BB Contest Awards 4

Finally, here are the results of the fourth edition of the Bizzarro Bazar Contest!

All the participants showed that they have a truly out of the ordinary fantasy and, like the other years, I was amazed and moved by the care and commitment that emerge from the realization of these works.
[Small note: among the many works that were submitted, there are some that I reluctantly had to exclude as they did not follow the rules of the contest.]

Let’s start with our parade of oddities!

A nice little fetus in a jar welcomes us, in the naive painting by m.pitturessa.

(m.pitturessa: Instagram)

ElaGhi’s evocative poem is a melancholic twilight vision that the Scapigliati would have loved.

(ElaGhi: Instagram)

Andrea Carrozzo’s memento mori seems to echo some verses of E.A. Poe (A Dream Within A Dream), but here the sand that the skeletal hand cannot hold is actually the dust to which, according to the famous maxim, man is forced to return .

Matteo Ruggeri transformed me into a creature of Italian folklore.
“I imagined it — he wrote me — as a page extrapolated from some bestiary or cryptozoology book, containing a mythological version of yourself, illustrated and duly described in its physical features and, obviously, in its supernatural faculties.”

I love the detail that I have the superpower to remove a cyst with a simple touch, but then I’ll keep it!

Thanks to Greta Fantini, now even Joseph Merrick is among my most loyal readers.

(Greta Fantini: Instagram, sito web)

Stefano Luciani has designed a Bizzarro Bazar deck of cards… perfect for serving your opponent the “dead man’s hand” (A ♠ A ♣ 8 ♠ 8 ♣).

(Stefano Luciani: Facebook)

Inside her wunderkammer (also containing a skull that looks suspiciously familiar) Chiara Toniolo is testing the size of a glass bell to fit her head.

(Chiara Toniolo: Instagram, Facebook)

Valentina, aka Cher Macabre, wondered what a hypothetical Bizzarro Bazar freakshow might look like. “Well, to try to answer the question, I decided to modify a photo a dear friend took of me years ago using one of the skulls in my collection. In working on it, I was inspired by those period images that have been analyzed several times on the pages of the blog.”

(Cher Macabre: Instagram)

Er Cantastorie, who tells stories, curiosities and more or less forgotten characters from Rome, dedicated this delightful rhyming profile to me. It’s twenty years now since I have been adopted by this city, so I can only be delighted by this Roman dialect little poem.

(Er Cantastorie: Instagram, Facebook)

The delicate work of Pamela Annunziata is dedicated to one of the most famous and mysterious figures of all time: the beautiful face framed by this floral pattern is that of l’Inconnue de la Seine, a story I wrote about many years ago.

(Pamela Annunziata: Instagram, Facebook)

Amedeo Capelli has created a colorful automaton in papier-mâché and wood, showing a poor skeleton condemned to a neverending escape from a fox that seems to have come out of The Little Prince. But is it really an escape, or are they just playing together? You decide, in any case the scene is exquisitely… bizarre.

(Amedeo Capelli: Instagram, Facebook)

In Christian Galli’s fantastic illustration, my shrunken head has become part of the collection of wonders of a mutant scientist who closely resembles the protagonist of The Fly.

(Christian Galli: Instagram, Facebook)

Simona Naddeo turned me into a cross between a sideshow barker and a mephistophelian Sgt. Pepper. What more could you ask for?

(Simona Naddeo: Instagram)

In this work by Midnight Mary, the horror vacui materializes in a surprising catalog of objects that we have talked about in the two seasons of the web series, but not only. Impossible not to get lost trying to identify them all!

(Midnight Mary: Instagram)

Literally everything happens in Niccolò Ferrari’s drawing: gosh, I can’t even take my little skeleton in a stroller to the park, without all hell breaking loose.

Before moving on to the winning works, an honorable mention certainly goes to Elena “Psychonoir” Simoni.
I must confess that I was startled for a moment when I first saw this post-mortem portrait, so accurate. Even more so since Elena immediately offered to send it to me: giving a person a drawing of them in a coffin would be considered in bad taste — indeed, a really shocking gift! — in a normal context.

