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historical eruptions of volcanism in the arts

author: Kain Karawahn
translation: Kain Karawahn - Janna Wächter

The latin word VULCANO is a variation of the indogerman word VASU, which terms the house or mountain of fire. The sparks (lat. VESVIA) of the VASU are the nominal origin of the word VESUVIUS.
In second half of 18th century when the italian volcano Vesuvius had temporary long periods of eruptions many artists of Europe traveled to Naples to watch those natural phenomenon live. At that time William Hamilton had his residence there as the english ambassador. His detailed observations and deions of volcanic matter and developments led into his publication "Campi Phlegraei", which became known as the first scientific research on volcanos at all. Hamilton also understood the volcanic atmosphere as an inspiration for the arts. As a sponsor he invited many artists of different disciplines to his villa to paint, perform, dance, read, sing, give concerts and act in front of the erupting Vesuv. I see him personally as the founder of something like the first European Lava Club. At that time many people in Europe asked heavily for paintings of the active fire mountain. Brave painters moved that much close to the fresh hot lava flows, that they couldn't return without a brandnew paint style on their canvas. The work Vesuvius painted 1774/75 by english artist Joseph Wright of Derby is known as one of the first action paintings of art history. It is not any more naturalistic lava, which is erupting in his work, it is the color outbreak for itself as a volcanic expression of the artists emotions.
In 17th century religous authors had created theatre plays, in which fire-spitting mountains were personalized as demons. There is one play for instance in which the actor of the Vesuvius had to say a text about contemporary morality in 58 following words which all begun with the letter V.
Even the volcano Stromboli became worldwide known through the arts. In 1949 the famous director Roberto Rosselini had realized there the movie "Stromboli - Terra di Dio". The movie star Ingrid Bergman played the main role. Director and actress both felt in love with eachother, although both were married with other partners. The movie was bad reviewed, but the affair erupted to an international scandal, which caused Stromboli's touristic attraction since then.
When love reaches highest intensities volcanical metaphors are often used to describe those undescribable moments (you are hot like a volcano etc.). The american author Susan Sontag for instance got that much inspired from the volcanic mania of William Hamilton, that she melted his passion for the volcano and his love for his young wife Lady Hamilton, including her later love affair with admiral Nelson, into a book titled "The Vulcano Lover. A Romance".
Not to forget to mention the genius volcano-related work of german writer Alfred Döblin. After the latest eruption of Vesuvius in 1944 his short story "The Eruption of Vesuvius" was published (1949). In that he creates an international political conflict around an independent inventor, who did allegedly researches on remote-controlled volcano eruptions ...
According to my knowlegde Andre Bucher, a swiss sculptor, was a pioneer in using volcanic matter in artworks. From 1976 on straight at the temporary lava flows of the italian volcano Etna he formed scultptures out of fresh lava in immediate combination with bronze, iron, copper etc..
Mythologically volcanoes were adored as feminin as well as masculin gods. From doublenumbered centuries on people presumed that volcanoes are both entrance and exit of the inner- and/or underworlds of the earth. For instance in his book "A journey to the center of the earth" french writer Jules Verne let the explorers finish their long earth-tunnel-trip by crawling out of the strombolian crater.
Documentary movies about volcanoes are very often shown on television internationally. Those films are always attractive to a wide range of spectators, what make them to winmakers too. But contently the documentaries are focused on catastrophical aspects of volcano activity. Even in a Hollywood movie it is fictionalized that a volcano reactivates itself straight under a big city (Los Angeles) and causes mass destructions of matter and people.

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