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A Writer's Life in Rome & Tuscia

The Birthday of Jeanne Hebuterne

Today is the birthday of Jeanne Hebuterne.  She was born in 1898 in Meaux in Seine-et-Marne. Ever since I saw an exhibition of her artworks over 20 years ago, she has stuck in my mind. Muse, model, soulmate, and pupil of Amedeo Modigliani, she fell backwards thru a window in 1920, just 48 hours after he died.  I tell Jeanne's story as rebellious teenager, woman, artist, and ghost in my novel Loving Modigliani: the Afterlife of Jeanne Hebuterne. As for the afterlife- it's an important part of the myth of Jeanne H, for her identity as an artist wasn't really known until 2000, when her extraordinary sketchbooks were first exhibited. I was lucky to stumble upon that show. Since then, the value of her work – once considered mere memorabilia – has skyrocketed. In creating the character of Jeanne, and fleshing out the sixteen year old art student—one of the tools I employed was her horoscope.


A Quick look at her horoscope gives us some insight into Jeanne's personality.
Aries sun with Scorpio rising— makes Mars powerful in her chart. Jeanne is much more a woman warrior, determined to get what she wants -- than her family imagined, when she began to divide her time between Modigliani's studio and her parents' cozy apartment near the Pantheon.  Jeanne was headstrong, insistent, devoted, passionate, moody and deep. Her parents didn't even know she was in a serious relationship until she became pregnant.
The sun and venus in the 6th house, near the cusp of the 7th,  gave her a profound sense of service, which she expressed in her relationship with Modigliani and with art. Mars in the 4th house indicates conflict in the family, square to Saturn— disagreements with her father, which, given her gentle nature must have made her suffer. But it also shows her conflict wiht authority and convention.  Uranus and Saturn in the second house show the rapid shifts of her economic status, once she had taken up with Modi. Her moon in the twelfth house – the house of sorrows and spiritual trials – is an indication of her emotional depth, pronounced spirituality, and of her creativity that sprang from the unconscious. Opposite her sun, it suggests an inner struggle between romance and reality, between her dreams and the practical details of daily life.  The square of Mars, Saturn, Neptune also indicates conflicts with the men in her life and the disappointments and deception they bring.
 Lastly, the presence of Pluto and Neptune in the 8th house is significant. The eighth house is the house of death and may describe the circumstances of Jeanne's death – as either planet in this house suggest an unusual manner of death. But this is also the house of what is shared with one's partner, and shows us how deeply Jeanne fused her identity with that of her partner, Amedeo Modigliani.


Why was her afterlife so important? For eighty years, her artworks were kept hidden from the public in her brother's studio. All the while, Jeanne's daughter, Giovanna/Jeanne Modigliani was trying to negotiate with the Hebuterne family to have access to Jeanne's artworks and other documents in the family's possession. She also rewrote Modigliani's story and the story of Jeanne, disspelling many myths concerning Modigliani's life, in two separate biographies of her father. Overtime, Jeanne's talent and her role as an artist in Montparnasse has been revealed. But as is always the case with Modigliani, myths and legends cannot completely be stripped away. We have records of a diary and of letters written by Jeanne, which so far have never surfaced. We have some extraordinary sketches by her, and others that are clearly fakes. Even her original place of burial changed, when she was moved from a small suburban cemetery to lie with Modigliani in Père Lachaise cemetry.  It is also this aspect of her afterlife I try to recreate in the latter section of Loving Modigliani.


For more about Modi & Jeanne see my posts 


and https://magiclibrarybomarzo.wordpress.com/2023/11/24/in-search-of-jeanne-hebuterne-modigliani-then-now-part-2/




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My Romance With the Tarot

Me in my cape, hanging out in esoteric junks shopts and bookstores,1972

Rainy afternoon, November 1972— Skeletal trees near the square, dripping with rain. Wearing an ankle length paisley dress and a black wool cape sewn by my mother, I knocked on the door of the Theosophical Society Library in London. I don't remember who suggested I go there – or even how I got the address, but one gloomy day, I rang the bell and was admitted to the inner sanctum.  I stepped into a lounge where a few pale-looking older people, very conservatively dressed, were sitting on sofas, browsing through magazines. They didn't at all look the way I expected them.
 A woman at a desk seemed quite puzzled by my request to use the library. She deferred to an older gentleman in a worn beige sweater and gold rimmed spectacles— who after a few minutes, informed me that although the library was usually only for members, they could make an exception – because they liked me. Never  had I received such a generous comment before. They made me feel at home
I was shown into a huge room with many tall bookcases packed with leather-bound tomes, a midnight blue Chinese rug, a huge lacquered table, and a few comfortable arm chairs.  I said I was looking for books on the Tarot, and a kindly lady brought me a couple to peruse – and thus began my romance with this archaic set of characters who point out a path of initiation and self-knowledge.
One of the books mentioned that the Correr Museum in Venice had a few 17th century cards in their print cabinet – so a few weeks later, traveling in Venice with my artist boyfriend, we stopped off at the print cabinet and I asked to see the cards. The attendant seemed rather astonished that I knew they had these cards in their possession and even their precise location numbers. They were brought to me in a manilla envelope – and just dumped out on a desk – four magnificent cards of the minor arcana – on thick pasteboard and covered with rich gold leaf. The rest of the deck had been lost.  It was humbling and thrilling to think how the missing deck had been used, and in what hands it had passed, and where the missing cards might now be. Here I was holding them in my hands, and tracing the great gold ace of coins with my finger.
A few days later, I bought a deck of my own at an esoteric bookshop near Chartres cathedral and from then on became a collector and reader of tarot cards.
 I bought a few other decks over the years, including a facsimile of the Visconti Sforza deck, which was the one I preferred, purchased in Florence at a bookstore that no longer exists.
So I became a reader of cards, and after a decade or so, simply stopped, put my cards away in a little Tibetan bag, and stopped thinking of them. I gave all the other decks away.  But the Tarot and its images were always in the back of my mind.
In writing my novel, Signatures in Stone, A Bomarzo mystery, I got the idea that the sculptures in the garden were similar to Tarot cards, that is – figures with a specific divinatory and psychological meaning. I worked out a path of eleven figures – and Sante Fe artist Carolyn Florek drew them for me. Some are based on the statues in the Park of Monsters/ Sacred Wood. The others are drawn from the story itself. The eleven tarot aracana are interwoven with the heroine's discoveries in the garden.
Recently, asked to contribute an essay on Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden for a publication by Mary Jane Cryan, I took the little Tibetan purse off the shelf, and opened it for the first time in over a decade.  Researching Saint Phalle's concept of the Tarot has been fascinating, because she sometimes uses traditional imagery from the classic Rider deck, and other times deviates with her own interpretation and depiction.  I find I can read them more fluidly now. Here you'll find a report of my research on Saint Phalle's Tarot symbolism.


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