Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 16

The wonderful photo above shows a group of Irish artists from the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, including Margaret Clarke and Estella Solomons (via BiblioCuriosa).
And let’s start with the usual firing of links and oddities!

  • This is the oldest diving suit in the world. It is on exhibit in the Raahe museum in Finland, and dates back to the eighteenth century. It was used for short walks under water, to repair the keels of ships. Now, instead, “it dives into your nightmares” (as Stefano Castelli put it).
  • Rediscovered masterpieces: the Christian comic books of the seventies in which sinners are redeemed by the evangelizing heroes. “The Cross is mightier than the switchblade!” (Thanks, Gigio!)

  • On the facade of the Cologne Town Hall there is a statue of Bishop Konrad von Hochstaden. The severity of his ecclesiastical figure is barely surprising; it’s what’s under the pedestal that leaves you stunned.

The figure engaged in an obscene autofellatio is to be reconnected to the classic medieval marginalia, which often included grotesque and bizarre situations placed “in the margin” of the main work — which could be a book, a fresco, a painting or, as in this case, a sculptural complex.
Given that such figures appear on a good number of churches, mainly in France, Spain and Germany, there has been much speculation as to what their purpose and meaning might have been: these were not just echoes of pagan fertility symbols, but complex allegories of salvation, as this book explains (and if you read French, there’s another good one exclusively dedicated to Brittany). Beyond all conjectures, it is clear that the distinction between the sacred and the profane in the Middle Ages was not as clear and unambiguous as we would be led to believe.

  • Let’s remain in the Middle Ages. When in 1004 the niece of the Byzantine emperor dared to use a fork for the first time at table, she caused a ruckus and the act was condemned by the clergy as blasphemous. (No doubt the noblewoman had offended the Almighty, since He later made her die of plague.)
  • Also dead, for 3230 years, but with all the necessary papers: here is the Egyptian passport issued in 1974 for the mummy of Ramesses II, so that he could fly to Paris without a hitch at the check-in. [EDIT: this is actually an amusing fake, as Gabriel pointed out in the comments]

  • Man, I hate it when I order a simple cappuccino, but the bartender just has to show off.
  • Alex Eckman-Lawn adds disturbing and concrete “layers” to the human face. (Thanks, Anastasia!)
  • Another artist, Arngrímur Sigurðsson, illustrated several traditional figures of Icelandic folklore in a book called Duldýrasafnið, which translated means more or less “The Museum of Hidden Beings”. The volume is practically unobtainable online, but you can see many evocative paintings on the official website and especially in this great article. (Thanks, Luca!)
  • Forget Formula One! Here’s the ultimate racing competition!

  • If you love videogames and hate Mondays (sorry, I meant capitalism), do not miss this piece by Mariano Tomatis (Italian only).
  • Remember my old post on death masks? Pia Interlandi is an artist who still makes them today.
  • And finally, let’s dive into the weird side of porn for some videos of beautiful girls stuck in super glue — well, ok, they pretend to be. You can find dozens of them, and for a good reason: this is a peculiar immobilization fetishism (as this short article perfectly summarizes) combining classic female foot worship, the lusciousness of glue (huh?), and a little sadistic excitement in seeing the victim’s useless attempts to free herself. The big plus is it doesn’t violate YouTube adult content guidelines.

Mors pretiosa

Mors Pretiosa

Here comes the third volume in the Bizzarro Bazar Collection, Mors pretiosa – Italian religious ossuaries, already on pre-sale at the Logos bookshop.

This book, closing an ideal trilogy about those Italian sacred spaces where a direct contact with the dead is still possible, explores three exceptional locations: the Capuchin Crypt in Via Veneto, Rome, the hypogeum of Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte in via Giulia, also in Rome, and the chapel of San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan.
Our journey through these three wonderful examples of decorated charnel houses, confronts us with a question that might seems almost outrageous today: can death possess a kind of peculiar, terrible beauty?

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From the press kit:

There is a crack, a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in” sings Leonard Cohen, and this is ultimately the message brought by the bones that can be admired in this book; death is an eternal wound and at the same time a way out. A long way from the idea of cemetery, its atmosphere of peace and the emotions it instils, the term “ossuary” usually evokes an impression of gloomy coldness but the three places in this book are very different. The subjects in question are Italy’s most important religious ossuaries in which bones have been used with decorative ends: the Capuchin Crypt and Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte in Rome, and San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan. Thick with the sensation of mortality and vanitas, these ossuaries are capable of performing a completely unexpected role: on the one hand they embody the memento mori as an exhortation to trust in an afterlife for which the earthly life is a mere preparation and test, on the other they represent shining examples of macabre art. They are the suggestive and emotional expression – which is at the same time compassionate – of a “high” feeling: that of the transitory, of the inexorability of detachment and the hope of Resurrection. Decorated with the same bones they are charged with safeguarding, they pursue the Greek concept of kalokagathìa, namely to make the “good death” even aesthetically beautiful, disassembling the physical body to recompose it in pleasant and splendid arrangements and thereby transcend it. The clear and in-depth texts of the book set these places in the context of the fideistic attitudes of their time and Christian theological traditions whereas the images immerse us in these sacred places charged with fear and fascination. Page after page, the patterns of skulls and bones show us death in all of its splendour, they make it mirabilis, worthy of being admired.

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In the text are recounted some fascinating stories about these places, from sacred representations in which human remains were used as props, to the misadventures of corpse seekers; but mainly we discover that these bone arabesques were much more than a mere attempt to impress the viewer, while in fact they represented a sort of death encyclopedia, which was meant to be read and interpreted as a real eschatological itinerary.

As usual, the book is extensively illustrated by Carlo Vannini‘s evocative photographs.

You can pre-order your copy of Mors Pretiosa on this page, and in the Bookshop you can purchase the previous two books in the series.

La Cripta dei Cappuccini

Se capitate a Roma, vi consigliamo di ritagliarvi un quarto d’ora per una visita indimenticabile. Proprio all’inizio di Via Veneto, la famosa strada delle celebrità di Roma, frequentata da signore ingioiellate, attrici glamour e ambasciatori internazionali, si trova la Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata, al cui interno è conservato uno dei santuari più impressionanti e, a nostro avviso, suggestivi d’Italia. Un luogo non soltanto consigliato a chi avverte il fascino e il gusto del macabro, ma anche a chi vuole passare qualche minuto di sincera meditazione e di confronto con se stesso e il proprio senso.

La Cripta dei Cappuccini era l’ossario in cui venivano conservati i resti dei frati, e contiene le ossa raccolte durante le periodiche riesumazioni dal 1528 fino al 1870. In questo esiguo spazio si è calcolato che siano conservati i resti di 3700-4000 frati cappuccini. Verso la metà del 1700, con interventi successivi, questo luogo di sepoltura, di preghiera e di riflessione venne trasformato in un’opera d’arte. Nel 1775 il Marchese De Sade lo visitò e ne lasciò una suggestiva descrizione.

La Cripta è suddivisa in 6 piccole cappelle adiacenti: la cripta della Resurrezione, la cappella per le messe, la cripta dei teschi, la cripta dei bacini, la cripta delle tibie e dei femori, e la cripta dei tre scheletri.

Le ossa adornano i muri, il soffitto e sono posizionate a creare fantasiose ed elaborate composizioni allegoriche che ricordano la caducità dell’esistenza e l’inesorabile fine che ci attende. Un memento mori di rara bellezza, nel quieto silenzio delle volte ricoperte di ossa e scheletri. Assieme alle ossa, sono conservati alcune salme mummificate vestite con il tipico saio, alcune in piedi, altre sdraiate in nicchie curvilinee.

Teschi affiancati a scapole che fanno loro da ali, lampadari formati con costole e altre ossa, baldacchini di bacini, pendagli di vertebre, rosoni formati da mandibole e ossi sacri… la vista si perde in questi ornamenti barocchi e macabri.

Notevole è l’ultima cappella, quella chiamata “dei tre scheletri”, che ci svela l’intimo senso dell’opera. Due scheletri di bambini (della famiglia Barberini) sorreggono con una mano un cranio alato. Uno scheletro sottile (la “principessa Barberini”) tiene in una mano una falce, e nell’altra una bilancia: segni rispettivamente della morte livellatrice, che miete tutti indistintamente come l’erba di un prato, e del giudizio divino dell’anima, che soppesa opere buone e cattive. Ma questo scheletro è inserito all’interno di una mandorla, segno di vita che rinasce. La morte, dunque, non è che il seme di nuova vita.

Una targa, infine, ci sorprende perché dona voce a tutti questi scheletri – pensavamo di essere noi ad osservare quelle centinaia di orbite vuote, ma forse è accaduto proprio il contrario. Incisa sulla targa, una frase semplice ma toccante: “Noi eravamo ciò che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete”.