Diana and Actaeon painted by Titian
Of Actaeon caught in the Act
We are ushered in a scene of contained disorder. Who is the man pulling the thread of our gaze into the court of divine nudity? Actaeon leads us into a snare, yet, we watch on from the ivory tower of the future. His body does not incline forward, rather he already falters as if an unsuspected force was pushing his chest inward, emptying his lungs of precious air; he recedes in utter stupor, yet his expression has not reached a high pitch; it is a moment earlier than the full expression of despair. We can detect the line of his trajectory, a direct antipode to the figure of Diana.
As we approach from his angle, he appears vast and she, minuscule, her head even smaller, as if pulled into a far region , only reaching our field of vision as she enters the scene. She seems paradoxically to materialize out of an improbable recess of the cosmos, but her gaze belies the totality of her dominion in which she lets lose the hordes of her folly, a rage so venomous and so violent Actaeon, the hunter so divine in appearance, cannot assimilate the blow and hesitates, a gesture in arrest, arrested in the devastating uncertainty of his deed and in the fatal certainty of the consequence.
We cannot fail to notice irregularities only proper to the fabric of dreams. Behind him abides an absence of detail, a deep shadow, as if about to devour the flesh of a mortal. It is an omen, one of several half hidden on the stage set. And in this darkness glows the stream of a robe, like a rope, unfolding yet wrinkled, almost intestinal, evocation of an ectoplasmic sigh grown out of his heart linking his body to the edge of the frame, for he comes from the world of mortals where Titian himself resides, and paints his fated act of insolence with the ease of a god.
The shadow is indistinct, it rises behind him and covers the wall of an arch through which we are invited to contemplate a mountainous horizon, a landscape we may find inhospitable yet sublime, inhuman because of an inaccessible beauty, so blue in places it turns substance into vertigo, and thus is Diana.
Although her posture seems to reflect that of Actaeon, it defines the tensile momentum of a bow about to release its unfailing arrow. She is a predator reflecting her prey an instant before the assault, almost with a touch of sardonism, and an undeniable contempt for the puny life of Earthly beings who dare vex her. The roles have been reversed.
Titian painter of brutality, painter of bestiality, painter of rape and sacrifice paints man at the mercy of nature and in doing so unveils the deeper nature of his psyche, having unveiled the mystery of nature, unleashing a reality he, Actaeon, had not foreseen; and what of Titian ? What Actaeon sees is not Diana. He has no time, and we can suppose it is an impossibility since she does not spring from this plane of existence. This, Titian suggests in the instant where in one sweep, Diana has covered her presence with a cloak of invisibility, the veil falls upon her countenance as her eyes send a fatal jet of vitriol. She lets lose her bottomless anger, but we cannot follow the direction of her gaze, since she inhabits a realm light years away from the Earth. It seems to look inward, at a space undefined, yet filled with the absolute certainty of her judgement. Actaeon is immobilized; torpor has begun to coagulate the blood in his veins, for he is no longer truly of our world. His right foot almost touches the waters of an abyss where moribund exhalations seem to writhe, tortured by a shameless hunger for a life they will never possess. This is a river, yet it does not move. It stands still, a mirror in which no one can see themselves, lest they die, or only the faces of the demons they carry within them.
Even Actaeon’ s dog awaits, stunned, a command, still joined to his master, his jaws ready to open and shut, ready to snap, to grab, and to tear the body of the intruder. His nozzle lurks uncomfortably close to his unsuspecting owner, no longer a master but a designated target, a potentially volatile object to be ceased upon and bled to death.
