Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Travels on the continent: The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion 1764-65

The spirited writer of this diary is 20 year old  Cleone Knox,  taken off on a Grand Tour by her father and older brother Ned, from her  quiet home in Castle Kearney (near Portaferry, County Down).  This plan is prompted in particular by her unsuitable romantic attachment to a certain Mr. A. with his handsome black eyes.

Her abortive attempt to elope at  Mr A's urging  --  ("this is not a matter to be be decided all at once like buying a yard of watered tabby or a new gown")  could have taken place at Castle Blandings.  Already very late for the rendezvous, she knocks over a table of china ornaments in the dark, and has to cower underneath the table till her awakened relatives, fearing thieves, decide to blame the cat; but at last reaching the rendezvous in pouring rain, there is "Gemini!..not a trace of my Lover or Chaise or any damned thing!"

"Parental Anger and Disappointed Love has made me tremble in every limb. Made myself a roguish cap with lavender ribbons."

Setting off via family in Derbyshire, then London and Bath, the Knoxes arrive in France, where "I am delighted at the newness of it all," and in Amiens,  …"Two very genteel young officers escorted us around the Gothic Cathedral… Was gratified to notice that I can converse very Tolerably in French. Believe I shall be happy in this Country;  if Mr. A. were but here."

They spend August at Chantaloupe, guests of the Duc and Duchesse de Choiseul.
"...Our mode of life is sumptuous and we pass our days in Elegant Leisure.  Very dégagé except for Supper when we dress as Magnificently as if at Versaille."

"Last night our hosts held a fete champetre.  A magnificent affair.   The grounds all illuminated with torches and lanterns.  A sumptuous supper served in the hall and in the garden.  Sprightly music and a troupe of Opera Dancers performing on the lawn.



"There was even a flock of lambs festooned with blue ribbons to give a bucolic air.   The guests were all attired as Shepherds and Shepherdesses or Greek Gods and so on.    Madame de Brinoy had the goodness to assist me with my costume.  As Pomona, Nymph of  Gardens, I wore a green gown ornamented with flowers, grapes in my hair and a silver pruning knife in one hand.  Looked very passable indeed.  A party of gypsies hired by the Duchess to tell fortunes in the Rose Garden.  One swarthy hag seized my hand and poured out a stream of prophesy. …she declared that my fate was a handsome dark young man who loved me passionately, that there were difficulties in our path, but that if I wished for happiness, I must remain faithful to him.  This without any doubts points most clearly to Mr. A."


Vertumnus (in his disguise as an old woman) and Pomona,   
 Jean Ranc, c. 1710-22      Musee Fabre, Montpellier

After "Gay Cruel Paris"  where she was "astounded indeed at the swarms of ill-looking mob amidst all this splendour" and Christmas in Switzerland, the Knox family's Grand Tour ends in Venice in May: 

 "Apropos of the gondola, 'tis a most convenient mode of conveyance and takes the place of a chair.  One would be very uneasy without them with all this Plaguey Water."   A month later, after Carnival, balls, processions, gossip and more night-time escapades (masked and once in male attire), Cleone writes the last happy entry in her diary "Stupendous discovery!  Mr. A. is in Venice."

When this eighteenth century diary was published in 1925 by a 'descendant' of the Knox family,  it was likened to the discovery of Pepys' diary, and became a best seller and a cause celebre, since many critics doubted its authenticity.  It was in fact written by a modern young girl, Magdalen King-Hall, to alleviate the boredom of living in Hove, her first published historical novel.  She based Cleone's home beside the sea on childhood visits to her mother's Irish relatives, along with some family anecdotes,  and research in Hove public library.   Her best known novel, The Wicked Lady Skelton was made into a successful film, The Wicked Lady, starring James Mason and Margaret Lockwood, but for charm and wit  her young Cleone Knox is a wonderful creation who leaps off the page.

The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in 1764-65 Quotations from the Folio Society edition, 1982

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Kettle's Yard anew - a sense of space

I managed to make a proper visit to Kettle's Yard in Cambridge this month,  with its light-filled new galleries and Education wing, reopened in February after  several years' closure for the extensive building programme.  The House holds Jim Ede's personal collection of art as he wished to see it among his books and furniture in his daily life.  The house itself seemed twice as large as I recalled from  memories of long ago visits, and while I was happy to meet again favourite pieces in the  collection, very many paintings, sculptures, textiles and objects somehow looked entirely new.  One happy rediscovery was a pencil drawing by Elisabeth Vellacott, an artist of great subtlety, whose work only began to be appreciated in the 1960s.   These two images give some impression of the range and quality of her work.

