Huxley credits this phrase to H. G. Wells) you’re not gonna come back the same.  You’ll come back “wiser but less cocksure, happier by less self-satisfied,” humbler in the face of the “unfathomable Mystery.”

My friend Audrey who works at the bookstore tells me she sells a lot of copies of this book, mostly to young dudes.  The edition I have comes with an additional essay, “Heaven and Hell,” which considers visionary experiences both blissful and appalling, and tries to sort out what we can from them.  There’s also an appendix:

Two other, less effective aids to visionary experience deserve mention – carbon dioxide and the stroboscopic lamp.

Huxley finds these less promising.


The price of hay

A friend of ours who runs a horse barn told me the price of hay is up $5 a bale, from $27 to $32.

(I know what you’re thinking, that’s a lot for hay, but trust me, these horses are getting primo stuff.)

(painting is Rhode Island Shore by Martin Johnson Heade, at LACMA, not on display last I was there).


Ginevra de’ Benci

She spent her later life in self imposed exile, trying to recover from illness and an ill fated love affair. She died in 1521 aged 63 or 64, likely from this unknown illness.

Must have a look at that next time in Washington. How did it end up in Washington? Purchased in the 17th century by a prince of Lichtenstein, then bought from Prince Franz Josef II after World War II.

Have been reading about Leonardo, Machiavelli, and Cesar Borgia in The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior, by Paul Strathern, on the recommendation of Chris Blattman. This book is great, really clarifying the lives and circumstances of these characters.

(source).


Culture notes

  • I didn’t think Dave Chappelle’s most recent special, The Closer, was his best, although there were some funny jokes in it (on JK Rowling: “this woman sold so many books The Bible got nervous”). The tone was off, or something. Dave Chappelle is a contender for GOAT standup comedian, and also man who’s made impressive choices with significant amounts of money on the line. But I like observing that myself; when he reminds me of these things multiple times in his own special, I find it diminishes the value, akin Matthew 6:2 or the kidney donation lady.

I was texting a friend who had not seen it about the special, and he wrote me something like “what is the obsession with trans people? Why doesn’t he just stop?” In a way the special is Chappelle’s answer to this question, with the conclusion “maybe I will just stop.” If you watch the special, you will see Dave himself describe the feeling of being attacked, harassed, and threatened, which is the same feeling his most extreme critics point to as a reason for being careful about material like this.

Language as spell, as magic, words as having power to cause real harm and violence, to even be violence in themselves, is a belief that is growing over my lifetime. Could that have something to do with a blending of what were once more isolated dialects into a great shared language that incorporates more people, with more divergent opinions and backgrounds? The way English was forming around Shakespeare’s time from like Kentish and Pictish and East Anglian and whatever, blended with Norman French and pieces of Gaelic and Latin all the rest? Such an expansion will not be without confusion.

In 2016 I remember going to the source of a news item that was inspiring controversy, a Department of Education memo on Transgender Students. Here is the Notice of Language Assistance that prefaces the letter:

We’re already in a language mess and we’re not even on page one. I’m not used to reading federal Department of Education documents, I assume this is kind of boilerplate, and well-intentioned. Page 1 of the letter is an attempt to clarify terminology:

An important part of the issue is getting the language right, which will not be easy, language being notoriously tricky and fluid. But if language has the violent power we imbue to it, getting it wrong is very dangerous, like miscasting a spell!

(source)

  • Sun & Sea at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA was great! An immersive exhibit / opera? I visit Lithuanian Wikipedia to learn about the creators, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Graintė, Lina Lapelytė,

I was pleased with my burger from Burger She Wrote, although I don’t understand the pun. It’s not like the place is Jessica Fletcher themed or anything. Is it a play on how all burgers are murder?


How much would you pay for this painting?

I wouldn’t go a dime above $92 million. But it is damn cool.


