Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bran the Blessed

Owing to the demands of my first semester in fourth year Illustration, many of you have surely taken notice of my online disappearance and the deficiency of blog output...But, I have triumphantly returned to acquaint your eyes with the fruit of my toil :D.

A renown giant and king of Britain in Welsh folklore, Bran the Blessed’s (WelshBendigeidfran, literally "Blessed Raven", also Brân Fendigaidd live severed head was buried at his behest under the White Tower in London, facing France. The head served as a powerful talisman, protecting Britain from invasion for countless generations before it was excavated and turned around by the pious King Arthur, who claimed that from that point forward, Britain would be safeguarded by God and his armies alone.

In the Welsh tale of Bran the Blessed’s sister Branwen, Bran dispatches a formidable army to avenge the Irish king Matholwch’s maltreatment of his beloved sibling. The king’s swineherd witness their movements on the open sea and consult their queen:

“Hail to your Lordship!’ said they. ‘We have seen a forest on the ocean, where we never before saw a single tree…we see a great mountain beside the forest, and it is moving; and a high ridge on the mountain with a lake on each side of the ridge; and the forest and the mountain and the rest are all in motion.”
Upon hearing this, Branwen decodes the cryptic display,
“I know what this is. The men of the Island of the Mighty are coming over, for they have heard of my being punished and dishonoured”
‘And what was the mountain which they saw beside the ships?’ said they.
‘That was my brother, Bran the Blessed,’ she said. ‘wading through the shallows. There was no ship that could carry him’.
‘What was the high ridge with a lake on each side?’

‘That was he, looking upon this island,’said she, ‘for he is angry. His eyes on each side of his nose are the two lakes on each side of the ridge’

Bran’s love, which assumed a degree so powerful that both the forces of nature and man were summoned to preserve it, inspired this serene portrait. The giant’s mild expression and glistening eyes imply wisdom, his smile a hint of mischief. The horizon line is marked by the presence of the White Cliffs of Dover which served as Britain’s natural defense against aggressors crossing the English Channel. Bran represents the perfect confluence of dormant and active energies--the stationary monolith rising from the channel in a mantle of evanescent fog, the viking horde ascending the cliff tops. I will likely continue in this vein for the remainder of the series.

Initial concepts for Bran the Blessed, which gave greater focus to the 'severed head' notion than was perhaps acceptable. The intent here is that these images will appeal to adults and children alike.

Bolesław I Chrobry

Bolesław I Chrobry or Bolesław I the Brave (967-1025) was Duke of Poland from 992-1025 and the first King of Poland from 1025 until his death. As firstborn child to the revered Miesko I, the first historical ruler of the Piast dynasty, Bolesław's remarkable tact as a politician, strategist and statesman elevated Poland into the pantheon of Europe's elite. The first crude effigy of the Polish White Eagle, the emblem of the Piast dynasty, can be found on the first crowned king of Poland's silver denarius.  

He led successful military campaigns to the west, south and east, consolidating Polish lands and conquered territories outside the modern borders of the country such as Slovakia, Moravia, Red Ruthenia, Meissen, Lusatia and Bohemia. The king inherited from his father a realm that resembled the dimensions of what is now Greater Poland or Wielkopolska. Greater Poland comprised the valley of the river Warta, stretching north to the Notec River and Kalisz in the south.

According to legend, Bolesław I Chrobry and his retinue of lance-bearing knights are interned in a mountain massif called Giewont "Sleeping Knight" in the Tatra Mountains, a mountain range that forms a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. 

This developing composition for Bolesław I Chrobry alludes to an anticipatory moment in Act V of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. As Macduff's army encroaches upon Dunsinane Castle, Malcolm urges each man to carry a bough aloft from the wood of Birnham. Therefore, while the King appropriately assumes his sleeping position in the mountainside, his retinue experiences their own metamorphosis with the growth of pine trees from their lances.

Colour studies and concept sketches for the first king of Poland.

