Friday, January 20, 2017

'The Devil Draws!'


When he tried sketching in Albania around 1849, Edward Lear (British, 1812-1888) encountered some opposition from the local residents.

"No sooner had I settled to draw than forth came the populace of Elbassán, one by one, and two by two, to a mighty host they grew, and there were soon from eighty to a hundred spectators collected, with earnest curiosity in every look; and when I had sketched such of the principal buildings as they could recognize, a universal shout of 'Shaitán!' (Devil) burst from the crowd; and strange to relate, the greater part of the mob put their fingers into their mouths and whistled furiously, after the manner of butcher-boys in England."

"Whether this was a sort of spell against my magic I do not know...[Later] one of those tiresome Dervíshes—in whom, with their green turbans, Elbassán is rich—soon came up, and yelled, 'Shaitán scroo!—Shaitán!' ('The Devil draws! Devil!') in my ears with all his force; seizing my [sketch]book also, with an awful frown, shutting it, and pointing to the sky, as intimating that heaven would not allow such impiety. It was in vain after this to attempt more; the 'Shaitán' cry was raised in one wild chorus—and I took the consequences of having laid by my fez for comfort's sake—in the shape of a horrible shower of stones, which pursued me to the covered streets..."

From Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania (The Balkans) by Edward Lear

9 comments:

Robyn Jorde said...

He wins the "comments from onlookers" story contest! Seriously, though, that must have been a frightening experience.

Carlos said...

As someone who's mother tongue is not English, I am amazed when I see someone write so well. It's incredible how much richness has been lost in both, the written and the spoken language. The same happens in Argentina with Spanish. Thank you James, for sharing this.

Philip Newsom said...

I never knew Edward Lear was a painter, always just loved his nonsense poems.

Jim Douglas said...

The Devil may draw, but not as well as Edward Lear! :)

Philip Newsom said...

I guess not many artists came from that village.

arturoquimico said...

When I worked in Saudi Arabia... drawing the human form was forbidden... but what beautiful calligraphy was out there...

Fabio Porta said...

arturoquimico, I had also heard that some religions strictly forbid drawing, I guess that must be true, given your expecience!

Hajra Meeks said...

It's actually a cultural bias, not explicitly a part of Islam. Based on what I know as a Historian of International History, the "no drawing figures" in Muslim circles originated from one of the 10 commandments, the one stating "Thou shall not worship graven images" to prevent idolatry. The Muslims, who are the third in line among the Abrahamic monotheisms, usually opt not to draw or sculpt at all to be in the clear of idolatry. Hence the emphasis on calligraphy and vegetal and geometric art forms in Islamic art and architecture. But there is no actual religious ban (just a cultural better-safe-than-sorry which usually comes along with poor education and poverty) against figural drawing in Islam. There are many examples of Islamic figural art, like the opulent Mughal and Persian Shahnamas, court portraits, and other gouache paintings produced in Muslim South-Asia and Persia.

Meera Rao said...

Fascinating!!!