NFTs, digital artifacts

Somebody asked me* if I have any opinion on NFTs, or if I’d be doing an episode of Stocks: Let’s Talk about them. Truth: I do not understand them. I’m trying to gain insight. Why you’d pay lots of money for “ownership” of a digital artwork, or even stranger, pay $2.9 million for “ownership” of Jack Dorsey’s tweets, I don’t get. I’ve read through a lot of message boards and arguments that tend to cycle through the same stuff:

  • why would you own something anyone can look at?
  • well what about “owning” the Mona Lisa, anyone can look at that but it’s still valuable?
  • why would you need to “own” a Picasso, just for bragging rights, this is same as
  • what about Walter Benjamin’s “aura”?
  • there’s too much money around
  • the art market has always had an element of money laundering
  • it’s a speculative bubble, it’s like the Dutch tulip craze (contra: we don’t understand the Dutch tulip craze, there was no Dutch tulip craze)

Here’s my one attempt at an original thought, or at least a thought I haven’t seen before: what if people are speculating is that these early NFTs (Beeple’s art, or Jack Dorsey’s tweet) will someday be valuable as digital artifacts, as early works from a new scene, or even a new kind of art?

There’s a scene in the movie Basquiat where Andy Warhol (David Bowie) flips through some postcards offered by Basquiat. I’ve watched that scene and thought, damn, a Basquiat has sold for $110.5 million, if you had just one of those postcards from back then you could at least trade it for enough cash to buy a sweet beach house!

I’ve also pondered in idle moments whether Madonna, who dated Basquiat, has more wealth in the form of Basquiat paintings than she does in her own music catalog. Surely it’s possible she has four or five of her ex-boyfriend’s paintings lying around, which could equal $100 mill easily. (Worse, what if she destroyed them in a fit of grief or jealousy?)

What if people are just betting that the NFT, or the ownership of the image of a tweet, or something, will someday be valuable just as an artifact or sample from this insane time, a time that was pretty interesting in terms of its invention?

The authentication of art has always been an issue, and a challenge. Consider John Berger talking about how much time is spent proving a Leonardo is a Leonardo at the National Gallery:

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has so many Impressionist paintings they don’t know what to do with them all, they’ve got a Van Gogh they keep in storage.

At the time the MFA’s greatest patrons were acquiring art, a Van Gogh wasn’t even that valuable. What was considered valuable art at that time, I once asked a curator there? Stuff like this, she said:

Maybe this is all just marketing spend for crypto/blockchain speculators, as someone suggested somewhere, I can’t remember.

Art speculation is hard! My guess is that NFTs will end up about as valuable as a complete set of 1986 Topps baseball cards, which I once speculatively bought myself as a youth.

Good luck to all the players.

*always funny when someone uses “since people have asked” or “someone asked me” as a setup for writing. In this case I swear I being honest! It was Eben!


The jackrabbit

Word went out on the community message board that people were finding dead jackrabbits.  Healthy looking jackrabbits that appeared to have just dropped dead.  There was a plague going around.  A jackrabbit plague.  RHD2.  Rabbit hemorrhagic disease two.  The two distinguishes it from original RHD.  Bad news, a plague of any kind.  Sure enough, a few days later, I saw on the remote camera on the back porch of my cabin out in the Mojave a bird picking at what looked like the muscles and bones of what used to be a jackrabbit.  

I drove out there, and found that yes indeed, this had been a jackrabbit.  Whether it had died of plague, I don’t know, it seemed possible.  I bagged it for disposal, and poured some disinfectant on the ground, as recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  

The next day, I found another dead jackrabbit.  This jackrabbit did not appear to have been hurt in any way.  Her eye was open to me.  This jackrabbit appeared to have gone into the shade and died.  There was no visible trauma and no blood.  I didn’t want to get too close, but this was the best chance to examine a jackrabbit, up close and at rest, that I’d ever had.  Usually the jackrabbits are fast and on the move.  Once they sense you seeing them, they take off.  

