A Guide To: Sacred and Profane

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Fig.i Calum Colvin
The Death of Venus, 1986

‘Sacred and Profane’ 1998, was an exhibition of eight large-scale photographic artworks commissioned by the National Galleries of Scotland. The works are investigations of well known paintings in the collection such as Titian, Rubens and Canova using techniques from painting, sculpture and photography to create complex compositions which question and comment on the status and narrative of the original artworks. A prominent and recurrent theme in this work is Scotland as artifact and environment.

Exhibited in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, National Machado de Castro Museum, Coimbra, Portugal in 1998, and in 1999 Martha Schneider Gallery, Chicago. Sponsored by Fujifilm Professional; Percy Thomas Partnership (Scotland); B+S Visual Technologies and Fine Art Research, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. Several of the works are in the collection of Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. A full colour 47-page catalogue was published by The National Galleries of Scotland, essay by James Lawson, University of Edinburgh. Media reviews in Scotland on Sunday 3/5/98; New Statesman 1/5/98; The Sunday Times 19/4/98; The Times Metro Magazine 16/5/98; The Scotsman 20/4/98,24/4/98, 9/5/98; The Herald 24/4/98.Also radio interviews for BBC Radio 4 ‘Front Row’, and BBC Radio Scotland ‘The Usual Suspects’. Work discussed and featured in ‘Scottish Art’ (2nd edition, 2000) by Duncan Macmillan, Mainstream. Interview in ‘Scotlands’ 5.1, 1998 by James Lawson. 




The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art first showed the work of Calum Colvin in the exhibition The Vigorous Imagination in 1987. The photographs were based on famous Old Master paintings, by Ingres in particular. Since that time Colvin has refined and extended his techniques and themes to include computer-manipulated and eschatological imagery. However, for Sacred and Profane he has chosen to return to his original technique of painting onto specially- constructed three-dimensional sets which, when photographed from a certain perspective, creates the illusion of two-dimensional images.

Colvin’s new photographs arc based on some of the most famous works in the National Galleries of Scotland. His reinterpretations of these well-known paintings in the light of our common contempo­rary culture and of his own personal iconography will provide a new thought-provoking layer to the already rich seam of historical perspectives.

We would like to thank Fujifilm Professional; Fine Art Research, Duncan of Jordanstone, University of Dundee; Percy Thomas Partnership (Scotland); and B&S Visual Technologies for their support of this project.

This exhibition, although shown in the Gymnasium Gallery’ at the Scottish National Gallery’ of Modern Art, is a joint venture between that Gallery’ and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’. We are grate­ful to Julie Lawson, Assistant Curator of Photography, for organising the show. To the artist we owe special thanks.


Director, National Galleries of Scotland

Fig 1 Calum Colvin The Death of Venus



THE PHILISTINE – OR PERHAPS WITH LESS PREJUDICE he should be called the barbarian – walks through the ruins of a civilisation as he would past its relics in a museum or gallery, unaware that they might have meaning or relevance. Insofar as our own understanding of the works of our predecessors is in­complete – as it must be – there is something of barbarism in all of us. Yet we struggle to make what remedy we can of the condition. Where the Fine Art of the past is concerned, curators and art historians try to establish context and signifi­cance for works. It is an undertaking that is beset by difficulties; but they attempt to return works to cultural memory for the gallery visitor or the student of art.

However, it is not only for curators and historians to fore­stall the visitor who says dismissively, ‘What is this to me?’ It is also the artist who can give meaning and value back to works. Whilst the art-historical professionals reply that tire answer is to be found in the past, the artist can show how works connect with present concerns. This is what Calum Colvin does in the images that comprise Sacred and Profane.

Colvin has chosen eight pieces which the National Galleries of Scotland have in their care, and conducts a meditation upon them. Sacred and Profane continues and expands an interest of long standing. He has treated the relationship of works hallowed in the history of art and modern life on previous occasions [fig.r ]. Here, he is able to propose that the core con­cerns of Titian, Rubens, Elsheimer, Canova, Etty and David Scott remain affecting and challenging now. And he is able to

Fig.2 Michelangelo, Libyan Sibyl (Sistine Chapel, Rome) 

re-present these works to the modern observer in terms of an essential connectedness with personal and with broader pol­itical and cultural preoccupations.

