Spectrum

Mozartfamilyby Carmontelle ca. 1763

“I’m not naughty – I’m autistic. Sometimes I get too much information. And if you only see a naughty kid, you haven’t got enough”

Watch this video to experience what sensory overl…

Source: Spectrum

Into the core

PART SEVEN OF THE CHARACTER OF LIGHT

At the end of his career, Keats, the poet of sensations and melodic rhymes, the mellifluous word-painter of altering moods, the worshipper of Beauty and believer in salvation through imagination, accepted that art of pure subjectivity was not going to harmonize humanity with its existence. “Only the dreamer venoms all his days.” [4]

Apollo in Hyperion realizes that his gift for “melodious” raptures about nature’s beauty – “the sun, the sun! / And the most patient brilliance of the moon!”–  is only good enough for a half-god, a demi-poet. “Where is power?” he demands.

To answer the poet-god’s question, Keats had to admit fact and reason into his “sensual life of verse”, just as he admitted them into daily life, even diagnosing the symptoms of his own death. “I know the colour of that blood”. [3] The alternative was to be nothing but “a dreaming thing” [4].

The poet and the dreamer are distinct,
‘Diverse, sheer opposite, antipodes.
‘The one pours out a balm upon the world,
‘The other vexes it. (The Fall of Hyperion)

His alchemical metaphors to illustrate his theory of “soul-making” in his letters to friends contain correct terminology, of “touchstones” and “essence”; the transformation of Apollo in Hyperion, and the quest to become the perfect poet in The Fall of Hyperion have elements of the legendary search for the secrets of the universe, trying to save the present through rediscovering the lost wisdom of ancient cultures.

alcymistbyjosephwright xsJoseph Wright, The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the ancient chymical astrologers
oil on canvas, exhibited 1771, reworked and dated 1795. Joseph Wright Gallery, Derby Museum.
Image source: © 2014 Derby Museums Trust.
“…a silver lamp, whose phosphor glow
Reflected in the slabbed steps below .” (Lamia)

The irony in a lot of Keats’ statements apparently dismissing all mechanical explanations of phenomena – and drinking “confusion to mathematics” – has been overlooked. Dead poets are assumed to be in perpetual earnest, never taking time off to make jokes. The mysticism of Rosicrucianism remained attractive to many intellectuals throughout the Enlightenment, more cogently than now, when it is more like a branch of entertainment.

When Keats drew analogies between the poet and “some watcher of the skies”,[5] Continue reading

red life, dreaming nights

sunsetBonington, Sunset in the Pays de Caux, 1828, watercolour. Wallace Collection, London. Image source: WGA
Delacroix praised his long dead friend Bonington’s “astonishing ability”, “that  lightness of touch which, especially in watercolors, makes his works a type of diamond which flatters and ravishes the eye, independently of any subject and any imitation.” [1]

Richard Parkes Bonington has been called “the Keats of painting” – if only it were that simple, we could wrap this up now in relief. Yet another marvellous boy, his vivid output and early, painful death of tuberculosis aged 25 resemble Keats’ own art and life. There’s poetry in Bonington’s brushwork, the liquid freshness of colours, the delight in shadow and light. His technical genius was in hiding technique, so that with him all the spontaneity for which other Romantics strove looks effortless. His pictures are more than just pretty; he was a painter’s painter, loved, as Delacroix said, by all who knew him.

The absence of perplexity and detail in his work is refreshing, but not Keatsian – not the mature Keats of Hyperion. His paintings are like pictures inside a Keats poem, impressions brightening up the dark walls of an Enchanted Castle, or the Chamber of Maiden-Thought in the “Mansion of Many Apartments”. [2]

FII and MargueriteBonington, Francois I and Marguerite de Navarre, c.1827. Wallace Collection. Image source: Wikipedia
“The brain, new stuff’d, in youth with triumphs gay/ Of old romance…” Keats, The Eve of St Agnes

Keats wanted to anatomize the veins of a living hand as much as luxuriate in the ephemeral, drugged visions of “dreaming nights”. Keats the trained surgeon, Constable the amateur geologist, one a pantheist, the other Anglican, wanted to go beyond communion with nature through their senses to “Tell…how came I thus, how here?” as Milton’s Adam had. “We see nothing truly till we understand it”, Constable declared. “Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature.”

Part Five of THE CHARACTER OF LIGHT Continue reading

Brilliance Feminine

Thomas-Lawrence croftSir Thomas Lawrence, (Isabella) Mrs. Jens Wolff, painted 1803 – 1815.  © The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection.

She sits in profile, rapturously contemplating an art book, brightly illuminated by a hanging lamp, the dark mysterious recesses of an arch behind her. An artist wants a picture to tell its own story; but we, the viewers, the readers, the audience, we lap up gossipy biographical details that add to our emotional titillation. Lawrence and the willowy, poised divorcee, with her distinguished aquiline features and slim modern figure, her intelligent expression and taste in contemporary and Renaissance art (her rapture is ostensibly aroused by studying Michelangelo, not by her consciousness of being studied herself) were bound in a relationship that lasted till his death.

Part Four of THE CHARACTER OF LIGHT
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