"Vestigial Room"   Elisabeth Vellacott,   Photo the Arts Council collection, © the artist's estate 

This pencil drawing had stayed with me for its wonderful sense of depth achieved with such simplicity, and it was Jim Ede's first purchase of her work. 


"Bare Trees and Hills"  c. 1960   Elisabeth Vellacott  (possibly drawn near Llanthony, Wales)
©  Kettle's Yard and the artist's estate


In the galleries themselves is Subject, five sculptures by Anthony Gormley, which I was keen to see.  The star of this for me was "Infinite Cube II", which simply does not translate to a flat image, even in this enlarged section.  'Alice-through-the-looking-glass' style, you walk around a mirrored "three dimensional cube" of a thousand tiny lights, "with the possibility of infinite expansion" in which you lose yourself.  


Infinite cube II, 2018  © Anthony Gormley

It was only in recollecting the visit to House and Gallery, that I realised that both Vellacott and Gormley in different ways gave me that wonderful sense of a space into which you were drawn;  always a mark of the best artists.  

August Labours - Ceres: "Earth's increase, foison* plenty, Barns and garners never empty" Shakespeare, The Tempest

Depending on geography and a region's expected August weather,  harvesting would continue with reaping and the subsequent threshing and winnowing of the grain, i.e. separating the wheat (or rye or barley) from the chaff.




This lovely miniature shows the sheaves of wheat, and the thresher with his flail lifted over his head, beating the ears of corn from its straw on the floor.   His companion the winnower with his basket, will toss the grain to let the lightweight husks fly off, leaving the heavier edible grains ready to bag up for grinding.  Shoes and hose (rolled down and tied?) protect their legs from all the flying dust and sharp debris.  Overseeing all this activity is the image of Ceres, goddess of the Harvest, who variously holds  a sheaf of wheat or a palm frond, and also represents Virgo, the constellation for the month.


Vignettes of monthly Labours from the Fontana Maggiore, Perugia.  
Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, c. 1277-78

In this Italian version, the Pisanos, father and son, have carved a vigorous thresher with his flail, with its long weight jointed to swing down on the ears of wheat, alongside the winnower using a broad long-handled spade rather than a basket, to toss the grains and separate the chaff.  In sunny Italy this threshing takes place under the earlier zodiac sign of Leo, the lion, seen tucked into a top corner.  

The new realism Nicola Pisano brought to these Labours of the Month sculpted figures, decorating twelve of the twenty-five sides of Perugia's  great public fountain,  show clearly that these all-important labours require a lot of physical effort. Working in stone and marble, with hammer and chisel, the carvers would have understood the harvesters' effort;  these vivid sculptures around Perugia's fountain were Nicola Pisano's last major work.

*foison: plenty, abundance (Dr. Johnson cites Shakespeare as his source for 'foison' in his Dictionary)

Sunday, 1 July 2018

July Labours: "bright, glittering, joyous art"

Although Jean, Duc de Berry, brother of the French king Charles V, was an important figure in the 100 Years' War  between France and England (from the Edward the Black Prince to Henry V),  his international fame is based on his patronage of the arts, most particularly for his exquisite Book of Hours, the Tres Riches Heures, and its 12 monthly Calendar pages painted in glowing colours by the Dutch brothers, Paul, Jean and Herman Limbourg, around 1412-1416.


July:  Harvesting and sheep shearing, probably painted by Paul de Limbourg  
Institut de France, Musee Conde, Chantilly 

Here two larger-than-life reapers are cutting the corn, one of whom is cutting out the poppies and cornflowers, beside the river Boivre with its swans, reeds, and pollarded willows, while on the other bank sheep are being sheared.  In the background is the famous triangular castle of Poitiers, one of the Duke's many castles which are shown in most of these monthly calendar pages.  He renovated and extended the existing castle, adding two more towers, which the artist has portrayed in its finest International Gothic style. The zodiac signs above show Cancer the Crab waning and Leo the Lion ascending, while the Sun is pulled by the god Phoebus, with his carriage.

