JOHN FLAXMAN

1755 - 1826

 

 

outline illustrations

ODYSSEY
COMPOSITIONS FOR DANTE 1807 (PIROLI)

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Flaxman and me go back a long way. Early in my collecting career I got the original bound sets of Piroli's engravings after Flaxman of Odyssey, Iliad, Aeschelus and the Divine Comedy. It is a commonpalce that Piroli missed the fine nuances of Flaxman's original drawings (he was a superb and original draftsman). I read eagerly in Rosenblum's Transformations of Flaxman and the Tabula Rasa, where the ideal was the miniumum of imagery in pursuit of the ineffable. Working at the Norwich School of Art it was a policy that would have spared me much heartache. Echoes of Flaxman appear regularly through the corpus of Romantic Art in the Nineteenth Century, Blake, Goya and particularly Ingres, all of whom used him as a sort of pattern book. Flaxman's conjuring up of Polyphemus dominated the field of Giants thereafter, Noel Paton and David Scott for instance.

I found over the years that I began to warm to Piroli's mechanical clunkiness, as if muslim draped lovelies were cut out with a fret saw and lit with a pocket torch. At some stage I made the move for more contemporary material in my library, and Blake, Fuseli, Martin and Flaxman were traded for Wyndham Lewis, Edy Legrand and Caran D'Ache.

A purchase of a small Bohn edition of the Odyssey was intended as a memory of what could have been. Instead it intensified the pleasure of the Piroli travesties of Flaxman with engravings by Henry Moses for this cheap edition. It was pure Chinese whispers. From delicacy to clunkiness to high camp and graphic mincing. Flaxman had a thing for pointed toes, particularly when floating. I have noticed this in his funerary sculpture. The Furies are about as frightening as gerbils, and the ghosts and condemned are most unpersuasive. Flaxman did have a good eye for a Twink, young lissom lads who flutter through his compositions with artfully concealed genitalia.

There is much to be said for re-engraving for the English market. Will Vaughan noticed that the size of gentlemen's codpieces in Retzsch's Faust was dramatically dimished for the London edition. I checked. He's right.

 

  DANTE Original screen

 

 

self portrait

 

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