Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, Twelfth Night, 1948. Oil on canvas, 34 1/8 x 30 1/8 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015. Photography by Lee Stalsworth

In contrast to other Shakespearean Equation paintings, which feature a single or a pair of mathematical models, Twelfth Night unites eight forms. Two additional “foreign” items—an ostrich egg and a phallic object—reference other Man Ray works. Like the love triangle and complex plot of the Shakespearean play evoked by the work’s title, this intricate gathering of many improbable objects suggests similarly complicated and overlapping relationships.

The Notion of Infinity

“Sugimoto’s sculptures in particular are a testimony of the intricate relationship between art and mathematics,” says Klaus Ottmann, curator of Hiroshi Sugimoto: Conceptual Forms and Mathematical Models. “Both art and mathematics deal with the unimaginable, the non-represent-able; in this case the notion of infinity.”

Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: Merry Wives of Windsor

Merry Wives of Windsor_mathematical model pairing

(left) Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, Merry Wives of Windsor, 1948. Oil on canvas, 24 x 18 1/8 in. Private Collection, Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Mathematical Object: Imaginary and Real Part of the Derivative of the Weierstrass ℘–Function, c. 1900. Plaster, 6 1/2 × 8 × 5 7/8 in. Brill-Schilling Collection. Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris. Photo: Elie Posner

Man Ray explained that the mathematical model of an elliptical function in this Shakespearean Equation reminded him of “the group of merry wives of Windsor getting together to gossip and laugh.” A former Phillips intern remarked that the artist’s dash of color in his interpretation of this mathematical model really does make it merrier.