Muses in La Martiniere’s Constantia – a work of Wedgwood’s Neoclassical art
Volume: 10, No: 07 ; July-2016
La Martiniere is no less than a work of art, specially Constantia the main building, where exists a hall called, The Muses’ Bower. It is a circular room on the fourth floor of Chapel in Constantia, the country house and mausoleum of Maj. Gen. Claude Martin. The exquisite ceiling is lavishly decorated with bas–relief images designed by artists working for Josiah Wedgwood. The set of Nine Muses and Apollo are the most popular image designed by John Flaxman.
John Flaxman (1755-1826), was a British Sculptor and a leading figure in British and Neoclassicism. From 1775 he was employed by Josiah Wedgwood, modeling relief for use on the company’s iconic Jasperware.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) was an English potter, credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery. Wedgewood’s most famous contribution is Jasperware, used for different objects in pottery. Jasperware is a type of pottery first developed by Wedgewood in 1770s. Usually described as stoneware, it is often described as a type of porcelain, noted for matte finish and is produced in number of different colours, of which the best know is a pale blue that has become known as Wedgewood Blue.The work is inspired by Neoclassicism, which is the name given to western movements in Art and Architecture that drew inspiration from the classical art and culture of Ancient Greece or Rome. At the height of the Neoclassical age Claude martin was caught up by the artistic movements sweeping Europe. The Muses’ Bower as it is called, is decorated with profusion of bas-reliefs, created in ‘Plaster of Paris’. Records indicate that huge amount of this plaster was imported for the use in Constantia.
The panels that support the ceiling bear larger images dealing with themes of passion and the characters most strongly associated with such passion : Hercules, Dionysus, Bellerophon, Odysseus, but this is augmented by the Christian theme of Friendship consoling Affliction which seems an unrelated interpolation.
Today The Muses’ Bower and its anterooms are used as private study rooms for the senior-most scholars of La Martiniere College, Lucknow.
We try here to explain each Muse and bring out the character of each of them. Also we have tried to explain a bit of mythology behind this. (some of the characters and stories have been provided external links for better and more detailed understanding)
The Nine Muses in Greek Mythology are goddesses of inspiration, art, science and all other creative works. It is believed, no one could create anything without the help and inspiration from one of the nine muses.
Authors, politician, artists, and scholars of all sorts in Ancient Greek were all believed to have gained success because of one or another Muse, which guided people to achieve success in a particular field. Every learning institute connected to the field of its specialization, had an altar to honour the Muses.
The origin of the word ‘museum’ is also traced to Muses, that translates into ‘A Temple of the Muses’. ‘Mosaic’ also comes from the Nine Muses and means, “something that belongs to the Muses”. No doubt that the word “music” stems from Muses itself.
We tend to call anyone who truly inspires an artist or author ‘a muse’. Originally the Nine Muses were goddesses of the Ancient Greek world. All Muses were the daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. The names of the nine Muses were Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymni, Terpsichore Thalia and Urani. It is believed that they were residing above the golden clouds that covered sacred Greek mountain peaks, above the summits of Mounts Olympus, Helicon, Parnassus, and Pindus. They entertained and joined the Olympian gods in their feasts drinking water, milk, and honey, but never had wine. The nine sisters were originally the patron goddesses of poets and musicians, but over the time their roles extended to other areas including comedy, tragedy, history, poetry, music, dancing, singing, rhetoric, sacred hymns, and harmony.
Calliope was the Muse of the Epic and Lyric Poetry
Calliope was the eldest and wisest of the nine Muses. Literally meaning of Calliope is ‘She of the Beautiful voice’. She was named this way because of her nice way of making speeches. She was the most excellent Muse of all, accompanying respectable royalties.
Calliope was the favorite Muse of the Greek poet Homer, many even consider Calliope being the actual mother of Homer. Another child of Calliope was said to have been Orpheus, a famous musician and poet in ancient Greece.
In depictions Calliope can be seen young and beautiful, crowned with gold, holding a writing tablet or a volume of Homer’s Odyssey in her hand.
Clio was the Muse of History
Clio (or Cleio) was the goddess of history and the second among nine muses. The meaning of her name is ‘to make famous’ or ‘to celebrate’. She inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in ancient Greece. She was a source of inspiration to poets, dramatists and authors, such as Homer, who lived in Ancient Greece.
Clio once fell madly in love with the King of Macedonia, Pierus and with Pierus she created the beautiful Hyacinth, the lover of Greek god Apollo.
Clio is often depicted dressed in purple with laurels on her hair, in the one hand holding a cornet and in the other a book, the book Cleio used to write history. At her feet was the box of history.
Euterpe, also-called “Giver of Pleasure”, was the Muse of Music
Euterpe was the Muse of music, song and melancholic poetry. She was the third born of the Nine Muses. She was a source of inspiration to poets, dramatists and authors. She is said to have invented the flute and other wind instruments.
Euterpe is depicted with a laurel-crowned, playing or holding a flute, with musical instruments and texts next to her. When the Greek river Strymon once lived with Euterpe, she brought to life a son with the name Rhesus.
