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Dedicated to gnes Heller, a Continental

beautiful mind, on her 81st birthday

Pino Blasone

Agatharchis Excursions into Female Portraiture

1 Harriet C. Peale, Agatharkhis: Private Collection; and a Corinthian styled caryatid figure, detail of a terracotta relief in the Bauakademie at Berlin, by Karl Friedrich Schinkel: 1831-35 (original photo by the art historian Rand Carter; cf. the Website An Ever Renewed Beginning? In 2006 the art dealer Roughton Galleries at Dallas, Texas, came into possession of the head and shoulders portrayal of a beauteous young woman dressed in a Classical guise, acquired from a private collection. It had been attributed formerly to the North-American Neoclassical artist Rembrandt Peale, lately to his wife Harriet Cany Peale, according to the signature Harriet C. Peale found on the oil painting along with the date 1848. Even more than a small inscription discovered on the verso of the canvas, Erinna (there are other

imaginary portraits so titled, by Rembrandt Peale and by the British Pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon), what quite unique is its title: Agatharkhis. Who was Erinna or, better, Herinna; and who Agatharkhis or, else, Agatharchis? In order to answer these queries, let us read an ancient epigram ascribed to the Greek poetess Herinna in the Byzantine Palatine Anthology (VI 352): Indeed this effigy has been drawn by delicate hands. Even some humans succeeded in rivalling you in wisdom, my dearest Prometheus. Whoever depicted this maiden, if only he could add her voice, it would have been you Agatharchis at all! Most likely Mrs. and Ms. Peale, as well as Solomon later, could accede to a Latin translation of Herinnas verse, such as in Novem illustrium foeminarum Sapphus, Erinnae, Myrus, Myrtidis, Corinnae, Telesillae, Praxillae, Nossidis, Anytae, fragmenta et elogia, executed by Gottfried Olearius and edited by Johann Christoph Wolf (Hamburg: Abraham Vandenhoeck, 1735; pp. 10-13). In this study, the Greek original was reported as well: ,/ / ,/ , . And the Latin translation sounds as follows: Ex teneris manibus haec imago; optime Prometheu,/ Sunt et homines tibi similes sapientia./ Hanc igitur virginem quisquis pinxit,/ Si etiam vocem addidisset, esset sane Agatharchis tota. Unfortunately, this valuable translation was annotated with an old biographical mistake. Herinna was considered contemporary of Sappho of Lesbos, the most famous Greek poetess. Although our information about the former remains very scarce, today we can better presume her to have grown up in the small isle of Telos not in the 7 th-6th but in the 4th century B.C., that is in an early Hellenistic age.

2 Rembrandt Peale, Erinna: Baltimore Museum of Art; 1845. Simeon Solomon, Erinna of Lesbos: Private Collection; 1886 Such a mistake gave rise to the legend of an intimate friendship between Herinna and Sappho, which will be illustrated by Simeon Salomon in a queer scene titled Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, where the former is depicted while embracing the latter in a garden of the town on the island of Lesbos (Tate Gallery, London; 1864). For certain, Herinnas production was influenced by Sapphos love poetry, although the former shows a more pronounced mournful and memorial characteristic. By her, nowadays essentially we have 54 extant lines of a poem reliably titled the Distaff in Greek , dedicated to Baucis, a young woman who died on her wedding night , and three epigrams ascribed to Herinna in the Palatine Anthology. The figure of the lamented friend, Baucis, is central also in two of them (VII, 710 and 712). Thus, Agatharchis is mentioned only in the above epigram. It was a quite common female name, in the Greek speaking areas. Nonetheless here we like to hazard an allegorical interpretation, connected with the double address in the same verse: to Agatharchis and to Prometheus, the demiurgic semi-god of mythology. In order to do that in a plausible way, we have to probe into a third question: who was Prometheus? In the better known version of his myth, he was a generous Titan who stole fire from Zeus, king of the gods, to give it to mortals. As a punishment for this fault, he was chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus, where an eagle was sent to feed at his ever3

regenerating liver. In a more complex version of the tale, and with an assistance of the goddess Athena, he had been previously charged to mould mankind out of clay. Evidently, this is the cryptic sense of the hyperbolic comparison between the artist who made Agatharchis effigy and Prometheus, in Herinnas epigram. It sounds like an allusion to Platos concept of methexis, mainly in his dialogue Parmenides. Far better than a mimesis or imitation of nature, such a methexis was a participation in the process of creation of the world. Referring to this doctrine, the modern German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer could write of Plato as portraitist. Actually, the term sophia referred by Herinna to the unknown painter seems to denote an extensive wisdom rather than a mere techn or specific skill.

3 Sappho, Pompeian fresco detail: National Archaeological Museum, Naples; and Hypatia, Fayyum portrait: British Museum, London A further question to answer is: was that Agatharchis living, or had she died like the Baucis lamented elsewhere? No doubt, Herinnas verse here at issue belongs to the so called ecphrastic genre, that is descriptive or evocative of artworks. Yet there is no evidence of it as an elegiac epitaph at the same time. It is also true, nothing prevents us from imagining Baucis and Agatharchis as one person, albeit variously named by the author. In which case,

