Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fine Art Works Mentioned In Proust's 'Swann's Way'

We're both reading Proust. Here are some works of art mentioned in Swann's Way.

1- Sandro Botticelli, "The Trials of Moses," Sistine Chapel, Rome (1481-82): "The Daughters of Jethro." This, of course, was the work that begins Swann's infatuation with Odette:

"The vague feeling of sympathy which attracts one to a work of art, now that he knew the original in flesh and blood of Jethro's daughter, became a desire which Odette's physical charms had at first failed to inspire in him. When he had sat for a long time gazing at the Botticelli, he would think of his own living Botticelli, who seemed even lovelier still, and as he drew towards him the photograph of Zipporah he would imagine that he was holding Odette against his heart."

2- Gentile Bellini, "The Sultan Mehmet II," National Gallery, London (1480):

"Swann felt a very cordial sympathy with the sultan Mahomet II whose portrait by Bellini he admired, who, on finding that he had fallen madly in love with one of his wives, stabbed her to death in order, as his Venetian biographer artlessly relates, to recover his peace of mind. Then he would be ashamed of thinking thus only of himself, and his own sufferings would seem to deserve no pity now that he himself held Odette's life so cheap."

3- Johannes Vermeer of Delft, "View of Delft," Mauritshuis, The Hague (ca. 1660-1664):

"... At last he came to the Vermeer which he remembered as more striking, more different from anything else he knew, but in which, thanks to the critic's article, he noticed for the first time some small figures in blue, that the sand was pink, and finally, the precious little patch of wall. "That's how I ought to have written," he said. "My last books are too dry, I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of colour, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall."

4- Giotto di Bondone, "Vices and Virtues," Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (1305-06): "Injustice":

"... Swann, a fervent admirer of Giotto's Vices and Virtues at Padua, that figure representing Injustice by whose side a leafy bough evokes the idea of the forests that enshroud his secret lair."

5- Giotto di Bondone, "Vices and Virtues," Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (1305-06): "Justice":

"... Justice whose greyish eyes and meanly regular features were identical with those which characterised the faces of certain pious, desiccated ladies of Combray whom I used to see at mass and many of whom had been had long been enrolled in the reserve forces of Injustice. But in later years I came to understand that the arresting strangeness, the special beauty of these frescoes derived from the great part played in them by symbolism, and the fact that this was represented not as a symbol (for the thought symbolised was nowhere expressed) but as a reality, actually felt or materially handled, added something more precise and more literal to the meaning of the work, something more concrete and more striking to the lesson it imparted."

6- Giotto di Bondone, "Vices and Virtues," Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (1305-06): 'Charity" and "Envy":

"... He it was who pointed out the resemblance, and when he inquired after the kitchen-maid he would say: "Well, how goes it with Giotto's Charity?" And indeed the poor girl, whose pregnancy had swelled and stoutened every part of her, even including her face and he squarish, elongated cheeks, did distinctly suggest those virgins, so sturdy and mannish as to seem matrons rather, in whom the Virtues are personified in the Arena Chapel ....

But in this fresco, too, the symbol occupies so large a place and is represented with such realism, the serpent hissing between the lips of Envy is so huge, and so completely fills her wide-opened mouth, that the muscles of her face are strained and contorted, like those of a child blowing up a balloon, and her attention--and ours too for that matter--is so utterly concentrated on the activity of her lips as to leave little time to spare for envious thoughts."

The etching of Proust is by Barbara Zozouline (1931).

The music is from Franck's 'Violin/Piano Sonata in A Major' - one source for the Vinteuil piece that so passionately moved Swann

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