Ex Libris – marks of book ownership of excellence
The Rumanian artist Elena Hlodec is one of the rising stars in the skies of contemporary ex libris. Master of incomparable drawing, engraving and printing skills, in the domain of ex libris, she is faithful to its traditional meaning and function as marks of ownership of books.
Accepting an order for an ex libris with a given theme, she begins to research it thoroughly and after deep thought, she starts drawing obtaining successive sketches till the desirable result is obtained. An exchange of views with the future owner of the ex libris often take place, so as to enable the artist to fully understand the intentions of the person who commissioned the ex libris.
Her interpretation of the themes is invariably original and revealing an awesome display of imagination and culture. In the composition nothing is overlooked, details filling in within the whole in a harmonious and balanced way, avoiding superfluous additions. Special care is given to lettering so often disregarded by other fellow artists who follow the principles of free graphics then ex libris.
In the engraving process the artist frequently uses the die cutting of the copper plate to a desired shape «…in order to enhance the visual content of the image, the text, as well as introducing the printing technique with the gold leaf» (Elena Hlodec Web Site- Biography).
The latter technique – gold leaf – was systematically researched and tested by Elena Hlodec based on her previous experience with restoration of old books and manuscripts, and applied to prints in etching. In 2011, she registered the copyrights of this technique and started to employ it in ex libris creations with stunning results.
In the modern ex libris world where an almost massive output of mini prints, that unduly bear the expression «ex libris», prevail, this type of approach is not considered ‘political correct’. An ever increasing number of ‘Ex Libris’ collectors often, with no libraries, seek mini prints mainly for exchange, or what is worse, for selling with a profit, against the acceptable practices and of the past among collectors. There are even some who advocate the elimination of the expression ‘ex libris’ all together, instead of clearly distinguishing the true ex libris – conceived and made to be applied in one’s books – from the mini graphic prints, so abundant nowadays.
This, if achieved would cause a revolution, since probably free graphics, even if in a signed limited and numbered edition would tend to cost more, than an ex libris also in a limited and numbered edition.
One could wonder if this phenomenon has any relation with the cultural fragmentation that still exists between northern/central and southern Europe on the one hand, and the decadence of spiritual values that the so-called Western civilization has undertaken in the past decades, on the other hand. It also would be curious to learn how far these tendencies are dominant in countries with very ancient Cultures like China or Japan where the passion for ex libris ownership or collecting, as it is practised in Europe, is quite recent.
Elena Hlodec is among the artists who do not compromise with the above mentioned trend, clearly separating ex libris creations from free graphics.
To illustrate Elena Hlodec’s artistry I will comment on some of her more recent ex libris creations.
“Divina Comedia” Ex Libris
Requested to make an ex libris inspired in Dante’s «Divina Comedia» and reflecting my interests in Art, History, Archeology, Mythology and Phaleristics, Elena Hlodec gladly accepted the challenge with enthusiasm.
After a deep study of the poem and several preliminary sketches, the artist decided to focus on the last Chants of the Purgatory, and clearly inspired, she succeeded to transmit in the final drawing and engraving an emotional poetic vision.
The Inferno and Paradise are merely hinted, the whole compostion being rather inspired in Dante’s description on the last moments on Earth before entering Paradise. An example of this is the depicted Gryphon – used by Beatrice to take Dante into Heavens, beginning his journey through Paradise.
The composition lay around a central axis – the circle of the Earth – with an allusion to the Inferno, where souls perish and some are protected by Dante’s tunic. The Gryphon involves with his wings the whole composition including the Ship below, in an allusion of the beginning of Dante’s first days’ travels. Its wings opened, so as to reveal the nine circles of the Inferno, symbolically hidden by tree branches.
At the top, one can perceive a suggestion of the Divine Mountain shadowed by forest trees, topped by four galloping golden horses – a symbol of freedom, so as to invite the viewer to interpret the image and its occult meanings. The female figure represents the Song of Matilda (Purgatory, Chant XXIX: 1) in her symbolic role “as the keeper of the threshold of reconciliation and forgiveness”, holding with her detached, unveiled hair, like a forest, the nymphs’ dance in the sun.
Overlooking the beautiful young Matilda, the artist chose to portray the spirit of Dante, faintly crowned with a halo suggesting a supernatural force – symbolizing one of attributes of Mithras, the Roman god of soldiers, light, truth, and honor. Dante is depicted with a mirror image facing the religiously symbolic East, direction of the risen sun.
Archeology and Phaleristics are also hinted, through the Greek columns and the insignia of the Order of Christ and the Cross of the Peninsular War on the far right figure. Elena Hlodec’s interpretation of the theme is quite impressive, denoting inspiration, knowledge, culture and creative powers, tackled it with a superb engraving artistic mastery. The printing is also exquisite having used die cut plates, with balanced colours and shades and the gold leaf applied to the horses.
Finally, the Ex Libris denotes all the qualities which make Elena Hlodec an outstanding Ex Libris creator – a Poet of the pencil and the burin.
“Nefertiti – The Beautiful Being”
The Nefertiti ex libris is another example of an inspired work of art, expressing the artist’s talent and sensitivity.
The composition is dominated by the famous bust of queen Nefertiti and her husband Pharaoh Amenophis IV-Akhenaten and symbols of the new solar theology around the cult of the god Aton imposed by them.
Thus, the right eye of Horus associated with the sun god Ra-Aton having the heads of the solar royal couple set within the orb. On the left of the eye, the artist depicted the wing of a hawk carrying the sun-disk encircled by a cobra, with rays ending in hands, which was the traditional representation of the god Ra-Aton, spread over the bodies of the royal couple. The cobras as symbols of protection and royal authority
The queen is holding in her left hand lotus flowers – symbol of the sun, creation and rebirth, in ancient Egyptian mythology – and representing also Perfection, Beautiful Being, and Beautiful Beginning. For the owner’s name the artist chose to insert it in stelas-like tablets discreetly reminding hieroglyphs.
