Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two courses on the reception of classical mythology in Fall 2016

Dear Mythographers and other Friends,
    You might like to know about my F2016 courses:
 “Reception of Classical Myth in the Arts in the Modern Era” Clscs 490R/Clscs 690R. MW 1:00 – 2:15 p.m.   and "Studies in Themes and Types: The Eurydice Theme" CmpSt 640R M 8:00 — 10:45.
     The courses are intended to explore theoretical and practical issues pertaining to the reception and adaptation of classical myth in the arts — literature, cinema, opera, painting, sculpture, landscape,
orchestral, graphic novel, television, video game, whatever. In particular, we will look closely at reception of two mythological figures especially: Electra and Pygmalion in the one, Eurydice in the other.
ad for 2012 Perth Opera's Elektra (Strauss)

In our exploration, we will deliberate on what constitutes usage of a classical myth, a sometimes challenging enterprise.
   We will read classical mythological treatments, such as are found in Sophocles, Euripides, and Ovid, and then proceed to standard treatments of Electra and Pygmalion in representations such as Strauss’ Elektra, O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and so forth. Student contributions in this seminar will drive collective success; thus, I am loathe to dictate up front what the
parameters of our study will be. Once we establish the groundrules for the course, the direction will be subject to interesting twists and turns. Hundreds of usages of these myths are available for consideration.
Jean-Leon Gérôme's Pygmalion
           Please contact me with any questions you might have.

Imaged here: Strauss’ Elektra, Gerôme’s Pygmalion and Galatea,
                   Miller’s (actually Bendis/Austen's) Elektra: Assassin, Lerner/Loewe’s My Fair Lady

Both these courses will allow me to explore matters pertaining to reception of classical myth with the students.
   The CmpSt 640R should have a broader base of theoretical readings, because the course should be pertinent to individuals from every walk of our program’s life. There ought to be more interdisciplinarity in that course.
Frank Miller developed
Elektra, but others have
adapted the character.
    The Clscs 690R will have some of that, but perhaps a good deal less than CmpSt 640R ought to have.
       Further, Clscs 690R will be taught in a room that is largely populated by undergraduates (I hope!) who are enrolled in the 4xx-level course.
In both I will be expanding my core articles for the eventual OGCMA-online project. The 690R course will involve the creation of two articles, while the CmpSt 640R will be more focused and result in the creation of only one article. See below.

Differences will be readily apparent in the topics approached. Beyond the theoretical groundwork, the Clscs course will explore the reception of both the Electra myth and the Pygmalion myth, while the CmpSt course will dig as deeply as we can into the Eurydice myth.
    In the Eurydice course (CmpSt 690R) I hope to sideline Orpheus as much as possible and look for interesting psychological developments of Eurydice in myth and the arts. She deserves her own scholarship, and artists have been exploring Eurydice for a long long time. Geoffrey Miles stated (erroneously, I believe) that Edward Dowden’s 1876 “Eurydice” is “perhaps the first serious attempt to give Eurydice a voice and to see the Orpheus-Eurydice relationship from her point of view.” (Miles, 126) Dowden post-dates the Orfeo by Gluck (libretto by Calzabigi, 1762), whose Euridice expresses her plaintive rather pathetically and takes matters into her own hands, by over a century. (Gluck Orfeo premiered 1762.) But Gluck/Calzabigi may not be the first in this regard.

Poster for My Fair Lady.
   In the Electra/Pygmalion course, disparate mythological strands will be united by the common fact that OGCMA-print lacks adequate depth. Electra deserves her own article and Pygmalion’s cinematic reception is not even remotely explored by JDReid et co. Pygmalion is one of the trickiest test-cases for my anally myopic theoretical rules on reception, especially because I doubt that most descendants of My Fair Lady know anything about the classical myth that lies before it. You know this about me. As for Electra, some fascinating receptions of Electra come into play cinematically — Il Pistolero dell’Ave Maria, or Electra, My Love, or the Jennifer Garner Elektra —among others. This course, the Clscs 490R/690R ought to find us looking into lots of films.

Let me know if I can clarify anything.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A New and Improved Athena on the Teatro San Carlo ceiling


A recent visit to Naples found me tracking a long-dead painter I never knew, Giuseppe Cammarano (1766-1850). Though not a great master from our perspective of 150 years, Cammarano was important during the Bourbon moment and influential as the “principal proponent” of Neapolitan neoclassicism.

The central frescoed ceiling of the famous Teatro San Carlo brought Cammarano to my attention. The huge round canvas hoovers high over the seats where artsy patrons have watched operas continuously since 1814. On my visits to this opera, I have been tucked away among the nose-bleed seats, too close to the ceiling to see it. San Carlo is the oldest continuously functioning operahouse anywhere, its musical majesty a critical reminder that Neapolitan culture is like the best stracciatella ricotta, extraordinary and rich.
G. Cammarano, "Apollo presents the Great Poets from Homer to Alfieri to Minerva", ceiling of
Teatro San Carlo, Naples.