In this, he re-enacts a procedure – if not necessarily with the same motivation – that artists have long adopted: he has claimed creative licence. Paintings and sculptures have not de­manded of independent-minded observers and students a Pharisaical deference to their brittle integrity. The greatest works have not been cast in stone, serving for subsequent gen­erations of artists only to copy slavishly. Rather, the intelligent and imaginative student has assimilated his or her models, grasped their meaning and perhaps discovered their potential­ity for being moulded to new purposes. We have a case to hand in the Stoning of St Stephen by Adam Elsheimer. The assassin whom Stephen half obscures, centre stage, has come to us out of Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl in the Sistine Chapel [fig.2], The turbaned figure to the left who also raises a stone may derive from the boy who tries to run away from the scene of the Martyrdom of St Matthew by Caravaggio in the Contarelli Chapel in S. Luigi dci Francesi, in Rome [fig. 3]. Michelangelo’s and Caravaggio’s figures have not demanded obedience; and Elsheimer has even found different meanings for the poses. Art­ists have always had the prerogative of thinking about their precedents in a spirit of admiration, not of idolatry.

Fig.3 Caravaggio, Martyrdom of St Matthew, detail (Contarelli Chapel, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome) 

Colvin, the photographer, sculptor, painter, treats his mod­els in similar fashion, as sources rather than authorities. But his method is novel and, involving all these media, creates images of great complexity. Indeed, it’s not enough to list the media employed; it is also necessary to describe the work as instal­lation, objet trouve, even ready-made, for he has constructed domestic interiors and filled them with the junk, the furnishings and apparatus, of contemporary life. Upon these scenes he has painted selected elements of the images in the National Galleries. He then photographs the resulting superimposition or palimpsest of image and objects. Clearly, the procedure is elaborate and laborious.

The process can be described as going from set-building to photography. In fact, it is necessary to set the sequence also in the opposite order. Upon the domestic setting, the imagery, so it seems, is projected. The idea of projection -something quntessentially photographic, for photography is founded within the notion that light travels in straight lines – is crucial. The camera that, at the end, will receive the palimpsestical image acts as a sort of projector of the flat image. What Colvin actu­ally does is set a drawing after the image in the back of his large- format camera and points it at his tableau. He can look through the back of the camera and see where his drawn image registers upon the furnished scene. He then plots the lines of the draw­ing into the three dimensions of the installation, after which he can paint the relevant surfaces within it. The result, from the point of view of the camera and the observer of Colvin’s photo­graphs, is a seamless image superimposed upon a real still life of domestic clutter.

The static point of view which the photograph insists upon, and the complete image that results, stand in dialectical oppo­sition to the mobile perspective that the observer can conceive for himself. The observer who is not committed to the camera’s point of view conceives the fragmented reality of the image and the tableau. It is a common, though always surprising, experi­ence to have been convinced by a trick of illusionistic painting; that is, to grasp at the same time the illusion and the flat fact. Titian, three of whose works Colvin has selected to ponder, holds an important place in the history of illusionistic painting, as his illusion oscillates with the physical ‘fact’ of pigment. In the case of Colvin’s work, the experience of holding the image and the reality simultaneously in mind is a sort of cubistic explosion.

Fig.+ Pablo Picasso, Les demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York) © Succession Picasso and DACS, London 1998 

The fact that Colvin’s camera serves both as a projector of the image and a receptor of what we are calling the palimpsest intriguingly opens up for the observer an ancient question about the nature of vision. The sensation of looking at the pho­tographs is one of occupying the position and function, at the same time, of a camera and of a projector. This simultaneous receive and projector of images is an apparatus that is more complex than the eye, as we normally think of it. In the Middle Ages, it was a matter of serious debate whether seeing was a matter of what was called ‘intromission’ or‘extramission’. These terms correspond with reception and projection. On the one hand, the sense of sight was thought of as a process of reception of images given off by objects (intromission). On the other, it was proposed that the eye, conceived as a more active instru­ment, emitted a sort of beam of rational light, or geometry’ (extramission). Such a conception made sense to the medieval science of optics, which was largely an account of vision within the terms of Euclidian geometry. Modern optical science tells us that extramission does not happen. But psychology is less dog­matic on the point; and the history of painting in this century can largely be taken as a rejection of the modern scientific un­derstanding.