we might wonder why the nickname Agatharchis. Does it possess a possible over-meaning? In Greek, agath arch can auspiciously mean good beginning, as well as Prometheus literally means forethought. Both expressions together may somehow open to the hope in a recurrent being and a new beginning, after that the poetess focused on her remembrance and regret about a too early cut off existence. By confronting all that with the Orphic-Pythagorean and later Platonic concept of anamnesis or reminiscence, we would obtain the perception of a cyclic, eternal return of identity, here adapted to an individual entity. For the Pythagoreans at least, actually the practice of reminiscence had been associated with a belief in the reincarnation. As an effort of representation and re-presentation at once, in such an illusionism the artistic activity plays a not marginal role. As impossible to reproduce for any painter or sculptor along with the image, above all the voice was a limit to his creativity, especially if this was compared to a divine or godlike creation. In Herinnas transfiguration, clearly that voice or its sound, such as we will read it translated by Ovid in his Heroides stands for the individuality of the portrayed person. Ever better than a full absence anyway, a fine portrait or its poetical ecphrasis remains a consolatory, long lasting simulacrum of presence, with all the more reason if associated with the old nostalgic motif of the Cor, of the maiden untimely died (originally referred to the myth of Persephone/Proserpine). According to her legend, Herinna herself died 19 years old. From ancient to modern times her legend and works, even when a few epigrams survived, did not inspire artists alone, as for the above reversed ecphrasis by Harriet C. Peale. Several fellow poets were fascinated by her. In the 1863 poem Erinna to Sappho, by the German Eduard F. Mrike, we find these impressive lines: Tearless at first I pondered,/ Weighing the terror of Death;/ Till I bethought me of thee, my Sappho,/ And of my comrades all,/ And of the muses lore,/ When straightway the tears ran fast (trans. Charles W. Stork).

4 Raphael, The School of Athens, fresco detail representing a presumed fictional portrait of Hypatia: Vatican Rooms, Rome; 1510-11. Hypatia, by the British Pre-Raphaelite Charles William Mitchell: Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne (detail; 1885) A Virtual Portraiture In the 4th book of his treatise On Architecture (I 8-10), written in the late first century B.C., the Roman engineer Vitruvius narrates a touching tale, to introduce the explanation of the Corinthian order in the art of architecture. According to this narrative, particularly the Corinthian capital would have been invented by the Greek architect and sculptor Callimachus, when he was moved by and imitated the sight of a votive basket, placed on the grave of a girl. A few of her toys had been put into it by her nurse. To protect them from the weather, she had covered the basket with a tile. And an acanthus plant had grown under the basket, embracing it with its stalks and leaves. Vitruvius adds that the Corinthian style, peculiarly its type of column, virginalis habet gracilitatis imitationem, quod virginis propter aetatis teneritatem gracilioribus membris figuratae effectus recipiunt ornatus venustiores (imitates the graceful elegant figure of a virgin, in whom, from her tender age, the limbs are of a slender form, what produces prettier ornamental effects). Elsewhere, the author recommends that style as suitable for the temples of female deities as Venus, Flora, Proserpine... Beyond the appearance of a didactic example, rather this is an apologue on the

precepts of mimesis in ancient art, which could not be banal imitation but had to be emotional participation too. Indeed, here the process of methexis is particularly articulated and complex. The deceased girl, her affectionate nurse and a genial artist, are all characters who variously participate in it. Dionysian vitality and Apollonian order, nature and culture, play important roles too. Yet our anecdote is also the story of an impossible portrait, the portrayal of an absence. The artist had never seen his model before or after her untimely death. Not only she was without voice like Agatharchis effigy, but with no mien, perhaps not even name. No presence or remembrance or picture could help him. According to the author though, he was a catatechnos, a virtuoso of the artifice, from a few clues able to create an absolute new connection between quod significat and quod significatur, or the signifier and the signified: Stoic concepts which first Vitruvius himself applied to the field of fine arts, not so much to what sayable as rather to what representable. The Corinthian capital, column and order, were the outcome of that portraiture work, an abstract monument to the anonymous girl such as to be repeated thousand times along the centuries.

5 Marie-Genevive Bouliard, Self-Portrait as Aspasia: Muse dArras, France; 1794. After Lucian of Samosata in A Portrait-Study, that is a Neoclassical perception of mirroring, as an allegorical contemplation of beauty and wisdom In analogous circumstances of latency of the portrayed subject, with no possible figural imitation or memory of the original, a conventional solution is its replacement with a new model or a wholly imaginary portrait. Not necessarily, this is so obvious. Sometimes, it occurs a sort of superimposition of the image. In the history of art, that is the case of the so called likeness as... which may also assume an allegorical value, as for so many Lady [X] as Mary Magdalene or as Aspasia, as Ariadne and so on. Seldom, the personages referred to may be even goddesses, as Venus, Juno or Diana. This was an antique usage, attested by Lucian of Samosata in his Greek dialogues A Portrait-Study and Defence of the Portrait-Study, which are short treatises on female portraiture. Other times, we deal with transversal self-portraits, as for Self-Portrait as Aspasia by the French Marie-Genevive Bouliard (Muse dArras, France; 1794). An extraordinary

identifying sequence are Magdalenes portraits by the Italian Artemisia Gentileschi, in the 17th century. They express various feelings actually relevant with the figure of that female saint, but the real model is the paintress herself. For most artworks like those, the portraitists or the customers look interested not so much in the historical or mythic referential personage, as rather in his topical substitute. Although usually this was not applied by artists, but by scholars, an opposite and funny modality of imaginary representation is the superimposition of fictitious names. For instance, Pompeii and Herculaneum excavations revealed not a few fresco portrayals, mostly from the first century A.D. and today in the National Archaeological Museum at Naples. One of the most beautiful of them shows the face of a unnamed young woman, with a tip of a stylus put on her lips, as if thoughtful before starting to write. Thanks to this detail, some fanciful archaeologists dubbed her as Sappho, although notoriously this Grecian poetess lived many centuries prior to the epoch of the Pompeian portrayed lady. Something similar happened when a lot of the so called Fayyum mummy portraits, dating to the Greco-Roman period, were discovered in Egypt. One of the best among them represents a young fair lady, with an expressive face and pretty jewels. She was nicknamed Hypatia by those who had unearthed or first studied her portrayal, probably because it suggested an idea of how the historical so named personage might have looked. Still today, the artefact is known with that name (British Museum, London; c. 160-70 A.D.).