But with Bizzarro Bazar I tried to create a space in which normality is questioned, as well as taboos and the very concept of “good taste”. For this reason, Elena’s kind gift seemed to me a gesture that was anything but disrespectful, one that is possible only on the account of a profound affinity; the kind of complicity that I’ve felt with many of those who follow my work.
And then this small portrait, on closer inspection, has its own particular sweetness. Maybe I’ll keep it, as a memento mori, above my desk…

(Elena Simoni a.k.a. Psychonoir: Instagram, Facebook)

Terzo premio

When I kicked off this blog 12 years ago, I would have thought everything except that I would become the protagonist of a detective story.
Instead, according to Ingrid Atzei, “in Italian fiction, in my opinion, a protagonist with your interests and skills could be declined in many different ways. In fact, to date, we have a whole catalog of eccentric law enforcement consultants, but we still don’t have an expert on the uncanny and… it would work so well! “

Thus, in her short story La danza, she cast me in the shoes of an “expert in oddities” who’s called to assist Commissioner Stevelli in the investigation of a series of mysterious deaths that occurred in a remote Sardinian village, and which appear to be connected to ancestral pagan rites.

You can download the PDF of Ingrid Atzei’s story (in Italian) by clicking here.

Secondo premio

Andrè Elragno Santapaola has created a small anatomical text in the literal sense of the term, whose incredible pages are made of vascularized flesh, bones, tendons, adipose masses. A visceral book that is like a glimpse into the fragility of the body and its inconceivable ravines.
There are three quotes that punctuate this Cronenbergian anthology of flesh: a sentence of mine on the concept of autopsy, a splendid passage by Gottfried Benn, author of Morgue and other Poems, and finally the verse from Ecclesiastes from which the concept of vanitas was born.
“The individual pages — as Andrè explained — were sculpted with MonsterClay and subsequently copied in white epoxy resin and painted with acrylics and oil colors. The “leather” cover was created using various layers of latex, painted with very thin layers of diluted acrylic.”

(Andrè Elragno Santapaola: Instagram, Facebook)

Primo premio

Lola specializes in the creation of themed miniatures, inspired by music, literature and the world of cinema.
For Bizzarro Bazar she composed this delightful mini-wunderkammer that is a feast for the eyes: between mandrake illustrations, movie posters, ex voto, anatomical plates, copies of the Necronomicon and vintage photos, the level of detail is amazing.
Not only has Lola miniaturized my books, but just look at that vial that seems to contain one of the fetuses from His Anatomical Majesty… an entire world collected under a glass bell.
Everything is finally sealed with a quote from one of my favorite passages by Mandiargues… truly astonishing.

(Lola miniature: Instagram)

If you liked some work in particular, be sure to show your appreciation to the authors in the comment section.
In the coming weeks I will also post these beautiful works on social networks.
Thanks again to everyone for putting a smile on my face and awe in my heart, and I hope you enjoyed it too!

Bizzarro Bazar Contest 4

Today this blog turns 12 years old! As in previous years, I’d love to celebrate by rewarding your most macabre and eccentric fantasy: get ready for the 4th Bizzarro Bazar Contest!

The rules are the same as last time:

  1. Create an original work explicitly referring to Bizzarro Bazar;
  2. Post your work on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #bizzarrobazarcontest — alternatively, you can send it by email;
  3. Deadline is September 15, 2021;
  4. Remember that the idea is to allow free rein to your weird creativity, to celebrate and above all to have fun among friends!

By “explicitly referring” to the blog I mean that Bizzarro Bazar (the website, logo, one of my books, even my beard if it comes to that) must be depicted/mentioned/included in the entry. Keep in mind that, while promoting your creations, I also want to promote this blog. Win-win.
My advise is to skim through the beautiful contributions from the first, second and third editions of the contest.

And now let’s take a look at the prizes:

1st prize: T-shirt of your choice + Mug of your choice from the official store + surprise gift
2nd prize: T-shirt of your choice from the official store + surprise gift
3rd prize: T-shirt of your choice from the official store

The best unclassified entries will be published on Bizzarro Bazar with links to the authors websites/profiles, and shared on social networks.

