Foetal Dystocia resulting from Watcher-Human Sex: Eric Ondina’s Art

In a piece entitled “Fall of the Watchers”, artist Eric Ondina has managed to capture an aspect of the myth of sex between Watcher angels and human women that usually gets glossed over in renditions of the story.

Eric Ondina, “Fall of the Watchers”

The Book of Watchers tersely summarises that the Watchers “took” the women, “went into” them, and “defiled themselves with” them (7.1ab). The twenty named Watchers are contrasted with the anonymous and unnamed women who they “choose for themselves”. The Watchers act, and the unnamed women are acted upon. Their identities are suppressed, irrelevant to their function within the plot. Their reactions here are limited to their childbearing function: they “became pregnant” and “bore to them gigantic offspring” (7.2).

But what did giving birth to “gigantic offspring” do to these women? The text falls silent, in contrast to the cries of anguish which would have accompanied such extreme foetal dystocia. The birth canal is only important in the story insofar as it satisfies the Watchers’ desires – for sexual intercourse and for children.

But in Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers”, the effect on the Women is brought to the fore in the artist’s portrayal of an evidently painful, bulging womb. But this pain is combined with a comical characterisation of the women as obsessed with the jewellery that the Watchers gave to them. The combination of extreme discomfort and vain satisfaction is, of course, absurd. And this absurdity provides a visual critique of the tendency in the Watcher myth to belittle or even blame women for the actions of the Watchers.

Ondina himself comments:

I have extracted multiple motifs from this story and melded them into a dynamic composition. The piece is painted in oil on a hand molded, cresting, reinforced plaster slab, which is bordered by a deep cradle frame. It was my intention to make a painting which mirrors this mini-epic in scale, drama and abject gruesomeness. With this in mind I decided to invoke the compositional and painting techniques found in the dynamic baroque of the 17th century while emulating the decisive moment found in 18th century Romanticism. There is also a clear reference to the Northern European Renaissance in the detail, cathedral-esque shape of the substrate, insider humor, and violence. These fuse into a style I have developed in this series which is both contemporary and historically reinforced. While my painting seeks to provide a portal into the past, I seek to do so through a modern lens, injecting subtle to sardonic satire into my subjects. This is readily apparent along the bottom of the painting; in the lower right hand corner an oblivious woman pampers herself with gold and makeup, her stomach bursting at the seams as her hulking half-angel broodling slithers out. She is a sarcastic embodiment of how our contemporary sensitivities are want to perceive this story. The Abrahamic religions are not renowned for their justice towards women, and The Book of Enoch once again exemplifies this ancient trend. Women are the seductresses and the baby factories, the intermediaries and cause of the sinfulness pressed upon the world; because of their erotic allure, mankind suffered nightmarish consequences. My painted jezebel is a mocking testimony to this ancient fear-mongering.

In portraying this extreme foetal dystocia in this manner, Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers” has drawn attention to an aspect of the Watcher myth that has escaped many commentators, as well as critiquing that very failure to take account of the effects on women implied by the Watcher myth.

Advertisements

The Book of Giants: Ancient Jewish Literary Creativity beyond the Bible

Slaying Humbaba - by Leonard Greco
Slaying Humbaba – by Leonard Greco

Philip Jenkins has written two useful posts on the Book of Giants, the ancient Jewish work which is found in different versions at Qumran and in Manichaeism.

In his first post, Philip provides a brief introduction to the Book of Giants. In his second post, Philip offers his comments on the significance of the Book of Giants for understanding ancient Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism. In particular, I was interested in Philip’s comments on how the Book of Giants sheds light on the development of ancient Jewish literature. Philip refers to works like the Book of Giants as “fan fiction”:

Religious debate and speculation increasingly took the form of writing new texts and pseudo-scriptures, which took the familiar canonized stories and developed them according to contemporary needs and interests. It is scarcely too much to describe some of these pseudepigraphic and apocryphal works as fan fiction.

He then considers the level of invention involved in composing this “fan fiction”:

Not only are writers developing stories, but they are doing so in amazingly florid form, creating whole new mythologies packed with abundant names and titles. Presumably, some authors are sitting down and inventing these names of demons and giants afresh, while others are taking those and adding their own contributions to the expanding mythos. As we know from modern-day fantasy writers, once that process begins, it rapidly spreads and expands.

This is a good point about the Book of Giants, which bears little resemblance to any biblical passage. In fact, while much of the content shares common material with the Jewish work, the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), other parts, such as the names of the giants “Gilgamesh” and “Hunbabis” draw from Babylonian myth. Moreover, the story-line in the Book of Giants, so far as it can be reconstructed from the fragments, introduces some highly original and inventive traditions about the giants. So we can’t accurately categorize Book of Giants as “rewritten Bible”: it neither derives straightforwardly or substantially from biblical traditions nor involves mere “rewriting”, but creatively uses older traditions within a new and original narrative.

