My apologies for the sporadic posting, but an extremely dear family member of mine went through serious surgery late last week and I was otherwise occupied with assisting the family. In some ways, this may seem like an inappropriate time for an image like this, but with the chaos and stress of the last few days….well, Dark Romanticism seems somewhat fitting, non?
This unique painting is called “Hatred and Madness” and was painted by Serbian artist Pasko Vucetic (1871 – 1925) and framed by Croatian artist Viktor Kovacic (1874 – 1924). According to Sotheby’s, it was done in 1898/1899 in oil on an octagonal canvas with the frame being added several years later. The painting itself looks like it’s framed with fragments of human bone. Most interesting of all, there is an inscription in the lower center of the frame: “L’odio/ quondo tu dormirai … Stecchetti” or translated, “Hatred/As you shall sleep…”, and signed with the last name of the poet Lorenzo Stecchetti (aka Olindo Guerrini). To zoom around the image and enjoy (?) the details, visit this page.
The image and expression on the horrified man’s face is striking but the composition of the image, including the framing narrative of bones and subsequent inscription intrigues me even more. It indicates a man surrounded by death: the bones of his lover, scattered in his desecration? You can identify the rib cage, hip bones, and hands of the woman in the frame itself; a hint to the woman’s deconstructed and abused body and sexuality by the spurned grave-digger. In the poem, he also mentions something about “protruding” his “claw into your shameless womb!”, which indicates an emotional, spiritual, and physical violation of the female body. His fingering of her eye socket also serves this point and makes the viewer uncomfortable in its symbolism.
According to this site, the image was inspired by a poem by Stecchetti called “Il Canto dell’Odio”, or “The Song of Hate”, written in 1877, about a man who vows to torment his lover after her death because she (apparently) took a turn on Whore Island and decided that hanging out with soldiers and drunks was preferable to his company. In his mind, the only logical reaction to her betrayal is to dig up her bones, mess with them, and excoriate her in verse, making sure to soil her reputation in perpetuity. In short: “I shall forever dwell/A specter of vengeance and sin, a/monstrosity from hell.” Charming stuff right? Read the translation to hear about all the other horrible things he promises to do to his once-beloved (or enjoy it in the original Italian here). This line is particularly choice: “Why did you say no, when crawling at your/feet I implored your mercy/while your pimps out in the street awaited/for the next batch of Brits?” HILARious. Oh, you batches of Brits, corrupting these perfect Italian ladies with your tea and Brit-ness. Anyway, she probably friend-zoned him and he decided to go ballistic and did the 19th century equivalent of online bullying and/or Facebook public shaming. The inscription on the frame is the haunting first words of the opening line from the poem, the painting itself visually demonstrating what the lover plans to do as she attempts to rest in peace.
I hope to do more posts on this macabre trend in painting, identified as a branch of Romanticism called Dark Romanticism (into which literary category Poe already falls, natch). I studied the Symbolists in school and thoroughly enjoyed some of the nightmarish subject matter and bizarre compositions of some of the works of Redon, Munch, and other artists of the Decadent period. Sweet dreams everyone?