Twelve things You Always Wanted To Know About The Colston Statue That The Guardian Never Tells You…

The recent trial of the so-called ‘Colston Four’, who were acquitted of causing criminal damage when the Edward Colston statue in Bristol was toppled, sent shock waves around the civilised world. As a former “classic liberal” Guardian reader and fan till not so long ago, Dr. Mark Stocker decided to pen this piece, originally for the History Reclaimed website. This is a revised and improved version. Mark acknowledges that the issue is a highly divisive one, but the toppling and subsequent trial only intensified his belief that “Retain and explain,” a now famous phrase that he coined, is the only way to go for the overwhelmingly majority of public statuary worldwide.


  1. The bleeding obvious: the statue, by being toppled and then thrown into the harbour, was subject to blatant criminal damage, hence the trial of identifiable participants. As far as I know, none of the Famous Four wrote to Bristol City Council beforehand seeking permission to topple it or even to have it peacefully relocated to a museum.
  2. The statue is a Grade II listed historical monument, subject to legal protection. The topplers, if they knew about this (which seems unlikely) disregarded it.
  3. Professor David Olusoga has several times pronounced on the statue’s supposed artistic mediocrity. What are his art historical credentials that qualify him to do so? The monument is a highly capable piece of Victorian portrait statuary by the Irish Catholic sculptor, John Cassidy, resident in England because he probably would have faced penury at home. Stylistically it combines sartorial realism with an attractive Art Nouveau pedestal. Edward Colston’s pensive stance and body language suggests a thoughtful man, the philanthropist that he manifestly was. The pose is influenced by such London statues as Sidney Herbert (sculpted by Cassidy’s fellow Irishman J.H. Foley) and General Gordon (by Hamo Thornycroft). As an art historian and retired curator, I believe society should care for art like this, not topple and deface it.
  4. Simply identifying Colston as a “slave trader” is a dead political giveaway, and is both lazy and misleading. Indeed, it is probably about as accurate as identifying Edward Heath as a musical conductor.
  5. Colston was no mass murderer, as Olusoga claims—something he didn’t say 18 months ago—even if many slaves tragically suffered when they were transported or subsequently worked to death on plantations. I certainly don’t believe in making light of Colston’s indirect involvement in such deaths but there seems to be a compulsion among his critics to denigrate him exponentially, so much so that at times he seemed to be posthumously on trial rather than the Famous Four. Is it naïve to suggest that Colston deserves at least partial redemption when he resigned from the Royal African Company and devoted his energies to the philanthropy that was central to all accounts of him up to the 1990s?
  6. We don’t even know how much Colston personally profited from the slave trade. Consider what the main historian in the area, Professor Kenneth Morgan, has to say in Edward Colston and Bristol (1999): “To what extent Colston received money from the sale of slaves in the New World is unknown. He was undoubtedly remunerated for his work on the committees of the Royal African Company, but whether his money was the basis of his fortune remains conjectural.” No new information has surfaced since Morgan’s publication, so the repeated assertions that Colston made his fortune that way remain mere conjecture. Morgan’s research suggests it was likely that Colston made more money as a merchant of textiles and sherry, and almost certainly far more as a shrewd moneylender.
  7. The topplers make an elementary error in their history. Write out 100 times: “That was then, this is now.” To quote what the historian Professor Trevor Burnard told me: “Everyone was invested in slavery in the late seventeenth century—Locke, for example, was a big supporter—and the monarchy was a supporter more than most.” The governor of the Royal African Company in Colston’s time was the King (Charles II, James II, William III), whereas Colston was deputy governor, not necessarily entitling him to the dirty monies of the slave trade. Obviously we all wish today that Colston had opposed slavery (just as one wishes he had supported Bristol Rovers), but what happened, happened.
  8. The estimated costs for the statue’s repair and restoration, £3750, are risibly and artificially low. This is because the threshold for a criminal damage trial in a magistrate’s court—where the Colston Four would have appeared had they not elected to go before a jury—is £5000. I know on good authority that the costs are probably closer to £20,000.
  9. The jury were subjected to irrational and emotional pleading, amounting to bullying and intimidation. As I’ve said, it sometimes seemed more of a trial of Colston (based on inadequate evidence) than of the Four. Among other things, the jury were told by the defence to make sure they were “on the right side of history.” Surely history should not have sides but facts? Regrettably, jury members could probably be recognised and would very likely have been subjected to intimidation (e.g. smashed windows, slashed tyres) by pro-toppling activists had they opted to convict.
  10. The prosecution didn’t seem to try very hard. They didn’t call on an expert witness to counter Olusoga and when I attempted to offer assistance, supplying a link to my History Reclaimed article, “The future will be grateful for thy eternal goodness,” which specifically addresses Colston, my email was ignored.
  11. A frequently repeated canard—or is it laziness?—repeated by the “liberal” press is that the anti-topplers are invariably Tory reactionaries. A YouGov poll did show more Labour voters agreed than disagreed with the acquittal of the Colston Four, but 53% were in the “disagree” or “don’t know” categories. Disagreement with the verdict was overwhelming among Tories and decisive among Liberal Democrats. I’m hoping against hope that one or two prominent and brave Labour and LD figures could stick their heads above the parapet and express their concerns about the verdict too. A great start would be the distinguished former Director of Public Prosecutions, one Sir Keir Starmer. Pigs can fly!
  12. A talking point. Aren’t there significant parallels between the acquittal of the Colston Four and that of Kyle Rittenhouse, involved in the Kenosha unrest shooting? Whatever we may think of the verdicts, the associated gloating coming from the left (Colston Four) and the right (Rittenhouse) is pretty sickening.

And a bonus on a more positive note: a dear friend, who happens to be a lifelong Labour Party supporter, wrote me this a couple of hours ago: “I agree with you about the futility and sadness of destroying the emblems of bygone years. There are numerous generals and dukes whose monuments seem unjustified today, but that isn’t their point. I wish we were as energetic in dealing with modern slavery as statues of men associated with oppression hundreds of years ago.” I couldn’t put it better.

Mark Stocker is an art historian whose recent book is When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971.


Featured image: John Cassidy, Edward Colston, 1895. Formerly The Centre, Bristol.

On The Theology Of The Icon

Olivier Clément (1921-2009) was a French Orthodox theologian who actively engaged with modernity. This essay, which reviews a book about icons, was published in the journal Contacts in 1960. Contacts was founded by Clément in 1949. We are pleased to present the first English translation.


The Theology of the Icon (1960), by Leonid Uspensky, is a book that will be a milestone. On a hot topic and essential, because art becomes for many of our contemporaries a quest for the absolute, and because Christian art therefore directly questions our ability to confess and live our faith. Here is one of the first efforts at synthesis that is not primarily aesthetic, or philosophical, but fundamentally theological, in the full sense of the word that implies and requires contemplation. Moreover, it is the work not of a theorist but of one of the best iconographers of our time, who in collaboration with Fr. Gregory Croug, has just painted important frescoes, in the middle of Paris, in the new Cathédrale des Trois-Saints-Docteurs, Paris [5 rue Pétel, Paris (l5th arrondissement). I would simply like to take this work as a starting point to identify some fundamental themes in the theology of the icon.

The author reminds us first of all that the veneration of the holy images, the icons of Christ, the Virgin, the angels and the saints, is a dogma of the Christian faith, a dogma formulated by the 7th Ecumenical Council. The icon is therefore not a decorative element, nor even a simple illustration of Scripture. It is an integral part of the liturgy, it constitutes “a means of knowing God and uniting with him.” We know that the celebration of a feast requires that one exhibit in the middle of the nave the (transportable) icon that reveals, with the immediate evidence of vision, the meaning of the event that is being commemorated.

More widely, the whole church, with its architecture and its frescoes (or mosaics), represents in space what the liturgical unfolding represents in time: the reflection of the divine glory, the anticipation of the Messianic Realm. The liturgical word and the liturgical image form an indissociable whole—this medium of resonance, this “pneumatosphere” one could say, by which the Tradition makes present and alive the Good News. Thus, the icon corresponds to the Scripture not as an illustration, but in the same way that the liturgical texts correspond to it: “these texts do not limit themselves to reproducing the Scripture as such; they are as it were woven from it; by alternating and confronting its parts, they reveal its meaning, they indicate to us the means of living the evangelical preaching. The icon, by representing various moments of sacred history, visibly transmits their meaning and their vital significance. Thus, through the liturgy and through the icon, the Scripture lives in the Church and in each of its members” (pp. l64-l65).

The veneration of icons is thus an essential aspect of the liturgical experience, that is, of the contemplation of the Kingdom through the actions of the King. Although “veiled” and through faith, this contemplation is nevertheless lived by the whole being of man; it has the immediate character of sensation; it is a “sensation of divine things” realized by the total man. The Orthodox conception of the liturgy appears thus inseparable from the great certainties of the oriental asceticism on the transfiguration of the body begun here below, on the perception of the Taboric light by the spiritualized bodily senses; that is to say, not “dematerialized” but penetrated and metamorphosed by the Holy Spirit. The liturgy, in fact, sanctifying all the faculties of man, initiates the transfiguration of his senses, makes them capable of glimpsing the invisible through the visible, the Kingdom through the mystery.

