Sisyphus, Camus and Absurd

on the ledgeТhe meaning or meaninglessness of human existence has always been a favorite subject of philosophy. Many philosophers have come to believe that human life is ABSURD. For them, it was a conclusion and a final result of studies.  Albert Camus  makes this conclusion a starting point of his argument.

The idea of the absurd, best expressed  in The Myth of Sisyphus, waAlbert Camus’ first significant contribution to philosophy.

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterward. 

In a nutshell, the essence of The Myth of Sisyphus is this: There is no reason, faith and/or hope for the future in this world. The feeling of life’s absurdity casts doubt on the very existence of God and the wisdom of social order. The eternal truths about life is discerned through feelings and emotions. There comes a time when a man has to make a choice: either voluntarily leave this world or challenge absurdity and meaninglessness.

Well, something along these lines.

So there. Life is absurd. Live it or leave it. There are so many wonderfully effective ways to raise above the absurdity of life, step out of it and into the oblivion (or whatever your idea of thereafter might be.)

How sad and how true.

For some.

For most?

Fulfilling your destiny through life experiences —  however dreadful or exiting, painful or pleasant they might be — becomes in itself the meaning of life.

Take Sisyphus, for example. This mythical character gets punished for his earthly passions and love of life.

Devious gods devised a clever if cruel punishment. What can be more absurd than rolling a huge boulder up the hill, huffing and puffing, straining and sweating, and then looking down in despair, realizing that his labor was in vein, and he’d have to start over.

What fate! Poor guy. Exerting his mythical self toward accomplishing absolutely nothing for the rest of his mythical life… Won’t it be so much easier to just give up and end it all, stepping under the rock, by the will of gods rolling down the mountain?

However, according to Camus, fate is not a punishment. Even if his fate is, in fact, a punishment of gods? Ah, never mind. Back to Camus:


Frankly, I can’t. Imagine that Sisyphus was happy, that is. Unless he is a quintessential masochist, and the myth is covering up this peculiarity of his psycho.

Camus: “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.” 

Thus Sisyphus is Camus’ absurd hero. Or, rather, a hero in a world that is absurd (and is ruled by absurd gods). And he is not alone at the top of the mountain with his damned rock about to start rolling down. Camus puts other historical figures and literary characters right there with Sisyphus: Don Juan and Commander, Moliere’s Alceste, Adrienne Lecouvreur and a few others.

The existence of a modern person (and many might disagree!) is similar to the fate of Sisyphus — in many ways it is absurd. Awareness of it, according to Camus and his ideas of absurdism,  should allow people to reevaluate the absurdity of  their own destiny and become free, either stepping under the rolling stone or, Camus hopes, summon lots’a carriage and become… a hero like Sisyphus.

Like Sisyphus? Find your burden, conclude that all is well and hope it’s enough to fill your heart.

Oh, the absurdity of absurdism!

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The Very Rich Hours of the Duke de Berry


Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Astrological Man

 Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry”) is a livre d’heures — a “Book of Hours”, commissioned by Duke of Berry in the Year of Our Lord 1410. Book of Hours is a prayer book for private devotion, with a Latin text. These prayers and meditations were meant to be recited at those moments of the liturgical day traditionally called “hours”.

The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden.

The illustrations of a Book of Hours usually began with calendar miniatures, followed by scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and from the Passion of Christ, concluding with representations from those saints favored by the book’s patron.

The Deposition

The Deposition

By the fifteenth century,  Books of Hours became so popular that they outnumbered, all other categories of illustratedmanuscripts.

 The Horseman of Death

The Horseman of Death

The splendor and beauty of miniatures gradually came to overshadow the text of prayers. Thus Duke of Berry’s Book of Hour developed into objects of great aesthetic value in its own right.

The Rising of Lazarus

The Rising of Lazarus

131 exquisite miniatures lavishly decorated with gold and silver, and 216 pages containing 300 gold initials in a 416 page manuscript… Sophistication of the late Gothic French painting, deeply understood Italian art tradition and wealth of realistic observations foreshadowing the development of the Northern Renaissance… Who painted those astounding masterpieces?

Paul Limbourg and his brothers, Hermann and Jean, mostly.  In 1416, when the Duke died, all traces of the three talented brothers were lost. Presumably the three Limbourgs perished in a plague outbreak the same year their patron died. They were very young.

