Friday, October 31, 2014

Vim Patior

Around the year 1580, a man named Jean Bodin told a grim story. It went like this:

"I heard from the Sieur de Nouailles Abbé de l'Isle, now ambassador in Constantinople, and from a certain Polish gentleman named Pruinski, who was ambassador to France, that one of the chief monarchs of Christendom desired to know the future of his country. He called for a Jacobin Necromancer, who first said mass, and having consecrated the host, cut off the head of a first-born son of ten years, and placed it upon the host. Speaking certain words, and deploying symbols that it is not necessary to know, he asked it what it wanted. But the head said only: 'Vim patior' [I suffer].  And at once the king fell into a frenzy, crying without end that the head should be removed, and so he died insane.

This story is held certain and beyond doubt by everyone in the kingdom in which it took place, notwithstanding that only five people were present at the event."

Our storyteller, Jean Bodin, was a jurist and political theorist in late Renaissance France. In many bestselling works, he argued for freedom of religion and property, a constitutional state, individual freedoms, and against slavery. None of which prevented him from believing fervently in demons and sorcerers. The story above appeared in his book De la démonomanie des sorciers, in which he opined that in cases of witchcraft and sorcery, existing legal protections should be relaxed, because sorcerers were everywhere and must be stamped out. Even kings might practice black magic!

There is, then, little doubt that Jean believed the story told him by the Sieur de Nouailles and the Polish ambassador. But who was this king who dabbled in necromancy and died insane? Several possibilities present themselves - the 16th century was not deficient in mentally deranged monarchs. James V of Scotland died in a delirium in 1512; Erik XIV of Sweden devolved into a Macbeth-like homicidal maniac; Ivan IV of Russia was simply terrible.

But the best possibility is Charles IX of France. Bodin's informant the Sieur de Nouailles served as his ambassador to England, Scotland, and Turkey. As for Pruinski, there were many links between Poland and France in that era: Charles IX's brother Henri was even briefly king of Poland. But the best reasons for the identification of Charles lie in the details of the story itself.

Charles was the king who ordered the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572. On that day, by targeted assassination and mob violence, Catholic extremists butchered thousands of protestant Huguenots. It proved a political trauma that reverberated for generations in France. For Jean Bodin, a man who believed sincerely in freedom of religion, it must have been shattering. His final book, the Heptaplomeres, is an interfaith dialogue in which all religions agree to just get along - but he never dared publish it in his lifetime.

Although it is sometimes thought that the massacre was instigated by others, chiefly Charles' mother Catherine de Medici, that did not stop the king from assuming the guilt for the slaughter. He was haunted by the screams of the victims and constantly prayed for forgiveness, leading to his mother branding him a lunatic. He died aged 24.

The parallels in the necromantic anecdote are apparent: the Catholic king murders protestants, who were royal subjects under his protection; a king employs a Catholic sorcerer (Jacobin signifies a Dominican friar, who were often inquisitors), who murders a first-born son. This is not subtle stuff. Children are the most deserving of protection, and first-born sons in particular, who by Biblical Law were considered to represent the future.  

The monarch was supposed to be father of the nation and ultimate protector. This was particularly important to Bodin, who saw the family as the model for the state. For the king to go around butchering babies, then, was to declare him unfit for the role that gave him his authority and legitimacy. The king who did such things was no king at all. And the nation under such a king might express its condition simply: "I suffer."

Whether any part of the story is true, nobody knows. Certainly monarchs have done stranger things. In any case, it makes a good subject for a Halloween illustration.

*Vim patior is Latin; patior means "I suffer" or "I endure," while vim signifies force or violence. A literal translation of the phrase might be "I am suffering on account of violence." But this does little credit to the tense brevity of the Latin, and so I rendered it with the simple "I suffer."

**Here is the original French, transcribed from page 155 of the fourth edition, published by Paul Frellon in 1598:
J’ai appris du Sieur de Nouailles Abbé de l’Isle, et maintenant ambassadeur à Constantinople, et d’un gentilhomme polonais nommé Pruinski qui a été ambassadeur en France, que l’un des grands rois de la chrétienté voulant savoir l’issue de son état sit venir un Jacobin nécromantien, lequel dit le messe, et après avoir consacre l'hostie, sit trancher la tête à un jeune enfant de dix ans premier né qui était préparé pour cet effet et sit mettre la tête sur une hostie, puis disants certaines paroles, et usant de caractères, qu’il n’est pas besoin de savoir, demanda ce qu’il voulait; la tête ne répondit que ces deux mots : Vim patior. Et aussi tôt le roi entra en furie, criant sans fin: "Otez cette tête," et mourut ainsi enragé. Cette histoire est tenue pour certaine, et indubitable en tout le royaume, ou la chose est advenue, combien qu’il n’y eut que cinq personnes quand la chose fut fait.

*** Political legitimacy and accusations of child murder were the theme of last Halloween's creepy illustration as well, which featured the added bonus of cannibalism!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

the dark house

I drew this at twilight, in the Tuscan village of Settignano. As the sun went down, the lights in the houses appeared in their windows.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dark Side of the Moon Jar

Since the 17th century, the moon jar has stood out as the most distinctive and beautiful of traditional Korean pottery forms. Lately Tarragon has been working on Dark Side of the Moon Jars. These are fresh from the kiln:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Last call at the old George Orwell

The pub is now called the Hops and Glory. They came to that name after a long process of indecision, due to which I reserved the old name in my head as a standby. I prefer the old name but the man himself never drank there as far as I know. He did drink at a pub five minutes away, The Compton Arms, when its floors were strewn with bales of hay.

By the time I drew this last picture the girls at the bar had definitely decided I wasn't a problem. As my clothes dried out they became more friendly. By the time my ride came we were friends.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

black and red

A figure, or most of one, painted in watercolour. I did this a few years ago, and I don't recall the model's name. I do know that she posed for around an hour. And that she had excellent hair.

My approach with watercolour figures usually involves a pencil drawing, still visible here, followed by the large areas of pigment, in this case the flesh. Details of features or costume follow, and finally I finish up by reemphasizing important details, and adding a few points of texture. I often use markers or crayons in the last stages. For this picture, I worked into the hair with china marker to make the shadows properly dark.