When Colvin uses his camera as, in effect, a projector, he proposes an extramissive or, in more familiar terms, expression­ist vision. The vision that is sent out by’ the observer is, in a cru­cial sense, imposed upon die world and is a product of the mind that originated it. The idea that the mind of the observer modi­fies tiiat which it observes was stated with particular clarity’ by’ Picasso in one of the most historically’ significant paintings of the twentieth century’, Les demoiselles d’Avignon, of 1907 [fig.4]. The distortions that the women in the picture undergo arc to be accounted for as the action of the mind of their observer, originally a sailor returned from his travels to the brothel of the

Fig.7 David Teniers Yr.,Boors Drinking (National Gallery of Scotland) 

rue d’Avignon.1 Having been perhaps to the South Seas, he sees the girls overlaid by his memory of distant encounters, and being a Spaniard he sees them as Iberian heads of the art of a remote time. In the National Galleries of Scotland, there is a picture that anticipates Picasso’s projective vision, and Colvin’s. Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon, of 1881, is also a work of prime art-historical significance [fig-5j- The‘vision’ is that of the pious congregation which, emerged on feast-day from church, their imaginations filled with the priest’s sermon on the theme of Jacob and the Angel, sec the event acted out anew in the tra­ditional wrestlers’ games of Brittany. Vision is in the mind of the witness. Art colours the world for Colvin.

Mundane reality and poetic imagining overlap in these pic­tures by Gauguin and Picasso and in the photographs of Colvin. In intromissive terms, the eye receives the image of a collision or entanglement of art and tat, of the Low and the High, in the photographs. When Colvin calls die work Sacred and Profane, he ackowlcdges this opposition, and at the same time proposes drat their opposition is not irreconcilable.

It is a venerable artistic enterprise, to attempt to connect what is lofty in imagination and humble in life. Many artists have attempted the difficult task. On the one hand, there are the ideal types that have been developed in the visual and literary arts to act out dramas undistorted by topical and parochial detail. The National Galleries furnish an example in Gavin Hamilton’s Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus [fig.6]. But what is Hecuba to me? On the other hand, an art that is absorbed by the minutiae of the here-and-now clearly does not treat general issues, at least not ostensibly. Brouwer and Teniers do not present scenes of exemplary’ human conduct [fig-7].

Fig. 5 Paul GauguinThe Vision after the Sermon,1888 (National Gallery of Scotland) 

Fig.6 Gavin Hamilton, Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus (National Gallery of Scotland) 
Fig.8 William Hogarth, The Rake's Progress, Plate 8 (National Gallery of Scotland) 
Fig.8 William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress, Plate 8 (National Gallery of Scotland) 

The artist who perhaps epitomises the observer of ‘low’subject-matter for the modern public is William Hogarth, the tercentenary of whose birth fell in 1997 – the year Colvin began work on Sacred and Profane. However, Hogarth is bet­ter seen as an example to Colvin in a different task than the representation of what is low. In fact, Hogarth attempts to connect the high and the low, the general and the particular. Especially in his graphic work, Hogarth seems at first to be merely satirical, dealing with the England of his day. But doser study reveals that his concerns were also universal. For the compassionate witness, a whole civilisation is fallen, in the image of Tom Rakewell in the final scene of The Rake’s Progress [fig.8].

Hogarth despised the piety of the critic, the obscurantism of the connoisseur and the mouthed invocations of the fashion­able herd before art made sacred in the Salon. An art that con­nected, however, with the passions of ordinary human life could never be sacred in this phoney way: a sort of benign profanation was required, and Hogarth did that by forcing the local upon the universal, as Rembrandt had done before him. By that means, he believed, a true art replaced a false. The some­what democratic argument that is implicit, to the effect that the moral and emotional life of the great is the same as that of the humble, is also present in the painting of David Wilkie, where, for example, the man whose property is being seized in lieu of rent experiences defeat on a Michelangelesque scale [fig-9].

Fig. 9 David Wilkie, Distraining for Rent, 1815, detail (National Gallery of Scotland) 

Colvin’s action is similar to Hogarth’s and Wilkie’s. Rather as kitsch or gee-gaws from the antique shop will pollute the most elegant surroundings, high art is subverted by being cast into such tat-infested domestic interiors. Flame-effect electric fires, for all that they have the colours of a deacon’s cope, jar against scenes of martyrdom; ironing boards have no place in the glade of a virgin goddess; and the hostess trolley should be conspicuous by its absence from the banquets of kings. How­ever, this is not a subversion designed to display high art’s emp­tiness. On the contrary, it is an intervention to save it from the emptiness that the uncomprehending – the philistine – will pro­nounce upon it.The art-historical way to make objects of figurative art alive and full of meaning is to seek out what were the premises of thought and sentiment at the time when they were made. Less scholarly perhaps, the museological approach might be to set works in time capsules – surrounded by what could be called ‘cognate’ artefacts. Then there is Colvin’s method, which may be described as abstractionist or analytical. It turns its face away from the work of art as a thing of glamour and celebrity, and to that extent it is serious.