Cammarano’s ceiling at the San Carlo presents a remarkable interpretation of the roles of Minerva and of Apollo. The artwork Apollo che presenta a Minerva i maggiori poeti, da Omero ad Alfieri (“Apollo presents to Minerva the greatest poets from Homer to Alfieri”, 1814) covers a whopping 500 square meters. Cammarano was commissioned to paint it as part of the restoration of the S.Carlo Theatre following a devastating fire. The commission was extended by Antonio Niccolini, who conceived the work. [NB: Cammarano's proscenium curtain was lost in an 1844 fire.****]

The novelty of this remarkable painting attracts your eye to its center then maintains your interest as you work your way outwards. A brilliant cloudburst emanates from her head, ruled shafts of light bursting from the divine central scene. Minerva occupies the middle position, sitting in glory atop the throne of heaven, presiding over the coronation of poets arriving in apotheosis. Nine Muses flank her, six to her left and three to her right. They clearly serve Minerva here, not Apollo musagetes. He stands apart from Minerva in posture every bit like the Apollo Belvedere, though he wears a regal robe tossed about his shoulders and plays a lyre. 

The central elements of this painting constitute a kind of Parnassus scene. Such scenes are common in neoclassicizing art.* Typically the Muses or their leader Apollo stands in a lofty place and receives a numerous string of artists who have achieved immortality.
Cammarano’s conception of the Parnassus scene works Athena into an uncustomarily superior role over her half-brother and subordinates Apollo to a gatekeeping role. 

Beyond Apollo, a gathering of poets awaits admission to the heavenly audience. In their rear (our far left), Hercules skips merrily with his newlywed bride, Hebe. Neither has any sense of urgency about getting to the painting’s center. A handful of robed men are ready to step upward toward the scene. Four particular artists attend the scene, identifiable as Homer, Vergil and Dante, (and is that Petrarch behind them all?). One surges forward, his time come, toward the accepting gesture of Apollo. It’s this poet’s coronation we are witnessing. He steps ahead of the all-time greatest to claim his prize over the heads of generations of opera-goers in the San Carlo.

The poet chosen for the immortalizing moment is Vittorio Alfieri. The Italian Romantic movement would have amounted to little, except for the contributions of Alfieri’s pen. Though Alfieri died at the fairly young age (1749 – 1803), his spirit captivated the hearts of Italians. His tragedies drew deeply from classical sources and played the central theme of liberty, the valorization of an individual transcending tyranny. Mdme Stendahl recorded in her journal a night in Napoli’s Teatro Nuovo when she emerged from a performance of Alfieri’s Saul thinking “that this tragedy touches the secret heartstrings of the Italian national spirit.”*** 

As Alfieri enters immortality, other figures on the massive canvas surge upward toward a heavenly reward. Is it Orpheus lower center who looks up at the woman who is being ushered away from him? He holds a lyre and the act of separation is distinctly portrayed. The throng of ghostly individuals is being led by a scythe-bearing Grim Reaper. Throughout the canvas, Cammarano has subtly adjusted the teleology from a classical setting to a heavenly scene in which a not a Judeo-Christian divinity presides but a classical goddess. The fitting ending for Alfieri in his quest for immortality.

G. Cammarano, Sala
del Consiglio, Caserta Reggia
Cammarano received the San Carlo commission two years after his first big Bourbon gig, when in 1814 he had collaborated with his brother, Antonio, to paint the Council Chamber of the Reggia at Caserta, depicting there “Minerva Crowning the Arts and Sciences” and, elsewhere in the same building the ceilings of the King’s bedroom with “Theseus Killing the Minotaur” and of the salon with “Hector Reprimanding Paris”. The Bourbon king Ferdinando IV had sent Cammarano to learn painting in Rome before any of the work at Caserta was undertaken. After San Carlo he would in service with Ferdinand as court decorator painting in the Palazzo Reale in Naples. His "Apollo with Muses" still adorns the ceiling of a reading room at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli.  (Cioffi, p. 286 does not identify the room.)
G. Cammarano, "Hector Reprimanding
Paris", Caserta Reggia

G. Cammarano, "Theseus and the Minotaur", Caserta
Reggia, Getty Images
His latest work was the Last Supper in the apse at the cathedral in Caserta. In all these paintings Cammarano develops his own stylistic program of fundamentally overt neoclassical that is also aware of color-modes of late 18th-century painting. The result of this is a distinct eclectic that comes also from peaceful refinement.” (Treccani; trans RTM) Cammarano's "Family Portrait of Francesco I King of the Two Sicilies" (1820, at Capodimonte), strikes me as extraordinarily ho-hum.