Have fun! Keep the World Weird!

The Anatomical Woman

I am publishing here, as a free ebook, a research that has engaged me for several years: it’s an essay on the iconographic and conceptual motif of the “dissected woman” — a rhetorical device which, starting at least from the Middle Ages up to these days, was intended to sabotage the female seductive power by breaking down / opening up the woman’s body.

I made a short video presentation in which I talk about the project (please turn on English subtitles):

And here are the links to dowload the PDF file for free:

The Anatomical Woman (English version) — 34 Mb

La donna anatomica (versione italiana) — 34 Mb

This book is free, but if you’d like to support my research you might consider making a donation through PayPal.

Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 25

Here is a new collection of various oddities!

  • First of all, above you can see one of the photos of LIVE animals in anthropomorphic poses made by Harry Whittier Frees.
  • Man of a thousand identities and unsurpassed cheater with cards; capable of deceiving bankers as well as the most hardened criminals (but isn’t that a bit the same thing?), and even capable of defrauding scammers; and, above all, the man who managed to sell the Eiffel Tower. All this was Victor Lustig, one of the greatest deceit artists ever.
  • A wishlist for any respectable bibliophile.

  • At the end of the nineteenth century, a Russian doctor proposed a cutting-edge treatment to counter the damage caused by syphilis: being hung by the head. Suspension soon became a medical trend, spreading almost everywhere in Europe and even reaching the United States. But did it really work? Sofia Lincos and Giuseppe Stilo retrace the history of the bizarre treatment in this beautiful article (in Italian only).

  • The skeleton above belongs to a girl who died 300 years ago, and is perplexing archaeologists for two reasons: 1) her body was found in a cave in Poland, which in itself is already strange because in the area the latest cave burials date back to the Middle Ages; but if that wasn’t enough 2) she was buried with a finch’s head in her mouth. Maybe even two.
  • If you think geology is boring, the Spooky Geology website could make you change your mind, as it tackles underground mysteries, alternative theories, strange buried objects, anomalous phenomena, bottomless pits, extreme and dangerous places.

  • This gentleman wearing a mask and a wig might look creepy if you don’t know the context of the image: this is Dr. Anonymous, who delivered a historic and, in many ways, heroic speech at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in 1972.
    Why this camouflage? The answer is contained in the first words of his speech: “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.”
    At that time, coming out — besides causing discrimination, dismissals and evictions — was still reason enough to be interned in a psychiatric institution, subjected to brutal treatments such as electroshock, lobotomy, chemical castration. The fact that a psychiatrist came forward, albeit hiding his identity, to admit he was gay and protest the classification of homosexuality as a mental pathology, was a shock to the world of psychiatry. The name of the doctor who hid under the mask was John E. Fryer, and his speech was essential for homosexuality to be de-listed from the official list of mental disorders the following year.
  • One of the very first uses of the microwave oven was not at all to reheat the leftover pizza from the day before, but to revive frozen rats and hamsters in the laboratory. In this wonderful video Tom Scott not only tells the reasons and the challenges that were at the basis of this scientific research, but even interviews the inventor and scientist James Lovelock (102 years in July!): at the time he was the one who had the idea of using microwaves because, well, he felt sorry for the little frozen rodents.
    (Thanks, Riccardo!)

17-year-old Bianca Passarge of Hamburg dances on wine bottles, June 1958.

  • A couple of urban explorers entered a recently abandoned house, and found something macabre and unexpected: on the corridor floor the body stain left by the corpse of the elderly owner was still visible.
    The two decided to share all the photographic material taken inside the house on their blog, because the story reminds us “how elderly & alone people can often be forgotten & that we, us, everyone needs to do their part & check in on them.”
    The most important question raised by this “reportage” might not be, in my opinion, the one heralded by the authors, but it concerns the ethical issues of entering a home, photographing every detail of the life of a recently deceased person, including the ghastly proof of her lonely death, and put it all online.
  • Let’s keep on talking about decomposition, but this time in a positive sense: here is a nice article that summarizes the fundamental ecological function of a carcass.

