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Monday, September 12, 2011

Camille Paglia on Pre-Raphaelite Art

The Golden Stairs, Edward Burne-Jones, 1876-1880, Tate Gallery

The Wheel of Fortune, Edward Burne-Jones, 1863, Musée d'Orsay

"Burne-Jones' transsexual world is populated by one incestuously self-propagating being. We are in another Late Romantic bower, shadowless under a grey sky. The ritual limitation on his sexual personae is a Decadent closure, denying our eye right of access to other human types.  The Golden Stairs (1880) expands Rossetti's triplets and quadruplets. We drown in a shower of identical women, eighteen in all, cloning themselves and assaulting the eye. Beauty in excess makes Decadent dyspepsia. The sadomasochistic tableau of The Wheel of Fortune multiplies the male. Giant Fortuna turns her torture wheel, chaining a row of beautiful young men, male odalisques in Michelangelo's troubled late style. Each seems languid twin of the next, limbs stretched in sensual suffering.

   "Burne-Jones' embowered nature begat Art Nouveau, which flourished from the 1880s to World War I. Then modern machine culture geometrized Art Nouveau's organic patterns into Art Deco. So Spenser's dynasty, extending through High and Late Romanticism, unexpectedly ends in the Chrysler Building and Radio City Music Hall. Burne-Jones' serpentine line comes from Blake, whose rapacious flamelike flowers reveal the covert sexual meaning of Art Nouveau's arabesques. The copious histories of Art Nouveau lack psychological insight. Twenty years ago, I was struck by Art Nouveau's popularity among male homosexual aesthetes, for whom neither it nor Beardsley had to be revived, since they had never been forgotten. In every star, style, or art work celebrated by these Alexandrine homosexuals, there is always a secret hermaphroditism. So with Art Nouveau, the most epicene style since Mannerism." the rest by Camille Paglia.

Chant d'Amour, Edward Burne-Jones, 1866-1873, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Depths of the Sea, Edward Burne-Jones, 1887, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

The Perseus Series, The Doom Fulfilled, Edward Burne-Jones, 1884-1885

 The Tree of Forgiveness, Edward Burne-Jones, 1881-1882, Liverpool Museum