Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve known about Rainer Maria Rilke for years (though I’ve not read much of his work), and I think I discovered him in a movie, though I can’t for the life of me remember which one. I find it fascinating that he was friends with the sculptor Auguste Rodin and was his secretary while he lived in Paris. According to this biography of him, “At the time of his death his work was intensely admired by many leading European artists, but was almost unknown to the general reading public. His reputation has grown steadily since his death, and he has come to be universally regarded as a master of verse.” 

I liked the visual imagery of the foot washing in Pieta, so I picked that one for Thursday’s poem. 

Pietà 

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1945
Translated by Galway KinnellAnd so I see your feet again, Jesus,
which then were the feet of a young man
when shyly I undressed them and washed them;
how they were entangled in my hair,
like white deer in the thornbush. 

And I see your never-loved limbs
for the first time, in this night of love.
We never lay down together
and now we have only adoring and watching over.

But look, your hands are torn–:
beloved, not from me, not from any bites of mine.
your heart is open and anyone can enter:
It should have been the way in for me alone.

Now you are tired, and your tired mouth
has no desire for my aching mouth–.
O Jesus, Jesus, when was our hour?
Now we both wondrously perish.

In honor of today being Friday the 13th, I found this poem (also again liked the visual imagery at the end with the amber eyes). 

Black Cat

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), 1923 

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

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Paul Pletka

Paul Pletka painting in his home studio in Santa Fe, NM

It’s been ages since I wrote a proper blog post (about 3 months) and even longer since I did a proper art post. I’ve been wanting to talk about the Our Lord, The One Who Is Flayed painting for ages, ever since I first saw it a year or so ago in the Phoenix Art Museum. I had never heard of the artist until I saw the three-paneled work below. Paul Pletka was born in 1946 in San Diego, California and has made his name painting Native Americans, especially those from the American Southwest.  His style is neo-surrealistic and has been described as “both realistic and deeply spiritual, being highly sensitive to the inner thoughts of Native Americans.” Paul has a local connection to Phoenix by going to nearby AZ State University. “Interestingly enough, Pletka has never taken a painting course. His focus in college was printmaking. Through an extensive process of experimentation, his heroic-sized visions of Indian mysticism are distinguished by exacting details that can only be achieved when technique is coupled with dedicated research.” He currently lives in New Mexico. 

I am always curious when someone outside of one cultural group decides to concentrate on something different (like Children’s author/illustrator Ezra Jack Keats being a white Jewish guy creating amazing books about African American and Hispanic children in the 1960-80s) , as I want to know why they have chosen to do this and is his work accepted by the group he is trying to interpret. The artist himself said this about his decision to paint predominantly Native Americans: “When I was a youngster and first became enchanted with Indian costume, lore and artifacts, I would sometimes pretend I was an Indian. I soon realized that was not intellectually reasonable. I am not an Indian. I am simply an interpreter.” He is considered one of the best painters on the subject and his work has been in exhibitions since 1964.

The painting below, While the Ravens Laughed, is one of his earlier works. It depicts the human form of the Hopi Crow Bride/Mother Kachina, aka Angwushahai-i. “Dolls and dancers representing the Crow Mother generally wear masks with ears of huge crow wings.” She is connected to the renewal/growth of corn crops in the spring. 

Paul Pletka - While the Ravens Laughed, 1976

While the Ravens Laughed, 1976

The piece below (here is the larger version) is probably one of my favorite ones from Phx Art Museum. It just draws your eye with the bright reds, oranges, blues and greens and makes you want to study it to find out what all the little details mean. The painting depicts a re-enactment of the Passion of Christ, which is done by Mexicans during Lent (the liturgical season leading up to Easter in the Catholic and Protestant calendars). The Passion of Jesus refers to the suffering enduring by Jesus starting at his entrance to Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the trial in front of Pilate and finishing with his crucifixion The difference here between traditional representations is the mixing of Catholic and pre-Hispanic elements, i.e.the inclusion of the Olmec/Toltec/Aztec god of fertility, seeds, metalsmith/goldworkers, maize and spring. Xipe Totec was typically depicted wearing the flayed skin of his enemy’s and you can see that on the face of Christ on the cross and possibly the rest of the skin showing on his body. The flayed skin was supposed to renew or grow crops, which goes in well with the idea that Christ on the cross is there to give us salvation/renewal. The title refers to both the flayed body of Jesus and the flayed skin of Xipe Totec’s mask is scene on the far right panel underneath the banner of Jesus/John the Baptist. 

Xipe Totec

Xipe Totec – The Flayed God

The altar in the back of the painting is taken directly from the artist’s studio, as seen in the first picture above. Complementary colors play an important part in moving your eyes around the picture. The greens complement the red (ex.the dark green of the cross vs the bright red of the drapes), as well as the blues and oranges (ex. the turquoise of the ladder with the orange of the woman’s shawl in the center of the painting). The red symbolizes the blood of martyrs, in this case the ultimate martyr – Jesus. It is also specifically used on Palm Sunday in anticipation of the death of Jesus. As the author of the post on Yo So Art has commented on her blog post, in the center of the painting is one of the most interesting juxtaposition of images. The priest standing on the ladder has purple vestments which “depict missionaries preaching to the Native [Mexicans]  from a book in front of a giant cross, on top of a scene of some conquistadors on horseback stabbing [these same Aztecs].” 

