Cherubim

From the dawn of history, leaders have hired artists to glorify them: Painters and sculptors record their likenesses. Poets compose panegyrics on their achievements. Architects build palaces, temples and halls of government as theaters of power. Kindred leaders are no different. For most of history, however, the artists themselves remained anonymous. The Renaissance brought a new relationship between patron and artist. The artist became just as famous as his employer, if not more so. It wasn’t enough for a Medici or Borgia to rule a city, or even be pope. He had to hire a Michaelangelo, a Leonardo or a Bernini to ornament the court with genius, or at least to have his portrait painted by a Rembrandt or Velasquez. Most rich and powerful Kindred preferred to stay hidden — and hire artists to glorify their faith, their mystic doctrines or their politics but not themselves. The Invictus, however, recognized that art itself was now a road to power. Just like the mortal nobles, bishops and magnates of Renaissance Europe, the First Estate’s leaders competed to attract brilliant painters, poets, architects and dramatists into their service. Some artists were Kindred themselves, but most artists were mortal. This custom continues to modern nights. Of course, the Invictus were — and are — not the only Kindred to patronize the arts. More than other covenants, however, the First Estate esteems artistic patronage as a source of prestige. Some Invictus members devote considerable time and resources to recruiting and promoting artists as expressions of their wealth and power. While this “faction” has never existed as a formal organization, it forms a common and recognizable character within the covenant. To this night, individuals or whole coteries devote themselves to promoting their cities’ artists and intellectuals. The Kindred call these patrons of the arts by a variety of slang terms. In modern nights, they are often called “Angels,” from a show-business term for a person who finances a play’s production. During the 1920s and 30s, sponsoring the theater became a fad among the Invictus of New York City. The local Invictus members still boast about the city’s stage scene, both on and off Broadway, as if it were their creation. The Kindred soon extended the term to refer to any Invictus members who sponsors the arts, whether directly or through museums, galleries and other institutions. Angels vary in how deeply they involve themselves in the arts. Some, like modern mortal tycoons, merely donate money to museums, symphonies and other cultural institutions, or underwrite movie or theater productions. Other Angels become personally involved in the lives of their client artists. They may even gather a colony of artists and intellectuals around themselves like the Medicis of old. The loose coterie called the Cherubim is an example of the latter sort. The members named themselves for the angels sent to guard Eden after the expulsion of Adam and Eve. Like the Cherubim, those angels guarded an oasis of truth and beauty from a world turned crass and boorish. Most members of the Cherubim also belong to some other coterie, but they share an interest in every aspect of the arts. At their soirees, the Cherubim bring together poets, painters, dramatists and sculptors in addition to historians, scientists or any other savants who might have something interesting to say. For Kindred who value the life (or unlife) of the mind, an invitation to a Cherubim salon is an honor indeed. The Cherubim began with Nestor Van Duesen, a financier Embraced in the 1890s. When he was alive, Van Duesen bought the occasional work of art — a painting here, a Chinese vase there — as objects struck his fancy. As Van Duesen’s fortune grew and he rose in the First Estate, his interest in art grew as well. Works of beauty gave him solace from the horrors of the Danse Macabre. Gradually, he withdrew from business to concentrate on collecting and searching for talented new artists. As Van Duesen became a pivotal figure in the city’s arts community, other Kindred with an interest in the arts naturally gravitated toward him, forming the Cherubim. Van Duesen now leaves management of his extensive business portfolio to mortal agents, who have no ideathey work for a vampire. As far as the mortal world knows, Van Duesen is a middle-aged multimillionaire who inherited his wealth from a namesake grandfather. Van Duesen is well known throughout the city’s arts community. Cultural institutions such as museums and theaters know they can count on him for large donations every year. Even the most self-consciously radical artists in the city, who normally say they loathe wealthy capitalists, have nothing but good things to say about Van Duesen: a single sale to him can support an artist for a year, and greatly increases an artist’s chances of winning prestigious prizes and being written about in arts magazine

