An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Moss Hart, Tito Gobbi, and Denise Levertov are among our birthday honorees for this October 24. With one exception, we’ll present them all in the order of their birth.
Andrea della Robbia (October 24, 1435 – August 4, 1525) came from a family of sculptors and workers in ceramics. His uncle, Luca della Robbia, who will receive fuller treatment below (he’s the exception to our chronology), was expert at the use of glazed terra-cotta for sculpture. Andrea studied with and surpassed him. Not only did he proceed on a larger scale but also adapted the technique for use in friezes, fountains, and large retables, etc. An example is the set of ten architectural reliefs he created for the spandrels in the façade of the foundling hospital in his native Florence. The pieces, seen here in context, represent babies in swaddling clothes. Four of the designs were selected for a set of stamps issued by the Vatican and can be seen not only in our collage but also here, in detail, in their original coloration. Stamps from Ireland and Liechenstein show two of della Robbia’s Madonnas, as do the stamps in the next row, the first two of which, from New Zealand and the US, use the identical piece in their Christmas designs (stamps of 1980 and 1978 respectively). This is Virgin, Child and Three Cherubim in enameled terracotta. I decided to juxtapose another US Christmas stamp (1985) using a della Robbia, only this time one by Andrea’s uncle Luca (1399/1400-1482). Since we remain ignorant of Luca’s birthday and the date of his death, I thought we may as well include him today. He, too, was born in Florence; he served under Brunelleschi, his first known commission (1431-38) being the Cantoria, known as the “Singing Gallery”, for the organ loft of the cathedral. He worked on this for seven years, and at the top of the next collage is a gorgeous block of three from the Vatican showing sections from it; the stamp at left reproduces this segment. Below that we show one from a set of four stamps from St. Lucia showing Luca della Robbia’s Madonna with the Lilies, which can be seen at the MFA. As an extra treat, here’s Andrea della Robbia’s charming Fanciullo of 1475.
The birthday of our next subject, Gabriël Metsu, is also unknown, but we know he died on this day in 1667. Born during the year 1629 in Leiden, the Netherlands, he was the child of a father who was a painter and tapestry worker and a mother who was the widow of another painter. His own marriage made Metsu the son-in-law of the painter Maria de Grebber (1602-1680). (Since we don’t know her precise dates, either, and there appear to be no stamps showing her work, what the heck, here’s a link to one of her portraits.) The cause of Metsu’s death at age 38 is not specified. The Dutch stamp offers his genre picture The Sick Child (c1660-65), also seen on an issue from Ajman. Two paintings that strongly suggest Vermeer (whose birthday is a week from today) appear on stamps from Ireland: Man Writing a Letter and Woman Reading a Letter (both from c1664-66). A detail from the latter also shows up on a Dutch stamp. Another picture called Man Writing a Letter, but an altogether different canvas, was chosen for a stamp from Burundi, and two works quite similar to each other are on display on stamps from the Soviet Union (Girl at Work) and East Germany (The Lacemaker of 1661-64). For those who can’t get enough Metsu, here are two musical canvases: Lady at a Virginal (c1660-67) and A Young Woman Composing Music and a Curious Man (c1662-63).
A year after Metsu died, German-speaking Czech painter Petr Brandl (October 24, 1668 – September 24, 1735) was born. To his brush can be ascribed portraits, genre pictures, and works based on the Bible and mythology. His works are little known in the West, but are being reassessed since the fall of Communism. He is remembered on a Czech stamp with his Self-Portrait of 1700. One of his religious pieces is this Assumption of Mary.
A slightly younger contemporary artist, active in nearby Austria, was the Italian architect Donato Felice d’Allio (October 24, 1677 – May 6, 1761). He came to Vienna at about the age of 20 and was later active in military construction. Among his efforts are the 1730-40 remodeling for Klosterneuberg Abbey and a refurbished palace for a member of the noble Batthyány family at Körmend (c1730-45). It is this building that you can see on the 1986 Hungarian stamp.
The Spanish composer Ramón Carnicer (October 24, 1789 – March 17, 1855) was best known in his day as an opera composer and conductor in Barcelona and Madrid. He taught composition for a quarter-century (1830-54) at the Madrid Conservatory. He also wrote sacred music and songs, along with a small number of instrumental works, including a couple of symphonies and an overture for the 1818 Barcelona première of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. (You may recall that Rossini did not write an overture for that opera, simply reusing pieces from two old ones. Later, Carnicer wrote a second overture for the same opera.) Nowadays, however, Carnicer is remembered for something quite unexpected. Having been exiled for his liberal ideas to England, Carnicer found himself approached one day by the Chilean ambassador in London with a request for music to a new national anthem. Carnicer complied, and the anthem was adopted in 1828. (The original text was replaced in 1847 with new words written by Eusebio Lillo.) So it came to pass that Carnicer is the composer of the national anthem of Chile, although to the best of my knowledge he never set foot there. He is pictured (at right) with Lillo on the stamp, which marks the centenary in 1947 of the new text.