I won’t put a picture of it here, in case a picture of a dead jackrabbit would upset you.  In a way the lack of damage and the animal’s beauty made it much more sad and eerie.  It reminded me of Dürer’s drawing of a young hare.  I read the Wikipedia page about Dürer’s drawing, which departs from the usual impartial tone to quote praise for the drawing’s mastery:

it is acknowledged as a masterpiece of observational art alongside his Great Piece of Turf from the following year. The subject is rendered with almost photographic accuracy, and although the piece is normally given the title Young Hare, the portrait is sufficiently detailed for the hare to be identified as a mature specimen — the German title translates as “Field Hare” and the work is often referred to in English as the Hare or Wild Hare.

Dürer’s drawing of a walrus is less acclaimed:

 

The drawing is generally considered as not successful; and is viewed as curious attempted depiction that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor anatomically true to life. Art historians assume the artist drew it from memory having viewed a dead example during a 1520 visit to Zeeland to see a stranded whale which had decomposed before his arrival. Referring to the depiction departure for nature, Durer’s animal has been described as “amusing…it looks more like a hairless puppy with tusks. When Dürer drew from life his accuracy was unquestionable, but he had only briefly seen a walrus, and had only fleeting memory and an elaborate verbal description from which to reconstruct the image”.

The jackrabbit is very similar to the European hare.  The suggestion of the magical power of hares is a common theme in Celtic literature and the literature and folklore of the British Isles.  We all remember the March Hare. 

Most Americans are confused as to just what hares are, chiefly because we are accustomed to calling some of them jackrabbits. Biologically, the chief differences between hares and rabbits are that hares are born with hair and open eyes and can hop about immediately, while rabbits are naked, blind and helpless as birth.

I learned from this book:

which contains recipes for hares, including jugged hare, hasenpfeffer, and hare civit. 

Jugged hare, source

Of all the game animals you can hunt in California: elk, wild big, bear, turkey, bighorn sheep, deer, duck, chukar, dove, quail, the jackrabbit alone can be hunted all year round*.   There is no season, and there’s no limit. On one of my first trips to California, I was taken out to the desert with the Gamez boys on a jackrabbit hunt.  We only saw a few jackrabbits.  Nobody got off a good shot at one.  I doubt we really wanted to kill one, we just wanted to drive around the desert, shoot guns, and have fun, which we did very successfully.  

During the pandemic I got my California hunting license, you could do it entirely online due to Covid restrictions.  But I don’t intend to hunt jackrabbits, I don’t want to be like Elmer Fudd.  

The meat is said to be quite dry, tough, and gamey.  Most recipes call for long simmerings.  

If you ever find out in the desert where you must hunt a jackrabbit for food, here’s the Arizona Game and Fish Department telling you how to butcher one.  

* non-game animals, like weasels, you can go nuts


Cheyenne Chiefs Receiving Their Young Men

Artist unknown, 1881, from the Bethel Moore Custer Ledger, one of many amazing works over at Plains Indian Ledger Art.

Bethel Moore Custer was, apparently, not related to the “other” Custer.


Scrapbasket

Some local street art (by Bandit?).  Since painted over I believe.  At least I can’t find it.

Photo I took in William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, Oxford, MS.

from this WSJ commentary by Kate Bachelder Odell about leadership failures in the US Navy.

“Soldiers bathing, North Anna River, Va.–ruins of railroad bridge in background,” by Timothy O’Sullivan.  May 1864.  The work of Timothy O’Sullivan has my attention.  Follow his photos on the Library of Congress and you’ll travel in time.

by Alexander Hope.

Original Caption: Subway train on the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, New York. The problem of how to move people and goods is ultimately bound up with the quality of life everywhere. The lands adjacent to the Bight, rivers flowing into it, and bays and estuaries edging it have direct upon the environment of the coastal water. The New York, New Jersey metropolitan region is one of the most congested in the world, 05/1974.

Just thought this was funny.


