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By Arkady Ippolitov
The frockless Venus and Tahnhauser, with Priapusa and Claude and Clair, and Farcy, the chief comedian, sat at the same table. Tahnhauser, who had doffed his traveling suit, wore long black silk '' stockings, a pair of pretty gaiters, a very elegant ruffled shirt, slippers and a wonderful dressing-gown; Claude and Clair were absolutely naked; and Farcy was in ordinary evening clothes. As for the rest j of the company, it boasted some very noticeable dresses, and whole tables of quite delightful coiffures. There were spotted veils that seemed to stain the skin with some refined royal disease, fans with eye-slits in them, through which the bearers peeped and peered; fans painted with figures and covered with the sonnets of Sporion and the short stories of Scaramouch; and fans of big, living moths stuck upon mounts of silver sticks. There were masks of green velvet that make the face look trebly powdered; masks of the heads of birds, of apes, of serpents, of dolphins, of men and women, of little embryos and of cats; masks like the faces of gods; masks of colored glass, and masks of thin talc and of India-rubber. There were wigs of black and scarlet wools, of peacocks'' feathers, of gold and silver threads, of swan''s-down, of the tendrils of the vine, and of human hair; huge collars of stiff muslin rising high above the head; whole dresses of ostrich feathers curling inwards; tunics of panthers'' skins that looked beautiful over pink tights; capotes of crimson satin trimmed with the wings of owls; sleeves cut into the shapes of apocryphal animals; drawers flounced down to the ankles, and flecked with tiny, red roses; stockings clocked with fKtes galantes, and curious designs; and petticoats cut like artificial flowers. Some of the women had put on delightful little moustaches dyed in purples and bright greens, twisted and waxed with absolute skill; and some wore great white beards, after the manner of Saint Wilgeforte. Then Dorat had painted extraordinary grotesques and vignettes over their bodies, here and there. Upon a cheek, an old man scratching his horned head; upon a forehead, an old woman teased by an impudent amor; upon a shoulder, an amorous singerie; round a breast, a circlet of satyrs, above a wrist, a wreath of pale, unconscious babes; upon an elbow, a bouquet of spring flowers; across a back, some surprising scenes of adventure; at the corners of a mouth, tiny red spots; and upon a neck, a flight of birds, a caged parrot, a branch of fruit, a butterfly, a spider, a drunken dwarf, or, simply, some initials, but the most wonderful were black silhouettes, painted on legs and showed through white silk stockings, like splendid scratches. - I beg your pardon for such a very long quotation from Aubrey Beardsley''s prose, but it exactly shows the fascination of Bella Matveyeva''s "St. Petersburg Hoffmanniana", painter, who had become in a way a myth of this city. Strange and piquant visions, arrogantly disregarding all signs of the present time, captivatingly and proudly pass through her canvases, proving that it is always Silver Age in Saint-Petersburg that time is not master of it and that there''s nothing more natural for a St. Peters burger, than feeling of oneself as a personage of a risky game, or as a bohemia poseur, which in essence is nothing other than epic of heroism. Now sharp and penetrating, now obscure and incoherent, they interlace into an ornament of sleepy fantasy of the past, which is so far that has become modern. Maybe one can tell that they are ravings or chance caprice of innermost desires, but the ornamental alternation of naked bodies is almost tragic- and they are so fragile, so touching, so open,- like abandoned children, like our own city, lost in the century that is not understandable and is not understood.

A. Ippolitov Senior research assistant of the State Hermitage Museum, curator of St. Petersburg Fund of Culture and Art "Institute PRO ARTE".

Commentary of Bella Matveyeva: Priapusa - formed from Priapus. Priapus - in classical mythology a god of male procreative power. The son of Dionysus and Adonis or of Zeus and Hermes, his mother was Aphrodite or one of nymphs. In one version, jealous Hera made Priapus deformed; deformity consisted in two phalluses and pointed out the double paternity. Priapus was a roman god of fertility, protector of fishermen and sailors, prostitutes, debauchees and eunuchs, pander, hard drinker and pederast. The most prevalent iconographic type of Priapus is an old man with phallus-like head.

"Три грации"
Белла Матвеева, 1998.
Холст, масло 80х70 см

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