There are models in ancient piety for these approaches. Whilst the scholar presents a spare and venerable object whose essential remoteness will never be quite undone, the museo­logist intends something more evocative, a manifestation and a spectacle. At length, the artist/critic discovers the fundamen­tal moral elements of the work, and presents them as having survived and as retaining their power to move us – to prompt us to rejoice with those who rejoice and lament with those who lament. Of course, these categories need not be exclusive. But in any event, the moral core having been established, the artist can weave these elements back into topical and local dramas. The power of venerable art to make resonant the modem scene was recognised with particular acuity by Edouard Manet. Surely it is Christ as Man of Sorrows who strikes a telling note in Bar at the Folies Bergeres?

Pain, compassion, friendship, fear, denunciation, betrayal, hope, acquiescence: these are among the moral elements of the works that Colvin has chosen to treat in Sacred and Profane. It has demanded a close empathy on Colvin’s part to have done so, for it is at the end of a journey, impelled by imagination and experience, of emotional identification with protagonists within the works, that the elements have been found. We make

Fig.10 Agesander, Athenodorus and Polydorus of Rhodes. The Laocobn, r.125 bc (Vatican Museum, Rome) 

some sort of sense of myth when we arrive at this core, for we identify there principles – things that persist through changing or evolving narratives.

The discovery of the emotional or moral core of the work of art was the task that Goethe set himself, when he contemplated The Laocoon, the work of Hellenistic sculpture around which has focussed so much discussion of ideality and expression in art [fig.10], Goethe’s action was also one of abstraction, or, we could say, of nominating the abstract value. So, he said, terror, pity and fear were evoked by the statue: the first by the plight of the father, the second by that of the older son and the last by the predicament of the younger son.2 Artists sought to do the same thing. Both Etty and Scott set their thoughts about The Laocoon at the centre of their pictures The Combat (page 28) and Philocectes (page 30). Etty, aiming to present the emotions in their purest form, presented his protagonists without the sup­port of a text. He explained his purpose: ‘My aim in all my great pictures has been to paint some great moral of the heart.’3 In this, he did something similar to what Giambologna did in composing the statuary group of two men and a woman, that later came to be called The Rape of the Sabine [fig. 11]. In the first instance Giambologna was telling no specific story: ‘The sub­ject was chosen to give scope to the knowledge and study of art.’4 It is likely that he was provoked by critical consideration and discussion The Laocoon to abstract emotions like this.

Fig.11 Giovanni da Bologna (Giambologna), The Rape of the Sabine (Loggia dci Lanzi, Florence) 

Nearly three hundred years later, Etty did the same. David Scott, like Etty, used Laocobn as his model. It was intelligent of him to recall the Trojan priest in the tale of a Greek warrior who, at tire other end of the tale, was also attacked by a serpent. Or else, it was for the sake of expressing heroic suffering – a thing so loft}’ as to be abstract – that he went to critical writings about the treatment of emotion. Heinrich Winckelmann also wrote about Laocobn and noted the similarity of his suffering to that of Philoctctcs in Sophocles’ play of that name.5 It is this emotional or dramatic essence – something that endures the manipulation that his method involves – that Colvin places at the centre of his photographs. The three Graces are united in friendship – purified to the point of distillation; their ghost is present where the sick are cared for.

When Colvin superimposes the images upon the domestic tableaux, or, in the case of The Three Graces (page 26) a hospi­tal setting, it is appropriate for him to edit the former. Where, in the original works, there was elaboration of characterisation or spectacle, he puts something simpler. The complication comes afterwards when he connects the art-image back into contemporary life. However, for all that, the observer begins at the same irreducible moral basis.

Upon the moral or mythic core of the individual works in the National Galleries Colvin lays down veils of narrative, meditation, argument and humorous digression, and, again after the manner of the palimpsest, creates a work of resonant thematic colour, always somehow transparent rather than ob­scuring, like the pigment of the Flemish Primitives.

