Posts Tagged ‘Italian art’
This one’s for Notabilia, who recently became a mother to a 6 1/2 lb. baby girl. A huge congratulatory holler to mom, pop and latest arrival !
Strolling through the 17th century Italian gallery just to eyeball Reni’s piece was a ritual of my Met visits. I wish I had a close-up snap of this, but the toddler on the extreme left, the one pointing to his suckling sibling ? – that kid’s mop of hair literally looked like it was spun from a mesh of shimmering, silken strands of soft gold fleece. Literally. I don’t know how Reni did it, but that’s what it looks like on the canvas.
Babies are awesome.
I’m thrilled for my pal.
Artist Maurizio Cattelan. Image from Ben Lewis’ site.
The worst thing about having left NYC ? (Well, aside from my top twenty list …)
All the damned exhibitions I’m missing out on.
Italian artist slash trickster Maurizio Cattelan is currently the focus of a solo show at the Guggenheim. His first stateside ? – I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that I’m not gonna be there.
To make up for the lost love, here are pics of a Cattelan piece I saw in the Italics: Italian Art Between Tradition and Revolution 1968 – 2008 show held at the MOCA Chicago last year – titled, quite simply, All (2008).
In this work, Cattelan portrays the expressive power of death in an openly tragic manner. Using the white Carrara marble commonly used in the Renaissance era (early 14th – late 16th century), Cattelan reflects on the mass persecution and slaughter of innocent people as a recurring theme throughout human history, drawing particular attention to present-day wars and other conflicts. (From the wall label.)
And, yes — after three posts, two articles, a couple of trips to a train station, the library and a temple, and the adrenalin-charged joy of stumbling onto the decisive piece of evidence through sheer serendipity — there is one.
The mystery of who was actually responsible for the four statues on the facade of the Old Tanjong Pagar Station has been solved.
<lol> Ok, maybe all that’s just melodrama and puffery. After all, we pretty much already knew who created the Tanjong Pagar statuary: the four larger-than-life figures of Agriculture, Commerce, Industry and Transport that were inscribed with the names of their creators, one Angelo Vannetti, and one R. Bigazzi. (The back story here, here and here, in that order.) It was more a matter of corroborating that information. Oh, and of course (a) finding out just who those two guys were, and (b) tracking down how the Nolli myth came about in the first place.
But first things first. A confession: the er, proof about to be presented really should have come to light much earlier — at the outset, in fact. A quick hunt through the National Library’s digital archives of The Straits Times had turned up a short notice about Vannetti and Bigazzi gracing our our sunny shores in 1929 (quoted in my first post on the topic). I’d used Vannetti’s name as a search term, simply because the inscriptions on the statuary named him as the sculptor; like the fool that I am, I’d neglected to dig around with Bigazzi’s name as well. Which is exactly what I did not too long ago, and, well — ding ding ding !
The smoking gun … and then some.
So anyways, my little search turned up the following: a long article from the May 2, 1932, edition of The Straits Times (below) on the then newly-opened Tanjong Pagar Terminal Station. “Opening of Singapore’s New Terminal Station”, the headlines announced, “Magnificent Modern Railway Terminus.” The piece delves into almost every aspect of the structure in some detail, and, in a two-paragraph section titled “Allegorical Figures”, the writer — god bless her, his or its soul — clears up our lil’ art history mystery for us:
Entering the station from the first “In” gate on Keppel Road, one is immediately struck by the four huge figures occupying prominent positions on the main facade, depicting agriculture, commerce, transport and industry respectively. These are carved in marble, and surmount in turn the letters F.M.S.R. picked out in white on blue shields.
A nine-foot-high statue of a bare-footed man carrying a sheaf of corn over his shoulders and grasping a scythe in his left hand represents agriculture. Commerce is a Greek-like figure of a man holding and open scroll in the right hand and a bag of money in the other. A half-naked man with a huge block of stone on his left should represents transport, while industry is depicted by a well-built, muscular man wielding a mallet. These figures were executed by a distinguished Italian sculptor, Angelino Vanette, from the studios of Raoul Bigazzi, Florence. (Bold emphasis mine.)
There we go.