The birth date of Moldavian-Romanian neoclassicist artist Gheorghe Tattarescu (1818 – October 24, 1894) remains uncertain, although French Wikipedia cites October 1st, so I decided to defer his inclusion until today, the anniversary of his death. Tattarescu started out as an assistant to his uncle, a church painter, and was sponsored by a local bishop for a scholarship in Rome. Tatterescu took part in the revolutionary activity of 1848 in Wallachia and, while visiting Paris, painted portraits of a number of his fellow revolutionaries in exile. In 1860 he was commissioned to put together a National Album of works showing the features of the Romanian landscape. Four years later he was a co-founder with Theodor Aman of the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. In 1954, Romania issued a stamp for the 60th anniversary of his death, using his Self-Portrait of 1875. This also featured as the last item in a 1979 set of six Tattarescu paintings. The others are Lady in a Garden, Mountain Woman, Mountain Man, Portrait of Gheorghe Magheru (one of the aforementioned revolutionaries), and The Artist’s Daughter.
Now we come to the interesting case of Marianne North (24 October 1830 – 30 August 1890), an English biologist who left a large number of paintings of plants as well as landscapes. She hoped to be a singer, but somehow lost her voice and turned instead to painting flowers. Her father traveled much, and she accompanied him to Syria and the Nile. After his death, she devoted herself to capturing exotic flora with her brush. Her own travels took her to Canada, the United States, Brazil (where she lived for a year), and the far east (Japan, Borneo, Java…), spending a full year in India. On her return to England she exhibited some of her work and donated the entire collection to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, where she also funded a building, now the Marianne North Gallery. Charles Darwin suggested she go to Australia, and for another year she remained there and in New Zealand, continuing her work. Between 1883 and 1885 she was in South Africa, the Seychelles, and Chile. In 1983 the Seychelles issued a lovely set of four of her art works. For the botanists among you, they represent the swamp plant (with moorhen), Wormia flagellaria, Asiatic pancratium, and pitcher plant. Admired for her accuracy, she has had a number of plant species named for North, including another pitcher plant, Nepenthes northiana, also lovingly rendered by the artist in a piece dated c1876. As early as 1884, an entire genus of flowering plants, Northia, was named in her honor.
Yet another visual artist is up next. Konstantin Yuon (or Juon, pron. you-ON; October 24 [O.S. October 12] 1875 – April 11, 1958) was the brother of a noted composer, Paul Juon (1872-1940). His teachers included Konstantin Savitsky, Konstantin Korovin (birthday in December), and Valentin Serov. He visited Paris and observed and to a small extent absorbed the works of the Impressionists. As a teacher he opened Moscow’s first school of painting and drawing besides holding positions at two other Moscow institutes. Yuon also designed theater and opera sets. Two of his 1949 paintings were reproduced in a 1975 set of Soviet stamps, Morning of Industrial Moscow and Parade, Red Square, 1941. An earlier work is View of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra from Vokzalnaya Street, 1911.
Hungarian operetta composer Emmerich (or Imre) Kálmán was born Imre Koppstein in 1882. He had hoped to become a pianist, but suffered from early-onset arthritis and concentrated on composition instead. His fellow students at the Budapest Academy of Music included Bartók and Kodály. After his first operetta was performed at Budapest, he reclocated to Vienna, where he had his greatest successes. I was amazed to learn that despite being Jewish, he was among Hitler’s favorite composers! The Führer even offered to create Kálmán an “honorary Aryan”! Kálmán said no thanks and left for Paris. He settled in California in 1940, but returned to Vienna in 1949, thence again to Paris, where he died on October 30, 1953, six days after his 71st birthday. The second Kálmán stamp pays tribute to the hundredth anniversary of his perennial favorite Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy Princess, 1915).
The Flemish writer Ernest Claes (24 October 1885 in Zichem – 2 September 1968 in Elsene) penned many novels with a regional focus, but is best remembered for the one about a naughty “Peck’s Bad Boy” type known on account of his hair as De Witte (“The White One”). This book, published in 1920, has twice been made into films, De Witte (1934) and De Witte van Sichem (English title Whitey, 1980). Despite its relatively late date, the original version was the first Flemish sound production. Something of a Nazi sympathizer, Claes spent three months in prison after the war but was cleared of any charges.
