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William Harper

Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Haruspex
gold, silver, enamel, pearl, coral, shell, and carapace
11 1/2 x 2 1/2 x 2 1/4 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the James Renwick Alliance and museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program

In ancient Rome a haruspex was a soothsayer who foretold events by reading the entrails of ritually slaughtered animals. The brooch is a metaphor for the creative process: the artist foretells his future by reading his own disemboweled intestines. At midsection on the body of the stick figure, we see the entrails atop the coral. The head expresses anguish—the artist eviscerated and in the throes of creativity. Harper incorporates a jewel-like scarab carapace to symbolize the visionary power of the mind, a reference to the haruspex.