  • I took the photo above a few years ago, when I made a pilgrimage to the Castle of Valsinni, where the poet Isabella Morra spent her short and tragic life — first a recluse, and then murdered by her brothers who suspected her of an extramarital affair. Despite the very limited literary production (ten sonnets and three songs in all, here’s the only English edition I’ve found), the figure of Isabella Morra assumed importance thanks to the studies of Benedetto Croce and, in France, by Mandiargues who reinterpreted her life in a surrealist key in one of his plays.
    Here is a passage from one of her most beautiful songs (‘Poscia che al bel desir…’); these verses demonstrate how Isabella’s work is inseparable from her condition of a young woman who, segregated in dramatic isolation, only found a glimmer of beauty in poetry, and in verses veiled in infinite melancholy.

Among the harsh customs
of irrational, unintelligent people,
where without support
I am forced to lead my life,
here left by everyone in blind oblivion. […]
I have passed what is called the flowery age,
all dry and dark, lonely and herm
here blind and infirm,
without ever knowing the value of beauty.

  • Riddle: The maternity / paternity test proves that your child is not yours. Exchanges of babies in cribs or extramarital affairs are to be excluded. So how is this possible?
    Solution: He is the son of your unborn brother, who you absorbed into your body when you were still in the womb… since then you’ve been carrying two different DNAs.
    A case of male and female chimerism.
    (Thanks, Paolo!)

  • The animal pictured above is neither a tick nor a spider, but an adorable wingless, eyeless fly of the Nycteribiidae family; a highly specialized parasite, it can be only found on the body of certain bats.
    (Thanks, Andrea!)
  • In closing: Everybody Dance Now, 1518 edition.

That’s all, see you next time!

Spiders on Acid (S02E07)

In this episode of season 2 of Bizzarro Bazar: the scientist who drugged spiders; a Ticuna ritual mask; the secret hidden in a bishop’s coffin.

Produced in collaboration with the Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia.
Directed & animated by Francesco Erba.

Strange Connections (S02E06)

In this episode of season 2 of Bizzarro Bazar: the mysterious ways in which your day is influenced by events far away in time and space; a series of curiosities from the Cabinet of Comparative Anatomy; a formidable weapon capable of terrifying enemies.

Produced in collaboration with the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia.
Directed & animated by Francesco Erba.

Inventarium

In this strange period dominated by a sense of distance, together with my association L’Arca degli Esposti we decided to give life to a collective and shared dream: therefore I call out for all the artists, creatives, writers, poets, musicians, surrealists and ‘pataphysicists who follow this blog!

Our new project is called Inventarium, a real multimedia illustrated dictionary of Fantastic Gnosis, signed by contemporary artists who are invited to coin a term, define it and provide an iconic and / or audiovisual representation of it.

A surreal collection of figurative neologisms, of fantastic binomials and evocative connections which, following the lead of the Codex Seraphinianus (a fantasy encyclopedia written in asemic characters and illustrated by Luigi Serafini in the seventies, widely appreciated by notable authors such as Italo Calvino, Federico Fellini, Tim Burton, etc.), intends to map an alternative world dreamed and composed, piece by piece, by the artists.

A visionary enterprise that will take the form of a permanent and constantly evolving collective exhibition / encyclopedia, which can be consulted online on the association’s social channels and, in an organic way, on the association website.

Inventarium currently includes the following thematic/oneiric sections:

ETHNOGRAPHY
Impracticable Customs, Dictionary of Chimeric Fashion, Pataphysical Culinary Art
NATURE
Fantastic Bestiary, Magical Herbarium, Anthology of Non-existent Fossils and Minerals
SYMBOLS & PSEUDOSCIENCES
Insurrectional Physiognomy, Capricious Anatomy, Alchemy of Contemporary Ether
GEOGRAPHY
Atlas of Metaphysical Cities

Alongside the artists invited by the curators, sumbissions from every geographical area are welcome.
Contributions must be submitted via email at [email protected]

So bring it on, unleash your imagination, invent new words and give them life through your works!

