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Its editors were three Argentinian bibliophiles: Silvina Ocampo, her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares, and their best friend, Jorge Luis Borges. conception, Silvina Ocampo has often been unduly eclipsed by Sur’s other .. humor. A story from La furia, “Los objetos,” for instance, seems to be an. Silvina Ocampo was the youngest of the six Ocampo sisters, of whom the .. fiction enriches the ambiguities of this poem: in her short story ‘Los objetos’, the.

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Las invitadas by Silvina Ocampo

Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Norah Borges and Silvina Ocampo Collaborate. While the collaboration usually consisted if illustrations Norah provided for Silvina’s cuentos, there is one interesting exception to this: This short work brings together on an equal footing Norah’s images and Silvina’s texts a series if twelve poems on the lives and legends if certainsaints.

This articleexplores the visual and textual intersection, whilst pladng the poems and pictures within traditions if devotional iconographyincluding estampas and santorales. Given that Silvina approaches the topic as a non-believer, whereas Norah believedfervently from childhood, Silvina’s texts sometimes subvert Norah’s sweetly childlike interpretation if the traditional images in suggestive ways.

A brief survey of the short story: Silvina Ocampo | Books | The Guardian

Silvina’s attitude ofampo frequently more ironic and perverse, delighting in accentuating details and aspects if the saints’ martyrdom that Norah deliberately shuns, or allowing the saint a voice rather than being the passive object if devotion.

Each woman’s approach to these saints’ lives acts as afoil for the other, and thus objjetos volume is best regarded, neither as illustrated poems nor pictures with an epigraph’ but something in between, as estampas que hablan’.

As contemporaries and close friends, the Argentinian visual artist Norah Borges and the ocamo Silvina Ocampo often had occasion to collaborate. They were obviously linked by their artistic interests, but the two women also occupied somewhat analogous spaces in relation to the artistic and cultural centres of their time, each living slightly in the shadow objtos more prominent siblings.

Silvina Ocampo was the youngest of the silvlna Ocampo sisters, of whom the eldest – Victoria – became a dominant cultural figure- head with her own publishing house and cultural journal, Sur.

In the early S she contributed excellent woodcuts and linoleum prints to the same little magazines such as Spain’s Ultra or Argentina’s Proa for which Jorge Luis wrote objrtos and theoretical texts. Sulvina marriage to the Spanish critic and poet Guillermo de Torre in cemented her attachment to Spain, where in the S she lso found herself at the centre of the new art. In any case, she developed a far more successful career as an illustrator. However, there is one interesting exception to this: Silvina’s attitude is frequently more ironic and perverse, delighting in accentuating details and aspects of the saints’ martyrdom that Norah deliberately shuns, or allowing the saint to have a voice rather than being always the passive and static object of devotion.

Each woman’s approach to these saints’ lives acts as a foil for the other, and thus the volume is best regarded, as Jorge Luis Borges suggests, ‘neither as illustrated poems nor pictures with an epigraph’, but as something between the two, as he said elsewhere, ‘creation juxtaposee,9 or, to quote Silvina, ‘estampas que hablan’. It is a complex artwork for which there is no generic name, a hybrid which must be read as such.

A santoral is, however, a traditional denomination. It is a collection of saints venerated by the Catholic Church.

While the official number recognized by the Church runs into the hundreds, the text in question here consists of twelve, with a portrait and a text comment- ing on each saint’s life.

The number twelve is a nod in the direction of the traditional calendars, for they record the various saints’ feast days according to the months of the year. Such calendars may include portraits of the saints, although the combination of picture and text is a formula more characteristic of the holy cards Catholics use for private devotion, with an emblematic portrait on the front of the card and a prayer or brief note on the saint’s life on the ssilvina.

Thus, Norah and Silvina, referencing both traditions, have produced a hybrid in still another sense. Aside from the two Latin American saints, the selection is quite heterogenous. Some are historical figures, and some are wholly legendary like San Jorge and San Cristobal and no longer recognized by the Church, objetks has evicted them from the pantheon, despite their great popularity. All but the guardian angel – who is not, of course, a saint – are storied in one way or another, featuring either in The Golden Legend, a medieval sourcebook for the saints which artists and writers from a Catholic background were likely to know, or in various collections of saints’ lives Buder, Baring-Gouldyet not all have an iconographic tradition behind them.

The cover and tide-page, which place Norah’s illustrations second to Silvina’s texts in defiance of Jorge Luis Borges’ remarkssuggest that Silvina took loz lead in the selection. If Jorge Luis thought otherwise, it may very well be out of deference silvinw his sister as well as a lingering loyalty to the historical avant-garde, which back in the days of ultra smo vindi- cated a single ‘hecho estetico’, informing all manifestations of art.

