When most think of Zenarious of Nightfell, (artistic eye) they think of the trail of destruction he has left in his wake. I am not disputing the severity of his atrocities, but I would like to put all that aside and discuss his legacy of creation.
Namely, his long and bizarre career in art.
It is difficult to specify where and when he began, as by the time we find records of his art, he is already a well known painter among the Ari. This is an unfortunate result of the Avynar flocks’ sparse early written records.
The earliest surviving example of his work is actually an Ultimatum signed by Oritzu, High Raptor Yashin’s predecessor, that threatens a border elven outpost with a costly raid if they don’t give her tribute.
Experts have confirmed that the handwriting as well as the morbidly comedic, if highly graphic, depictions of the possible carnage are Nightfell’s. Presumably she dictated to him because he was the only one in her employ who could write elven. This rudimentary work can be seen in the Avynar War collection of the Elven museum.
It can be assumed that he learned while still a child of an Elven noble, though his style has little semblance to contemporary elven masters.
His paintings during the Sky Renaissance are characterized by obsessive attention to detail and accuracy with subtle exaggerations to convey personality and emotional depth. This faint tendency toward abstraction in otherwise highly realistic work is what made him such a celebrated portrait painter. As he consistently captured the spirit and internal intricacies of his subjects, his paintings were said to be ‘real’ in the truest sense of the word.
This was not always appreciated. The subject of a portrait he did for a well respected Avynar raptor vehemently called it slander and refused to have it publicly displayed. Zenarious famously replied that ‘he painted what he saw’.
His wife of five years allegedly found the softness in his face appealing, rather than revealing, and it proudly hung in her home until Sairezain’s Wedding.
For such a prolific portrait painter, he, of his own admission, found painting his own monarch and soulsworn difficult. He confessed that “I know too much about Yashin to be satisfied with any attempt to capture him. With another, I can cheerfully distort some small detail to get the proper effect, but with him, I know every detail. I cannot overlook even a miniscule exaggeration because I know in my soul that it is inaccurate.”
This resulted in him rarely drawing him clearly or in his entirety. The only known complete depiction of Yashin is the painting of his statue, which was tarred over for his funeral.
Instead, he mostly drew parts of him, as in True Vision, a painting of Yashin’s right eye (and what was reflected in them), or he drew him far away and in shadow, such as in the series of paintings depicting Yashin’s duel with Misago.
Another interesting fact regarding the duel paintings is that the first in the saga, A Staff for Two Souls is one of the highly rare instances where Zenarious paints himself (though only partially and in shadow). Unfortunately, it does not survive. The Avynar who owned the entire saga only had time to whisk one away before Sairezain’s Wedding. So, he hastily chose what he thought as the most worthy of survival, The Final Lightning Strike, and abandoned the others to their fate.
Paintings that could not be saved, even by the determined, were the hundreds, possibly thousands on the ceilings of buildings constructed by Yashin.
Popular Avynar myth says that Zenarious painted every building in Yashin’s city. This has been deemed implausible logistically however he must have done a significant number as the Bride of Sairezain seemed to think it necessary to practically burn the city to the ground to get rid of them. Then tar the remains.
For blatant reasons, we know little of his style when painting ceilings, only that he dabbled in mosaics and possibly stained glass. The next time he would do anything similar would be centuries later, upon commission from Lady Darkflame, though it is unlikely the fiery creation holds much semblance to what he did for Yashin. The murals he did for Golexia are perhaps more in line with his Sky Renaissance period, but from an art style perspective, they clearly take more inspiration from religious art, especially from Velaenean churches, than his own past work. He, of course, also created a stain glass window for Oblithion, but it was unfortunately shattered when he chucked Zenarious through it during The Accident. The only glimpses of that window that can be found in Three Story Fall, a painting of that famous moment and another rare work that includes himself.
Many reading this have probably guessed that I have been avoiding the painting every art enthusiast associates with Zenarious.