6 Vanitas self-portrait with Still Life by the Flemish Clara Peeters: Private Collection; ca. 1610. Indeed, it may suggest an exaltation even more than a disapproval of the displayed luxury Daughter to the mathematician and philosopher Theon, Hypatia of Alexandria is the best renowned woman philosopher and scientist of the antiquity (around 370-420 A.D.). Unfortunately, not so much her works, as rather her unhappy story have survived. The late pagan and Neoplatonic thinker was slain by a mob of Christian fanatics, influenced by Cyril, the archbishop of her Greco-Egyptian town. Long before any superstitious witch hunt, this is one of the earliest intolerant episodes of religious integralism ever known. Very long later and thanks also to a consenting Pope, in the Italian Renaissance period, a genial artist as Raffaello Sanzio dared to paint a celebrating Hypatias portrait in the heart itself of the Catholic temporal power, the Vatican palace rooms. The new catatechnos resorted to an incredible expedient. He is told to have taken as a model the young and handsome nephew of Pope Julius II, Francesco Maria della Rovere, by giving him a female look, together with a sad and pensive expression. This depicted standing Hypatia is still there staring at us, white clad like a martyr amidst so many beautiful minds of the antiquity and even early modernity, in the masterpiece The School of Athens. Like her, only two other personages gaze out of the large fresco: the self-portrayed artist and an ancient biographer and historian of philosophy,


Diogenes Laertius. A humanistic aim is here transparent: if others invented the pictorial perspective, Raphael introduced a critical historical view into painting, especially referred to the history of culture. The revived image of a rehabilitated Hypatia grows exemplary and emblematic. Albeit for different reasons, it inaugurates modernity not less than other fancied or realistic portrayals, as the Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina in the Abatellis Palace at Palermo or Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre Museum at Paris. We may comment about, in a way like that, in our word representation, the prefix re- had to gain an intensive even more than a reiterative meaning. In a wider and higher sense, the mimesis could grow methexis. Mainly, it happened for ideal or ethical motives. If soon or later modernity deviated from those good beginnings, this blame cannot be laid on artists.

7 Lorenzo Lippi, Allegory of the Simulation: Muse des Beaux Arts, Angers, France; 1640. Conventional attribute of the ancient goddess of the dead Persephone/Proserpine, the detail of a pomegranate seems to give the picture a cryptic


vanitas value Vanitas Portrayals Besides a humanistic revaluation of the personality of Hypatia, and his own artistic inclination to think in pictures, we like to suppose Raphael inspired by a literary source as the epigram IX 400 in the Palatine Anthology. Recently, some philologists have doubted not only of its attribution to the Alexandrian poet Palladas, a contemporary of Theon and his daughter, but even that it was actually devoted to her. However, along centuries it was read and perceived as such. Together with the letters which her pupil and Christian poet Synesius of Cyrene addressed to her, this verse formed almost a live portrait of the Hypatia we are dealing with. In a minor way, inevitably they concurred to nourish her legend too: , / / ,/ , ,/ (When I gaze at you, also I pay homage to your words,/ as the astral House of the Virgin is what I see./ In fact your acts are turned to heaven,/ revered Hypatia. And you look like the beauty of words,/ or a never dimmed star of wise learning). For the uninitiated into astrology, the House of the Virgin is a zodiacal station. Such a Virgin was usually identified as the goddesses Isis or Ceres, later even as the Virgin Mary. Of course, hitherto we dealt with some remarkable exceptions. Quite rarely women were portrayed as an astron ts sofs paideuses, that is a star of wise learning, or with a tip of a stylus put on their lips, or else with a book in their hands. Oftener, they were associated with the detail of a mirror, where they look at their images, or sometimes of a mask while removing it from their faces, to denote in the respective cases vanity and propensity to simulate or dissimulate. Other times what appears in the mirror is an old ugly visage or a skull, whereas its beholder is young, vital and sensually pictured. That is the Biblical Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas (The all is vanity of vanities). Yet it was also a Neoplatonic theme. Of Hypatia herself, the Neoplatonist Damascius told that once a student felt sexually drawn to her. Vainly his teacher recommended to elevate his mind to a spiritual beauty, by the art of

music. At last, she seems to have succeeded in discouraging him, by a Cynic fashioned show of her bloody menstrual rags. Jokingly, we moderns may wonder whether the importune youth became sane again, or somewhat psychologically traumatized.

8 Adriaen van Cronenburgh, Katheryn of Berain (National Museum, Cardiff, U.K.); and Jan Olis, A Young Woman Holding a Skull (Private Collection; half of the 17th century): a Reformed and a Counter-Reformed samples of female portraiture... The topos of a vanitas example, as a moral warning or even blame, gloomily returned far later in William Shakespeares drama Hamlet, act 5, scene 1. There the prince begins to meditate on the skull of the dear jester Yorick, and tells his friend Horatio: Now get you to my ladys chamber, and tell/ her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come;/ make her laugh at that (lines 193-95). Doubtless, this sarcasm is referred to Hamlets dissolute mother. In a broad sense, it sounds like echoing the pictorial subject of a woman seeing a skull in a mirror instead of her reflection, already frequent at Shakespeares times. In the act 3, scene 1, the same misogynous prince had so spoken to his unlucky fiance Ophelia: I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God/ has given you one face, and you make yourselves/ another (lines 142-44). With an early Baroque play on concepts, here vanity and simulation join into one negative vision, opposed to an alleged authenticity of the nature of creation as well as to a vanitas of mundane appearances. The painting becomes a symbolism for such a camouflage of reality. Not by chance and

