Wednesday, March 25, 2015

191. The Myth of Danaë (2): The Lily

Julia Köllner, in her thesis on the representation of Danaë (see blog No. 190), argues that the depiction of Danaë is as varied as can be, but that there is one constant image that allows viewers to recognize her, which is a golden rain streaming down into a woman's womb. This image identifies such a female figure as Danaë.

In her thesis, Köllner wishes to establish the common factor in the representation of Danaë, independent of the medium (text, painting, wood engraving, drawing etc.), and her research indicates that the myth of Danaë has survived thanks to its successful imagery, especially that of the golden rain, that has lent itself to contradictory interpretations in subsequent periods of western art and literature. The imagery served different masters: it helped to form a view of morality and virtue, or could masque the enjoyment of erotic pleasures. Furthermore, Köllner argues that the change of golden rain into golden coins, established another interpretation, based on trade, whereby both Zeus and Danaë exchanged 'goods', or gold for a child. That may be true, the Ricketts images, however, do not really support the last thesis, as both Sturge Moore and Ricketts who illustrated his friend's poem, held on to the image of the golden rain or golden light.

In some images of Danaë a parallel has been established between Danaë and Maria, or the Madonna in Christian art. Ricketts also alludes to the Madonna in his second illustration.

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903)
Köllner points out that the allusion to Maria is put into the right hand lower corner where a flower pot contains a lily, symbol of the annunciation (archangel Michael wearing a lily) and purity.

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903) [detail]
In Sturge Moore's poem, the lily is mentioned almost at the beginning, as a flower that grows, 'deep-delled and fragile', but 'very stilly', just like Danaë who is growing up unseen in her brass tower. Moore's lines sensuously describe her changing contours, as she becomes a teenager.

[To be continued.]