Season Two of Bizzarro Bazar is coming!

On March 21, 2021, the Bizzarro Bazar web series will be back on my YouTube channel with 10 new episodes produced in collaboration with the prestigious Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia.
The episodes, as for the first season, will be published every other week.

By now you know what to expect: strange scientific experiments, quirky characters, human wonders, stories bordering on the impossible — in short, all the classic Bizzarro Bazar repertoire.
As usual, the direction and fantastic animations have been curated by Francesco Erba, but this time we shot the live parts in the exceptional historical collections of the Palazzo dei Musei: in each episode, in the Show & Tell section, one of the museum curators will open a display case just for us, and allow us to discover the most emblematic and curious objects and pieces.

Here is a little trailer to lighten the wait, and see you soon!

Armors and Nudity

I am sure we all remember vividly the first sex scene we saw in a movie that really struck our imagination. In my case the film in question was Excalibur (1981) by John Boorman, and more precisely the carnal congress which happens about fifteen minutes into the film. A sequence that deeply troubled me, leaving me in a mixture of attraction and repulsion, without my being able to understand why.

Here Uther Pendragon, who thanks to Merlin’s spell has assumed the appearance of Duke Gorlois, violently possesses the duke’s wife, Igraine (from this fleeting relationship extorted with deception King Arthur will be born). The montage sequence shows this intercourse obtained by deception alernated with the simultaneous death of the true duke on the battlefield: Eros and Thanatos.

Excalibur (1981) by John Boorman

The element that struck me most was a detail with a very powerful visual impact: in the scene Uther, falling prey to erotic fury, does not bother to take off his armor and rushes on the woman who, believing him to be her husband, gives in to his impetus. Leaving aside the dubious realism of the scene (would it really be possible to do certain things while wearing an armor?), it was the contrast – the contact – between the shiny steel and the white female skin that was indelibly engraved in my imagination. I doubt it is a coincidence that, many years later, my graduation thesis ended up focusing on Crash by Cronenberg, another film in which flesh and metal clash and merge, thanks to the car accident, in a perverse erotic dimension.

When I saw Excalibur for the first time I could not know, but the iconography of a knight in armor facing a naked woman is a recurring theme in the history of art – “too frequent, too varied, too insistent to be judged random”, as noted by Roger Caillois in Au cœur du fantastique (1965).

The motif is connected to the broader topos of the clothed male figure vs. an undressed female figure: many nineteenth-century paintings are based on this one-sided nudity, in particular the representations of harems or slave markets which were very fashionable among Orientalist painters, but also famous paintings like Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.
But, as we shall see, in the case of the fully-armored knight a much more interesting level of ambiguity can be identified.

Giuseppe Ferrauto states that there are “a whole kind of depictions of beautiful, naked and chained female prisoners, destined for the more or less openly morbid tastes of gentlemen of the past. […] Ariosto described Angelica chained to the rock of Ebuda, about to be the victim of a sea monster. Many took possession of this scene, from Ingres to Doré, who used it for his illustrations for Orlando furioso, up to Polish artist Chodowiecki, who also made a series of engravings, again for Orlando furioso , in 1772, to end up in the folklore scenes of Sicilian carts’ painted sides.” (Arcana, vol. II, Sugar 1969)

Gustave Doré, Ruggero and Angelica, 1879

Daniel Chodowiecki, Ruggero and Angelica, 1772

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Ruggero Freeing Angelica, 1819

Painters looking for contexts that lend themselves to this type of representation obviously found a perfect anecdote in the episode of Angelica and Ruggero (or in the similar classic myth of Andromeda freed by Perseus). One of the most famous examples is the aforementioned Ruggero Freeing Angelica by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1819), an oil painting that at the time caused a scandal for its representation of female nudity.

