Cruikshank’s “Cock Lane Ghost”


From “George Cruikshank’s The Table Book” (1845). Cruikshank is most famous today for his illustrations of the work Charles Dickens. His “Table Book” is a miscellany of the artist’s steel and wood engravings, accompanies by stories, poems, and other bric-a-brac. Fascinating stuff.

This engraving accompanies a little bit of fluff called “Poetical Invitations,” which includes a reference to the Cock Lane Ghost just so they have a place to print one of Cruikshank’s more chilling creatures:

Young ladies should be very careful in issuing notes of invitation to a moonlight soiree, for they do not know who may overhear them, and attend the rendezvous. The Cock Lane Ghost, had he been living when the song of “Meet me by moonlight” was composed, would have been a very likely sort of gentleman to be waiting “in the grove at the end of the vale,” for the purpose of bestowing the sweet light of his eyes–glaring through two holes in a turnip–upon any one who had asked for it.

The Cock Lane Ghost was a famous haunting of the 18th century.

Dante and Beatrice

Ary Sheffer, 18456.

“Dante and Beatrice,” Ary Sheffer, 1856.

“Indeed I see that in your intellect
now shines the never-ending light; once seen,
that light, alone and always, kindles love;
and if a lesser thing allure your love,
it is a vestige of that light which – though
imperfectly – gleams through that lesser thing.”

Beatrice to Dante

Is It Beautiful, or “Mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting”?


This is “Christ in the House of His Parents,” painted by John Everett Millais in 1849 and one of the landmarks of the -Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement. It’s a masterpiece of symbolic naturalism. Everything in it has meaning. At the  center of the action is the child Jesus. He’s cut his hand on a nail, and some of the blood has dropped to his foot, prefiguring the wounds of the crucifixion.

The Blessed Mother holds out a cheek for him to kiss in comfort. Joseph examines the wound with the nonchalance of a worker who has seen many such injuries, but St. Anne looks more concerned and reaches for the pliers to yank the offending nail. Off to the left is a worker, observing Jesus: a witness like many others in the gospel. The boy to the right suggests John the Baptist, nervously bringing water to wash the wound as he will use water to baptize Christ.

In the background we see sheep watching through the door: the flock of Christians. On the ladder rests a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, and the ladder itself may symbolize either Jacob’s ladder or a ladder used in the crucifixion. The triangle on the wall is the Trinity, the wood of the cross litters the workshop, branches suggest the palms of Palm Sunday.

The only bizarre part of the composition are the red-headed figures of Mary and Jesus. Why make them red-headed? Another gesture at the blood of the passion? Or is it just a visual cue to set mother and child apart? Only Mary and Jesus share blood and thus genetic traits. The blood of Christ was the blood of Mary.

The painting was hugely controversial when it was first shown. Much as I admire Charles Dickens, his eruption of outrage is absurd:

…you come, in this place, to the contemplation of a Holy Family. You will have the goodness to discharge from your minds all Post-Raphael ideas, all religious aspirations, all elevating thoughts, all tender, awful, sorrowful, ennobling, sacred, graceful, or beautiful associations, and to prepare yourselves, as befits such a subject Pre-Raphaelly considered for the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting.

You behold the interior of a carpenter’s shop. In the foreground of that carpenter’s shop is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand, from the stick of another boy with whom he has been playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, so horrible in her ugliness, that (supposing it were possible for any human creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest ginshop in England. Two almost naked carpenters, master and journeyman, worthy companions of this agreeable female, are working at their trade; a boy, with some small flavor of humanity in him, is entering with a vessel of water; and nobody is paying any attention to a snuffy old woman who seems to have mistaken that shop for the tobacconist’s next door, and to be hopelessly waiting at the counter to be served with half an ounce of her favourite mixture. Wherever it is possible to express ugliness of feature, limb, or attitude, you have it expressed. Such men as the carpenters might be undressed in any hospital where dirty drunkards, in a high state of varicose veins, are received. Their very toes have walked out of Saint Giles’s.

A Lost Papal Bust by Bernini Found


Photo: Sotheby’s

This bust of Pope Paul V by Bernini surfaced two years ago in a private collection after being lost for 100 years. Commissioned by the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1621, it was the first papal work of the 23-year-old artist. It remained in the Borghese family until 1893, when it was misidentified and auctioned off as the work of Alessandro Algardi.

It’s been acquired by the Getty Museum and goes on display this week.

Jesus Christ: Pro Wrestler?

Here’s the official logo for the upcoming Year of Mercy:


My first thought was: Why does Jesus have two heads? Is it theological statement on his two natures? Is the other head supposed to be Rosy Grier?

Then I realized that the mustard colored thing draped across his shoulders isn’t a stole or something, but a man, and Jesus appears ready to body slam the dude into the mat. I think I saw King Kong Bundy do this to Doink the Clown once.

Why does he have no bones? And the merging eyeball is seriously disturbing, despite the silly reasoning:

The image, created by Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, also shows one of Jesus’ eyes merged with the man’s to show how “Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam with the eyes of Christ.”

That doesn’t make any sense at all.

Why are we getting bad art like this in 2015? I think this same illustration was on the cover of my 4th grade CCD textbook in 1977: Your Friend Jesus!

Beauty can’t save the world if the people responsible for Church design and expression have the artistic sensibility Norman Bridwell.

The sad part is that the original artist, Fr. Rupnik, is a talented creator of mosaics. But in transferring the visual language from one medium to another something essential was lost, creating this absurd image. What works in mosaic on a wall doesn’t necessarily work as pure graphical design on the screen or page. I appreciate the Byzantine influence on his work, but in this case the result is an aesthetic fail.

