His lips are like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh… Solomon’s Song 5:12, 13 by Lika Tov

Lika Tov

His lips are like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh… Solomon’s Song 5:12, 13, 2002, Collagraph, © Lika Tov, Courtesy of the artist

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A Body Clothed in Metaphor

Commentary by

The lovers in the Song of Solomon describe each other’s body in bold and unusual metaphors that are often sexual, but that, at the same time, function as much to hide the body as to display it. Lips that drip liquid myrrh, cheeks like beds of spices (Song 5:13). Is this a description of what the man’s lips or cheeks actually look like, or does it refer to the way his lover experiences them? Do the metaphors convey a particular aspect of each body part, taken on its own, or do they form a composite picture?

His lips are like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh… Solomon’s Song 5:12, 13, a print by Israeli artist Lika Tov, takes the woman’s metaphoric description of her lover’s body literally, combining similes and metaphors from the text to form a composite picture of his face. The technique used here is collagraphy (a collage print). The image is printed on a cardboard plate on which cut-out shapes are glued, as in a collage, and the lines are engraved with a pen. About twenty-five prints of His lips are like lilies were produced from this particular plate, using different colour combinations.

Following the Hebrew text, Tov pictures the man’s wavy locks as palm fronds bearing dates. Dove-like eyes frolic in brimming pools, lips are lilies dripping myrrh and cheeks are beds of spices. Is the result beautiful? Does it draw attention to an element of incongruity—even grotesquery—in the Song’s metaphors?

More than anything else, Tov’s print is a forceful reminder that metaphor cannot be reduced to something else, be it a prose paraphrase or a pretty picture. By incorporating the metaphor into her visual representation, Tov offers a mode of interpretation that allows the metaphor to stand and provoke in the viewer the variety of responses the text might provoke.

 

References

Black, Fiona C. 2009. The Artifice of Love: Grotesque Bodies in the Song of Songs (London: T&T Clark)

Tov, Lika. 2004. Mijn lief: Hooglied uit De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling met illustraties van Lika Tov, 3rd edn (Heerenveen: Uitgeverij NBG)


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