paradoxically, not a few Baroque Allegories of Painting portray a paintress with a mask hanging from her neck. The mimesis ran a risk to degenerate into falsification, as already warned by Plato. Incidentally, in 1601 Shakespeare himself published an obscure allegorical poem about the death of ideal love, The Phoenix and the Turtle, in a collection dedicated to John Salusbury, son of Katheryn of Berain. Of this iron lady in Welsh, Catrin o Ferain, and dubbed Mam Cymru, The Mother of Wales , we have a portrait executed in about 1568 by the Dutch painter Adriaen van Cronenburgh (National Museum, Cardiff, U.K.). As a vanitas portrayal, it strives to be a positive exemplar. Grand-daughter of Henry VII and second cousin to Queen Elizabeth I, Katheryn is nearly full length and frontally portrayed, almost fully black dressed, with presumably a small prayer book in one hand and the other on a skull lying on a table. The background is dark. Her facial expression is severe. Her eyes do not gaze at the viewer but at an undefined point of the horizon, and this horizon does not seem to be so much an earthly one. Four times married, three times widow at least, she had six children though. For Hamlet, she might have been an ideal figure of woman. In her portrait actually she looks a bit like him, but unlike him never questioning about to be or not to be.

9 Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi, Penitent Magdalene: Private Collection; and Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting: Royal Collection, Windsor, U.K.


The tensions between simulation and dissimulation, allegorization and realism, vanity and vanitas, will increase in the 17th century art. It was like for an adolescent modernity, still unable to focus well on its own reflection in the existential mirror of history. Meanwhile, a disquieting sense of the vanitas prevailed. In Mary Magdalene (Palazzo Pitti, Florence; c. 1616), in Mary Magdalene as Melancholy (Private Collection; early 1620s) and in the Penitent Magdalene (Private Collection; 1631-32?), surely the self-portrayed Artemisia Gentileschi appears more Hamletic than Mam Cymru in the previous century. In the latest half length portrayal and in a nearly specular way, she gazes at a skull under one hand while the other stays on her heart, as if trying a silent improbable dialogue between life and death, or rather between her artistic consciousness and her female unconscious, injured and troubled by certain well known private past vicissitudes. Elsewhere, in Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, a tiny mask charm dangles from her neck (Royal Collection, Windsor; 1638-39). Or, in the disconcerting Allgorie de la peinture, Artemisia depicts herself while dozing and smiling, half naked on the floor of her studio and almost embracing a full face male mask, in a break from her painting work (Muse de Tess, Le Mans, France; 1620s). By adopting Jungian terms here, it is like the two pictures strive to show, respectively and ambiguously, the soul and the shadow of artistic creation. And the symbol of the mask works as a least common denominator. Long before psychology could express them, art begins to represent psychoanalytical concepts. As the mimesis cannot be reduced to a bare denotation, so the methexis should not be considered a simple connotation: with all the more reason when assuming an allegorical form, that is participation in a further meaning context. An enigmatic artwork by the tenebrist painter Angelo Caroselli (1585-1652), auctioned at Sothebys, New York, in 2004, may be significant. Its title A Lady with Her Dog, an Allegory sounds so undefined, as to give us scarce clues for an interpretation. The picture itself seems to be such, as to let us somewhat free to perceive it in accordance with our culture and times. Is that a kind of allegory for allegorys sake? Let us focus on the headgear of the too elegant, seductive portrayed lady with pet. We will discern a skull-like ornament at the centre of it. In the dark background, a masked guy gestures like a conjurer, in a quite equivocal way. Only now we can realize, this is a vanitas portrayal behind its playful appearance. The character in the rear wants to be a diabolic,

haunting interference. It is also true, for us his black half mask might symbolize a dark side of the subconscious, with all its uneasy, perturbing ambiguousness.

10 Artemisia Gentileschi (ascribed to), Allegory of the Painting; Muse de Tess, Le Mans, France
I alone know who I am

When Blaise Pascal, the famed philosopher and scientist of the 17 th century, thought that inside men there is an infinite abyss in a positive or negative sense , probably he could not imagine as realizable anything like the Holocaust or Shoah, happened in the 20th century. In his essay La reprsentation interdite (in the collection Au fond des images, Paris: 2003) another French thinker, Jean-Luc Nancy, has argued that such an ethical absurdity had to appear so horrible or incredible as to early generate a reluctance to represent that tragic event, in part persisting still today. Among the possible causes, there are a mix of objective difficulty and subjective wish of removal, a fear that the relevant representation might turn into a re-presentation of similar crimes, or even a certain controversial religious adversity to the representation of the sacred, supposed that a painful remembrance like that might have acquired something to do with this sphere and thus become un-representable.


Yet there may have been also a minor, but original and subtle cause. Nancy reports the memory of a survivor from the Nazi extermination camps, quoted from the study The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg: I strove to get them not to notice me. I did not stand either too erect, or too bowed. I took care to look neither proud, nor slavish. I knew that being different, at Auschwitz, implied a risk to die, whereas the anonymous guys, those with no face could survive. In such conditions, the hope to be present again suggested an effort of not showing any representable identity in the meanwhile, a parenthetic and preservative dissimulation of presence or simulation of absence. Quite obviously, individual portraits remaining from those experiences or reflecting that persecution are a few, but various and remarkable exceptions. Before giving a glimpse at them, we might wonder if the sublimed representation by fine arts is really plausible, when the horror is not a simulation at all.

