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Making the Fig and Other Artistic Insults

An Eye for an Eye, a Fig for a Fig


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Even noble literary figures need to blow off steam. Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues deliver the shocking, duel-provoking insult of thumb-biting.  Only a duel could avenge such a slur on one’s honor.

Sampson: I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them if they bear it.

Abram: Do you bite your thumb at us, Sir?’

Romeo and Juliet. Act I. Scene I.

Melee ensues.

 Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy contains another impish affront,“Making the Fig.”  This slur involves thrusting out the thumb between the first and second fingers to express anger or disdain.

 In Dante’s Inferno, Vanni Fucci, a thief convicted of stealing from the Church of San Zeno, “raises his hands, points in mockery, and cries, ‘Take them, God.’” (Canto XXV)

The next time you are in Rome look very carefully on the Sistine Ceiling, at the putto behind the Cumaean Sybil, the one with his arm around his friend.

Is he making the fig?

 To whom could Michelangelo’s gesture be addressed? Could it be a protest against the censorship of the Counter Reformation? Against those who “for decency’s sake” insisted on covering Michelangelo’s exquisite marble statutes with drapery and fig-leaves…

 An eye for an eye, a fig for a fig?

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San Francisco art heist: “The Preppy Sockless Picasso Thief”


Flashback to 2011 when a Picasso sketch was stolen by a man who preferred to go sockless..

Who: Preppy Sockless Picasso Thief

What: Steals Picasso 1962 sketch ““Tête de femme,” valued at $275,000 before heading to party in Napa

Where: San Francisco’s Weinstein Gallery at Geary and Powell Streets

When: Tuesday the 5th of July, 2011

The man calmly removed the sketch from the wall of the gallery, wrapped it newspaper, and then walked out into the crowds at Union Square.

The brazen Picasso pilferer then hopped into a taxi, carefree as a lark, to join friends at a party in Napa, before being caught by police, who had caught his image from a security camera at a restaurant near the gallery.

For more on the story, please read:

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Life of an artist…Philip Glass..

Philip Glass, the creative and celebrated modern composer, courageously blazed a trail despite all the absurdities facing artists.

According to Elizabeth Lundy, in Secret Lives of Great Composers, Mr. Glass took on sundry jobs to pay the bills during the 60′s and 70′s, even while his operas were being performed at the Met in Lincoln Center:

Shortly after the New York premiere of Einstein on the Beach, Glass was driving a taxi. A well-dressed woman got into the cab, looked at his name [tag], and said in surprise, ‘”Young man, do you realize you have the same name as a very famous composer?’”

[Secret Lives of Composers, 278]

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Wise Woman: Sarah Bernhardt

  “Life begets life.

  Energy creates energy.

  It is by spending oneself

 That one becomes rich.”

         Sarah Bernhardt 

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The real reason Jane Austen’s ladies looked forward to courtly dances


The vertical expression


a horizontal desire

legalized by music.”

~George Bernard Shaw

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Theater Review: Under Bacchae’s spell- a MUST SEE production at the Getty Villa

Under Bacchae’s Spell


Leticia Marie Sanchez

The first few moments of Euripides’ Bacchae at the Getty Villa set the tone for the entire evening. Screaming Jay Hawkins’ raw, electrifying 1956 blues hit “I Put a Spell on You” plays in the outdoor theater, jolting the audience as the spartanly dressed Bacchanalian chorus emerges from classical columns. Their fearless leader Dionysus, the god of theater, wine, and divine ecstasy, is played with hypnotic magnetism by Ellen Lauren, who struts onto the stage in red leather pants like Mick Jagger on fire.

Through the direction of Anne Bogart from the New York-based SITI Company, one cannot help but be gripped. Euripides’ Bacchae is heavy material, but Bogart skillfully unearths comedic gems, Bacchanalian beats, and horrific depths so that within 90 minutes, the audience is at turns highly entertained and terrified.

Bogart’s direction uses a theatrical chiaroscuro, juxtaposing shades of light and dark, offering moments of hilarity to contrast with moments when the narrative plummets into the abyss. Bogart’s direction is successful because it allows the audience to understand how a character like Dionysus can so easily seduce legions of followers with playful tones, before revealing his sinister, vengeful side.


Ellen Lauren as Dionysus is a revelation, reeling us in with her massive charisma and verbal and physical prowess. Lauren’s voice and body dance through the prose of fourth century B.C, making it come alive for an audience in 2018. The pulsing beats of Darron West’s sound design enhance the atmosphere, the music complementing the text so that audience feels as though we are sitting at a Bacchanalian rave.