Paul Pletka - Our Lord, The One Who is Flayed - 2004

Nuestro Senor el Desollado (Our Lord, The One Who is Flayed), 2004

Resources: 

Bratcher, Deborah. CRI, 2013: http://www.crivoice.org/symbols/colorsmeaning.html   

askArt, 2000-2017. http://www.askart.com/artist_bio/Paul_Pletka/82216/Paul_Pletka.aspx

The Eddie Basha Collection, Paul Pletka, taken from Art Fortune, 2016: http://eddiebashacollection.com/collection/paul-pletka 

Yo Soy Art, Dec 2012.Paul Pletka, Our Lord, The One Who is Flayed, 2004: http://yosoyart.blogspot.com/2012/12/blog-post.html 

Esther

Esther

Esther by Rebecca Kanner

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

Esther is a fourteen year old orphaned Jewish girl who is kidnapped by soldiers of King Xerxes of Persia, and taken to his harem in the palace. It is there she must learn to protect herself against the vicious concubine who has been scheming for years to become queen. After a year of preparation, she is presented to the king. Esther manages to capture his heart and attention and is made queen. Now she must watch out for herself more than ever, as she has fallen for one of the Immortals, an elite soldier of the king. Her cousin Mordecai is the king’s accountant and he warns her about Haman. He is the king’s most trusted advisor, who plots the downfall of the Jewish people to increase his own power and prestige. Will Esther be strong enough to risk her life to defeat Haman and save her people? Find out in this lushly described tale of one woman’s journey to greatness. 3-1/2 stars.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Esther but never knew much about it, so I figured this book was a good way to get a glimpse. The book does remind me of Tosca Lee’s The Legend of Shebaanother religious fiction ARC about a strong female lead. I love books that are well-researched and pay close attention to detail, and with this book, the reader could really imagine themselves as a young girl surving in Xerxes’ palace. It makes me want to read a biography of the king. I must say that the whole time I was reading it though, I kept picturing him as Rodrigo Santoro, that Brazilian actor who starred as the king from the movie 300It’s kind of hard to believe that all the events in the story happen in little over a year, as it seems like much longer because so much happens to the unlikely heroine. The time she spent in the harem were particularly fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about all the intrigue and backstabbing. It’s crazy to think that any woman would wait a year to get ready for a man to have sex with them and this act alone would determine their fate. I’m guessing the author put the Esther-Erez romance in to counter the transaction-like relationship between the queen and Xerxes. While I enjoyed that part of the story, it does kind of take the attention away from the Biblical tale. Overall, I liked the book but it did drag a bit.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from the publisher Howard Books, in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Woman Who Would Be King

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut's Cartouche

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, and so when I was browsing for a new audiobook to read, I grabbed for this one. This book was a very intriguing glimpse into the Egyptian royal family in the Eighteenth Dynasty, religion/mythology, and culture. I figured that naturally a pharaoh’s wife/daughter would be involved in religious ceremonies, but I had never heard of her duties as “god’s wife of Amun”, or that it would be so sexual. It was a bit odd to think about the Egyptians believing that the world was started by a god masturbating. The intricacies of palace life are a bit over my head, but I know that I would not have wanted to be a royal woman in Egyptian times as their lives were so rigid and controlled.

The book goes into great detail about Hatshepsut’s father Thutmose I, who was not the original successor to the throne but most likely a high powered general, and her mother Ahmose (the great wife – chief among all the wives and harem). Hatshepsut herself was married to her half-brother Thutmose II, who was the third in line to the throne originally, but was sickly and died early. She next ended up begin regent to her toddler step-son Thutmose III, and later because she was “intellectually ambitious” seized the chance to be co-king with him. She bought her support with the elites of the kingdom and started an extensive building program, originally started by her father Thutmose I. The co-regency was also a time of great peace and prosperity, as evidenced by her very successive journey to Punt.

Hatshepsut Expediton to Punt

Part of Hatshepsut’s wall painting of the Expedition to Punt from her Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri,  Luxor, Egypt

The Mortuary Temple of King Hatshepsut, aka the Djeser-Djeseru, the Holy of Holies

Entrance to Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri, Luxor, Egypt. Called Djeser-Djeseru, aka “Holy of Holies” [this is someplace I’ve always wanted to go, even before I read this brilliant biography]

As much as some historians try to claim that she was a ruthless power-grabber who took advantage of a precarious political situation for her own gain, I really think that she was trying to not let her father’s legacy die out and took the opportunity to rule a bit. Yes it was not traditional and she stretched all kind of boundaries, including revamping/re-sexing the gods but it worked for her and her people at the time. And if there was disension in the ranks, so to speak, Thutmose III didn’t speak up about it until he was pretty much full-grown. In fact he didn’t deface or knock-down her sculptures until the very end of his reign, and even then, it seems to be more about a succession issue (putting a son with no royal connections on the throne) than actual contempt of his aunt I think. It’s hard to make an accurate assessment of the time because there was no written record of how others felt about it, instead having to go on a lot of conjecture as the author/historian does in the book. So yeah, she makes a lot of assumptions, but I agreed with most of it. 5 stars.

hatshepsutbust

Seated Hatshepsut statue

Hatshepsut as King with feminine attributes