The Mind of Men.
It may very well be the most debated painting in history.
We know a surprisingly great deal about it for a piece destroyed centuries ago for though it has not survived, the numerous essays about it do.
We know that it included religious symbolism, war, nature, death, feasts, naked women, and countless other things but how these elements came together to form a coherent work not only universally powerful, but beautiful to behold is a puzzle none have solved.
We know that it was a chaotic painting. Many who saw it were baffled at how it managed to not feel cluttered.
Later, after it was gone, an art critic who saw it wrote, “It was undoubtedly a technical achievement, but I believe it’s destruction has risen its mythical grandier higher than it in reality was.”
Zenarious, from all accounts, seems to agree with that sentiment.
Despite this, many schools of art maintain that it was not only his greatest painting, but one of the greatest paintings Loria has ever seen. People still write essays about it, despite never having seen it.
It’s destruction has been hailed as one of art’s most terrible atrocities, and many cite it as one of the major reasons for the mass exodus of artists from Naravia.
This leads us to a brief mention of the moment in history that would cause a radical shift in Zenarious of Nightfell’s art style.
Upon murdering Yashin, Zenarious fled Naravia and received asylum in Nyth. In his absence, and in fury over his regicide, the Bride of Sairezain ordered all his work burned.
This mythologically is referred to as Sairezain’s Wedding or “The Day Smoke Became Sky”, though it clearly took place over several days.
Most of his art burned. Many protested the destruction, claiming that the work was not at fault for its traitorous creator, and preceded to smuggle many from the country. Outright violence broke out as eighteen people died in vain protecting The Mind of Men and a nineteenth was executed for treason.
The only artwork of Zenarious of Nightfell from the Sky Renaissance that survives today was either smuggled out of Naravia in that time or was already in foreign hands.
There is only one known exception.
An old painting of Oritzu, unsigned and undistinctive, was proudly displayed in the palace for a century after the burnings before a naive visiting art expert commented that he recognized the strokes as the despised sorcerer’s.
The painting was taken down and a council convened to decide its fate.
It was to be burned, but in the time they took to make that decision, the Curator’s Guild dispatched a team of thieves and stole it before it could be destroyed.
This is why the Curator’s Guild is banned from Naravia.
The painting was unfortunately damaged during the escape and when approached to restore it, Zenarious allegedly said he liked it better the way it was.
Zenarious himself, as well as his Post-Sky Renaissance style, underwent drastic change. In the immediate aftermath of his Soulsworn’s death, he apparently was given a room by the faeries and left to paint in peace.
The painting he created was never named by him, but has taken on the name: Echoes of a Shattered Soul.
What precisely happened to it is unknown. What is known is that the woman who brought him his tea and meals during that time committed suicide shortly after its completion. Several more incidents too graphic to be repeated in an essay occurred before it became clear that any who gazed at it for a prolonged amount of time risked madness. What it actually depicts is unknown. Zenarious claims to have no clear memory of what he did during that time and in his muddled state, it was stolen by an anonymous thief.
Thankfully, his work after that did not follow such a tragic precedent.
A faerie lady, knowing his reputation among the Ari, commissioned a portrait from him. While his portraits prior to Yashin’s death were realistic with hints of abstract emotion, this could be described as the opposite: highly abstract depictions of the inner soul built in shape of the real. It was an obvious deconstruction of his past work. As Faeries are long lovers of creative truth, it was highly popular. He supported himself in Nyth through portrait commissions.
He obtained a massive canvas, which would become the most famous painting that has never been seen in its entirety: Sairezain’s Honeymoon. He gave it to the sky god as a wedding present and whatever it depicted caused someone, likely his bride to slice it to pieces.
Sairezain clearly returned the pieces to the artist as the only reason we can speculate any of this is because Zenarious gave a piece of it as a gift centuries later. The fragment is meticulously maintained for it gives us a hint of what the whole thing depicts.
