Félicien Rops frontispiece in Baudelaire's 'Les Épaves'  

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Image:Les Epaves by Rops.jpg
'Les Épaves' frontispiece (1866) by Félicien Rops (detail)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

For the Les Épaves (1866) by French poet Charles Baudelaire, Belgian artist Félicien Rops was commissioned to design a frontispiece based on the Adam and Eve with the Tree of Knowledge as Death[1] woodcut by Jost Amman as found [2] in Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois's "danses des morts" essay, where it is erroneously attributed to Hans Sebald Beham.

This is how he explained his "tree-like skeleton"-design to Nadar in 1859: "Here a skeleton that forms a tree with the legs and ribs for the trunk, the outstretched arms sprouting the leaves of poisonous plants in rows of little pots arranged as in a greenhouse." (tr. Who Was Baudelaire?, Georges Poulet, Robert Kopp).

In a letter to Poulet-Malassis Baudelaire had complained about a previous version produced by Félix Bracquemond "Je lui ai laissé carte blanche dans ces limites: un squelette arborescent, l’arbre de la Science du Bien et du Mal, à l’ombre duquel fleurissent les sept péchés capitaux, sous la forme de plantes allégoriques."[3].

Explanation

Beneath the engraving was an explanation:

Sous le Pommier fatal, dont le tronc-squelette rappelle la déchéance de la race humaine, s’épanouissent les Sept Péchés Capitaux, figurés par des plantes aux formes et aux attitudes symboliques. Le Serpent, enroulé au bassin du squelette, rampe vers ces Fleurs du Mal, parmi lesquelles se vautre le Pégase macabre, qui ne doit se réveiller, avec ses chevaucheurs, que dans la vallée de Josaphat.
Cependant une Chimère noire enlève au delà des airs le médaillon du poëte, autour duquel des Anges et des Chérubins font retentir le Gloria in excelsis !
L’Autruche en camée, qui avale un fer à cheval, au premier plan de la composition, est l’emblême de la Vertu, se faisant un devoir de se nourrir des aliments les plus révoltants :
VIRTUS DURISSIMA COQUIT.[4]


English translation:


“Under the fatal apple tree, the skeletal trunk of which recalls the decadence of the human race, blossom the seven capital sins, represented by plants in symbolic forms and attitudes. The Serpent wrapped around the base of the skeleton, creeps toward the Fleurs du Mal, among which wallows the macabre Pegasus, who must only wake up, along with his riders in the valley of Josaphat. Meanwhile a black Chimera uplifts the medallion of the poet, around whom some Angels and Cherubim sing the Gloria in excelsis.
The ostrich in the cameo, who swallows a horseshoe, in the first part of the

composition, is the emblem of virtue, who feeds on the most revolting food:

VIRTUS DURISSIMA COQUIT.”[5]

References

See also




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