Matthias Gerung, Allegory of Love (Amor omnia vincit), 1535

Pieter Paul Rubens, Perseus Freeing Andromeda, 1620

Pieter Paul Rubens, Perseus and Andromeda, 1640

But there were illustrious and varied precedents. In 1530 Lucas Cranach had chosen the Judgment of Paris in order to show the three naked goddesses in front of the Trojan prince, while Tintoretto associated the theme with the liberation of Arsinoe, where the rescue set at the Lighthouse of Alexandria becomes the occasion for showing the armor in contact with bare skin; also worth noting is the sensual detail of the chain which slides sinuously over the queen’s private parts. As Mario Praz summarized well, “the contact of naked limbs with the chains and the steel of the armor seems to have the precise purpose of exciting special senses” (Erotismo in arte e letteratura, in I problemi di Ulisse, 1970).

Lucas Cranach The Elder, The Judgement of Paris, ca. 1528

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Liberation of Arsinoe, ca. 1556

Francesco Montelatici a.k.a. Cecco Bravo, Ruggero and Angelica, 1660

Michaelis Majeri, Secretioris naturae secretorum scrutinium chymicum, 1687

“All this – wrote Caillois – undoubtedly gives rise to an emotion which is in a certain sense natural, inevitable, and does not owe its effectiveness to the illustrated anecdote. André Pieyre de Mandiargues, describing Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara […], reports that licentious tournaments were held in the hall on the first floor in which naked girls contended with knights in arms. If the rumor is true, the strange game convinces me only of the fact that the power of suggestion of that image is even greater than I imagined. If it is unfounded, the fact that it was taken up by Mandiargues convinces me almost as much of the secret and persistent virulence of that fantasy.”

William Etty, Britomart Redeems Faire Amoret, ca. 1833

Arthur Hughes, La Belle Dame sans Merci, 1863

Joseph Paul Blanc, The Liberation – Ruggero and Angelica, 1876

In time the motif no longer needed much historical anecdotes to lean on. Millais’s Knight Errant does not refer to any precise mythological or literary episode – if not, perhaps, to John Keats’ ballad La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1819) – as it will happen with other variations on the theme by the Pre-Raphaelites.

John Everett Millais, The Knight Errant, 1870

Edward Burne-Jones, The Doom Fulfulled, 1885

Charles Napier Kennedy, Perseus and Andromeda, 1890

Arthur Hacker, The Temptation of Sir Percival, ca. 1894

One of the most interesting declinations is undoubtedly the one chosen by Delacroix in 1852, in which the knight-errant is actually a woman: it is Marfisa, once again a character drawn from Ariosto.
It is worth summing up the background story of this scene: the warrior-woman on her steed is giving a passage across the river to the witch Gabrina, when they meet the knight Pinabello and her beautiful but insolent lover, who laughs at the old woman. Determined to avenge this offense, Marfisa defeats the knight in a duel and forces Pinabello’s mistress to strip off her rich garments and give them to her old woman.

In stripping the knight’s cheeky lover, Marfisa seems to parody the very artistic motif we are talking about. In fact unlike all the other armored knights we’ve seen so far, who fall at the feet of the girl in déshabillé, here the intrepid warrior, being a woman, does not let herself be duped: to the pretty girl (to paint which, according to Armando Sodano, Delacroix had rediscovered “the lyricism of odalisques of his youth”) Marfisa prefers the old hag she carries on her steed. Who certainly isn’t beautiful, but intelligent.
An ironic punishment for female vanity that comes from a female in armor, one that I find amusing to read in a metanarrative sense: “if you are a woman who cannot go beyond appearances”, Marfisa seems to warn, “then you deserve to be naked , as happens to all the other maidens in this very type of paintings!”

Eugène Delacroix, Marfisa, 1852

Finally, let me go back to Excalibur. Over the years I have often found myself wondering what was special about that scene, and why did it end up being engraved so strongly in my imagination.

Uther’s passion is cruel, compelling, violent. He encompasses all the arrogance of the well-known masculinity centered on possession: a vision made of fury, of rights arrogated and obtained even by deception, a vision in which the longed-for woman must be taken by force. It could be said that the character of Uther, who even recurs to a magic spell in order to satisfy his desires, is “blinded by passion”: a phrase that is sometimes used even today as an extenuating circumstance for rapes and femicides. This is why it is a dark, disturbing sex scene; it is no coincidence that it is interpolated by Boorman with the images of the massacre on the battlefield and with the shots of the innocent child (Morgana) who witnesses this furious embrace, while the soundtrack by Trevor Jones, through pulsating strings and choirs of wavering voices, creates a surreal and deadly atmosphere.

