As an aspiring medievalist, I am often fascinated by the body part reliquaries of the Middle Ages and beyond. Created both to encase and to display the remains of saints, body part reliquaries often mimicked their relics: a hand of benediction might hold an arm bone, a foot reliquary nail clippings, etc. With lustrous gold and silver shells, sometimes embellished with polished gemstones, these reliquaries at once encased their less photogenic contents and served as a visual reminder of their saint’s corporeal form, which might have glowed with holy light during life. (There were often rumors of saints’ bodies emitting light, a visible sign of their extreme piety.) These magnificent structures also tested their audiences: quite counterintuitively (for us), medieval viewers were confronted with gold, silver, and precious stones in order to recognize that true value lay in the fragmented bits of bone or bloody dirt that remained unseen.
[A German arm reliquary ca. 1190 + an X-ray image of a human arm bone contained therein]
[A foot reliquary from the Swiss National Museum. I don't know anything about its date and unfortunately can't find much information on it at all.]
*Top: An amazing hand reliquary from the V&A with rock crystal “windows” that potentially could have allowed a glimpse of the enclosed relics
Yesterday marked the four years since the legendary photographer Irving Penn’s passing at the age of 92. To commemorate Penn Sang Bleu have chosen a selection of our favourite photographs. It is really quite incredible how one persons work could be so consistently diverse but also be simultaneously so progressive. Best known as a fashion photographer his world also scoped celebrity portraiture, still life and ethnographic documentation. Penn covered and became an innovator in most fields of photography right up until his death which is really remarkable if you think that the image below (Mascara Wars) was made by a man in his 80s. However he is best known for his high contrast images of cultural icons but some of the examples below seem equally as important in their strength and originality not only for their time in fashion photography but also in the context of Penn’s career.
naomi campbell by irving penn
us vogue, march 1992
Cult Creams, Vogue US, June 1996
Issey Miyake sunglasses, 1995
The iconic and eternally glamourous Mario Montez has sadly passed away at the age of seventy eight. Best known for appearing in Jack Smith’s Normal Love and the decadent Flaming Creatures, he also appeared in Ron Rice’s beautiful Chumlum and thirteen of Warhol’s films from 1964-6. Paying homage to the hispanic B-Movie star Maria Montez by manipulating it into his own name, Montez emulated a kind of trans Hollywood glamour onto the New York film and theatre underground scene right up until the early 1970s. Born as René Rivera in Puerto Rico in 1935, in 2010, Montez was honoured by Columbia University’s Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Race as one of the “most gifted performers of the underground period.”
Montez in Warhol’s Mario Banana No. 1, 1964
A photograph of Jack Smith and Montez behind the scenes of Flaming Creatures
Thanks to the worst newspaper in the world for these other worldly photos of skeletons dug up from Roman catacombs adorned in layers upon layers of jewels. Dug up in the 16th century and installed in towns around Germany, Austria and Switzerland on order of the Vatican; these opulent remains were sent to Catholic churches and religious houses to replace the relics destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
Ostentatious is a word that can barely even touch upon the extravagance of these adorned relics which are now to be published in a book by Art historian Paul Koudounaris who trekked down all of these skeletons. Many of these relics have never been seen before and Koudounaris had unprecedented access to them. many of them never been seen bythe public before.
Mistaken for the remains of early Christian martyrs, the morbid relics, known as the Catacomb Saints, became shrines reminding of the spiritual treasures of the afterlife.
Their display and adorned was used as symbols of the Catholic Church’s newly found strength in previously Protestant areas.
Each one was painstakingly decorated in thousands of pounds worth of gold, silver and gems by devoted followers before being displayed in church niches.
Some took up to five years to decorate and the timelessness of their glamour juxtaposed against the strangeness of their mortality brings out a bizarre but fascinating array of photographs.
The book will be published by Thames and Hudson and will be released on the 5th of October called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs which you can pre-order here.
SHOWstudio presents a film by conceived by Chris Sutton, featuring dear friend and Sang Bleu contributor Jon John.
