Monday, February 24, 2014

The Metamorphosis of Butteflies in Art


A butterfly is a symbolic creature within the context of art and nature. It is admired for its beauty, fluidity, and evolution. A butterfly’s metamorphosis serves as a powerful metaphor for how equally transcendent human life can be. An old proverb continues to ruminate in our society, which expresses, “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly.”  This very resonating idea simply and thoughtfully addresses the balance between darkness and hope in human life. It is within these themes that artists like Dosso Dossi, Damien Hirst, and Holly Trostle Brigham explore and create artwork.

Butterflies symbolically appear in early works by Italian painter Dosso Dossi during the Renaissance. Specifically, in his piece Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, Dossi portrays the god Jupiter in the act of painting butterflies. The godliness of Jupiter empowers his painted creations to life and the butterflies are visibly beginning to emerge from his canvas. These butterflies intermingle with the colors of the rainbow in the background setting. The newly created souls that rest in the butterflies are meant to enter the world of men. The figures of Mercury and Virtue are tensely interacting in the scene as well. Mercury tries aimlessly to silence Virtue before Jupiter is disturbed during his act of creation. Dossi employs a didactic use of allusion to illustrate the complexity of these butterflies. Ultimately, Dossi’s butterflies show the delicacy of life: it can easily be created and taken away.


 Dosso Dossi, Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, 1524  
 
        Damien Hirst, I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006


In 2006, an art piece emerged by artist Damien Hirst that elicited controversy and commentary on the same human principles explored in Dossi’s work. Rather than bringing butterflies to life like Jupiter, Hirst used the death of butterflies to speak to ideas on regeneration and revival. The piece titled I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds consisted of thousands of dead butterfly wings, resting in red household gloss paint. Hirst stated when reflecting on his work, “I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid.”[1] Hirst intended to reference the spiritual nature of butterflies that was used by Greeks to depict Psyche (soul) and Christian symbolism to signify resurrection in his work.[2] These elements are palpable throughout the piece as the viewer is confronted by the complex nature of the wings’ natural beauty. This beauty is a product of regeneration and metamorphosis that ultimately dissipates all over again. Thus, life and death emerge from the piece sublimely.


Holly Trostle Brigham, Freeing the Frieda in Me, 2003 (detail)
 

Butterflies are thus a vehicle in which to visually understand the balance between indefinable ideas. Yet, for artist and knowledgeable lepidopterist Holly Trostle Brigham, butterflies hold a personal symbolism. Butterflies appear over and over again in her Seven Sisters I paintings including Frida Kahlo, Judith Leyster, and Maria Sibylla Merian. Brigham chooses butterfly species that help to convey the narrative surrounding her female protagonists. For Brigham each butterfly symbolizes a specific idea and theme. Brigham’s most personal image and self-portrait “Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me” depicts herself as a winged pilot evoking imagery of butterfly wings and Amelia Earhart. Brigham gives herself the wings of a butterfly signifying her final assimilation of the motif. The painting stands as a metaphor for Brigham’s aspirations for physical, spiritual and intellectual fulfillment in life.[3]




Holly Trostle Brigham, Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me, 2002
 

It is no surprise that artists have gravitated toward the image of butterflies in their work. These creatures hold such beauty and grace, while also representing profound ideas. Additionally, simple adages like “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly” continue to ruminate throughout society. Butterflies hold powerful meaning for viewers. Their imagery has the ability to explain the inevitable: change. Whether that change is in the form of life, death, or metamorphosis it can be understood through the simple sight of a butterfly.

Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me as well as the Seven Sisters series is currently on display at the Luther W. Brady Gallery as a part of the Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise exhibit, which will be shown until February 28th.



[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 21
[2] "I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006." Damien Hirst. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
     <http://www.damienhirst.com/i-am-become-death-shatterer-o>.
[3] Brodsky, Judith, and Ferris Olin. Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise. Print. (Exhibition catalogue)

No comments:

Post a Comment

About the Blog

Ipsum Tempor

Sit amet

Covering exhibits at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery and giving you a peek into the Permanent Collection of the George Washington University.

Ultricies Eget

Coming Soon...