The icon, stresses Leonid Ouspensky, sanctifies sight, and readily transforms it into a sense of vision: for God did not only make himself heard, he made himself seen; the glory of the Trinity was revealed through the flesh of the Son of Man. When we think of the importance of the sense of sight in modern man, how much he is torn apart, possessed, eroticized by the eyes, how much the flow of images of the big city makes him discontinuous, makes him a “man of nothingness,” one understands the importance of the icon, because the icon, systematically freed from any sensuality (unlike so many works, though admirable, of Western religious art), has for its goal to exorcise, to pacify, to illuminate our sight, to make us “fast with the eyes” according to the expression of Saint Dorotheus (quoted p. 2l0).

In our civilization of possession by the image, a Protestant friend wrote to me, the icon has become an emergency of the cure of souls. It was during the iconoclastic crisis, in the 8th and 9th centuries, that the Church had to clarify the meaning of the icon, and Leonid Ouspensky’s book is nourished by the doctrinal and conciliar texts of that time. Μonsieur Ouspensky devotes a brief chapter to iconoclasm, but it has the merit of going straight to what was essential for the antagonists: their religious motivations. Indeed, iconoclasm seems to be explained in depth by a violent surge of Semitic transcendentalism, by Jewish and Muslim influences that increased, in the Orthodox tradition, the sense of divine incognoscibility to the detriment of the sense of “Philanthropy” and of the Incarnation. “The argument of the iconoclasts about the impossibility of representing Christ was a pathetic attachment to the ineffable” (p. 152).

But iconoclasm was also a reaction against a sometimes-idolatrous cult of images, against the contamination of this cult by the magical οr theurgic notion (in the neo-Platonic sense of the word) which wanted the image to be more or less consubstantial with its model. Thus, the icon was confused with the Eucharist, and certain priests mixed with the holy gifts the pieces of particularly venerated icons. Thus were opposed in the Church the two great nοn-Christian conceptions of the divine that only the dogma of Chalcedon could reconcile: on the one hand, the God of a static Old Testament who would not be “evangelical preparation;” a personal God but enclosed in his transcendent Monad, a God whom οne cannot represent because οne cannot participate in His holiness. On the other hand, the divine as sacred nature; or, rather, as the sacredness of nature, the omnipresence of which all forms participate.

Orthodoxy overcame these two οpposed temptations by affirming the Christological foundation of the image and its strictly personal (and nοn-substantial) value.

It showed first of all that the image par excellence is Christ himself. In the Old Testament, God revealed himself through the Word; therefore, no one could have represented him without blasphemy. But the prohibition of Exodus (20:4) and Deuteronomy (5:12-19) constitutes a prefiguration “in depth” of the Incarnation—it sets aside the idol to make room for the face of God made man. For the unrepresentable Word became representable flesh: “when the Invisible One,” writes St. John Damascene, “having clothed himself in flesh, appeared visible, then represents the likeness of Him who showed himself…” (P.G. 94,1239). Christ is not only the Word of God but his Image. The Incarnation founds the icon and the icon proves the Incarnation.

For the Orthodox Church, the first and fundamental icon is therefore the face of Christ. As Leonid Ouspensky suggests, Christ is par excellence the image made by man—this is the deep meaning of the tradition taken up by the liturgy, according to which the Lord printed on a cloth his Holy Face. Ouspensky interprets in a literal way the liturgical texts telling of Christ’s sending to the king of Edessa a letter and the veil (mandilion) on which he imprinted his face. Would it not be better, since the letter to Agbar is obviously a forgery, to identify the symbolic meaning of this episode, as the Church has been able, for example, to authenticate the testimony, but not the historicity, of the Areopagitic writings?

Let us say then that the historical memory of the face of Jesus was preciously kept by the Church, first of all in the Holy Land and in the Semitic countries which surround it. It is a fact that all the icons of Christ give the impression of a fundamental resemblance. Not a photographic resemblance, but the presence of the same person, and of a divine Person who reveals himself to each one in a unique way (some Greek Fathers, starting from the evangelical accounts of the apparitions of the Risen One, have underlined this plurality, in the unity, of the aspects of the glorious Christ). The resemblance here is inseparable from an encounter, from a communion: there is only one Holy Face, whose historical memory the Church has preserved (renewed from generation to generation by the vision of the great spiritualists), and as many Holy Faces as there are iconographers (or even as many moments in the mystical life of an iconographer). The human face of God is inexhaustible, and keeps for us, as Denys underlined, an apophatic character: face of faces and face of the Inaccessible…

Ouspensky emphasizes, with a large number of beautiful reproductions, that the image has existed since the earliest times of Christianity, and that the art of the catacombs, which is an art of the sign, sometimes offers, alongside pure symbols and allegorical representations, an undeniable concern for personal likeness. However, sanctity is then designated by a conventional language rather than symbolized by the artistic expression itself: it was in the third and especially in the fourth century that this incorporation of content into form, characteristic of properly iconographic art, began.

ΙΙ would be fascinating, for a history of meanings, to study to what extent this evolution of Christian art coincided with the transformation of Hellenistic art into the “art of the eternal,” in the sense that Malraux gives to this expression, and to what extent it differed from it; for the “art of the eternal” impersonalizes while the icon personalizes… If therefore the image that belongs to the very nature of Christianity, and if the icon par excellence is that of Christ, Image of the Father, this one, inaccessible abyss, cannot be directly represented: He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14.9). The 7th Ecumenical Council and the Great Council of Moscow of 1666-1667 formally forbade the representation of God the Father. As for the Holy Spirit, He showed himself as a dove and tongues of fire; only in this way is He be painted. Couldn’t we also say that the presence of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by the very light of every icon? Let us recall, although Ouspensky does not mention it, probably reserving this theme for the second volume of his work, that the “rhythm” of the Trinity, its diversity as one, is expressed by the Philoxenia (hospitality) of Abraham receiving the three angels, these Three of whom Rublev knew how to paint, with colors that seem like a mother-of-pearl of eternity; the mysterious movement of love that identifies them without confusing them…

If the Old Testament prohibition was lifted by and for Christ, it was also lifted for his Mother, and for his friends, for the members of his Body, for all those who, in the Holy Spirit, participate in his deified flesh.

However, in order to cut-short the accusations and confusions of the iconoclasts, as well as the abuses of certain Orthodox, the Church has vigorously emphasized that the icon is not consubstantial with its prototype: the icon of Christ does not duplicate the Eucharist; it inaugurates the vision face to face. By representing the deified humanity of its prototype (which implies a transfigured but resembling “portrait” element), it is a person, not a substance that the icon brings forth. In an eschatological perspective, it suggests the true face of man; his face of eternity; this secret face that God contemplates in us and that our vocation consists in realizing.

If it is possible for human art to suggest the sanctified flesh of Christ and his people, it is because the very material used by the iconographer has been secretly sanctified by the Incarnation. The art of the icons uses and, in a certain way, manifests this sanctification of the material. “I do not adore matter,” wrote St. John Damascene, “but I adore the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake… and who, through matter, made my salvation” (P.G. 94, 1245).

Obviously, however, the representation of the light that transfigures a face can only be symbolic. But it is the irreducible originality of Christian art that the symbol is placed at the service of the human face and serves to express the fullness of personal existence.

The Hindu or Tibetan mandala, to take a theme made fashionable by depth psychology, is the geometrical symbol of a resorption in the center. What one might call an Orthodox mandala—for example a square nave surmounted by a dome- has for its center the Pantocrator, and unites us to a personal presence…

This is why Ouspensky cannot be praised enough for having highlighted the iconographic decisions of the Quinisext Council (692) which ordered to replace the symbols of the first Christian art—especially the Lamb—by the direct representation of what they prefigured: the human face transfigured by the divine energy, and first of all the face of Christ. The Quinisext Council triumphantly put an end to the prehistory of Christian art, a prehistory that revealed the Christ-like meaning of all the sacred symbols of humanity, “figures and shadows… sketches given in view of the Church.” The true symbolism of Christian art now appears as the way of representing the human person in the perspective of the Kingdom. This is why, as Ouspensky shows, the symbolism of the icon is based on the experience of Orthodox mysticism, as a personal “appropriation” of the glorious Body (appropriation by participated grace, that is to say, by de-appropriation of all egocentrism). The immense eyes, of a softness without brilliance, the reduced ears, as if interiorized, the fine and pure lips, the wisdom of the dilated forehead, everything indicates a being pacified, illuminated by grace. Let us mention in this connection a text by Palamas, recently translated by Jean Meyendorff. Ouspensky does not quote it, but he could without difficulty add it to his file of ascetic quotations: it is necessary, therefore, to offer to God the passionate part of the soul, living and acting, so that it may be a living sacrifice; the Apostle said this even of our bodies: I exhort you, he says in fact, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God (Rom. 12:Ι). How can our living body be offered as a sacrifice pleasing to God? When our eyes are gentle, as it is written, “He who is gentle will be forgiven” (Prov. 12:13); when they attract and transmit to us mercy from above; when our ears are attentive to the divine teachings, not only to hear them, but, as David says, “to remember the commandments of God in order to fulfill them” (Ps 102 (103), 18); when our tongue, our hands and our feet are at the service of the divine will (Triads Louvain 1959, p. 364). Ιt is a sacrifice of God (p. 364).

