Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ceci n'est pas une arme

Last week Red Baron changed languages. Instead of practicing his English he went to the French Summer University at the Frankreich Zentrum of Freiburg's university. This year's topic? Cartoons or rather caricatures before and after Charlie Hebdo. There were courses, conferences, and discussions on the history, the meaning, and the importance of caricatures.

I was particularly interested in political cartoons and will show you a collection starting with a graffiti found in Rome's catacombs. Many Roman citizens disliked the infiltration of the Christian faith into their society and were opposed to the new religion. The following drawing shows Christ on the cross with the head of a donkey and a caption written in clumsy Greek letters. The translation from Greek, the lingua franca of the ancient world, into the lingua franca of today: Alexancenos praying to God. Was it a classmate of Alexancenos who pulled his friend's leg?

The time of the Reformation saw the breakthrough of political caricatures that were mostly aimed against the Church or simply anti-Semitic. Wood engravings were easily reproduced and copies widely distributed. Messages expressed in pictures even reached the mostly illiterate population. The caricature of 1545 is titled: The pope awards a concilium to Germany. Emperor Ferdinand had in fact planned a council dealing with the complaints of the Protestant movement against the Roman Church to be held on German territory. Instead Pope Paul III summoned his Catholic peers to Trient to discuss reforms within the Church excluding the Protestants. The cartoon shows the pope riding a pig and carrying a pile of stinking shit in place of a monstrance. Luther himself wrote the explanatory text: Pig you have to let yourself be ridden with spurs on both sides. You want to have a concilium? Well, take my poopilium instead.

A caricature dated 1305 of a Jewish Rabbi at the Marktkirche in Wittenberg sucks even more. In his essay Vom Schem Hamphoras (1543), Luther commented on this Judensau sculpture echoing the anti-Semitism of his time; he located the Talmud in the sow's bowels: Here on our church in Wittenberg a sow is sculpted in stone. Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud, as though he were reading something acute or extraordinary, which is certainly where they get their Shemhamphoras*.
*The word describes the hidden name of God in the Kabbalah

I took the photo in 2004 during a bicycle tour to Lutherland
In 1988 Wittenberg's city council tried to mitigate the gross offence by placing a sculpture down below recognizing that during the Holocaust six million Jews were murdered "under the sign of the cross". Recently people have started a petition that on the occasion of next year's 500th anniversary of the Reformation the Judensau sculpture be removed.

©Wikipedia/Torsten Schleese
France has a rich tradition of political caricature that started much earlier than Honoré Daumier, the uncontested master. One of the sensations in modern history was the Renversement des Alliances when in 1756 Austria allied with the archenemy of the Reich against Prussia's Frederick the Great. In good Austrian tradition (Tu felix Austria nube) Maria-Theresia sealed the new alliance by marrying off her youngest daughter to the French Dauphin. In the caricature the Austrian ambassador presents a Pandora's Box containing Marie-Antoinette to a delighted Louis XV.

The reversal of the alliances was extremely unpopular in France and the citoyens directed their displeasure against the Austrian/ostrich chicken: I easily digest gold and money but I cannot swallow the constitution [of 1791].

Pigs remain popular in caricature with Miss Piggy and Pigs in Space but more than two centuries earlier in 1791 King Louis XVI and his family of pigs were returned to their stables. They had tried to escape the French Revolution and to reach the northern border where domestic and foreign reactionary forces were stationed. But in vain; the Royal Family was recognized half-way in the city of Varennes and triumphantly brought back to Paris by revolutionary troops.

Napoleon was a welcome target of caricatures. The famous James Gillray drew The Plum-pudding in danger: _or_State Epicures taking un Petit Souper. The cartoon shows William Pitt, wearing a regimental uniform and hat, sitting at a table with the petit caporal Napoleon who tries to make himself taller by wearing an enormous hat. Both are carving a large plum pudding representing the world. While Napoleon is all eager to cut out Europe Pitt is cutting much wider with his slice being considerably larger than that of Napoleon.

Later at the Vienna Congress the Big Four sit around a table eager to eat a pâté being described as indigestible. The cartoon refers to the year 1815 when Napoleon having escaped from his custody at Elba had a short hundred-day comeback in France. Hidden in the pâté he comments: They will not have an upset stomach. From left to right Prussia declares: I am hungry as a devil. Russia remarks: I think the pâté is rather stale, while Britain will generously procure the wine?! Finally Austria says: Let us attack together. Under the table we see Louis XVIII, the restored French king, complaining: I shall have the crumbs.

Let me finish with today's cartoon in the Badische Zeitung where a German(?) physician is checking the health of the presidential candidates.


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