11 Angelo Caroselli, A Lady with Her Dog, an Allegory; Private Collection


After Georges Bataille, in Une pense finie (Paris: 1990) Nancy wrote: The artistic mimesis, as a mimesis in itself and, paradoxically, despite its mimetic characteristic, should make us accede to an authentic methexis, that is a true participation in the element revealed by the emotional horror. Elsewhere in the same treatise, and in some a cathartic way, the author defined the true mimesis as a transgression of the finiteness of existence and an opening toward an infinitive value of its finite experience. What we may infer is that not only a Holocaust art is plausible, but even easily identifiable and extensively worthy to be revalued as such. Before all, it was that German Expressionism which the Nazi oppression itself banned as degenerate, with a perverse but sharp criticism. Different from any historical documentation, early it denounced an actual degeneration of the political course in Germany and foresaw the monstrous horrors next to come. Artists as the suicidal Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the gassed Elfriede LohseWchtler were among the first victims, while the etcher and sculptor Kthe Schmidt Kollwitz was expelled from the Academy of Arts and forbidden to exhibit her works. Perished at Auschwitz in 1944, the German Jew Felix Nussbaum well expressed such a resistant horror of horrors, even better than any vanity of vanities which the Expressionism had inherited from the pictorial tradition, with its emblematic imagery of masks and skulls. What matured especially in Nussbaums late self-portrayals, as SelfPortrait in the Camp (1940), Self-Portrait with Key (1941), Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card (ca. 1943). Any conventional vanitas detail was then superfluous. Even the token of a small skull had migrated to ornate the hats of Nazi S.S. guards. Our main topic here is a female portraiture. And Elfriede Lohse-Wchtler was an Aryan paintress. As suffering a mental recurring disease, she was judged unworthy of living. Formerly forced to be sterilized, later deported to an euthanasia centre, in 1940 she shared the fate of so many Jews and Gypsies. Reliably, she had to pay for her being a transgressive artist, a woman differing from official standards. If others are upset with me, I alone know who I am: after Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, thus Elfriede claimed in a verse of the half of the 1930s. That is a bare identity, when even its subsistence is denied. Her self-portrait series remains as the report of an insight trip into the troubles of conscience, as well as a tacit Jaccuse! against a society yielding to its inhuman regime.


12 Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Dmasque, detail of a modern vanitas portrait with mask and skull: GallenKallela Museum, Tarvasp, Finland; 1888 The Polish Jew Gela Seksztajn-Lichtensztajn was a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. She lived and taught drawing at a primary school, in the Warsaw Ghetto. Her watercolours and drawings are less sophisticated than the paintings by Nussbaum or Lohse-Wchtler. Yet they illustrate the terrible conditions of people in the ghetto, under the German occupation of Warsaw. The rebellious ghetto will be destroyed and the survivors deported. Aged thirty-five, Gela died at the Treblinka extermination camp in 1943. We have also a face self-portrait of her, and a notebook with her farewell and monition to do everything that such a tragedy will never be repeated. The stern expression in that selfportrayal is such, as to be easily associated with these words, almost as a virtual title. The Czech-Jewish Malva Schalek or Malvina Schalkova was another woman painter, born in Prague (1882-1945). She studied art in Munich and Vienna. Before being murdered at Auschwitz, in 1942 Malva was deported in the concentration camp of Terezin, where she produced several drawings and watercolours portraying fellow internees and their life there.

Also of her we have an impressive self-portrait, and about her a strange story: that she was transferred to Auschwitz, for her refusal to execute a portrayal of a collaborationist doctor. However, besides an indispensable documentary effort, this Holocaust art looks somewhat concerned with portraiture. It does not call only for remembrance, but for an emotional participation too. That is, better to say, reminiscence. If we are allowed to use here philosophical terms and concepts, it is not only a matter of mimesis and methexis, but even a form of anamnesis, where our posthumous identification in them somehow makes up for the deprivation of identity suffered by the portrayed subjects. As to the consecration of memory, it does not seem to be an exclusive task of this or that religion. At least, it ought to be an occasion for inter-religious celebrations. Nevertheless we should take in consideration the cathartic modality pointed out by Jean-Luc Nancy, which is proper of art, with just one specification. After all, in our case the cherished disclosure of an infinite perspective may show up by contrast a finiteness of the historical tragedy referred to by Gela Seksztajn, and, above all, the banality of its crazy playwrights and dull villains. That is to mean, no fatality prevents us from succeeding in doing that like tragedies will never be repeated.

13 Elfriede Lohse-Wchtler, Self-Portrait (Frderkreis Elfriede Lohse-Wchtler e.V. Hamburg; 1931), and photoportrait of Etty Hillesum by Bernard Meijlink (Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam; 1937) Just only a Lit Cigarette?

The Flemish David Teniers the Younger and the Netherlandish Gabril Metsu, both of them in the 17th century, were among the first painters to portray smoking women. Rather than portraits, theirs are genre scene, depicting popular women smoking from pipes in a tavern or in a kitchen. Just more refined is the setting in the engraving La Charmante Tabagie by the French Nicolas Arnoult in the second half of the same century, where three elegant women busy with their long pipes resemble to participate in a private ritual more than in a smoking party. Yet the first to portray herself while smoking from a clay pipe was one of the most demanded portraitists, especially by aristocratic and wealthy ladies, and also a prolific selfportraitist between the 18th and 19th centuries: the French lisabeth-Louise Vige-Le Brun. Reliably, she reflected a habit which had to be wide spread in the female upper class. Some prejudice allowed her alone, as an artist, to exhibit it in a public portrait. During the 19th century, the Romantic portraiture and rarely even the Impressionism indulged in exotic representations, as for so many oriental women depicted while smoking from a hookah better if inside a voluptuous harem , or else as for Gypsy with Cigarette by douard Manet (Princeton University Art Museum; 1862), Portrait of a Spanish Woman by Henri G. Schlesinger (Muse des Beaux-Arts, Dunkerque; 1879?) and Young Woman Relaxing by Francisco Masriera y Manovens (Museo del Prado, Madrid; 1894). The Plum by Manet is a pensive exception, for the presumable setting is a Parisian caf and the portrayed female smoker is a lonely one, while seated at a table before a plum soaked in a glass of brandy (National Gallery of Art, Washington; 1878). With paintings as Woman with a Cigarette by Pablo Picasso (The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania; 1901), Portrait of a Lady with Cigarette by Oskar Zwintscher (Museum Albertinum, Dresden; 1904), A Woman with a Cigarette by Natalia Goncharova (History and Art Museum, Serpukhov; 1915-20) or La chambre bleue by Suzanne Valadon (Muse National dArt Moderne, Paris; 1923), such a type of representation returned to be set in Western interiors. Possibly, it began to influence photographic portraiture. Albeit in a misunderstood way, what today we may critically judge, that typology grew symbolic of a feminine emancipation or disinhibition especially in the ambit of the pictures of celebrities as the film stars. A component of sex appeal could make them exemplars to imitate for