See also: Simcha Fisher

The Earliest Known Depiction of Witches On Brooms, and What It Tells Us About Evil

2015-03-22 13.59.07This marginal illustration comes from Le champion des dames (A Defense of Women) by Martin Le France, 1451. Martin was secretary to both Antipope Felix V and Pope Nicholas V. His work is a 24,000-verse (!) poem extolling the virtues of women, but also condemning heresy and corruption.

The witches are identified Vaudois, or Waldensians, who were accused of practicing witchcraft and celebrating the witch’s Sabbath. Flight was one of the powers given to demons and their minions, and thus was often associated with evil.

The art is interesting because it’s part of a shift from depicting witches demonically or sexually, to showing them as simple women in everyday clothes.

Why the broom? The internet is full of very silly theories with little historical grounding, the most commonly repeated being that brooms were used to apply flying ointments to the nether regions of the witch. Go ahead and take a moment to imagine that. I’ll wait. The flying ointment part is real. The awkward and painful applicator? Not so much.

We’re also told that it stems from the testimony of male witch Guillaume Edelin in 1453, which was two years after this manuscript was created. So, we can stop blaming poor Guillaume any time now.

I prefer simple answers: as witches start to be depicted as more ordinary, they’re given a prop to indicate their commonplace, feminine nature. What’s more ordinary than a housewife’s broom?

The witch, it tells us, is not always discernible by outward appearances. What does evil look like? It looks like us. Or, in the case of medievals, like that annoying woman next door.

Exorcising A Possessed Statue of The Virgin Mary and Child

Four scenes from the life of St. Peter of Verona (1206 – April 6, 1252), also known as Peter Martyr, are depicted in frescoes at the Portinari Chapel, at the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, Milan. One of these shows an incident from his life in which he exorcised a possessed statue of the infant Jesus and the Blessed Mother, complete with devil horns!

2015-03-16 11.08.58

As if the painting and incident are not strange enough, there’s this: the frescoes were the work of Renaissance master Vincenzo Foppa, yet were hidden under layers of plaster until 1952, when they were carefully recovered. The chapel also contains the tomb of Peter Martyr.

Creative Commons: Veduta della Cappella Portinari della chiesa di Sant'Eustorgio a Milano. Foto di Giovanni Dall'Orto, 1-3-2007

Creative Commons: Veduta della Cappella Portinari della chiesa di Sant’Eustorgio a Milano. Foto di Giovanni Dall’Orto, 1-3-2007

Peter Martyr was an inquisitor who preached against heresey. On Palm Sunday 1252, he was assassinated by two hitmen hired by the Cathars of Milan. After they struck off a piece of his skull with an axe, he recited the opening words of the Apostles Creed and fell to the ground. Some stories say that he wrote  “Credo in Unum Deum” in blood as he lay dying. When his assassin, Carino of Balsamo, saw that the blow to head had not finished his victim, he stabbed him, which is why Peter often is show with both instruments of matrydom, as so:


Lorenzo Lotto: Madonna and Child with St. Peter Martyr

His assassin fled to a Dominican monastery, repented, did penance, and is venerated as Blessed Carino Pietro of Balsamo.

The Best Deal In Comics

2015-03-08 12.17.24Before we begin, I have to say that I am a DC Comics man through-and-through, my daughter is a Marvel fan, and my son leans to DC but follows some Marvel. A conversation with my daughter about comics usually goes something like this:

HER: Marvel is so much better than DC.
ME: I can prove that wrong by saying a single word.
HER: Please don’t.
ME: Batman.
HER: I asked you not to do that.

And so on.

That said, Marvel has mopped the floor with DC in two key areas: digital comics and feature films, and with their Marvel Unlimited service they have done something so superawesome that if it was done by DC I might never read a real book again.

The high concept for Marvel Unlimited is very simple: Netflix for comic books.

For $10 a month or $70 a year, you can subscribe to a service that delivers a huge pile of the entire marvel backlist right to your tablet or computer. A real comic costs about $3-$4 now and a digital comic about $2, so if you read 5 comics you’ve broken even.

How huge?2015-03-08 12.17.40

15,000 comics and growing, from Marvel #1 up to about 6 months ago.That includes 1,432 issues of Spider-Man, 1,301 Iron Man, 837 Hulk, 888 Captain America, 882 Thor, 1,528 X-Men, 701 Avengers, 790 Fantastic Four, and on and on.

Yes, there is a delay for new comics. August and September issues seem to be coming online right about now. They’re not giving away the whole store for $10 a month: just a fairly largish chunk of it.

The scans are bright, clean, and easy to navigate, with a full page view and a panel-zoom view. I’m not fond of the panel view because it tends to clip some of the edges, but the full page view is perfectly readable and can be zoomed for greater clarity. You can either read them on WiFi, or store up to 12 for offline reading.

Even more impressive is the way the content is curated and searchable. You can pull up all the issues by any writer or artists, or any character appearance in any comic. If instant access to 241 Steve Ditko comics, 720 Jack Kirby, or 572 by the Romitas doesn’t give you a bit of a thrill, then you’re reading the wrong post. My favorite feature is the “Comic Events” sort, where you can find every issue, in order, involved in certain storylines like House of M, Civil War, and Age of Ultron. This allows you to follow storylines as they snake through the entire shared Marvel universe.

Now if only DC Comics would get in gear and do the same thing…

Download the Marvel Unlimited app for free to see what you think, and subscribe here if you want to try it out.