Strategically placed at the confluence of two rivers, midway between Paris and Bordeaux,  Poitiers was an important fortress and town in Aquitaine.  In 1356 the Duke's father, King John II had been captured

The Gothic Cathedral of St. Pierre, west front, Poitiers, 12th-16th centuries

by the English, led by Edward III's son the Black Prince, at the Battle of  Poitiers, and eventually died in England.  As an elder statesman almost sixty years later, Duke Jean wisely persuaded his nephew Charles VI not to take part and risk capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

While Jean de Berry was Count of Poitiers, and a discerning collector and patron, the town also grew as a centre of art and learning.    With his revenues from Poitiers and produce from his many other domains, like wheat, wool, meat and wine, he could afford to employ the best illuminators and provide them with the finest materials.  The vellum pages of his Tres Riches Heures are each cut to size from the centre of best calfskins, with no ragged edges or noticeable blemishes, and the piercing blue of the zodiac calendar and the shearer's robe  (that rich colour on a peasant an artistic device) would be from rare imported ultramarine*.

Both the Duke of Berry and the Limbourg brothers died in 1416, probably of the plague, and his wonderful Book of Hours was completed by other leading artists later, passing to his descendant by marriage,  Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands in the 1500s.   She was also a discerning patron of the arts, with careful inventories of her collections, but the Duc de Berry's jewel of a manuscript then disappeared from record, only resurfacing in Genoa in the nineteenth century.   It was purchased by Henri d'Orleans, Duc d'Aumale in 1856 and bequeathed to the Institut de France.  Now its dazzling images can be enjoyed around the world, thanks to those French peasants labouring in the fields every month.

"All over the intelligent world was spread this bright, glittering, joyous art, which had now reached its acme of elegance and beauty."
William Morris on International Gothic art. 



*Ultramarine was sourced from Afghanistan lapis lazuli, at huge expense, so some blues may be copper-based azurite, although Duke Jean did own two pots of ultramarine.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

1968-2018 - Fifty years of "unlocking the word-hoard"

I have just been reading  Short! a book of very Short stories,  Kevin Crossley-Holland's incisive retelling of ghost stories, urban myths and folk tales,  and was reminded of his other tales such as The Green Children, an East Anglian legend (which began as an opera libretto in 1966 and won an Arts Council award in 1968),  Wordhoard, and his thrilling translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf.  

Poet, academic, translator and author, he has won many prestigious literature awards, particularly his books for children, with the Carnegie Children's Book prize for Storm in 1984, which was also among the top ten past Carnegie Medal winners in 2007, and his Arthurian trilogy beginning with  The Seeing Stones in 2000.   

As long ago as January 1966,  his storytelling (in Winter's Tales for Children) was praised by Anne Wood for, "his rare gift for making the distant past seem at once so immediate to bear on the story of Caedmon".  
This review was in her new brainchild,  Books for Your Children magazine,  which introduced me to Crossley-Holland's books and many others.  This originally home-produced and cyclostyled magazine sparked enthusiastic parent-led Children's Book Groups,  which joined together with Anne as Chairman for the founding of the Federation of Children's Book Groups in London in October 1968.


For this pioneering movement in bringing together parents with teachers, librarians, publishers and authors to promote children's pleasure in books and reading, Anne won the Eleanor Farjeon Award in 1969.  Like Crossley-Holland,  Anne has continued to work bringing stories to children, through charities as well as through her well-known television programmes, and has won numerous awards.

"keeping children's imagination alive through the power of story"

Anne Wood speaking to FCBG members and supporters on 6th June, 2018
© www.fcbg.com  

This year the Federation of Children's Book Groups celebrates 50 years since Anne led that founding meeting in London, with its publication "Bringing Children and Books Together 1968-2018".  As one of the Children's Book Groups' regular supporters, the story-teller, the man of the "word-hoard", Kevin Crossley-Holland declares the Federation is "one of a kind".