It would be particularly important to compare this iconographic expression of the transfiguration of the senses with the lakshanas of Buddhist art, which also designate through a distortion of the sense organs, the state of “deliverance.” An analysis of the similarities and differences would be very significant. Let us confine ourselves to a few suggestions: in the icon, the symbol is at the service of the face. It expresses the accomplishment of the human face through encounter and communion. It suggests an interiority where transcendence is given without ceasing to be inaccessible. In Buddhist art, the face is identified with the symbol; it abolishes itself as a human face by becoming a symbol of an interiority where there is neither self nor the Other but an unspeakable nothing. In both cases, the face is surrounded by a nimbus: but the Christian face is in the light like iron in the fire; the Buddhist face becomes spherical, dilates, identifies itself with the luminous sphere that the nimbus symbolizes. In the icon, the treatment of the senses suggests their transfiguration by grace. The lakshanas, on the other hand, symbolize powers of clairvoyance and clear hearing through the excessive enlargement of the sense organs, the ears for example. Finally, the Christian face looks on and welcomes, while the Buddhist non face, with closed eyes, meditates.

This Christian concern for welcome, for communion, explains why the saints, on the icons, are almost always represented from the front: open to the one who looks at them, they draw him into prayer, because they are themselves praying; and the icon shows this. Light and peace penetrate and order their attitudes, their clothes, the atmosphere that surrounds them. Around them animals, plants, rocks are stylized according to their paradisiacal essence. The architectures become a surrealist game, an evangelical challenge to the heavy seriousness of this world, to the false security of the architectures of the earth…

The word abstraction never emerges from the pen of Ouspensky; but one cannot help but think of it when he speaks of symbolism οr stylization. There is in the icon an abstraction which leads to a higher figuration, an abstraction which is dead to this world and which allows the inter-vision of the world to come. The icon abstracts according to the Logos creator and re-creator of the universe and not according to the individual, fallen, ultimately destructive logos… The abstraction of the icon is the cross of our carnal look. Its realism is Taboric and eschatological: it announces and already manifests the only definitive reality—that of the Kingdom.

The light of the icon symbolizes the divine light, and the theology of the icon appears inseparable from the distinction in God of essence and energies: it is the divine energy, the uncreated light that the icon suggests to us. In an icon, the light does not come from a precise focus, because the celestial Jerusalem, says the Apocalypse, “does not need the sun and the moon, it is the glory of God that illuminates it” (Rev. 21:23). It is everywhere, in everything, without casting a shadow: it shows us that in the Kingdom God himself becomes light for us. In fact, notes Ouspensky, it is the very background of the icon that iconographers call “light.”

The author has remarkable lines on the “reverse” or “inverted” perspective: in most icons, the lines do not converge towards a “vanishing point,” sign of the fallen space that separates and imprisons; they dilate in the light “from glory to glory.” Could we not speak here of iconographic epectasis, epectasis designating precisely, in St. Gregory of Nyssa, this infinite dilation in the light of the Kingdom? Οne understands that the exercise of such art constitutes a charismatic ministry. The Orthodox Church venerates “holy iconographers” whom Ouspensky brings closer to the “apostolic men” of whom Saint Symeon the New Theologian remains the main spokesman. The “apostolic man” is the one who receives the personal graces promised by Christ to the apostles: not only does he heal souls and bodies and discern spirits, but, like St. Paul, he hears ineffable words; like St. John he has the mission to tell what he has seen (Revelation, as we know, means Revelation). In the same way the “holy iconographer” really glimpses the Kingdom and paints what he has glimpsed. Every iconographer who paints “according to tradition” participates in this exceptional contemplation, both through the liturgical experience and through the communion of saints. This is why the icon painter does not paint in a subjective, individual psychological way, but according to tradition and vision. Painting is for him inseparable from faith, from life in the Church, from a personal ascetic effort.

The Fathers insisted a lot on the pedagogical value of the icon. In fact, as Ouspensky shows all the history of the dogma is registered in the iconography. However, the value of the icon is not only pedagogical, it is mysterious. The divine grace rests in the icon. It is there the essential point, the most mysterious also of its theology: the “resemblance” to the prototype and its “name” make the objective holiness of the image. The icon,” writes St. John Damascene, “is sanctified by the name of God and by the name of the friends of God, that is to say, the saints, and that is why it receives the grace of the divine Spirit” (P.G. 94,1300). Ouspensky limits himself to posing this essential affirmation; he does not seek—at least not yet—the foundations of it. Ιt is necessary to recall here, to take up a suggestion of Μonsieur Evdokimov, the whole biblical conception of the Name as a personal presence, a conception which is also implied in the Hesychast invocation of the Name of Jesus (let us think of the power of this Name in the Book of Acts). The icon names by form and by color; it is a represented name: this is why it makes present to us a prototype whose holiness is communion; that is to say, offered presence, interceding… Like the name, the icon is the means of an encounter that makes us participate in the holiness of the One we meet; that is to say, in the end, in the holiness of the “Only Holy One”.

Ouspensky also offers us an important chapter on the “symbolism of the church.” An entire church must be an icon of the Kingdom. According to the ancient Apostolic Institutions, it must be oriented (for the East symbolizes the eternal daybreak and the Christian, says St. Basil, must always, wherever he prays, turn towards the East); it must evoke a ship (for it is, on the waters of death, the ark of the Resurrection); it must have three doors to suggest the Trinity, the principle of all its life. The altar is located in the eastern apse, slightly elevated—symbol of the Holy Mountain, the Upper Room—and called par excellence, the “sanctuary.” The altar represents Christ himself (Dionysius the Areopagite), the “heart” of Christ whose body the church represents (Nicholas Cabasilas). Ιt is perhaps regrettable, in this connection, that Ouspensky did not use, in order to study the symbolism of the sanctuary, Cabasilas’ “Life in Christ,” and the corresponding studies of Madame Lot-Borodin… The altar is the heart of the whole building; it loves it and sanctifies it. The “sanctuary” that surrounds it, reserved for the clergy, is sometimes compared to the “holy of holies” of the Tabernacle and the Temple of the Old Covenant. It is the “heaven of heavens” (Saint Symeon of Thessalonica), “the place where Christ, King of all things, is enthroned with the apostles” (Saint Germain of Constantinople), as is, in his image, the bishop with his “presbyterium.”

An eschatological vessel, the “nave”, often surmounted by a dome, represents the new creation, the universe reunited in Christ with its creator, just as the nave is united to the sanctuary: “The sanctuary,” writes Saint Maximus the Confessor, “illuminates and directs the nave, and the latter thus becomes its visible expression. Such a relationship restores the normal order of the universe, overthrown by the fall of man; it therefore restores what was in Paradise and will be in the Kingdom of God” (P.G. 91-872). Οne might ask if the union of the dome and the square does not repeat, in a vertical mode, this descent of heaven to earth, this theandric mystery of the Church…

Ouspensky does not pose the problem of the iconostasis, no doubt reserving to return to it in the second, as yet unpublished, part of his work. We know that the sanctuary was separated from the nave, until the end of the Middle Ages only by a very low chancel, a kind of balustrade in the middle of which stood, preceding the altar, the triumphal arch, a true door of life before which the faithful receive communion (these are today our “royal doors”). But, from the 15th and 16th centuries, as Orthodoxy, in a secularized world, closed in on its sense of mystery, the chancel was replaced by a high partition covered with icons: the iconostasis. The paintings of the iconostasis represent the total Church, one through time as well as through spiritual spaces. The angels, the apostles, the martyrs, the Fathers and all the saints are arranged on either side of a central composition that surmounts the Royal Doors, the Deesis (intercession) representing the Virgin and the Baptist interceding on either side of Christ in majesty.

Frescoes and mosaics normally cover almost the entire interior of the church. If Ouspensky does not speak of the iconostasis, he lists the main themes of this wall decoration. One is struck by their theological depth which gives an organic character to the overall symbolism of the building. In the apse of the sanctuary, it is the whole mystery of the Eucharist, “sacrament of the sacraments”: below, the communion of the apostles which evokes the memorial; on the vault, the Pentecost, evoking the divine response to the epiclesis; between the two, the Virgin in prayer, figure of the Church (her arms are raised like those of the priest), pointing to Christ, our High Priest, himself a sacrifice and a sacrificer… The decoration of the nave recapitulates the theandric unity of the Church: in the center of the dome, the Pantocrator, source of the heaven of glory that descends to envelop all, bless all and transfigure all. He is surrounded by the prophets and apostles. At the four corners of the square bearing the dome, the four evangelists. On the columns, the column-men: martyrs, holy bishops, “apostolic men.” On the walls, the great moments of the Gospel.

Orthodox iconography has experienced a late but profound decadence, in Russia from the seventeenth century, in Greece in the nineteenth. Ouspensky vituperates, with a purifying violence, the jumble of mediocre images which too often clutter the Orthodox churches and most of which constitute, under the label of icons “of Italian taste,” distressing by-products of what is most questionable in the religious art of the modern West. (About this art, one could notice, not without malice, that Ouspensky has chosen as a counterpart to the icons he reproduces, the blandest productions of Italian and Spanish “mannerism.” It is perhaps a good pedagogy to bring out the specificity of Orthodox sacred art. It is certainly not a valid approach to evaluate from an Orthodox point of view Western art, sacred οr “profaned”—an urgent evaluation which has yet to be done).

The fact remains that it is not a question of taste but of faith. This is why we must thank Leonid Ouspensky for having so vigorously specified the theological and liturgical foundations of the Orthodox icon. This article would like to be nothing else than a testimony of gratitude and above all an invitation to the reader: whoever loves icons not as an aesthete but as a man of prayer, must read this book, which is a great book.


Featured image: “Theotokos Deesis,” Mount Athos, 14th century.

Roman Joy

We will never tire of Rome. There is an ever-present joy in descending from the Quirinale, where the lies the mummy, Draghi, and entering the Field of Mars. A first love glows every time. You spend your day crisscrossing this heavy city, crushed under the domes, sedimented under the layers of time and ruins. Rome resembles a scraped and re-scratched palimpsest. On a speech by Cicero is inscribed a sermon by Augustine; on an elegiac poem, a lustful sonnet by Pietro Bembo. The precept of Lavoisier in chemistry becomes a rule: Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.

