Aug 072017

An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.


By Doug Briscoe

Six men of the arts grace our page today, though none of them is what you might call a household name.

The great work of Spanish nobleman Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga (August 7, 1533 – November 29, 1594) is his epic poem La Araucana, a record of the conflict with the Araucanian or Mapuche people of Chile during their insurrection, which began in 1553, following some years of Spanish expansion into Chile from Peru. The poem of 37 cantos in three volumes (published 1569, 1578, and 1589) begins with an admirably detailed and accurate history in which Ercilla pays high tribute to the courage and tenacity of the native people, not neglecting the proud acts of his countrymen. The second and third parts are more fanciful and incidental. La Araucana is admired by many scholars as one of the finest long poems of the age. Ercilla, born in Madrid, was the son of a lady-in-waiting who himself became a royal page to Prince Philip (later Philip II). He saw much of Europe in his youth and was present at the marriage of Philip to England’s Queen Mary. During those festivities he met the conquistador Jerónimo de Alderete, eagerly accompanied him to Peru, and distinguished himself in the campaign. He began writing his epic poem on site.

The Swede Georg Stiernhielm (August 7, 1598 – April 22, 1672) was a pioneer of linguistics, though much of his work was later refuted. He earns a place here for his poetry. Stiernhelm was apparently the first to employ ancient verse meters in Swedish, and he wrote the first significant book of poetry in that language, Musæ Suethizantes (1668), though his masterpiece is an epic poem in hexameter on the legend of Hercules. Born Göran Olofsson to a well-to-do family, he was educated at Uppsala and in Germany and the Netherlands. He served as master of Swedish archives and was ennobled in 1631, adopting the name Stiernhelm at that time. He lived for twenty years in a manor house in Estonia and was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1669.

The Austrian painter Johann Nepomuk della Croce (7 August 1736 – 4 March 1819) is remembered today mainly for his family portrait of the Mozarts, dated around 1780, though it has been estimated that he painted some 5000 (!) others along with numerous Bavarian altarpieces and 200 historical pictures. In what has been hailed as one of the truest likenesses of the great composer, we see Mozart at the keyboard with his sister Maria Anna and father Leopold, with a portrait of his late mother Anna Maria on the wall behind them.


The place where painter Emil Nolde was born was Danish until three years before his birth, when it was annexed by Prussia, so Nolde (7 August 1867 – 13 April 1956) is most aptly described as German-Danish. His birth name was Emil Hansen, and he took the name Nolde from a little village near his birthplace (today it’s in Denmark again). He was something of a late bloomer, beginning in carving and illustrating, studying further in Karlsruhe, and teaching drawing in St. Gallen, Switzerland before finally becoming an independent artist at the age of 31. He was one of the earliest Expressionists and was briefly a member of the groups Die Brücke and the Berlin Secession. Nolde was a very early supporter of Nazism, having joined the Danish arm of the organization in the early 1920s, but he was in for a rude awakening when his work was dismissed as “degenerate” and officially condemned. More of Nolde’s works—over a thousand of them—were removed from museums than those of any other artist, and some of them were shown in the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937. One of these was the triptych Life of Christ (1911-12), from which the centerpiece appears on one of the pair of stamps from the Congo. (The other one is In the Lemon Garden.) Nolde was forbidden to paint, even privately, after 1941; nevertheless, he persisted (if I may be permitted the phrase), producing hundreds of watercolors in secret. These pieces, which he called “Unpainted Pictures”, were not known until after his death. It’s not clear to me whether he recanted his earlier political views, but in the decade remaining to him after the war he was honored and even awarded the the German Order of Merit.

Another Expressionist artist was the Estonian Nikolai Triik (7 August 1884 – 12 August 1940), who was born and died in Tallinn. He attended the Saint Petersburg Art and Industry Academy, but was expelled for his support of the 1905 Revolution. He married into money and spent some time in Paris with his first wife, where he undertook further study. Later he was named head of the Fine Arts department at the Estonian Ministry of Education. The stamp shows his 1910 painting in tempera and pastels Lennuk—the inspiration comes from the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg. Lennuk is the name of the ship of the legend’s hero.

Croatian composer Vlaho Paljetak (7 August 1893 – 2 October 1944) was born in Dubrovnik. A violinist and teacher, Paljetak also taught himself guitar and aspired to become an operatic tenor. He made about sixty recordings and as a composer wrote mostly songs.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a B.A. in English, Doug Briscoe worked in Boston classical music radio, at WCRB, WGBH, and WBUR, for about 25 years, beginning in 1977. He has the curious distinction of having succeeded Robert J. Lurtsema twice, first as host of WGBH’s weekday morning classical music program in 1993, then as host of the weekend program when Robert J.’s health failed in 2000. Doug also wrote liner notes for several of the late Gunther Schuller’s GM Recordings releases as well as program notes for the Boston Classical Orchestra. For the past few years he’s been posting a Facebook “blog” of classical music on stamps of the world, which has now been expanded to encompass all the arts for The Arts Fuse.


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