The Three Graces, Part 1: in the church

The shot of The Three Graces was on my list of projects for over six years, but I could never get three friends together at the same time.

The Three Graces

Kelsey and René at lunch just after we met.  They were on an excursion from a yoga retreat when they wandered into my Orvieto gallery.

Two beautiful Canadians, Kelsey and Renè walked into my Orvieto Gallery in mid October and looked attentively at the pictures both on the walls and in the racks. This is a good sign when I am looking out for women to model in my pictures. I introduced myself as the author, and we started chatting about the pictures. They were with a group of women on a yoga retreat and I felt that as they were wary of getting separated from the rest there wasn’t time to waste, so after just a few minutes  (I normally keep up the patter for longer) I came out with it, “I think you would really be good in a picture I’ve been planning for some time, The Three Graces!”  They seemed enthusiastic, but said they’d think about it over lunch. We fixed the shoot for 2 days later, Friday 20th.

Tamburino church, Orvieto

Former church (R) in Tamburino, an Aladin’s Cave of old motors and scooters. Orvieto is on the hill in the background.

I had actually been planning the shot for over six years, ever since my friend Lucio showed me his old de-consecrated church on a hill outside Orvieto where he restored old motors and stored veteran Lambrettas for his friends. I thought they’d be  perfect for an update of The Three Graces, a favourite subject for painters and sculptors since the ancient Greeks.

The gestation had been long because I could never get three friends together at the same time or one would throw a wobbly. The most recent failure had been a week or so before.

3 Graces rough

pre-shoot rough sketch

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

First there were three friends from Arezzo. I sent them a sketch of what I had in mind; then  one dropped out and then another; no matter, I thought, since the remaining one had a certain resemblance to Grace Kelly I hit on the idea of using only her as all three Graces.

I dusted off the Lambrettas, arranged them in a line, took a few test shots of myself with battery lights, there was no electricity, and then ‘Grace’ backed out.

It was getting cooler, the days shorter the shooting season was ending, I was willing three girls to walk in the door. Then I met the Canadians.

I called in a Czech friend of mine to make up the third Grace and we moved the day so she could take part – then whilst Kelsey was at the hairdresser’s, she was called away an hour before the shoot. It was back to the idea of one for all.

I toyed with the idea of shooting the two girls and then cloning in my friend Alice another day, but rejected it as too complicated. It was a shame not to use the beautiful exotic looking Renè however, so after the church shoot we drove to Vulci near the coast to do some landscape shots, I was hoping I could use her as a Pirelli type calendar girl. The aim being to hang the ‘Cal’ on the mechanic’s wall in post production.

 The spoof Pirelli calendar shoot..

 Tourists visit the archeological park, to the remains of an Etrusco-Roman city, but  almost nobody ventures along the gorge of the river Fiora which always reminds me of ‘The Land That Time Forgot’ – one almost expects a pterodactyl to circle overhead rather than a hawk.
Amazingly for late October it was still just warm enough to do some shots in the water as the sun went down. Pirelli had the tropical waters of the Seychelles, we had to make do with an autumnal river in Tuscany. In my experience everybody has loved Vulci as a place to shoot. It feels remote and yet it’s little more than an hour from Orvieto.
Patrick Richmond Nicholas

Patrick poseur – a test shot done a few days before

Kelsey Renè

Kelsey and Renè at the hairdresser’s. I asked Rita to make Kelsey (L) look as much like Grace Kelly as possible in the short time we had available.


Outside the former church where Franco had already set things up for our arrival. A sheet softens the light and provides a screen

prosecco in Tamburiono

Prosecco time! I provided a bottle of pop to get the girls in a festive mood.

Dutch courage

Dutch courage and Kelsey is just about ready to pose.

Franco and Lambrettas

Franco, owner of the red Lambretta lends a hand. He’s wearing overalls as I thought I might use him as a modern day Paris judging the three beauties.

lambretta mechanic Franco

The problem was I only had two beauties, one couldn’t come at the last minute. So I fell back on my plan B, not the Judgement of Paris, with Franco holding an old speedometer as a latter day golden apple – the prize for the most beautiful in the original myth; but The Three Graces using just one model, the blonde Kelsey.

It was a shame not to use the exotic and voluptuous René so after the shoot we drove to the ravine at Vulci where we shot the Pirelli style ‘Cal’ pictures. I thought I could hang a calendar on the garage wall in post-production.

Vulci and one of  the Pirelli style 'Cal' pictures.

Vulci and one of  the Pirelli style ‘Cal’ pictures.

In Part 2 I will post the finished picture.
(To be continued)

Location, Location, Location

Location: St Patrick’s Well Orvieto and Danae

St Patrick's Well Orvieto

The Entrance to St Patrick’s Well, Orvieto

The Umbrian city of Orvieto and its environs in Latium and Tuscany have provided me with most of my locations for the Belle. Sometimes I realise the image on location, but occasionally this is physically impossible as was the case with Danae (2009) for which I wished to use St Patrick’s Well as the location. A tourist attraction since the days of the Grand Tour and a place of evocative beauty it is always full of visitors.

Pozzo San Patrizio dal alto

At St Patrick’s Well looking down


St Patrick Well Orvieto

The St Patrick’s Well from the top

St Patrick’s Well is a Renaissance engineering marvel nearly 60 metres deep in the form of a double helix, thus the donkey descending did not meet the mule coming up. Until the late 19th century it was only lit by natural light from above.

St Patrick's Well, Orvieto

At St Patrick’s Well looking up

The photograph of Danae was taken in my atelier in Orvieto with Tia the model lying on a chaise-longue covered with a black cloth. Her mother assisted me by holding the orange fabric (supposed to represent the shower of gold in the mythical story) on the end of a broom handle.

Danae-Tia with mum's help

Tia is helped by her mother

The swirling vortex was created in Photoshop. The next step was to superimpose Danae over the well which represented the safe haven to which her father Acrisius had confined her to protect her from the lusty advances of Zeus. All to no avail as Zeus came to her in a golden shower that left Danae pregnant with Perseus who went on to slay Medusa.

Patrick poses with Tia

Snapshot of Tia and Patrick Nicholas at the end of the shoot

Sigmund Freud visited Orvieto three times and was much influenced by the Signorelli frescoes in the Cathedral, by the Etruscan cemetery and even noted the tunnel through which he came on the Funicular railway and yet curiously he never mentioned the well. Or did he? He was known to correspond regularly about his work and his travels to his wife’s sister Minna Bernays.

Bridge at bottom St Patrick Well Orvieto

Bottom of St Patrick’s Well

Surely a psychologist delving into the depth of the unconscious would have been affected by the descent into the gloom of the well and shared his insights with his favourite confidant? Sadly we do not know, all Freud’s correspondence with Minna between 1893 and 1910 (the period encompassing his visits to Orvieto) despite being catalogued and numbered was subsequently lost – or destroyed. It has been widely surmised that Freud and Minna had a long standing affair.

St Patrick's Well Orvieto

View of St Patrick’s Well from the bridge at the bottom


Danae before the well was added

I have visited the well scores of times and feel I know it intimately. The upper half is cut into the tufa rock but lower down the ground is more friable and therefore the rock gives way to the brickwork and masonry seen in my photograph. The light changes as one descends, becoming more mysterious, even eerie – quite the thing for my portrait of the lovely Tia- Danae.

Impossible photo-shoot location challenge: Danae in St Patrick's Well by Patrick Richmond Nicholas

Danae imprisoned in the Well

In this version Danae is modestly veiled so I can put the image on Face Book. Go to the Photo Nicholas website portfolio to see the other version.

The post Location, Location, Location appeared first on Patrick Richmond Nicholas Art Photography  in Behind the Scene


Rusalka Photo Set

Rusalka’s Song to the Moon

Rusalka, a Slavic folk tale set to music by Dvořák

Vulci, Rusalka shoot

Vulci Gorge – on the way to the location of Rusalka

Rusalka was suggested  to me by a professional opera singer who had herself performed the role in Dvořák’s eponymous opera. A folk tale found in the slavic world akin to Andersen’s Little Mermaid and equally tragic. Rusalka is a beautiful water sprite living in a lake who falls in love with a handsome prince, they kiss even though she knows this will result in his death, he dies and she is damned for ever as a deathly demon.

Vulci, Rusalka, Fiora

A hike up the gorge of the river Fiora is easy in August when the river is low

We went to one of my favourite locations, Vulci, but it was at the height of the August holiday season in 2016 and though usually deserted, this time there were several people around. We had to wait till the sun began to go down before we were on our own, by which we were closer to moonlight than I would have liked.

Rusalka Shoot

However, with a tripod I achieved the effect I was after – that the water should look like a dress or even a bridal train.