Calendar miniatures in The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry:

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December (detail)

December (detail)

Never before had a prayer book been illustrated with such magnificent full-page miniatures, depicting scenes in the life of the court and the surrounding countryside. The realism of the architectural setting is arresting, the boldness of design unprecedented in any other manuscript of the period.


English Language Day

englishNearly half of all the days of March are dedicated DAYS, according to different United Nations resolutions. March 20th is an International Day of Happiness, while March 21st is the Day of as many as 5 celebratory designations:UN March

UN Under operates in 6 languages.  2010 initiative of the UN Department of Public Information established language days for each of the Organization’s six official languages — to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity and promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization:

Thus today is the English Language Day. 

Where English comes from

Where English comes from.

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English, naturally, is one of the three official “procedural languages” of the European Union. How proficient in English are people in each European Union country? It varies considerably. The map below shows where people can — and can’t — converse in English.

Which countries in Europe can speak English

Where in Europe people can speak English

And a bunch of other maps and graphs pertaining to English language:

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Well then, say something funny, in English!england

Celebrate Things Big And Small

Навруз._Балтабаев_Тайир Nowruz

Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition observed by numerous peoples, (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan), Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. Baxtli Navro’z! خوشحال نوروز Mutlu Novruz! Xoşbəxt Novruz!

World Poetry Day

poetryPoetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings.

Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.

In celebrating World Poetry Day, March 21, UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

‘Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.’   E. E. Cummings


stop rasismInternational Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

“I call on all people, especially political, civic and religious leaders, to strongly condemn messages and ideas based on racism, racial superiority or hatred as well as those that incite racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” (Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon)

2015 Theme: “Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today.”

International Day of Forestsutro

The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests  “Forests and Climate Change” highlights forest-based solutions to address climate change mitigation and adaptation, and more broadly forests and sustainable development.

Illustration is a famous painting by Ivan Shishkin Morning in a Pine Forest.

20 March. International Day of Happiness

The General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 66/281PDF document of 12 July 2012 proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives. 

2 April 2012: In a high-level meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm,” organized by the Government of Bhutan, then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the importance of integrating human happiness into a new framework for sustainable development.

The high-level meeting met at UN Headquarters in New York. In his remarks, Ban commended Bhutan for recognizing “the supremacy of national happiness over national income,” noting that the country had adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP). Noting that GNP ignores the social and environmental costs of progress, he urged for a new economic paradigm that reflects the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, which together “define gross global happiness.” Ban called for an outcome on sustainable development at the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) that recognizes happiness and well-being as “fundamental goals in themselves.”

All 193 member states of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority on a global scale, which the campaign is supporting. The first ever UN International Day of Happiness was celebrated on March 20,  2013.
Happiness is defined in so many different ways. Some say it defies definition altogether, others try to point out and emphasize the many steps to achieve happiness:

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Karoshi — Death By Overwork


goetheThe human race is but a monotonous affair. Most of them labor the greater part of their time for mere subsistence; and the scanty portion of freedom which remains to them so troubles them that they use every exertion to get rid of it.  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Sorrows of Young Werther.)

Japan is the country of workaholics. People work hard and literally die from overwork. The problem has become so acute that ‘death by overwork’ entered Japanese language as a word in its own right — ‘karoshi’. By modest government estimate, 200 people die from karoshi every year — heart attacks, cerebral hemorrhaging due to long hours spent at the work place.

A survey by the country’s Labor Ministry in 2013 found out that workers took, on average, only nine of the 18.5 days off they entitled to. One in six Japanese workers did not take any paid holidays in 2013. 22 percent of Japanese work more than 49 hours a week, compared to 11 percent of French and Germans.


The government is looking to ensure that workers take at least 70 percent of their allotted time off and wants to submit legislation in the current parliament session.

The new provision aims to ensure that Japanese workers use vacations to spend time with families, caring for children, especially in the summer months, when kids are on holiday. The third largest in the world, the Japanese economy has a big problem: an aging population and low birth rate.


Many Japanese tend to put off having children, arguing they simply overwhelmed with work commitments or unable to find a partner because everyone’s life is fully devoted to jobs and careers. (Japan child population hits record low.)

“It is actually a worker’s right to take paid vacations. But working in Japan involves quite a lot of a volunteer spirit.” (Yuu Wakebe, the Health and Labor Ministry official who is overseeing the implementation of this legislation. He is adamant things need to change. He regularly works over 100 hours overtime per month and only took five days off in 2014 — one of those was because he was sick. And only because workers in Japan must use their vacation days if they are sick.)

I. Repin. Barge Haulers on the Volga

I. Repin. Barge Haulers on the Volga

Although Japan is overwhelmingly overworked nation, productivity is not a strong point of its economy. ‘Boosting team spirit’ is more important. Collective psyche is such that people would stay at their workplaces long past office hours, only to be perceived as excellent and loyal team members. Go and figure.



Sapiosexuality is a recently constructed word (neologism) that has come into common usage, particularly on social networking sites where people are self-identifying as sapiosexual. It is a concatenation of the Latin root sapio — from sapiens, meaning wise or intelligent and the Latin root sexualis, pertaining to sexual preferences.

Wolfieboy of LiveJournal (Darren Stalder) claims to have invented the word in 1998.

“Me? I don’t care too much about the plumbing. I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind. I want someone for whom philosophical discussion is foreplay. I want someone who sometimes makes me go ouch due to their wit and evil sense of humor. I want someone that I can reach out and touch randomly. I want someone I can cuddle with. I decided all that means that I am sapiosexual.” -Wolfieboy

Some tongue-in-cheek signs of sapiosexuality are the following:

1. Your heart races at the sight of a man/woman with a 700 page book. Librarians look particularly irresistible.


2. You get a serious pleasure while reading, and not just erotica.


3. You tend to say something along these lines:

“Have you ever conceptualized Arthur Schopenhauer?”

“I don’t especially enjoy sex with you — we hardly connect on intellectual level.”

“It’s your brilliant mind I admire most.”


4. It’s not the sight of your partner’s lips but the sound of the words coming out of them that turn you on.


M. Pivovarov. The writer.

5. You are elated when your partner goes out to get, say, a rhinoceros but returns carrying a book or five.

Oleg Nizovtsev

Oleg Nizovtsev

6. The bigger is your partner’s library — the more sexually attracted to him/her you are.s-ANTON-EGO-large300

7. You like it when your partner looks nerdy and talks smartly, rather than dresses smartly and talks dirty.  мужик с телефоном

It’s great if, say, a fellow with abundance of sapio in his head happens to be sapiosexual or sapiophile  — these terms often used interchangeably. Sadly, however, this is not always the case. Take, for instance, professor Frampton, featured in 2 previous posts. Professor cared less about Denise Milani’s sapio and never discussed Schopenhauer with her. After all, she had plenty of other attractive assets… Ah, well, it takes all kinds…

Meanwhile, the term sapiosexuality gains acceptance, widely discussed and appears on many dating sites.

Touched By Putin

Putin and Animals 1

Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti

Russia and the world saw the president puts the collar on the Amur tigress. Then there were more tigers, snow leopards, white whales and even the famous flight with Siberian Cranes. (See my own timely post on the subject  Vox Populi, Siberian Cranes  And Putin in Machina from Jan. 13, 2013.)

Whatever happened to the “presidential” tigers, Siberian Cranes, leopards and whales — all those animals, birds and sea creatures blessed by magic touch of Vladimir Putin?

On August 31, 2008, Vladimir Putin visited the Ussuri Nature Reserve, and “took a shot” at tigress Serga from a pneumatic gun charged with a potent tranquilizers.  Then he helped to put a  GPS-collar on a sleeping animal. Serga is still a resident of the Ussuri reserve. Twice she brought kittens, and the third litter was expected at the time Serga was observed in the wild.

Putin and Animals 2

In 2008, Putin helped to put GPS-collar on a tigress Serga (Earring). Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti

On May 22, 2014, during one of his working visits to the Primorsky Krai, Putin visited the wild life refuge “Zheludinsky.” Together with zoologists, he unleashed tigers Borya, Kuzya and Ilona with electronic chips to monitor their movements.

This story was preceded by the sad events. A few years back, in the forest, were found three tiger kittens — later named Borya, Kuzya and Ilona — hungry and exhausted. Their mothers were killed by poachers. Kittens were sent to the rehabilitation and reintroduction of tigers in Primorye.  For nearly 2 years scientists groomed the animals for be reintroduced to their natural habitat.  Vladimir Putin was invited to take part in the event. Everyone was excited: the president, the scientists and the three little “tigretts”.

