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Judith in Santo Sospir

25 Oct
There is a long story here.

Villa Santo Sospir, St Jean Cap Ferrat, France

Jacque Cocteau –  poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker – was enchanted by the Villa Santo Sospir, the vacation home of his friends Alec and Francine Weisweiller.   When first invited there as a guest in 1948, the walls of the villa were empty and Cocteau asked Francine if he could draw the head of Apollo in charcoal above the fireplace in the lounge.
And the drawing continued through the summer of 1950, with frescoes inspired by Greek mythology and allusions to the Riviera.   Cocteau worked without any preliminary drafts – drawing in charcoal, then enhancing the drawings with color diluted in raw milk for a tempera frescoes.   Cocteau wrote: “you should not dress up the walls, they drew on their skin, so I dealt with frescoes linearly with the few colors that enhance the tattoos. Santo is a villa Sospir tattooed. “

After finishing the walls of the villa, he painted the ceilings in soft tones of pastel.  He then made two mosaics for the patio entrance: two faces and a snake on the threshold, the head of Orpheus on the left wall.   And finally three years later, Cocteau made the Aubusson tapestry Judith and Holofernes for the bare wall of the dining room – based on a 1948 design he executed in pastel on cardboard at his home in Milly-la-Foret. (1)

Jean Cocteau, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1948, pastel on cardboard, Jean Cocteau Severin Wunderman Museum, Menton, France

Not surprisingly, Cocteau was known to employ symbolism in his work.  Fish, fishermen, water, and sea symbolism are pervasive emblems, as well as shapes that look like Runic or Egyptian letter “M” that resembles the alchemical sign for water.   The name of this rune is “Dagaz,” which in many ancient languages means  “fish.”    In many other ancient languages, the syllable “Dag” or “Dagaz” means “day.”   And it is this rune that is incorporated  in his tapestry of Judith and Holophernes, his drawing of Her Majesty Queen Cleopatra, his Portrait of Raymond Radiguet, all over the Chapel of Saint Peter, and probably in many other places. (2)

(Post Script:  this drawing is located in the Jean Cocteau Museum – newly opened November 2011)

And now that I have referenced his use of symbolism, that is as far as I can venture into alchemy.  I am much more comfortable with discussing interior design and Jungian archetypes.

Jean Cocteau, Dining room, 1948-51, Aubusson tapestry, Villa Santo-Sospir, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France

Jean Cocteau, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1951, Aubusson tapestry, Villa Santo-Sospir, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France

Qhat I see in Cocteau’s Judith is a triumph and a trial.   The trophy head, hidden in the robe, as Judith tiptoes past the sleeping army.    She seems cat-like in her tiger print drape, in her pointed facial features, in her stealth.   She appears to be from another world – a separate creature from the Assyrians.  And so she walks toward the viewer, away from the darkness and into the dawn with power and success at her side.

Bon appetite?

(1) Villa Santo Sospir
(2) Tracy R. Twyman, Jean Cocteau: Man of the 20th Century, Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, 1998

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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Glory

 

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