Rusalka, Song of the Moon by Patrick Richmond Nicholas,art photographer; inspired by Dvorak's opera and Beardsley's Peacock Skirt


Beardsley's Peacock Skirt

Aubrey Beardsley with his attention for balancing white and black was, as it were, by my side when I was composing the relationship of the rushing water to the reclining figure of Rusalka on the basalt rocks.
She has her feet in the stream, she has to, because should Rusalka leave the water entirely she will become mortal.

Beardsley’s ‘Peacock Skirt’ from the Salome illustrations of Wilde’s play, is in what he called his Japonesque manner, a hymn to the importance of line.

A huge poster hung in a friend’s room when I was at school and made a big impression on me as a teenager. The original is a minuscule  22.8×16.3cm, line block print on Japanese vellum.

Rusalka’s Song to the Moon on Youtube:

The post Rusalka’s Song to the Moon appeared first on Patrick Richmond Nicholas Art Photography  in Art Photography Inspiration

Art Photography Inspiration – Luxe, Calme et … Choco Pie.

Nadia with “Luxe.calme et volupte”

Unusual connections sometimes can spark art photography inspiration and creativity. Baudelaire’s poem “Invitation du Voyage” and a news item about Choco Pie are behind the making of this image.

Luxe, Calme et Volupté comes from a line taken from Baudelaire’s poem Invitation du Voyage, but it was a news item about a chocolate confection popular in communist North Korea that inspired this image, the coveted Choco Pie.

Matisse painted “Luxe, calme et volupté” during his Fauve period near Saint Tropez. It is a line from Baudelaire’s “Invitation du Voyage”. Matisse throughout his life concerned himself with beauty and did his best to avoid politics and conflict. The poem is an invitation to leave the troubles of the humdrum and the violent, to an imaginary place of luxury, peace and pleasure, very much akin to Matisse’s desire: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.”


Franco – Charon

I met my model Nadia via Facebook. She had come across my website and FB fan page whilst still in Singapore; when she met her fiancee and moved to Rome she contacted me. I had  been mulling over the Choco Pie idea for over year since I had read an article about how a simple confection was subverting the regime in North Korea, so when I had the opportunity of using an oriental model the idea was all ready to go.

We went  the three of us, her fiancé came too and proved a very able assistant, to Montalto di Castro to a stretch of beach I call the Skeleton Coast. It is privately owned and is only accessible via boat. Franco the fisherman, looking more like Charon every year, ferried us over.

Art Photography Photo shooting preparation on an isolated beach

The driftwood can be extraordinarily picturesque and even sculptural, but you never know what you will find from one month to the next.

Nadia tests the log

Nadia tests the log

We tried out two logs, in the event we used the one in the background. Sadly the log I had wanted to use was no longer there, washed away in a storm.

Patrick Nicholas art photographer tries ballooni on a log

Patrick tries ballooning on the first log

web landscapes

the first log wasn’t skeletal enough – we try another log


Nadia on the log during the photo shooting

Nadia on the log – it looks like she is being grabbed by a giant hand

I placed a pack of coffee where I intended to insert the pack of Choco Pies and she held a biscuit in her hand without the packaging which was added later. I played around with the colours no end. At first I went for a sort of socialist drab before choosing the regime’s own colours, orange and red, also used on the poster of the film “The Interview”.

"The Interview "poster

“The Interview “poster


Choco Pie early version

the socialist drab version

Nadia in my picture is in a golden world of her own, yet to complete that feeling of peace and calm with an element of voluptuousness, she has in her hand a Choco Pie.

The coveted Choco Pie

The coveted Choco Pie

Choco Pie Korea

Individual Choco Pie

Could a humble marshmallow overturn the cruellest of communist dictatorships?

The Choco Pie has become something of a symbol of unattainable luxury in North Korea. The simple marshmallow confection in a gaudy red wrapper was imported into North Korea from the South and for a while was condoned by the Communist regime – indeed it was often used as a perk for workers who excelled themselves or exceeded production targets. Things turned sour however when Choco Pies began to be used as an alternative currency and dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime banned them.
South Koreans are a canny lot and they started to send over helium balloons carrying the outlawed confection, on one mass airlift 50 balloons carried 10,000 pies. North Korean soldiers have fired on the balloons and Kim Jong Un says he will shell the launching pad which is close to the border.
There is a precedent for ballooning consumer goods over the border: West Germany sent “mauerseglers” (wall sailors) over to the East – and maybe these ‘wall sailors’ along with Western TV did more to bring down Communism than military threats.
In North Korea where the skeletal hand of the totalitarian regime embraces  everyone, the humble Choco Pie is a taste from another world: luxe, calme et volupté.

