Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Clack's Diana now not so hard to get ... ?

E.J. Clark, "Diana"
Hunting for the nude Diana in London’s Green Park used to be harder than it is now. The refurbishment of the three-line Underground station there has relocated John Clack’s bronze Diana from its original seclusion in a lovely clearing approximately 300 yards west into, now, the park’s busiest corner on the verge of Piccadilly and adjacent to the Ritz. During my recent pilgrimage visit, scores of bustling passers-by disgorged from the Piccadilly and Victoria and the Jubilee Lines while I glimpsed the goddess perched high over their heads. The bronze dog with her is the key to understanding the sculpture.
    Nobody catches a glimpse of the divine huntress with impunity. Actaeon learned that lesson the hardest way possible. Metamorphosed by the enraged goddess into his own quarry, the stag Actaeon was ravaged by his own hunting dogs. This punishment was Actaeon’s just dessert for having stumbled upon Diana bathing naked among her nymphs. Stern retribution for a chance encounter. Was it accidental? Was it premeditated? The infamous execution, in Ovid’s telling, stirred Diana’s peers to dispute the harshness of her judgment.
   The modest goddess in typical iconography shows no more skin than a shapely lower leg. The mistress of the hunt must hike her skirt a bit to allow for swiftness and free movement. And artists from the archaic through the classical periods preserve the standard garb that covers the virginal goddess’ privacy as chastely as she would herself. A browse through the LIMC reveals nothing more than a shapely calf or an occasional thigh. Even the classical depictions of Actaeon’s indiscretion show Diana covering up and gazing sternly upon the unwitting victim. Not all modern depictions of the
von Gleichen, "Diana the Huntress"
hunting goddess adhere to this modest attire, of course. A 5-minute walk across Hyde Park Corner leads to another bronze, fully nude, Feodora von Gleichen’s Diana the Huntress. After Saint-Gaudens disrobed Diana so infamously as weathervane atop Madison Square Garden (1891, 1894), there was no getting her back under wraps. Yet, much as Manship's 1921 Diana, also Clack’s Diana's appearance in the altogether connects his Green Park bronze to the Actaeon myth.
   Clack’s Diana group depicts an energetic intensity as the goddess unleashes the hound’s pent up potential energy. The cord in the her right hand restrained til just now all that canine force that springs now up and away from the lunging dog; her left hand must have been holding the collar. The exquisite release creates a torque that from some angles just conceals the goddess’s nude torso. Her nudity is more conspicuous because that dog is springing free.
   The Constance Fund awarded its prize to James Clack for this sculpture in 1954. The bronze was made originally as a drinking fountain for dogs — presumably on leads — that would drink from the three receptacles at its base while on walks in Green Park. The mistress of wild animals, whom the Greeks identified as the potnia theron, offering refreshment to dogs in a metropolitan greenspace was to be right at home. For over half a century the dog fountain offered its mid-park watering hole at a place along the Piccadilly side of Green Park. Though centered in London’s megalopolis a clearing in its former greenspace was just remote enough that Clack’s Diana seemed to tempt only the infrequent humans who stumbled upon her there, midway between the Hard Rock CafĂ© and the throngs at Buckingham Palace. A chaste Olympian might be more likely be caught au naturale in a place like that. I like to think that Clack’s sculpture maximized the effect of its original location. Diana on a dog fountain. The relative seclusion of a spot in Green Park. An unwitting passerby. Divine retaliation answers the intruder.
   For the 2012 Olympics, the sculpture was reassigned to the busiest footpath within the park. Transferring Diana to the Green Park Station sort of ruins the artist’s original conceit. Even though the maps at the park’s main entrances still show Clack’s tripedal bronze where it stood since 1950’s, a wholly unmythological installation now functions as the Constance Fund's fountainhead: The Watering Holes drinking fountain by Robin Monotti Architects and Mark Titman has replaced Clack’s Diana. And over by the Tube station, Clack’s canine drinking fountains at Diana’s base will likely never serve thirsty dogs again. The bustle of passengers will now always violate that one-time isolation that disarmed (and disrobed) the wary goddess in the quieter copse where the unwary once might go to gaze upon her.
    So, don’t fail to be aware of Clack’s Diana. But … be careful that your gaze doesn’t offend the vengeful goddess.

OGCMA0232NOTArtemis_Clack, a mastery image