Le capitaine Costentenus
Poster for a sideshow type act at the Folies-Bergère, circa 1880s.
Recently I was at the ethnographic Musée du quai Branly in Paris. A post about some of the museum’s permanent collection of lovely, demented and/or terrifying masks will follow shortly, but the museum also currently have an exhibition on (until the middle of October 2014) called Tatoueurs, Tatoués (Tattooers, Tattooed) which is worth seeing if only to be reminded that there can be more to tattoos than spelling error tramp stamps, nonsense kanji, the ubiquitous badly drawn pseudo-tribal sleeve, and permanent disfigurements that are just plain wrong.
The exhibition has modern examples and historical images from all over Asia, Europe and Oceania, but for some reason the image that stuck with me was the one shown above, of ‘Captain Costentenus’. Maybe it’s just my general prediliction for Victoriana. He was an attraction at the Folies-Bergère, the Parisian cabaret that remains in operation to this day. The caption says “Tattooed by order of Yakoob-Beg, chief of the Tartars, with two million dots and 325 animal figures.” Did somebody actually count the dots? Maybe Costentenus did, as they were being poked into him.
Another colour lithograph, in English (below)– from the reliably kinky Wellcome Collection– gives further information about Captain Costentenus, describing him as a “Greek Albanian, tattooed from head to foot in Chinese Tartary, as punishment for engaging in rebellion against the King”… the king presumably being the aforementioned Yakoob-Beg. Chinese Tartary is an obsolete term, referring broadly to the areas such as Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria, which doesn’t quite match up with him being Greek Albanian although I guess he could have been travelling when he committed whatever transgression caused Yakoob-Beg to mandate such an elaborate punishment. Either that, or we’re looking at what we’d call nowadays creative PR.
19th century aquaria were evidently as much sites for general oddity as they were display facilities for fish.
Mad Englishmen and dogs
“‘Bath and slept with Gladys,’ runs one entry in the diary. Such Gill family intimacies seem routine, a habit. A few weeks later there are more surprising entries; ‘Expt. [experiment] with dog in eve’ [the rest has been obliterated]. Then, five days later, ‘Bath. Continued experiment with dog after and discovered that a dog will join with a man’”
Fiona MacCarthy quoting the diaries of Eric Gill from November and December of 1929, in her eponymous biography. Gladys was Eric’s sister.
This post is a companion of sorts to the enduringly popular one I did on Adoxoblog about James Joyce and the extremely explicit letters he wrote to the magnificently monickered Nora Barnacle. There’s something quite joyous, delightful and possibly even endearing in the way Joyce talks very dirty and explains his wild fantasies of giving it to his Mrs up the wrong ‘un, with her full and equally enthusiastic consent. There’s a good reason why so many people find the letters so arousing, or funny, or both.
The same cannot be said of what the sculptor and typographer Eric Gill (1882-1940) was up to in roughly the same period, as revealed in Fiona MacCarthy’s biography of him. It involves incest, paedophilia, bestiality and extremely hypocritical claims to Catholic piety, so if these things are triggering to you and the quote above is already more than enough, then be warned that it only gets worse and don’t click to read the whole post. Strong language, upsetting scenes, etc.
Gill’s design influence can still be felt all over the world, and of course even more so in his native Britain. Gill Sans remains well known in all kinds of applications, including the iconic Penguin books typography, as a standard digital font installed on many computers, and in the modern BBC logo. His carvings also still adorn the Deco parts of the BBC’s headquarters at the end of Regent Street in London; a particular irony given the recent revelations that the BBC in the 1970s was a kind of free-wheeling paedotopia where a clique of light entertainment sexual predators were well-known within the corporation and for the most part tolerated because boys will be boys. The sculpture is undeniably lovely– inspired by The Tempest, the carvings of Ariel in turn inspired the title of the BBC’s in-house newsletter– but herein lies part of the problem, once you know what he got up to and how closely his artwork is tied to the sexual abuse of children and animals. As MacCarthy aptly puts it in a Guardian article about working on the biography:
“Having read Gill’s own account of his experimental sexual connections with his dog in a later craft community at Pigotts near High Wycombe, his woodcut The Hound of St Dominic develops some distinctly disconcerting features.”
