Wednesday, 18 September 2013

I'll be back

Argh, where has the summer gone?
I'm going to be too busy to post for a couple of weeks. See y'all in October :-)

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Theiss Titillation Theory Pt 2

Last week's Eyecandy Monday was dedicated to the the Theis Titillation Theory - the sexiness of an outfit is directly proportion to the perceived chance of a catastrophic wardrobe malfunction. In the spirit of scientific endeavour I'd like to append evidence that this Theory applies to male clothing as well.

This of course is the whole thrill of the kilt.

But on the whole the problem with men's clothes is that they vary much less than women's. The imaginative structural possibilities of the Dress seem to be endless, but there's only so much a designer can do with Pants. Jeans are just jeans. Nevertheless, I would assert that there is very little as aesthetically fine as an open pair of low-hanging jeans that are threatening to slide off the hips of a ripped and muscular torso.

Especially when you have reason to believe that he's going commando...

Look! The Theiss Principle can even bring appeal to briefs. (And I really don't like briefs. I worship at the sartorial altar of Mr Calvin Klein's trunks.)

Dear God, this man is wearing briefs and a Cardigan. Only the Theiss Titillation Principle can save him!
So remember, it's not what you see or what you don't see. It's what you might see.

Friday, 13 September 2013


Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614): Judith and Holofernes. I took this picture in a gallery in Parma, Italy. Fontana is regarded as the first known professional, self-supporting woman artist of the Renaissance. She managed this while mothering 11 children!

Are you ready for some gore?

Johann Liss : Judith in the Tent of Holofernes (1622)

After last week's post on viragos in Victorian art, I had to sideline into the story of Biblical heroine Judith, and her changing portrayal over the centuries. The original story is in the Book of Judith, which is counted as deuterocanonical (it's part of the Catholic and Orthodox bibles, but excluded from the Protestant version). It's very long-winded (full text here) but in summary: Assyrian general Holofernes is rampaging around the land of Judea destroying city after city. Sexy Jewish widow Judith dresses in her best clothes and goes out to the beseiging enemy camp (with one maidservant) promising the Assyrians she will betray her people to them. Holofernes, overwhelmed by her beauty, lets her stay for three days and on the third night she plies him with alcohol.
[2] So Judith was left alone in the tent , with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was overcome with wine.
[4] So every one went out, and no one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber. Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, "O Lord God of all might, look in this hour upon the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. [5] For now is the time to help thy inheritance, and to carry out my undertaking for the destruction of the enemies who have risen up against us." [6] She went up to the post at the end of the bed, above Holofernes' head, and took down his sword that hung there.
[7] She came close to his bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, "Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!" [8] And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed it from his body. [9] Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes' head to her maid,
[10] who placed it in her food bag.Then the two of them went out together, as they were accustomed to go for prayer; and they passed through the camp and circled around the valley and went up the mountain to Bethulia and came to its gates.
[11] Judith called out from afar to the watchmen at the gates, "Open, open the gate! God, our God, is still with us, to show his power in Israel, and his strength against our enemies, even as he has done this day!"
The Assyrian army panicked and ran, the Israelites chased them down and slaughtered them, and the land was saved.
Andrea Mantegna: Judith and Holofernes (1490s)

This obscure biblical story has received dispropportionate interest from artists. It has sex, tension, courage, gore ... and a really unusual heroine. But early depictions (such as the one above) are at pains to dissociate Judith from any base motive or emotion. She does what she does from a desire to save her people and a loving obedience to God. While not a virgin, she is still spritually "pure".

This didn't last.
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Judith Victorious (1530ish)
Judith's story started to accrete other layers of meaning. And it particularly attracted the attention of those few female artists working in the Renaissance era. I wonder why...

Fede Galizia (1578-1630): Judith with the Head of Holofernes
 In the picture above, "Judith" is a self-portrait by the artist.

Artemisia Gentieschi (1593-1656) : Judith Slaying Holofernes (approx 1612)
Artemisia Gentileschi's picture is a particularly grim attempt at reclaiming justice: "Judith" is a self-portrait. "Holofernes" is a portrait of her mentor Agostino Tassi, who'd raped her during an art lesson (She was put to the thumbscrew torture during the trial. He was convicted and sentenced to a year's imprisonment, but never served it). That one was painted from the heart, and the realistic physicality of the scene is striking.