Faction Membership To become an Angel, a Kindred needs at least Academics •• (so he can at least talk as if he understands the arts), Resources ••• (to buy works of art and make donations to artistic institutions) and Contacts (generally •• or better) within the city’s artistic community. Crafts or Expression (to engage in some plastic or verbal art himself) may help achieve the necessary Contacts and sense of authority, but are not essential. Attaining recognition as an Angel typically gives an Invictus member one more dot of Covenant Status, to a maximum of •••. Above that, a Kindred has attained rank or honors that make patronage of the arts a mere ornament to his power, rather than a real source of influence. Clans: The sensuous Daeva and high-toned Ventrue make up a higher percentage of Angels, and the Gangrel perhaps contribute the fewest members to this faction — but Angels can come from any clan. Becoming an Angel depends far more on personal taste than on clan character. The Cherubim have members from all five clans. (The Daeva bloodline called the Toreador form a notable exception. The Toreador consider patronage of the arts part of their raison d’être. Few Toreador would turn down opportunities to act as Angels.) Nickname: “Angels” is itself a nickname. Older and more pretentious soubriquets for Invictus sponsors of the arts include “Muse” (from artists who flatter their patrons as inspiring their work, not merely paying for it) and “Helios” (the artist says that he and other hangerson shine by the reflected glory of their patron). Some Invictus members reverse the latter title by calling an artistic patron a “Selene” — he is the one who merely reflects another’s brilliance. The Cherubim, however, are usually referred to as Angels. Covenant: These Kindred temper the First Estate’s ruthless ambition by giving a secular purpose to wealth and power. The Invictus mocks most transcendent goals, but Angels can feel that, by cultivating the arts, they give the world more than they take from it. Whatever suffering a vampire has inflicted to gain power shall pass, but the paintings, verse, architecture and other works he commissioned shall endure as permanent additions to civilization. The Cherubim certainly think so. Van Duesen and his cronies are ready to justify everything the Invictus does to gather wealth and power, because it makes their efforts possible. Appearance: Like most Invictus members, Angels dress conservatively, expressing wealth and power without ostentation. Sloppy, vulgar or peculiar garb have become part of the “performance” for modern creative geniuses, but the Kindred who pay for their work do not pretend to be artists themselves. Van Duesen himself looks like a middle-aged man with receding, salt-andpepper hair cut short. He last updated his wardrobe in 1940; his double-breasted suits and fedora hats look close enough to modern men’s fashion to seem classic rather than eccentric. Haven: Angels like to display works of art they’ve commissioned or collected, so they prefer large and luxurious havens (not that Angels differ much from other Invictus members in this respect). Some havens might even be called palatial. Even the Angels who specialize in drama, poetry or other performing arts usually dabble in the plastic arts to some degree; thus, visitors to these Angels’ havens may see anything from Sumerian clay tablets to the latest paintings from the art shows of New York, Paris and London. Nestor Van Duesen has a large, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired ranch house on a walled estate, in the very ritziest part of town. Numerous cases of armored glass hold Van Duesen’s diverse collection of objets d’art, while dozens of valuable paintings hang on the walls. His collection is evenly divided between classic and cutting-edge modern works. The most prized works, of course, are those wrested from other vampires. Beneath his mansion, Van Duesen has a secret vault for artworks and antiquities created by or for vampires themselves: icons of Longinus, sketches drawn in Vitae instead of ink, plays about particularly glorious vendettas and the like. Anything from “the Vault” could at least threaten the Masquerade, and the whole collection could blow it wide open. Naturally, the Vault is extremely well hidden. Van Duesen had it built in the 1950s, ostensibly as a fallout shelter. Then he spent 10 years calling in markers with other Invictus members to destroy the records of the Vault’s construction. Background: Patronage of the arts takes a fair bit of money, so Angels tend to be among the older, wealthier and higher-ranking members of the First Estate. Few Invictus members rely on their pet artists to maintain their prestige; many of these members hold titles in Kindred society, or at least have established themselves as powerful Kindred before they became Angels. Achieving recognition as an Angel also takes time. One gift of money or one show from a sponsored artist does not a patron make. A would-be Angel must convince other Invictus members that her devotion to the commitment. She must also show knowledge of the arts and taste in judging good from bad (or at least fashionable from passé). Just as importantly, the artistic