Erato – Muse of lyric poetry
Erato was the Muse of lyric poetry, this included love and erotic poetry and songs. She was the fourth Muse. Her name means ‘desired’.
She is often shown wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses. She sometimes holds a lyre, or a small kithara. Other times she may be holding an arrow. This is because she is connected to Eros, a Greek god of love and passion.
Love and especially erotic love has been a favoured theme of mankind for several thousand years. No wonder Erato was a favorite Muse of many poets. She was the one to turn to, when they wanted to express all their passionate feelings for a loved one.
Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy
Melpomene is Muse of tragedy and the fifth. She used to accompany Apollo. Her name means ‘singer’ or ‘to celebrate with dance and song’. According to the traditions and beliefs of the Ancient Greeks a dramatist writing a tragedy play would invoke the aid of Melpomene to guide and assist him in his work.
She was the first muse to represent song and then became the patron of Tragedy. She is usually depicted holding the tragic actor’s mask, sometimes with a knife or club in her other hand, and wearing a crown of cypress or grape wines. Cypress was a symbol of sorrow. Cypress trees were planted near graves to ward off evil spirits. Even the coffins were made from the wood of cypress. She is often represented with a tragic mask and wearing the cothurnus, boots that were traditionally worn by actors in Greek tragedies.
- Polyhymnia – Muse of sacred Hymns, Geometry and Agriculture
Polyhymnia was the Muse of sacred hymns, geometry and agriculture. She was the sixth of the Nine Muses. Her name means ‘One of many hymns’. She is presented as a beautiful and solemn Muse. She was often seen holding one finger up towards her mouth. She was learned and reflected.
Some also credit her to be the Muse of meditation. Sometimes she is shown wearing a veil. She could help people understand the meaning of life and get in touch with their religious side. Her symbol is a veil which was used to cover the head and implies the traits of a virgin priestess.
Terpsichore Muse of Dance
Terpsichore was the Muse of dance and the seventh born of the Nine Muses. Her name means ‘One who delights in dancing’. She is also referred as ‘Whirler of the Dance’. Dancing was such a huge part of the life of Greeks, it is easy to understand that she was popular with the majority of the citizens.
The strange thing is that Terpsichore is most often shown sitting down, maybe resting after dance. As some of her sisters, she too often wears a laurel wreath. She is shown with a lyre.
Thalia, the Muse of Comedy and Pastoral Poetry
Thalia was the Muse of comedy and the eighth among the Nine Muses. She can be interpreted in several ways – ‘The Luxurious One’, ‘She Who Flourishes’, ‘She Who Brings Flowers’, ‘Luxurious Growth’ are some of them, all encompassing ideas of growth and blooming.
She was also protector of Symposiums. Thalia, as the muse of comedy was associated with the mask of comedy and the comedic ‘socks’. She would often wear an ivy wreath and is depicted with a bugle and a trumpet (used to support the actors’ voices in ancient comedy) or occasionally a shepherd’s staff. Her symbol was a comic mask.
Ivy was a symbol of true friendship and love. Ivy was also associated with the joy of living. The Muse Thalia was loved and truly made people happy. She was a cheerful and fun-loving Muse.
Though she presided over comedy and pastoral but she is also the ‘country girl’ among the nine muses. She loves to traipse about meadows and forests and rural places. That’s why she carries the shepherd’s crook, as well.
Urania – Muse of astronomy
Urania was the Muse of astronomy and the youngest of the Nine Muses. Her name means ‘the heavenly’. Urania wears a star crown. She holds a globe and sometimes also a compass or a pointing stick. She was a master of star interpretations and could predict the future. Urania was the one to turn when trying to figure out a person’s astrology chart.
Urania is also the expert on astronomy. She knows every position of the stars and planet and is associated with the mystical side of life.
God Apollo or Apollon
Greek God Apollo or Apollon was one of the greatest Olympian Gods in Ancient Greece and the only one to appear with the same name in both Greek and Roman mythology. God Apollo, the god of sun, music, poetry, archery, healing and justice
He was the son of Zeus and Leto. He had many functions: he was the god of poetry, prophecy, arts and music, archery, and also of medical healing.
Also associated with the care of herds and crops, Apollo was a sun god of great antiquity, yet he is represented as an ever youthful god, just, wise and of great beauty. He has been the subject of many great paintings and statues throughout the ages. Apollo was well loved among the gods. This is said that he Apollo was fed on nectar and ambrosia and quickly grew to manhood.
In order to understand other works of art in the Muses’ Bower it is important to know a bit of background of each Hero and may be some basic story about it as well.
Cupid and Psyche
The story of Cupid and Psyche is one of the fantastic stories featured in ancient mythology and legends. This can be said to be a doorway to enter the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
This is a story of love and passion. It concerns the overcoming of obstacles to the love between Psyche (Soul or Breath of Life) and Cupid (Greek: Eros-Meaning Desire of Love). Cupid appears in classical Greek art as a slender, winged youth. Psyche is often represented with butterfly wings, and the butterfly, a symbol of the soul, is her frequent attribute.