And that’s that, I think. Inscription + contemporaneous eyewitness account = a pretty air-tight case.
One other thing: I Google-d “Angelino Vanette”, since Vannetti seemed to go by quite a few variations on his name. Oddly enough, only results in Malay showed up. It turns out that the Malaysian press at least were never fooled by the Nolli story one bit — presumably because they didn’t have the benefit of Lim’s and Sabapathy’s work. A recent Utusan Malaysia Online piece on the closing of Tanjong Pagar Station ran:
Empat figura manusia setinggi 22 meter melekap pada bahagian hadapan bangunan. Ia adalah kerja tangan tukang arca terkemuka di Itali, Angelino Vanette dari Studios of Raoul, Floerence. Keempat-empat figura itu mewakil kegiatan ekonomi Singapura ketika itu iaitu perdagangan, pertanian, pengangkutan dan industri.
“Perjalanan terakhir”, Noraini Abd. Razak, Utusan Malaysia Online, June 5, 2011.
Four human figures, as tall as 22 meters, are attached to the front of the building. It is the work of the renowned sculptor in Italy, Angelino Vanette of Raoul Studios, Florence. Those 4 figures represent the economic activities of Singapore at that time, i.e. trade, agriculture, transportation and industry.
“Last Trip”, Noraini Abd. Razak, Utusan Malaysia Online, June 5, 2011. (English translation courtesy of Ms. Bernette Meyer. Thanks, babe !)
Definitely interesting …
But moving on. Some other nuggets involving Bigazzi also popped up in the archives, most of which were newspaper ads for his marble and his sculpting services. One article from the Singapore Free Press (god how mocking that sounds now) from January 19, 1955 (below), details his association with the Crosby House project, and also provides a brief history of his activities in this part of the world:
The supply and installation of all marble in Crosby House was entrusted to the well-known firm of artistic works, Raoul Bigazzi, whose Far East headquarters are in Hong Kong ……
The firm of Raoul Bigazzi has specialised in marbles, bronze, mosaics, and other branches of architectural decoration for the past 34 years.
It has contributed to some 74 banking premises and many Marajahs [sic] and residences of royalty, some of which are scattered all over the world, but mostly in the Far East, from Peking to Bombay.
In Singapore its pre-war work included Eu Villa, the Municipal Building, Supreme Court, Hong Kong Bank, Meyer Chambers, and Union Insurance Building.
The latest post war works have been the Bank of China, Finlayson House, Odeon Cinema and the Lim Bo Seng Memorial.
The marble finishing of Crosby House, both in the materials chosen by the architects and the way they have been employed, is outstanding and well suited to this latest addition to the Singapore skyline.
A. CLOUET & CO. (Malaya) LTD. are the agents for Raoul Bigazzi.
Reading the article definitely rang a couple of bells in my head — specifically its name-checking of the Supreme Court and Bank of China buildings. It’s known that Rudolfo Nolli also contributed to those projects (the former in a very big way), so Peter Schoppert’s suggestion that Nolli and Bigazzi were at the very least acquainted is made more credible by this piece. (See his comments on the Singapore Public Art site here.)
The real find of the day, though, was this: a fairly recent Straits Times article, from 2006, on the publishing of a book on local Chinese temples — in Chinese, by the Shin Min Daily News 新明日报 (below).
Doesn’t sound too relevant, does it ?
And indeed it started off exactly as the title suggested, “Pray tell, where is this?: A new book on Chinese temples here uncovers fascinating facts”:
Did you know that at Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple, Chinese and Indian Singaporeans worship both the Taoist deity and Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god?
Or that the 130-year-old Po Chiak Keng Temple is devoted to a general of Empress Wu Zetian’s time?
And Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple stages more than 100 Hokkien opera shows a year – ahead of even the active gezaixi theatres in Taiwan? (Gezaixi is Mandarin for Hokkien opera.)
The stories of these and 35 other Chinese temples in Singapore can now be found in a new Chinese-language book titled Temple Culture.
The 224-page volume by the evening newspaper Shin Min Daily News includes articles on Chinese cultural beliefs like bai tai sui (the Chinese New Year practice of praying to one of the 60 deities who take turns to preside over each year, for peace in the months ahead).