Kevin Crossley-Holland and illustrator Jane Ray at the Norfolk Book Centre
© thebookseller.com

Friday, 1 June 2018

June Labours: "scents, like a new-made haycock"

As the Labours of the Months are frequently linked with the zodiac signs, here for June, accompanying the mower scything is Cancer the Crab, .  Was this strange humanoid figure copied from a church carving, or a confusing description?  The face suggests that it was a stock image from a copy of a bestiary of the period, when many 'foreign' creatures (like the crocodile) were given these stylised faces.


Charite sur Loire Psalter c. 1175  BL. Hartley 2895 © British Library

Some cycles show the shearing of sheep, another important June activity providing a cash crop and warm clothing for the cold winter months.


June: Book of Hours of Agnes le Dieu, Bourges, 1500s
Utopia armarium codicum bibliophilorum, Stanford collection

The Cancer sign marks the summer solstice, when harvesting the hay crop would be at its height,  absolutely essential fodder for horses and cattle through the winter.  While the central figure is working, the man on the right is hammering the chine (blade) of his scythe, ready to fix to its long handle, the snaithe. The forked sticks the women are holding could be used for separating out weeds, or for raking up the mown hay.  Because the hay had to be cut and dried while the weather stayed fair,  traditionally for centuries women join with the men to get the harvest in.  The mowers are often shown barelegged or with stockings rolled for such hot work, but normally wearing shoes for protection. Is the fully dressed man with the large hat and puffed sleeves the owner of the meadow,  also hoping to make hay while the sun shines?  

French Book of Hours,  Nantes? fifteenth century,  Library of Geneva

Then here we can see the mowers, with legs bared and a variety of hats, working in rhythm while  women rake the dried grass into heaps, or mows, with the cart ready for loading later.  They are also well supplied with ale in wooden flasks.  In many areas haymaking traditionally began on St Barnabas Day, 11th June, but depending on region and weather, haymaking was also done in July.



                           Hours of Henry VIII, c. 1500  by Jean Poyer    Morgan Library

Centuries later haymaking was still a social occasion, although perhaps not quite so imperative a crop as in the past.  Mary Mitford writes (in 1832) about haymaking in Berkshire as "more of an innocent merriment, more of the festivity of an outdoor sport, and less of the drudgery and weariness of actual labour, than any of the other occupations of husbandry."  All the neighbours come to enjoy the party: 

 " Farmer Bridgwater set six men on to mowing by a little after sunrise, and collected fourteen efficient haymakers by breakfast time.  Fourteen active haymakers for our poor three acres! not to count the idle assistants; we ourselves, with three dogs and two boys to mind them, advisers who came to find fault and look on, babies who came to be nursed, children who came to rock the babies, and other children who came to keep the rockers company and play with the dogs; to say nothing of this small rabble, we had fourteen able-bodied men and women in one hay-field, besides the six mowers who had got the grass down by noon, and finding the strong beer good and plentiful, magnanimously volunteered to stay and help to get in the crop."

Our Village Mary Russell Mitford 

Friday, 18 May 2018

"Lodged within my heart" : a Turkish Epithalamium or Bridal Shower


Ancient Constantinople, style of Anton Schwarz, 1769-1839  © Durham University

300 years ago in May, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of George I's ambassador to Constantinople, attended a Turkish "bridal shower" or epithalamium.

Pera, Constantinople, May 1718:
"I was three days ago at one of the finest [bagnios]  in the town and had the opportunity of seeing a Turkish bride received there and all the ceremonies used on that occasion…

All the she-friends, relations and acquaintance of the two families newly allied meet at the bagnio. . ..I believe there was that day at least 200 women.  Those that were or had been married placed themselves round the room on the marble sofas, but the virgins very hastily threw off their clothes and appeared without other ornament or covering than their own long hair braided with pearl or ribbon.  Two of them met the bride at the door, conducted by her mother and another grave relation.  She was a beautiful maid of about seventeen, richly dressed and shining with jewels, but was presently reduced by them to a state of nature.  Two others filled silver gilt pots with perfume and begun the procession,  the rest following in pairs to the number of thirty.  The leaders sung an epithalamium answered by the others in chorus, and the two last led the fair bride, her eyes fixed on the ground with a charming affectation of modesty. In this order they marched round the three large rooms of the bagnio.  'Tis not easy to represent to you the beauty of this sight, most of them being well proportioned and white skinned, all of them perfectly smooth and polished by the frequent use of bathing.  After having made their tour, the bride was again led to every matron round the rooms, who saluted her with a compliment and a present, some of jewels, others pieces of stuff, handkerchiefs, or little gallantries of that nature, which she thanked them for by kissing their hands.

