Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Goethe's Last Supper

It takes a good writer. I had never registered the hands, not to mention the tiny detail of the knife. Goethe's observation of the detail in 'The Last Supper' is great.

---an excerpt from a piece written by JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE (from Great Pictures, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited by Esther Singleton, pub. Dodd, Mead and Co., New York, 1899) ---

.........The exciting means which the artist employed to agitate the tranquil and holy Supper-Table are the Master's words: "There is one amongst you that betrays me." The words are spoken, and the entire company falls into consternation; but He inclines His head with downcast looks; the whole attitude, the motion of the arms, the hands, and everything repeat with heavenly resignation which the silence itself confirms, "Verily, verily, there is one amongst you that betrays Me."
Before going any farther we must point out a great expedient, by means of which Leonardo principally animated this picture: it is the motion of the hands; only an Italian would have discovered this. With his nation the whole body is expressive, all the limbs take part in describing an emotion, not only passion but also thought. By various gestures he can express: "What do I care?"—"Come here!"—"This is a rascal, beware of him!" "He shall not live long!" "This is a main point. Take heed of this, my hearers!" To such a national trait, Leonardo, who observed every characteristic with the greatest attention, must have turned his searching eye; in this the present picture is unique and one cannot observe it too much. The expression of every face and every gesture is in perfect harmony, and yet a single glance can take in the unity and the contrast of the limbs rendered so admirably.
The figures on both sides of our Lord may be considered in groups of three, and each group may be regarded as a unit, placed in relation and still held in connection with its neighbours. On Christ's immediate right are John, Judas, and Peter.
Peter, the farthest, on hearing the words of our Lord, rises suddenly, in conformity with his vehement character, behind Judas, who, looking up with terrified countenance, leans over the table, tightly clutching the purse with his right hand, whilst with the left he makes an involuntary nervous motion as if to say: "What may this mean? What is to happen?" Peter, meanwhile, with his left hand has seized the right shoulder of John, who is bending towards him, and points to Christ, at the same time urging the beloved disciple to ask: "Who is the traitor?" He accidentally touches Judas's side with the handle of a knife held in his right hand, which occasions the terrified forward movement upsetting the salt-cellar, so happily brought out. This group may be considered as the one first thought of by the artist; it is the most perfect.
While now on the right hand of the Lord a certain degree of emotion seems to threaten immediate revenge, on the left, the liveliest horror and detestation of the treachery manifest themselves. James the Elder starts back in terror, and with outspread arms gazes transfixed with bowed head, like one who imagines that he already beholds with his eyes what his ears have heard. Thomas appears behind his shoulder, and approaching the Saviour raises the forefinger of his right hand to his forehead. Philip, the third of this group, rounds it off in the most pleasing manner; he has risen, he bends forward towards the Master, lays his hands upon his breast, and says with the greatest clearness: "It is not I, Lord, Thou knowest it! Thou knowest my pure heart, it is not I."
And now the three last figures on this side give us new material for reflection. They are discussing the terrible news. Matthew turns his face eagerly to his two companions on the left, hastily stretching out his hands towards the Master, and thus, by an admirable contrivance of the artist, he is made to connect his own group with the preceding one. Thaddæus shows the utmost surprise, doubt, and suspicion; his left hand rests upon the table, while he has raised the right as if he intended to strike his left hand with the back of his right, a very common action with simple people when some unexpected occurrence leads them to say: "Did I not tell you so? Did I not always suspect it?"—Simon sits at the end of the table with great dignity, and we see his whole figure; he is the oldest of all and wears a garment with rich folds, his face and gesture show that he is troubled and thoughtful but not excited, indeed, scarcely moved.
If we now turn our eyes to the opposite end of the table, we see Bartholomew, who rests on his right foot with the left crossed over it, supporting his inclined body by firmly resting his hands upon the table. He is probably trying to hear what John will ask of the Lord: this whole side appears to be inciting the favourite disciple. James the Younger, standing near and behind Bartholomew, lays his left hand on Peter's shoulder, just as Peter lays his on John's shoulder, but James mildly requests the explanation whilst Peter already threatens vengeance.
And as Peter behind Judas, so James the Younger stretches out his hand behind Andrew, who, as one of the most prominent figures expresses, with his half-raised arms and his hands stretched out directly in front, the fixed horror that has seized him, an attitude occurring but once in this picture, while in other works of less genius and less reflection, it is too often repeated

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Strange Parallel: Libel Cost the Wildes, Father and Son, Their Greatness

    The parallel that exists between the end of Oscar Wilde’s glittering career and his father’s, William Wilde, is striking.
    Oscar Wilde brought his lover’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, to court in a libel action in 1895. Homosexuality was illegal at the time , so Wilde was on a hiding to nothing when Queensbury brought rent boys into court to bear witness to Wilde’s homosexual  activities. The libel case was lost, and later Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labour. Released in 1897, he soon after moved to Paris where he died penniless in 1900, aged just 46 years.
   Thirty one years earlier, his remarkably gifted father, William Wilde, was also embroiled in a libel case, which led him to give up a career in which he had achieved international acclaim and a knighthood.
    A patient, Mary Travers , with whom he had been involved, later embarked on a campaign to discredit him; in a pamphlet she wrote and circulated, she characterised him as Dr Quilp, who raped his patient while she was under the influence of chloroform. When Lady Wilde complained to Travers’ father, Mary Travers brought a libel case against her. Travers won the case but was awarded damages amounting to one farthing. The financial cost to the Wildes was large, but the damage to his reputation was much more serious. The scandal was the talk of the town. He retired from his medical practice, (he was Ireland’s leading occulist),and removed himself from Dublin society to the west of Ireland.

Friday, October 18, 2013


It was the time of Afton and Albany,
Joe O’Neill’s band and the Adelaides,
hay forks sharing pub windows
with Daz and Persil; the Smithwicks sign
and the Harp sign, half-ones of Guinness.

It was a time of pipe-smoking
beneath naked bulbs and neon strips,
         the priest in his cassock,
Hillman Hunters, Ford Corsairs,
Wilkinson Swords and Fruit Gums. 

Of scarved heads at mass, berets,
the Messenger and the Far East,
dress makers and blacksmiths;
hollowed faces in the County Home,
yanks in the sitting room.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lessening the Risk for Alzheimers' Sufferers

The recent, tragic death of Peggy Mangan, an alzheimer's sufferer, in Dublin has been on my mind, as it has been on the minds of many around the country. She walked away from her home on the south side of the city, only to be found dead, 4 days later, on the other side of the city. When found, her dog was standing over her body.
My question is, would it not be appropriate for people who have this condition to wear a badge or some identication, so passers-by can be alerted to the possibility of the person being lost or confused. Might this not have saved Peggy Mangan's life?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

She Takes to the Sky

Through baffled bogs, disengaged mountaintops,
I led whistling rocks, croaking ice
till earth turned its blue eye upward.
I drew cream grass from the ground,
graphite cliffs from the sea,
and all the time, slaking the thirst of rivers,
ran rigid fields amok. 

I laughed a stampede of one-legged herons,
cried chains of crocodiles,
roared bees;
and balancing on a lake-shore,
threw myself  to the winds
to fly with them like rain.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Green Road

The blackthorns above Fenore
are flight rooted;
they are folklore’s skeletons,
beggars of the green road.

Scoured to the knuckle,
stunted on burren karst,
they are the hags on the mountain
hunched from Atlantic gales.

Yet even this stone-weary day,
with hunger perched on their throats,
a robin is singing in each
notes that singe the February air.

Beneath the huddling sky,
into the ear of the green road
it pours, clear as water,
the music of tin whistlers’ dreams.