The Character of the Tattoo in Modern Europe

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Rudolf Erhard Riecke (1869-1939) was a dermatologist and the first director of the influential department of skin and venereal diseases at the University of Gottingen. In 1925, as an outgrowth of his research he published Das Tatauierungswesen im Heutigen Europa. The book has never been translated into English, or reprinted, as far as I can tell in any language, which is unfortunate as it is one of the most valuable early studies of the early modern European tattoo.

Riecke compared the symbolism of the modern tattoo, especially with regard to erotic and criminal tattoos, as found  on the bodies of circus performers, seamen, criminals and members of the underworld, and concluded that the motivations and symbolism of the modern European tattoo were distinct from the conclusions of anthropological studies of non-Western cultures at the time.

The latter part of the book is taken up with a generous section of b/w photographic plates reproducing 94 photographs of tattoos – certainly one of the most important published photographic records we have of its kind. A number of the tattoos are erotic, and there is one excellent photograph of a full penis tattoo (fig. 80).

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The Tattoo Historian website has a great post on the mystery posed by an excised example of this plate in a library copy of the book.

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Riecke, Erhard. Das Tatauierungswesen im Heutigen Europa. Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1925. 4to, 40 pp. + 24 photographic plates, reproducing 94 photographs.

 Contact us if you’d like to be informed about the availability of this title from Division Leap, or to be notified about future examples we might find in our travels.

Guido Boggiani and the Indelible Marking of the Skin

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In 1895, the Ethnologist Guido Boggiani read a paper at the Secondo Congresso Geografico Italiano concerning the designs on the skin of two Peruvian mummies in an Italian museum. A pamphlet of the talk was published, entitled Tatuaggio o Pittura? In which Boggiani made the claim that these pictures on the skin were paintings rather then tattoos, as earlier writers such as Joest had asserted. Boggiani made the claim that the indelible quality of the images was achieved by the use of a dye extracted from the plant Genipa Oblongifolia, also known as Genipapo, which had a corrosive effect on the skin, which caused a more lasting effect then other dyes. It was also thought to ward off spirits.

 

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This booklet is illustrated with six drawings which are painstaking reconstructions of the designs found on the mummies, as well as two full page more natural drawings of the limbs of the mummies in a natural posture, as above. In all of these drawings Boggiani’s extreme fascination for this art on the skin is obvious. It is perhaps natural that Boggiani argued for this skin art to be that of painting, because he was first trained as a painter, and a successful one at that. His paintings sold for large sums at an early age.

Boggiani was drawn into ethnology during a votage to exhibit his paintings in Buenos Aires, where he met several expatriate Italians whose accounts of Paraguay led him to embark on a new career as an ethnologist, making return trips to the Americas to collect artifacts.

 

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In the year after this booklet is published, however, Boggiani would return to Asuncion convinced that photography was the best way to capture the indigenous people he chose to study, and the photos he left behind – some of which are now held by the Ethnological Museum of Berlin – are valued as important early work in ethnological photography and the photography of tattoos.

 

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Boggiani’s embrace of the young medium of photography may have led to his death. Though the exact circumstances of his demise are unknown, he was found in a remote area of the Gran Chaco with his skull destroyed and his camera and negatives buried in the ground around him. It was widely believed at the time that these measures were an effort to suppress the threat of photography.

This particular example of the booklet is intriguing as it has a distribution stamp from a bookstore in Asunción, the last city where Boggiani was seen alive. Even at the time this was probably a very academic publication with a limited distribution. It may be irresponsible conjecture, but I wonder if this may have been one of a number of copies Boggiani may have brought to Asunción himself.

Boggiani, Guido. Tatuaggio o Pittura? Studio Intorno ad una Curiosa Usanza Delle Popolazioni Indigene Dell’Antico Peru. Roma: Stabilimento Tipografico G. Civelli, 1895. First edition. Small 4to, 32 [2] pp, printed wraps. Text in Italian. Illustrated with 6 reproductions in the text, and two full page reproductions following the text, all from drawings by Boggiani. Includes bibliographic references. Contemporary bookstore stamp from Libreria y Papeleria Asuncion to cover.

Moderately toned, with some short tears and chipping to margins, and foxing to margins, aforementioned bookstore stamp, but very good. Scarce in the trade. Inquire

 

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Wallace Berman, Billy Jahrmarkt and the Greatest Gallery

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A handmade mail art collage announcement made by Berman for an event at Billy Jahrmarkt’s Batman Gallery, which featured Lew Welch and Kirby Doyle reading, as well as a film or performance by Paul Beattie and Bill Spencer. The postcard is illustrated with a pasted down photograph by Wallace Berman, which features Lew Welch peering out from beneath a hole in a dock or floorboards, with the large leatherbooted foot of Kirby Doyle poised above his fingers. The image appears on p. 61 of Wallace Berman: Photographs.

The event which this commemorates was likely the joint reading of Welch and Doyle’s “Din Poem” in 1961, which is mentioned in the chronology in Ring of Bone. The event was likely held on the opening of George Herms’ show that year at the gallery – a reminiscence by George Herms in Foley notes that Beattie showed a film and Doyle and Welch read at his the opening of his exhibition that year [Foley p. 21]

The Batman Gallery had opened in November of the previous year, and though only active for 5 years, was in retrospect on the most important alternative art galleries of the west coast. The walls had been painted matte black by Bruce Conner, who was the first artist to be shown. Jahrmarkt was a close friend of Berman, whose Verifax collages were created on a machine given to Berman by Jahrmarkt. A very early work by Berman with an excellent assocation, linking him with a close associate and the greatest gallery of the time.  

Berman, Wallace. Mail Art Announcement for an Exhibit at Batman Gallery.

San Francisco: 1961. Collage, silver gelatin print. ink, and postage stamp on card stock [3 5/8 x 6 1/4″]. Addressed in Wallace Berman’s hand to Billy Jahrmarkt and postmarked in May of 1961.

Boy London and Peter Christopherson

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The first advertisement made for the infamous London fashion store, a large format poster designed by Peter Christopherson. Boy was formed in 1977 on King’s Road by John Krivine and Steph Raynor. Christopherson at that time was both a member of Throbbing Gristle, and of the design company Hipgnosis, who had been responsible for some of the most recognizable album covers of the era, including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Krivine invited Christopherson to create the initial design for the store after seeing COUM’s poster designs for the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow.

Christopherson was responsible for the initial concept and design of the store, including the typography, and also the window displays, which showed an unconscious or dead young man. Genesis P-Orridge described them to Jon Savage as follows: “The idea was that a boy had climbed in to steal stuff, accidentally knocked over an electric fire and set the place on fire and burned to death. And these were the leftovers of the boy. So there was a Doc Marten boot with bits of flesh and there was a bit of his jeans and buttock and a finger with a ring and some mouldy hand. And they were in little forensic dishes in these glass boxes like you would find at the Black Museum. So this was just a parody of a mixture of forensic evidence and vandalism.” – [P-Orridge, quoted in Ford 7.4-7.5]

The window display was provocative enough that the windows were soon vandalized, a problem that would dog the early days of the shop. Boy London would go on to become on the most influential and controversial fashion lines of the 80’s. Christopherson would go on to form Coil with John Balance. A rare example of the early work of the most innovative and provocative designer of the period, or of any period.

Christopherson, Peter. Boy London. The Strength of a Country Lies in Its Youth. London: Boy London, [1977]. 16 1/2 x 23 3/4″, offset litho.

A strong, very good example, never folded, with creasing along the left margin.