I was very well pleased with having seen this ceremony and you may believe me that the Turkish ladies have at least  as much wit and civility, nay, liberty, as ladies amongst us."

From Letters from Turkey, Mary Wortley Montagu, published officially 1763.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu*    Charles Jervas  after 1716   © National Gallery of Ireland
*Cousin by marriage to Lady Elizabeth Montagu, the blue-stocking hostess (see May 2017 blog)

Lady Montagu's letters draw a wonderful detailed picture of her experiences in Constantinople, and on the journey via Vienna across Europe.  Intelligent, curious and engaging, she was clearly more successful in society there than was her husband's embassy to the Ottomans, and her letters reveal intimate details of women's lives in Turkish high society.   Accounts like hers of the exotic Mediterranean past later inspired both dress fashions and many late Victorian artists.


Lawrence Alma-Tadema's "Roman" baths,  1909  © Tate Britain

The historic Cagaloglu Hamam, Istanbul, built 1741

She also recorded this pencil inscription from a private bagnio at C,orlu.   Translated into English for her,  it is a fitting verse for lovers:

"We come into this world, we lodge, and we depart;
He never goes that's lodged within my heart."







Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Entertaining the Moroccan Ambassador in 1682

The Moroccan Ambassador,  'Mohammed Ohadu '   Godfrey Kneller and Jan Wyck 1684
©  English Heritage, Chiswick House

The visit of Muhammad ben Haddu al-'Attar, the Moroccan Ambassador to England in the reign of Charles II, is recorded not only in this dramatic portrait in the style of van Dyck, but also by the institutions he visited, in the newspapers and in diaries.  He was in England from late December 1681 until 23rd July1682.

John Locke's friends also mentioned the ambassador in their letters to him.  Writing on 9th May, 1682, from Thames Street, on the route between the Tower and Westminster, Mrs Anna Grigg breaks into her rather cross letter to note that,

"just now pases under my window the Morrocco Embasador, in civility to him I will begin to be calm lest he should popp up and say I look sowerly, and that my writing now may have some merit these men in blanquets are at this minute at my Elbow dining…"  Locke Correspondence, E.S. De Beer

Muhammad as the Moroccan ambassador may have been in the procession, but this was the date when the ambassadors from Bantam (Java)  entered into London, so she may have been mistaken.   "Blanquets" hardly does justice to Muhammad ben Haddu's colourful velvet riding habit in the Kneller painting.  He was much admired for his daring horsemanship, seen riding regularly in Hyde Park.  Godfrey Kneller was the court portrait painter, but  Jan Wyck, a Dutch Baroque painter of military scenes, would have been called upon to provide the mettlesome horse and the exotic landscape in the background.

John Evelyn records his appearance at court in January 1982: "Saw the Audience of the Morroco Ambassador: his retinue not numerous, was received in the Banqueting-house both their Majesties present:"

Whitehall Banqueting House, with its ceiling by Rubens, 1635    Historic Royal Palaces

"he came up to the Throne without making any sort of reverence, bowing so much as his head or body: he spake by a Renegado English man, for whose safe returne there was a promise:   They were all Clad in the Moorish habite Cassocks of Colourd cloth or silk with buttons & loopes, over this an Alhaga or white wollan mantle, so large as to wrap both head & body, a shash or small Turban, naked leg'd & arm'd, but with lether socks like the Turks, rich Symeters, large Calico sleev'd shirts &c: The Ambassador had a string of Pearls odly woven in his Turbant; I fancy the old Roman habite was little different as to the Mantle & naked limbs: The Ambassador was an handsom person, well featur'd, & of a wise looke, subtile, and extreamely Civile: Their Presents were Lions and Estridges &c:  Their Errant, about a Peace at Tangire &c:…"  Evelyn Diary, 11th January 1682

