Friday, March 22, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Wire Master & His Puppets, c. 1740

The Wire Master and His Puppets
English, c. 1740
The George Speaight Archive at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

"The Puppets blindly led away
Are made to act for ends unknown."

                                                                     -- a variation on Swift

Printed in about 1740, “The Wire Master & His Puppets” depicts a wooden platform upon which a variety of men from differing professions are standing. We have clergy, we have a judge, we have tradesmen, among others. Each of them appears to be manipulated by a guide wire attached to his head. Above them, a larger man in a Harlequin-like coat controls the wires. Near his left, the puppet master is pleaded by a bizarre mammal of unknown species who asks, “A little more to the left, my lord.” Meanwhile, the figure of Britannia weeps, “It is sport to you, but Death to me.”

Ah, but it gets worse-or better, depending on your point of view. Beneath the platform, a winged devil clutches a pole. Others mill about around the devil, but seem not to notice him.

Below this image is an excerpt from Johnathan Swift's (1667-1745) poem, “The Puppet Master.”

I should point out that the original verse from Swift’s work reads thusly:

"Others are blindly led away,
And made to act for ends unknown,
By the mere spring of wires they play,
And speak in language not their own."

However, the engraving intentionally misquotes the verse: 

"The Puppets blindly led away
Are made to act for ends unknown."

No comments: