Attributed to Sir James Thornhill, 1675–1734, British, Allegory of the Power of Great Britain by Sea, design for a decorative panel for George I’s ceremonial coach, ca. 1720, Oil on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
If you’ve been to Oxford you’ll probably have noticed the statues of the Muses which sit on top of the Clarendon Building:
Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was built in 1712-1713 to be the home of @oupacademic until we took it over. In 1717 Sir James Thornhill designed and made nine lead figures of the muses to be installed on its roof.
In Greek mythology the nine muses were ethereal beings who protected the arts, but that wasn’t enough to save them from the Oxfordshire winds. Because the statues were not secured properly, the muses Euterpe - representing music and song - and Melpomene - representing tragedy - fell and shattered.
The missing muses were not replaced until 1974, when fibreglass replicas were made by Richard Kindersley from the original drawings.
The launch of Delcourt’s English language books is the perfect opportunity to discover some new favorites. Christophe Bec’s Prométhée #1 sets the stage for a particularly intriguing story, opening with Spanish conquistadors in the year 1513 discovering the wreckage of a spacecraft. Bec goes on to introduce a cast of seemingly disparate 21st century characters, each at the precipice of a significant event as the UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) reaches 13:13.
Clearly, the Prometheus myth is the key to unlocking the enigma of time and the number 13 in this book. With the myth’s conflict between the darkness of mortality and the illumination of divinity, culminating in the bitter consequences a creator must suffer for his mistakes, Prometheus has served as a thematic framework or plot device for many modern stories (check out the graphic novel adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or puzzle over the Prometheus Gambit in kierongillen and Jamie mckelvie’s The Wicked and the Divine).
In Prométhée #1, the tale of the Titan is presented in a gorgeous interlude. If some of these panels seem familiar, somewhere your old art history professor is smiling. You may recognize the artwork of William Blake, Goya, Sir James Thornhill, Ingres, Dirk van Baburen, and Rodin. (Extra credit if you noticed the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon!) Referencing these iconic works from the Western canon is an elegant way for Bec to infuse the story with a sense of familiarity and timelessness, and it’s one of my favorite things about this time-bending mystery.
Sir James Thornhill. The West Wall of the Painted Hall, depicting George I surrounded by his family, the future George II standing beside Naval Victory, and the self portrait of the artist. ca. 1707-1727.