Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Spooky Stories at the Ringling Museum

Detail from The Mystery of Life by Carl Marr (1879)
I'm a sucker for the tours at the Ringling Museum. The Museum's latest Walk and Talk was the Spooky Stories tour -- just in time for Halloween. Laura Steefel-Moore and Angelica Bradley gleefully tag-teamed their way through the galleries. It's hard to say who had the most fun.

Our first stop was pretty standard stuff -- just a dead body and an ancient man wracked with grief. Marr's The Mystery of Life depicts Asseurus, a fellow who reputedly taunted Jesus on his way to the cross and was thus condemned to wander the earth until Christ's return. He bemoans the loss of the beautiful young woman's life. She's at peace while Asseurus is in angst. Apparently, living forever isn't quite as much fun as it might sound.

Detail from The Holy Family with Saint Lucy
by Bernardino Camp (1555-60)
Only the most attentive museum-goers will catch the creepiness of Bernardino Campi's The Holy Family with Saint Lucy. Even when you're standing in front of the painting, you might miss the fact that Saint Lucy's platter is adorned with a knife and a pair of eyes.

According to legend, Lucy committed herself to Christianity--and virginity--at a young age. Her family wasn't on board, though, and pledged Lucy to marriage. Lucy's mother changed her tune after she got sick and was healed through prayer. Lucy's family withdrew the marriage offer and agreed to give the dowry to the church.

Lucy's former fiancé was not pleased with this turn of events. He went to the Governor, who sentenced Lucy to life in a brothel. With the help of some divine intervention, Lucy could not be moved to her new home, even when oxen were put to the task. She then was condemned to death by fire; again, she survived. Frustrated, the Governor killed her with a sword. He cut out her eyes because Lucy had the foresight to predict her own murder at his hand. Today, Lucy is the patron saint of sight and virgins.

The Flaying of Marsyas by Apollo 
by Antonio de Bellis (1637-40)
Then we were on to what Laura called "the signature image of gore at the Ringling" -- Antonio de Bellis' The Flaying of Marsyas by Apollo. In this work, Bellis depicts the consequences of Marsyas bragging that he was a better musician than Apollo (who, I'm sure you know, is the god of music). A musical duel ensued, with the winner entitled to do with the loser whatever he wished.

Apollo was not a gracious winner. We see him rather casually cutting the skin off the satyr's right leg as Marsyas' relatives look on. The wall card understatedly notes that, "The agonized face of Marsyas illustrates the artist's penchant for conveying intense emotion."  Well, yeah. The guy was being flayed after all!

Laura's take-away from this painting is, "Don't mess with the gods."

Herodias and Salome with the Head of Saint John 
the Baptist by Mattia Preti (1640)
And what would any tour of gruesome works of art be without a good beheading?  In his Herodias and Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, Mattia Preti takes a slightly different approach to the story of Salome.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of a celebratory evening during which Salome danced for Herod, her mother's husband. In a drunken state, Herod told Salome he would give her whatever she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. When she asked her mother Herodias what to ask for, mom requested the head of John the Baptist. (John was on Herodias' bad side for condemning her marriage to Herod. Both partners had divorced their spouses to marry. The situation was even more complicated by the fact that Herodias had been married to Herod's brother.)

John the Baptist had previously been imprisoned by Herod for publicly stating that his marriage to Herodias was wrong. So it wasn't hard for the King to locate him to fulfill his wife's fondest wish, made through her daughter Salome.

In the painting, the happy family gathers together to check out John's recently liberated head. While Salome is usually portrayed as a seductress, here she's just a young girl (with--apparently--some pretty strong dancing skills).  The way the group leans in to look at John makes the tableau even creepier.

Hope you have a ghoulish Halloween.

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