The Sol Invictus, luminous and virile divinity, was adored by the military and by Aurelian. According to Paul Valéry, this glaring fault holds within it the power of creation, the drive of life, good health. In its wake, Saint Faith of Rome, a martyr of the second century, daughter of Sophia, sister of Elpis and Agape. Hadrian arrested them, was captivated by their beauty and piety, but decided to put them to death. Faith was stripped, tortured; from the torn off breasts flowed milk. Supported by her mother in her ordeal, her head was cut off.

In Via Veneto there is the Martini sign, fizzing in the night, red-orange, like a new sun; a huge invitation to party – new rites and mysteries of a modern temple: Consumption. Rome is the concrete idea of permanence.

Visiting Rome over the years consists of constantly sifting through treasures with your eyes. First, thinking about the elementary things and then ending up moving for a painting by a 16th century painter in a church that opens only one day a week. And so begins the Roman adventure. What one has visited, one must see again. The traveler must, like a Sisyphean task, revisit what he has seen, revisit what he believes he has seen and what he would like to see again. On the next trip, everything will have to start again. A perpetuum mobile. The mystery of Rome is the closed palaces, full of beautiful things; the lit rooms that you can see from the street at night and to which you have no access; the doors of monasteries and convents that close onto rose gardens and palm trees. The city nurtures the desire, the lack and the urge always to go and see, further.

The Romans play a worldly carnival all year round. In the center, near the Palazzo Madama, a broom of officials and non-officials, carefully tied, brushes through the streets; priests from all over the world, old and western, young and Asian, flood in. The cassock is forbidden. You can still find journalists and intellectuals from the 1970s, with their unattractive physique as in Ettore Scola’s The Terrace. These shirt-wearing commies, with windshields as glasses, still take methodical routes through the city, a gazette under their arm, a pipe in their mouth. Here, a beautiful mother, there, a former TV presenter finished off by the scalpel. Roman nobility rubs shoulders with the marginalized; Russian fortune tellers, bums, obese people on Vespas in vest, a cigarette butt between lips. Rome answers to the celestial and terrestrial Venus, to the great beauty, and to the Fellinian vrenzole. It is torn between total luminosity and the most obvious vulgarity.

However, three Roman figures seem to me incredible in their taste of the beautiful, the good and the true.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus, after having known successes and political failures, withdrew from public life, retired, and settled in his properties to live the high life. His name remains attached to the splendid gardens at the site of the Villa Medici. It is necessary to imagine a vast plain above the city, excellent orchards with numerous citrus fruits, peaches, apricots. Lucullus had the taste for fountains, porches in the shade, thermal baths lined with exquisite mosaics, deep in perspective, powerful of face. In Tusculum, above Frascati, he had planted the first cherry trees of Europe. Lucullus also excelled in the art of the table, cultivated the great refinements; what Plutarch noted with severity by recalling this anecdote. When his cook brought him only one dish, he retorted: “This evening, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” The cook thereafter made sure to always plan a banquet when Lucullus dined alone, with many dishes, bottles, and the desserts.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Scipione Borghese was the great cardinal of pleasures. Between the nymph and the gladiator, his eminence showed himself as a great builder, restoring churches, building the great villa to which he gave his name. There he collected paintings and priceless works: a Hermaphrodite from the second century, as revealing of his penchant for men as for women; paintings by Caravaggio, and those of the Cavalier d’Arpin and Raphael. He was also the patron of Bernini, whose art culminates in Daphnis and Chloe, a masterpiece of life and death frozen in fingers that transform; a body that molds itself into bark, hair that passes branches.

Mario Praz, in the twentieth century, chose modest elegance. An art critic, he lived in seclusion in a Roman palace where he collected twelve hundred objects – paintings, drawings, furniture, sculptures from the last century; Napoleonic works but also neoclassical English paintings; conversation pieces; some wax bas-reliefs. The House of Life is his masterpiece, in which he speaks of his life and his work, as if they were the rooms of a house.

Rome is conducive to drunkenness and good food. Happiness is everywhere, desire flows, with all its variety – the lively joy in the sun, the relaxation in the afternoon, the light madness in the evening. What joy it was for me to befriend Julien Rochedy. How we feasted at Al Moro, a landmark for ministers of the regime, on seppioline with artichokes, gamberi al pomodoro, and spaghetti alle vongole. Familiar delicacies take on a double flavor in Rome. Try Giolitti’s ice cream, with almond and hazelnut, topped with panna montata. Genius. The Judeo-Roman cuisine is also excellent. In the street that leads to the theater of Marcellus, admirable as a set of legos among the columns, the Oratorio Venditorum Piscium, the apartments embedded in the heavy stone, you will find the Jewish kitchens, with their oriental air. Moshe will serve you fried artichokes as an appetizer, salted, crunchy to the tooth, fried brains, stew or a piquant and fragrant cod couscous.

The streets of Rome are characters. Via Giulia behind the Campo dei Fiori looks like a dowager alternating knitting and rosary beads. It is straight, austere, gray on one side, held together by official and severe buildings. A bridge crosses the street, covered with ivy, like a dark mantilla of a woman in mourning.

Via dei Coronari is a kind of woman of the century, one foot in the old world, the other in modernity. The antique stores are full of preciosities, trinkets and relics in silver and gold, official portraits of popes, swords, furniture, massive candlesticks. Proof of this strange feminine paradox, the conversation and the permeability to progress; a store sells plastic ducks dressed as the Queen of England, Michael Jackson, Trump; next to it another one sells only lead figurines of the Napoleonic empire.

Via Margutta, on the other hand, is the most sensual; kind of feline, playful, whimsical, sparkling. Its walls are warm, yellow, ochre, saffron, taupe, sometimes washed out; ivy climbs up the walls, pearl-like roses. It is a young socialite, home to gallery owners, jewelers and artists. In its streets that go up and down, André Suarès, even at noon, this great madman, roamed the city in search of the terrible absolute of the beautiful, the good and the true. In the evening, a French bribe-taker coming out of a cantina would fight with a cursed painter with a rapier. In the morning, the writer of the Jet-set, Jep Gambardella returns home, after a party; no more drinks, no more contact lenses, smoking, and finding on the Aventine, a monk come out of the monastery to say a final goodbye to his sweetheart.

The statues in Rome also live. In the church of San Francesco a Ripa, which gave the title to a short story by Stendhal, Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is in ecstasy. She holds her chest, ready to leave it. Here, there is no fourth wall of the theater of which Henri Beyle speaks, no spectators as in the Cornaro Chapel where Saint Theresa is ecstatic at the other end of the city. The layout is more sober, the line more sure, more incisive in the last productions of the artist. The dress is agitated, swollen by the waves of love, while her face remains virginal. Her body betrays terrible convulsions while her gaze carries the delicate vision of paradise.

In Sant’Andrea del Quirinale is the most successful work of Pierre Le Gros the Younger, a French student of Bernini. One reaches the camera del polacco. What is it? It is a room where is the recumbent Stanislaus Kotzka, a young Polish Jesuit, who passed through Vienna, and died when he came of age in 1568. It is a baroque pearl. The young man sleeps, dressed in a black marble that contrasts with his white porcelain skin. The success of the statue lies in the way the rigid cassock is rendered as if it were encased in cuttlefish ink colored marble. His face is soft but his feet are icy.

What can you say about Michelangelo’s Christ in the Basilica in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva! It is a mass, a rock, extra pure. It is the Redeemer who manifests himself to us as a truth that takes up all the space in a life. Christ poses, swayed-hip, naked. The knees are so delicate that Sebastiano del Piombo said they were worth all of Rome.

But finally, Pasquino, does he have something to begrudge these sculptures, the darling of the people? It is a statue from the third century. In 1501, a hand placed a pamphlet on it predicting the death of Alexander VI Borgia. The term pasquinade was then derived, referring to an anonymous pamphlet often written in Roman dialect. With time, Pasquino became the first talking statue of the city, bearing popular reactions, the bloodshed and the acid laughter of the Romans. There are still salacious messages, claims and heart-felt messages: “Berlusconi, figlio di Minghia,” “Nun si necessità sesso, er governo fa er culo ogni giorno!” “er Premier è un vampiro, certo, ma li Italiani nun hanno piu sangue, dispiacce!”

It is more than natural, it is said, according to the custom of tourists, to sigh with admiration before the supreme beauty of the Sistine Chapel. For once, let us leave these marshmallows chewed up into liquid, sky-blue sky dishes and let us admire the Christian mosaics of the first centuries. Let’s start with the mosaics of the Basilica of Saints Como and Damian. After passing the courtyard and the fountain with dog heads covered with moss, you open the door and what jumps at you is a cobalt blue sky, marked by red clouds, under the feet of Christ, who descends from the sky in front of Peter, Paul, Como and Damian. The vision stops you dead in your tracks and grabs you.

Not far away is the Basilica of St. Clement. The mosaics are more careful and finer. We see on the apse deer drinking from a spring that feeds a kind of bush, representing a forest, from which grow branches, woods, trees that take up all the space and shelter monks, hermits, shepherds. The cross in the center is represented as the arbor vitae. In this religious jungle, you can see Saint Gregory and Saint Ambrose. Above the cross, in the sky, the only hand of God sends his son for the salvation of the world.