community must recognize her as a reliable source of funds, whatever the form of art she supports. The Cherubim wouldn’t consider a candidate unless they heard her name from several mortal artists. The faction is too loose to have any formal procedure for adopting new members. A Kindred involved in the arts simply receives an invitation to attend one of the group’s soirees. Then she receives another invitation. At Elysium, members talk to her about their artistic endeavors and ask what she’s doing. After a year or two of close contact, the Cherubim assume the candidate is part of the group, and other Kindred do, too. Faction Disciplines: Many of the Cherubim develop Auspex — often at great personal cost — so they can appreciate artistic subtleties denied to merely mortal senses. Or at least these Cherubim say they see, hear and comprehend more than other people sense in a work of art. Organization: Angels do not form an organized group within the Invictus as a whole. They are individuals or coteries that happen to share an interest. Angels seldom work together to further some greater goal. More often, they scheme to lure away each other’s pet artists or to gain greater exposure for their own artists at the expense of their rivals. Only one custom is distinctive and universal to Angels: the Opening Night, when an Angel invites other Kindred to experience some new work by a pet artist. The term comes from theater, but Opening Night can center on a new show of paintings or sculptures at a gallery, publication of a book of poems or stories or even the dedication of a building. In many ways, Opening Night resembles many other Society soirees: the host provides fresh blood in elegant surroundings, and everyone tries to be graceful and witty while the Harpies evaluate the skill of presentation. The more cultured also pay attention to the art, but not all Invictus members actually know good art from bad. It’s easier to judge how the Angel flatters and coddles influential guests than interpret a possibly subtle or radical work of art. Ironically, derivative, second-rate work often receives a better reception than a true work of genius. The trickiest part of Opening Night consists of keeping the artist from knowing he works for vampires. Some Angels let their favorite artists in on the secret, perhaps with Vincula to assure loyalty and secrecy. These Angels generally want their pet artists to glorify their patrons as Masters of the Night; of course, the resulting paintings or panegyrics remain hidden from the masses. Most Angels, however, maintain poses as slightly eccentric millionaire patrons of the arts. The Cherubim hold their Opening Nights at Van Duesen’s mansion and let a few of their pet artists in on the secret. An Opening Night centered on these artists always includes a spectacular blood feast. One Opening Night featured a fountain of glass that shot preserved and heated blood and plasma. The streams of dark red and pale yellow arching through the air and mingling in the basin drew much applause from the city’s Kindred; no one has topped that display yet. More often, the honored artists don’t know they work for vampires. Neither do the other artists and savants invited as guests. For these occasions, Van Duesen likes to invite a diverse array of artists and intellectuals. The guest of honor might be a sculptor who just completed a new statue, but the guest list could include other local artists, a distinguished artist or two from out of town, local academics and visiting writers on book tours. At these Opening Nights, the Cherubim set a few ghoul or mortal minions to pose as fellow guests, to hide the fact that some people at this very private gathering do not actually eat their hors d’oeuvres or drink the wine. The actual refreshments come before or after the showing. The local Invictus turns this social ritual into a competition, to see who best counterfeits being alive, so the audience of selected mortal artists and intellectuals never know that they are surrounded by monsters surround. Van Duesen enjoys close connections with several art museums and galleries in town, and has become a leading collector and promoter of modern art. Much of what Van Duesen buys is conservative, by modern standards. He likes paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works with recognizable human figures. Van Duesen also has his “shockers.” These are deliberately radical works, often stridently political, anti-religious or otherwise calculated to offend the bourgeoisie. Typical examples include crucified Ken and Barbie dolls or a rendition of the flag raising on Iwo Jima finger- painted in different colors of excrement. Van Duesen buys a few “shockers” every year, then loans them to museums or galleries he supports. The works get written about in arts magazines, win prizes from those museums or galleries, attract controversy — and quickly triple in value. Van Duesen sells some of his “shockers” while the price is high; others, he sends on museum tours around the world. He doesn’t exhibit the “shockers” in