The fame of Psyche’s beauty threatened to eclipse that of Aphrodite (Latin: Venus) herself, so she sent her son Cupid to work her revenge. Cupid was enamoured of Psyche, and arranged for her to be in his palace. He visited her by night, warning her not to try to look upon him, Psyche’s envious sisters convinced her that her lover must be a hideous monster, and she finally introduced a lamp into their chamber to see him, Startled by his beauty, she dropped hot oil from the lamp and wakened him. He abandoned her. She wandered the earth looking for him, and finally submitted to the service of Aphrodite (Venus), who tortured her. The goddess then sent Psyche on a series of quests. Each time she despaired, she was given divine aid. On her final task, she was to retrieve a dose of beauty from the queen of the underworld. She succeeded, but on the way back she opened the box in the hope of benefiting from it herself. She fell into a deep sleep. Cupid found her in this state, and revived her by returning the sleep to the box. Jupiter then granted her immortality so the couple be wed as equals. The story is often presented as an allegory of love overcoming death.
Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides
Hercules is best known as the strongest of all mortals, and even stronger than many gods. He was the deciding factor in the triumphant victory of the Olympians over the giants. He was the last mortal son of Zeus, and the only man born of a mortal woman to become a God upon his death.
Hera, the wife of Zeus, knew that Hercules was her husband’s illegitimate son and sought to destroy him. The demi-god, who suffered like mortals and who could make a mess of things in life just as easily as any man or woman but perform deeds no mortal could, had great appeal for the people of Greece and Rome. Hercules was a kind of super-powered every man who suffered disappointments, had bad days – even bad years.
Hercules was a young, successful hero, married and, in time, with three strong sons. Hera could not tolerate the situation and so sent upon him a madness in which he killed his children and even his wife. He continued in his rage until Athena knocked him out with a stone and, when he realised what he had done, he was overwhelmed with grief. Theseus convinced him that it would be cowardly and that he must find a way to atone for his sins. Hercules consulted the Oracle at Delphi, who told him to attach himself to his cousin Eurystheus, King of Tiryns and Mycenae, who would devise tasks to expiate his sins, the total number of these tasks were twelve, such as to kill Hydra or to capture Cerynitian Hind etc. One of the task among these twelve was to bring back the Golden Apples of Hesperides. The story goes; En route to the sacred grove where the apples grew, Hercules found Prometheus bound to his rock and set him free. Prometheus was grateful and told him that the apples were guarded by a dragon named Ladon who could not be conquered, and so Hercules should try to get the titan Atlas, who held up the earth and heavens on his shoulders, to get the apples for him. When Hercules reached the grove, Atlas agreed to help, but Hercules would have to shoulder the weight of the world while Atlas went to get the apples. Hercules accepted the load and Atlas got the apples. When he returned, however, Atlas did not want to take the weight back and was going to leave Hercules in his place. Hercules cheerfully agreed to stay and hold up the universe but asked Atlas if he could take the weight again for just one moment so that he could adjust his cloak to cushion his shoulders. Atlas took back the universe and Hercules picked up the apples and left.
The plate in Muses’ Bower shows Hercules sitting in the Gardens of Hesperides from where he stole the golden apples.
Friendship Consoling Affliction
An allegory is the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters or figures in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form. A weeping veiled woman is tented to and comforted by another, in an apparent lower position. Though fashioned in the manner of classical characters, this design is drawn from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
Adriane and Dionysus
Dionysus, the Greek God of wine married Ariadne, the Princess of Crete. Adriane had helped the legendary hero Theseus to escape from a labyrinth on the isle of Naxos, after which he abandoned her. Dionysus carries a staff called Thyrsus. In the bas relief, the romantic nature of their meeting is confirmed by Erotes hovering above them. He is accompanied by three panthers, which are also sacred to him.
Pegasus being presented by Belleraphon to the Muses
The myth of Pegasus and Bellerophontes has a particular place in Greek Mythology because it speaks about betrayal and loyalty, dreams and expectations, coincidences and chances, and all that through a story that has more juicy parts beforehand and aftermath than in the actual story of those two.
Pegasus was a winged divine stallion. Whenever Pegasus struck his hoof to the earth, an inspiring spring burst forth. One of these spring, used by the Muses, was called the Hippocrene (horse spring). Pegasus has become a symbol of poetry and the creator of sources from which poets draw inspiration. Pegasus was later presented to the Muses by Belleraphon who watered and tended to him.
Bellerophontes or Bellerophon was a great equestrian, a young man from Corinth, whose biggest dream was to have Pegasus for himself. Although Bellerophontes is supposed to be the son of King Glaucus of Corinth, there were rumors that his father was actually Poseidon, the God of the Sea. In the latter case, that would mean that Pegasus and Bellerophontes were brothers via their father.
Nausicaa meets Odysseus
Odysseus was shipwrecked. Princess Nausicca and her maids came upon him naked and unkempt . He begged her to give him some food and clothing and to show him the way to the town. Nausicca is a symbol of love never expressed.
A visit to La Martiniere would be some what incomplete without a visit to Muses’ Bower and proper interpretation. This place is covered in great detail through our experience : La Martiniere Decoded. In this experience we explore not only this, but many other hidden corners of La Martiniere.