About 21,000 of the 30,000 copies of the book have been sold since its publication two months ago.
Book in hand, LifeStyle takes you on a tour of some of Singapore’s colourful Chinese temples.
But then there was this fantastic little gem in a section dubbed “From Italy with Love”:
Two languid marble lions guard the entrance of the Peck San temple.
These were sculpted in the 19th century by an Italian named Raoul Bigazzi, and seem less stern than their Chinese counterparts.
Mr Wong Ah Fook, the late leader of Singapore’s Cantonese community, bought them for the tomb of his family.
His descendants donated them to the temple after it moved to its new address at the temple complex at Singapore Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng.
That definitely got me excited.
An extant piece of sculptural work by Bigazzi in Singapore ? (His known projects so far seemed to be all architectural.)
I had a gander at the book in question, which brought more good news. The relevant portion of the book is reproduced below (Chinese text quoted verbatim; English translation mine):
福德祠旁边是碧山庙, 这也是一座超过百年的古庙. 中国的古庙门口, 都有两只石狮守护着, 而碧山庙的石狮, 不是传统的中国石狮, 而是一对西洋造型的石狮, 走近一看, 石狮旁刻着雕塑师的名字。 他是十九世纪意大利雕塑家劳勿.毕卡西。说起这对石狮, 它体现了先辈们的族群互爱的精神。
这对石狮, 原是本地名人黄亚福家族购买来守护家族墓园的镇山之宝, 政府征用碧山亭的土地后, 黄家后人将这对珍贵的艺术品赠给碧山亭, 于是原本守护一家的石狮, 现在守护整个碧山庙。
庙宇文化, 第一本 (Singapore: Focus Publishing Ltd., 2005), p. 47.
Pek San Temple Guardian Lions
Sculpted by an Italian Sculptor
Next to the Fuk Tak Temple* is Pek San Temple, another historic temple dating back a century or more. The old temples of China always had a pair of stone lions guarding the doorway, but the Pek San lions aren’t your traditional Chinese lions; rather, they’re a pair of Western-style stone lions. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that they were inscribed with the sculptor’s name: Raoul Bigazzi, a 19thcentury Italian artist. [Bold emphasis mine.] It must be said that they evince the communal spirit of our forebears.
These lions were originally purchased by the family of local notable Wong Ah Fook to stand watch over the family’s burial ground. The descendants of the Wong family donated these valuable art objects to the Pek San Theng, when the temple’s lands were expropriated by the government. As a result, the lions, which once watched over a family plot, now stand guard over the Pek San Temple instead.
Temple Culture, first volume (Singapore: Focus Publishing Ltd., 2005), p. 47.
* [The Kwong Wai Siew Pek San Theng complex houses a Fuk Tak Temple; it’s not to be confused with the older Fuk Tak Chi Museum on Telok Ayer St.]
Uh huh !
Apparently these pair of cuddly marble kitties, secreted away in a Chinese temple, were inscribed.
I made a beeline for Bishan.
The Kwong Wai Siew Pek San Theng 广惠肇碧山亭 complex lies just behind the sprawling RI-RJC campus, tucked away innocuously on a quiet, leafy backlane, dwarfed by its prodigious neighbour.
Who would’ve guessed that it held a piece of the puzzle ?
But that, it did.
Bigazzi’s felines are wonderfully expressive, playful creations (above). Unlike the usual male-female pairing one finds with Chinese guardian lions, here the yin-yang polarity is conveyed through an emotional disjuncture instead: the creature on the right is a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed presence, peering at the viewer, if one faces it head-on, with a curious, roguish regard. Its partner, also a male cat – the implications are delightful – seems a lot less jolly, its head resting glumly on its paws, its eyes sunken and its mien melancholic. Otherwise, both statues are very vivid representations, the musculature of their bodies and the wavy tresses of their manes articulated with a certain stylized flair.
I decided I’d dub them Alert and Abject.
Both were inscribed with the same epigraph on their bases: “Raoul Bigazzi” on one line, and beneath it, “Sculptor and art dealer”; and beneath that, quite simply, “Florence.” Alert had his on the left-hand side of the base, near the front, while Abject’s was on the right-hand side, towards the rear. The script employed was regular and even, in keeping with the inscriptions on the Tanjong Pagar statues (see my first post).