Over his narratives is an autobiographical glaze. We are alerted to attempt to trace it in all eight images by Colvin’s self­portrait presence in The Feast of Herod (page 34.) and The Ston­ing of St Stephen (page 32), the two images which have sacred history as their theme. In the one case, the artist recoils in con­sternation from the consequences of a decision made. In the other, it is he who undergoes a martyrdom: the actual instru­ment, an object of Scottish kitsch; his sin, listening to a celes­tial voice calling him to the ascetic’s place. The punishment is meted out by the parochial, who hate those whose vision ex­tends beyond the local.

The thread of autobiography is started in these images and, as a result, the observer possesses it as one of the tools of inter­pretarion for the others. Thus, the presence of a record sleeve showing a couthy family group and entitled Round at Calum’s, in Colvin’s treatment of David Scott’s Philoctetes, sets the event at least partly in the context of autobiography. Objects often stand in cubistic disjunction from one another – juxtaposed as well as superimposed – but we can, if we wish, assemble a theory about what this text says: the wounded and agonised warrior upon a dressing-table, from out of one of the drawers of which is disgorged a multitude of prophylactic or rubber gloves. Elsewhere in the series, the autobiographical thread is less prominent in the weave. For example, it is only familiarity with Colvin’s earlier work, in which a kilted Action Man doll often figured as the artist’s proxy, that enables us to recognise him in the role of Actaeon when he comes upon Diana. It can­not be necessary to take this action man altogether seriously. Or rather, it is necessary to go along with Colvin and Hogarth again, and even Shakespeare, and say that the serious and the humorous do not exclude one another. That record sleeve in Philoctetes is a self-effacing Scottish joke. In The Stoning of St Stephen, the dead canary is taken up into heavenly glory, cage and all.

Another veil is political and cultural. Colvin has been inter­ested in the Scottish national identity for a long time. In the present work, he notes the present historical moment. With the referendum vote of 1997, the decision is made; there will be a Scottish parliament. That, among other things, is the prospect that Colvin / Herod confronts in The Feast of Herod. Salome re­veals John the Baptist’s head, like the contents of an egg, per­haps a curate’s one. Rubens’ treatment of the subject serves as a good model for some of the emotions that accompany a change such as that which is impending. There is an appetite whetted; here is the promise delivered. Whether ghastly or as tasty as Herodias finds it, responses are ambivalent. A similar contrast perhaps points to the same theme in Colvin’s treatment of The Stoning of St Stephen, where the gruesome and the glorious (as in Elsheimer’s picture) are both present. Assuredly, we will not have England to blame, and whether or not we make some­thing of ourselves morally and culturally is our responsibility. The titles of the books scattered about Herod allude to the pos­sibilities of true cultural ambition or a degraded appetite or one of sentimental fancy.

Fig.12 William Holman Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd (City Art Galleries, Manchester) 

The idea of a quest in pursuit of an object merely of fantasy as a personal and a cultural error is presented in Colvin’s treat­ment of Diana and Acteon (page 36). The hunter of Titian’s painting has been transformed, as has been seen, into a Scots­man. The stag that he normally stalks is another cliche of Scottishness. Holman Hunt might have made Colvin’s picture. His Hireling Shepherd had, a moment before the one shown, pursued a fantasy version of the Virgin Mary, dressed in white with halo of head scarf and lamb, only to find the whore of Babylon and receive from her the sign of death in the form of the Death’s Head moth [fig.12]. Colvin’s Scotsman make a similar mistake. He is engaged upon a sexual quest, his object a living substitute for Madonna: however, what he comes upon is not an accommodating and dedicated lover but the reality of domestic life – Diana conflated with an iron and an ironing- board. He retreats into cliched Scottishness, represented by the litter of tat at the left-hand side of the picture. From the theme treated by Titian, we know to think that he is being consigned to a sort of cultural death, the spectacle of a Scotland for mere tourism, unimaginative and idle.

Colvin’s Diana and Acteon is about the error of action in pursuit of fantasy. In Etty’s The Combat, as Colvin presents it, a similar error seems to be present, and this time it is that of the female protagonist in the picture. Domestic business binds the victim and the woman pleading with the guitar-wielding victor.

Here, a yellow vacuum cleaner is the principal prop. In Diana and Acteon, Diana’s black servant is replaced by a black vacuum cleaner. With woman and victor in The Combat emerging from a place of exotic flora at the left, the logical reading is that he has been conjured into existence by her as a rival of the victim. Here, the implication is that dissatisfaction with one’s lot, with the social and emotional fracturing that results, is because of a misconstruction of cultural values. Again, the roots of tragedy as Hogarth conceives them are not very different. The Rake wanted to live a life out in the grand manner at the expense of the industry and probity that, for Hogarth, are its proper foun­dation.