In the Rione dei Monti, there is the Basilica of Santa Prassede. You have to go to the left chapel, put a coin in the machine to turn on the light. Illumination! Largesse! The Chapel of Saint Zeno is illuminated. It looks like the miniature of a Greek Convent of Meteora. A kind of gold coin box. You have never been so close to the quivering mosaics, glittering like yellow, golden and blue fish scales. You have to see this simple and sober Christ supported by four angels. The faces are pretty, little sketched, almost naive, but the whole of it enfolds you with a warm joy. You even forget that Bernini delivered his first youthful work right next door.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef. Translation from the French by N. Dass.


The featured image shows the mosaic of the vault of the Chapel of Saint Zeno, from the 9th century.

A Dollop Of Delights

PREFACE

Sorry, fans, I’m being more taciturn and less loquacious this month. But every word counts and every poem and joke is paradigm shifting. Take the Andy Warhol joke below: it will surely make my many feminist readers question themselves, just as they question the patriarchy, male gaze n’ stuff, during most of their waking (or should I say woke?) hours.

My political acumen aside, let me tell you that hundreds of hours of poetic and comedic toil are involved behind the scenes to attain the right level of polish and wit in my contributions. In fact, I’m remarkably like another great poet, John Berryman, albeit marginally less agonised, but that’s quite enough self-analysis for now.

OVER TO THE EDITOR…

This month’s dollop of delights rounds off a year since Dr Stocker’s first hesitant and nervous contributions to the Postil Magazine.

In the interim period, thanks very largely to me, he has morphed from an awkward, pimply adolescent to a craggily handsome 65-year-old, as iconic as best period Eastwood (an excellent Republican, by the way). Not only does he promise another year of jokes and poetry, but he will follow you all the way home from the shopping mall declaiming them through his megaphone, and if you’re British, will irrepressibly continue with many more via the letter-box on your front door. There’s no escape!

This month’s selection involves both poetic elegance and a modicum of frankly rather laboured, groan-eliciting jokes, punctuated by the rapier-like wit of the final one.

In case you’re wondering, the editor wrote every word of this, Scout’s honour. And he’s one discerning fellow…


Two limericks On Antonio Canova

(Mario Praz was a celebrated Italian critic and man of letters. He was perhaps fortunate to have died before Damien Hirst came to fame).

A sculptor of genuine flair,
Praz nicknamed him “frigidaire.”
But his carving – all white –
Is no longer all right,
And scholars of colour despair!

Roll over, Canova, your white
Carving no longer looks right.
You’re effete and slack,
Not gifted and black,
A discredited aesthete’s delight.

Antonio Canova, The Three Graces.

A fine limerick from Dr. Stocker’s art historian friend, James, and his boorish riposte:

A high gothic statue at Rheims
Adopted a classical stance.
When they asked: “Are you gay?”
He replied, “Hell, no way,
I’m the straightest stone statue in France!”

Fastidious James, how he screams
When I dare pronounce Rheims as “Reems;”
And St Denis “Dennis,”
Compounds the menace.
Vulgarity rules, so it seems!

Smiling Angel, Reims Cathedral, ca. 1236-1245.

Les plaisanteries…

A gnome admirer of the late Donald Rumsfeld was ostracised when he claimed: “There are no gnomes!”

Excerpt from Dr Stocker’s 101 art history lecture on the great Andy: “Arguably Warhol took his flirtation with radical outsiders a trifle far when he was shot by one of them. His would-be assassin, feminist Valerie Solanas, was profoundly unappealing – indeed, one of the SCUM of the earth.”

Critic Mark Stocker’s opening words to his Damien Hirst review: “Hirst in a pickle:”

“I have little time for Damien Hirst. A confident artist, for sure, but too easily cowed. Hirst has powerful artworld allies and any critical reviewer senses he is circled by sharks. Yet Hirst’s talent blooms in his pretty flower pieces. They are not made by him, I will have you know, but they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat…”

The shark by Eddie Saunders that inspired Damien Hirst.

My trendy artworld sister refused to talk about the magnificent paintings by wildlife artist David Shepherd hanging on my walls. It was clearly the elephant in the room.

A typing error which unconsciously reveals a lot about the state of the world today: homophobiz.

A conservative art critic subjected the late work of Matisse to a cutting review.


The featured image shows, “The Merry Drinker,” by Judith Leyster, painted in 1630.

Limericks A Tad Quitain

Me, I’ve been a poet since the age of six or seven, when my mentor was the very great Spike Milligan. The following was my favourite “Uncle Spike,” and I somewhat fear, dear readers, that it isn’t especially woke:
“A thousand hairy savages/ Sitting down to lunch/ Gobble-gobble, glub-glub/ Munch, munch, munch!”

Not only did I admire its visceral intelligence, but for a six-year-old, being taught stuffy English middle-class manners and mores, it was irresistibly subversive. Under Spike’s influence, I penned the following couplet:

“My dear,” said I, “my bonnie lass.”
But she replied, “You silly ass!”

It would prove uncannily prophetic à propos my subsequent overtures to the fair sex. Though my creativity and quality have somewhat dimmed since, I now find the Muse hits me powerfully, and in my unbiased view, not unimpressively. Blame semi-retirement for that. So here, dear reader, find a number of art historical Limericks – these shouldn’t upset anyone fearing an abrupt transition from the genre of my jokes. Talking of which, one really good joke does accompany this selection.

Kasimir Malevich, Red Square, 1915.

In this preface – the editor considers my output here worthy of Dr Johnson on the Bard (and he’s spot-on, as usual) – I will refrain from providing any of the usual, tedious art historical summaries. Apart from the Kiwi-Croatian painter Milan Mrkusich (1925-2018), an abstract artist of singular intellect, rigour and impenetrability to fools who wish every picture to tell a story, my exemplars are all well-known figures, compatible with everybody’s cultural arsenal. “Bloody Arsenal!” protests one reader (the epithet was stronger), “What about Spurs?”

My good man, is my reply, pray what do you think you are doing, reading this erudite journal?

But first, some amuses-bouche…


A well-known writer, Marcus Stocker, had just written a novel which he was quite pleased with, but for reasons best known to himself, decided to change the name of his leading character from David to Geoff. The “find” and “replace” function did its bit. Rather too well, as Stocker only remembered when it was too late that he had referred to a famous statue by Michelangelo…

My friend Lisa, an attractive young woman with plucked eyebrows who has a lovely smile the rare moments she is serene, is nonetheless prone to whine and whinge. You qualify as an art historian if you can guess her nickname.

My Maori friend Tama is slightly affected, and has artistic aspirations. Hence, he named his beloved daughter Moana Lisa.
[pause for laughs]
Later on in life, Tama was prone to eloquence in praising Moana’s beauty: “Moana Lisa rocks; she’s older than the rocks among which she sits”, blahblahblah. Moana is a smart lass, and and her response is “Oh shut up, Pater!”

Right. Now on to the much-anticipated limericks…


Eat your poor heart out Yeats,
You’re no better than Stocker or Keats
There was once a time
You could make it rhyme
But now who admires your bleats?

An elderly painter named Milan
Said, “I’ve got this brilliant p-lan
I’ll paint a red square,
What it means I don’t care,
But critics will all praise my e-lan”

Rodin told Camille Claudel,
You really are my kind of gel,
You’re a real good looker
Ma petite French cooker,
Now, help with those damn Gates of Hell!’

The Thought (Camille Claudel) by Auguste Rodin, 1888-1889.

A very idiomatic translation of the above follows from Mark’s attractive friend, Antoinette. He asks, “Why do the French always end up going to bed when we’d rather play Scrabble™?” To which she replies, “Come with me, Dr Stocker, and find out!” But I digress!

Rodin dit à Camille:
T’es quand même une chic fille!
Tu excelles au ciseau
Presque autant qu’aux fourneaux.
Mais tu es, mon canard,
Encore mieux au plumard!

The heterosexual male
Will try but invariably fail
De ne jamais toucher
Le grand sexy Boucher;
He really is beyond the pale!

Mademoiselle O’Murphy by François Boucher, 1752.

Georg Baselitz leaped into fame
With paintings that all looked the same.
His figures – inverted –
Made us once disconcerted,
But he’s now at the top of his game!

Henry Moore said, “My sculpture is goals,
Organic and pierced with great holes.
This was Barbara’s idea,
Now it’s mine – the poor dear,
You women have second’ry roles!”

An erudite scholar of Mich-
elangelo, Klee and Van Dyck [not our Bard – Ed.]
Claimed, “For my part,
I know all about art,
But I’ve no idea what I like!”

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles
Insults sweet Avignon gels.
But he said, “I don’t care
If they’re cubic or square
So long as my masterpiece sells!”

David resolved for a laugh,
He’d paint old Marat’s last bath.
He paid for his error,
Supporting the Terror,
And did Charlotte hurt him? Not half!

Bernini, when sculpting Theresa,
Said, “I just know what will please her.
An angel – so fierce
Her body will pierce
As heavenly sentiments seize her!”

As an apt aside, here are some of my favourite artists… There’s Jackson, the painterly dripper, Fontana the loose canvas ripper, The pious Giotto, The decadent Watteau And Frith, the Ramsgate day tripper!


Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.


The featured image shows, “Self-caricature in profile, standing,” a drawing by Edward Lear, October 1870.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 8

Well, chaps, one or two of these are likely to be over the heads of the common herd, so I am assisting with a few select images. The first joke alludes to a famous Caspar Friedrich painting. Ernest Trobridge designed fantastic houses in unfashionable petit-bourgeois London suburbs like Kingsbury. Hands up who’d prefer to live in one of these rather than an overpraised Le Corbusier villa, baking in summer, freezing in winter, with a roof that constantly leaked?