Norah longed to write poetry when she was young and produced a small unpublished work, which she illustrated and bound herself, obietos Notas lejanas and bearing her brother’s first prologue. In onjetos to an interviewer’s question, ‘lComo comenzo a escribir? Dibujaba 10 que no podia escribir y escribia 10 oacmpo no podia dibujar.


Norah and Silvina were old friends, but they came to their project with different poetic visions. And here, too, Jorge Luis Borges gets straight to the heart of the matter: Los santos, para Silvina Ocampo son los semidioses 0 heroes de una mitologia que Ie es ajena: Respectful as he is of his sister’s faith, it is evident that he will have no truck with it, for while he goes on to justifY writers’ and artists’ fascination with hagiography – a fascination that many of his generation felt – he closes his prologue almost perversely, as if thinking of his own Historia universal de la infamiaby remarking that nowadays ‘nos interesan los criminales’ p.

In Argentina where, as Borges once noted, only women went to church, Norah’s penchant for the other-worldly probably seemed to him a feminine foible that, thankfully, Silvina did not share.

Although this might seem a difficult feat, inasmuch as agnosticism and belief are simultaneously clamouring for space, both artists’ tact is very much in evidence. In general, Norah does not portray specific elements in Silvina’s texts, nor does Silvina address specific features in Norah’s drawings.

There is, no doubt, a sly irony in Silvina’s ‘desde lejos’ and, as we shall see, a somewhat impish subver- sion generally in her take on the saints, but she emphasizes collaboration and equality and that islvina and words should be taken together. Although we do not know the circumstances which led to this collaboration, the seeds of the project seem to have gone back a long way. Part of their ‘complicidad creativa’, as May Lorenzo Alcala has characterized their collaboration, would have been to assist each other in reviving a project from their younger daYS.

We will consider these precedents briefly. Evidence of Silvina’s engagement with the textual tradition of the estampas can be found in the group of her poems published in Sur in and titled ‘Me hablan las estampas de los santos. Indeed, as a child she was very interested in religion, but in a highly personal and idiosyncratic manner, shunning the strictures of catechism or official prayers and preferring to silvin her own ways of addressing God.

We objetis get an inkling of her delight in irreverence from one short poem not published in Ocampo’s lifetime, but close in style silvin her ‘Epitafios’ of the IS, which is entitled ‘Cuadro ap6crifo’.

Las invitadas

In this apocryphal picture, ‘La santa se convierte en prostituta’, the explanation is that: The suggestion is that the figure of a saint is a palimpsest over a prostitute which is, of course, exactly the case of one of the Breve santoral, Santa Maria, la Egipdaca. By using the word ‘ap6crifo’ and by effectively reversing the process of conversion, going back from Saint into prostitute rather than prostitute to penitent and thence to Saint, she is situating herself and her texts in a specifically rebellious relationship to religious orthodoxy.

Silvina may also have drawn her inspiration for the actual choice of saints from the ocam;o published daily in the newspapers see for example the ‘Culto cat6lico’ section of La Nadon. It is quite likely that he would have commented on them to Silvina, as she too was a zealous archiver and magpie of curiosities from newspapers.

By the late twenties she had won glowing reviews in Spain and Argentina for her ‘primitive’, child-like vision of angels: Her simple geometrical shapes and post-cubist flouting of perspective produced figures such as those a ocampk or, metaphorically speaking, a child of the faith might have produced.

The figures in the Breve santoral, however, while clinging to the rounded forms and innocent expression of her earlier saints, are subjected to a strict geometry for their compo- objetoos. And this, as Patricia Artundo notes, was typical of Norah’s mature style as a graphic artist. The result are figures with a highly ornamental and yet energetic quality, who seem to have been caught in the middle of an action that does not concern other humans.

All are framed within the border of the page, in gold, much as one might frame an icon. Norah’s illustrations convey an impression both of their objetoe vulnerability and their inaccessibility. While Silvina may be trying to make them speak, Norah has placed all of them, both historical and legendary, in a realm where they are safe from the trials and, in some cases, the torments they experienced on earth.

As we reflect more closely on these drawings we will see that they contain features which cause them to shift between two poles: With the exception of the portraits of Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martin de Porres, her saints do not face the viewer as objects of oxampo as if set in a niche or on a church wall.

Their dress varies according to their era or place of birth, but all are clad in simple garments, a feature that emphasizes their simplicity of spirit even as it draws the eye to an innocent face or gesture.