Conception and misconception do not stand in conven­tional opposition in Colvin’s Sacred and Profane. In fact the ba­sis upon which we believe our eyes and our impulses is called into question in the terms of another theme that weaves thoughout the work. Photography, for all the possibilities of manipulation that are available, is what may be called an ‘ana­logue’ art. That is, there was a configuration of tones or colours in the world that, from a fixed position in space, could be im­pressed upon a photo-sensitive surface. Analogous with this notion is the idea of copying or parroting. It is a parrot-like thing that emerges before the consternated Herod. However, technology advances; an intermediary screen has now appeared between the camera and the world. It is the interface at which all the data that constitute primary visual experience is encoded or digitised. Because of that interface, the one-to-one relation­ship of image to reality loses probability.

Diana and Callisto (page 38) takes up the theme. Callisto is accused of betrayal by Diana. In Ovid’s account – the basis of Titian’s – a sexual encounter between Callisto and Jupiter was the cause of the virgin goddess’s anger. Here, Callisto is conflated with a computer screen, which Diana, the old bellows camera, construes as the instrument of misrepresentation and therefore of concealment and duplicity. In Diana and Acteon, Acteon, the hunter, is identified with the stalker or the paparazzo, the person who spies through key holes. He discred­its the very faculty of vision.

In Colvin’s Feast of Herod, with the uncovering of the char­ger, a roll of photographic negative is exposed and unwound, undone by light. It may be that soon we will not have the ac­tion of light upon photographic film to remember things by. Reflection and the mirror – and with them photography – have been in peril. It has been suggested that Diana broke them in the scene with Actaeon. At the end of Sacred and Profane, however, in an image of, it seems, fathomless complexity, the shards of fractured vision and belief in vision are reconstituted. It is always a question, whether the image is on the surface of the mirror, of the water, of the picture plane, or whether it is real, but ineluctably remote, behind the sacred surface of reflec­tion. Colvin’s Venus Anadyomene (page 40) has a reflection at its centre. In fact, it has two. First, there is the dressing-table mir­ror’s reflection of Venus painted upon the left-hand wall (and therefore reversed) and assimilated to the Venus painted on the installation. Then, there is a camera set on a tripod in the pupil of her eye. The observed observes: it is impossible to say which is which, the camera to be seen in the picture or the camera that took the picture. Vision, as confirmation of the world, is no better attested than by a glance or a gaze returned.

Venus has been present in one of her guises or as an unseen mover of events throughout die series, Sacred and Profane. The Graces represented the parts of her benignity. Her compassion­ate and nearly human virtue had moved the woman in The Combat. Her profane nature had touched Salome, with tragic consequences. The Trojan War, and Philoctetes’ agony, had proceeded from her charm and her gift to Paris of beauty, in the form of Helen. Then, it was her principle that undermined Diana’s chaste rule. In her first and final manifestation, in the picture from Titian’s studio, at last she shows herself. In the mirror, her image is remote, like the bottom of a rock pool, but it is also immanent in the installation, and the remote and the immanent coincide. That has been Colvin’s proposition: that myth and reality, art and life, the past and the present are not adrift from one another.

The fragility of memory is a peril to our civilisation and cul­ture. What if our past should become meaningless and we should become blind to the art in our galleries? Colvin’s Sacred and Profane argues that true memory is human feeling authen­ticated. Past and present are not essentially distinct when au­thenticity is the test.


  1. 1.   An accessible introduction to the medieval literature considering the question is given by James Ackerman in ‘Alberti’s Light’, first published in Studies in Late Medieval and Renaissance Painting in Honor of Millard Meiss, ed. I. Lavin and J. Plummer (New York, New York University Press, 1978), pp.1-27; also published in Distance Points: Essays in Theory and Renaissance Art and Architecture, (Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press, 1994), pp.59-96.
  2. 2.    The sailor is included in preparatory drawings for the picture.
  3. 3.    See M. Bieber, Laocoon: The Influence of the Group since its Rediscovery (Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1967), p.27: ‘The suffering of Laocoon excites terror, indeed, to the highest degree, while the situation of the dying son excites pity, and that of the elder son fear, yet at the same time hope for his escape?
  4. 4.    D. Farr, William Etty (London, Routledge & Kcgan Paul, 1958), p.11.
  5. 5.    See, Giambologna (1529-1608): Sculptor to the Medici, exhibition catalogue (Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1978), p.15.

Bieber, op.cit, p.21.