Japanese waves

Waves are a popular element in Japanese arts and crafts, particularly in the many wood carvings from the 19. century, like the famous “Great Wave” (around 1830) by Hokusai. Here is an example, a small saucer from a random Asian food store in Germany:

In an insttruction book from 1903 Japanese artist Mori Yuzan displayed and explained hundreds of wave designs. the book can be viewed for free at archive.org:

Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire (1833)

English-American painter Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848) created a series of five images depicting the rise and the destruction of an imaginary coastal city. The series is entitled “The Course of Empire”. Above, the fourth painting depicts the catastrophy and destruction of the city. Cole imagined here a junction of various man made and natural disasters: Insurgence, war, fires, storms and a flood.

In the final, fifth image the scene is set several decades after the destruction. Here nature has reclaimed the urban landscape and there is a peaceful, maybe even idyllic calm to the scene. From today’s point of view, this seems like an environmentalist comment on our current debates.

The louse and the flea

A fairy tale as collected by the Brothers Grimm:

A little louse and a little flea kept house together. They were brewing beer in an eggshell when the little louse fell in and burned herself to death. At this the little flea began to cry loudly.

Then the little parlor door said, “Why are you crying, little flea?”

“Because little louse has burned herself to death.”

Then the little door began to creak.

Then a little broom in the corner said, “Why are you creaking, little door?”

“Why should I not be creaking?

Little louse has burned herself to death.
Little flea is crying.”

Then the little broom began to sweep furiously.

Then a little cart came by and said, “Why are you sweeping, little broom?”

“Why should I not be sweeping?

Little louse has burned herself to death.
Little flea is crying.
Little door is creaking.”

Then the little cart said, “Then I will run,” and it began to run furiously.

It ran by a little manure pile, which said, “Why are you running, little cart?”

“Why should I not be running?

Little louse has burned herself to death.
Little flea is crying.
Little door is creaking.
Little broom is sweeping.”

Then the little manure pile said, “Then I will burn furiously,” and it began to burn in bright flames.

A little tree that stood near the little manure pile said, “Little manure pile, why are you burning?”

“Why should I not be burning?

Little louse has burned herself to death.
Little flea is crying.
Little door is creaking.
Little broom is sweeping.
Little cart is running.”

Then the little tree said, “Then I will shake myself,” and it began to shake itself until all its leaves fell off.

A girl who came up with her water pitcher saw that, and said, “Little tree, why are you shaking?”

“Why should I not be shaking?

Little louse has burned herself to death.
Little flea is crying.
Little door is creaking.
Little broom is sweeping.
Little cart is running.
Little manure pile is burning.”

Then the girl said, “Then I will break my little water pitcher.” And she broke her little water pitcher.

Then the little spring from which the water was flowing said, “Girl, why did you break your little water pitcher?”

“Why should I not break my little water pitcher?

Little louse has burned herself to death.
Little flea is crying.
Little door is creaking.
Little broom is sweeping.
Little cart is running.
Little manure pile is burning.
Little tree is shaking.”

“Oh,” said the spring, “then I will begin to flow,” and it began to flow furiously. And everything drowned in the water: the girl, the little tree, the little manure pile, the little cart, the little broom, the little door, the little flea, and the little louse, all together.

from: Children’s and Household Tales (1812 – 1857)
online source: https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm030.html


There is an optical phenomenon called looming in which objects at sea appear to be floating in the air above water level. In Spring 2021 such an image photographed went viral online.

Apparently this phenomenon was well known throughout history among coastal communities as it appears as a sign for bad luck in legends and myths. Along the German North Sea coast it is a common superstition that loomings announce severe floods and houses or cities that are seen that way will be submerged and lost. (see the post on vineta) It’s interesting to note that in the superstition the city is first elevated above and then submerged under the sea level.

This image is also a case of looming:

It shows lake Michigan apparently with the skyline of Chicago in the distance. The accompanying text reads: “Due to the curvature of the earth, the city isn’t visible over the lake from here: the image is a refraction of the real skyline projected above the horizon. Like the boat in David Morris’s image, this is an example of ‘looming.”

According to the National Geographic article, similar illusions of floating cities also appear on land, particularly in arctic regions due to the extreme temperatures. During the gold rush in the 19. Century, reports of mysterious cityscapes became very popular. agical cities foating Cities floating above ground are also a popular topic in science fiction literature and film. There are numerous reports of travelers seeing city skylines appear out of the fog or above the ground, ofter referred to as “Silent Cities”.
Read the full article here.