Philip’s brief comments complement Eva Mroczek’s view in a recent article published in the Journal of Ancient Judaism, “The Hegemony of the Biblical in the Study of Second Temple Literature”.

Mroczek urges that we seek to appreciate early Jewish literature on its own terms, without assuming that its authors were primarily interested in the texts which later became parts of the Bible. She writes:

The absolute centrality of the biblical is a theological, not a historical axiom: a concern with the biblical in the texts that we study must be shown with evidence, not assumed by default. While the history of the field is a history of people seeking the origins, development, and meaning of these iconic texts, the subjects of our study were not necessarily preoccupied with the same things; they were not marching to the biblical finishing line, but living in a culture whose intellectual, religious, and literary creativity cannot be assimilated into one dominant icon. Recognizing this will help us see Second Temple literature more clearly on its own terms.

Mroczek applies these principles to ancient Jewish David traditions. But they apply well to the Book of Giants, too.

Have a read further:

Judith on a Pasta Label: Must be sauce to lose your head over

There has been a news story doing the rounds about a pasta label that uses a depiction of Jewish heroine Judith:

judith-pasta

The pasta sauce has caused quite a stir. The objection is that “the image, as Middle Earth Organics would know if anyone had done ANY research whatsoever, is Judith Beheading Holofernes, a 1598 painting by Caravaggio. Judith … is not making an al dente delight. Judith is cutting off some dude’s head.”

Here is the full painting from which the pasta label was taken:

judith-caravaggio

The story then suggests that the pasta makers should have consulted “an art history major”. Well, perhaps.

But the use of Judith the beheader is actually quite appropriate for marketing pasta sauce.

In the Book of Judith, the heroine Judith takes her own Jewish food to eat while she stays with Holofernes: wine, oil, barley groats, figcakes, white bread, and (in some versions) cheese.

According to a tradition that began in the Middle Ages, Judith attempted to get Holofernes drunk by giving him wine, and tried to get him drowsy (or thirsty) by offering him her cheese. By incapacitating Holofernes with her own delicious food and drink, she was then able to cut off his head. The tradition provides an explanation why cheese is eaten at the festival of Hanukkah.

And of course, what’s a pasta without a bit of grated cheese on top? Some tasty pecorino romano would go nicely.

So the pasta label in fact seems rather apt… if not to an art historian, at least to a biblical reception historian.

Judith, by Katy Wiedemann
Judith, by Katy Wiedemann

A Psychoanalytic Analysis of Caravaggio’s David and Goliath

Caravaggio - David with the Head of Goliath In “Caravaggio Four Centuries Later: Psychoanalytic Portraits of Ambivalence and Ambiguity” (Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 61 no. 2 (2013): 311-332), Nathan M. Szajnberg offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of aspects of Caravaggio’s work.

Of Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath” (1609-10), Szajnberg writes:

We can compare this to Bernini’s David sculpture: victorious, muscular, and fiercely, angrily expressive – a look of fiero – he swipes his blade through. But Caravaggio, now in his early forties, running from justice for years, portrays something more complex. Yes, it is his face on the severed skull of Goliath. Even in death, Caravaggio/Goliath’s upper face shows “corrugator action,” – which Darwin called the muscle of difficulty – seen also in pain, anger, fear, and sadness. His lower face shows his mouth agape.

We can treat this picture like a dream in which the artist (or the dreamer) can parcel himself into several characters, as Freud (1900) and Erikson (1954) have taught us. Then, to the degree that this David is Caravaggio’s David, the young shepherd’s face shows no fiero, no anger, no joy: he looks, head tilted, slightly downward to his left, toward the dangling head held by his almost soft grasp. He shows remarkable calm, but with a tone of sadness or remorse or pity in the brows of the victor’s face. That is, Caravaggio in his penultimate work somberly metes out justice (David) and is met with justice (Goliath).

… Caravaggio transgressed contemporary norms to expand the range of emotions that could be represented and to show the interplay of emotions in intense moments of human experience. He openly portrayed what psychoanalysts consider the fuller range of inner reality, including our ambivalences, thereby revealing our inner lives on the surface of the canvas. (324-25)

Bernini - David

Giuseppe Veneziano’s Head of Goliath, after Caravaggio

An earlier post on Remnant of Giants examined artistic allusions to Caravaggio’s Head of Goliath in paintings by Paul Cadmus, Charlie White, Matthew Stone, and David Dalla Venezia – each of whom, including Caravaggio, painted “David” and “Goliath” with the features of the artist and his imagined lover.

Caravaggio - Head of Goliath 2

 

A rather different effect is achieved by Italian pop artist, Giuseppe Veneziano, with his statue of David with the head of Goliath, after Caravaggio (2006). As often in Veneziano’s art, his statue takes aim at the nefarious banality of U.S.-led globalized culture.