Concept: Chris Sutton Studio; Direction: Chris Sutton; Cinematography: Martyna Knitter; Set Design: Gary Card; Performance: Julia Almendra / Jon John / C. Sutton; Hair: Liam Curren; Make-up: Lucy Bridge; Manicurist: Ami Streets; Styling Assistant: Tom Erebout; Edit: Jason Bradbury; Production: Lois Newcome; Soundtrack: Jason Bradbury with guest vocal by Marilyn Manson
2 Faced Mask featured in the film, made of leather and adorned with buckles and rivets. BUY IT HERE
Gemma Peden’s illustrious images depict layers upon layers of time covering gravestones found around England. Not instantly recognisable as pillar’s of the deceased these photographs of organically evolved patterns engulf the stone work that Peden has captured. The matter of whose gravestones have been illustrated is disfigured by the process of nature ageing on to the stone. Although the concept of photographing a gravestone appears automatically macabre there is nothing of the sort with these complex images which directly deal with death and possibly even a new form of life in their elaborate patterns adorning the stone work.
How did you decide to photograph graves?
It was something that came from a family member becoming really ill. So death all of a sudden became a real thing for me. I just started thinking about how people deal with death and what we all inevitably become. I’ve never really been confronted with death like that before so I chose to deal with it in this way. Face paint came from trying to understand. Death is something every single person can relate to, in some way so i though it would make an interesting concept.
How many gravestones did you photograph?
So many! I went all over London and and travelled around to see all different types of grave yards. The best one was in Christchurch, a village near Bournemouth. That was like a church with a Jackson Pollock painting for its back garden. I spend hours there, it was really old. The textures and colours were just so beautiful I loved photographing for this project.
Which was the oldest gravestone that you photographed?
Most of the time the lichen made the writing and dates illegible but I went to lots of grave yards dating back to the 1800s.
Why gravestones in particular? There are lots of symbols that represent death but your images don’t have that obviousness in them in like how gravestones usually represent.
Gravestones represents the end to human life, like a full stop. It is something that is implanted into the soil left there as a remembrance to you and your life. The act of burial is important to humans, and we all do it in all different cultures. Grave stones are the one thing that stands test of time and a tangible thing becomes one with the earth and its natural surroundings. I chose to photograph close details of graves to really capture the synchronicity with nature. These stones left by our loved ones represent our new face. I didn’t want this project to be obviously linked to death because thats something we have all seen before. I wanted it to be something new, refreshing, colourful and a new outlook on death and what we look like afterwards. I think they are all beautiful and all different and I like that, I wouldn’t mind looking like that in hundreds of years
When was it that you realised how interesting the layers of time implanted on the gravestones look aesthetically and focused your attention on that?
I was walking once in Liverpool and I saw one gravestone in particular that was older than the others so had more layers and colours. It stood out to me and I looked at it closely for a long time, it looked like a painting. So then, I’d start to look at these graves like paintings and look closer and pick out compositions I liked – thats when I started photographing them. I guess I was a little obsessed for a while.
Which was your favourite gravestone?
My favourite was the cluster of grave stones I found in Christchurch in Dorset. They were all similar in colour but so different in pattern. I remember one in particular looking like it was covered in a floral pattern with perfect symmetry. That one stood out because it didn’t look real, it was different to the others.
How many images did you eventually put into this project and on what scale were they printed?
I chose only 6 even though I took a large amount of pictures. I felt these six portrayed the different patterns I came across throughout the whole project and I thought they were the most visually exciting together. I printed them only A3 size. I think they’d look better bigger so at the moment, as a little extension, I am experimenting with projecting the images on to houses and doorways.
To find out more about Peden and her project Face Paint look here
Our zone, with works produced with Ahmed Abdelrahman, Brute, Char Alfonzo, Joachim de Callatay, Cottweiler, Zachary Krevitt, Rein Vollenga, Telfar and Zana Bayne.
Show curated by Felix Burrichter, at the Haus der Kunst till 27.10.13.
All pictures by Maximilian Geuter.