The Concert by Vermeer

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Vermeer, The Concert, 1658–1660 Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 64.7 cm

~One of approximately only 36 known works by Vermeer in the world

~ The subject is the making of music, suspended in time, at the split second just before song is
about to break out. The figures in this work are intently preoccupied with their music: they
do not look at each other and seem unaware that they are being observed.

~This work contains an air of mystery as well—i.e., who are these people and what are their
relationships? Vermeer crafts rather deliberately a sense of mystery in this work. The
reflections of light in the painting also intensify its mystery

~This work was Gardner’s first major acquisition, purchased with the help of experts at a
Paris auction sale. Gardner placed it on a table alongside the window, a location where she often placed her most prized paintings, with a chair in front of it to invite viewing.

Theft of Thirteen Artworks ▪ March 18, 1990

On the night of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and roamed its galleries, stealing from it thirteen priceless works of art. The stolen artworks include Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the artist’s only known seascape, and Jan Vermeer’s The Concert, one of only 36 known Vermeers in the world. The Gardner Museum is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of these stolen artworks in good condition. Anyone with information—about the theft, the location of these artworks, or the investigation—is encouraged to contact the Museum’s Director of Security Anthony Amore directly at 617-278-5114 or theft@gardnermuseum.org. The Museum can ensure complete confidentiality.

Or Contact the FBI

Information provided by THE ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSUEM

La Belle Dame sans Merci: Painting (1893) by John Waterhouse & Poem (1819) by John Keats

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O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ferri’s The First Thanksgiving

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday and to mark the occasion, we’ve chosen J.L.g Ferris’s painting depicting the first Thanksgiving.


The First Thanksgiving, reproduction of an oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris, early 20th century.
Credit: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZC4-4961)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Leighton’s Flaming June

We’re introducing a new addition to Literati Lit. Art Mondays, where we plan to feature a favorite artist or painting.


Artist: Lord Frederick Leighton
Nationality: English
Born: 1830
Died: 1896
Flaming June, c1895
Oil on canvas
120.6 x 120.6 cm (3′ 11.48″ x 3′ 11.48″)
Museo de Arte (Ponce, Puerto Rico)

Art and the Poetry of Desire by Sylvain Reynard

Dear Everyone,

It’s a pleasure to be with you. I’d like to thank Amanda and the other members of this site for their generous invitation to join you and also for their support, which is much appreciated.

In this guest post, I’d like to explore the nature of desire. When desire is described, it’s usually painted as a feeling of hunger or need. The focus of the hunger is on someone or something that one lacks. If you already had the object of your desire, then you wouldn’t desire it. So desire seems to be an extrinsic feeling – a feeling that propels you out of yourself to seek out something beyond you. Desire also forces you to confront your own limitations. If you were self-sufficient, then you wouldn’t long for something.

The phenomenon of desire is, of course, a crucial part of the human experience. It’s frequently associated with love and sex and so novels that explore those themes must address desire, as well.

But desire is also communicated in other art forms. For example, consider the poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost:

“Some say the world will end in fire,


Some say in ice.


From what I’ve tasted of desire


I hold with those who favor fire.


But if it had to perish twice,


I think I know enough of hate


To say that for destruction ice


Is also great


And would suffice.”

This poem is interesting for a number of reasons. My favourite lines are “From what I’ve tasted of desire/I hold with those who favor fire.” Frost associates desire with the flames of fire, which carries with it connotations of heat and burning and the potential of being consumed.

Frost also contrasts two possibilities for the end of the word – fire and ice. So does Dante in his Inferno. If you look at the way Dante structures hell, you see that it begins with the “warm” sin of Lust before descending down to the “cold” sin of Treachery. (See Danteworld) Those in the circle of the lustful are condemned to see the object of their desire but never to be able to have that desire satisfied. Those in the circle of the treacherous are encased in ice, representing the absence of warmth, affection, and even freedom of movement.

For a different expression of desire, examine Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) sculpture Eternal Springtime: http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/eternal-springtime

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The sculpture is of a male and female figure engaged in an intense embrace. They’re kissing. The female’s back is arched in passion, her right hand lifted to clutch at her lover’s hair. The male is supporting her weight with his right arm; his left arm lifted as if he’d rushed to her catch her.

The sculpture is an expression of physical desire and the culmination of that desire in an expressive kiss. It’s a testimony to Rodin’s giftedness that the viewer feels like a voyeur – as if we’ve intruded on a very private moment. The desire the figures have for one another is palpable.

What Rodin does with sculpture, many a poet or novelist attempts to do with words – to make the reader feel as if he or she has intruded into private moments. In the case of a novel involving love and sex, the novelist seeks to make the reader feel the desire of the lovers. But what one can create in several thousand words can be captured simply and succinctly in art. For this reason, I chose to incorporate paintings, sculpture, and music into the narrative of my novels “Gabriel’s Inferno” and “Gabriel’s Rapture.” This decision was motivated by an interest in showing how the arts can enhance or illustrate the events of a story.

For example, when the Professor and Julia have dinner alone for the first time, they hear Matthew Barber singing his song “You and Me.” You can see him performing the song here:

If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see how Barber offers antonyms to compare the protagonist and his lover. The desire of the protagonist for within the context of the novel, the Professor sees the gap between his dark nature and the quiet goodness of Julia. She is fire and ice. She is virtue and he is vice. But his desire is for her.

Then there is Henry Holiday’s painting of Dante and Beatrice: 20121220-103031.jpg

Notice how Dante is staring at Beatrice in a focused and intent way, but she isn’t returning his attention. Her expression seems to indicate that she is aware of his gaze, but she doesn’t respond to it. In this painting, Holiday portrays desire as entirely on the part of Dante. He’s clutching his left side (his heart?), mirroring the movement of her left arm, which holds a flower. It’s typical in Renaissance art, of which Holiday would have been familiar, for virginal ladies to hold flowers as a symbol of their purity. In this painting, Beatrice certainly isn’t offering her flower to Dante …

In fact, when Dante meets Beatrice at the Porto Santa Trinita, they are both married to other people. Dante’s desire for Beatrice remains unconsummated, even though he adores her both before and after her untimely death at age twenty-four.

In my novels I tell the story of Dante and Beatrice in a contemporary setting, choosing to draw out their desire for one another within the context of a forbidden relationship between a professor and his graduate student.

Readers have responded very positively to the narrative, and I think that’s because they find the desire that exists between the two characters to be believable. Certainly, that’s something I tried to achieve with my writing.

Thanks for reading.

All best,
SR