George P.A. Healy (G.P.A. Healy)

Healy was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of five children of an Irish captain in the merchant marine. Having been left fatherless at a young age, Healy helped to support his mother. At sixteen years of age he began drawing, and at developed an ambition to be an artist. Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart, aided him, loaning him a Guido’s “Ecce Homo”, which he copied in color and sold to a country priest. Later, she introduced him to Thomas Sully, by whose advice Healy profited, and gratefully repaid Sully in the days of the latter’s adversity.

so far as I know no relation, there are plenty of Healys and Helys from here to Australia.

He painted Tyler

and drew Grant.

He’s got a few that have appeared in the White House, like this one, The Peacemakers.


Yolo -> Yo lo vi

Interested in the Goya drawing, in his series Los Desastres de la Guerra, where his only commentary is “yo lo vi.”  I saw it.  What else is there to say sometimes?

 

 


Good Friday

For the first three centuries after his death, this Renaissance artist [Matthias Grünewald] did not attract much attention. But around 1900 the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans made a passionate plea for the relevance and modernity of Grünewald. In his description of the altar at Isenheim, Huysmans called attention to Grünewald’s shocking insistence on the physical details of Christ’s suffering, alerting its beholder to the disgusting marks of torture and the signs of dying and decomposing flesh (figs. 1a and 1b). Such a Christ, Huysmans observed, is no longer the well-groomed, handsome man who has been venerated by the rich and powerful throughout the ages. Grünewald’s Christ is rather the “God of the Poor. The one who chose the company of those in misery and of those who had been rejected, of all those for whose ugliness and need the world could only feel contempt.”3 And it was exactly this approach to pain and suffering highlighted by Huysmans that subsequently became a point of reference for many artists who invoked Grünewald’s work, especially when they cited the triptych from the Isenheim altarpiece or The Mockery of Christ (fig. 2)from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich

source for all that.


Not the Van Gogh painting I would’ve stolen

A bit dreary?  But you take what you can get I guess!


out and about

source.


The Supernova pictograph

Regular readers of this website will know I’ve expressed some reservations about whether the Peñasco Blanco pictograph actually depicts a supernova from the year 1054 AD.  It’s an exciting theory.  For background, here’s what Timothy Pauketat has to say about it in his excellent book on Cahokia:

On that morning, recorded by a Chinese astrologer as July 4, a brilliant new luminary appeared in the sky.  It was a “guest star,” a supernova, a visitor in the constellation Taurus, visible today with a high-powered telescope as the Crab Nebula.  One of only fifty supernovas ever recorded – only three in our own Milky Way galaxy* – this nuclear detonation was the last gasp of a dying star.  The inaudible explosion discharged a billion times more energy than the small star had previously emitted, and that morning a brilliant beacon – four times brighter than Venus – appeared in the daylight adjacent to a crescent moon…

Whatever i might have meant to the native peoples, a New Mexican Mimbres valley potter commemorated the celestial event by painting a pot with a star ad the foot of a crescent-shaped rabbit, a representation of the rabbit many indigenous North Americans believed resided in the moon.  Ancient rock art in Arizona also appears to illustrate the supernova, as do petrogylphs in Missouri, which show the moon and supernova astride rabbit tracks.  And in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a map of the night sky in July 1054 was painted on the sandstone cliffs above a palatial-sized, multi-story Great House called Peñasco Blanco, under construction at about the same time in the middle of the eleventh century.  The pictograph shows the exploding star next to a crescent moon and a human hand, the later possibly representing a group of stars still known among Plains Indians today as the Hand constellation.  Also in Chaco Canyon, construction began around this time on a massive new kiva, an underground ceremonial building, now called Casa Rinconada, just south of the largest Great House, Pueblo Bonito.

There was a “big bang” culturally in North America around 1000 AD, and it is interesting that around that same time, there were two supernovas, bright new stars in the sky.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a look at the so-called Supernova Pictograph in its location in Chaco Canyon, New Mex.  Seeing it myself provoked some thought.