Talking of over-praise, someone all of you will have heard of (and I bet you wish you hadn’t) is Patti Smith. Excellent LP in Horses, but she should have been confined to her stables these past 40 years. I have a good mind to start a campaign to get her expelled from the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The juxtaposition of Alfred Stevens’s Valour and Cowardice and the endearing Oscar the Grouch (clearly inspired by Diogenes), is too irresistible not to reproduce. I wanted to include this reference in the entry I penned on Stevens for the Grove Dictionary of Art, but the editor said no, probably because many readers of the GDoA wouldn’t know their Sesame Street. But they do have a sense of humour, as attested by volume 19 of the series, “Leather to Macho.” Furthermore, at my insistence they included an entry on Maurice Sendak. Bless! I will squeeze in an extra joke in the hope that Nirmal won’t notice [Ed. he noticed!]. You didn’t know this but Maurice Sendak had aspirations as a songwriter as well as an illustrator. So he sent his idol, Elvis Presley, his new song. Unfortunately Elvis was distinctly unimpressed, and told Colonel Parker: “Return to Sendak!”


How might one best describe an unsuspecting student exposed to the New Art History in c. 1990? A Wanderer in the Sea of Fog.

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818.

A great G.F. Watts painting fetched a record price at Sotheby’s yesterday. The Sun’s headline: “500,000 Watts!”

Exhibitions they would never dare put on:
Popular vs Art World Realism: W.P. Frith and Edouard Manet
Bastien-Lepage vs. The Impressionists
Battle of the Styles: Le Corbusier and Ernest Troubridge
Miami Baroque: The Architecture of Maurice Lapidus
Good and bad pottery: Alan Caiger-Smith and Grayson Perry
Prince Charles and the Architecture of Good Manners
Making Britain Great Again: The Margaret Thatcher Era (V&A)
Contrasted Bodies: Alberto Giacometti and Fernando Botero
(or maybe Ample Bodies: Gaston Lachaise and Fernando Botero)
The Male Gaze: Alberto Vargas and Mel Ramos.

Ernest Trobridge, Buck Lane, Kingsbury, London, ca. 1920s.

And major retrospectives of any of the following:
Félicien Rops; Frank Brangwyn (outside Brugge); Frank O. Salisbury; Rowland Hilder; Albert Speer; John Bratby; Rolf Harris; Beryl Cook; Thomas Kinkade; Margaret Keane.

And major exhibitions I hope will never be put on: Bob Dylan; George W. Bush; the watercolours of Prince Charles; Winston Churchill, painter; anything by or about Patti Smith or Derek Jarman.

Great art historical juxtapositions somehow avoided by curators:
William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat; Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram.
Edward Burne-Jones, The Golden Stairs; Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.
Pablo Picasso, Guernica; Frank O. Salisbury, The Coronation of King George VI (both 1937).
Alfred Stevens, Valour and Cowardice; Sesame Street Workshop, Oscar the Grouch.

What did a French photographic connoisseur say when he was shown a Fox Talbot calotype? “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Daguerre!”

What is Rodin’s yummiest sculpture? The Burgers of Calais.

Art to charm your vegan friends: The Butcher’s Shop (Annibale Carracci); almost anything by Snyders, Oudry or Damien Hirst; Carcass of Beef (Chaim Soutine); and of course, Figure with Meat (Francis Bacon).

Added Joke (Rather, Five Added Jokes! Ed.)

The singer Shirley Bassey had an intellectual side, little known to her many fans. She was an avid reader of British poetry of the 1930s. Hence her famous hit, “Hey, Big Spender!”

A Hitler witticism: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Röhm was destroyed in a night!”

13th century political gossip: “My friend Lance is a bit of a leftie… Doesn’t believe those vilains are villains and he signed the Magna Carta, don’t you know!”

A famous politically correct Anglo-Saxon: Hereward the Woke.


Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.


The featured image shows, “The Laughing Boy (Jopie van Slouten),” by Robert Henri; painted in 1910.

Birds in Palaeolithic Portable Art

Here is an excerpt from Richard Pope’s intriguing new book about man’s long fascination with birds and flight. It’s called, Flight from Grace, and the little sample that follows wonderfully demonstrates the genius of early man. The book takes wing immediately with little-known facts, supplemented by astonishing images of artifacts that stand testament to the human spirit.


Portable art, which includes carvings, figurines, and engravings on ivory, stone, bone, and antler, is found often, but not exclusively, in caves. Bird representations are not uncommon in this art, particularly in the Magdalenian period (15,000–10,000 BCE). In French Palaeolithic art alone, out of 121 possible bird representations, Dominique Buisson and Geneviève Pinçon accept 81 as certain. Of these 81 sure bird representations, 15 (19 per cent) are on cave walls and 67 (81 per cent) are portable. Birds are much more common in portable art everywhere during the Palaeolithic. It is also striking that of the 81 sure French birds, almost half of which are not identifiable to species (47.6 per cent), 37 per cent represent either web-footed birds like ducks, geese, and swans or crane-like waders, and 10 per cent are raptors. The popularity of these waterbirds and raptors is also attested throughout Palaeolithic bird art in general. R. Dale Guthrie is right to point out that not all of these representations are masterpieces. Often carved in difficult materials, they range from the relatively crude to the superb. The artistic quality of these birds would not, however, have affected their function as amulets, pendants, charms, and ex-votos.

Flying waterbird Hohle Fels Cave ca 28000 BC.

At the mention of mammoth-ivory sculpture of the Palaeolithic, one’s first thought is of the numerous figurines of plump females – the so-called Palaeolithic Venuses – found from Spain right across to Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. What is interesting for us, however, is the common association of these Venuses with carvings of birds. Although these early Venuses are never bird-headed, as they often are in the Neolithic, these cult objects are often found in association with bird figurines and pendants. The Palaeolithic Venuses are thought by many to be figures with cult significance, and I believe that the bird figurines generally reflect the same cult status and represent various early forms of bird worship.

Perhaps our oldest known bird sculpture, dating from at least 28,000 BCE, is a mammoth-ivory carving found in the Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura mountain range in Germany – a charming representation of a flying waterbird, thought by some (not birders, I suspect) to be a cormorant but almost certainly some kind of duck. You can even see the feathers carved on the bird’s side. The only representation of a bird that is older is the Chauvet engraved owl and perhaps a partridge/quail engraving on a flint flake, discussed below.

Before considering this bird’s significance, it is interesting to note what else was found in the Hohle Fels Cave in the period dating from before or around 30,000 BCE. There is an ivory Löwenmensch similar to, although less exquisite and smaller than, the famous one found in the Stadel Cave, which is known to date from about 38,000 BCE. Significantly, these Löwenmensch figurines are not carvings of humans wearing lion masks but of human figures with lion heads. They are monstrous hybrids that could exist only in the human imagination but must have been part of the local belief structure, as we can deduce from the fact that we have two such figurines from two different caves in the Swabian Jura, where one of the earliest settlements of human beings in Europe took place. Our oldest Palaeolithic Venus, possibly a pendant, was unearthed here in 2008 and found to be at least 37,000 years old; fragments of a second one were discovered in 2015. Although it seems slightly younger, dating from about 26,000 BCE, we also have a carved stone phallus measuring nearly 8 inches (20 centimetres), almost certainly associated with some kind of ritual or ceremony concerning procreation and fertility, as are the Palaeolithic Venuses. A stunning find was a fivehole flute made from the wing bone of a griffon vulture dating from about 33,000 BCE – an object suggestive of the dance floor, which is so closely connected to the origins of the sacred. Lastly, dating from about 28,000 BCE, there is a carving of the head of a horse, notably not a major food item for these humans, that is reminiscent of the horses in cave wall art. Clearly, this cave was some kind of sanctuary where religious beliefs were manifested. So, although we can never know the meaning of any Palaeolithic work of art for certain, the fact that the bird carving was found in the same cave as carvings of naked women, a Löwenmensch, a phallus, a horse, and a flute suggests that something more than art classes was taking place in this early cave and that our bird very likely had some kind of cult importance in the belief structure of these early humans.

We also have a number of exquisite flying-bird pendants (and three that are not flying) from the incredible Mal’ta site in Siberia northwest of Lake Baikal, excavated by the Russian archaeologist Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gerasimov. Most of them were found in connection with hearths, and cult status is nearly certain. Several of them were found in the famous grave of a four-year-old child, the same child who clinched the genetic link between the Mal’ta-Buret’ people and North American Indigenous peoples. These mammoth-ivory flying-bird pendants were originally thought to date from 23,000–19,000 BCE, although more recent radiocarbon dating has suggested a somewhat later Magdalenian date around 15,000 BCE.

Mammoth-ivory flying-bird pendants, Mal’ta, ca. 15,000 BC.

Most of the Mal’ta bird figurines represent flying waterfowl, probably swans judging by the long necks. Thirteen of them are very similar in shape and are both phallic and snakelike in form, suggesting connections between the bird deity and two other potent symbols of the sacred.

In western Europe, echoing Mal’ta, we again find representations of waterfowl: a carving of waterfowl with young at the Mas d’Azil Cave, a swan engraved on stone at the Gourdan Cave and one at the Teyjat Cave, a duck/goose engraved on horn at Gourdan and one at the Caves of Nerja, and a duck engraved on stone at the Cave of Espélugues in Lourdes. Michèle Crémades and colleagues illustrate several ducks from the Parapalló and Escabasses Caves and geese from the Labastide and Gourdan Caves.