Coming Soon...
Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Metamorphosis of Butteflies in Art


A butterfly is a symbolic creature within the context of art and nature. It is admired for its beauty, fluidity, and evolution. A butterfly’s metamorphosis serves as a powerful metaphor for how equally transcendent human life can be. An old proverb continues to ruminate in our society, which expresses, “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly.”  This very resonating idea simply and thoughtfully addresses the balance between darkness and hope in human life. It is within these themes that artists like Dosso Dossi, Damien Hirst, and Holly Trostle Brigham explore and create artwork.

Butterflies symbolically appear in early works by Italian painter Dosso Dossi during the Renaissance. Specifically, in his piece Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, Dossi portrays the god Jupiter in the act of painting butterflies. The godliness of Jupiter empowers his painted creations to life and the butterflies are visibly beginning to emerge from his canvas. These butterflies intermingle with the colors of the rainbow in the background setting. The newly created souls that rest in the butterflies are meant to enter the world of men. The figures of Mercury and Virtue are tensely interacting in the scene as well. Mercury tries aimlessly to silence Virtue before Jupiter is disturbed during his act of creation. Dossi employs a didactic use of allusion to illustrate the complexity of these butterflies. Ultimately, Dossi’s butterflies show the delicacy of life: it can easily be created and taken away.


 Dosso Dossi, Jupiter Painting Butterflies, Mercury and Virtue, 1524  
 
        Damien Hirst, I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006


In 2006, an art piece emerged by artist Damien Hirst that elicited controversy and commentary on the same human principles explored in Dossi’s work. Rather than bringing butterflies to life like Jupiter, Hirst used the death of butterflies to speak to ideas on regeneration and revival. The piece titled I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds consisted of thousands of dead butterfly wings, resting in red household gloss paint. Hirst stated when reflecting on his work, “I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid.”[1] Hirst intended to reference the spiritual nature of butterflies that was used by Greeks to depict Psyche (soul) and Christian symbolism to signify resurrection in his work.[2] These elements are palpable throughout the piece as the viewer is confronted by the complex nature of the wings’ natural beauty. This beauty is a product of regeneration and metamorphosis that ultimately dissipates all over again. Thus, life and death emerge from the piece sublimely.


Holly Trostle Brigham, Freeing the Frieda in Me, 2003 (detail)
 

Butterflies are thus a vehicle in which to visually understand the balance between indefinable ideas. Yet, for artist and knowledgeable lepidopterist Holly Trostle Brigham, butterflies hold a personal symbolism. Butterflies appear over and over again in her Seven Sisters I paintings including Frida Kahlo, Judith Leyster, and Maria Sibylla Merian. Brigham chooses butterfly species that help to convey the narrative surrounding her female protagonists. For Brigham each butterfly symbolizes a specific idea and theme. Brigham’s most personal image and self-portrait “Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me” depicts herself as a winged pilot evoking imagery of butterfly wings and Amelia Earhart. Brigham gives herself the wings of a butterfly signifying her final assimilation of the motif. The painting stands as a metaphor for Brigham’s aspirations for physical, spiritual and intellectual fulfillment in life.[3]




Holly Trostle Brigham, Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me, 2002
 

It is no surprise that artists have gravitated toward the image of butterflies in their work. These creatures hold such beauty and grace, while also representing profound ideas. Additionally, simple adages like “Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly” continue to ruminate throughout society. Butterflies hold powerful meaning for viewers. Their imagery has the ability to explain the inevitable: change. Whether that change is in the form of life, death, or metamorphosis it can be understood through the simple sight of a butterfly.

Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me as well as the Seven Sisters series is currently on display at the Luther W. Brady Gallery as a part of the Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise exhibit, which will be shown until February 28th.



[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 21
[2] "I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006." Damien Hirst. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
     <http://www.damienhirst.com/i-am-become-death-shatterer-o>.
[3] Brodsky, Judith, and Ferris Olin. Holly Trostle Brigham: Dis/Guise. Print. (Exhibition catalogue)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Labels

Lorem ipsum

.

Lorem ipsum

Recent News

There was an error in this gadget

About

Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

Followers

Sociable

There was an error in this gadget