She returned to the subject over and over again:

Judith and her Maidservant (1613ish)

Judith and her Maid with the Head of Holofernes (1612ish)

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620ish)
Note that in this version "Judith" is older, "Holofernes" has the same face, and the violence of the blood spurts is even more pronounced. It seems a witness in oils to the fact that the trauma the artist went through has not faded with time.

Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holfernes (1599ish)
Contrast with Caravaggio's portrayal: the figures here are beautifully believable, but the action is not. She's decapitating a man without real muscular effort, and that looks like stage blood.

Carlo Saraceni: Judith and the Head of Holfernes (1615)

Unsurprisingly, the huge majority of depictions of Judith (there are supposedly over 100 paintings and sculptures) emphasise the heroine's sexually alluring qualities.
August Riedel: Judith (1840)
The decapitated head is an accessory sported by a bewitching and commanding woman (as a scoot through this incredibly comprehensive post shows) - and it doesn't take much to see the masochistic undertones enjoyed by the (male) artist and (male) art-loving buyer. In Cristofano's picture below, "Judith" was modelled by his mistress ... and the head is a self-portrait.

Allori Cristofano: Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1613)
I'm going to finish with a couple of 20th Century pictures that really don't bother to hide the artist's sexual pleasure in a subject that once upon a time was a metaphor for staunch virtue:

Gustav Klimt: Judith 1 (1901)

Franz Stuck: Judith (1924)
Virtuous and godly heroine - avenging proto-feminist icon - sadistic femme fatale: Judith is what we make of her.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Ladies Who Lunch

This is a picture of me lunching with Jennifer Denys :-)

Whereas, in fact, today I am lunching with Morwenna Drake, my fellow Mischief anthology author. Because that's what us writers do mostly - eat and talk shop.

The staff in that tea shoppe must have overheard some very naughty stuff over time!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Eyecandy Monday: the Theiss Titillation Theory

Theiss originals :-)

William Ware Theiss, costume designer for the original Star Trek series, gave his name to the Theiss Titillation Theorythe sexiness of an outfit is directly proportional to the perceived likelihood of it accidentally slipping off. In fact, a precarious outfit is MORE titillating than actual nudity. It's not what you see - it's what you might see that counts.

(Who, after all, was not hypnotised by that bloody irritating Kylie video?)

Today's Eyecandy Monday honours that legacy:

And here's some oldies that bear repeating:

Does it apply to male clothing as well? Oh yes ...
Next week, I think ;-)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Oh Mary, don't you weep

I must be a bit of a rubbish atheist, because this song is the nastiest sort of Christian triumphalism ("Yay! God's going burn ALL the sinners!") but I just love it. It makes me want to dance!

And I've got "Ave Maria" on my iPod too.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Go go Viragos

John William Godward: The Priestess (1895) There's an alternate version by the same artist here for those who like their priestesses softer and more nude.
Let's face it, most Victorian artists and art-lovers wanted to see women looking winsome and helpless. Even the dangerous mythological subjects - like mermaids and witches - had to be dangerous in an alluring, feminine way, so that you wouldn't feel too bad about being killed by them. But nothing's ever simple when it comes to sexual fantasy. There was always a (smaller) market for the art-loving gentleman who liked his women as ball-breakers...
Pedro Americo: Judith and Holofernes (1885)

Judith vs Holofernes is the prime example of this theme. In fact Judith's many MANY appearances in paintings through the centuries could easily make up a whole blog-post on their own. Judith is an Old Testament heroine: when Israel was under seige by the Assyrians, she set out with a hamper of wine and sandwiches to the tent of enemy general Holofernes, got him drunk and happy, and then cut his head off. Depictions of Judith and Holofernes range from the subtle (above) to the outright sadistic.


James Tissot: Jael Smote Sisera, and Slew Him (1902)
Jael is a sort of Judith-alike who was more an opportunist than a planner. Defeated enemy general Sisera happened to call in at her tent for shelter. She fed him a large bowl of milk, shagged him (seven times, according to the Jewish tradition) into a stupor and then hammered a tent-peg through his head and into the ground while he slept. To rapturous acclaim.

