Category: The Details

The details: “Quoth the raven”

"Open here I flung the shutter"

“Open here I flung the shutter”

Here is a delightful intersection of poetry and art: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” illustrated by Gustav Doré. Twenty-odd etchings illustrate the 18-stanza poem.

I learned about Doré’s illustrations of “The Raven” about a year ago, at an exhibit of illustrations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe at the Brandywine River Museum. Even though I’m not the biggest Poe fan, it was a fascinating collection. The artwork brought out the real creepiness of Poe’s stories. (And then there were the steampunk Poe illustrations…somehow fitting.)

The illustration accompanies this stanza:

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

I like how the spectral bodies could almost be part of the building architecture. The figure in the bottom-left corner, with the slightly open mouth, has this look of melancholy regret—she almost looks with longing at the narrator in the window.

The image has very much the quality of an etching. I also found the below image, which looks more like a sketch or drawing. I know just about nothing regarding the provenance of artwork, so I haven’t a clue if this is a drawing from which the etch was made or what. It brings a slightly different emphasis to some of the features of the illustration.

The_Raven_(1884)_pg_45

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Edmund C. Stedman, in his “Comment on the Poem,” notes that “The Raven” illustrations were Doré’s last works. Stedman offers this assessment:

As a “literary artist,” and such [Doré] was, his force was in direct ratio with the dramatic invention of his author, with the brave audacities of the spirit that kindled his own…He was a born master of the grotesque, and by a special insight could portray the spectres of a haunted brain.

The details: The virtues of crinolines

I enjoy browsing older periodicals—looking at the layout, the illustrations, the style of writing, and especially the advertisements. What are the selling tactics? How are capitalization and punctuation used? What about the accompanying images?

crinoline advertisement from Le Follet 1863

This crinoline advertisement, from an 1860s copy of the French fashion magazine Le Follet (this is the British edition), points to some essential undergarment features, given the fashion of the day: “The Sansflectum is particularly adapted for the sea-side, as they will not rust; the Gemma for the ball-room, on account of its wonderful flexibility.” (Click through to see a larger image.)

In other words, these crinolines offer form and function.

Fashion plate from Le Follet. Relax and enjoy the sea breeze, knowing that your crinoline will not rust. —SMR

Hubbell’s, the maker, notes that the crinolines are patented—such a detail lends at-a-glance credibility and/or authority, regardless of whether it’s deserved.

Then there’s the bold, all-caps guarantee: “THEY NEVER LOSE THEIR SHAPE.” Clearly an important characteristic of a quality crinoline. Does that make a Hubbell’s crinoline an investment purchase? Should I expect to pay a premium for this kind of quality?

Fashion plate from Le Follet. Enjoy freedom from fashion faux pas. Your crinoline was made with ballroom dancing in mind. —SMR

Then there’s the implied purpose of a crinoline: “By their peculiar make, a Dress is seen to much greater advantage than with the ordinary shape.” It’s all about showing off—and Hubbell’s crinolines are designed to do so particularly well.

Of course, at 2.5 to 3 yards round, “in accordance with the prevailing fashion,” I’m rather grateful that crinolines and such are no longer part of a woman’s wardrobe.

What about this ad stands out to you?

The details: Just one drop

Deep purple bud with water drop

Just one drop of water pooling at the lower curve of this bud, gathering and reflecting its plummy color.

Then there’s the way the sunlight gives the leaves a waxy-looking finish.

This, by the way, is just a little bit of the glory that abounds at Longwood Gardens.

Because the details make all the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

The details: Painters on the Brooklyn Bridge cables, 1914

These men are standing (and/or lounging) somewhere between 119 and 276 feet above the East River…if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say around 200 feet.*

Painters on the Brooklyn Bridge Suspender Cables-October 7, 1914

Flickr, courtesy of the Museum of Photographic Arts

The Brooklyn Bridge was finished in 1883, so this photo must have come from a later re-painting. Two things are particularly neat about this picture:

  1. You get a look at how this massive suspension bridge is held together (click through for a larger image).
  2. You get a sense of scale, given how the men are posed along the cables. The distance between cables might be hard to judge from the ground, but with the men standing and sitting along them, it’s much easier to guess — and be impressed.

I was inspired to look for Brooklyn Bridge photos by a book I’m currently reading: David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Great Bridge is a captivating read, chronicling both the human drama of the project and the physical construction of the bridge. I got interested in it because I had often wondered how the foundations of bridges are built in living, moving water.

*The bridge towers rose 276 feet above the river, and the roadway was 119 feet above the river (see McCullough, p. 224). These men are obviously well above the roadway — and much higher up than I’d be comfortable! (Though not quite as vertigo-inducing as the iconic “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photo)

The details: Illumination

The Last Gospel illumination

Delicate paintings of insects and flowers illuminate the Last Gospel passage from the Gospel of John, in this fifteenth- or sixteenth-century manuscript. I would just as readily expect these drawings in a contemporaneous book of science, with the different parts of bug or bloom carefully labeled.

Reflection off the body and translucent wings:

The Last Gospel illumination, detail
Antennae and fringed petals:

The Last Gospel illumination, detail

Image source.

Because the details can make the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

The details: Font flourishes

Stocking factory advertisementThis 1886 hosiery advertisement is not as much about the quality of the hosiery as the character of the company and its workers: wholesome, orderly, and clean. (Not really fitting my own nineteenth-century factory stereotypes.)

For me, though, the lettering is what really makes the ad, with its flourishes, curlicues, and drop shadows.

Like this:

Stocking factory advertisement, detail

And this:

Stocking factory advertisement, detail

 

Image source.

Because the details can make the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

The details: Apollo 13 splashdown

Celebrating Apollo 13's splashdown

Jubilation

 

The details are hidden in the context of this photo (Source: NASA) from the mission control room of the Apollo 13 expedition. Because, really, there’s nothing particularly striking about this photo. A line-up of men in largely identical outfits cheering, applauding, and lighting cigars. The kind of image that you could flip right past.

But these men are celebrating for good reason: The Apollo 13 astronauts have just splashed down, safely back on Earth.

With that knowledge, the imagination sparks. How many anxious, lung-crushing hours have these men suffered as they worked to get the astronauts of Apollo 13 home? (Not to mention the anxiety of the astronauts themselves!) How much helplessness did they feel, separated by so many impassable miles? How much worry over whether, after all the crew had been through, they would actually make it home safely? All those nightmares wiped out by jubilation.

Because the details make all the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

The details: Immortalizing a dragonfly

Dragonfly diplacodes trivialis

Dragonfly diplacodes trivialis by Joydeep (JDP90). Source: Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0

Look at the lace of the wings, the fine detail on the hairs on the legs and head. This whole photo has a remarkable crispness and texture. If you click through and view the largest image size, you can even see the fine lines in the eyeballs.

Because the details make all the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

The details: Antarctica 1912

Antarctica 1912

Map of Antarctica, 1912 (detail). Source: Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress

Interrupting this 1912 map’s vast white stretch of “unerforschetes gebiet” (“unexplored territory”) is one journey—that of Ernest Shackleton, who made it deep into Antarctica in January of 1909.

Shackleton's 1909 journey to Antarctica

This was not the expedition for which we now remember Shackleton, but an earlier one. Interestingly, though Shackleton’s is the name immortalized on the map, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat him to the South Pole itself. Amundsen “was the first to reach the South Pole on Dec. 14, 1911” (polardiscover.whoi.edu).

Map of Antarctica, 1912

Map of Antarctica, 1912

Click through to see the full-size image and sites of other Antarctic exploration (if you happen to be able to read German, you’ll be in particularly good shape).

Because the details make all the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”