Bacchae” at the Getty Villa. Photo by Craig Schwartz. Left to Right: Eric Berryman (Pentheus) and Ellen Lauren (Dionysus)

Other elements of the production also bring the themes to the forefront. The set is sparse as are the costumes, save for a few colorful flourishes like Cadmus’ Hawaiian shirt and Tiresias’ and floral fishing hat. The simplicity of the design provides a sharp relief to the intensity of the emotional impact of Bacchae. This ensures that the audience will not be distracted from the onslaught of emotions onstage.  The cornerstone of this production is the stellar cast, including Ellen Lauren and Eric Berryman, who despite being a villain, cannot help but be likeable even when he is indignant as Thebes’ hubris-filled ruler Pentheus. Leon Ingulsrud also draws us in when he, as the First Messenger, conveys the eerie Bacchanalian rites.

After one of the most horrifying events, Agave, mother of brutally butchered Pentheus has not grasped what has happened. In this scene, she speaks entirely in Japanese. The Director’s Addendum notes that theater “transcends language.” But, I would posit a second benefit to this unusual directing choice. Agave (played by Akiko Aizawa) at this moment, stands in her own world. This scene showcases dramatic irony at its finest. The audience knows exactly what has happened and longs to reach out to Agave, but she simply doesn’t get it. Her use of another language conveys that she stands apart in her own dimension, her own reality.

Another unusual and effective choice is the casting of Dionysus as a woman. One theme of the play is the dangerous irrationality that men fear in women. In fact, Pentheus’ downward spiral begins when he hears that his own mother has taken part in Bacchanalian rites. The Madonna/Whore dichotomy rears its ubiquitous head; unable to envision his mother this way, Pentheus, in front of the audience, begins to have a mental breakdown. Therefore, having Ellen Lauren personify the dangerous potential attributed to women makes perfect sense in the context of the play.

In the last scene, Dionysus emerges donning a Janitor costume as he sops up the bloody murderous mess. Why the Janitor gear? Dionysus warns the audience that the supernatural comes in many shapes. Perhaps a suggestion to be careful whom you insult. Do not disparage someone whom you consider to be low-status (as happened to Dionysus before he meted out the supreme revenge).

bacche2_webDespite this potentially good message, the play could have more effectively ended with the prior scene.The comedic last scene of Dionysus dressed like a sitcom janitor and Cadmus flopping on his belly like a serpent undercuts the emotional impact. It does not allow us to fully process the sickening horror we have just witnessed. We need time to wallow in this chilling tragedy. The penultimate scene is like a horror film. Cutting the last scene entirely and ending on that dark note would allow the audience to walk out of the theater with maximum emotional impact.


Bacchae” at the Getty Villa. Photo by Craig Schwartz. Left to right: Akiko Aizawa (Agave) and Stephen Duff Webber (Cadmus).

However, Anne Bogart’s production of Bacchae at the Getty Villa is a must-see production to the charismatic cast, creative direction, and mesmerizing design elements.

Bacchae by Euripides

September 6-29, 2018

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8:00 p.m.

The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa

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Henri Matisse- Don’t touch the fruit!


Leticia Marie Sanchez

According to Kathleen Krull, in her book “Lives of the Artists,” Henri Matisse subsisted on a strict diet of rice-only when he first started out as a painter.

Not Rice-A-Roni.

Just plain boiled rice.

Matisse refused to even allow himself to indulge in the luscious fruit that he bought for his still life paintings.

Instead, he saved that fruit for his art.

And for us. 


Henri Matisse, Still Life with Oranges. 1899 

Editor’s Note: Matisse eventually became one of the highest-paid artists of his time, imbing champagne and moving to the French Riviera– a real Rice to Riches story!

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Verdi: A bold request

Verdi: A bold request


Leticia Marie Sanchez

The following correspondence in the form of abridged letters between Giuseppe Verdi and one very unusual opera-goer, Prospero Bertani:


Much Honoured Signor Verdi,       Reggio, May 7, 1872

On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation which your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. Half an hour before the performance began I was already in my seat, No.120. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied.  The answer was “No.”

I returned to Reggio, and on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travelers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.

Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and on the fourth returned to Parma. I made the most desperate effort to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I was obliged to throw away five lire to see the performance in comfort.