females, as well as attractive for males. After that of a wild-like smoker, this of a smoking artist or actress had to appear a more homely and tamed clich, in a mass culture society.

14 Gela or Genia Seksztajn and Malva Schalek, self-portraits; respectively: Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw (before 1943), and Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, Israel (before 1945) Already in the 19th century, the earliest photo-portraits of this type were those of the Irish dancer and actress Lola Montez, or by the American female photographer and theorist of artistic photo-portraiture Frances Benjamin Johnston. In the first half of the 20 th century though, the pose with cigarette was not used for woman artists or cinema celebrities only. If we confront the above portrayal by Picasso and the later photo-portraits of a young Hannah Arendt, and of Lise Meitner, we will notice that their poses are surprisingly similar to each other. The three ladies are portrayed frontally and half length. One of their hands, holding a burning cigarette, can be somewhat raised. The other is put under the elbow of the arm, whose hand holds the cigarette, as if supporting it. Nothing really strange; such an attitude is so common, that a coincidence like that can easily occur. Yet the German Jew Hannah and the Austrian Jew Lise are extraordinarily important figures, in the history of the latest century. The former fled to America to escape Nazi persecution, spending most of her life there to reflect on the Holocaust as a failure of human progress and on how overcoming it without risks of repetition of analogous experiences. Sheltered in Sweden, the latter contributed to the discovery of atomic nuclear energy, but

refused to collaborate to its utilization in the atomic bomb. About their portraits, we may try a psychoanalytic explanation: their arms with the hand holding a cigarette could be a symbolic masculine projection of photographers, aware that they were portraying strong female personalities as a philosopher and a scientist. But an interpretation like that sounds a bit out fashioned, nor can we affirm that those unknown portraitists were male. Moreover, there are photo-portraits with cigarette of other women thinkers or writers and artists of about those times, as for the French Simone de Beauvoir, the Spanish Maria Zambrano, the Afro-American Zora Neale Hurston, the Mexican Frida Kahlo (more than one, in her case). At least, we must suppose some a consent by the portrayed subjects. Not always, their cigarettes are held by the hand of a raised arm... Another possible remark is that this incinerating cigarette has replaced the skull, the mask or a revealing mirror of the old pictorial portraiture. As a focal object, somehow it reflects the unconscious. What it may symbolize is an ephemerality of the involved identity, or better to say of a conventional perception of identity, at the same time when the inner energy of an exceptional individuality is represented. Then, the burning cigarette flashes as if signalizing an ideal friction point between the unconscious and the conscience: in other terms, a virtual source of the image itself. Paradoxically, it is also true in the opposite cases of forced anonimity of the portrayed subjects, as for the sketch Seated Algerian Woman by the American John S. Sargent, where only her gazing eyes and a lit cigarette are emerging from a nearly integral veil (Muse des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris; ca. 1880).

15 Kthe S. Kollwitz, Death and Woman, (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin; 1910); and The Realization by the American Janet McKenzie (Private Collection; no

reproduction without permission from the artist: They are transparent allegories about the human struggle against mortality, and a prevailing of vitality, both of them assuming a female form Yet let us return onto intellectual women. Sometimes, their cigarettes were accompanied with a more pertinent attributive detail: photos of her favourite authors (and, enigmatically, of a young Stalin), in a picture of the Dutch-Jewish thinker Etty Hillesum, died at Auschwitz in 1943; a book, in the photos of Maria Zambrano and Zora N. Hurston; a paper sheet on a table, under a pen held in the right hand of Simone de Beauvoir, so that she looks like thinking, writing and smoking at once. And we can simply imagine that smoking could figure as a help to the mental concentration of a thinker or a writer. Yet this does not seem so necessary, indeed, as for what concerns the visual imagination of artists. Nonetheless the cigarette, held in a hand of her, is a recurrent detail in the pictorial self-portraiture by Elfriede Lohse-Wchtler, who is lately emerging as one of the best women painters in the 20th century. We have four self-portraits by her at least, with that same detail. In this case a symbolic value, transcending morbid psychological interpretations or banal observations about the need of concentration by thinkers and writers, rises less perplexities. After Vincent van Goghs Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, her lit cigarette looks rather specular of a personal self-dissolution or, with all the more reason, of a lethal destructiveness she had to suffer from her surrounding society. In the process of artistic production, not seldom the participation in a further sense to give a representation precedes the representation itself. That is, first comes the methexis, instead of the mimesis. For moralistic more than for advised healthy reasons, undoubtedly the smoking vice was part of an epochal culture, long reputed unseemly if practised by women. When it acceded to a free and easy representation, also because of commercial motives, its symbolic potentiality and ambiguity was already so elaborated, as to variously influence painters and photographers or the portrayed subjects themselves. For the aficionados of psychoanalysis, it is the not infrequent recurrence of a super-ego, which foreruns and conditions our egos in the dialectic development of culture. No wonder, some female thinkers or writers and artists, even scientists, actually wanted to be portrayed or portrayed themselves while smoking, in a distinguished or

provocative fashion. Sure it is so for an eccentric sample of this genre, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden, by the German Expressionist Otto Dix (Muse National dArt Moderne, Paris; 1926). In addition, she is depicted in a quite androgynous guise, while wearing a monocle. In reality, she was a liberal progressive intellectual, who went in exile to England when the Nazis seized power in Germany. Optimistically or slightly ironically? the painter himself described her as representative of an epoch concerned not with the outward beauty of a woman but rather with her psychological condition.

