Between Faith & Doubt -- page 6 of 6

Omar, pictured as the type of philosopher, holds the wine bowl, and the two bacchantes who share his couch are supplied with flowers, a thyrsus, and a tamborine, all symbols of pleasure and transcience. In quatrain 59 Omar tells his friends:

I made a Second Marriage in my house;
Divorced old barren Reason from my bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

The graceful young girl with flowers in her hair and a pipe at her lips is the "Daughter of the Vine." She regards somewhat questioningly the tall, somberly garmented figure, surrounded with the attributes and symbols of wisdom, who is "old barren Reason." The meaning of the text is conveyed clearly without the need for verses.

One of the most powerful of Vedder's painting, the Sphinx of the Seashore was also derived from a plate drawn for the Rubáiyát. In his Notes, Vedder called the plate The Inevitable Fate. "The all-devouring Sphinx typifies Nature," he wrote, " the Destroyer, eminent above the broken forms of life.... The Philosopher [Omar] had evidently pondered on the fact of the disappearence of so many forms of life and the certainty that in time even man himself with all his inventions must disappear from the face of the earth. What wonder that he calls the brief moment of existence between two eternities a spangle or that the artist should represent this idea under the form of the all-devouring Sphinx." [21]

Though the painting is dominated by a mythic predatory creature with the head and breasts of a woman and the body of a tiger, its impact is not that of a work of fantasy. Instead, the reality of what is depicted becomes increasingly convincing, leaving the viewer uneasy and uncertain. The everyday environment as usually perceived, "normal reality," becomes a fiction in the presence of this painting, and the grim seashore scattered with detritus, the human and animal bones, the distant crumbling buildings of a more encompassing reality.

A fascinating, strangely ambiguous painting, Superest Invictus Amor, while not based on the Rubáiyát, was done at the same period as the paintings after the Rubáiyát. It is usually called Love Ever Present, but the title is more accurately translated as "Love Survives Unconquered." [22] Two extant drawings show the development of the idea for the painting. A sketchy, presumably early study shows a child holding an arrow together with several blossoms at his side as he stands on a two-headed pedestal, amid classical architectural fragments. A second drawing shows a complete study of the adolescent nude as seen in the painting with a background of cypress trees and clouds.

In the final painting the androgynous character of the languorous adolescent Cupid is accentuated by the extreme clarity of his decorative wings and bow, of the Janus-headed pedestal, and of which claim attention somewhat too insistently. The slightly vacuous pose, have a touch of fin de siècle eroticism unusual in the work of Vedder.

The Janus head was interpreted by W. H. Downes "as facing two ways, towards the past and towards the future." [23] This questionable intrepretation was repeated and elaborated on in the Houghton Mifflin catalogue, [24] which identified the old man as the Past and that of the maiden as the Future. Apparently it had not been noted that the bearded head of the male has ram's horns and pointed ears and thus represents Pan and sensual pleasure. The feminine head is that of Psyche, whom Cupid loved. When the triumvirate of mythological dieties are viewed as a group, it is apparent that the figure of Love stands upon the pedestal between the allegorical images for the two aspects of love, sensuality and the soul.

Vedder's Rubáiyát drawings and the paintings related to them, such as his Sphinx of the Seashore, deal with the ancient themes of fate, immortality, and the origin and destiny of man. Although analogous, they differ considerably from the philosophical and religious expressions of the Rubáiyát's text. Vedder was moved by the Rubáiyát to consider not so much the transcience of all earthly things, as FitzGerald reckoned its theme to be, but the troubled and continuing quest of the soul, which is faced on the one hand with the allure of sensuous pleasures, with their implications of transciency, and on the other hand with the design for the permanency afforded by Christian faith. He formulated the preoccupying theme in his painting The Soul between Doubt and Faith, painted in about 1887. The Soul, depicted as a shadowed, troubled face, inwardly oriented, is shown flanked on one side by Doubt, a worldly classical sage, whose face expresses sensuous vitality and intellectual acuity, and on the other side by Faith, incarnate in a frontally depicted impassive young face surrounded by a halo and a radiance. Vedder suggests no resolution to the wrestlings of the Soul, which remains forever torn between the questions of Doubt, as posed by the world, and the hope of faith. There is no single painting that is more central to an expression of Vedder's life and thought. In writing to his good griend and loyal patron Agnes Ethel Tracy in18787, a year in which there were many prospective buyers for his paintings, Vedder urged her to keep the "3 heads" (The Soul between Doubt and Faith) and went on to say, "you will never get from me a more remarkable picture." [25]


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