One body, two heads

A short reflection on the use and origin(s) of birds with two heads

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On a Hindu temple in Bangalore, Krnataka, India

The earliest archaelogical evidence of the existence of double-headed eagle (‘DHE’) or any other bird with two heads (each with its own neck) is in Bablylonian remains dating back to 3000-2000 BC.

The DHE is and has been used as a heraldic symbol by, for example: the Scythians, the Hittites, the Seljuk Turks, the Kingdom of Mysore (in India), pre-Columbian America, Cormwall (UK), Byzantium, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, and several states in the Balkans. The Balkan states that use the DHE include: Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia.

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Map showing some of the many places where the double-headed eagle has been employed

I find the DHE to be a fascinating symbol because unlike, forexample,  the cross, Star of David, and swastika, it is not a simple geometric construction, which could be created by random ‘doodling’. Also, it is not naturalistic like the commonly used  such as a lion,  single headed eagle, bear, fish, and hound. 

There is a Hindu mythological creature, a bird with two heads, the Gandaberunda, which has been adopted by the Government of Karnatak (formerly Mysore) as its state emblem. The origins of this creature are obscure, but it has been described in the ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas.

The DHE is an imaginary creature, a product of human thought. The Babylonians not only portrayed the DHE, but also other double-headed creatures.

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The Albanian double-headed eagle on the summit of the Llogara Pass in Southern Albania

I would like to SPECULATE that the origin of the DHE was Mesopotamia. From there, I imagine it spread through what is now Turkey to Europe, and across the Indian Ocean to India. If the DHE, or something similar appears in the Vedas, it would be interesting to know if this was by chance or as a result of some forgotten connection between Mesopotamia and the Indian sub-continent.

REQUIEM FOR THE EMBLEM OF POWER

Cork Street, near London’s famous Burlington Arcade, has long been home to quite a number of art galleries. Recently, the greed of property developers has led to the closure and disappearance of many of these. Dadiani Fine Art, a small gallery, at number 30 Cork Street has survived so far. This gallery is hosting an exhibition of works by Paul Wager, entitled “Requiem for the Emblem of Power”. The show, which opened in January 2018, commemorates the centenary of the ending of the First World War ‘WW1’). Althoug the website states that the show was due to finish in April 2018, it was still available for viewing in September 2018. So, you might still be able to ‘catch’ it.

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Paul Wager, British, was born in Hartlepool in 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War. According to the gallery’s website, Paul Wager wrote:

I find myself at the interzone of painting and sculpture; my work is a heavy metal cocktail of male fantasies, obsessive and confrontational. It is a chemical haze of alternative sound and vision, religion and politics, conflict and war, tragedy and loss. A crucible of liquid observations and memories which stimulate my pending offering to the uncharted future of art.”

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The works on display in Cork Street reinforce this statement this well. According to Umberto Eco:

“Art now in general may be seen as conveying a much higher degree of information though not necessarily a higher degree of meaning.

However, the Gallery notes:

Wager’s paintings are a profound statement of information and meaning

Be that as it may, I found the art works, visually alluring, powerful, and moving. Finely crafted, both in detail and as a whole, and creatively designed, they are  fitting, original contributions to the large body of recent creations made to celebrate the passing of 100 years since 1918.

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