his house: they’re business investments, and Van Duesen freely admits to other Kindred that his “shockers” are a con game. Van Duesen’s third artistic interest, which he necessarily keeps secret from the kine, is collecting Kindred antiquities and objets d’art for the Vault. This interest consumes more of his resources. Van Duesen sends ghoul and mortal factors around the world in pursuit of collectibles, and knows about many rival collectors. On rare occasions, Van Duesen even sends a coterie of ambitious neonates to acquire a new treasure for the Vault. He’s worked out a cunning plan for shipping the undead in relative safety. One of his “shockers” is called Run Over. The official description is of five embalmed cadavers, covered in macadam and painted to suggest human figures pressing up from beneath a section of road, with skid marks. The legalities of transporting cadavers as art are somewhat complex, but it’s been done. Actually, Van Duesen recreates Run Over when he needs to send Kindred long distances: they stay in torpor, covered in protective road tar and gravel, until they arrive at their destination. If fewer than five Kindred travel, Van Duesen uses real embalmed cadavers to make up the difference. To complete the illusion, Van Duesen rents some exhibition space in the target city and incorporates a gallery, which will never show anything except Run Over. Ghoul or mortal support staff guard the traveling “artwork” and handle the customs paperwork. They peel off the tar when the Kindred reach their destination, wake them up and craft a new Run Over using store mannequins. The Kindred make a return journey the same way. So far, no one has noticed that Run Over looks a little different every time it appears. Other members of the Cherubim support the arts in their own ways. Of course, they all donate money to local arts institutions. The faction eagerly welcomes any Kindred who themselves practice some form of art. Van Duesen would especially like to meet skilled Kindred musicians with Celerity: his Vault holds several manuscripts for works of music too fast for mortals to play. The music-lovers among the city’s Invictus would like to hear the works performed, so Van Duesen will collect several boons if he can arrange this. Neonates with great skill at any art, however, could find patronage and protection by the Cherubim. Artistically talented ghouls could also find support from the Cherubim. These Kindred would be glad to supply Vitae and Willpower for a true genius. Unfortunately, Kindred experience is that great artists never stay great for long after they become tainted with vampirism. Once an artist receives a Vinculum, her talent narrows into an obsessive desire to glorify her regnant. Blood-bound artists have produced intensely passionate poems, portraits and statues of their regnants; but they also repeat themselves. The false passion of the Vinculum makes them gradually forget the disciplined techniques needed for the greatest art. Early stages of Vitae addiction, like drug addiction, also produce occasional works of startling (or disturbing) originality — but likewise end up burning out the artist’s talent, leaving nothing but a maddened husk of a person who often ends up committing suicide. Kindred who buy and sell art professionally can join the Cherubim. Two members of the faction own galleries themselves and run them with the help of mortal Retainers. Even if an art dealer doesn’t handle contemporary works, Van Duesen and a number of fellow collectors welcome any chance to buy older works. The Cherubim also appreciate academic expertise in the arts. Provenance — proof of where and when a work of art was created and by whom — is crucial for an artwork’s value. It’s also difficult to establish for an artwork that may be unknown to mortal scholars (because it’s been in an Invictus elder’s collection for the last 200 years). Of course, the sort of Kindred-created artwork that goes in the Vault can never have its provenance checked by mortal scholars. The Cherubim correspond with several undead scholars with sufficient knowledge of art history and Kindred culture to authenticate works that lack clear provenance. The Cherubim don’t limit themselves to the plastic arts, either. Not a few Invictus Princes appoint poet laureates to glorify them and commemorate important events in verse. Such a poet would be welcome among the Cherubim as well. Back in the 1970s, an Angel in another city published a literary magazine by and for the Kindred. It lasted four years, until a witch-hunter found a copy in the haven of a vampire she destroyed. This led to the publisher’s destruction soon after. Copies of Bleeding All Over The Page are now highly valued by Kindred collectors, who would be glad if some brave Angel could start another magazine like it. Concepts: Wealthy collector, gallery owner, opera sponsor, poetry slam organizer, architect, museum donor, small-press publisher “Mortal existence is short, but art and the Kindred are long.”

Cherubim

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