William Wordsworth: On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, 1802

ONCE did she hold the gorgeous East in fee;
And was the safeguard of the West: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.

She was a maiden City, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And, when she took unto herself a mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.

And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid

When her long life hath reach’d its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great is pass’d away.

William Wordsworth: Speak!

WHY art thou silent! Is thy love a plant
Of such weak fibre that the treacherous air
Of absence withers what was once so fair?
Is there no debt to pay, no boon to grant?

Yet have my thoughts for thee been vigilant—
Bound to thy service with unceasing care,
The mind’s least generous wish a mendicant
For naught but what thy happiness could spare.

Speak—though this soft warm heart, once free to hold
A thousand tender pleasures, thine and mine,
Be left more desolate, more dreary cold

Than a forsaken bird’s-nest fill’d with snow
’Mid its own bush of leafless eglantine—
Speak, that my torturing doubts their end may know.

According to a tradition going back at least to Menander, but without any historical merit, Sappho killed herself by jumping off the Leucadian cliffs for unrequited love of Phaon, a ferryman.

In the 19th century, this story became the topic of a drama by Franz Grillparzer and several paintings. Here is one from the beginning of the century by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, later examples are by Theodore Chasseriau, who treated the topic at least twice, or Ernst Stückelberg.

William Wordsworth: Evening on Calais Beach

IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;

The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.

Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:

Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

William Wordsworth: London, 1802

MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,

Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,

So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Song

WHY are you here,
Katrina dear,
In daylight clear,
At your lover’s door?
No, no! When,
It will let in,
A maid, and then,
Let out a maid no more!

Take care for once
It’s over and done,
And it’s all gone,
Goodnight to you, poor thing!
Keep your love’s belief,
And the pleasure brief,
From every thief,
Unless you’ve a wedding ring.


From Faust, Part I, Scene XIX. Translation by A. S. Kline.

Between 1801 and 1805, David painted five life-size equestrian portraits of Napoleon. The word “portrait” should be used with some caution, since the impatient Napoleon point blank refused to sit, claiming it was his genius and not his features that mattered, and David had to make do with a bust as a model. It marked a break in the portraiture of Napoleon, which became more emblematic, more symbolic, and it may have been a sign as to where art in general was going.

The five versions are mostly identical, the differences are in the color of the horse, the color of the cloak, and some small details. They are known by the names of the palaces where they hang or hung, this one is called the Belvedere version, though it has meanwhile been relocated to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It is dated ANNO X, which mostly coincides with 1802 (the revolutionary calendar put the beginning of the year on the autumn equinox).

An amusing detail are the names on the rock, Bonaparte, Hannibal, and Karolus Magnus Imp. They are supposed to create a connection with other generals who crossed the Alps. But Charlemagnes name is written directly beneath a crack in the rock on which Napoleon’s horse stands, so it looks more as if he was trampling the former down. Since he—inadvertently—destroyed the empire the other had just as inadvertently founded, there is some truth in this.

Nobody knows if the portraits of the great men resemble them, it is enough that their genius lives there.—Napoleon to David

Usually, I relate a myth or legend when I post the first work of art based on it. But Richard Westall’s Vertumnus and Pomona, just like its earlier counterpart Flora Unveiled by Zephyrs, isn’t interested very much in its mythological model, so I’ll leave that for another time. The two paintings are each about 59×77 cm in size and were sold by Christie’s for £43,250 in December 2008. Accurate or not, they sure look nice!

Together with Vertumnus and Pomona, Richard Westall’s Flora Unveiled by Zephyrs was sold by Christie’s for £43,250 in December 2008. There is no other known painting of this title, and this is not really a valid mythological motif. Zephyr is the god of the west wind, not to be represented by multiple putti or erotes. There is indeed a myth of Zephyr and Flora (Chloris), but it would look more like this.