Memories of a countess

Foreword of Olivier Duquenne for the book "Sex, horror and Fantasy"


When the count Gyorgy Thurzo broke down the door of Csejthe castle, what he discovered froze him with horror. Elisabeth Bathory, the mistress of the house, had transformed the castle dungeons into rooms of torture. The cell walls were stained with dried blood. The soldiers gazed at the narrow stone rooms where young virgins were held prisoner. Further on through the underground passages, Thurzo and his men discovered around a dozen adolescents, still alive but almost completely drained of blood. Around fifty bodies were exhumed from under the castle and its surroundings. There is nothing fictitious about this true story; the search took place on the 29th of December 1610. Brought before a tribunal, the “Blood Countess” refused to respond, and was condemned to be entombed alive. Elisabeth Bathory had lived in the constant fear of ageing and seeing her legendary beauty fade. To maintain her youthful looks, she came up with the idea of bathing in the fresh blood of young girls. Along with the notorious Vlad the Impaler, she shares the honour of being the originators of the legend of the vampires.

I was already familiar with the artwork of Giovanni Buzi, but I have only recently begun reading his “horrorific” novellas. The story “Hybrid Insatiate” immediately made me think of the “red” countess. Elisabeth Bathory seems to me to reflect certain characteristics of the characters in Giovanni's stories. The countess is a hybrid creature. The only known painting of the Hungarian aristocratic shows a face of angelic beauty masking a demon's soul. Giovanni has revealed to me what interests him about the figure of the hybrid; its perpetual metamorphosis. The countess, that ambiguous being, half-angel, half-demon, provokes a mixture of curiosity and perverse pleasure. The theme of the “split” personality often appears in literature, but Giovanni's main inspiration comes from Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Another characteristic legitimising the relationship with Bathory is a venomous dandyism, that cyanide chic exuded by his stories. The author has confessed to me that he adores the effect of “Proust plunging into a well of horror”. That which may similarly cloud our reading is that indissociable link between sexuality and cruelty. This certainly takes us back to the “Blood Countess”, but also to the Marquis de Sade and the painter Francis Bacon. For each of them, the sexual act can not but be violent or cruel. Buzi is aware, as Bacon was, that sexual pleasure reveals our animality first and foremost, a disquieting biological force capable of corroding each of our social, cultural, religious and moral barriers. What strikes me about the artwork for this collection is the relationship with heraldic figures; perhaps an unconscious one, but often present. The numerous angels bring to mind ancient coats of arms and the carved capitals of the Romanesque churches. The relationship with mythology is also clear. Hungarian folk tales have long since transformed Elisabeth Bathory into a vampire resembling a ghoul or a witch, mythological figures which make frequent appearances in Buzi's illustrations, the witch in particular.

The daughter of Belus, Lamia was the most gracious woman in Libya. She had many children by Jupiter, most of them killed by Hera. Overcome by madness, the monstrous Lamia began devouring human children with a voracious pleasure. Later she would be accompanied by the Empuse, a kind of succubus demon, and began copulating with adolescents, drinking their blood while they slept. In ancient Greece the lamia is represented as a winged serpent with the body of a woman or a wild beast, but the head and breasts of a young girl. Another figure which has influenced Giovanni Buzi's iconographic repertoire is that of the female demon Lilith. Like other demons of Mesopotamic origin, she is depicted is a huge variety of ways. The cabbalistic tradition had her as the wife of Samael, the angel of death. According to some accounts, God punished Samael by emasculating him, which would explain Lilith's insatiable sexual appetite, continually in search of a lover. According to different traditions, Lilith copulates with a blind dragon during periods of pestilence or famine, providing further clues in our attempt to decodify Buzi’s artwork, depicting embraces of hybrid and androgynous creatures.

Sometimes the author succeeds, in a surprising manner, in bringing together horror and fantasy, but one of the least expected figures in the book, as I am sure you will agree, is Pinocchio. And yet, here he is… Naturally the marionette evokes fetishist and sexual impulses. In Buzi’s version, needless to say, Pinocchio's nose grows for reasons very different from telling lies!

Having recalled my memories of a blood countess, a voracious Lamia and the insatiable Lilith, I will slip away and leave to whoever should read these stories and look at these illustrations the task of conjuring up whatever other spirit he knows of. 

Olivier Duquenne




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