Here are a few angles on his statue:

veneziano - after-caravaggio5

veneziano - after-caravaggio3

veneziano - after-caravaggio4

veneziano - after-caravaggio2

veneziano - after-caravaggio6

David and Goliath as lovers in Caravaggio, Paul Cadmus, Charlie White, Matthew Stone, and David Dalla Venezia

In one of a series of depictions of David and Goliath, the Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (29 September 1571 – 18 July 1610) painted David holding the freshly decapitated, blood-dripping head of Goliath:

Caravaggio - Head of Goliath
Caravaggio – Head of Goliath
Caravaggio
Caravaggio

The well-known twist to this panting is that Caravaggio painted his own self-portrait in order to depict the head of Goliath, and used his young boy-model Cecco to portray David.

But the twist to the twist is that Caravaggio and the boy were lovers. You can note the loosely tied pants on David/Cecco, which would have provided easy access for Rome’s most famous and notorious painter of his time.

Caravaggio’s work, however, with its easy naturalism, was somewhat forgotten until it was reacclaimed in the twentieth century.

In 1971, Paul Cadmus painted “Study for a David and Goliath”, with a nod of his head to Caravaggio:

Study for a David and Goliath - Paul Cadmus
Study for a David and Goliath – Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus

Cadmus portrays his own, somewhat disembodied noggin in the lap of model and lover, Jon Anderson.

On the wall in the background is another one of the paintings from Caravaggio’s David and Goliath series. Jon Anderson is clasping at Cadmus’s hair, just as in Caravaggio’s paintings where David (Cecco) clasps the hair of his enemy, Goliath (lover, Caravaggio). There is a distinct red tinge at the bottom of Cadmus’ neck, and the square is held sword-like in Anderson’s hand, above (or into?) Cadmus’s head. Anderson’s clothing is, of course, much looser than Cecco’s.

Into this tradition comes Charlie White’s photograph, “Champion” (2006):

Champion - Charlie White
Champion – Charlie White
Charlie White
Charlie White

The ephebe in “Champion” is unidentified.

According to the artist’s website, “Charlie White is a photographer and filmmaker whose work has been exhibited internationally since 1999. White holds the position of Associate Professor, and is the Director of the MFA program at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Fine Arts.”

White produced the 2009 short film, “American Minor”, which  IMDb describes as “a meditation on the isolated world of an American teen, focusing on the external environment and internal state of a fourteen-year-old, upper-middle class girl.” And “White’s most recent monograph, American Minor, was published by JRP|Ringier in Spring of 2009. The publication included archived research materials, personal collections, process documentation, and completed works from 2003 to 2008, that related to his investigations of the popular representation of the contemporary teen subject.”

And here’s Matthew Stone’s, “David and Goliath (after Caravaggio)” (2006):

David and Goliath (after Caravaggio) - Matthew Stone
David and Goliath (after Caravaggio) – Matthew Stone
Matthew Stone
Matthew Stone

Stone was a young member of South-London art collective !WOWOW!, back in the early 00s. “His photos feature friends/artists/musicians and party kids – all associated with Matthew – posing in timeless, decadent and, at times, mythological gestures.”

I think Matthew Stone is Goliath in this photograph, but it’s hard to tell, because – unlike the others – there is no great age difference.

And lastly, here’s David Dalla Venezia’s painting, “No. 534 (from Caravaggio)” (2007):

No. 534 (from Caravaggio) - David Dalla Venezia
No. 534 (from Caravaggio) – David Dalla Venezia
David Dalla Venezia
David Dalla Venezia

David paints a lot of self-portraits, so the Caravaggio adaptation comes as no surprise. What is different here, is that the self-portrait is David as “David”! Goliath is unidentified, but has been beheaded by David’s blade/paintbrush. Again, David’s clothes are dishevelled, suggesting a relationship between the two men.

David says, “Since it is I who paints these pictures it is true that they are portraits of myself. However – as they are portraits of a man – they are also portraits of every man: what I depict of myself is common to all men; what I omit is that which differentiates me from them.”

Sometimes it takes an artist instead of a biblical scholar to see the underlying structure of the biblical story of David and Goliath – as a tryst between two former lovers, an older man and a young ephebe.

Each of these artworks plays with the inherently ambivalent character of the Giant – as both towering and threatening enemy and also protective, loving father figure. And so, they also examine the relationship between lovers, as both friends and enemies.

Walk in the Emek Refaim Street – Angela Keller (2002)

To view "Walk in the Emek Refaim Street" by Angela Keller (2002), click here
To view “Walk in the Emek Refaim Street” by Angela Keller (2002), click here

The oil painting by Angela Keller, “Walk in the Emek Refaim Street”, portrays what is one of the main streets in Jerusalem. In modern Hebrew, “Emek Refaim” is usually understood as “Valley of the Giants”, which gives an amusing slant to what is a lovely portrayal of an old couple walking along that street.