Saturday, August 25, 2012

And Speaking of Sappho

or: The Birth of Literature ~ or: The Genus of Genius ~ or: The Species of Literature (‽)

Re: A Howard Pyle decorative panel

In 1905 Howard Pyle painted a group of decorative panels for his own residence. The theme he chose was "The Arts," the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.

Genius of Literature, 1905 - Howard Pyle

Genus of literature, 1909 - snapped at

"Genus of Literature" …reading that title, given at, left me perplexed. If you ask, 'Why?', please continue~

The article, The Field of Art: Mural Painting In This Country Since 1898 (Scribner's Magazine volume XL, July~Dec 1906), provides the titles: The Genius of Literature ; The Genius of Art ; The Genius of Music ; The Genius of Drama.  ~ Apt titles for decorative works.

page from vol XL July-Dec 1906 - Scribner's magazine, Volume 40

The 1921 bibliography, Howard Pyle: A Record of His Illustrations and Writings by Willard S Morse and Gertrude Brincklé, published by The Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, changes the titles to: The Birth of Literature ; The Genus of Art ; Music ; Drama. ~ Dubious, odd and generic. Hey! What's in a name?

clipping from Howard Pyle: A Record of His Illustrations and Writings

genus - noun ( pl. genera |ˈjenərə| or genuses) Biology ~ (cut 'n' paste)
a grouping of organisms having common characteristics distinct from those of other such groupings. The genus is a principal taxonomic category that ranks above species and below family, and is denoted by a capitalized Latin name, e.g., Leo.
• (in philosophical and general use) a class of things that have common characteristics and that can be divided into subordinate kinds.
      ~ Ah so desu ka. If the subject of each panel was a genre of literature, Genus of Literature would be the overarching title, and each panel would have a subtitle, i.e., Poetry, Novella, Haiku, et cetera. That's not the case.

Genius of Shakespeare by Théodore Chasseriau

Genius - ( pl. genii |ˈjēnēˌī|) (in some mythologies) a guardian spirit associated with a person, place, or institution.
  ~ 'Spirit' being the more popular choice: The Spirit of the Beehive ; Spirit of St. Louis ; The Spirit of Radio ; Spirit of Liberty ; The Spirit of the Revolution ; or those 3 Spirits: The Ghost of Christmas Past, et cetera.

1793 - The Genius of Literature presenting her Pupils to Minerva

Minerva - The Roman goddess of poetry, wisdom, et cetera.

Minerva Conducting the the Genius of Arts to Immortality - Pierre Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823)

Arcadia - an idyllic, unspoiled, harmonious wilderness.
shepherd - a person who tends and rears sheep. (or in French, berger)

Les Bergers d’Arcadie by Nicolas Poussin (sans frame)

Idyll - In the visual arts, an idyll is a painting depicting the same sort of subject matter to be found in idyllic poetry, often with peasant life as its central theme.

Idyll c.1880 - Lord Leighton

Sappho - an Ancient Greek poet, born on the island of Lesbos.

Sappho by Frederick Arthur Bridgman

(Lydia) Amanda Brewster Sewell (1859 - 1926)  Sappho, 1891

A possible title if it were an illustration/easel-painting ~ "An Arcadian Idyll: Sappho Reciting Before Shepherds"

Howard Pyle, An Arcadian Idyll: Sappho Reciting Before Shepherds, 1905


  1. Maybe I'm not as familiar with Pyle's oeuvre as I think I am, but I find this painting somewhat shocking. The composition/arrangement seems strangely minimalist and modern, especially the left side.

    1. "I'm not as familiar with Pyle's oeuvre as I think I am"

      I don't think I've ever seen the other panels.

      "strangely minimalist and modern"

      I won't hazard a guess of possible influences, a number of his images share similar qualities: form/elongated rectangles, groupings counterweighted by a single figure which is also the "star" of the picture, sparse horizontal shapes …land/sky/sea.

      such as~

      Marooned ; The Salem Wolf (A Wolf Had Not Been Seen in Salem for Thirty Years) ; Dead Men Tell No Tales ; Pirates Used to Do That to Their Captains Now and Then (see Gérôme's, Death of Marshal Ney)

  2. They are similar, but I do get a sense of flow and depth to them that I don't get here; that's what is somewhat shocking and modern to seems so flat, non-flowing/static, and intentionally awkward (the cloud over Sappho for instance).

    1. I agree that this piece is more extreme, perhaps as his initial foray into murals, and being a self-commissioned work, he decided to push it as far as he dare. No doubt his years of stylized pen&ink drawings are also a contributing factor. The cloud ads a bit of depth and balance, though it probably could have been better realized.

      Here I removed it in Photoshop.