If ever someone decided to make a close study of the four Vannetti-Bigazzi figures, here’s ready material for a compare-and-contrast exercise.
Mucho, muchos gracias to the wonderful folk of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library ! – you guys made my research a breeze.
I have two posts to crank out tonight – after a long day of museum-ing and chasing down public artwork – so this is going to be strictly no-frills.
I am dead bloody beat.
Updates on the Tanjong Pagar station whodunnit: opinions are divided on the authorship of the statuary over at Singapore Public Art, with some of us falling into the camp that believes the inscriptions naming Vannetti and Bigazzi are decisive proof, while others are calling for some caution to the proceedings – and rightly so too. In any case, the comments section over there is buzzing these days, so it’s all good !
Now, short of some dedicated soul out there ploughing through the relevant archives to fish Vannetti and Bigazzi out of the shadows of our art historical annals, right now we’re pretty much still stuck at square one: inscriptions on the four sculptures at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station credit Angelo Vannetti and R. Bigazzi as the artists, two individuals of whom precious little is known at present, while scholarly tradition has long assigned that role to Rudolfo Nolli, the man responsible for the tympanum on the Old Supreme Court building (among some other things). And unless more evidence comes to light to either cinch the case for the pair of enigmatic Italians, or to absolve ol’ Rudolf once and for all, that’s pretty much the impasse we find ourselves in.
Here’s what I’m deadly curious about though: how on earth did the Nolli story come about in the first place ? I thought I’d do some digging around, and I’ve got a couple of people to thank for tipping me off:
1. “Anonymous”, who posted the following on Singapore Public Art: “The sculptures were credited to Nolli in this publication “Sculpture in Singapore”, 1991, see page 20-21.”
2. Jeffrey Say – who’s on the faculty over at LASALLE’s School of Integrated Studies – followed this up with another reference: “The attribution to Nolli also appears in “Cavalori Rudolfo Nolli: A Sculptor and Entrepreneur.” Architecture Journal (1984): 10-17 by Dr Jon Lim, who was then a lecturer in the dept. of architecture at the NUS. It remains the only scholarly essay on Nolli’s works in Singapore.”
That got me hightailing it over to the National Library.
I got my hands on the Sculpture in Singapore catalogue first (above). It accompanied the show of the same name held at the then National Museum Art Gallery in 1991, and local art historian T. K. Sabapathy – who’s the granddaddy of ‘em all over here – provided a short essay. He devotes a section to Nolli, which I reproduce below:
Allegories and virtues are amongst the riches [sic] sources for artistic expression in Western art history. In Singapore, Rudolfo Nolli produced some of the most enduring sculpted images, representing virtues such as justice and allegories extolling labour. His most renowned sculptural composition is to be seen in the tympanum of the Supreme Court Building; Nolli explains the iconography of his presentation:
The central figure was that of Justice, holding the balancing scale. The first on the left represented the lost soul; next were the two legislators holding books in their hands and representing the law.
On either side of Justice were two further figures representing the people; on the left a figure begging for protection from Justice, the other thanking Justice for benefit [sic] received, and followed by a figure and a bull representing riches and prosperity. The two young children holding a stack of wheat represent abundance as derived from law and justice.
[Comment: Included here is Note no. 29, the reference for this quote: “Lim, J. ‘Rudolfo Nolli’ in Architecture Journal, School of Architecture, National University of Singapore, 1984, p 11. ]
On four projecting pillars of the entrance way of the Malaysian Railway Building are four standing male figures, one on each of the pillars; they symbolise Industry, Agriculture, Commerce and Transport; they are Nolli’s most engaging sculptural works. Employing a debased Neo-Classical idiom he manages to infuse the figures with vigour and expressiveness, principally by emphasising bodily torsions and musculature. Whereas the representation of Justice is integrated into the design of the Supreme Court, these four figures are not received hospitably by the building; they appear to be hanging on the flat, projecting surfaces precariously and seem to be marooned.
