Aug 162017

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


By Doug Briscoe

The most famous member of the Carracci family of artists was Annibale, whose birthday is coming up in November. We’ve already acknowledged Annibale’s cousin Lodovico, and today is the birthday of his elder brother Agostino Carracci (16 August 1557 – 22 March 1602). As a teenager Agostino worked as an engraver reproducing paintings of such masters as Tintoretto, Veronese, and Correggio. Active in Venice and Parma as well as in his hometown of Bologna, he joined his brother in Rome in 1598 to collaborate on decorations for the Palazzo Farnese. All the stamps I could find for Agostino are very recent—the one from Italy, showing Madonna and Child with Saints (1586), was issued in 2014, and the ones from Madagascar in the next year. The first of these is The Flood (1616-18). The painting on the heart-shaped stamp is of mythological lovers I was alas unable to identify. Speaking of lovers, I found that Agostino is believed to have provided the illustrations for an erotic book called I Modi (The Ways). The original publication was destroyed by the Catholic Church, but a second edition with (Agostino’s?) copies of the images survives. Every salacious drawing can be seen on the book’s clinically detailed Wikipedia page. Enjoy!


The Russian illustrator and stage designer Ivan Bilibin (16 August [O.S. 4 August] 1876 – 7 February 1942) is perhaps best remembered for his enchanting drawings of Slavic legends, which have twice been sampled on stamps of the Soviet Union. Born in the area of St. Petersburg, he studied under Ilya Repin and in Munich. In 1899 he published three volumes of illustrations of Russian folk tales and was working for a number of magazines. In 1904 he issued a well-researched study of Folk Arts of the Russian North. In that year he began his long career as a theater designer, working in the years to come with Diaghilev, Pavlova, and Fokine as well as providing scenery and costumes for productions of numerous mostly Russian operas, one of which was the 1909 première of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel). Bilibin’s earlier book illustration for the story is on the 20 kopek value stamp from a 1969 set of five, which I show complete. I also offer one stamp from a large sheet issued in 1984. It depicts the witch Baba Yaga from the story “Vasilisa the Beautiful”.

Georgian composer Zakaria Paliashvili (pahl-yahsh-VEE-lee, 1871 – October 6, 1933) is thought of as the forerunner of Georgian classical music. He was third in a family of eighteen, studied under Taneyev in Moscow, and on returning home began collecting Georgian folk songs. He was a co-founder of the Georgian Philharmonic Society (where he worked without pay for several years), and was named head of the Tbilisi Conservatory. I first encountered his name with the release on Deutsche Grammophon LPs of a Soviet recording of Paliashvili’s opera Absalom and Eteri (1919). He wrote two other operas, a Mass, a Georgian Suite for orchestra, choral music, and many arrangements of traditional songs.

Luxembourg-born Hugo Gernsback (August 16, 1884 – August 19, 1967) was one of the pioneers of science fiction. Born Hugo Gernsbacher to a Jewish family, he came to the United States in 1904 and founded the world’s first electronics and radio magazine, Modern Electrics, in 1908. He was also an inventor who started a New York radio station (WRNY) in 1925. Of greater importance to the history of science fiction, he started the first magazine devoted to the subject, Amazing Stories, in 1926. On the debit side, Gernsback wrote three novels considered by those in the know to be awful and was a terrible skinflint who underpaid his writers or didn’t pay them at all. H. P. Lovecraft was said to have called him “Hugo the Rat”. But on the plus side, his magazine was not only a catalyst for young talent but also an incubator for the formation of SF societies through its letters column. The most cherished SF award remains the “Hugo”.


Jacinto Guerrero y Torres (1895 – 15 September 1951) was an enormously prolific composer of zarzuelas and other works for the stage, about 200 of them altogether, along with film music. This Spanish stamp, from a series honoring zarzuela composers and their works, is what we philatelists call a “se-tenant” issue, that is, two different designs issued side-by-side. It refers to one of his better-known works, La rosa del azafrán (The Saffron Rose, 1930).

Just the other day I presented a Titanic stamp in honor of the late James Horner, who wrote the music for the blockbuster James Cameron film. Today is Cameron’s birthday (born August 16, 1954 ). I have to say I admire his craft, his keen intelligence, his enormous talent, and his mastery of the tools with which he works, as well as his politics, but I gather he is an insufferable asshole. Horner refused to work with him for ten years after collaborating on Aliens (which I must say I think is a masterpiece). Obviously they patched it up, since Horner not only wrote the score for Titanic (1997) but also for Avatar (2009). Born in Ontario, Cameron, who has lived in the U.S. since 1971, applied for American citizenship but backed out when W. won the 2004 election. I don’t suppose he’ll be giving up his Canadian citizenship in the near future. Rather than reprise the Titanic stamp so soon, I proffer an associated pair from Togo for Aliens (1986). (The third stamp from the set is a portrait of Sigourney Weaver, and we’ll save that one for her birthday in October.)


We wish a happy birthday to Irish actress Evanna Lynch (born 1991), whose character Luna Lovegood is one of those chosen for the U.S. Harry Potter film issue that came out in 2013.

Slovenian actress of stage and screen Elvira Kralj (16 August 1900 – 6 September 1978) was born in Trieste and was treading the boards at the age of nine. In the coming years she played a wide variety of types. After World War II, in which she lost two of her three brothers to the fighting in Greece, she appeared in her first film, a Soviet one. She also had a role in the first Slovene sound feature film, On Our Own Land (1948). (The first Slovenian feature had been a silent made in 1928-29.) In addition to her work in film and theater, she also performed on radio and television.

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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