"Art is eternal, but life is short..." "I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose."
I love Evelyn de Morgan – the quote above is from her diary on the morning of her 17th birthday! She was a Pre-Raphaelite painter – yes, there were quite a few, not all the women of the era were ‘mere’ models for Rossetti et al. I love the fact that she had to fight to go to art school. I love her use of mythological figures and themes, and two of my absolute favourites are Medea and Cassandra.
In viewing the paintings what you cannot see is the starting point for the art. You cannot know what the jumping off point was, what sparked the inspiration for the painting. You, as the viewer, don’t know precisely what set off the artist’s intent, but you see the result.
I love her use of colour and light, how the details in the background are as important as the figure in the foreground. The echo of the colour of Medea’s dress in the discarded roses on the floor and the potion in the vial in her hand; the detailed work on the marbled walls, the tiled floors, the lion’s head pedestal base, and the torch sconce on the wall behind the sorceress.
Similarly, the blue of Cassandra’s robes is echoed in the smoke from the flames devouring Troy behind her; the famed Trojan horse is there too. The gold and sand hues of her wrap reflect that of the walls – and, tellingly, her hair is more flame-tinted than the inferno – can the burning of her mind, the intensity of her madness, be greater than that of her city? She has suffered longer than it has after all.
I love how these women stand, how they don’t quite face the viewer. Cassandra because she is seeing things across time, her distress all-consuming. Medea because she’s contemplating what she’s about to do, and there is no shame, no second thoughts, she will have her rightful revenge. I love the implication of the dead birds on the floor that she’s been testing out her potions in preparation. Medea is, no matter what, a very clever woman.
The viewer, to these women, is utterly irrelevant. They are captured in the moment of concentration, the very moment of turning inward and, conversely, looking ahead.
I can’t know de Morgan’s spark but I can know the spark it sets off in my own creative mind – Cassandra inspired a piece of micro-fiction when I was writing for The Daily Cabal, below for your reading pleasure.
Medea still eludes me. The image is powerful, I feel I know her better than Cassandra, but I haven’t been moved to write anything based on this painting as yet. She has been a screensaver on and off for years. I look at her every so often and wonder when she will speak to me. Who knows how long it will take? To her, the viewer is irrelevant.
I don’t want to go in.
He’s there now, didn’t hesitate. It’s his home though he’s been away for long years. I warned him, or tried to but who listens to me?
I saw his wife in the shadows just before she stepped through the door, and in that moment she seemed a huge, swarming. Then she moved forward, into sunlight and she shone.
Not as beautiful as her sister, but no one is. Tall, broad-shouldered, jaw strong, forehead wide, cheekbones high. Clytemnestra is handsome rather than lovely. She moves with deceptive slowness, but there are muscles evident beneath her rich robes. She’s a warrior queen and has not let herself run to fat. Her hair, red-gold in the sun burns like liquid copper.
The smile she gives Agamemnon is frozen; she speaks soft words of welcome and he is deceived. When she looks at me she sees no Trojan princess, merely a slave, hair lank and oily, back and shoulders hunched as if deprived of wings and ashamed of their nakedness.
‘Don’t go inside,’ I whispered to my master, my owner, my thief. In spite of it all, I did not want him to walk all unawares into his fate, for his end means mine. But he gave me an annoyed glare, sick unto death of my constant warnings and plaints, of the sharp dreams that have broken my sleep (and thus his) these past months as we travelled to Argos. He has no patience. He is tired unto death of my madness.
He took his wife’s welcome as his due and went in to the bath she had prepared for him. Clytemnestra watched me and nodded slowly before she turned and followed him. I waited, held my breath, counted the beats until I heard him scream, heard the wet sound of a great axe burying itself in muscle and flesh, releasing blood into the air. She waits inside now; another man by her side.
I have seen this for so many days. Fate cannot be avoided. I am a Trojan princess. I step down from the chariot, swallowing hard. I put my foot on the first step and mount the portico. My end lies here.
Angela Slatter is a Brisbane writer of dark fantasy and horror. Her work has appeared in venues such as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Fantasy Magazine, Dreaming Again, Steampunk Reloaded, and Strange Tales. In 2011 The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection and Sourdough and Other Stories was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Midnight and Moonshine, co-authored with Lisa L. Hannett, will be out in November 2012. She blogs over here about shiny things that catch her eye.