The uneasy relationship which prevails between architecture and sculpture-as-monument throughout the modern era and down to the present day is vividly crystallised here. In these circumstances sculptors opted to develop their art independently and in so doing, asserted their autonomy. Modern sculptors in Singapore generally conceive their art within this context and produce results which depict their self-referential, autonomous status.
(From T. K. Sabapathy, “Sculptors and Sculpture in Singapore; An Introduction” in Sculpture in Singapore [Singapore: National Museum, 1991], pp. 9 – 29. See pp. 19 – 21.)
I suspected as much.
Jon Lim’s piece, according to Jeffrey Say, is the only scholarly monograph on Rudolfo Nolli’s local work — and clearly Sabapathy’s point of departure for many of his remarks in his own essay. Its certainly the only reference Sabapathy cites regarding Nolli.
He was probably indebted to Lim for many of his facts — one of which at least we now know went unverified.
All this actually sounds a lot worse than it really is. Academics routinely build on each other’s work; it’s par for the course. I mean, scholarship doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When you have an article or a chapter to finish writing in double quick time, it’s probably counter-productive to get anal about every single fact that crosses your page. The ideal of course is to take nothing for granted, but in an ideal world I’d have six-pack abs that magically reappear every morning, instead of people asking which trimester I’m in …
Apropos of Nolli’s so-called quote about the Supreme Court tympanum, I haven’t had the chance to peruse Jon Lim’s piece — it will happen, and soon — but apparently Peter Schoppert, owner of Singapore Public Art, has, because he writes of the artist’s remarks: “The Supreme Court website includes the following text, which is a slightly amended version of the words of the artist, Nolli (at least as quoted by Jon Lim, but alas without attribution).”
Hmm. If what he says is true, then Sabapathy would have been quoting Lim quoting … no one ?
Watch this space for further updates.
In the meantime, just by way of future reference, I passed by Elgin Bridge this afternoon and stopped to eyeball Nolli’s roundels there; I also snapped a close-up of his signature (below). It’s a curious little thing, lacking the usual flourishes or even a discernible personality of any sort, the only affectation being the stylised Russian doll-ing of the last three letters, with the ‘I’ nestled in the nook of the preceding ‘L’, and that ‘L’ cupped in the first one. Otherwise it’s just a small, straightforward “R. Nolli”, incised vertically along the edge between the lower leaves of the tree and the left column/hinge. The image of the work on Singapore Public Art actually shows quite clearly where the inscription is located within the layout.
The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station ceases operations on 30th June – that’s next Thursday, and there’s a party ! – after which it officially becomes our 64th national monument. So a couple of friends and I decided over the weekend to head there for a last cup of teh tarik. The usually sleepy complex was overrun by hordes of people though, who all apparently had the same idea.
It was a madhouse of howling kids and clicking cameras.
The upshot was that I finally got the chance to eyeball the four massive statues out front: personifications of Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry, each adorns one of the engaged pillars that punctuate the structure’s entrance portico. Common wisdom attributes them to the Italian sculptor Rudolfo Nolli, who was active in this part of the world during the interwar years, starting out in Bangkok and eventually ending up in Singapore.
However, here’s the rub: it seems as if they aren’t really by Nolli at all.
A HUGE shoutout to blogger Sarah of Seriously Sarah for pointing this out; the local art history community owes her a debt of gratitude.
I’m not sure how and when Nolli’s name became associated with the Tanjong Pagar statues, but that particular rumour is rampant on the Internet; even sites like the otherwise reliable Singapore Public Art* make that mistake. The Cavaliere Nolli – he was knighted at some point in his life – is best-known hereabouts for his contribution to the former Supreme Court building, being the man responsible for the tympanum tableau:
The imposing Corinthian and Ionic columns, as well as the tympanum sculpture fronting the Supreme Court Building, were the work of Cavalieri Rudolfo Nolli, a Milanese sculptor. The central figure in the tympanum is that of Justice, with a figure immediately to its left [sic: the viewer's left, not its left] representing the lost soul begging for protection from it. Next to this figure are two legislators with books in hand, representing the law. To the right of Justice, a figure bows in gratitude, followed by a man with a bull, representing riches and prosperity. Two young children holding a sheaf of wheat represent abundance from law and justice.
