Sunday, October 17, 2010

CELEBRATING KNIGHTLY by JACQUELINE ERNST

I want to thank Jacqueline Ernst for sending me this fascinating article about Cinderellas .
I encourage you to visit her website   http://www.pigwingsandpromises.com/
Lew Jaffe 10/17/2010







Hollywood has done much to misrepresent and glamorize “Knights in Shining Armor.” What was actually a prosaic lifestyle, has been ef­fectively dramatized on film as a sword swinging, swashbuckling call to adventure. In that sense, it should come as no surprise that a lead­ing figure in the celluloid landscape was an avid collector of antique weapons of war.
The sheik of film fame owned museum quality armor and firearms. Rudolph Valentino chose to publicize this fact on his ex-libris. The composition, by Academy Award winning production designer and art director, William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957), is an accurate but typically flamboyant representation of both costume and heraldry.


In the 1920s when Valentino’s bookplate was conceived, good antique examples of ex-libris were nearly impossible to find. Collectors in­stead turned their focus on the expanding possibilities Postage Stamps offered. In retaliation (or possibly as a joke ridiculing fanciers who commissioned extravagant bookplates to embellish their libraries), a well-known animal artist of the period, Evert van Muyden (1853­1922), made his own bookplate. The postal parody included his por­trait and the address of his Paris workshop. This tiny bookplates is a collector’s item on two counts: first as a rarity to ex-libris fanciers, and second, a desirable oddity for postage stamp aficionados. The concept of parody postage has long been recognized by philatelists who cleverly dub such anomalies Cinderellas. All dressed up for the ball, these postal pretenders include: stickers for fees paid to private mail services, Christmas Seals, postal labels such as Par Avion, revenue collection stamps like the American Duck Stamp, saving stamps (promotional premiums hoarded by housewives of the 1950s who redeemed them for merchandise), bogus stamps issued by nonexistent countries for purposes of defrauding phi­latelists, forgeries of legitimate postage meant to swindle collectors as well as the Post Office, and finally, Artistamps, the inventive efforts of artists who create “faux postage” solely for the purpose of self expression. As an art form, Artistamps (aka Postoids ) took off with the international Mail Art movement that began in the 1960s. Mail Art loosely refers to any art transferred via official post offices. Gener­ally understood to be an open, unjuried, free exchange of creativity, the medium of choice may be anything from finely crafted art prints to wacky avant garde attempts to stretch the envelope of traditional postal services. Stiffly starched jockey shorts that have been addressed and legally stamped qualify as equally as expertly engraved, limited edition art prints that are stamped, ad­dressed, and sized to meet postcard regulations.
To Mail Artists, the mailbox is the gallery and the address is the art. Correspondence Art gives the concept of playing Post Office a whole new context! Postage stamps and their look-a likes fall naturally into the themes inherent in Mail Art. Its pictorial quality and traveling nature make the postage stamp a miniature billboard -- the ideal vehicle to advertise, spread propaganda, or commemorate a person, place, or event. To have one’s face on a postage stamp automatically confirms and confers fame. As with bookplates, certain postage stamps and artistamps become status symbols among collectors.
Giving credence to status by proclaiming (heralding) one’s all-important genealogy-based social position was the key to Medieval heraldry. Emblazoned accessories like war shields and yards of embroidered horse trapper depicted on Valentino’s bookplate, reached their height between the 13th and 16th centuries. Blazon, the euphonious language of heraldry, followed strict rules of usage. Enforcing the rule of arms was difficult and, in the case of ex-libris, nearly impos­sible. Since bookplates were privately commissioned works of art, owners sometimes cheated on their credentials and had themselves depicted a rank or two higher than they really enjoyed. By comparison, brass tomb effigies were generally accurate public portrayals of rank, period dress, engraving technique, and artistic style of the era. However, the brasses were never meant to be portraits of the individuals whose lives and positions they celebrate.
Such memorials were generic engravings turned out by workshops that specialized in glorifying and romanticizing the lives of significant persons. When an effigy was chosen as a commemora­tive, it would be personalized with specific heraldry associated with the deceased. Learning the elements of armor that defined each historic period, introduced me to the men who wore them. Each had been a respected member of his community. Most were landowners; some were Patrons of the Church. All were armigerous.
Researching their shields of arms as well as paintings of the period, allowed me to add appropri­ate color to my collected drawings of their military brasses. I also discovered details of their lives and loves. The result is accurate depictions of battle dress used to illustrate a scroll that unfurls to reveal the history of armor and the men who wore it.
As I came to know these gentrified servants of The Crown, a new level of recognition, if not renown, seemed in order. I turned to the Artistamp. Presenting each figure on Faux Postage gave the individuals renewed fame through association with the ubiquitous postage stamp. The Age of Chivalry is once again glorified -- this time in the form of historically correct miniature mail­able artworks. The men and their arms are commemorated in a new wood encased scroll celebrating their lives and loves in context.

Jacqueline Ernst is a California artist, historical writer,

and publisher of WINGIN’ IT, a subscription based art ‘zine.

Ernst’s limited edition artist book,

Silent Knights -- 3 Centuries of Armored Effigies

was released October 16, 2010.

A limited edition of 30 full color scrolls, each encased in

a maple and vermilion hardwood castle, are being produced by

The Seat of My Pants Press.

http://www.pigwingsandpromises.com/

Postoids and text for this article are © Jacqueline Ernst and have been reproduced by written permission of the author.

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