Temur Kobakhidze wrote:
> Sorry for having sort of jumped into your discussion of Four Quartets,
> and many thanks for the links. I still think the best link to the Ghent
> Altarpiece is http://www.wga.hu/index1.html , and that is Web Gallery of
I have to disagree about where the best pictures are. Wikipedia's can
be enlarged by clicking on the picture seen on the article page for
one thing. It also discourses on the alterpiece. Either Wikipedia
ignored the part of the panel with the Sybil or I missed it so I
clicked the link to Wikicommons' pictures of the alterpiece and I
picked up a 1 MB screen-filling (944x1760 pixels) detail of just the
part of the panel containing her.
> I vaguely remember a discussion of the topic here on this list years ago,
> but sadly the archives are inaccessible, and I don't remember who the
> participants were.
The posts that you've mentioned are by Raphael Ingelbien in
November, 1998. There was some discussion of panels in art work
(St. Sebastian, I think) and Raphael wrote an aside:
Speaking of panels: I recently had another look at Van Eyck's
Mystic Lamb, this time with possible Eliotic allusions in mind.
It was rather intriguing. Eliot's hippopotamus started drifting
into the cathedral...
Jim Loucks replied to Raphael with:
Can you elaborate on your last remark about the painting [and]
Before Raphael replied there was some silliness on the list about the
hippo and TSE and anti-semitism that Raphael continued a bit before
getting more serious.
I'm adding a few of Raphael's posts below my signoff.
> I can understand, that one can see no hippopotami in the paintings of van
> Eyck, but the whole thing does not seem as simple as that. What I am asking
> for is your comment. To what extent the suggestion that TSE parodied
> Adoration in The Hippopotamus is true?
Now that I've got Raphael's suggestions to steer me I'll see where they'll
P.S. - And an aside from me: Later that month Arwin van Arum also wrote:
Not to mention Theophile Gautier's "l'Hippopotame" of course,
but you knew that.
> Date: Fri, 27 Nov 1998 21:14:38 +0000 (GMT)
> From: "R.J.Ingelbien"
> Subject: Re: Lamb/hippo
On Fri, 27 Nov 1998, james loucks wrote:
> Can you elaborate on your last remark about the painting the TSE's hippo?
You see, Jim, it was in Ghent's marvellous cathedral that things
suddenly fell into place: looking at Van Eyck's Mystic Lamb, I got the
revelation that Eliot was not just a misogynist, a fascist, a racist, a
bigot, an antisemite, a thief (it was he who stole the lost panel of course)
but that he was indeed the Antichrist himself...
OK, here is what I noticed:
- the lamb, washed as white as snow, if you like,
- the true church, looking on,
- the choir of the martyred virgins,
- lurking in a corner, our old TWL friend the Sibyl of Cumae.
There might have been some other things as well, which I don't remember
right now. I didn't take notes, sorry. I was also looking at the painting
Besides alluding to Van Eyck, 'The Hippopotamus' also alludes to _Heart of
Darkness_ of course. More specifically, to the dead hippo meat that
the cannibals take with them on the boat, and which the pilgrims (another
version of the supposedly true church that Eliot also satirises) chuck into
the river since they can't bear its stench. By letting the dead hippo,
washed as white as snow, ascend to heaven, Eliot redeems it from Conrad's
heart of darkness. The pilgrims remain confined to it, sailing on one of the
rivers of hell as others in Eliot remain stuck on the shores Dante's
Inferno - most notably the Hollow Men, who can only see that 'Mistah
Kurtz, he dead'. Kurtz himself can only exclaim 'the horror!' because he
worships the false whiteness of ivory. Had he helped himself to
the hippo's meat, he would have glimpsed the possibility of redemption -
in Eliot's reading, if not in Conrad. Instead, he sits upon the shore,
fishing for the bits of dead hippo meat unwisely discarded by the
pilgrims. The dead hippo lies at the bottom of the river, full fathom
five: the hippo is the Jew of course, i.e. the only one who, like his
derided brother Bleistein, will find grace in God's eyes.
> Date: Sun, 29 Nov 1998 15:00:02 +0000 (GMT)
> From: "R.J.Ingelbien" <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: Van Eyck
On Sat, 28 Nov 1998 [log in to unmask] wrote:
> If people ask you what you think of the van Eyck, you'll ordinarily
> say a few sentences, and it isn't going to be as revealing of your ideas
> as, say, your writing a 15-page essay on the painting.
A bit much to ask at this point, I would say. I was only suggesting that
Eliot may have remembered the painting when he wrote 'The Hippopotamus'.