16 lisabeth-Louise Vige-Le Brun, Self-Portrait with Pipe: location unknown; and John Singer Sargent, Woman with Cigarette or Seated Algerian Woman: Muse des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris A Little More than a Coincidence By the way, what does it mean a dialectic culture? As a work in progress, since its beginnings the so called Western civilization has been the result of confluences and confrontations among cultures. Every historical attempt at closing its open source character was a tremendous failure. Thus, nothing keeps us from intending the methexis as a participation in different cultural traditions rather than an imitation of patterns inherited from one culture, or else in a dialogical better than in the analogical Platonic sense of


participation of the sensible in an abstract ideal. Do you remember Agatharchis Hellenistic ecphrastic portrayal by Herinna, at the beginning of this speech? Let us consider again the pictorial and Neoclassical version of it, by Harriet Cany Peale. And now let us compare it with a head self-portrait by Malva Schalek, a drawing escaped from the wreck of the Holocaust. Here too, we deal with a little more than a coincidence, surely due to a shared classicistic learning in both authoresses. Between these artworks there is an impressive similarity, except for the realistic detail that Harriet C. Peales Agatharkhis looks much younger. Likely either of them, the Greek maiden and the Czech-Jewish painter, died untimely, albeit in different times of their lives and of history, above all for different causes. In the former case, we may presume for natural ones, what cannot be done about the latter. What evoked by the former portrait is a protest against a casual and inevitable unfairness of the nature, whereas the latter suggests an indignation against a deliberate and avoidable aberration of the culture, even if this term referred to the specific context sounds improper. Both artworks find their common way of expression in a Classical form, although their authors also participated in different original religious cultures. Despite all, it means that our old civilization still possesses a synthetic force and fine arts are an effective vehicle for that, thanks to their visual and international language too. Not seldom, an immediate transfiguration works better than any translation, as related to the world of ideas at least. No other civilization was animated by a so irrepressible will of representation.


17 Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden: Muse National dArt Moderne, Paris; and douard Manet, Gypsy with Cigarette: Princeton University Art Museum, U.S.A. No striking contrast could be better complementary... A not minor question regards which weight to attribute to the term classical. In those particular and analogous circumstances, it may well correspond to the concept of archetypal. Such is the representation of a female beauty, extensively understood as the fertile flourishing of human person, and exposed to the menace of an extreme and irrational violence, indeed even worse than to any vanitas vanitatum. The Classical reminiscence and nostalgia of an archetypal beauty, and a Biblical feeling of precariousness of every contingent being and relevant representation, notoriously are legacies from two different religious and cultural worldviews. In the history of Western art, not only they cohabited within one sensitiveness. Their long lasting contrasts and various syntheses became the spirit of that art itself, maybe even the secret for which not seldom it looks able to glance beyond the horizon of death, that is of an individual identity. After philological and iconological researches, a philosophical task might be to investigate that shady umbram non rem, a little more than a coincidence which can make of an artefact an artwork, of an artwork a masterpiece, of the mimesis a methexis, or even why not the difference between quod significat and quod significatur (the gap between representation and that which is represented: so, the English scholar Philip Hardie, albeit referring to Ovid). Let us take again in consideration the above apologue by Vitruvius. And

let us wonder if there and where is something fortuitous, enabling the artist to launch his transfiguration. Evidently, it is the occurrence of a plant grown under the votive basket, intentionally placed on the grave of the untimely deceased maiden. This unexpected event turns her deadly winter into a reborn spring in Callimachus, and Vitruvius, minds. If we consider well, that is not even so casual as it may appear, since concurring to recover to universal rhythms what had been a grievous dfaillance. Despite its Promethean or demiurgic imperfections, a cosmic harmony and order was re-established. Not by chance evoked in the first book of the authors treatise (II 5), Proserpine, Flora and Venus, grow allegories of this perennial recurrence, a symbology partly adopted much later by the Florentine Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli in his Triumph of Spring. And the pity/piety of the nurse maid, the bloom of nature, the skill of the artist, were all participating in one will of representation or re-presentation, at the cost of a pregnant metamorphosis.

18 Photo-portraits of Lola Montez, aka Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (around 1851); and of the journalist and novelist Neith Boyce Hapgood, holding a cigarette (by Frances B. Johnston, NorthAmerican female photographer; 1890s) In Vitruvius eclectic but basically Stoic worldview, there is no real discontinuity between the world of nature and that of culture: just to use Aristotelian terms, between a world where forms spring from inside and one where they proceed from outside the matter,