Excalibur (1981) by John Boorman

Yet Igraine does not shy away from aggression: perhaps because she truly believes that he is her husband – or perhaps because there is a subtle complacency in causing such a fury in any lover. Which of the two is dominant, the knight who attacks, or the female who has the power to make him fall prey to passion?

The scene is therefore suspended, as its power relationship is ambiguous. This ambiguity is also intrinsic to the artistic theme we have talked about. On the one hand, the artists tend to highlight the contrast between feminine weakness and fragility, as symbolized by the tempting softness of naked flesh, and strong masculinity as signified by the hard appearance of metal. On the other hand, however, the very armor that should be a symbol of might and virility almost seems like a shell that encloses and constrains all impulses.

John William Waterhouse, La Belle Dame sans Merci, 1893

John William Waterhouse, Lamia and the Soldier, ca. 1905

Such a representation inevitably raises questions: is the knight’s “macho” allure amplified by this encounter with a beautiful lady in Evitic costume, or does he on the contrary appear to be mocked? After being victorious in countless battles, isn’t the warrior conquered by the irresistible seduction of women? Is his armor a symbol of power or rather impotence (as it prevents intercourse)? Is the naked woman, in all her soft and helpless charm, really a compliant prey or is she the one who bewitches and leads the game?

Rose O’Neill, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1905

The opposition between these two extremes (manhood enclosed in war vestments, and naked seductive femininity) is the embodiment of a dialectic between the sexes that has been handed down for a very long time as if it were an immutable truth. Yet the dynamics of the relations of power, domination and submission, are never as univocal as they might seem; the mechanism is delicate, and  the opposing components at its core are in constant tension towards overturning one another.

The strength of the image of the knight and the naked woman lies precisely in the fact that, at a deep level, its balance remains undecidable.

Vereker Monteith Hamilton (1856 – 1931), The Rescue

Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 24

  • Quiz: which animal is portrayed in the photo? The solution at the end of the article!
  • When workers broke down a brick wall inside a convent in Leicestershire, they found a couple of skeletons. However, these are anatomical preparations, the bones are numbered and in some cases still articulated with wire. How they got behind a convent wall is still a mystery.
  • In 1968 Barbara Mackle, then 20 years old, became the victim of one of the most infamous kidnappings in history. The girl was locked up in a reinforced box equipped with two tubes for air circulation, then buried in the woods as her kidnappers awaited ransom. Here you find the letter she found upon waking up in her coffin. She spent more than three days underground before she was located and brought to safety.

  • Do you see an ox or an elephant? The one above is among the oldest optical illusions in history.
  • Something is rotten in the state of Denmark“: at least some critical voices seem to think so, as they protest against an animated series for children whose protagonist is a little man with a very long and prehensile penis. Given the contemporary efforts to change the macho/phallocentric mentality, this concept does not strike as very thoughtful, but others claim the cartoon is actually harmless, free from sexual references, respectful towards women and kindly goliardic. A good article (in Italian) on Il Post summarizes the scandal and the different opinions, also embedding some episodes that you can see to get an idea. (Thanks, Massimiliano!)