The fragment is of a burning pile of Nightfell’s old paintings, glimpses of long destroyed paintings supposedly exactly as they had been. Sadly, The Mind of Men has been confirmed to not be depicted in the fragment, though many speculate that the full painting may include it. This has unfortunately led to several art enthusiasts’ deaths as more than one have tried to steal the other pieces. Further speculation suggests that the entire painting is of the Bride walking through the burning city, his paintings in flames.
The highly accurate snippets of his former paintings has lead many to beg Zenarious to recreate his former work. He has refused, claiming, “It is silly to think I can reproduce them based on Sairezain’s Honeymoon. In that, they were burned, charred, askew. I could only do it because I was painting them from a different perspective.”
He became obsessed with odd perspectives, especially distorted, even outright inaccurate ones.
This lead to the type of portraits that would come to characterize his Post Sky-Renaissance style. Before Yashin’s death, all portraits, and almost all paintings in general were clearly from his own perspective.
Afterwards, it became increasingly prevalent for him to explicitly do a scene or portrait from another person’s artistic eye.
He began painting faerie ladies the way their knights saw them, mothers the way their children saw them, and vice versa. His favorite muse seemed to be Lady Darkflame from the perspective of Oblithion, and later Thaolyn Wildecho from the perspective of Kalithryus. Zenarious admitted that, “Painting soulsworns from the perspective of their other half has all the fun and satisfaction of painting Yashin, but with little of the difficulty.”
People began to request the style of him for more practical reasons. Lovers to see if their love was true, lords to see if their vassals were loyal. He was an infamous deceiver and a traitor, but unlike their creator, his paintings revealed only truth.
Argued to be the greatest of such paintings is Drunken Clarity which depicts a woman from the perspective of her alcoholic husband.
It is hailed as a technical and emotional masterpiece and many point to it as his best Post Sky Renaissance piece.
Not all paintings in this style were portraits.
A beloved recent satirical piece is the twin paintings What I Saw, What They Claim. Both depict a celebration at Nyiondel. However, the first is a rare modern instance of it being explicitly from Nightfell’s own perspective while the second is a mirror image, except from the perspective of Magic Trials propaganda.
Both remain at the MISTS.
Zenarious has painted Serena Ronanson many times throughout the recent years, predominantly from Kalithryus’ perspective, as in the classic paintingRage of a Rescuer, but also with Kalithryus in view, such as in the collection They Who Hunt Oblivion.
It is a more cheerful hobby than the uncompromising depictions of the Vaults that he made during the Magic Trials. Due to this preoccupation, he was one of several artists ordered by the Paladin Council to appear as a suspect of being the author of many overnight murals protesting the Vaults. To the shock of all parties, Zenarious complied or at least long enough to say that he had not been the author, but accusing him so had inspired him to give the criminal hobby a try.
The hundreds of murals that followed have sadly been painted over and few sketch recreations remain.
Following the Magic Trials, Trillieza of Nyiondel got him to at last answer a much debated question. Zenarious made no secret that The Mind of Menwas personally not his favorite of his own work. Trillieza asked which one was, to which Zenarious replied, “My favorite painting is always the one I am currently working on. There is nothing more beautiful than a painting while it’s being painted. It has a motion that a still, finished canvas lacks. I have always wanted a way to make a moving picture. I think I would like that very much.”
We have more or less overlooked Zenarious’ long landscape artwork career. From the craggy spires of Naravia to the gardens of Nyiondel, he seems to have always had a soft spot for painting the wilderness, but no nature scene of his has the acclaim of his portraits or ensemble pieces. There is nothing wrong with them, but the truth is, what makes him unique, is how he captures people: their character, their depth, and the distorted way they see the world. He paints the madness and motion of the mortal experience with an easy passion and unforgiving accuracy, and very few artists can say the same.
Head Art Professor for The Tower of Merrell
(Taken from the #1672 issue of The Curator’s Journal)