Waterbirds, such as grebes, loons, ducks, geese, and swans, were sacred to subsistence-hunting peoples in the Palaeolithic and still revered in the Neolithic and historic periods. Diving birds, like the zhingibis (grebe and the maang (loon), still play an important role to this day in Ojibwe trickster stories and creation legends, as well as in the Ojibwe clan system, where we find Crane, Loon, Black Duck, and Goose among the totems. You might well ask, why diving birds? But think about it: grebes, loons, and diving ducks are perhaps the only creatures that are at home in the murky depths of lakes and rivers, nest on dry land, and are at home in the sky, being strong migratory fliers. The ability to survive in all three elements makes them obvious candidates for magical status.

Duck/goose engraved on horn found in the Gourdan Cave, 17,000–10,000 BC.

Equally important, ducks, geese, swans, and cranes are markers of the retreat and reappearance of winter; they are among the last to leave in autumn and the first to arrive in spring. Migration must have been very mysterious and seemed magical, like eclipses and solstices; birds, the sun, and the seasons disappear and then, hopefully, reappear – a source of major anxiety. Wherever did these mysterious beings go? What if they did not reappear? Hence the reverence for waterbirds, the sun, and the spring, along with the need to devise rituals in order to ensure their return. And last but not least, ducks, geese, and swans were a crucial food source for the people who hunted them, collected their eggs, and reaped them in great numbers during the flightless period of the moult. It is natural to revere fellow creatures that you rely on for food. These are birds you would not want to offend lest they abandon you. Perhaps indicative of their power is the touching, late-Neolithic burial at Vedbaek in Denmark of a tiny baby boy next to its young mother, the baby cradled in a whooper swan’s wing. The swan may have been meant to escort the child to the other world.

It is interesting to note that this waterfowl cult persisted in various societies throughout the Neolithic until modern times. In Russia and Siberia, Margarita Aleksandrovna Kiriyak tells us, “[b]irds are a widespread subject of rock drawings in the Neolithic art of north Eurasian tribes. Both waterfowl and birds of prey are encountered among the images.” There are also many carvings. She provides us with a photograph of a beautifully carved, upright goose made of smoky obsidian that is sitting with its neck stretched up, found at the Neolithic Tytyl’ IV site in western Chukhotka. Joseph Campbell points out that “early Russian missionaries and voyagers in Siberia … found among the tribes numerous images of geese with extended wings.” Steven Mithin reminds us that, “[a]mong the nineteenth-century Saami people of northern Europe, swans and waterfowl were the messengers of the gods.” The Canadian High Arctic was peopled by immigrants from Siberia, so we are not surprised to find Palaeo-Eskimo carvings of birds, such as waterbirds, cranes, and falcons, like the carvings of the Dorset (Tuniit) culture (500 BCE–ca. 1200 CE), which long preceded the later Inuit culture. Coastal-dwelling peoples who made their living from the sea revered the seabirds, which were so crucial to their existence. Newfoundland’s Beothuks, for example, appear to have had such “birds at the centre of their belief system.” Beothuks were buried in seaside graves with the feet of actual birds – guillemots – attached to their leggings and with various carved and engraved ivory and bone pendants, of which over 400 have been found, all plausibly identified as representing seabirds’ feet, seabirds’ primary wing feathers, or the tails of Arctic terns in flight. Since one equips the dead with precisely those items needed for the journey to the afterlife, which in this case entailed flight over water to an island paradise, these birds were doubtless crucial helpers serving in their classic role as psychopomps.

In his Folklore of Birds (1958), Edward Armstrong devotes three whole chapters to the ubiquitous cult of waterfowl – geese, swans, and loons in particular – that survives in later, worldwide folklore. This was a tenacious tradition!

Among the long-legged waders, cranes are well attested in Palaeolithic art. Jean-Jacques Cleyet-Merle and Stéphane Madelaine, after careful study of a Magdalenian engraving on a perforated stick of reindeer antler from Laugerie-Basse in the Dordogne region, convincingly established that the engraved wader was a common crane by cleverly fitting two separate pieces back together. They say that there is a striking similarity between this bird and the two engraved on the piece of schist found in the Labastide Cave, which they take to be cranes as well. Crémades and colleagues illustrate a crane-like wader found in the Gargas Cave in the Pyrenees and add three recently discovered engraved cranes, one on a spear point, from Magdalenian sites in the Pyrenees. In the Belvis Cave, there is an engraving on bone of a very odd, horizontal wading bird – longnecked like a crane or heron. In the Morín Cave, there is an engraving on a rib fragment of what appear to be five overlapping bird heads; although Don Hitchcock thinks that they are ducks or swans, I think that they look more like large, long-billed waders – cranes or herons. In any case, this edible, upright, dancing bird, which marked off the seasons by its migration, was obviously very special for early modern humans. It is not surprising, then, that among the special dances performed in ancient Greek sanctuaries was the Crane Dance, performed “with tortuous, labyrinthian movements.”

After the owls in the Chauvet and Trois Fréres Caves, it will come as no surprise that owls figure in Palaeolithic portable art as well. We have at least four very old owl representations dating from about 25,000 BCE at the sites of Dolní Věstonice and Pavlov in Moravia in the Czech Republic. Two are owl pendants, which were probably worn either for clan reasons or as amulets offering protection by a deity, just as one might wear a Saint Christopher medal or a cross around one’s neck today or hang a Magnetic Mary in the car. The other two are baked-clay figurines of owls, neither of which are earless, making them perhaps Eurasian eagle-owls. There is also an Upper Palaeolithic owl carved from an animal tooth that was found in the Mas d’Azil Cave, which is quite similar to the Dolní Věstonice figurines. Lastly, we have a handle of some sort with a carved face of an owl found at the Russian site of Avdeevo dating from about 19,000–18,000 BCE.

Owl pendant found at Pavlov, ca. 25,000 BC.

Waterbirds and owls do not exhaust our list of birds in Palaeolithic portable art. In Mezin, a Magdalenian settlement near Kiev, six little mammoth-ivory figurines of birds were found dating from about 15,000– 13,000 BCE. They are beautifully and delicately carved with fat bodies and flat tails and incised with delicate patterns of lines presenting our earliest known example of the meander pattern. Some are flying birds and some are not, and none of them seem to be waterfowl. They appear to represent plump, edible birds, and judging by their fat bodies and longish, flat tails, my best guess is that they represent some kind of a grouse, partridge, or ptarmigan. They are linked to the goddess motif by the etched pubic triangles – vulva symbols – on their backs.

Ptarmigan will continue to be an important theme in art when we move into the Neolithic. In far northeastern Russia in Chukhotka, among the many small stone bird carvings, we find a number of ptarmigan.

Baked-clay figurine of an owl, Dolní Věstonice, ca. 25,000 BC.

It is noteworthy that grouse and ptarmigan were also revered in western Europe. There is a detailed carving of a grouse, with the head missing, on the end of an atlatl, or spear-thrower, made of antler that was found in Mas d’Azil. The Gönnersdorf Cave, an Upper Palaeolithic site on the Middle Rhine with over 150 engravings of animals on slate, also has a few lifelike bird engravings from around 15,000 BCE, one of which is a ptarmigan. A bird that Armstrong, probably rightly, takes to be a ptarmigan engraved on a reindeer antler was found in the Isturitz Cave. There is an engraving on a limestone pebble from Laugerie-Basse that is either a corvid – scavenging bird – or a capercaillie.

There is a bird engraved using the sunken relief method on a flint flake found at the open-air site Cantalouette II in the Dordogne region. It is interesting because of the sunken relief technique and its Aurignacian origins (33,000–29,000 BCE). It is one of our oldest pieces of Palaeolithic bird art – along with the Hohle Fels waterbird and the Chauvet owl – and it may be a grey partridge or a common quail.

The grouse/ptarmigan can hardly have been a fortuitous choice for carvers; to assume that it is just a pretty design is an anachronistic assumption. Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic artists did not work that way; this crucial winter food source was probably chosen for clan and totem reasons or because the carvings were seen as fetishes and carried with one to please and appease the grouse spirit. These carvings were not baubles.

There seem to be few Palaeolithic representations of birds other than waterbirds, birds of prey, namely owls, and birds of the grouse type in our early portable art. There is a bird pendant carved from a cave bear’s canine tooth that was found in the Solutrean layer (20,000–15,000 BCE) of the Buxu Cave in Spain. It is thought to be some kind of crake or other member of the Rallidae family, although that is doubtful. There are a few bustards, like the two from the Gourdan Cave, one from Laugerie-Basse, and one from Abri de la Madeleine, although they can be hard to tell from geese. There is a bird, together with a bison, engraved on sandstone in the Cave of Puy-de-Lacan, and it is usually thought to be a long-legged duck or goose, although it is much more likely a bustard. Apart from these edible birds, there are hardly any others.

Mammoth-ivory bird effigy, Mezin, 15,000–13,000 BC.

The great tradition of Palaeolithic art came to an end around 9500 BCE after at least 25,000 years, “perhaps the greatest art tradition humankind has ever known.” The uniformity of subjects and techniques over so long a period is astounding.

What we see in these bird drawings, figurines, pendants, and engravings is a 20,000-year continuum of representations of various birds that demonstrates the persistence of the bird as cult object and sacred amulet throughout the Palaeolithic. It is not accidental that birds, snakes, Venuses, and penises turn up so regularly in this animistic culture, where humans need all the help that they can get to survive. It will not be surprising if earlier finds from the Middle Palaeolithic (298,000–48,000 BCE) turn up, and if they do, we can bet that among them there will be birds.