> 1) I wasn't aware he had visited Ghent, so fill me in. If he didn't, this
> isn't fatal because he could have known the painting through a postcard or
He did visit Ghent shortly before W.W.I, as well as Bruges and Antwerp.
That's mentioned in his letters, as well as in Gordon. You say that he
was more into Italian art than in Flemish/Germanic painting: this may be
true, but he may have been particularly impressed by some of the
paintings he saw in Flanders. Again, which painting of St Sebastian
struck him most? I can't remember for sure right now, but from what I
remember of Gordon I think it was something he saw in a Flemish museum.
Correct me if i'm wrong.
As you point out, it is also true that Northern painters took Revelation
as their subject more often than their Italian counterparts.
As for postcards or reproductions: Van Eyck's triptych is quite a tricky
thing to reproduce, what with its three panels (some of which are painted
on both sides) and its sheer size.
> 3) Here's the biggest problem. The Ghent Altarpiece is based on imagery,
> especially the mystic lamb, from the book of Revelation.
True. What makes it quite interesting is that it condenses Revelation in
a visionary mode rather than a narrative one. Thus, the central panel has
the Lamb at its centre, with various groups looking on (groups of Eliotic
interest here: the martyr'd virgins, the confessors). In other words, it
is an extremely synthetic condensation of images.
I am not sure Eliot liked it - certainly his response to the Flemish art
towns was not wholly enthusiastic. He complained of their slightly musty
atmosphere, the old miasmal mist hanging about the place.
> possibility A--Eliot and van Eyck both borrow imagery from Revelation.
> possibility B--Eliot borrows from van Eyck, who borrowed from Revelation
Or a mixture of both.
> The Biblical book is bizarre and "surrealistic." Many artists
> tone down the imagery. In Revelation, for example, the mystic lamb has "seven
> horns and seven eyes." Van Eyck trimmed this back to a normal number of eyes
> and no horns.
On the other hand, he still adopts a visionary rather than a narrative
approach. He was no Bosch OK, but he did adopt a challenging method.
> Now if you seriously felt the van Eyck was relevant, why not lay out your
> reasoning? Maybe you see something I'm not noticing.
I don't have a 'reasoning' at this stage, beyond the suggestion that Van
Eyck may have been part of the kind of religiosity that Eliot was satirising
in 'The Hippopotamus'. I don't think I know enough about Eliot's
response to the visual arts to develop this much further, but since some
people on the list are rather gemmed up on that aspect I thought I would
float the idea of a connection and see what they could make of it.
> Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 15:39:08 +0000 (GMT)
> From: "R.J.Ingelbien" <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: Van Eyck
On Sun, 29 Nov 1998 [log in to unmask] wrote:
> > I don't have a 'reasoning' at this stage, beyond the suggestion that Van
> > Eyck may have been part of the kind of religiosity that Eliot was
> > satirising in 'The Hippopotamus'.
> That makes a lot of sense to me, and Belgium was (is it still?) a Catholic
> nation. If he didn't much care for the low countries, that might be even
> more reason for being satirical.
Belgium is indeed a largely Catholic country (I wouldn't call it a nation).
Although Eliot was to move towards Anglo-catholicism, poems like 'The
Hippopotamus' or 'Mr Eliot's Sunday Morning Service' sometimes read like
quasi-Lutheran satires on the corruption of the Catholic church. The True
Church that is attacked in 'The Hippopotamus' seems definitely Catholic
to me. Belgium was of course one of the main centres of the
Counter-Reformation in Europe, though the expression of that was Rubens -
Van Eyck came earlier.
> I see Eliot as the studious (pedantic, conscientious) kind of tourist who
> goes to a museum and reads everything the museum has available about the
> works on display.
That's partly why I think he may have had Van Eyck in mind in 'The
Hippopotamus'. As you said, it's difficult to decide whether he is
referring to Revelation, or Van Eyck, or both. What puzzles me is Eliot's
reference to the 'martyr'd virgins' who will kiss the hippo. Revelation
mentions martyrs (6.9) and virgins - the latter being part of the vision
of the Lamb on Mount Zion (14.4). Problem: those virgins are male - i.e.
those who have never been with a woman. The martyrs of 6.9, on the other
hand, are not specifically virgins, male or female.
Now if you look at Van Eyck's representation of the vision of the Lamb,
you'll see that the virgins are women (or most of them. I didn't check
whether there were males among the lot). The Cathedral's leaflets refer to
them as 'martyred virgins' - though of course I not sure that Eliot would
have been given anything of the kind to read.
Still, I found that rather intriguing.