One of the tigers in the refuge "Zheludinsky" Primorye Photo: Dmitry Azarov / "Kommersant"

One of the tigers in the refuge “Zheludinsky” Primorye
Photo: Dmitry Azarov / “Kommersant”

Tiger Kuzya, exploring the surroundings in search of future residence, swam across Amur River (some 700 meters wide) thus crossing the Russian-Chinese border. Chinese  scientists were warned about the arrival of a distinguished guest and were ready to provide a heard of cows to feed him. However, such welcoming gift would have drastically altered the whole program — the tiger was trained to hunt in the wild and survive on its own. Two months later, after tasting plenty of Chinese wild boars, Kuzya safely returned home, crossing Amur once again when the river has frozen over. Now Kuzya resides in the vicinity of ​​the wild life refuge Zuraviliny.

Borya and Ilona reside in the Amur region. Ilona settled in Khingansky refuge, occasionally giving visitors a rare chance on a “tiger selfie”.  Once, while in a foul mood, she found a comfort food in a rather expensive scientific equipment and cameras set up specifically to capture her image.

Borya was spotter not far from the place of his release. He looks healthy and very well-fed. His hunting trophies include at least one bear. The quietest of them all, the tigress Sveta, dwells in the area where Kuzya recently moved. Scientists hope for the two of them to meet and, perhaps, fall in love.

On the video, Zolushka (Cinderella), a young Amur tigress whose fate is similar to that of  Borya, Kuzya and Ilona, is being released into the wild.

And now back to Putin.  On the eve of the Olympics, Vladimir Putin entered the cage of a beast once again. This time it was an Amur leopard.

Note: The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) also known as the Far Eastern leopard, is a leopard subspecies native to the Primorye region of southeasternRussia and the Jilin Province of northeast China. It is classified as Critically Endangered since 1996 by IUCN. In 2007, only 19–26 wild Amur leopards were estimated to survive. Census data published in February 2015 indicate that the population has increased to at least 57 Amur leopards in Russia, and up to 12 Amur leopards in adjacent areas of China.

On February 4, 2014, Putin visited the leopard breeding and rehabilitation center in Sochi. The President was informed that adult leopards can mate up to 274 times a week. Putin immediately turned to one of the journalists, “274 times! Take an example!”

Six-month old leopard  kitten named Grom (Thunder, in Russian) was very nervous when unexpectedly visited by so many guests. Agitated, he jumped one of the journalists, scratched the hapless photographer’s hand and sank his teeth into the operator’s knee. The rest of Putin’s entourage choose to retreat. Putin, however, was able to charm the little guy: in a few minutes, the leopard kitten settled on Putin’g lap and purred when the president touched his paws and stroked his chin.

Putin and Animals 3

In 2014, Putin entered the aviary to six months leopard Grom (Thunder). Photo: Alexei Nikolsky / RIA Novosti / Reuters

“Little leopard had never seen Putin before and wasn’t trained to meet the president in any way whatsoever. Big cats clearly feel the person’s aura. Little Grom felt Putin’s protectiveness and his confidence. Journalists, on the other hand, disregarded warnings and crowded the cage,” commented Umar Semyonov, the center’s director.

A bit of brown-nosing here from Mr Semyonov, but never mind — after all the center of rehabilitation is funded by the government.

Grom is a full grown adult Amur leopard now. He won’t be released into the wild because he got used to humans and won’t be able to survive on his own. For now, Grom resides at the center, later he might travel to some European zoo to improve the leopard’s genetic line. Several other young leopards will be released from the center. Unlike Grom, they weren’t exposed to human contact — men and beasts must remain strangers, even if man is Putin.

Putin and Animals 4

In 2012, Putin took part in an experiment to save Siberian Cranes, rare species listed in the Red Book. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti

On September 6, 2012, while on the Yamal Peninsula, Putin took part in an experiment to save the Siberian Cranes, yet another rare species listed in the Red Book. The aim of the experiment was to show the nursery-grown birds a flying route for migration to warmer climes. The experiment was not as successful as the scientists (and Putin) hoped for.