Actaeon has just flung the loose drapery to the side in a nonchalant and impatient way. The woman whose gaze coincides with his offers no rescue. But in her gaze, this man has found all the delights of love, devotion and abandon, for in this moment of tragic oblivion the nature of the soul reveals itself to him. She is the only nymph however who will not yield to our curiosity. She remains almost entirely dissimulated behind a pillar that separates Diana’s closest court, her privileged seat and attendant, from the rest of her flock. The deep redness of the velvet her sumptuous ass rests upon reminds us of the dark carmine rouge on the lips of a murderess; she Diana wears a particular tiara, a crescent moon of immense power only she can deploy and this bent force is reflected in strategic areas of the scene as a leitmotiv, creating a sense of tension on the edge of relief, the flux of a whirlpool Actaeon will not resist, let alone escape. His bow left there neglectfully is already covered and half consumed by the tendrils of vegetation, a cerebral extension of the godless.
His right foot hovers above the water, unaware as he is of the weightlessness of the firmament. Diana does not look at him, for he already belongs to the past, to the realm of spectres moving in the slow undercurrents of the river below.
She is outraged, not so much at the careless temerity and the bashful intrusion, but at his indifference to her. She covers her nudity as she affirms her sentence; her maid on the other hand carries the message. It is she who summons the hounds, she who condemns the hunter, she who commands his dogs to savage the predator. From the lobe of her ear hangs a red pearl, like a tear of blood. She is of an equivalent weight to Actaeon, an actor on the stage, yet attached by every fibre to her mistress, like a shadow made flesh. She reflects the shadow that follows Actaeon, but instead of a sinister embrace, her presence denotes an absolute devotion; instead of emptiness, we find corporeal warmth, instead of the cold chamber of infinite cosmos, we find the visceral heat of the Earth, the sensual and material voice of the goddess. Some of the nymphs are strangely distracted, absent minded, or simply bored. They do not pay heed to Actaeon as he stands almost insignificant, a technical incident. This torpor contrasts with the live wire glare of the maid and the polar opposite of the dual kill gaze, she who loves him.
At the feet of Diana, a small dog, a Chihuahua, the ancient companion of Toltec kings, barks dementedly. Yet, it will not cross over, for he is rooted to the ground of worship, the ground he rose from like a fungus. He drags an indistinguishable form behind him; the ghost of his rabid fury melts in the folds of the maid’s drapery, giving us the impression of an optical illusion. But it is undeniably there, and with it, the spirit of the hunt spreads to possess Actaeon’ s trusted hounds, and instils an increasing sense of languor in his motion.
While the liquid soil absorbs the unravelling narrative and exhales an irrevocable denouement, it also memorizes each instance of pain and each exhalation of despair. The paint, its thickness and layers, its nuances and accentuations encapsulates the life lost in that instant where we tip over irremediably from one universe into the next, as in a fall from a ledge we had believed to be solid, or having pushed our body against another, we realize too late this is nothing but a backdrop flapping open above a street 189 floors down. There is blood in each molecule, haemorrhaging from one mark to the next, coagulating in the shape of almost mundane objects.
The central point however is embodied in a single vessel. It seems to hold the entire vision in itself, the undisturbed transparency of its fullness, a symbol of immutability and serenity, at the heart of a tragedy. Actaeon has been lured, he is ensnared; all lines converge towards his material being and become entangled with his mass, arrested by formidable gravity. He is held captive, down to the ropes behind him, tightening, holding the curtain now raised and soon to fall again upon an ending, his ending.
We wish to see mere garments hanging from the branches above Diana, but they look increasingly like the sordid product of serial flaying, reminiscent of those painted by Michael Angelo in his Sistine Chapel Inferno. The lines are like those engraved in our palm, they remain half hidden in the structure of the scene. All point to action, there is no doubt, like arrows. He has been pacified, he is the target and forlorn. Yet, in that moment, his eyes err, wide open, open by love of an eternal kind.
A nymph, sited lower assesses Actaeon. We feel the sensual power of her gaze. She desires him as an object of curiosity. What would a man taste like that instant before perdition? And far away, the lullaby fairy glistens, white as the snows of long ago, behind the pillar on top of which a scull has been nailed, Actaeon’s fate, his place sealed in Diana’s kingdom, a trophy to her name. The nymph whose face turns away from him, in the wet shadow of the curtain, holds an object; it is a mirror. Is she a sibyl, an oracle? The mirror is turned in the direction of Actaeon but only reflects the blue robe of the nymph and the scintillating foam in the gushing of the stream as it hits the surface of the water below.
