The Arts on the Stamps of the World — March 29

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


By Doug Briscoe

Although March 29 can boast no stellar figures of the stature of a Shakespeare or a Rembrandt, it offers us some worthy artists with fascinating histories and/or personalities. (And both Shakespeare and Rembrandt will be worked into the article.) It so happens that three of our birthday subjects today are of Greek descent, and we examine the work of Czech and Dutch painters and wish a happy birthday to Eric Idle and two actresses best known for their work on hit TV shows.

A Greek contemporary of Shakespeare and Cervantes, Vitsentzos Kornaros (March 29, 1553 – 1613/1614) came from Crete. The Venetian family of Cornaro were his forebears. Despite his importance to the Cretans, who see him as their greatest poet, I could find only one obliquely related stamp for him, and that erroneously. It portrays the actress Katina Paxinou in her role in the play Abraham’s Sacrifice, which was thought to be by Kornaros, but recent research indicates he was not the author. He did write the epic poem Erotokritos, considered his masterpiece. His brother Andrea was also a writer.

Another compelling figure from the byways of the arts is the German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas (29 March 1802 – 29 May 1858). He came from seven generations of painters and engravers resident in Augsburg. Fascinated by the Brazilian illustrations of Thomas Ender and the travel writing of German naturalists in the tropics, he followed in Ender’s footsteps to Brazil in 1821 and was soon hired to join an important expedition put together by the Russian naturalist Baron von Langsdorff. The two men couldn’t get along, and Rugendas left the group, but he stayed in Brazil for several years, making many drawings and watercolors before returning to Europe. There he began work on his massive Voyage Pittoresque dans le Brésil, published between 1827 and 1835. In the meantime, Rugendas’s wanderlust drew him back to the Americas, and for over a dozen years he traversed Haiti, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Bolivia before ending up back in Rio de Janeiro in 1845. There he was celebrated by the court and painted portraits of the members of its circle. The last dozen years of his life were spent in Europe. King Maximilian II of Bavaria gave him a life pension in exchange for most of his works. The 1992 Brazilian stamp comes from a set that commemorates the 170th anniversary of Langsdorff’s expedition, with the other stamps portraying Langsdorff himself and the two painters who replaced Rugenas after their falling out. I assume, but cannot confirm, that the watercolor of a ring-tailed lemur is the work of Rugendas. Argentine writer César Aira produced a novel about Rugendas in 2000 called An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter.

Julius Eduard Mařák (MAR-zhahk; 29 March 1832 – 8 October 1899) was much less of a traveler than Rugendas, seemingly never ranging farther from his Czech home than Vienna, where he taught in the 1850s, and the Balkans and Tyrolia. He was primarily a landscape painter and graphic designer, so his Hradčany Castle is slightly uncharacteristic. More in keeping with his subject matter is Landscape with swamp from the early 1880s. A better picture of this along with other examples of Mařák’s work can be seen here.

Swiss-born Adolfo Müller-Ury (March 29, 1862 – July 6, 1947) painted a great many portraits of famous nineteenth-century people as well as impressionist paintings of roses and other still lifes. He seems to have had a particular interest in opera singers: among his subjects were Emma Calvé, Marcella Sembrich, and Frances Alda, though these paintings are all now lost, Pol Plançon, Lina Cavalieri, and Nellie Melba. He also painted four American Presidents, Grant, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wilson. The only piece of his I could find on a stamp, though, is his portrait of US Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Born Felice Adolfo Müller in southern Switzerland to a family that could trace its lineage back to Charlemagne, Müller-Ury studied in Munich, Rome, and Paris. He first came to America in 1884 and divided his time between the US and Europe for the next sixty years, most of that time living in New York and dying there at age 85.

The prolific German writer and centenarian Ernst Jünger (29 March 1895 – 17 February 1998) was best known for the earliest of his fifty books, a memoir of World War I called Storm of Steel (1920), one of the first such books to appear after the war. He was wounded seven times in that war, highly decorated, and pursued his loves of entomology (by collecting beetles in the trenches, later earning renown in that science) and photography (by capturing many images of fallen soldiers). A complex individual, Jünger would seem to be the paragon of Prussian militarism and conservatism. He saw the war experience as mystical and character-forming, he detested democracy, and he is credited with the odious expression “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” though its continuation is seldom heard: “…and what kills me makes me incredibly strong.” And yet he repeatedly turned down every request—and there were a lot of them—to serve in the Nazi hierarchy, and he quit his regiment when Jews were expelled from it. He did serve in an administrative capacity as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht during the occupation of Paris, where on the one hand he socialized with Picasso and Cocteau and on the other was responsible for executing deserters and was morbidly obsessed with how they faced death (remember the WWI photos?). Jünger was peripherally connected with the Stauffenberg bomb plot to assassinate Hitler, but faced no other penalty than dismissal from the service. His son, meanwhile, was arrested and imprisoned for a year for unrelated subversive activities and was killed in a penal battalion in Italy. After a post-war period in limbo while the Allies sorted out his loyalties, eventually deciding that his nationalism was not National Socialism, he went on to a position of highly respected litterateur. A mass of contradictions, Jünger remained a thoroughgoing conservative who abandoned political writing after the war, a precursor of magic realism (in his 1957 novel The Glass Bees), an experimenter with cocaine, hashish, and LSD, and a convert to Catholicism at the age of 101.


Time for another Monty Python member to be wished a happy birthday. The greatly gifted Eric Idle was born on 29 March 1943, exactly the same day as our next artist.

The Greek musician known as Vangelis (born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou) is probably most famous for his score to the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire (1981). He also wrote the music for Blade Runner and Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series Cosmos. Besides these and his other pop music and film scores, Vangelis has written three ballets: R.B. Sque (pronounced “arabesque”, 1983), Frankenstein – Modern Prometheus (1985), and Beauty and the Beast (1986), the last having been described as “melodic, Tchaikovsky-like…mostly romantic.”

British-American actress Marina Sirtis (born 29 March 1955) is also of Greek heritage. She is best known for playing the role of Counselor Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless, meanwhile, is most famous for her lead role in the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001). Both are represented on international stamps seeking to cash in on the popularity of the programs.

I reserved Dutch painter and engraver Jacob de Gheyn II for last only because today is not his birthday, but rather the day on which he died in 1629. Born around 1565 in Antwerp, he moved about the Netherlands, first to Haarlem, then Leiden, and was patronized by the wealthy for his engravings. After 1600 he concentrated on painting and etching (some 1500 drawings survive) and was employed by royalty in the Hague from 1605. Rembrandt painted his son Jacob de Gheyn III. It may seem odd that both of the stamps I could find showing his work come from Czechoslovakia. Oddly enough, the stamps were issued in consecutive years, 1982-83. I assume both originals are held in Czech museums.

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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  1. Jeanne Ommerle on March 29, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Another great day!

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