A Revisionist Image of Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero of Sestos”
Christopher Marlowe’s mythological poem “Hero of Sestos” describes opposition. Hence this image (3’ x 2.5’ mixed media on paper) features two opposing mountains overlooking the sea bounding Abydos (the ancient capital of Upper Egypt) and Sestos (an ancient Greek town of the Thracian Cersonese familiar now as Turkish Gallipoli).
Hero stands below having been imprisoned above. She is fashioned of purple, green, and gilded stars. Venus relocates in Deborah’s rendition fronting a skirt darkly stained with suicidal lovers. A wreath of myrtle entwines with her hair, a veil of flowers and leaves, appearing so real as to deceive human and beast. An explication of Marlowe’s poem portrays honeybees (symbolic of chastity, female power, resurrection, and salvation) as naturally attracted to Hero. Thus, this portrait features honeybees hovering over her sweet breathe and following her as she goes. The sparrows around Hero’s face are an indication that they gaze upon beauty and signify promiscuity while accentuating the erotic and the maternal.
Posed as an object observed, Hero appears fitted with garments wittily suggesting emptiness. Yet her countenance imparts incensed concern at being considered an empty object. Marlowe’s description of her bespeaks a traditional blazon (here she bears a scroll recording her name and place of dwelling: Sestos) emphasizing mythic rather than sensual qualities, and compares Hero’s seductiveness to the Western classical goddess Venus. The love between Hero and Leander lives on in my rendition with notions of Leander finding his way to Hero, dramatically swimming to her guided by light upon the mountain top: the moon at left behind Hero, which evokes Endymion visited by the Moon, one of many Ovidian transformational themes embedded deeply throughout Marlowe’s poem. However, Leander drowns in Marlowe‘s poem, and Hero throws herself to death from the tower. Thus where Marlowe offers a portrait of love at odds with traditional idealized views, my painting portrays love in its moods of devotion, anger, wonder — as present in Hero’s eyes.
Perhaps a more elemental portrait of love than Marlowe’s (hence the work as “revisionist image”), this painting in essence captures a moment in time of a woman determined in love, a loving woman intent on keeping the Light of Soul from expiring. As such, the work reads as text from a less phallocentric world: in my rendition, the image of Hero forever awaits Leander, living eternity in love. This portrait was lovingly gifted from a place of deep respect to Dr. Debra Barrette-Graves, Professor of English, CSUEB.
While functioning as a representation of the archetypal fertility deity, Coniunctio (mixed media in colors of Autumn on an antique wood door from a 1920s Beverly Hills Bungalow) seems a portrayal of Madonna and Child when viewed from Christian tradition, a depiction of Earth Mother Goddess with re-remembrances and connotations of Demeter and Persephone when seen through eyes versed in classical Western mythology. Ultimately a depiction of Feminine Spirit dwelling in Cosmic Sanctuary, the painting immerses its viewers in the realm of poetry: a bird in flight represents air and spirit bearing soul into the afterlife while the grounded peacock (a traditional symbol for classical Greek goddess Hera) suggests human vanity and pride.
Transformationi portrays the purification of water, female transformation, and the very depths and immensity of the unconscious, as the Angel of Human Affairs and Sea Spirit. Spraying blessings on earth in affirmation that transformation is possible, the angel functions as Divine Messenger and as a representation of the eternal manifestation of metamorphoses. The fish might symbolize Christ to some viewers, thus notions of the “Fisher of Souls” erupting from mixed media posed on an antique 1920s wooden door.
Knowledge and Faith cloaked against the harshness of Death and Winter, Sophia (8’ x 6’ wood in mixed media) represents the Feminine contrasted with green leaves and a large white bird indicative of new life and longevity. The celestial blue of Sophia’s mantle or cloak (color of the Capella or chapel) not only indicates concealment but portends taking responsibility for oneself and others. The fur bounding the body of Sophia’s cape — an ermine slain, its dead body indicative of death and the cost of death — serves as an indication of nobility and great wealth. Further, she wears a girdle of chastity emphasizing traditional notions of modesty suggested by veiled women generally and the Virgin Mary especially. Nearby, the reddest bird brilliant against starkest ice echoes through resemblance Christ’s blood, while a shadowed bird rests amid roots, Again, these birds suggest Soul in the world, and the spirit-place of poetry. The tree signifies the ancient archetype of Soul-Guide while also indicating spirit-place left over from ancient dreams.
