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Picturing a World

Neanderthal to the moon

An idea on p. 57 of Rebecca Wragg Sykes' absorbing book, Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, jumped out at me: The smell in the air when stone implements are knapped is like just the smell of the silica-rich powder blanketing the moon. A haiku followed whole, not a syllable needed changing:

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Marieke Nelissen’s badger

Badgers are my totem, with Mr. Badger in The Wind in the Willows a sentimental favorite, so it was a great delight to discover one among the work of a children's illustrator new to me, Marieke Nelissen. Several of her pictures appear in Terri Windling's post, How to Begin!— for writers, a two-fer!

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Cripplegate flowers and laundry

Blog post alert: My interest in gardening history keeps me on the lookout for humble gardens, flower boxes, and pots grown in windows. In this image, other writers might take note of the laundry, the broken window panes, the proximity of the ramshackle building to the wall. And this is just a detail! For the full image and many more, see John Thomas Smith's Antient Topography at the ever rich Spitalfields Life.

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Artist, jester

I keep an eye out for images of medieval scribes and artists. This one from Pierre Sala's emblematic Livre d'amour jumped out at me because the artist is painting a jester—yea! Oh, and wait a minute, look!—the jester is painting a portrait of the artist.
 
The British Library labels the artist and jester, wise man and fool; and the Livre d'amour certainly contains emblems. Could this one suggest that any persona we project is also a parody of ourselves? I can imagine having a writer or actor in a story pin it up as a reminder of that lesson.

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Frames in albums

This drawing of a priest looking at an album of pictures appears in Framing the drawing. an article about Renaissance artists who drew frames around drawings they collected. I found the whole thing interesting—more ways to frame! —but what electrified me was this particular image. It's so suggestive for a character in a story. Look at the man's concentration, the delicate tension in his extended finger. Connoisseur, scholar, merchant, alchemist? He seems to be pointing to something on the upper edge of the page. Why? Pick up clues where you find them, I say, and let your imagination run.

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Chinese Green Man?

A History Blog post on a 9th c. temple complex found in southwest China includes an image of tiles recovered from an ancient kiln. When I saw this one, my reaction was, a Chinese Green Man? Is that foliage on top of his head? Vines or snakes coming out of his mouth? A little poking around on the web turned up Kirtimukha, which may indeed be connected to the foliate heads of Western medieval art.

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Photographic time travel

I admit I don't understand all the technicalities explained in this YouTube, but whoa! is Time-Travel Rephotography ever fascinating (and more than a little scary). If it does nothing else for historical fiction writers, it should educate us in the ways older cameras distort people's faces so that, given an old photograph, we can try to imagine people from the past more sensitively. But like all doctored photograph, it is also a reminder of the ways we can be manipulated by computer programmers—although for speculative fiction writers, just think of the doors it opens!

 

Via Gurney Journey's Bringing Old Photos to Life, which discusses it and another app. from a color-specialist and animator's point of view.

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Walter Gay (5) The Gilded Age

Here is Walter Gay depicting the Gilded Age interior splendor for which he is best known. The word is luxe. (And, yea, the painting is shown in its ornate gilt frame.) I'll leave it to art historians to discuss Gay as an artist. For those of us who write fiction his pictures offer loads of period details for life among the rich in the latter part of the 19th C and into the 20th, especially in France.

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Walter Gay interiors (4): Creative misprision

"Creative misprision" is a concept in literary criticism. Briefly put, an artist or a writer misinterprets someone else's work and takes off from there in a new direction. When I first saw this pastel drawing by Walter Gay, I thought the window looked out onto the brick wall of the next building. I saw the room as empty, dusty, and formerly grand but now hemmed in and down-at-heels. Maybe it could be the setting for a young protagonist who is thrilled to find a romantic apartment which is cheap because of the blocked view. Maybe it could illustrate a melancholy last view by someone moving out. The fact that the image is non-narrative in itself makes it more potent in a way for stimulating imagination.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (2): Another Paris studio

As a first follow-up to my last post, here is another painting that could be a "portrait without a person," one that could help a writer create the character of late-19th C artist and visualize a setting. Notice that this picture is not attributed to Walter Gay himself, but to an unnamed follower.

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