As we prepare with regret to leave the Palaeolithic and enter the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (10,000–6500 BCE), what can we conclude about the role of birds in human eyes up to this time? Any thought that birds were just pretty or edible creatures that could serve as the subjects of objets d’art must be banished. As Armstrong puts it, “to man in the Old Stone Age [or Palaeolithic] birds were not merely acceptable as food but symbolized mysterious powers which pervaded the wilderness in which he hungered, hunted and wove strange dreams.” Birds, in various forms, from diving birds to owls and grouse, were sacred and thought to have spirits whose help was sought for coping with life and death. Birds were carved from mammoth ivory, bone, antler, and stone, depicted on atlatls, worn on the body as pendants, buried in the grave with children, carried as fetishes, or simply kept as cult representations deep in caves, where they were painted or etched on the walls of inner sanctum rooms in positions of honour that reflected the degree of sacredness imputed to these feathered deities. From our earliest Upper Palaeolithic finds at Hohle Fels and Chauvet to our youngest ones at Lascaux and Mas d’Azil, the importance of birds for humans remains paramount.


The featured image shows, “Margaret (‘Peg’) Woffington (the actress),” by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, painted ca. 1738.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 7

Again, I selflessly offer valuable hints on how to grasp the majesty of these jokes, invaluable for those unfortunate enough not to be of British origin.

Sir Ken Dodd was an anarchic, energetic comedian with his roots in the music hall and Liverpool, albeit with a touch of the Surreal about him. Margaret Thatcher was an unlikely fan. Bernard Leach (potter) and Barbara Hepworth (sculptor) were near neighbours for many years in St Ives, their modernist good taste positively suffocating. Painter Patrick Herron was another neighbour and friend. The legendary Clement Greenberg went to visit them; and I like the notion of him gulping down a Cornish pasty.

Across the pond, the original version of ‘Nobody’s Child’ was by US country legend Hank Snow; a mawkish cover by Karen Young was a big British hit in 1969. At school, I would sing it word (and note) perfect, nude, in the changing room after swimming, oblivious to the jeers from vulgar boys. For a hefty fee, I am willing to stage a comeback appearance…


What did Clement Greenberg say to the angry St Ives School critic attacking the Ab Ex’s as charlatans?
Keep your Herron.

Sir Ken Dodd, in a cavalier mood.

What was Sir William Orpen’s favourite pop song?
Nobody’s Child.


Who is the Newnham College, Cambridge, First VIII captain who proudly traces her ancestry back to a great architect?
Miss van de Rower, and it’s now the First IV because fewer are more!


Two good UK car registration numbers for feminist art historians:
MOR150 MAR150L
And one for a gothic revivalist:
PUG1N


Surprising as it may seem, Bernard Berenson was a big fan of Ken Dodd. This was reflected in the farewell greeting he would invariably dispense to visitors to his opulent Tuscan villa:
Tatti-bye, everybody, Tatti-bye!”


Dr Stocker’s admonition to Van Gogh’s rather glum Potato Eaters:
Hey, cheer up guys, those are great organic, freshly dug Jersey Bennies, and you’ve got crème brûlée for afters! (Mark Stocker is a Van Gogh fan, but Vincent van Gogh was a great painter).

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters.

What did the Telegraph book reviewer call the Marxist art historian T.J. Clark?
The Absolute Bore.


How would you describe the intellectual condition of a Berkeley art history student on their Italian Summer School Semester, c. 1968–69?
Ruskinian, i.e. Stoned in Venice.


What is the name of Lucian’s masterpiece of a young lady in her underwear?
A Freudian Slip.

Lucian Freud, Girl with a white dog (the closest you get to a Freudian slip).

Conversation between two doctoral students of Abstract Expressionism:
‘This painting is black and white and red all over.’
“Well, it’s a bleeding Kline, innit?!”


Barbara Hepworth to Bernard Leach:
“So, whassup today, Bernie?”
“Just pottering around!”


It’s Christmas in Berlin, 1913. What does Santa say to Kirchner’s street-walkers? Ho! Ho! Ho!


MOMA’s new head of Comms, naturally a great Greenberg admirer and foodie, has just come up with a winning new promo slogan:
MOMA: Avant-Garde and Quiche!


Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.


The featured image shows, “Selbstbildnis, lachend” (Self-portrait, Laughing) by Richard Gerstl, paintedsummer/autumn, 1907.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 6

As usual, I have been invited to submit some prefatory comments in regard to the assorted jeux d’esprit below. The first one may best be explained visually. Disaffected radicals, whether in 1821 or 2021, as Postil readers would agree, are a load of silly berks. The Wigan Casino represented the heart of the Northern Soul movement, in its pomp when I was a Cambridge undergraduate. Had I possessed any dancing prowess, I might have ventured forth to its talc-dusted floor, but Little Richard’s hit “Slippin’ and Slidin’’’ would have been the operative concept in my case. Pray forgive the artistic licence taken with April Love. As the better educated of you will know, this isn’t a sculpture but a famous painting by the Pre-Raphaelite Arthur Hughes (as well as a hit record a century later by Pat Boone). But let nothing impede yet another of one’s outstanding jokes…


A visitor came to see my art collection the other day. He wasn’t especially friendly. When I let him in, he demanded: “Take me to your Leader!”

Benjamin Williams Leader, February Fill Dyke, 1881.

According to disaffected radicals of the early 19th century, “British politics is just the Pitts!”


The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, has decided to prioritize the acquisition of works of art by people of colour. It has therefore just purchased a Matisse.


How might one best describe the relationship between Raphael and the Baker’s Daughter? Fornarinacation.


What was the name of Rubens’s voluptuous second wife?
Helene For Men.


What do art historical buffs call Hotel du Lac?
Brookner’s Fourth.


Who was Oscar Wilde’s favourite art critic?
Maxime Du Camp.


What was did Anthony Caro’s bumper sticker say?
Less is Moore.


And that of the philosopher who was into Northern Soul?
Hegel don’t bother me.

C. Gleeson, A Recollection of Wigan Casino, 2016.

When a well-known, very brittle artist staged a one-man exhibition, the Norge News art critic responded with hostility. The headline read: “Munch Crackers!”


An art history student visits the optometrist.
Student: I’m feeling nauseous, everything I see looks wavy or spotty and it’s all in perpetual motion.
Optometrist: You must have been doing an assignment on Bridget Riley. Focus on Malevich or Reinhardt instead!


At David Watkin’s requiem mass, the RC priest delivered a fine sermon entitled, “Mortality and architecture.”


What was Petrarch’s favourite pop song?
Tell Laura I Love Her.


Look at my fabulous Art Deco figurine. It’s a chow-chow by Pompon!


Who made the sentimental 19th century statuette April Love?
August Kiss.

Arthur Hughes, April Love, 1855.

Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.


The featured image shows, “Woman Smiling,’ by Augustus John, painted ca. 1908-1909.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 5

One or two of the jokes that follow may be a little esoteric, so here are a few hints for readers who are not necessarily versed in the British world of art history. Hans Coper was a remarkable, modern ceramicist, whose Brancusian bowls would not have met with the approval of arch(itecture) traditionalist, the late Dr. David Watkin, who was one of this gag-writer’s mentors when he studied History of Art at Cambridge. Lastly, the Rossetti joke presupposes a knowledge of Cockney rhyming slang, e.g., “What a load of Jackson Pollocks” (i.e., rubbish) and “Brahms and Liszt” (inebriated). Any further explanations would seem otiose.

****

A celebrated Anglo-German studio potter was showing off a lovely vase to a customer when – no! – he dropped it on the floor.
Beholding the smithereens, the customer said “That’s shattering!”
But the potter’s reaction was perfectly calm, even smiling: “Stay cool! I’m a Coper!”

Hans Coper, Bottle, ca. 1958.

****

What did her great friend say to comfort Lucie Rie when she had just smashed a vase in the studio?
“You need Hans!” [Her reply: “Max Bygraves? No thanks!”]

****

Which French 19th century sculptor had a notoriously bad temper?
David d’Angers, who sometimes veered on Rude.

****

What did a Royalist critic say of the Marseillaise?
Very Rude – she shouldn’t be pointing!

****

Visitor to the 1844 Royal Academy: “Ah, it’s called Rain, Steam and Speed! What a brilliant Turner phrase!”

****

What did Rossetti say when his fellow Pre-Raphaelite annoyed him?
“You stupid Holman Hunt!”

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini, 1850.

****

Who was the eminent, high camp 18th century art connoisseur who uncannily anticipated Pop Art?
Sir Horace Warhol.

****

What did the mugger say to James Tissot?
“Watch out!”

****

Edwin Landseer was a mental wreck. He told his shrink in a horse voice: “Oh deer! I’ve been dogged by the cattiness of pig-headed critics!”

****

What did David Watkin scathingly call Pevsner?
Sir Knickerless.

****

How did Sir Nikolaus Pevsner summarise a High Victorian Gothic railway station he intensely disliked?
Cancer of the Pancras. Terminal.

****

What was Sir Herbert Read’s intellectual response towards a Merz installation by Kurt Schwitters?
What a load of rubbish!

****

Q. What do you think of the Guggenheim building?
A. All Wright I suppose, but it cuts corners…

Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.

The featured image shows, “Three Men with a Woman Holding a Cat,” attributed to Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, ca. 16th century.