Inclement weather and political problems of 2012 halted planned motorized migration of Siberian Cranes. Only one of the birds, male named Para, eventually joined migrating flock of Eurasian Cranes and flew with them from Belozersky reserve, located in the south of the Tyumen region, to Kazakhstan. During one of the stops, the flock was attacked by a pack of stray dogs.  The wild birds flew away, leaving injured and crippled Para behind. Para was saved by the locals. The bird was identified by a special label and sent back to Russia.

In the end, Para remained to live with people, fed and cared for by employees dressed in white suits) crane. An object of special attention of the people and the media, Para has become tame. Similar fate befell another Siberian Crane named Vorona (Crow in Russian). Both Para and Vorona were later resettled to zoos and successfully bred in captivity.

The fate of а male Siberian Crane named Saval turned out sad and tragic. Saval was mortally injured as a result of intraspecific aggression. For scientists it played out like a very personal drama.

Putin and Animals 5

In 2009, Putin fed belugas contained in cage on the Chkalov Island in the Sea of Okhotsk. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti

In July 31, 2009, during his working trip to Khabarovsk region  President Putin visited Chkalov Island in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk. Dressed in a wet suit, waist-deep in the water, Putin helped the group of fishermen to strengthen the satellite transmitter on the back of beluga named Dasha. “She won’t eat us, I hope,” said the President, patting the whale.

Then Putin decided to feed the belugas. Scientists kept saying that belugas never take food from human hands. But — surprise! — Dasha happily swallowed the fish it snatched from the presidential hand. “Gentle, be ve-e-e-e-ry gentle and you’ll succeed,” Putin said and smiled… gently.

For Russian readers, see more on, the article Жизнь после Путина. Что стало с «президентскими» тиграми, стерхами, леопардами и китами.

Don Pasquale And Professor Frampton

John Del Carlo (Don Pasquale) and Anna Netrebko (Norina) in  Donizetti's Don Pasquale

John Del Carlo (Don Pasquale) and Anna Netrebko (Norina) in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale

On a recent sojourn to Cleveland, I attended an opera production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale put together by a local talent.

The moral of the Don Pasquale’s story is simple and unassailable:  a man who marries old is weak in his head.  Rather sad and ironic, given the aging audiences of opera performances these days. On the other hand, no one, regardless of age, goes to the opera to learn moral lessons.

Now let’s leave the lascivious Don Pasquale to opera lovers and switch the subject, while keeping the lesson of the libretto in mind.


Nearly 2 years back, I posted  Of Love As A Drug And Mule As A Peculiar Animal, a retelling of a bizarre story about a prominent English physicist, Professor Paul Frampton.

Some 2 months before his fate made a drastic turn to the absolute worse, while working at the University of North Carolina in the US, the aging Professor joined a dating website. By his own admission, he was lonely and looking for love. And soon enough he struck gold.

The pot of gold looked positively scrumptious. Her name was Denise Milani, a 2007 Miss Bikini World. What luck!milani


Paul Frampton began exchanging hundreds of messages with his online ‘girlfriend’ before he agreed to fly to Bolivia to meet her in person. In fact, he was communicating with drug traffickers from the South American mafia, who were posing as Ms Milani.

To make a long story short, Paul Frampton became yet another honeytrap victim. Unbeknownst to both of them, a South American drug mafia used the identity of a buxom Denise Milani to lure Professor Frampton into a drug smuggling activity. Professor became a drug mule.

The packets containing two kilos of cocaine were hidden inside a bag Professor Frampton was tricked into carrying by South American drug traffickers

The packets containing two kilos of cocaine were hidden inside a bag Professor Frampton was tricked into carrying by South American drug traffickers

In January 2012, after being stopped with two kilos of cocaine at Ezeiza International Aiport in Buenos Aires, hapless Professor arrived in handcuffs to Buenos Aires’ Villa Devoto, one of the toughest prisons in South America.  The drug smugglers’ wing held 80 foreigners, all sharing one large cell with 40 bunks bolted to the concrete floor.

‘I was conned into smuggling cocaine by a voluptuous bikini model – then locked up in an Argentinian hellhole where an inmate was butchered in front of me,’ Paul Frampton says in his first interview since serving his 4 year sentence in Argentinian jail. 

Professor Paul Frampton, 71, originally from Kidderminster, Worcestershire.

Professor Paul Frampton, 71, originally from Kidderminster, Worcestershire.