Rejuvenation (8’ x 6’ wood in mixed media) embodies a cosmic vessel of protection, a Virgin Garden Retreat, Heavenly Place featuring Angel with halo (a sign for the power of the Trinity) posed with the sign of blessings: a finger pointed upward in call to faith in supplication. At right, enclosed by citrons and lemons, a bountiful tree indicates Enlightenment, Fidelity, and Love. A portrayal redolent with connotations of elevated thought and philosophical treatise, the image partakes of such diverse implications of the Tree of Life as transcendence, immortality, paradise lost to humanity. Virgin and Angel float upon the Waters of Salvation amid Eternal Spring sprayed with flora and fauna. Forbidden fruits of fertility and the production of seeds represent the Sacred Feminine, itself indicative of transformation at the core of being. Ultimately a portrayal of depths of unconsciousness walled in by faith, Rejuvenation remembers place after Death.
Correspondences of Solidar
Solidar (6’ x 6’ canvas in mixed media) presents a red-haired signification of supernatural holiness and Feminine Goddess. A pictorially emblematic winged Heavenly Body, Soul, and alchemical representation of Feminine Cosmos, Solidar evokes correspondences with the natural world. Read as text, it is indication of destiny. The painting casts a cosmic horoscope and map of Female Heaven, and features the powerful character of Virgin Hunter. A cornucopia of Full Moon with teeth signifying fear — or happiness co-dependent upon the ends to which the Fire burns — the canvas reads as Femininity dwelling over Dark of Night as macrocosm reigning over fertility, time, tides, and ancient memory.
Miraculous Solution (9’ x 7’ canvas painted in mixed media) represents the Three Graces in the Sanctuary of Meditation with reference to the Magic Eight Ball’s answers to life’s questions. The Feminine Spirit balances and poises between worlds of being, knowing, and remembering. The canvas forms a mausoleum honoring the Death of Female Suffering cast in Liberation of the Feminine and the Other etched upon the Contemplation of Forgiveness.
Deborah Conway de Prieto • Biography
Deborah Conway de Prieto (firstname.lastname@example.org) holds a Baccalaureate in English from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), and a Master of Arts in Composition Theory and Renaissance Literature from California State University, East Bay (CSUEB). She also holds a Master of Arts and doctorate in Mythological Studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Currently a lecturer in English Literature and Composition at CSULA while serving as Educational Consultant and Editor for the Hawaii Institute of Molecular Education, Deborah continues her work as a fine artist through mixed media. Deborah has worked as Lead Scenic for HBO Films and in various capacities for independent film production companies, as well as accomplishing faux painting for home interiors and antique furniture. She also worked in print and commercial advertising as a model for the Nina Blanchard Agency. Most recently, Deborah moderated the 2013 CSULA seminar “Africa and Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Globalization.” She also presented her article “Art, Performance, Shamanic Activity and Ritual in Mesoamerica” at the 2009 Conference on Mesoamerica titled Continuity and Change in Mesoamerican History From the Pre-Classic to the Colonial Era: A Homage to Tatiana A. Proskouriakoff, Mesoamerican Landscapes, Rituals and Religious Narratives. Deborah served on the 2006 team presenting “Writing Across the Curriculum: Proposal for The Addition of Writing Across the Curriculum Research Component to Student Center for Academic Achievement” for a Collaborative WAC Research Tutor Team at CSUEB, a plan subsequently implemented. An accomplished writer, Deborah has published the poem “Upon the Distant Peaks” in the Across the Abyss anthology, and “These Private Things Not Meant for Us” in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s beTween literary review (June 2009). Deborah is fluent in Spanish, with articles in translation and a book of poetry forthcoming. She is currently writing her first novel and preparing for a gallery show. The seven paintings included here were originally published in Pacifica’s beTween (Spring 2010), and are owned by private collectors.