At a banquet in their honour two weeks later, "both the Ambassador & Retinue behaved themselves with extraordinary Moderation & modestie, though placed about a long Table a Lady between two Moores: [the ladies*]…as splendid as Jewells, and Excesse of bravery could make them:  The Moores neither admiring or seeming to reguard anything, furniture or the like with any earnestness; and but decently tasting of the banquet :  They drank a little Milk & Water, but not a drop of Wine, also they drank of a sorbet & Jacolatte: did not looke about nor stare on the Ladys, or expresse the least of surprize, but with a Courtly negligence in pace, Countenance, & whole behaviour, answering onely to such questions as were asked, with a greate deale of Wit & Gallantrie…"
Evelyn then likens the Russian ambassador to " a Clowne, compared to this Civil Heathen".
 *the hostess was Charles's mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth and the bejewelled Ladies included Nell Gwyn and others.

Evelyn Diary, 24 January 1682,  E. S De Beer, © Clarendon Press

While in London, the Ambassador visited the Royal Society and also Lincoln's Inn, who have his signature in their archives with that of his secretary/translator,  but no details of his visit in their records.


The Arabic inscription reads as:
Praise be to God alone! Written by the servant of the wise, the pilgrim to god, Muhammad the son of Muhammed the son of Haddu, belonging to Sus, the Bahamwani.  May God be gracious unto him! Amen."    ©  Lincoln's Inn archives, 4th March 1682

Written in Roman script is his secretary/translator's  signature, apparently Alhash Mahamed Lacos Abencerahe.  © Lincoln's Inn Archives

The ambassador  was also a guest of the Royal Society and visited Oxford University at the end of the month.  He broke his dusty journey at Shotover on 30th May,  (" a sweet place".. according to Evelyn) as guest of Sir Timothy and Lady Tyrrell, the parents of Locke's friend James, where he experienced the contemporary equivalent of "afternoon tea" in an English country garden.


Shotover House, new built by James Tyrrell , c. 1713-18
 "There is here in the Grove, a fountain of the coldest water I ever felt : 'tis very cleere, his plantations of Oakes &c. is commendable"  Evelyn, Diary 1664


Plan of Shotover House and grounds  © Ordnance Survey 

 "as for the Entertainment of our Moorish Embass: since you expect a further account of it
all I can tell you is that the collation was in the well Arbour, which was the more surprizeing because he expected nothing there, which stood all ready against he came in being onely sweetmeats and milk- meats; Tarts etc. he eat of many things but drank nothing but milk and water and seemed by what I hear, much better satisfyed with this runing banquet then with that which was much more costly that my Lord Bishop made him.  His carriage was very civill and obliging; and his parting complement I shall not forget.   which was, his prayers that wee might all (of that Family) live long to enjoy that pleasant place, and that our good K. might live as many years as Adam, and when those were past live them over agen, that wee might alwayes live in peace."

James Tyrrell writing to Locke, June 1682.  Locke Correspondence (as above).


Tuesday, 1 May 2018

May Labours: "Grass and greenworld all together"*

Here is the month of May from one of my favourite Calendars of the Months, a roundel from the ceiling of Piero de Medici's private study, where he kept his treasures.

May labours:  glazed terracotta ceiling decoration by Luca della Robbia, 1456  Florence. 
©  V& A Museum

Piero commissioned the leading fashionable sculptor, Luca della Robbia, to decorate the ceiling with 12 coloured enamel plaques showing the agricultural labours for each month (the purple and green vestiges are the colours of Piero's livery).   The images are thought to be based on the classic Latin farmers' encyclopaedia (in 12 volumes) De Res Rustica, by Columella (AD 4 - c. AD 74)  which was listed in Piero's library inventory.  As well as showing the monthly task -  here the cutting of the spring grass in May - each calendar roundel indicates the month's average hours of daylight, in pale blue, and the phases of the moon, so important for planting.  
Above the head of the sun is the zodiac sign for Gemini, the classical twins,  the constellation of Castor and Pollux. The zodiac signs are commonly linked with the monthly labours, together representing the earthly and the heavenly cycle of the year.