This ex libris captures the essence of Queen Nefertiti’s life, whose portrait we fortunately know from the famous bust found in 1912 during excavations in the ancient city Amarna and exhibited since then at the Neues Museum, in Berlin.
The composition unites the main vital and ritual symbols related with Queen Nefertiti and her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten and the «monotheist» religion – the cult to the god Ra-Aton – they imposed, centred at the city of Amarna.
And if the cult of Aton did not persist after Akhenaten’s death, abolished by his successors and the High Priests of Thebes, the memory of Nefertiti with her serene beauty and enigmatic smile lived on through one of the masterpieces of the Egyptian art.
Le dit des trois vifs et des trois morts
This ex libris is a small pearl denoting an ingenious approach in the treatment of this classical medieval theme of Death.
Comparing it with the known pictorial representations of the legend of the three living and the three dead in manuscripts and painted in frescoes in Churches in several countries, the Artist interpretation of the theme is refreshing and awesome, seen with the eyes of a contemporary to whom the symbols still have a meaning.
The Artist wisely chose to include in the composition several elements:
1. Representation of the Dead not as skeletons, but rather looking «vif»;
2. The stained glass alluding to the interior of a Cathedral and the horses, as essential figurative elements of the whole composition;
3. The labyrinth, with its rich symbolism, bearing the owner’s name and the common text of the poem inscribed “Tel je fus comme tu es, et tel que je suis tu seras / Richesse, honneur et pouvoir sont dépourvus de valeur au moment de votre trépas“; and finally,
4. The rays “linking” the Dead and the Living.
All these contribute to create a very powerful and attaining composition.
The horses’ heads and the faces of the Living (the middle one looking terrified) and the Dead (slightly blurred and with amazing hands pointing to the Living or holding the horse’s neck…) are superb in the vivid expression of the eyes, the Dead looking at the Living urging them to repent.
Elena Hlodec is definitely an heiress of the Renaissance spirit and a great Artist.
Indeed, we do not know many contemporary engravers who would venture to tackle such a difficult theme with the spirituality, depth, and feeling, displayed in this print and even less as a theme for a bookplate! Lucky owner!
I am sincerely touched and impressed!
Ex Libris «Festina Lente»
Aldo Manuzio V Centenary
As I have written before Elena Hlodec ex libris creations are unique in as much as they are always preceded by a thorough research and reflection of the theme and of the commissioner’s wishes, bearing in mind the final purpose of the ex libris and its connection with books.
The outcome of the final print also derives from the empathy established between the Artist and the ex libris owner, the Aldo Manuzio Ex Libris – «Festina Lente» – being a good example.
The ex libris made by Elena Hlodec for the International Contest of Ex Libris summoned by Associazione Culturale Unitas Onlus and the Comune di Bassiano to commemorate the V Centenary of Aldo Manuzio death under the theme “Aldo Manuzio from in folio to pocket book. Life and works of the first modern editor. The Ex Libris describe and illustrate” is an absolutely stunning and beautiful print.
The whole conception is an extraordinary achievement interpreting the theme in an original manner, considering that the Artist accomplished the evocation of Aldo Manuzio – as an innovator in the art of printing, as a printer of the classics and as a scholar (namely with his Logo or Emblem) – combined with an allusion to Dante’s Divina Comedia and its full meaning, evoking central ideas of Man, both in Purgatory and Paradise.
As in all her ex libris, one can sense that the final engraving owes much to meditation on the theme and introspection, the Artist working with several sketches till reaching a satisfactory result, before the engraving and printing stages.
Particularly appealing are the ideas expressed in the ex libris central axis «…the angel in the middle reflecting by his stillness the primordial meditation» and «the body representing Man the center of the Universe» pointing both to Pico de la Mirandola and to the Universe in Dante’s Paradise, meaning the structure of a star that transforms into the body and vice versa, unveiled like in first chant of Purgatory when it says to peel off the body to reveal the soul», in the Artist’s own words.
Then, on the left a reminder of Aldo Manuzio’s primordial activity as a printer: «one page of Manuzio’s editions, transmuting the works of the great Greek philosophers into a printed page where Dante was published also with great respect». The «rope and the laurels» is an allusion to Dante, closing the drawing on the right, in a harmonious composition.
Also a further connection between Manuzio and Dante expressed through their portraits (and the Angel) in «dialogue with the silhouettes of the Greek scholars», edited by the former.
The tail of the dolphin transformed, in order to inscribe the mandatory phrase of Manuzio’s centenary bookplate contest and the name of the ex libris owner in the anchor is also very ingenious, without perturbing the whole composition, but again rather in harmony with the whole composition.
The Artist has reasons to feel extremely proud of this work, since it is very impressive, revealing an intelligent, original and highly aesthetic interpretation of this complex theme, having tackled it with superb artistic mastery and denoting inspiration, knowledge, culture and creative powers, qualities which make Elena Hlodec an outstanding Creator, and may I add – a Poet of the pencil and the burin.
For all these reasons, the award by the Jury of the 1st Prize for an International Artist in the above mentioned Contest is not surprising and the Artist deserved it with high merit.
The techniques used were etching and mezzotint with the exquisite gold leaf added to the anchor.
Finally, my association with this superb ex libris honours me and I am happy to use this ex libris in my Library ennobling the editions of the Classics.
José Vicente de Bragança