Read about “Olympia’s Bosom” on a recently posted artifacts article for The Media Res: here

Illustrating Desire – “Breasts like Fawns”

by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert

breasts like fawns by m.e.g

When, in illustrating Alastair’s piece, I tried to imagine the illustration for the simile “breasts like fawns” from the Song of Solomon, the two strongest images in my recollection (from all of the quintessential nude reclining women paintings and sculptures that I had studied in art history as a student) were Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque (1814) and Manet’s Olympia (1863). Obviously the Ms. Olympia makes for a better canvas to place the fawns.

Monet’s Olympia, 1863

The main difference between these two paintings is as much in the models who posed for them, as it is in the actual paintings, and a little context in this regard might substantially alter the way in which you view them: Manet’s model for Olympia (Victorine Meurent, 1844-1927) was also a practicing artist and posed as model for many artists in her time, and for this reason (perhaps) was thought of as a prostitute (or at least painted as such). Studying the online print of the Olympia in detail as I made the pen and ink rendering drew me deeper into the mystery of this woman, and I found myself drawing conclusions about her life and Manet’s intentions in painting her. She is a woman of disrespectful reputation, in this classical “Venus” style.

Odalisque, the more prude of the two as seen by her position on the divan, has the air of a respectable and classy lady,…

 Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, 1814

…whereas Olympia comes across as bold, haughty, and indulged, as she reveals nearly everything to the viewer. She wears an exotic gold bangle with a dangling gemstone, jeweled satin bedroom shoes and reclines on an oriental shawl. A servant woman brings her (yet another?) bouquet of flowers… gifts from her clients? She herself is presented as a gift with the black satin ribbon tied in a bow around her pale neck. Her squared shoulders and jarring hand give off an air of indifference and entitlement; “Oh, more flowers? hmph,” she might have said to Manet as she held her intentional pose with a cold, disinterested stare.

Yet, when you study her face closely, there is a youthful naivete in her eyes (Victorine was only 19 at the time), a bit of fear in her pressed lips, and perhaps even an element of self-protection in the placement of her hand. I wonder what she thought of this opportunity to get a full-body self-portrait painted by Manet. Was it paid for by another suitor? Did she save up for this attempt at eternal youth and self-preservation?

The women are painted in a similar manner (skilled oil painting on canvas) and hung in elaborate frames and made to be displayed in a gallery (Odalisque measuring 35 x 64″ and Olympia measuring 51.4 x 74.8″).* Manet’s painting of Olympia  was displayed in an exhibition for everyone to see, to marvel at, to question, just as Ingres’ painting of Odalisque was, but I do not think the viewers looked at this one with quite the same intention. Before them is not just an image of a famous “prostitute” (really just a struggling artist), but of a beautiful female figure, just like the Greek and Roman statues of marble that recline in the halls of the Louvre. Perhaps the wives of the husbands who may have been with this woman were there to see the unveiling of this painting. Perhaps some of Olympia’s power over these men and women was stripped bare as the voyeurs beheld her naked figure, free of charge, as close as they wanted to. Perhaps, now that she is seen in this way, the viewer is surprised to feel compassion towards this young woman? You may be glad to know that she went on to become an accomplished painter in her own right.


Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, 1510*Olympia is actually more closely related in style to Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (1510)

Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538Manet has chosen to replace the dog (a symbol of fidelity) with a black cat (a symbol for prostitution).


Read The Media Res here.

charger by m.e.g.


Horse Power

DateMONDAY, APRIL 9, 2012 AT 11:00PM

Our minds received
The revolution of engines, our will
Stretched toward the numb endurance
Of metal.
– Wendell Berry

In his poem “Horse Power,” Wendell B. recalls an age known to us only nostalgically as the agrarian past(oral). He reminds us of now quaint words like equine and tilling, manual labor and crop, words we now associate with an edenic period of American history, when work meant time spent or children fed, not just dollars earned.

With the onset of the steam engine, blood and muscle gave way to fuel and cold steel. Fed ever since by a growing dependence on ‘getting-what-we-want-when-we-want it’ (G.W.W.W.W.W.W.I.), horse power now calibrates the jibe of high-performance muscle-machines (hp).  

…Veiled in that power
Our minds gave up the endless
Cycle of growth and decay
And took the unreturning way,
The breathless distance of iron.

One horse now has the equivalent of 735.5-750 watts, and this aggregate of force finds its equine title in more than just English: in German, Pferdestärke; in Dutch, paardenkracht; in Czech, koňská síla; in Italian, cavalli vapore; in French, chevaux vapeur. The industrial revolution was international, after all.

horse power par(k)ade by m.e.g

The obvious (and Spielberg-enforced) nostalgia still surrounding horses (as labor or war machines) successfully conceals the fact that the use of ‘horsepower’ as a bio-metrological unit actually drives home the irrelevance of horses for humans, an occasion to flaunt man-made force.

For instance, I was informed by Jack Nerad, a writer for Driving Today, that the “Olds 88, with its 135 horsepower V-8, was the first ‘musclecar’.” That was in 1950. In 1955, Chrysler advertised “America’s New Most Powerful Car” with the C-300 (300 hp engine). I wonder how the ASPCA would have felt when the 1968 Plymouth Barracuda 350 hp, family 4-seater, was advertized as “your own compact workhorse.”

In 1970 the “horsepower war” was thought to have peaked, with some models advertising as much as 450 hp (automobiles going from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds), but the piston/hoof-beat went on.

If you are with me, and think that 450 horses harnessed to a single car is ridiculous (and hilarious to imagine), try 5000 (Such as the5000 hp Ford Focus, using a jet engine). Not enough? On a blog called “American Muscle” you can read about some automobiles with over 7000 Horsepower. These engines are used for drag racing, and thankfully not for driving driving back and forth to the supermarket (one only needs the power of about 300 horses for that).

Aside from my obvious lack of knowledge regarding cars, or my newly sparked interest in hp, there are a few things you must know: my bicycle is my preferred mode of transportation (? hp), I have never used even one horse to help me till my garden, I do not even have a lawn mower (1.5 hp), and it was not until long after making these sculptures and drawings that I watched my first (and last) “fast car” video on YouTube.

But what I do know, is this: the human conversion of non-human agents (like horses) into standards of measurement for human speed (hp) betrays the deep connection between horses and engines – and ourselves.

Is it any wonder that while humans and horses both feed on organic matter, so petrol combustion engines do as well, oil being nothing more than refined organic fossils? Turns out even machines need to eat.

the revolution of engines by m.e.g.

Yet what will we – the riders, the masters, the breeders – do when the feed runs out?

war horse by m.e.g.


When I was a boy here,
traveling the fields for pleasure,
the farms were worked with teams.
As late as then a teamster
Was thought an accomplished man,
His art an essential discipline.
A boy learned it by delight
As he learned to use
His body, following the example
Of men. The reins of a team
Were put into my hands
When I thought the work was play.
And in the corrective gaze
Of men now dead I learned
To flesh my will in power
Great enough to kill me
Should I let it turn.
I learned the other tongue
By which men spoke to beasts-
All its terms and tones.
And by the time I learned,
New ways had changed the time.

horse power par(k)ade detail by m.e.g.

The tractors came. The horses
Stood in the fields, keepsakes,
Grew old, and died. Or were sold
As dogmeat. Our minds received
The revolution of engines, our will
Stretched toward the numb endurance
Of metal. And that old speech
By which we magnified
Our flesh in other flesh
Fell dead in our mouths.
The songs of the world died
In our ears as we went within
The uproar of the long syllable
Of the motors. Our intent entered
The world as combustion.
Like our travels, our workdays
Burned upon the world,
Lifting its inwards up
In fire. Veiled in that power
Our minds gave up the endless
Cycle of growth and decay
And took the unreturning way,
The breathless distance of iron.

But that work, empowered by burning
The world’s body, showed us
Finally the world’s limits
And our own. We had then
The life of a candle, no longer
The ever-returning song
Among the grassblades and the leaves.

horse power par(k)ade detail 2 by m.e.g.

Did I never forget?
Or did I, after years,
Remember? To hear that song
Again, though brokenly
In the distances of memory,
Is coming home. I came to
A farm, some unreachable
By machines, as some of the world
Will always be. And so
I came to a team, a pair
Of mares – sorrels, with white
Tails and manes, beautiful! –
To keep my sloping fields.
Going behind them, the reins
Tight over their backs as they stepped
Their long strides, revived
Again on my tongue the cries
Of dead men in the living
Fields. Now every move
Answers what is still.
This work of love rhymes
Living and dead. A dance
Is what this plodding is.
A song, whatever is said.

-Wendell Berry

0 to 60 by m.e.g.


Introducing a new project collaborating with Emily Smith & Gaelan Gilbert.

TMR is a new colloquium for the publication of critical analysis and response. Stay tuned for fresh new articles, images & discussion on our themes of Artifacts, Civitas, Grammar, Parlance, & Theologoumena.


Bart (1931-2008)


Professor Bartolomeu dos Santos was a wonderfully creative printmaker and teacher of printmaking. Barto was born in Lisbon in 1931 and studied six years at the Escola Superior de Belas Artes in Lisbon (1950–1956). He then came to London for what was intended to be a short period of further study. He entered the UCL Slade School of Fine Art in 1956 where he was introduced to “the potentialities of aquatint, with its deep, profound blacks and beautiful half tones that Goya understood so well’. Over the next fifty years, there was not one year when he did not show work in an exhibition, and there were to be over a hundred one-man shows, not just in Britain or in Portugal, but all over Europe, the Americas and Asia. His highly skilled yet playful prints allow the appreciator to enter into the world of the liberated imagination.

Portuguese Men of War (1961)

Battle (1999)

close up of 'Library' (1991)


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