The ceramic roundels are finely painted, but Piero's calendar is secular and eminently practical.  This was a time of transition when new printed books were embellished with hand painted illustrations.  Piero also commissioned illuminated manuscripts, and his library would have included devotional Books of Hours.   The other traditional image used for the May Calendar page, especially for noble patrons, were scenes of falconry and its associated pleasures of courtly dalliance.  This contemporary Arras tapestry illustrates both of these sports being enjoyed by the wealthy:

"Falconry":   Devonshire Hunting Tapestry, Arras c. 1430  
© V & A Museum



Central detail from "Falconry"
© V&A Museum

Detail from "Falconry" (top left corner) 
© V&A Museum

In Anglo-Saxon manuscript Psalters, calendar pages for May also celebrate the spring grass, with shepherds tending their flocks.  In the same vein is this May page from the Tiberius Miscellany of the eleventh century; a general knowledge collection, the manuscript included history and astronomy as well as monthly calendars.  So it seems that these early medieval texts, whether devotional or practical,  combined the seasonal labours with Christian imagery in their illuminations.

MS. Cotton Tiberius B. c. 1040   © British Library


* from "The May Magnificat"   G. M Hopkins

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Celestial bodies: "…things of Beauty Growing... " Michael Cardew


Korean porcelain vase,  Choson dynasty c. 1650-1700 
© Fitzwilliam Museum

This large 'moon jar' is one of my favourite pieces in the Fitzwilliam ceramics galleries. Unlike this photo,  it shines milky white and the lighting in its display case throws curving highlights on its sides. You can see the rivulets where the viscous white glaze has run down the sides and almost see the ridge where the two thrown hemispherical halves were joined together by the potter with wet clay when leather hard.  This matching would take very great skill, but any faults resulting in the firing were accepted in Korean philosophy as nature at work.   It represents the Confucian ideals of purity and simplicity which were admired by Choson scholars and courtiers - works of art which were in fact storage jars for rice or wine.  

This one below belonged to Bernard Leach and was a gift to Lucie Rie who kept it in her studio. It shows the firing faults of unevenness around the join, the grit particles in the glaze and specks of ash from the kiln, all features admired by the Koreans for the natural freedom of the firing process.  Few of this large size survived the firing stresses intact.


   
18th C. Choson glazed white porcelain moon jar  (ht. 47.5 cms)  acquired by Leach in Korea, 1935
© British Museum


These rare surviving Moon jars have inspired contemporary potters from Bernard Leach to Park Young-sook today, for their serenity and their technical challenge,  and there are several interpretations in the current Fitzwilliam ceramics exhibition, Things of Beauty Growing: British studio pottery .  



  Intertidal Jar, stoneware with Waun Llodi clay,  ht. 36 cm.    © Adam Buick  2011

Adam Buick now concentrates on the challenge of creating Moon jars ('hang-ari)  from small to large, using Pembrokeshire clays from near his studio, in close relation with the landscape.   He uses local earth and stone inclusions in both bodies and glazes,  often stones and seaweed collected from the beach, which fire with very unpredictable results. 

Moon jar,  ht. 27.5 cms.   Adam Buick, 2012
© British Museum 

The inclusion stripes in this modern pot are formed by rolling brown clay into the porcelain clay before throwing, so the stripes appear randomly as the moon jar is turning on the wheel.  Compare it with this medieval Chinese vase:

Chinese Song dynasty stoneware vase, c. 960-1279 
© Fitzwilliam Museum

The unusual striped decoration shows the ancient potter's varying control of the brush-strokes, reacting  to the momentum as the vase turns on the wheel.  It is displayed next a twentieth century piece -  William Staite Murray's tall striped vase, The Bather. 

The spacious exhibition explores modern studio pottery through the basic shapes of  vase, bowl, charger, and set, and also as monument,  as well as the different techniques and materials used.  

Halima Cassell is represented by The Virtue of Unity, a current work of 36 bowls,  using clays from around the globe, which she carves when just firmer than leather hard.  Each one is different, with an origami-like complexity of folds, and interchanging positive and negative spaces, as in printmaker M.C. Escher's optical illusions. These include apertures, some of which are only seen by the shadows the lighting casts around them.



Halima Cassell at work 




The Virtue of Unity    Halima Cassell  2009- 2017
(photo from studiopottery.co.uk)

The title of this major exhibition is taken from a the words of an interview with Michael Cardew (1901-1983). 

"…if you trust your material and you trust your instincts, you will see things of beauty growing up in front of you…"  Michael Cardew

[quoted from Simon Olding's review: see researchuca.ac.uk]