Last of the splendid vintage Hashime Murayama insect illustrations that I found in a neglected folder from 1997, and some of the jolliest/most pretentious descriptions: “Scarabs that might have made a Pharaoh envious”, “From which Golconda do the beetles get their gemlike garments?”, “Dung Beetles in habit, but in armor royally clad.”
… arrayed in resplendent robes.
Emphasis on the buzz. Top sixteen illustrations of bees it took me three clicks to paste into the content management system that you need to see before you die screaming in a swarm of angry stingers.
‘Z z zzz and Z z z’ By Paul McCartbee and Beebee Wonder.
Continuing Hashime Murayama’s meticulous vintage illustrations. Like the night shift posted yesterday, some of these butterflies have names evocative of much more than a small, short-lived insect. Orange Sulphur. Great Purple Hair-streak. Ochre Ringlet. Ridings’ Satyr. Leto Fritillary.
Next time: ants.
More Hashime Murayama illustrations, this time of moths. What beautiful, poetic names these tiny, mostly unseen creatures of the night have. Striped Morning Sphinx. Blinded Sphinx. Satellite Sphinx. Humming-bird Clear-wing. Darling Under-wing. Night-flying Luna. Pandora. Fall Web-worm.
Next time: butterflies.
Unfortunately I don’t have page 186, so I can’t show you the giant sphinx moth commanding attention with its tongue. You can see the length here but not necessarily the quality. It’s what you do with it that counts, etc.
A rich seam of hard drive detritus uncovered recently: a whole folder full of insect, spider and butterfly images scanned in the mid 1990s (somewhat haphazardly in a few cases, although not by me) from vintage magazines. Some of the illustrations are obviously from National Geographic; possibly all of them are. Many of them are signed by Hashime Murayama, who did indeed work for National Geographic between 1921 and 1941. Unfortunately he was arrested several times as an enemy alien during WWII, although like 99% of Japanese-Americans he was completely innocent of any crime. He died in 1954.
First of all, some spiders. I really enjoy the jolly, gung-ho captions, but then I’m quite fond of spiders. I suspect for some people calling a befanged skitterer on too many legs an “athlete” is not enough to affect any form of rapprochement.
Next time: moths.
Fabrics of many designs come from these assorted spinners’ looms.
“For was it, for instance, a thing likely to occur to any one as suspicious that, according to the declaration of an elegant beau of these tea-parties, Olimpia had, contrary to all good manners, sneezed oftener than she had yawned? The former must have been, in the opinion of this elegant gentleman, the winding up of the concealed clock-work; it had always been accompanied by an observable creaking, and so on. […] Several lovers, in order to be fully convinced that they were not paying court to a wooden puppet, required that their mistress should sing and dance a little out of time, should embroider or knit or play with her little pug, &c., when being read to, but above all things else that she should do something more than merely listen — that she should frequently speak in such a way as to really show that her words presupposed as a condition some thinking and feeling. The bonds of love were in many cases drawn closer in consequence, and so of course became more engaging; in other instances they gradually relaxed and fell away. “I cannot really be made responsible for it,” was the remark of more than one young gallant. At the tea-gatherings everybody, in order to ward off suspicion, yawned to an incredible extent and never sneezed. Spalanzani was obliged, as has been said, to leave the place in order to escape a criminal charge of having fraudulently imposed an automaton upon human society.”
The Sand-Man by Ernst T.W. Hoffmann, 1817.
This Figure For Ballroom Dancing Practice was patented in 1921 by one Sidney E. Feist, “of Brooklyn, New York.” The drawings are lovely, despite the inherent uncanniness with which most people in the 21st century automatically contextualise the idea of dancing with some kind of flapper-Dalek automaton who rolls towards you on what Mr. Feist worryingly (and Lovecraftianly) describes as a “tubular member.” She also has a kickstand under her dress. Continue Reading