One observation is that there’s a huge amount of rock art in Chaco Canyon.  I consider myself kind of a petroglyph enthusiast, but even for a passionate fan, there’s a lot.  You’ll actually get pretty bored of looking at petroglyphs.  Much of the rock art in the canyon is striking and weird.

Some of it feels pretty crude and amateur, or could be attributed to later visitors.

But the Super-Nova / Peñasco Blanco pictograph really stands out, both in vividness and in the drama of its location.

It’s almost upside down.  Was it painted Sistine Chapel style?

The pictoglyph is on what I guess? could be a very old trail, that leads up from Chaco Wash to a mesa where the Peñasco Blanco “great house” sits.  The Peñasco Blanco site is huge:

It was three stories tall and had 300 rooms.  Construction had begun by the 900s, so before the appearance of the supernovas of the 1000s.

The structure was laid out with some thought to north-south alignment, as most Chaco sites seem to have been.  To me it does suggest something like an astronomical theater:

On the day I was there I was the only person around, which is a spooky feeling.

The site reminded me of Irish monastic sites from the same era:

Certainly whoever was hanging around Peñasco Blanco was interested in the sky.

The park service is not shy about identifying this pictoglyph as depicting a super-nova:

Note the sign, bottom right.  But I’m just not sure the evidence is there.

Krupp’s investigations have ultimately caused him to dismiss all of the connections between Southwest cave paintings and the Crab supernova. “I am certain that star-crescent combos have absolutely nothing to do with the 1054 A.D. event,” he said. While some may indeed be celestial symbols, “their meaning varies with culture and time.”

from a 2014 Scientific American piece, “‘Supernova’ Cave Art Myth Debunked,” by Clara Moskowitz.

On the other hand:

from a 1979 paper, “The 1054 Supernova and Native American Rock Art,” by Brandt, J. C. & Williamson, R. A. in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, Archaeoastronomy Supplement, Vol. 10, p.S1

There’s no way to reliably date a work like this.  Chaco Canyon was occupied or had at least semi-frequent visitors around 1054 AD, and these visitors were absolutely interested in sky events.  The dating of the pictograph is usually attributed to nearby pottery shards.  You can still find ancient pottery lying around all over the place.

obviously reader I left this where I found it.

One thing is clear: if these people had a message they wanted to leave for us from one thousand plus years ago, it is “hand – crescent – star.”

A day before visiting this site I had lunch with a friend of mine who works on shooting lasers at rocks on Mars to determine their chemical makeup.  We’re still OBSESSED with the sky!


Raphael Cartoons

Cartoons in the sense of “designs for tapestries.”  The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.

St. Paul Preaching in Athens.

Christ’s Charge to Peter.

Loved this, from the Wikipedia page:

Raphael—whom Michelangelo greatly disliked—was highly conscious that his work would be seen beside the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which had been finished only two years before, and took great care perfecting his designs, which are among his largest and most complicated. Originally the set was intended to include 16 tapestries. Raphael was paid twice by Leo, in June 1515 and December 1516, the last payment apparently being upon completion of the work. Tapestries retained their Late Gothic prestige during the Renaissance. Most of the expense was in the manufacture: although the creation of the tapestries in Brussels cost 15,000 ducats, Raphael was paid only 1,000.

King Charles I of England, who had a pretty good eye for art, bought them while he was still a prince.

In Charles’ day these were stored in wooden boxes in the Banqueting House, Whitehall. They were one of the few items in the Royal Collection withheld from sale by Oliver Cromwell after Charles’ execution.

The first “cartoon”?

Cartoons and cartoons.


many things on the internet

remind me of this one:

from:


Amsterdam

some cities are like a theme park of themselves.

Amsterdam: a water park?  Blessed with an unusually bright day.  You think of the history.

Took a reading on my altimeter:

The Netherlands.

Books avail at hotel.  At the Rijksmuseum they have Jan Willem Pieneman’s enormous painting of Waterloo.

Detail.