Unusual connections sometime can spark art photography inspiration and creativity. Baudelaire’s poem “Invitation du Voyage” and a news item about Choco Pie are behind the making of this image.


See Luxe, Calme et Volupté on Patrick Richmond Nicholas – Art Photography Portfolio.


I asked the model Nadia to add a few words.

Nadia unwraps...Nadia

Nadia unwraps…Nadia

“Pleasure is made of simple things. What could perhaps illustrate this best? Inspired by a feud between North and South Korea, we kept this question in mind till the afternoon when we found ourselves on a tiny fisherman’s boat, bound for a strip of beach called Skeleton Shore. Washed up tree trunks bore eerie resemblances to bones of mythic or prehistoric animals. It was with this kind of curiosity that I first contacted Patrick.

Nadia with "Luxe.calme et volupte"

At home with her picture

I was fascinated by the way he spun his stories, melding Greek myths into his compositions and even a mention of Walt Whitman or two. I thought about what it meant to feel “illumed by a golden fire” of being part of a world sinking to rest, even if only for a while. With the sun on my body and the sound of the waves, ebbing and flowing as I lay in repose I felt all the pieces of me drift away, and just for a moment, I felt truly closer to bliss.”



The post Art Photography Inspiration – Luxe, Calme et Volupté. appeared first on Patrick Ricmond Nicholas Art Photography Blog

The inspiration behind art photography. Le Spectre de la Rose.

Art photography inspiration

Spectre De La Rose. By Patrick Richmond Nicholas

Poetry,  music and painting,  all converge in this photo-shoot, setting the mood for the final image.

This picture had its origins in the sight of a freshly painted blue boat on the shores of Lake Bolsena which reminded me of a painting by Carl Moll, a mysterious, unsettling picture of a blue boat in a flooded wood.
I had to ‘borrow’ the boat for the shoot, towing it into position between the trees. I needed a full moon between the trees and it had to be tethered between them. Luckily I did not have to wait long for the moon, but one vital ingredient was missing: the model. However, one day in mid-August Linda from Hungary walked into my gallery. She looked attentively at all my pictures on the wall so I asked if she would like to take part. She said she would be delighted and two days later we were waiting for moon rise over Bolsena.
The first shoot however was a failure. We made the mistake of having an Aperol-spritzer in a café beforehand so we got to the lake later than intended and it took me far longer than I had anticipated to manoeuvre the boat into position. By the time we started shooting it was almost dark. We returned the following night, this time with two assistants, my wife and a friend.

blue boat

blue boat first evening – way too dark

The following evening was the night before full moon and all went perfectly. I used a longish exposure of 1 second to blur the water and a gradual filter over the sky. I placed my Icelight near the stern to illuminate the boat from within. The gauzy veil is in fact the lace train from my grandmother’s wedding dress from 1924, the bridal knot is just visible. I have used it in other pictures.

Helvoetsluys; J.W.M.Turner

Helvoetsluys – the City of Utrecht Going to Sea exhibited 1832 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Tokyo Fuji Art Museum

Later on  when I was working on the picture in Photoshop  I realised I had a number of bluish pictures and  wondered what I could do to add a bit of colour that would not seem out of place. The famous incident of Turner’s red buoy came to mind. The story goes that Turner’s rival Constable was exhibiting his painting fifteen years in the making of the opening of Westminster Bridge at The Royal Academy. Turner, who was notorious for his last minute touching up during the varnishing days, thought his painting, that had taken him just a few months, looked rather monochromatic alongside Constable’s colourful scene; he added a red buoy, transforming his picture at a stroke. The upstaged Constable remarked despondently that Turner ” had been here and fired a gun.”

floating rose

the rose

I was at a loss however to find an equivalent to Turner’s buoy, until I realised that the music I was listening to was Berlioz’s “Le spectre de la rose”. I bought a fine red rose worthy of a summer ball and cast it into the water of Lake Bolsena.
The title “Spectre de la rose” comes from a poem by Théophil Gautier, Berlioz’s friend and neighbour. It is one of a cycle of six called “Les nuits d’été”. The poem is unusual in that it is written from the rose’s point of view, and the ghost of a rose at that.

O you, who caused my death:
Without the power to chase it away,
You will be visited every night by my ghost,
Which will dance at your bedside.

Set to music by Berlioz, it is beautifully languorous, the quintessence of Mid-Nineteenth Century Romanticism. Four of the songs in “Les nuits d’été” including “Spectre de la rose” are sombre and tell of romantic longing whilst the first and last quite up-lifting.
The image of Linda, arms outstretched, looking across the lake, is oneiric, dreamlike. Water in dreams is a female element and represents birth while the boat usually suggests the resolution of seemingly intractable problems, as well as the more obvious journeying.
Linda the twenty-one year old student had been doing an unpaid board and lodging summer job in Italy, the way I too had started out in Italy 35 years ago. She was uncertain about her future and what path to follow. Dissatisfied with landlocked Hungary, she has taken the boat and set off on her voyage, she is now in Paris; I suppose I am the ghost of the rose.

Here lies a rose,
Of which all kings may be jealous.”


Carl Moll "Götterdämerung"

Carl Moll “Dämmerung”  Twilight 1900

Carl Moll was friend and colleague of Klimt as well as a founder member of the Secession. He was Alma Schindler’s stepfather, she later married Gustav Mahler and notwithstanding two Jewish husbands and a half-jewish daughter, manifested an unrepentant anti-semitism typical of the time. The Vienna of those days was a maelstrom of psychological, artistic, cultural and political currents unique in world history, but the tragedy of 1914 was to destroy the fin de siècle euphoria along with millions of lives; after the war Moll became an enthusiastic Nazi and committed suicide with his daughter, Alma’s half-sister Maria, when the Russians entered Vienna in 1945. His blue boat had drifted from twilight into the heart of darkness.



Open your closed eyelid
Which is gently brushed by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of the rose
That you wore last night at the ball.
You took me when I was still sprinkled with pearls
Of silvery tears from the watering-can,
And, among the sparkling festivities,
You carried me the entire night.

O you, who caused my death:
Without the power to chase it away,
You will be visited every night by my ghost,
Which will dance at your bedside.
But fear nothing; I demand
Neither Mass nor De Profundis;
This mild perfume is my soul,
And I’ve come from Paradise.

My destiny is worthy of envy;
And to have a fate so fine,
More than one would give his life
For on your breast I have my tomb,
And on the alabaster where I rest,
A poet with a kiss
Wrote: “Here lies a rose,
Of which all kings may be jealous.

“Le spectre de la rose”  The Ghost of the Rose
Théophile Gautier

The post The inspiration behind art photography. Le Spectre de la Rose. appeared first on Patrick Ricmond Nicholas Art Photography Blog

On The Beach

on_the_beach.PatrickNicholasWe set off to take a photo on the beach in mid October despite the awful weather because this was the last opportunity of the year. We had planned to take the picture back in 2007 when I met her shortly after opening my gallery in Orvieto, though something had always conspired to postpone time after time. She loved the sea and would be photographed nowhere else, so notwithstanding the wind and rain we decided to chance it.

When we arrived at Montalto di Castro my chosen location on the Tyrrhenian coast, the fisherman would not take us across the river Fiora to the other side, it was too fast, too much in flood and loaded with tree trunks and flotsam. So we went for a drive further up the coast, lightning storms on our right, storm clouds blowing in from the sea on our left.

An old concrete construction, possibly an uncompleted marina, a common enough site on the Italian coast, seemed to offer a possibility for a seascape.
Several things came to mind in this bleak and stormy place. I grew up by the sea, my father was in the navy, he used the expression ‘on the beach’ meaning never to go to sea again, career’s end. The desolate concrete pontoon reminded me of the cover of Nevil Shute’s book On the Beach about a group of individuals waiting for a spreading nuclear cloud from the Northern Hemisphere to overcome the last surviving humans in Australia.


On The Beach

I thought of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the heroine standing forlorn on the Cobb at Lyme Regis.

I took a shot with a neutral density filter and showed the result to he; she was impressed.

The wind was howling, the breakers crashing, the spray blowing, “what about it?” For a moment she thought I was joking, but then she realised that this was the moment.

She stood almost as still as a figure-head for several minutes, waves breaking over her, soaked with spray, covered from head to foot in seaweed! I was completely unable to make myself heard. I took eight shots in just a few minutes and beckoned her back. We had done it.