Norah has used a very limited palette to depict these saints: Yet it may very well be that her overriding consideration was to use this palette, in which ochre predominates, to provide a visual obuetos of The Golden Legend, that is to present each of the saints through a gold prism, symbolizing their distance from the human realm. Because she exploited the white back- ground of the page for all of her drawings, she left a great deal for the viewer to fill in, just as she did in many of the illustrations produced during her lifetime.


But here it is as if she had done so in order to offer a kind of colouring-book: Having established this, Norah then deferred to Silvina in this project, tacitly allotting her the role of individualizing the saints. The palette if we may borrow this visual term in Silvina’s individualizing poems, is wider. Within the bounds of this collection, Ocampo utilizes quite a variety of forms of poetry, ranging from A-B-B-A rhyme schemes to blank verse.

However, she does show a marked preference overall for sonnets of the twelve saints presented, half are presented through sonnets – see Santa Serafina, San Arsenio, Santa Teodora, Santa Ines, Santa Lucia and San Jorge.

This is typical of Ocampo’s poetic output as a whole, where she uses many different poetic forms but keeps returning insistently to the sonnet. Sharing her brother’s concern for the wayan image might overpower the reading of a text,26 as May Lorenzo Alcala has argued, Norah objehos not wish to impose an interpretation on the subject she was called upon to illustrate. She seemed to see her role as an artist as one of providing a frame.

Norah’s representations generally put the observer in the role of contemplating the saint as a solitary figure as is traditionalthough the saint is sometimes seen in profile, in medi- tation Santa Serafina and San Arsenioor in rapt contemplation of a child, such as the Christ child in ‘San Crist6bal’ or the saint’s foster child in the case of ‘Santa Teodora’. Silvina varies the poetic perspective: San Jorge, Santa Rosa and perhaps parallel to Norah’s contemplation of the act of contemplation; others present a third-person gloss of the saint’s life, for example San Martin de Porres; in style the latter is a simplistic poetic narrative like a children’s fable, with images which would catch the imagination of a child, such as huge mice which are ‘grandes como gatos’ p.

Santa Melania, Santa Teodora. A good example of this is San Arsenio, who questions himself as to his religious motivation a key aspect in traditional descriptions of San Arsenio ;27 others offer a detached and self-contained poetic meditation e.

Santa Lucia which takes a small detail from the saint’s life as inspiration for something indepen- dent; some even address the saint directly, whether to pray to him or her San Crist6balas would be the convention, or to ask the saint about their motivations e. Santa Maria, la Egipciaca externalizing the process of self-scrutiny practised by Arsenio.

The fact that in the only example of a conventional prayer-like address Ocampo feels the need to give the explanatory subtitle ‘ plegaria ‘ p. Yet even then Ocampo plays games with this prayer.

She asks for Saint Christopher’s aid when travelling on an eclectic variety of modern transport, and her comic delight in enumerating sleighs or helicopters subverts the prayer as ‘genre’, where specific naming is usually focused on people or areas of the world in particular need. The cover illustration sets the tone for all of Norah’s illustrations. Although at first it might seem that Norah’s model may have been any number of holy cards showing the young martyr Agnes with a lamb an emblem drawn from a play on words with her name, Agnes – Agnus ,28 Norah’s rendering of the saint revises a more specifically painterly one that she may have remembered from her visits to the Prado: It is instructive to look at her illustration beside this classic.

It follows the com- position of the central figure of Saint Agnes and the lamb in Macip so closely that it could be considered a sketch of the earlier figures. Yet it is what Norah omits that is telling.

A brief survey of the short story: Silvina Ocampo

In Macip’s painting the saint is seen crouching on the ground with her arms embracing a lamb while strife rages around her. She is at the mercy of heathen Roman soldiers who have tried, unsuccessfully, to burn her alive hence the smouldering faggots in the foreground.

The simply clad saint looks up in distress as a soldier draws a blade across her bare throat. Though she is herself the picture of vulnerability in her thin toga, she hugs the lamb to her body as if to protect it from harm, providing a visual definition of martyrdom: Norah, on the other hand, places the saint and the Lamb in isolation in a moment of repose. There is no clutter or sign of agitated crowds in her work and no evidence of epic intent.

Occupying half of the field of the drawing, in white, is a simple colonnade limning classical architecture. In the illustration corresponding to the poem for Saint Agnes inside the text proper, the full dimensions of this building can be seen, indicating that the cover illustration had been cropped.

The girl and the lamb sit before a temple on a ground sten- cilled with a fleur-de-Iys pattern suggesting a grassy cover. There is no sense of menace, much less carnage.