Joe Tilson

Delphic Oracle


Not on display

Joe Tilson born 1928
Photograph, colour, on paper, printed papers, carbon tracing paper and 2 metal paperclips on screenprint on paper
Support: 737 × 641 mm
Presented by Rose and Chris Prater 1980

Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘Tilson 1980’ bottom right
Screenprint with collage, from the Kelpra/ Tate Gallery portfolio, printed at Kelpra Studio and published by Kelpra Editions and the Tate Gallery in an edition of 150, 29×25 1/4 (73.5×64)
Presented by Rose and Chris Prater 1980

For information about the portfolio see Patrick Caulfield, P05560. ‘Delphic Oracle’ is one of an extensive series of prints, sculptures and reliefs entitled ‘Proscinemi Oracles’ begun in 1977. In a letter to the compiler (March 1980) the artist provided background notes about the print: the two fragments of poetry are quoted in the section on Delphi in Pausanias’ Description of Greece. In the translation Tilson took with him on his travels in Greece they are given as:

Forthwith the voice of the Earth-goddess uttered a wise word,
And with her Pyrcon, servant of the renowned Earth-shaker

(by Musaeüs)


Here in truth a mindful oracle was built
By the sons of the Hyperboreans, Pagasus and divine Agyieus

(by Boeo)

The relief head is of Aristion, from an archaic gravestone in the National Museum, Athens. The postcard was bought at Delphi. The linear images are a pomegranate, a labyrinth and a cube (the Platonic symbol for Earth). The laurel leaf refers to a line in Homer's hymn to Pythian Apollo, in which Apollo ... ‘speaks in answer from his laurel tree’, and the ivy denotes the use of ivy in Dionysian rituals. The photograph is one of many Tilson took (and later used in prints) at various ancient sites. ‘Proscinemi’ is an Italian translation of the Greek ‘Proskynema’, a word describing the practice of leaving your name inscribed in a sacred place to fix your presence - this was extended by pilgrims who left representations of objects or imprints. Tilson photographed hands, feet or sandals against the ancient stones.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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