The weather worsened. As we sat in the car looking at the shots on the computer, the sky darkened, the storm surged in on us.

This is the time of year when the ancient Greek poet Hesiod warned seafarers to haul in their boats as the Pleiades appeared in the autumn sky, the stars known in mythology as The Seven Sisters.

The Lost Pleiad, Bouguereau

The Lost Pleiad, Bouguereau

And if longing seizes you for sailing the stormy sees,
when the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea
but, as I bid you, remember to work on the land.

Hesiod, Works and Days 700 BC

We drove past the ruins of the Etruscan city of Vulci and the more recent mediaeval castle. I stopped to take a photo of the lightning storm behind the castle. The Etruscans of two and a half thousand years ago identified twelve different kinds lightning to divine the will of the Gods. The essentially primitive Etruscans differed from the later more sophisticated Romans with a system of belief that involved understanding and living in harmony with nature.


Vulci thunderstorm. The castle was a customs post between Tuscany and The Papal States

Storms have worsened of late and this summer in Italy was the wettest on record. Now autumn was bringing flooding and chaos. We headed home through the lightning storm, streams broke their banks, torrents appeared from nowhere, trees had fallen across roads, roads were blocked, it took hours to get home.

A woman stands alone on the beach, but in actual fact she is not alone. She remembers when she was little, standing weeping on the beach holding her father’s hand as the autumns storm rolled in obscuring The Pleiades. The stars will emerge again he reassures her.
In Whitman’s poem On the Beach at Night a father and little daughter are staring up at the autumn sky. She weeps in fear of the gathering storm, he comforts her, removes her tears, reassures her that the stars will not be long gone; more than this he assures her of something older than the stars.

On the beach at night,
Stands a child with her father,
Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower sullen and fast athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends large and calm the lord-star Jupiter,
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades.

From the beach the child holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears,
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky, they devour the stars only in apparition,
Jupiter shall emerge, be patient, watch again another night, the Pleiades shall emerge,
They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they endure,
The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine.

Then dearest child mournest thou only for Jupiter?
Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter
Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.

On the Beach at Night  by Walt Whitman

I would like to reassure my eleven year old daughter that I will always be with her, standing beside her for the rest of her life; as long as she remembers me I shall be there in spirit. Love the great survivor, spreading like a radio wave out through the universe beyond Jupiter and the Pleiades for ever and ever, a father and daughter holding hands till kingdom come.

Whiter Shade of Pale

WhiterShadeOfPaleA Whiter Shade of Pale, one of the all time great song titles, and in effect a one line poem.

The Procol Harum song, came into my mind as I arranged this picture on the basalt rocks in the gorge near the ruins of the Etruscan city of Vulci on the Tuscan-Latium border.

And so it was that later
as the miller told his tale
that her face, at first just ghostly,
turned a whiter shade of pale

Attic Kylix portraying dancer and musician

Pale beyond pale, and by modern standards unfashionable, with very long legs, she reminded me of a figure on Attic pottery a lot of which has been unearthed in Vulci. The Etruscans imported Attic wear in huge quantities – Etruscan taste running especially to the racier sort that was produced by the Greeks exclusively for the Etruscan market.
sex and violence was common

sex and violence was common

In ancient Etruria semi-naked women (they nearly always kept their shoes on) were always portrayed light skinned whereas men were red-ochre dark.
Etruscan dancers

Etruscan dancers

Until comparatively recently women had sheltered themselves from the sun, to be pale was to be porcelain perfect. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries women even used leeches, or worse still poisonous lead make-up to increase their pallor.
When Whistler painted his most famous portrait of the delicate Anglo-Greek beauty Christine Spartali (1863-5) her complexion mirrored the Japanese porcelain that was all the rage at the time. The painting is known as The Princess from the Land of Porcelain and hangs in Whistler’s celebrated Peacock Room in The Freer Gallery, Washington.
James Whistler, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine

James Whistler, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine 1864

Christine later married Italo-Belgian Count Edouard Cahen and came to live in out of the way Orvieto whilst her husband renovated the nearby castle of Alfina. The porcelain princess pined for the glittering world of Pre-Raphaelites in London and Impressionists in Paris and took to taking chloral, the marriage foundered and she died of an overdose aged only 38.
Pallor seems to have become associated with female delicacy and weakness in the 20th century. Coco Chanel promoted a sun-tanned look in the 1920s and paleness has long since gone the way of all flesh.