Frederick I Barbarossa

Frederick I Barbarossa (1122-1190) was a German Holy Roman Emperor noted for his involvement in the Third Crusade (1189), a massive expedition in conjunction with the French, led by king Philip Augustus, and the English, under Richard the Lionheart. He organized a grand army of (by contemporary historians' reevaluation) of 15,000 men and 3,000 knights and set out on the overland route to the Holy Land. The emperor saw his unfortunate death in 1190 when he drowned in the Saleph river after a refreshing his armour...yes. Frederick's death plunged his panicking army into chaos and only a handful actually arrived in Acre.

Legend, however, says he is not dead, but asleep with his knights in a cave in the Kyffhäuser mountain in Thuringia or Mount Untersberg in Bavaria, Germany. When the ravens cease to fly around the mountain he will awake and restore Germany to its former golden age. The emperor's red beard must wrap three times around the perimeter of the table at which he sits before he is to wake. TV tropes informs me that it has only grown twice around thus far :P

A work in progress of Frederick, pondering the ravens as they circle skyward.

Final Composition sketch and initial concepts for Frederick I Barbarossa:

King Under Mountain--Fourth Year Thesis

For as long as human beings have recited stories to one another, the truths of history became legend and legend yielded to myth, creating what the modern era calls pseudo history. More than often these episodes of ancestral history participate in the development of a nation. The prominent King in the Mountain, King Under Mountain or Sleeping Hero motif is one of many in folklore and mythology which gives hope to the resurrection of beloved historical figures, usually of some military consequence, who will transcend time and space to secure their loyalties and act as guardian to the future nation.

These legendary undead heros, often accompanied by armied retainers/legions, sleep in remote and covert dwellings which include caves, mountaintops, islands or mystical worlds. It is foretold that they will waken at the hour of their country’s greatest need. The presence of the hero goes unsuspected until a herdsman or meandering passerby enters the cave unknowingly and chances upon him. In nearly every tale, the hero has become withered by centuries of sleeping under the mountain and has grown a long beard. The witness is in most cases supernaturally harmed by the experience, especially if his actions cause a disservice to the resting King, or worse, rouses him to wake. A far cry from the familiar Sleeping Beauty tale isn’t it? The King Under Mountain motif still resonates with us in contemporary times with the hopeful return of such famed entertainment figures as Elvis Presley or Tupac Shakur.

As part of my fourth year thesis proposal, I plan to create a Japanese fold accordion book that will feature at least 8-10 illustrations of sleeping warriors, complete with full-page descriptions of each character and their respected nations. Potential candidates are as follows (or more specifically, those that caught my interest):

1) Holger Danske--Denmark
2) Bolesław I Chrobry and his retinue of knights--Poland
3) Frederick Barbarossa--Germany
4) Bran the Blessed--Wales
5) Brynhildr--Scandinavia (Viking Lore)
6) King Arthur--England
7) King Sebastian--Portugal
8) Vytautas, the Great--Lithuania
9) Väinämöinen--Finland (Hero of National Kalevala)
10) Lāčplēsis “Bear-Slayer”--Latvia
11) Toell the Great--Estonia
12) Kralj Matjaž --Slovenia
13) Seven Queens of Sindh--Pakistan
14) Prince Marko Kraljević--Serbia
15) Casaba, son of Attila the Hun--Hungary
16) Kukai, 9th century Buddhist monk--Japan
17) Fenibeso, first sole ruler of Okrika (Nigeria)--Africa
18) Golem of Prague--Ukraine
19) Wenceslaus I--Czech Republic
20) Thomas the Rhymer--Scotland
21) Gearoidh Iarla (Earl Gerald)--Ireland
22) Theseus--Greece
23) Tecumseh, Native American leader of the Shawnee--Canada
Every few weeks I will be posting process work and finished portraits of each of these sleepers. Stay tuned!

"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?"

Illustrations inspired by Romantic poet John Keats' (1795-1821) "Ode to a Nightingale" and William Wordworth's "Tintern Abbey".