Sketches of Pallas Athene

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athene's owl

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Athene was the Greek warrior goddess.  She might correspond to India’s Durga.  Her magnificent grey eyes were filled with light;  she came across the seas, larger than life, to inspire Perseus and other heroes on their dangerous odyssey. She lent them her weapons, her bearskin and Hermes’ gold sandals and cloak of invisibility.  Her creature is the Owl.  May her wisdom be our courage.

When I was a child, reading Charles Kingsley’s The Heroes, I copied out my favourite pages from the tale of Perseus and the Gorgon – how we face our shadow –  and illustrated them.  Botticelli’s allegorical painting of Pallas Athene and the troubled man who is half a horse, puzzled me.

I had last year in the back of my mind’s eye, Athene’s face as she strokes the centaur’s head.  When I was small, my grandmother must have told me the story, because always since then, I hear her crisp voice explaining this picture, perhaps she talked to me about the shield and the bearskin and the centaur and the spear.  Later, I learned to read.   An archetype behind my grandmother’s presence – the true picture (like a Botticelli or Leonardo) -transcends the suggestive physical form. The Presence of that art stood subtly behind Helen Ede’s face, her flavour and her voice.

Each child has a special feeling for her grandmother perhaps.  This is my own.

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The painting by Sandro Botticelli

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One of my versions, in 1987.  I too was on my inner journey …

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… to mend my dolls.

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I set forth into life, with Athene’s blessing and Hermes’ sandals

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Do I learn from books, or do I really look and see?  Wake up!

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Here are Ceres and John, the deep unfolding bud within Revelation.

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When I did this drawing – copying Botticelli’s – towards the end of last year, the allegory or mystery within it came up to the touch. She seems to raise the human animal body with all its memory and mythos, through levels of awakening:  they behold one another, astonished.  I particularly enjoyed drawing the centaur.

It was very difficult for me to draw Athene. When she at long last began to look like a goddess (not Botticelli’s look-like, but in her own right) I became deeply interested in the Centaur.   With him, the painting’s archetypal resonance emerges.  He is the daemon, the living creature of the woods:  his face is twisted like a root:  he is as we were when the Spirit world still shone through our irregular features –   a tall, noble, careworn personage, Cheiron who guided the Argonauts from his cave on Mount Pelion.  In the original Botticelli, he looks tall and spacious, but when I try to draw him, I discover his horse-body is a Shetland pony – short legs and haunches at the level of Athene’s knees.  So his distortion and its strange natural beauty in the Botticelli is curious:  the man body is long and powerful:  the horse body small and sturdy.

Try to imagine him here in this room:  great Devic man of the woods on a little Sheltie’s short legs which (relatively) scuttle him along like a small dog.

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Version 2

I always imagined Centaurs as the proud neck of great stallions who leap fallen trees and rocks effortlessly, read the stars and regard bipeds with disdain.  This one’s human body is outsize. Athene in my drawing is super-human size, she has very big feet.  She is a goddess.  I used to love the leaves and flowers on her shining dress.  Her face was rather grown up and sorrowful.  In my rendering, it is sensual like a female Pan, an awakened child, a bit like Botticelli’s earthy angels.  She gazes wonderingly at the Centaur creature whose dark locks of hair she strokes – in my drawing she might pull his hair, gently draw him up to her height, to be seen.   She seems to unmask nature.   Her presence and touch lifts him from small pony body (or cart-horse) to the godlike stature of human, and still he is uncoiling from his shy woodland state:  he shields himself like Adam and Eve:  he twists like an old tree. His eyes and consciousness do not know what or Who this is, that lifts, shines and troubles him.

The allegory is now clear to me.  Like the Birth of Aphrodite, it is another portrait of Renaissance in the collective soul-body at the time.   I am fascinated by his daemon woodiness and the idea that in any sylvan glade in the woods, these two might emerge through transpositions of the light.

In the painting they are on the shore of a lake by a temple; in the distance behind them sails a little boat. In my mind’s eye they are deep in the woods, among the trees. My early impress of childhood awakens to a transformed sound:  as I began to draw the Centaur, I heard and felt the ‘quickening’ in my body.  It is easier and a relief to draw his battered face than to try to represent a Botticelli beauty … I had a long struggle with her.  He is of the curled roots and loamy sharp smells of the woods.  Pan-like, he gives me his energy.

Like when I copied Botticelli’s Primavera Mercury some years ago, I understand God’s ‘twist’ and brush-stroke in our design, which we endure:  body’s spiral movement – face’s anxious uplift – essential in the overall design to support it like a pillar, like Atlas.

QLF49 Mercury April allegory.JPG

Mercury – Hermes – copy after Botticelli’s Primavera

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A week or two later, I did the same drawing, this time with my left hand.  Why?  Because my left hand – the surfacing subconscious or feminine, has not yet acquired bad habits.  It is less facile, so it is aware.  The lines come from within, slow, sensitive and deliberate, I seem to see where they should go.  I didn’t have to erase much.

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Centaur and Athene after Botticelli – drawn with left hand

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Athene herself looks amazed at what she uncovers.  It is related to her allegories of unmasking with Perseus and the Gorgon, and to my feeling with this drawing.  Her shield and bears-head and owl are not visible, but all are implied in her raising of the Centaur to the light.   In my right-hand version, there wasn’t much room on the paper to draw her big axe-head on the staff she holds, and there was no room at all for the Centaur’s bow.

Centaurs are the Sagittarian Archer.  Traditionally the Sags are small, dark and lithe, and swift with their arrows which travel far … until they reach the Saturn field of Capricorn.   In winter there is this tidal pressure and restraint:  centrifugue and centripetal movement, Jupiter and Saturn across the Tree:  winter.

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Aphrodite comes ashore with shadow.

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Hear the sea.  Walk in the sand.

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Copy of Sandro Botticelli's self-portrait detail from "Adoration of the Virgin"

Copy of Sandro Botticelli’s self-portrait detail from “Adoration of the Virgin”

My adventure invites fellow travellers. I am a poet, an artist and a seer. I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.

All art and creative writing in this blog is copyright © Janeadamsart 2012-2017. May not be used for commercial purposes. May be used and shared for non-commercial means with credit to Jane Adams and a link to the web address https://janeadamsart.wordpress.com/

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