Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Joseph Michael Gandy, architect of Pandemonium

Joseph Michael Gandy
Pandemonium or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers (1805)
Borrowed from Hugh Pearman,
"John Soane's magician: the tragic genius of Joseph Gandy," Gabion
First published as "Illusions of grandeur"

Hugh Pearman, a London-based architecture-and-design critic with The Sunday Times, London, maintains the website Gabion to preserve and present writing that he has done for various media. As can be seen in the above image from "John Soane's magician: the tragic genius of Joseph Gandy," he has provided a fine reproduction of Joseph Michael Gandy's Pandemonium or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers, a painting certain to catch the attention of Milton fans.

John Soane, we've all heard of, but who is Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843)? Pearman tells us:

Once upon a time, there was a wizard who knew what Heaven and Hell looked like. In fact, he designed them. He also drew the greatest royal palaces that Britain has ever dreamed of, and a massive new Parliament building. He assembled complete, monumental cities and prototype skyscrapers. The name of this magician was Joseph Michael Gandy, and he did all this in the first few decades of the 19th century. Gandy was doomed to disappointment -- he built very little in the real world, and was destined to be comprehensively eclipsed by another architect. He died a mad, penniless, abandoned old man. But he was no failure, because his extraordinary visions survive.

For the entire, fascinating story of the obscure Gandy, and his professional, personal relation to the man who became Sir John Soane, go to Gabion and read the rest of Pearman's article. Meanwhile, here's what he writes of Gandy's interest in things above and below:

He tried his hand at great historical and mythical and religious subjects. You've heard of the stairway to heaven? Gandy painted it. Pandemonium? Ditto. In fact, heaven and hell appeared to be much the same in Gandy's imagination -- which is to say, great cities of supercharged classical palaces. Long colonnades and great domes. Old Nick's domain was just a bit smokier.

Old Nick and the other demons would have been happy with Gandy's depiction. Indeed, the infernal Mammon claimed to perceive little distinction between the two realms:

...How oft amidst

Thick clouds and dark doth Heav'ns all-ruling Sire

Choose to reside, his Glory unobscur'd,

And with the Majesty of darkness round

Covers his Throne; from whence deep thunders roar

Must'ring thir rage, and Heav'n resembles Hell?

As he our darkness, cannot we his Light

Imitate when we please? (PL 2.263-269)

Apparently, you can now see this painting in London until August 12 at the Soane Museum's exhibition: "Soane's magician: the tragic genius of Joseph Michael Gandy" (Lincoln's Inn Fields).

Or can you? According to Souren Melikian, "A talented architect/painter and a flight into the unreal," International Herald Tribune, (Saturday-Sunday, May 27-28, 2006, Seoul Edition) the painting is on view in New York at the Richard Feigen Gallery until July 22:

Joseph Gandy, an architect, sank into oblivion the minute he died in an asylum in 1843. The first retrospective ever devoted to his work, "Joseph Gandy: Visionary Artist," on view at the Richard Feigen Gallery until July 22.

I guess those of you world travelers desiring to see this work had better 'call' first to find out if it's at the Soane Museum in London or the Richard Feigen Gallery in New York, but as long as we're checking what Melikian has to say, let's see what he has to say:

[In 1805, Gandy] drew a watercolor as weird as its title, "Pandemonium or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers." The inspiration, Lukacher writes, came from a poem by Milton. The repetition of perfectly Classical pillars that stretch endlessly under blackish clouds give the imaginary Ancient Greek city an obsessive, threatening feel. Never seen in public before, the large watercolor is one of the great surprises in the Feigen show.

The Lukacher mentioned is Brian Lukacher, who has a recent book out on Gandy: Joseph Gandy: An Architectural Visionary in Georgian England (Thames & Hudson, 2006). The reference to Milton strikes me as a bit odd -- "a poem by Milton." That sounds a bit understated. Perhaps Melikian didn't want Milton to steal Gandy's thunder and so didn't emphasize that the inspiration comes from Paradise Lost, Book 1:

Anon out of the earth a Fabrick huge

Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound

Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet,

Built like a Temple, where Pilasters round

Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid

With Golden Architrave; nor did there want

Cornice or Freeze, with bossy Sculptures grav'n,

The Roof was fretted Gold. Not Babilon,

Nor great Alcairo such magnificence

Equal'd in all thir glories, to inshrine

Belus or Serapis thir Gods, or seat

Thir Kings, when Ægypt with Assyria strove

In wealth and luxurie. Th' ascending pile

Stood fixt her stately highth, and strait the dores

Op'ning thir brazen foulds discover wide

Within, her ample spaces, o're the smooth

And level pavement: from the arched roof

Pendant by suttle Magic many a row

Of Starry Lamps and blazing Cressets fed

With Naphtha and Asphaltus yeilded light

As from a sky. (PL 1.710-730)

Gandy would seem to have captured well the smoky darkness and glowing light intermixed in Milton's vision of hell.

At any rate, if someone is in London or New York and happens to visit this Gandy exhibition, please inform me and all Gypsy Scholar readers of its actual location.


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