Friday, June 24, 2005


The new Illustration Friday topic is Heroes - which is another difficult topic, I think.
Hero is an awfully overused word these days, so many modern 'heroes' are just very good at self publicity and even better at hiding their feet of clay.
Recent 'heroes' aka celebrities seem to be getting top billing on the news- regardless of anything else thats going on in the world - wars, famine, important stuff.

As a child i had some heroes from ancient myths and legends - and i originally thought about some of the heroic tales - including the story of Hero and Leander, which isn't so heroic but is about Hero.

Then i thought about the historical stories that had inspired me: Black Agnes, Lady Agnes Randolph [A.D. 1300?-1369?] from the Scottish Borders who used her intelligence and wit to hold her castle against the besieging forces of England's earl of Salisbury for over five months. Her husband was away and she was seen as easy prey but she managed to hold out and finally win through; despite poor odds.

I also considered Horatius Cocles who held off the Etruscans at the Sublician bridge, initially fighting with two companions and then singlehanded after demanding that the woooden bridge was destroyed to prevent the Etruscans from advancing. He swam the Tiber in full armour - some say he was drowned and others that he lived and was rewarded with the land he could plough around in one day.

I prefer to think he was saved by the Tiber Himself and lived to farm his own land.
There is a really interesting webpage based on the Horatius story which was originally printed in the British Army Journal in 1953.
Quite revealing regarding modern army practises.

I also considered Marcus Curtius who flung himself, horse and all, into a chasm that appeared in the Roman Forum, after an Oracle said that it could only be closed by the most precious thing Rome possessed. I liked his self confidence apart from anything else.

Finally after deciding these were all inappropriate for some reason or another, I thought about
Medecins Sans Frontieres and how they go in to areas after disasters, wars and epidemics.

I can only think of these doctors and nurses and ancillary staff as heroes when i consider the fact that they go in to support and care for people in Ebola and Marburg virus outbreaks - the thought of people being heroic enough to tend to the sick whilst everyone is dying of mysterious diseases and bizarre and horrifying symptoms made me think of the Plague doctors with their bird-like masks.
The masks were actually useful since they prevented droplet infection and the herbs and essential oils they contained may have helped disinfect the air the doctors [apothecaries] breathed.
The robes and hoods were waxed and prevented fleas from attaching -and so may have prevented the doctors themselves from being infected.

Plague Doctor with Mask - in honour of the Medecins sans Frontiers

I painted this image in Painter 7 - the mask details are based roughly on the engraving "Doktor Schnabel von Rom" ("Doctor Beak from Rome") , Rome 1656
The skeleton and hourglass appearing from the gloom are meant to prepresent the Danse Macabre murals from the middle ages, that represent ever present Death and also the Memento mori - reminders of death that appeared on gravestones [usually skulls, bones and hourglasses to depict the transience of life].
When i was a child, i was told that these were pirate graves but i soon realised that there were a tremendous number of pirates buried inland in Scotland and did a bit of research at the local library.


Bana Palomitaz said...

Wooooooowwww! so coool!!!!!!! *_*

Anonymous said...

Congrats for thinking beyond the "norm", and putting together a thought provoking entry. Well done.


Rick Lovell said...

Remarkable, both in the depth of thought and in the painting. Very dark, and very appropriate for these heroes who work under the most gruesome conditions. Impressive work, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful with a wonderful outcome including history, the present and reality!

elaine said...

Very interesting image and I loved the pirate graves thing (I was told that too lol).

Rebeccashane said...

yeah this is great.. I love the darkness that creates a mood for the work.. NICE

The Complimenting Commenter said...

That is a great painting and a great post too. I like your assessment of what a hero is and what society sees as a hero sometimes. Bravo.

Emily said...

Fascinating, Alison! The painting you did is so dark in nature and gives the feel of mystery mingling with death and illness. I found the history interesting as well.

Mick said...

Hi Alison,
What can I say? Well tohought out and perfectly executed. WOW!

Becky said...

A lesson both in sacrifice and beauty. Well done - nicely excuted. Love it.

chillies and chocolate said...

Wow, this is rather amazing!

日月神教-向左使 said...