Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of George Barbier

Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride…

Seven in number are the deadly sins.  They are so named because, according to some theologians, these particular traits are the fountainheads which lead men and women to do even more wicked deeds.  Our current list dates to Gregory I, a Sixth Century pope who revised an earlier compilation of eight fatal human flaws listed by a monk who lived two centuries earlier…

Perhaps the writer of Proverbs (traditionally said to be King Solomon) had less hope for humanity than did medieval poets like Dante who cataloged the nightmarish fates of those prone to the seven deadly sins when he took his readers on a tour of the Inferno.  (Those souls with unforgiven lust, he tells us, are blown about in never-ending winds to remind them of their failure to control their odd desires).  The Lord hates six things, says the writer of Proverbs: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed blood, hearts given to wicked plots, feet ready to trot through fields of mischief, and perjurers.  There is yet a seventh thing and it is a thing which God truly detests— a man who stirs up anger in others…

Art and Religion have been married for a long time.  Paintings on cave walls at Lascaux in southwestern France have been date to an age in excess of 17,000 years.  A number of scholars believe these images have ritualistic or shamanic connections although this interpretation (or any other) will likely remain unproven.  Medieval European painters wed to the Church produced gruesome depictions of the fate awaiting sinners in the life after this one.  They became particularly adept at depicting the uncertainties of those who still drew breath in the aftermath of the Black Death to remind us, through memento mori, how quickly time carries joy to the grave…

Time also brings us to new views of art and its themes…

World War I in the second decade of the Twentieth Century bequeathed thinking men and women a legacy of carnage.  Some drifted in an existential world, becoming a Lost Generation in Gertrude Stein’s words.  Others had great faith in the future promised by technology.  Many of the latter embraced an artistic style that the architect Le Corbusier labeled Art Deco in 1925.  At that time, the movement was about five years old and it celebrated the symmetry and the straight lines of sleek machines…

One of the artists often associated with Art Deco is the highly versatile George Barbier, an illustrator and costume designer who exhibited regularly from 1910 until his death in 1932 at age 50.  Barbier’s strength as a commercial artist was his almost intuitive “feel” for the tastes of a particular periodical and his fluidity in adapting to readers’ tastes.  A true child of sophisticated Europe, Barbier could not resist updating classical mythical and religious themes from time to time.  Seven deadly sins caught his never jaded but ever decadent eye in 1925 at about the time Le Corbusier pinned a name to Art Deco…



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Note: Information for this essay is taken primarily from readily available sources such as Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and almanacs.  When other sources are employed they are credited either in the text or as follows: none. All photographs are taken from Wikipedia or Google Images without source or authorship credits available, except as noted: none.

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