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Soul in Bondage

In this brooding Symbolist subject titled Soul in Bondage, the American expatriate Elihu Vedder brought together his key interests in idealized human form, abstracted design, and the themes of internal spiritual conflict. Profoundly inspired by the writer Edward Fitzgerald's translation of mystical Persian verse in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (Vedder illustrated a lush 1884 edition), he created numerous subjects representing the individual bound by the dilemma of choice between good and evil symbolized here by the butterfly and the serpent. Behind the figure Vedder employed his signature "double swirl," a motif he had used repeatedly in the Rubáiyát illustrations to suggest the forces that converge and then disperse around the brief point that constitutes an individual human life.

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