Sunday, March 28, 2010

Return of a dead Warrior King

Bringing Home the Body of King Charles XII of Sweden (1878) by the Swedish painter Gustav Cederström (1845-1933).

Charles XII was the great warrior king of Sweden. After the Thirty Years War Sweden had reached the absolute climax of his power. Charles waged war against Poland, Russia, Denmark and some smaller German countries. At least he found his death in battle during an invasion of Norway.

Here Cederström shows the defeated Swedish Soldiers still proud carrying home the dead body of their king. It was the end of Sweden’s imperial dreams. What Cederström conceals is that many of these men perished in a terrible winter storm.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Horned Helmets

Even though there are lots of history paintings with Vikings or Germanic warriors wearing horned helmets it is sure that this is a pure invention. Celtic warriors or some Etruscans may have had helmets with horns or wings. The few depictions in Northern Europe belong to older times, the Bronze Age, and are probably showing helmets for ceremonial purposes.

Illustration by N.C. Wyeth for the Arthur Conan Doyle story "The First Cargo", published in Scribner's Magazine, December 1910.

Germanic warriors with horned or winged helmets were a typical invention of 19th century Romanticism, probably because they look so barbarian and exotic. The creation became popular when costume designers used the idea for the heroes and gods in Wagner’s operas.

Later this pure fantasy-invention became so popular that even Danes of today put on these helmets to look like real Vikings. So it’s at least a nice example how the iconography of history painting influenced reality.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sadistic Cain

Cains first crime (1893) by the British painter Charles Napier Kennedy (1852-1898).

I like it, despite it’s very traditional painted. A kind of mixture of biblical, historical and oriental fashion. There are Adam and Eve watching their son Cain offering a poor frog to a big marabou. To me the whole painting looks more like a big joke about the whole story.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Master of Victorian Kitsch

Two examples by the British painter Edmund Blair-Leighton (1853-1922).

God Speed! (1900)

The Accolade (1901)

Leighton pumped out these well done medieval scenes to satisfy the trivial romantic needs of the market. Because of medieval subjects some associate him with the Pre-Raphaelites, I think these were much more ingenious and inventive in their time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dangerous Frontier

At the Southern Border of Muscovy by the Russian painter Sergei Vasilyevich Ivanov (1864-1910).

Ivanov was a member of "the Wanderers" and very interested in politics and Russian history. Here he depicted a raiding party of Crimean Tartars ravaging Russian villages, what they did for centuries until Russia became great and united.