Better is Giuseppe Cammarano’s Apotheosis of Sappho (1831) on the ceiling of the monumental west staircase of Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano in the Via Toledo.
Apollo receives Sappho in apotheosis, G. Cammarano
Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples in situ
The apotheosis presents the same basic central scene as the San Carlo parnassus scene, but in a smaller format and as a fresco. A poetess holds her lyre and strives upward from left to center where Apollo receives her arrival at his cloud-strewn throne.

The Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano is primarily an art gallery now, with a few spectacular pieces of painted and sculpted art from all periods. The key holding is Caravaggio’s last canvas, “The Martyrdom of S.a Orsola.” It’s a painting with a history but catches your eye especially when you know that it contains the painter’s own self-portrait.

The Zevallos Caravaggio is safely tucked into its own room, which is a gem in its own right. The Wedgewood blue walls and ceiling of the room are decorated with white intaglios of erotic (though not overtly too naughty) scenes from classical mythology. I never stood inside a Wedgewood pyxis, until I entered this room. You should try it sometime. The wall opposite the painting has Mars and Venus ascending in a divine caress; the left wall shows Cupid and Psyche doing the same but with less petting; the right wall has Leda holding a very tame swan; but when I went to look behind the Caravaggio at the intaglio on the fourth wall, I triggered the alarm and left the room blushing, not from the naughtiness.  

————— RTM

Not in OGCMA, neither s.v. "Athena," s.v. "Apollo," nor s.v. "Parnassus".

* For Parnassus in literature: Classical sources: Ov. Met. 1.317, 2.221, 4.643, 5.278, 11.165, 11.330; Pausanias 10.6.1

** Treccani Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani vol. 17 (1974), s.v. “Cammarano, Giuseppe”:
“Nel frattempo aveva svolto un'intensa attività di decoratore per i Borbone: nel 1814, con la collaborazione del fratello Antonio, affrescò la volta della sala del Consiglio della reggia, di Caserta, raffigurandovi Minerva che premia le arti e le scienze e, nella stessa reggia, affrescò poi le volte della camera da letto del re (Teseo che uccide il Minotauro) e di un salotto (Ettore che rimprovera Paride, con data 1818). Nel 1816 intanto era stato chiamato dal Nicolini a decorare la volta del rinnovato teatro S. Carlo, con una vasta composizione su tela, ideata dallo stesso architetto e in cui figura Apollo che presenta a Minerva i maggiori poeti, da Omero ad Alfieri. Il C. lavorò quindi nel palazzo reale di Napoli e nel 1819 ne ornò un salone con un affresco raffigurante Minerva che premia le Virtù. In tutte queste decorazioni il C. sviluppa una sua formula stilistica di impronta fondamentalmente neoclassica e però sempre memore dei moduli coloristici tardosettecenteschi: risultandone così un certo eclettismo, comunque di piacevole raffinatezza.”
For more on Cammarano, see Greco, F.C. and R. Di Benedetto, edd. Donizetti, Napoli, l’Europa: Atti del Convegno (Napoli 11-13 dicembre 1997). Scientifiche Italiane, 2000. P. 282-83.

*** Diaries of Mdme Stendahl: 27 febbraio 1817. “Si direbbe che questa tragedia tocchi le corde segrete del sentimento nazionale italiano.]

**** Translation of a description of Cammarano's proscenium curtain, "il sipario": "...destroyed by a fire in 1844,... its attention to a theme represented and strongly promoted by the Bourbon agenda. A chronicler of the time, described its iconography precisely — You could see on the curtain Jupiter upon the height of Mt Olympus, whence came a ray of sunlight that fell upon the Genius of the Reign illuminating it. Upon this Genius was affixed the facial likeness of Ferdinando. Minerva guides to his proximity the various provinces of the realm personified and happy as they come together to pay tributary homage to the magnanimous Princeps through whom their inhabitants are just, humane, blessed, harmonious, agreeable, moderate, active, lovers of the public weal and they obtain today the affection, the esteem, and the admiration of all Europe and enjoy not disturbed internal peace because they are founded upon the true and lasting happiness of nations. ... Justice and Peace seem at the top to come forward to crown the August monarch whom they have recalled to this blessed land." Emanuele Taddei, Descrizione istorica dello incendio e del restauramento del Real Teatro di San Carlo (Napoli, 1817), 26 - 27 cited in R. Cioffi, "La Pittura di 'storia' a Napoli, all'epoca di Donizetti: persistenze neoclassiche a barlumi romantici," in R.C. Greco e R. Di Benedetto, edd., Donizetti Napoli l'Europa (Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2000), 283-85.