How Yellowstone’s ‘Old Faithful’ became an Angel copulating with a woman

In 1923, American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) created the marble sculpture, “The Sons of God Saw the Daughters of Men That They Were Fair”.

The sculpture depicts an unusual episode found in the Bible, narrated in Genesis 6.1-4:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them,  the Sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose…. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

The ‘Sons of God’ have often been interpreted as angels, who were so attracted to human women that they came to earth to have sex with them. Daniel Chester French adopts this angelic interpretation of Genesis 6.1-4 in his sculpture, which from 1924 has been on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

According to the museum’s acquisition records, French originally saw the silhouette of an angel copulating with a human woman while staring at the ‘Old Faithful Geyser’ in Yellowstone National Park. Admittedly, there are many people who imagine that they see faces and such things in the clouds and other objects. There is even a term for this: it’s called ‘pareidolia’. So Daniel C. French’s case of pareidolia is perhaps not so unusual. And yet… I can’t say I’ve ever looked at a cloud and thought: hey, that cloud looks exactly like an angel having sex with a woman! And the same goes with the shapes of geysers that I’ve seen. Who knows, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for Daniel C. French’s angel-erotic pareidolia. Perhaps he had very recently been reading about Genesis 6.1-4, and this image had simply been imprinted on his mind. Or perhaps he was just really into angelic-human sex, and told his lovers to dress up with feathers. Who can tell?

Side-note: Daniel C. French’s other sculptures are decidedly unsexy. French is best known for the majestic and slightly fascist statue of Abraham Lincoln (1920) at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, and also for the Four Continents at the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House, New York. None of his other sculptures offer any indication that the artist had an angel fetish.

But after French’s sculpture of “The Sons of God Saw the Daughters of Men That They Were Fair” was put on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, along with a notice that it had been inspired by Old Faithful, it came to the attention of photographer Frank Jay Haynes. He noticed that the sculpture not only bore a resemblance to Old Faithful, but to his own photograph of the geyser: “Old Faithful Geyser. Plume. Yellowstone National Park” (1885). The photograph had been sold for decades at Yellowstone as the main souvenir photo of the Geyser:



If you look carefully at the photograph, with the sculpture in mind, you can make out the angel’s right wing at the top left, the heads of the angel and woman at top right, the obscured left wing, the woman’s arse, and even her left leg extended on tippy-toes to reach eagerly up to her angelic lover, with the right leg crossed behind it. It’s all there, in watery geyser form. And on the left-bottom of the geyser and sculpture, you can see the cascade of water shooting up, later to take pareidolic shape as a Son of God about to copulate with a Daughter of Man.

It’s not just me and Daniel C. French seeing these things, is it?

As a result of these similarities, subsequent promotion of French’s sculpture made note that it had been modeled on Haynes’ photo of Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.

My major source for the information about the sculpture, French, and Haynes was Peter H. Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone: Artists in America’s First National Park (The Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association with University of Washington Press, 2002).


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

The Cardiff Giant is Resurrected! With Cardiff Giant Soap, Cardiff Giant Chocolate, Cardiff Giant Wine, and Cardiff Giant Coffee

Syracuse Artist Ty Marshall talks about his artistic recreation of the Cardiff Giant – the biggest hoax involving a giant in the nineteenth century:

Not only has Ty created a giant, but he’s organised merchandise from local businesses:

Expect to see Cardiff Giant Soap from Syracuse Soapworks, Cardiff Giant Chocolate from Speach Family Candy Company, Cardiff Giant Wine from Lakeland Winery, and Cardiff Giant Coffee from Kind Coffee Company

For an earlier Remnant of Giants report on the Cardiff Giant, see: “The Cardiff Giant to be Resurrected by Syracuse artist, Ty Marshal”, 21 July 2011

Gog and Magog Riot

Gog and Magog riot

“The monster appears to be outside the human body, as the limit of its coherence; thus he threatens travelers and errant knights with dismemberment or anthropophagy, with the complete dissolution of their selfhood. But closer examination reveals that the monster is also fully within, a foundational figure; and so the giant is depicted as the builder of cities where people live and dream, the origin of the glory of empire, the base of heroism, an interior trauma that haunts subjectivity. The giant is humanity writ large, a text literally too big to ignore.”

– Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (Medieval Cultures, 17; Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. xii.

“To this we should add, in [England], the ferocious and secular work of individualization by the power of the state … that classifies, compares, disciplines and separates its subjects starting from a very young age, that instinctively grinds down any solidarities that escape it until nothing remains except citizenship – a pure, phantasmic sense of belonging to the [Monarchy]. The [English]man, more than anyone else, is the embodiment of the dispossessed, the destitute. His hatred of foreigners is based on his hatred of himself as a foreigner. The mixture of jealousy and fear he feels toward the “[cities]“ expresses nothing but his resentment for all he has lost. He can’t help envying these so-called “problem” neighborhoods where there still persists a bit of communal life, a few links between beings, some solidarities not controlled by the state, an informal economy, an organization that is not yet detached from those who organize. We have arrived at a point of privation where the only way to feel [English] is to curse the immigrants and those who are more visibly foreign. In this country, the immigrants assume a curious position of sovereignty: if they weren’t here, the [English] might stop existing.”

– The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection

“The violence on the streets is being dismissed as ‘pure criminality,’ as the work of a ‘violent minority’, as ‘opportunism.’ This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another.”

– Laurie Penny, “Panic on the Streets of London”,, 9 August 2011

Nice Look for The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible

The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible
The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible

Judging The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible by its cover, this volume looks very fine indeed (cover photograph by Sam Fentress).

The book’s blurb contains a very good description of reception history, which is worth a read. It’s developed more in what also looks to be an excellent introduction by Jonathan Roberts – although I’m still waiting on my copy to arrive, so I’ve only been able to see what is available on Google books. But the blurb succinctly summarizes three pitfalls of reception history, which I would also warn against: first, viewing RH as a handmaid to ‘the historical meaning of the text’, when the relationship may also be viewed as the reverse; second, viewing RH as an indiscriminate cataloguing of influences, rather than a method of criticism done with certain goals in mind or within distinct parameters; and third, limiting the field of RH to the beliefs of certain, usually dominant, religious groups:

Rather than attempting to recover the original meaning of biblical texts, reception history focuses on exploring the history of interpretation. In doing so it locates the dominant historical-critical scholarly paradigm within the history of interpretation, rather than over and above it. At the same time, the breadth of material and hermeneutical issues that reception history engages with questions any narrow understanding of the history of the Bible and its effects on faith communities.

The challenge that reception history faces is to explore tradition without either reducing its meaning to what faith communities think is important, or merely offering anthologies of interesting historical interpretations.

The Handbook provides a fascinating selection of biblical reception history, both from the perspective of (in Part I) some highly influential biblical texts, and (in Part II) various aspects of historical and contemporary culture. As such, there are chapters on Genesis, Job, Ezekiel, Revelation, the Middle Ages, anti-Semitism, Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, Bob Dylan, the Nation of Islam, Kierkegaard, Rushkin, and Barth, among the 44 total chapters. It looks a fantastic selection of how reception history may be done. And from Paul Joyce’s chapter on Ezekiel, there are even some Giants:

Perhaps one of the most bizarre legacies of Ezekiel is found in the legend of the last of the British giants, Gog and Magog, whose statues stand in London’s Guildhall; these figures appear to derive their names, by an obscure route, from the Gog of Magog who makes war on the people of Israel in chapters 38-9.

– Paul. M Joyce, ‘Ezekiel’. Pages 64-76 in Michael Lieb, Emma Mason, Jonathan Roberts, Christopher Rowland, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (OUP, 2010), p. 72.