CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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KESKA, Monika
Furies at the Base of a Crucifixion: Francis Bacon’s Readings of Oresteia.

Session 3 Imagination and Projection

Department of History of Art, University of Granada 


Some of the most powerful images of Francis Bacon were influenced by his readings of the Oresteian trilogy. The contents of his personal library reveal his fascination with Greek tragedy: Bacon owned several editions of dramas of Aeschylus, Eurypides and Sophocles, versioning of the plays by Racine and Spender, poems of Yeats’ and Eliot, essays of Michel Leiris and W.B. Stanford’s theoretical studies.  Since the early 1940s till the end of Bacon’s life, it was without doubt the primary intellectual source for his paintings.

I will analyse the influence of Bacon’s reading of the Oresteia in his representation of human and animal sacrifice, particularly in his crucifixions and bullfights. I will establish a link between the ritualistic violence in Bacon’s art and James Frazer’s idea of slaying of the divine king expressed in The Golden Bough, a quality found in many archaic religions and in Christianity through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Following Nietzsche’s observations presented in Birth of The Tragedy on how the Greek spectators found the affirmation of their own existence in the observation of extreme suffering, I will analyse the ritualistic violence depicted by Bacon as an act of cathartic redemption of personal and collective traumas of 20th century history.

KESKA, Monika

In 2009 I obtained by PhD in History of Art from the University of Granada with a thesis 'Peter Greenaway: Artist of Enlightenment in the Neo-Baroque Era'. I examined the influence of 17th and 18th century art and art theories on the director's use of taxonomies and organizing principles as an alternative to traditional narration.

My post-doctoral research was mainly focused on the works of Francis Bacon and his relations with other arts. In 2011 I joined the project Bacon's Books: Francis Bacon's Library and Its Role in his Art, developed by the Hugh Lane Gallery and Trinity College Dublin. As research associate to the project I catalogued Bacon's personal library and examined the material from his studio. In June 2011 I received a post-doctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Education to carry out research in King's College London on the impact of Bacon’s art on literature and film. In 2015 I returned to Granada as principal investigator of the project The Cruel South: References to Spain and Africa in the works of Francis Bacon.  Currently my research interests involve the role of source material in Bacon’s creative process, and the relations between British art and Spain in the 20th century.