Well, after all these paragraphs (you’ve been very patient) we come at last to one of today’s Big Stars, American playwright Moss Hart (October 24, 1904 – December 20, 1961), whose triumphs include the Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can’t Take It with You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939), both written with George S. Kaufman, and the screenplays for Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and A Star Is Born (1954). (The Frank Capra adaptation of You Can’t Take It with You took the 1938 Oscar for best film.) After the partnership with Kaufman’s ended, Hart concentrated on directing, notably putting on Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956), for which Hart won a Tony for best director.
20th-century Austrian painter Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (October 24, 1906 – June 10, 1996) was a child of privilege, born in Vienna, and she grew up with all the perks, but being of Jewish descent had to flee the continent after the Anschluss. Her brother remained behind and fell victim to the Holocaust at Auschwitz. She came with her mother to London, where she became the lover and friend of Elias Canetti, of whom she painted a portrait in 1960, and she remained in the city for the rest of her life. She enjoyed, if that’s the word for it, given her self-sufficiency and disdain for commercialism, a major retrospective in 1985. The stamp is quite new, from 2012, and shows Motesiczky’s Self-Portrait with Red Hat (1938).
The blind blues and folk musician Sonny Terry (October 24, 1911 – March 11, 1986) was born Saunders Terrell (or something similar) in Georgia and learned blues harp from his father. He suffered injuries to his eyes and was completely blind by the age of 16. Unable to continue on his father’s farm, he turned to music as a livelihood. His partnership with fellow Piedmont blues singer and guitarist Brownie McGhee began in 1941, by which time, however, Terry had already performed at Carnegie Hall and made recordings, both for the Library of Congress and commercially. Terry also appeared on Broadway in Finian’s Rainbow (1947) and, decades later, in a few movies, The Color Purple among them.
Tito Gobbi (24 October 1913 – 5 March 1984) was a beloved operatic baritone who specialized in the Italian (and Mozartian) repertoire. In view of that, I was surprised to discover that he had also performed a number of times in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. He worked in film from the late 30s to the late 50s, appearing in a 1946 movie of Rossini’s Barber of Seville and in a British drama set in wartime Italy called The Glass Mountain (1949). For another filmed opera, Cavalleria rusticana (1953), Gobbi dubbed the vocals for Anthony Quinn. In the same year he took part in the Callas/di Stefano/de Sabata Tosca, one of the most acclaimed recordings ever made. Gobbi himself said that he had sung the role of Scarpia “nearly a thousand times”. In the 60s he took up stage directing. He retired in 1979 and died in Rome at the age of 70.
Another star of opera, Sena Jurinac (YOOR-i-nahts) was also born on October 24 in what at the time (1921) was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (today Bosnia). Her father was Croatian and her mother Austrian. She was born Srebrenka Jurinac, but changed her name as the suggestion of Karl Böhm’s secretary, who reasoned that “Srebrenka” would be difficult for non-Slavs to pronounce. She was with the Vienna State Opera for almost forty years, from 1944, and thus we see her in one of the stamps issued in 1969 for that organization’s centenary. She was married to the Italian baritone Sesto Bruscantini from 1953 to 1956. She died just five years ago, on November 22, 2011.
One of America’s most admired poets, Denise Levertov (24 October 1923 – 20 December 1997) came from the Essex County, England, her father a Russian Hassidic Jew who not only converted to Christianity but became an Anglican priest. She was well educated at home and decided early on (age 5!) to become a writer. First published in 1940, she worked as a nurse during the Blitz. Her debut volume, The Double Image, came out in 1946. The following year she married the American Mitchell Goodman and emigrated to the United States. Her poetic style changed as she came under the sway of such writers as William Carlos Williams. Levertov lived here in Massachusetts for many years, teaching at Brandeis, MIT, and Tufts. She left Somerville in 1989 for Seattle, where she died, aged 74.
Spanish writer Rafael Azcona (24 October 1926 – 24 March 2008), although also a novelist, was most associated with the Spanish film industry as a much admired screenwriter. His very first screenplay, in fact, was based on his novel El Pisito (The Little Apartment, 1959). He was the main writer on Fernando Trueba’s Belle Époque (1992), which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Azcona’s other collaborators have included Luis García Berlanga.
Today’s last entry is for Chartres Cathedral, which on this date in the year 1260 was dedicated in the presence of French King Louis IX.
Happy birthday to two highly gifted American actors, F. Murray Abraham (born 1939) and Kevin Kline (1947).
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.