Ludwig Bechstein: The Tale of Vineta

This is the version from Ludwig Bechsteins collection of German Legends from 1853:

Bei der Insel Usedom ist eine Stelle im Meere, eine halbe Meile von der Stadt gleichen Namens, da ist eine große, reiche und schöne Stadt versunken, die hieß Vineta. Sie war ihrer Zeit eine der größesten Städte Europas, der Mittelpunkt des Welthandels zwischen den germanischen Völkern des Südens und Westens und den slavischen Völkern des Ostens. Überaus großer Reichtum herrschte allda. Die Stadttore waren von Erz und reich an kunstvoller Bildnerei, alles gemeine Geschirr war von Silber, alles Tischgeräte von Gold. Endlich aber zerstörte bürgerliche Uneinigkeit und der Einwohner ungezügeltes Leben die Blüte der Stadt Vineta, welche an Pracht und Glanz und der Lage nach das Venedig des Norden war. Das Meer erhob sich, und die Stadt versank. Bei Meeresstille sehen die Schiffer tief unten im Grunde noch die Gassen, die Häuser eines Teiles der Stadt in schönster Ordnung, und der Rest Vinetas, der hier sich zeigt, ist immer noch so groß als die Stadt Lübeck. Die Sage geht, daß Vineta drei Monate, drei Wochen und drei Tage vor seinem Untergang gewafelt habe, da sei es als ein Luftgebilde erschienen mit allen Türmen und Palästen und Mauern, und kundige Alte haben die Einwohner gewarnt, die Stadt zu verlassen, denn wenn Städte, Schiffe oder Menschen wafeln und sich doppelt sehen lassen, so bedeute das vorspukend sichern Untergang oder das Ende voraus – jene Alten seien aber verlacht worden.

An Sonntagen bei recht stiller See hört man noch über Vineta die Glocken aus der Meerestiefe heraufklingen mit einem trauervoll summenden Ton.

english translation:
There is a place in the sea near the island of Usedom, half a mile from the town of the same name, where a large, rich, and beautiful town has sunk, which was called Vineta. In its time it was one of the largest cities in Europe, the center of world trade between the Germanic peoples of the south and west and the Slavic peoples of the east. Exceedingly great wealth reigned there. The city gates were of bronze and rich in artistic sculpture, all common utensils were of silver, all table utensils of gold. Finally, however, civil discord and the unbridled life of the inhabitants destroyed the flowering of the city of Vineta, which in splendor and splendor and location was the Venice of the north. The sea rose and the city sank. When the sea is calm, the boatmen can basically still see the streets far below, the houses of a part of the city in the most beautiful order, and the rest of Vineta, which is shown here, is still as big as the city of Lübeck. The legend goes that Vineta waffled three months, three weeks and three days before its sinking, when it appeared as an aerial structure with all towers and palaces and walls, and knowledgeable elders warned the inhabitants to leave the city, because if Cities, ships or people waffle and let themselves be seen twice, that means spookily certain doom or the end ahead – but those old people were laughed at. On Sundays when the sea is fairly calm, you can still hear the bells ringing up from the depths of the sea above Vineta with a mournful humming sound. (This is a very rough google translation. I did not find the tale in a proper english translation)

Giant Catfish

Japanese culture has a long history of natural disasters, mostly earth quakes. Also the so called Triple-Disaster of 2011 was caused by an earthquake, which caused a Tsunami and then the explosions at the Fukushima atomic plant. In Japanese culture the catfish symbolizes the unstable ground the islands are built on. According to mythology a giant catfish, called Namazu () or Ōnamazu () , lives underneath the island. the god Takemikazuchi holds it down with a heavy stone. When the catfish is released, he stirs violently and earthquakes happen. There is a whole genre of woodprint images called namazu-e depicting scenes from japanese life and politics always featuring one or more catfish.


Der Bergsturz by David A. Schmid (1806)

Painting of the Goldauer Bergsturz, a massive landslide that destroyed the town Goldau in the Swiss mountains, by sixteen year old swiss artist David Alois Schmid (1791 – 1861).

Switzerland; 19. Century; Christian; Painting; City: Goldau

Anne- Louis Girodet-Trioson: Scène de Déluge (1828)

France; 19. Century; Christian; Painting

Edouard Lalo: Le Roi D’Ys

“Le roi d’Ys” is an opera by French composer Édouard Lalo (1823 – 1892), to a libretto by Édouard Blau, based on the old Breton legend of the drowned city of Ys (assumed geographical location).

The Destruction of “The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum”

John Martin’s oil painting, acquired by Tate Gallery London in 1869, imagines the extent of the disaster that famously beset the sister cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum when the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted on 24 August AD 79.
The painting was first exhibited in 1822. In 1928 the painting was in basement storage when the Tate was severly affected by the Thames flood. The picture was badly damaged and effectively written off but was extensively restored in 2011. (Text quoted from Tate Gallery Website)

Thanks to Theresa Deichert for the tip!

UK; 19. Century; 21. Century; Christian; Painting; City: London