(Write-up from the Supreme Court’s website.)
* Singapore Public Art has since updated its site, and now has a separate page for the Tanjong Pagar statues here.
Nolli’s tympanum on the Old Supreme Court building. Images courtesy of Asia Explorers.
That Nolli’s was the hand behind this work seems to be an established fact. His much-touted authorship of the Tanjong Pagar statues, however, has been openly refuted by the gimlet-eyed Sarah, who drew attention to the fact that the base of the Industry figure is carved with two inscriptions which name the actual artists (below): the left corner clearly identifies one Angelo Vannetti as the sculptor, even dating the piece to 1931, while on the right, R. Bigazzi of Florence is named as … the artist ? I can’t quite make out the actual words: aside from the unmistakeable “art”, the rest of it seems to be superscripted, and after that we see only the letters “A.T.”, followed by more indecipherable script. (These inscriptions are actually to be found on the base of all four sculptures; read her post here.)
This is quite the smoking gun methinks.
The left (top) and right (bottom) sides of the base of the Industry relief, with their respective inscriptions. Images from Seriously Sarah.
Elsewhere, Jerome of The Long and Winding Road, quoting the Malayan Saturday Post from 1932, establishes “R. Bigazzi” as Raoul Bigazzi of the Raoul Bigazzi Studios, Florence. He writes:
Described by an article in the 7th May 1932 edition of the Malayan Saturday Post on the occasion of the opening of the station as having a “palatial appearance”, the station is now overshadowed by the towering blocks that have come up at its vicinity, as well as by the elevated road, buildings and containers stacked high that obscures most of it from the the docks it was meant to feed. What must be the features of the grand building that stand out most are the entrance arches flanked by the triumphal figures, the work of sculptor Angelo Vannetti from the Raoul Bigazzi Studios Florence, that seem to stand guard over all that passes under the arches into the grand vaulted hallway described as “lofty and cool” in the same article.
That this Raoul Bigazzi is the most likely candidate is corroborated by a notice in The Straits Times, dated 5 February 1929:
Mr. Raoul Bigazzi, the noted international sculptor and decorator, is again visiting Malaya in the course of his eighteenth trip around the world. He is accompanied by the artistic director of his ateliers, Professor A. Vannetti, of the Italian Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Messrs. Frankel Bros., who have for many years been in charge of Mr. Bigazzi’s interests in Malaya, inform us that his present visit is connected with the public and private work of which he was responsible for several notable examples on previous visits.
(The issue is archived online by the National Library Board here.)
Given the proximity of the dates – 1929 (their visit) and 1931 (inscribed on the statue) – it seems probable that the “public and private work” alluded to above may well have been the Tanjong Pagar station commission.
It’s a tempting speculation, but unfortunately, short of hard evidence one way or another, just that for now – speculation.
And just who were Vannetti and Bigazzi ? A couple of online searches did not yield much. According to what little in English there exists out there in cyberspace, the former also goes by the more Italianate-sounding Angiolo Vannetti, and most sites, beyond giving his dates as 1881 to 1962, don’t provide much else. Bigazzi, on the other hand, happens to be better-documented, mostly because he was active in Hong Kong as well. While he apparently restored the iconic statue of Queen Victoria that now stands in the territory’s Victoria Park (it’s mentioned here), he seems to be chiefly remembered these days for the mosaic murals that covered the ceiling of the former Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building. The present behemoth, which dominates an already jostling HK skyline, was designed by Lord Norman Foster, and is actually the fourth incarnation of the structure on that site; it was preceded by a sizably smaller Art Deco edifice (below), which was extant from 1935 to 1984, before making way for Foster’s tower. It was the old building that was the home of the Bigazzi murals. These depicted scenes from HK’s maritime and industrial economies in an Art Deco style as well (below), and apparently was titled Progress through the Ages in Transport, Trade and Industry in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. The site Gwulo: Old Hong Kong, a wealth of information and images regarding the murals, reproduces a document which provides some very helpful details about their design and production:
The theme and basic design were suggested by the architects Messrs. Palmer & Turner. Mr. Raoul Bigazzi was the contractor, and the Russian artist Poudgoursky prepared the actual design.
Mr. Bigazzi went to Venice to order the materials, and Mr. Poudgoursky assisted by Professor Dal Zotto drew the full scale plan from the original sketch in Florence. As it was found impossible to do this in an ordinary building, permission was obtained from the Italian Government to rent a disused church which offered sufficient wall area on which the full scale drawings could be made. These drawings were executed on large sheets of thick paper and were coloured in accordance with the original sketch, which itself only measured 34 inches by 18 inches. In the process of enlarging the drawings many changes were made to improve the shadings, perspective effects etc., taking into consideration the exact position and lighting of the finished work.
The large drawings were then assembled and sent to the manufacturer, where under the supervision of Professor Dal Zotto the various pieces were pasted face downwards onto the drawings with special glue. Extreme care was necessary to ensure that the colour of each piece was exactly the shade indicated on the drawing. When a large area of the design had been completely covered with the corresponding pieces, the design was cut into small irregular sections similar to those of an ordinary jigsaw puzzle, each averaging from two to four square feet in size. Each section was numbered, and a key plan drawn with sections numbered in accordance with the full size design. The sections were then packed and shipped to Hong Kong.
Method of Installation
The ceiling of the Banking Hall was covered with a layer of well levelled and smoothly finished cement, and when this was dry a thin coating of white cement was spread over it. Under the direct supervision of Mr. Bigazzi and Professor Monti the various sections of paper and mosaic were then gently pressed into the cement in accordance with the key plan until they adhered.
The adjoining lines of each section were carefully placed together until each section blended into the next. When the cement was dry, the paper on the outside-that is the full size colour drawing of the original design-was removed with warm water and a hard brush, so that only the finished mosaic design was left embedded in the ceiling. Its surface was then washed with muriatic acid to remove glue and cement stains, and to bring out the full brilliance of the colour.
The actual task of applying the mosaic to the ceiling was carried out by skilled Chinese workers, mostly from Shanghai.
The ceiling is the largest of its kind in the Far East and is the second largest in the world. The entire work was completed within six months.
The former HSBC building, which stood from 1935 to 1984, later replaced by Norman Foster’s design. Image courtesy of Gwulo: Old Hong Kong.
Panels from Bigazzi’s Progress through the Ages in Transport, Trade and Industry in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres ceiling mosiacs in the former HSBC building. Images and info courtesy of Gwulo: Old Hong Kong.
So it seems that, while Bigazzi was in charge of the execution, someone else did the actual designing. Yet even a cursory comparison between the HSBC murals and the Tanjong Pagar sculptures reveal pretty salient similarities: resemblances in iconography and figuration do allow for the possibility that both sets of work may have originated – at least in part – from the same artist. Indeed, their subject matter is almost identical, with several of the same buzzwords cropping up in the titles: “transport”, “industry.” Experience tells us that two different artists will treat the same subject differently, and a couple of motific and figurative parallels here seem to signal a single creative force between the murals and the reliefs. The gesture of the raised, bent elbow, for instance, kept close to the head or shoulder, is seen in Agriculture and Industry (above), and finds an echo in the mural panel depicting ocean liners (fourth from top, above), where two dock workers hauling large packages are caught in the same pose. Elsewhere, the Transport figure (below), is in fact depicted performing a similar task – heaving a box over the shoulder – and even poised before a large spoked wheel, which makes an appearance in the mural as a ship’s wheel, part of a mash-up of various transportation-related motifs. The oversized cog at the feet of Industry can be seen in the mural which features a geisha (third from top, above) – it is located between the loom and some laboratory equipment, presumably a juxtaposition of traditional and technological means of production.
What do you think ?
The so-called Borghese Hermaphroditus in the Louvre, a second-century CE Roman copy of an earlier Greek original. It was the inspiration for Swinburne’s eponymous poem.
Lift up thy lips, turn round, look back for love,
Blind love that comes by night and casts out rest;
Of all things tired thy lips look weariest,
Save the long smile that they are wearied of.
Ah sweet, albeit no love be sweet enough,
Choose of two loves and cleave unto the best;
Two loves at either blossom of thy breast
Strive until one be under and one above.
