Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009
Anselm Kiefer in conversation at the exhibition Die Frauen, Villa Medici, Rome, 2005, online.
This compelling female figure clothed in a white crinoline dress, whose head is supplanted by a stack of leaden books, embodies the Greek poetess Anythe and relates to Anselm Kiefer’s long-running series Frauen der Antike, or Woman of Antiquity. In this series Kiefer explores some of his most cherished themes, namely the inextricably linked concepts of history, identity, mythology, literature, and art. The Women of Antiquity are all examples plucked from ancient history and mythology of forceful and independent women who, in their intellectual questioning and dignified conduct, transgressed the boundaries of their time and were in many cases consequently treated unjustly. Kiefer attempts to correct history’s omissions and reassert these women in their rightful place, something he touched upon during his 2005 Die Frauen exhibition at the Villa Medici, devoted entirely to this theme. He explained that “the women do not have a head, because the history of women through the last three millennia was only made known through men… the real rulers of the world throughout the ages were women… but poetesses such as Sappho or lesser known ones like Telesilla for example, we are now aware of only through the citations of male poets who are better known” (Anselm Kiefer in conversation at the exhibition Die Frauen, Villa Medici, Rome, 2005, online).
Instead of a head, each of Kiefer’s sculptures supports a symbolic object commemorating the most famous attribute or episode from these womens' life. Thus, Sappho, Erinna and Anythe are converted into lecterns for books with pages of lead, alluding to their poetic achievements, whereas Telesilla is crowned with razor wire, celebrating her arming of the women of Argos after their men had been defeated by the Spartans.
Anythe, a totemic figure shouldering a tower of leaden books that contrast with her delicate body, is amongst the most powerful works in the Women of Antiquity series. She was perhaps the most highly esteemed of these women in her day and, even now, there are more surviving literary works by Anythe than any other ancient Greek woman. Writing in Tegea, Greece, in the Third Century BC, her work is most notable for its exaltation of nature, with a particular dedication to the fountains and nymphs of the springs. Anythe’s renown persisted beyond her own lifetime, with Antipater of Thessalonica, writing two centuries later, calling her a ‘woman Homer’ and placing her in a list of nine lyric poetesses.
The presence of lead, one of the most frequently used materials in Kiefer’s artistic practice, is of particular significance. Often cited in connection to Kiefer’s interest in the history of alchemy, with its aim of transforming a base metal into something entirely more valuable, here the material has a different meaning altogether. Kiefer has previously called lead the “material of melancholy, of bitter gall” and this idea relates to the harsh fate meted out to many of the Women of Antiquity (Anselm Kiefer quoted in: Exh. Cat., Bilbao, Guggenheim Bilbao, Anselm Kiefer, 2007, p. 405). Lead is also in some ways a paradoxical material, elastic and retentive like the human brain, but also fiendishly heavy and burdensome, and perhaps therefore the perfect medium for this cerebral sculpture.
Anythe, from a body of work with no parallel in contemporary art, is an erudite tour de force epitomising many of Kiefer’s most important preoccupations, both intellectually and materially. The result is a symbolically charged and strikingly beautiful work, perfectly consistent with the artist’s interdisciplinary and multifaceted practice.
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