The antlers of the stag scull have become interlaced with bare branches; branches with no leaves, antlers with no life. On her head, Diana’s crescent moon is turned upward like a scythe. With it she cuts the aorta, she quarters the carcass, she severs the meat. At its centre, a black gem, like a third eye, where Egyptian Pharaohs were adorned with the head of a cobra, stares in nothingness, a pupil as dark as her heart. As we come closer, we know what hangs so pathetically from the tree; the skins of three deer, still soft, still wet with the blood of sacrifice. In all of this drama in suspension, the fountain pours quiet waters out into a deep unknown region of the heavens Diana reigns upon and the sculpted relief at its base shows tranquil putti playing, resting, holding an enigmatic leukocyte like disk, as they sit on a crescent barge. Most intriguing of all are the lines, once more, curved, like bones defining the shape of the arch. This element stands out as a reminder of the infallible law of destiny, the mathematical certainty of a fact once it has already happened and therefore once it has become a quantity rather than the property of ‘present’ defined by quality. They look like stylized lightening found in medieval manuscripts perhaps, lightening, root of certain death, root of a natural truth, of the certainty of death in the world of matter as it touches the numinous edge of a dream. And while human appearances act out the final act, the two dogs communicate a wordless verdict. At each pole of the scene, they enclose the path of Actaeon irreversibly.
Actaeon has encountered his fate in the polarized eclipse entangling him to the firmament momentum of two sisters, fallen under the singular spell of Nephthys, the tenebrous depth, he has stepped inside the night bark and awaits the veil that will erase all memory of his previous life…but for the ray of consciousness linking his soul to that of Isis. Diana and her shadow fuse with his own in a mortal coil, thus inducing his fall and the only way to rebirth. But there is no guaranty. Love weighs in the balance like a feather, the imponderable measure of the soul.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012
THE MYSTERIOUS IMAGE
by Pascal Ancel Bartholdi
The image, the photograph is not a memory. But it will inevitably become one; a manifest fantasy beginning with a retinal incidence. It will trickle into the vagueness of erasures, a discontinuous intermittence of interlocking dreams. The connection between them takes shape like an embryo. The pieces relate to one another by being held through this indistinct medium, a medium with eyes of its own. It is a Romanesque stain glass, innumerably divided, and thus, united by division, the lead cement joining nonsensical fragments to spell out a note. The photographs float like cells, the cells grow then rupture from their source, as they emerge into our field of vision, they carry the germ of consciousness. As Annette Messanger said “the interval between images creates meaning”. It is almost as if a phenomenon is contained within a vacuum, and the image filters a world in a state of phototaxis, that is, constantly moving towards and away from the light. The photographer must keep as still as the object that will emerge from the optical capture. He embalms the truth and renders physicality inaccessible. Yet, the image will breathe if the emotion of the moment impregnates the chemistry of the medium, it will not speak out. The photo-object is an additional sense, an extra sensorial dimension to the mind; a single cell acting for an entire organism. This object is a process; it embodies the mystery of conception. In the instant of fixing a vision and the instant of receiving it, a conversion takes place; light turns inert matter into a perceptual frequency where the eye becomes the pinnacle and the root of all our senses. This is the mystery of revelation. Like the photographer, we stand still and absorb the rings one after the other; this particular effect that endures from the fall of a stone, or a body in a deep pool of water. Separation imprisons us so long as we yearn for the past lingering in the object, a past which no longer belongs to us for it is now universal. This object is not really a window, or rather; it is to the extent that it will not open outward but inward. As flat as it is, a sheet of paper, the object contains space of a different nature; the mystery of creation.