that is through human minds and feelings. Eventually, let us consider when the semidemiurgic role of the catatechnos, of the participant in the creation of a world of culture, ascribed by Vitruvius to Callimachus, is assumed by women. Extensively, that is the case of an exiguous iconographic typology, we can define as Promethean female portraiture. The portrayed or self-portrayed subjects are not necessarily artists like Callimachus. They may be actually such, as Artemisia Gentileschi in the mentioned Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, or may be a philosopher as Hypatia in The School of Athens by Raphael, or a scientist as in the photo-portrait of Lise Meitner, or else a writer and thinker as in the artistic photograph of Simone de Beauvoir. In this latest portrayal, by Brassa, the pen in one hand of her has replaced the stylus we have seen put with a tip on the lips of the Pseudo-Sappho of Pompeii, or the brush in one hand of Artemisia in her self-portrait. No doubt, that is the instrument of creation. Nevertheless, in the portrayal of Simone de Beauvoir at least, we can discern something more. That is a tea pottery set on the writing desk, a plaid with a tartan design in the rear of the chair where the Promethean lady is sitting, and other interior details apparently accidental or trifling. Altogether they render the idea of a domestic, intimately female setting. In the best pictorial tradition, what we deal with is the photographic version of a portrait with Still Life. Once more, all this reminds us of Vitruvius anecdote. What did it lie, inside the basket on the grave of the Corinthian girl, of marriageable age? The Latin author wrote poculis, which pocula better than toys according to a variant textual reading are goblets. This covered pottery, the basket itself and the acanthus foliage, formed a sort of Still Life composition, a pictorial genre already well known at Vitruvius times. Let us imagine Callimachus uncovering the basket, and beholding those toys or goblets. Such had to be the very moment of his inspiration, when the mimesis turned into methexis. Then, the whole cosmos had to appear to him as an immense Still Life, just waiting for a creative completion.


19 Pablo Picasso, Woman with a Cigarette: Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania; and Oskar Zwintscher, Portrait of a Lady with Cigarette: Museum Albertinum, Dresden An Unlucky Woman Portraitist and the Earliest Female Portrayal In our ancient civilization, a sense of inner ambivalence of the simulacra is neither limited to female depictions, nor expressed only in Platonic or Neoplatonic aesthetics. In a magic form, it can be detected already in Hellenic myths as that of Protesilaus and Laodamia. The former was the first Greek hero to die in the war against Troy. Moved to pity by his suppliant widow or alternatively by Protesilaus himself, the gods of the dead let him rise up from Hades, to meet her again for a short lapse. Before the beloved half ghost should disappear, Laodamia made a waxen effigy of him. Afterwards, she spent most of her time closed in her chamber, while embracing that likeness as if it was a living person. By paraphrasing the above epigram by Herinna about Agatharchis, the Latin poet Ovid made her claim: Plus est, quam quod videatur, imago;/ adde sonum cerae, Protesilaus erit; This image is more than it may seem; add sound to its wax, and it will be Protesilaus (Heroides XIII, 153-54; perhaps, either Ovid and Herinna were inspired by a verse of Euripides tragedy Protesilaus, now lost). Since suspecting her of insanity, the princess father ordered to burn that memento. Then, she jumped into the same fire. As an illusory or

deceitful mimesis, evidently such is an even dangerous perception of the simulacrum. In his Remedia amoris (Loves Remedies, 723-24), Ovid himself warns: Si potes, et ceras remove: quid imagine muta/ carperis? Hoc periit Laodamia modo; If possible, get rid of wax effigies too. What may you expect from a dumb image? Thus, once Laodamia died. Another often re-visited myth, that of Pygmalion and Galatea, offers an opposite example of methexis. A somewhat misogynous and unmarried king of Cyprus, the native isle of Aphrodite/Venus, was also a so clever sculptor, as to carve a marble or ivory statue of the goddess, which participated so much in her beauty, that he fell in love to his own creature. The deity of beauty and love was so pleased, and felt so participating in the impossible love pains suffered by Pygmalion, that she fulfilled his prayers and secret desire. Miraculously, the statue awoke to an autonomous life. She was credited to have become an earthly Cypriot queen, with the name of Galatea allusive to her milky complexion.

20 Photo-Portraits of Lise Meitner and Hannah Arendt, 1930s If the weird story of Protesilaus and Laodamia is illustrated on a few sarcophagi, several artists were fascinated by the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Between the two myths, there is an inverse symmetry. After all and in a fabled fashion, the latter exalts the Prometheic power of fine arts, their potentialities of emulating or integrating a godlike creation of the world. Furthermore, there the divine or the sacred is exceptionally


represented in a womanly form, and that emulation assumes the modality of a female portraiture, though clearly the creative contribution is exaggerated and the portrayed subject is idealized. A less manifest but not less exceptional circumstance is that, whereas in the realistic tale of Protesilaus and Laodamia the simulacrum survives what is simulated, on the contrary in the latter fable she who is simulated survives her own simulacrum. So many metaphorical values inspired sculptors as well as painters. Rather than with Galatea, mostly they identified themselves with Pygmalion. Here we can just mention those who better focused on the former, as Edward C. Burne-Jones in his double pictorial series Pygmalion and the Image (Joseph Setton Collection, Paris; and Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery: 1875-78). Particularly in The Soul Attains, the British Pre-Raphaelite shows the stunned sculptor while kneeling to the adult born lady: an Animus contemplating his Anima, if we like Jungian psychological concepts. Still naked and with no memories yet, she stares into the void, as if wondering how and why each one of us occurs to be himself instead of any other on earth, with his own gender or race, time or place and so on. Yet real portraits are by the American A. D. M. Cooper, Pygmalions Galatee (Private Collection; 1904), or by another Victorian age painter, George Frederick Watts. The former is but a depicted personification of the eternal feminine. Indeed, the pose of the portrayed subject is very akin to that of a silent film star. In the latter case, the facial expression of Galatea denotes a deeper self-awareness. Infelicitously though, the artwork s title refers to her merely as the perfect, ideal spouse: The Wife of Pygmalion (Private Collection; 1868). Once more, the emancipation was a simulation, in the simulacra at least.


21 Photo-portrait of Simone de Beauvoir by Brassa, pseudonym of Gyula Halsz (Paris, 1944); and Ernst L. Kirchner, Erna with Cigarette: Modern Art State Gallery, Munich (1913) Copyright 2010 Articles by the same author on like topics, at the Websites below:


22 A. D. M. Cooper, Pygmalions Galatee (detail: Private Collection; 1904); and George Frederick Watts, The Wife of Pygmalion (Private Collection)