James Northcote: Jael and Sisera (1787)
Sticking with the Bible, and beheadings, we have Salome. The twerking she did for her stepfather King Herod drove him so crazy that he promised her anything she wanted - which turned out (at her mother's urging) to be the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

F. Luis Mora: Salome (1899)

There is no escaping the sado-masochistic aura artists have imbued this story with ever since. A devastatingly sexy woman who wants to cut off your head - it's the ultimate castration fear/fantasy.

Aubrey Beardsley:  Salome (1893)
From party princess to women who will kill to be queen ... Here's Lady Macbeth crowning herself with the murdered Duncan's crown.

John Singer Sargent: Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1889)
Interestingly, this is a portrait from life - Ellen Terry was a Victorian actress who portrayed Lady Macbeth onstage, and the green dress (made of thousands of shiny beetle wings) still exists.

And here's the ultimate hardcase queen: Clytemnesta, fresh from slaughtering her husband in the bath:

John Collier: Clytemnestra (1882)
(To be fair, Clytemnestra's marriage was probably doomed anyway. Agammenon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the gods in exchange for a good wind for his ships - then he buggered off to the Trojan War for 10 years, and when he reappeared it was with a captive Trojan princess in tow. Marriage counseling just wasn't going to cut it.)

It's pleasing to me that during a time when the self-effacing Virtuous Woman was put on a pedestal by society, there were still people out there deeply drawn to icons with ... more grit.
Some of us just like Scary.

The statue of Boadicea at Westminster Bridge London - erected 1905

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

DVD review: Gabriel

For the sake of Cover Him With Darkness, I'm chasing up angel memes in film and TV. So here's a movie you probably haven't caught (or even heard of), but actually is well worth a look on DVD.

Gabriel (2007) is a low-budget Australian fantasy about good and fallen angels battling it out for the future of Purgatory, and all the unclaimed souls trapped therein. It stars the gorgeous Andy Whitfield (yes, Spartacus: Blood and Sand) as the titular archangel, who is having a really crap time whilst rocking those cheekbones and a huge tribal tattoo.

Purgatory, btw, is envisaged as a grey city where it never really stops raining - which, obscurely, I suspect is taken from C S Lewis, as that's how he pictured it in The Great Divorce.

Made on a budget so miniscule that the director had to work a second job in a call centre to pay the crew, Gabriel is (thankfully) short on CGI and big on character. It's gritty and grimy and quite violent. Discussing the plot would spoil things, but here's what I liked:
  1. The cinematography was really inventive and stylish. I loved the use of doorways in the brothel fight!
  2. Gabriel's character-arc is well handled, psychologically.
  3. Unlike most other angels v demons tales, the Big Theological Questions (such as  "Who has free will?"and "WTF are you playing at, God?!" are not dodged or ignored. Since that is something that normally drives me into a frothing atheist rage, I was really pleased.

I don't want to give you the impression that this is a great movie (though it certainly is better than a whole lot of the stuff I've seen on the big screen this year). So that you know in advance:
  1. The actors were all but unknown when this was filmed. Some of them are good - Gabriel and Uriel and Asmodeus are really well-played, I thought. But some of the actors ... aren't that great. In particular the Big Bad Sammael, rather unfortunately, looks like a really shit Alice Cooper impersonator and acts like a low-rent Kurgan.
  2. Have I mentioned the fact that it was done on a shoestring budget? There are a few places where you feel that if they'd had more time and money they would have done something different. You have to cut them some slack.
  3. The female roles are one-dimensional and essentially passive.
So I recommend it if you're interested in this sort of thing - and if you liked The Prophecy, in particular. It's not Hollywood. And that, my friends, is a good thing.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Eyecandy Monday

What in all the world could be finer, happier sight than this bottom pic?

Damn, I think I may have wrecked every future Eyecandy Monday, forever...

Sunday, 1 September 2013


Unless they've spent the day writing up a storm. I think that's the only thing that just might be better than sex. Not sure.

Though, come to think of it, when I do that it involves quites a lot of sex too...