Paul Frampton spent nine months in prison.

‘The prison was a squalid place and we were treated like animals in a zoo. There were thousands of cockroaches crawling all over the floors and walls. We used a hole in the floor for a toilet and had just two showers between the 80 men on my wing. […] I can honestly say it nearly killed me. I believe I would have died if they had not let me out when they did.

‘The other prisoners laughed at me. They couldn’t believe how naïve I was. But I had spent my life sheltered in an ivory tower and had no idea there were professional scammers who would operate like that.’

The remainder of his sentence Paul Frampton served under house arrest at a friend’s house in Buenos Aires. Freed last June, he moved to the UK, where he continues to research particle phenomenology and theoretical cosmology. He lost his job at the University of North Carolina.

Eminent scientist, Professor Frampton has written hundreds of academic papers. The subject of his latest book, however, isn’t theoretical cosmology. It is titled Tricked! The Story of an Internet Scam.

Where are they, the librettists and composers, to write a contemporary Don Pasquale — an opera buffa with the same old, simple and unassailable moral?

But then again, age factor, so overriding  in Don Pasquale, might not be all that important in a contemporary version. Just look at that girl! And be on a look out for Internet scam.



Matthias Grünewald(1470 — 1528)

When the remains of the Domus Aurea (Golden House) of the ancient emperor Nero were discovered under the Esquiline hill in Rome, artists including Raphael lowered themselves down on ropes into its subterranean painted galleries. The Renaissance frescoes this opulent palace inspired – all fantastical foliage, masks and satyrs – was called “grotesque” from grotto (cave) because the underground corridors were like caverns.

The strange ornamental designs that were found there ‘featured elaborate fantasies with symmetrical anatomical impossibilities, small beasts, stylised human heads, and delicately-traced, indeterminate foliage all merged into one unified decorative whole.’ Pliny, in his Natural History, recorded the principal artist’s name: Fabullus; recounting how the painter went ‘for only a few hours each day to the “Golden House” to work while the light was right…

By the turn of the sixteenth century, some artists had begun to incorporate elements of grotesque decoration into their own, contemporary works.


Perugino’s ceiling of the Cambio in Perugia (about 1500)

Grotesques of Palazzo Vecchio:

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Arent van Bolten (1573-1633):

Arent van Bolten(1573-1633).

Arent van Bolten(1573-1633).

Heinrich Aldegrever (1501-1502 – 1555-61)Heinrich Aldegrever (1501-1502 - 1555-61) Ornament

Joris  Hoefnagel (1542 — 1601):

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s famous paintings of ‘composed heads’ date from the late 1560s.


Winter from Arcimboldo’s seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn)

Daniel Heumann (1720-174):Daniel Heumann-1720-1740

Francis Bacon  (1909 — 1952) engaged in what he called a “pitiless analysis” of his subjects, objectifying them in order to find new methods of description. Nonetheless, any meaning in the work was always tied to his search for a beauty within formalism. In this way his images of violence and death were never politicized. He was no Picasso or Goya. Instead, they were existential.

It didn’t matter much to him if people liked his work anyway. If they didn’t, he knew he was doing something right. (From How Creatives Work)

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Some call him 20th century Bosch. But Bacon wasn’t Bosch either.

Hieronymus Bosch was a moralist and didn’t believe in showing things as they appeared. His fantastical imagery earned him the nickname ‘the creator of devils’. Grotesque devils that is.Bosch

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Michael Hutter makes (and generously shares) his re-imagining of searing Bosch-like art. Yet another non-Bosch. And non-Bruegel, and non-Grunewald.

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And then there is Jonathan Payne  and his Fleshlettes — utterly disgusting creations made of materials like super sculpey, polymer clay, acrylic, and… human hair:

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[…] images like Payne’s come from a place “underground”, from an ugly malformed part of the imagination. The grotesque in modern art was heightened by the real-life horrors of the first world war. It is at the heart of dada and surrealism. The most grotesque images in 20th-century art include Picasso’s bullfights, Dali’s self-cannibalising creatures, Hans Bellmer’s mutilated dolls, and Francis Bacon’s tragic anatomies.

… The horrors that painters saw 500 years ago are just as disconcerting as anything today’s artists create. When we look into the dark, the monsters are always the same. (The Guardian. Shock horror: why art’s so obsessed with the grotesque.)