Their breath is fire upon the amorous air,
Fire in thine eyes and where thy lips suspire:
And whosoever hath seen thee, being so fair,
Two things turn all his life and blood to fire;
A strong desire begot on great despair,
A great despair cast out by strong desire.
Where between sleep and life some brief space is,
With love like gold bound round about the head,
Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed,
Turning the fruitful feud of hers and his
To the waste wedlock of a sterile kiss;
Yet from them something like as fire is shed
That shall not be assuaged till death be dead,
Though neither life nor sleep can find out this.
Love made himself of flesh that perisheth
A pleasure-house for all the loves his kin;
But on the one side sat a man like death,
And on the other a woman sat like sin.
So with veiled eyes and sobs between his breath
Love turned himself and would not enter in.
Love, is it love or sleep or shadow or light
That lies between thine eyelids and thine eyes?
Like a flower laid upon a flower it lies,
Or like the night’s dew laid upon the night.
Love stands upon thy left hand and thy right,
Yet by no sunset and by no moonrise
Shall make thee man and ease a woman’s sighs,
Or make thee woman for a man’s delight.
To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?
Hid love in all the folds of all thy hair,
Fed thee on summers, watered thee with showers,
Given all the gold that all the seasons wear
To thee that art a thing of barren hours?
Yea, love, I see; it is not love but fear.
Nay, sweet, it is not fear but love, I know;
Or wherefore should thy body’s blossom blow
So sweetly, or thine eyelids leave so clear
Thy gracious eyes that never made a tear —
Though for their love our tears like blood should flow,
Though love and life and death should come and go,
So dreadful, so desirable, so dear?
Yea, sweet, I know; I saw in what swift wise
Beneath the woman’s and the water’s kiss
Thy moist limbs melted into Salmacis,
And the large light turned tender in thine eyes,
And all thy boy’s breath softened into sighs;
But Love being blind, how should he know of this?
Au Musée du Louvre, Mars 1863.
The Swinburne Project is dedicated to his life and work.
Like Barnes’ dirge for her lover, I wrote the following poem in the aftermath of a particularly distressing relationship, as a form of catharsis. It re-imagines the Greek myth of Hypnos, the god of sleep, and his obsession with the mortal, Endymion. So besotted with the youth’s pulchritude was the deity that he granted him the gift (?) of sleep with open eyes – so as to better delight in Endymion’s lovely visage for all eternity.
My jumping-off point though, was not so much the fact of infatuation, but the asymmetry between the waking god and the sleeping boy, and the emotional disjuncture represented therein. This is what Athenaeus of Naucratis recorded in his Deipnosophistae:
And Licymnius the Chian, saying that Hypnos [Sleep] was in love with Endymion, represents him as refusing to close the eyes of the youth even when he is asleep; but the god sends his beloved one to sleep with his eyelids still open, so that he may not for a single moment be deprived of the pleasure of contemplating them. And his words are these:-
But Hypnos much delighted
In the bright beams which shot from his eyes,
And lulled the youth to sleep with unclosed lids.
(From C. D. Yonge’s translation of Athenaeus, available in full online. See here for the relevant quote.)
Indeed, delight was the initial driving force – but one is reminded of Tennyson’s Tithonus, who after an eon of immortality without youth, begs his divine lover, the Dawn, to let him die: “Release me, and restore me to the ground:/ Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:/ Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;/ I earth in earth forget these empty courts,/ And thee returning on thy silver wheels.”
Perhaps, too, in time, the deity may have wearied of merely gazing upon his somnolent leman, and desired more than an object of admiration lost in the throes of a deep slumber. Painful then must have been the wide open eyes, promising a window into the beloved’s soul, but which in truth held out no more than an elusive figment …
Can one then love a stranger ?
A detail from Fernand Khnopff‘s I Lock the Door Upon Myself (1891), in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
Hypnos at Home
High above the city presides the god
deep in a hushed mansion.
The marble lies silent;
the drapes occlude.
A body sleeps on the leather couch.
He is watched.
White flesh glows lukewarmly,
and the soft down does not stir.
Open eyes stare –
The glass-clear orbs are certain.
The bouquet trembles and lets fall
a violet petal.
The god is moved. Grief grips the graven air.
He stretches out a finger;
“What do you see?”