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Behind the Design Episode 1: The Black Swan

Welcome to the first episode of the 'Behind the Design series'. Our goal is to provide you with some insight into the designs of our Art Nouveau collection and explain their relevance in relation to art history. In this first mini lecture we will zoom in on the Black Swan T-shirt:

Why the swan?

In painting, we have a term called an allegory, which can be best explained as an object or entity that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.

Swans, oftentimes represent beauty, sexuality and loyalty. Allegories are a perfect way to send subtle messages to the audience. Perhaps the most famous example is The Threatened Swan (1650) by Dutch painter Jan Asselijn.It was painted right after the 80 years’ War with Spain and the white swan represents grand pensionary Johan De Witt, protecting its nest (Holland) from the swimming dog (Spain). In this piece, the painter uses the Swan as a symbolic way to express his loyalty to the Dutch crown.

The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn (1650)

Swans are also subject of many mythical stories and fairy tales. The Greek story of Leda and the Swan tells a pretty sombre tale of seduction and deceit. Nevertheless, it has become a very popular subject among painters. One reason for this was religious censorship.

Due to the importance of the Catholic church, sexual themes could not be explicitly portrayed within art. Therefore, Leda and the Swan became a popular method of exploring human sexuality without displeasing the church. Even Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo have made their own artistic interpretation of the story, although their works are unfortunately lost today.   

Leda and the Swan by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1895)

While allegories usually are related to some greater moral, symbols can also be used to explore more intimate themes.

 In painting, swans are regularly used as symbols. One reason for this is the simple existence of black swans. It is not very hard to spot the yin-yang like qualities in Hilma A.F. Klint’s painting The Swan – No 1 (1914-1915).
In this painting, famous symbolic interpretations of these opposites such as light and dark, male and female or life and death can be clearly recognised.

Th Swan - No 1 by A.F. Klint (1914-1915)

Yet, besides all the mysterious characteristics of the swan, there is one last reason why they’re such a popular subject.

Swans are simply beautiful. As we have mentioned in a previous post, one of the driving forces behind Art Nouveau was a return to nature and the creation of handmade products that centralized the beauty of it.

Well, what better way to embody this philosophy than through the use of swans? It’s no wonder these graceful and elegant creatures were a common sight in early Art Nouveau. Take a look at this wallpaper (1875) by Walter Crane, for instance. Magnificent isn't it? 

 The Swan, Rush and Iris wallpaper by Walter Crane (1875)

That was it for the first episode of the Behind the Design series.
Thanks for joining us and taking the time to read this blogpost. See you at the next one! 


Olle & Oscar

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