  • Italy is the country that boasts the largest number of mummies in the world, a unique historical and anthropological heritage (as I explained in this video). Still we are not capable of giving value to this heritage.  In May 1999, two more mummies were found in an excellent state of natural conservation and still dressed in period clothing and jewels, under the Church of the Santissima Annunziata in Siena. And what happened following this exceptional discovery? “We regret the mummified bodies are once again hidden under the floor of the church; as for the ancient  clothes, the jewels, medals and coins found on them, we do not know where they are, nor if they have ever been restored”, a researcher said. Meh.
  • You are stupid. And not only are you stupid, but you are nasty. ” So said one of the letters that arrived in the editorial office of the French magazine Hara-Kiri, founded in 1960. From that moment on, the subtitle of the magazine became “A stupid and nasty newspaper”. A strange editorial case, Hara-Kiri was a satirical, incorrect and in many cases openly obscene magazine, so much so that in the course of its 29 years of activity it went through various judicial troubles (it was after one of these interdictions that the team gave birth to the collateral project Charlie Hebdo, now sadly famous for the terrorist attack of 2015). But perhaps the most distinctive elements of Hara-Kiri remain its covers: shocking, extreme, vulgar, deliberately unpleasant, designed with the intent of épater les bourgeois. Here is a collection of 45 covers that are even today an example of explosive, unhinged and unrestrained punk graphics. (Thanks Marco!)
  • By the way, in Greek mythology even obscenity had its own goddess.
  • Mariano Tomatis gave me a heads-up about a curious text, available for free online, detailing the method devised in the late nineteenth century by the Swedish physiotherapist Thure Brandt to treat numerous female genital pathologies through massages, stretching, lifting. Mariano tells me that “the curious figures employed in the book are an attempt to de-sexualize the subjects’ appearance”; too bad the result looks like a manual of esoteric rituals for aliens.

  • The representation of death often relies on euphemization or symbolic rendering, in order to avoid the “scandal” of the corpse, that is, to avoid being obscene. The approach is different for the kind photography which is aimed at social criticism, where shock is an essential element in order to convey a moral position. This is the case of the series Grief by Hungarian photographer Peter Timar, who between 1980 and 1983 documented the disrespectful and questionable treatment of bodies at the Funeral Institute in Budapest: the corpses piled on top of each other, the collapsed coffins on the floor, the bodies stretched in pairs on the autopsy tables caused a huge controversy when the Mucsamok gallery in Budapest exhibited Timar’s photographs. The exhibition was closed by the authorities a few days after it opened. You can see the Grief series at this link (warning: graphic images).
  • The hangovers of Ancient Egpyptians.
  • The effects of the torture on Guy Fawkes emerge from his writing: above, his signature (“Guido”) just after being tortured at the Tower of London; below, the same signature a week later, when he had regained his strength.

  • Lee Harper is an Oxford-based artist passionate about the darkest side of history; in her works she decided to revisit those bizarre episodes that most struck her imagination, by creating detailed dioramas. “All of the pieces — says the artist’s statement — are about real people, events or customs from some point in this crazy world.” Those range from Countess Bathory’s bloodbaths to sin-eaters, from Freeman’s Lobotomobile to body snatchers. But, as if the events represented weren’t enough to make you shiver with morbid delight, Lee Harper’s grotesque miniature scenes are all played out by little skeleton actors. You can see her creations on History Bones and on her Instagram profile.

  • In this tweet, I joked about COVID-19 killing off one of the most picturesque sideshow routines. Here’s an old post (Italian only) I wrote on Melvin Burkhardt, the legendary inventor of the performance in question.
  • But COVID also took away Kim Ki-Duk, one of the major Korean directors. If many remember him for 3-Iron, Pietà or Spring Summer…, here on these pages it seems just right to remember him for his most disturbing and extreme film, The Isle (2000). One of the best Italian reviews, written by Giuseppe Zucco, called it a “powder-keg film”: a cruel and moving representation of incommunicability between human beings, which can be overcome only at the cost of hurting each other, tearing the flesh to the point of erasing oneself into the Other.

  • Sturgeons smashing doors, candles that “sulk”, rotting cats under the bed, panthers exhumed and tasted… This article (in Italian) on the larger-than-life figure of Frank Buckland is a true riot of oddities.
  • The Taus is an Indian chordophone musical instrument, originating from Punjab. Created, according to tradition, by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), it is composed of a 20-fret neck and a body sculpted in the shape of a peacock. Real peacock feathers were often added to the instrument to complete the illusion.

Quiz solution: The animal pictured at the beginning of the post is a moth that’s been parasitized by a Cordyceps fungus. And that’s all for now!