I arrived at this decision: it is an opera in which there is absolutely nothing which causes any enthusiasm or excitement, and without the pomp of the spectacle, the public would not stand it to the end.  When it has filled the house two or three times, it will be banished to the dust of the archives.

Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent on two occasions 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that this money troubles my rest like a terrible spectre. Therefore I address myself frankly and openly to you, so that you may send me the amount.

Here is the account:

Railroad: One way 2.60 lire;  Railroad: Return trip 3.30 lire;  Theater 8.00 lire  Detestable dinner at the station 2.00 lire

=15.90 lire Multiplied by 2=  31.80 lire

In the hope that you will extricate me from this embarrassment, I salute you from the bottom of my heart


My address: Bertani, Prospero; Via San Domenico No. 5

Verdi’s reply, addressed to his publisher Ricordi                                     May, 1872

As you may readily imagine, in order to save this scion of his family from the spectres that pursue him, I shall gladly pay the little bill he sends me. Be so kind, therefore, as to have one of your agents send the sum of 27 lire, 80 centesimi to this Signor Prospero Bertani, Via San Domenico No. 5. True, that isn’t the whole sum he demands, but for me to pay his dinner too would be wearing the joke a bit thin. He could perfectly well have eaten at home. Naturally, he must send you a receipt, as well as a written declaration that he promises never to hear another one of my new operas, so that he won’t expose himself again to the danger of being pursued by spectres, and that he may spare me further travel expenses!


What Mr. Bertani did not realize was that Mr. Verdi encouraged his publisher to publish the correspondence in newspapers far and wide.

So, the tables soon turned. The one receiving hate mail was Mr. Bertani. He received vitriolic letters from all over the nation.  His prophecy about AIDA gathering “dust” also backfired. AIDA has become one of the most popular operas of all time.


Verdi’s letters were discussed in a vivid lecture by Professor Robert Greenberg, P.H.D. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition. Part 5 of 6. Lecture 38: 19th Century Italian Opera, Giuseppe Verdi.

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Getty Villa Chefs and the Bacchae..

Getty Lunch 2

Chefs at the Getty Villa are already preparing the menu for the concessions available on the nights of the performances of Bacchae, opening September 6th.

Treats include the edible butterfly on this chocolate tart.

The pleasure-seeking Dionysus would certainly approve of this Cultural Cocktail for the senses!

Getty Lunch 3

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Sneak Preview: Bacchae at the Getty Villa- opening September 6th


Sneak Preview: Bacchae at the Getty Villa- opening September 6th


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Head of BacchusDionysus (aka Bacchus in Roman) was a busy deity; he was the god of, among other things,  wine, winemaking, religious ecstasy, madness and the theater.

Multi-tasking Dionysus: “I wear many hats, er, Ivy Crowns.”

Different visual clues can let you know that the deity you are beholding in work of art may be Dionysus: Grape Vines, a Leopard-drawn chariot, the Ivy Crown, or the Thyrsos (pine-cone staff).

What could be a better place than the Getty Villa, with its myriad works of antiquity, to stage a play about the god of theater?

Left: Head from the Statue of the Young Bacchus Artist/Maker: Unknown; Roman Empire; first half of 1st century A.D. Bronze with silver; Object Number: 96.AB.52 Dimensions: 21.6 × 18 × 19 cm (8 1/2 × 7 1/16 × 7 1/2 in.)   © Getty Villa

Anne Bogart getty lunch

At the press preview for Euripides’ Bacchae, the play’s director, Anne Bogart, discussed this very notion, dubbing the play “cultural archaeology,” in which we can “reexamine the DNA of theater.”

Bacchae happens to be the favorite play of many actors due to the fact that it is about theater itself. This play garnered Euripides a first prize award (although posthumously) at the City of Dionysia Festival in 405 B.C. Considered to be Euripides’ best work, it was immensely popular in antiquity.

The play offers much food for thought, namely the idea of understanding the origins of theater. As Anne Bogart revealed, the play can help us “figure out where theater came from..where the Big Bang was.”

She revealed that behind-the-scenes members of the cast had passionately divergent points of view on the work, due to the fact that Bacchae gets to the heart of what theater means.

Bogart admitted that, in the canon of theatrical works: “It’s the Everest.”

All Photography below  © 2018 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Getty hallway

Getty peristyle luncheon

Getty roof

Getty villa peristyle

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