Lisboa X

Did I show you my vacation snaps?

Just in case you thought I had finished boring you with my vacation pictures I should warn you that I just downloaded them from the iPhone. There are still hundreds to delight you with – it will be like your Uncle Fred and Aunt Millie’s snaps of their trip to Florida that you and the family so looked forward to every year.Rolling-eyes-emoticon-gif1

Now I know from sampling my friend Maria’s mother’s cooking a few times back in the 1980s that cod was a mainstay of everyday Portuguese cuisine but I had no idea that sardines play as important a role. They are a staple on the menu of most Portuguese restaurants.  Laurent had delicious grilled sardines at Adega de Bélem, a wonderful local eatery near the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (I opted for the best lamb stew I have ever tasted). They of course were not what we think of as sardines in North America – each was about eight inches long, plumpish and grilled to perfection.

However fear not, if your preference is for the canned variety there is a group of stores that specialize in canned fish from the coasts of Portugal.  And one of them is devoted exclusively to the sardine:  O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa (The Fantastic World of Portuguese Sardines).


Situated in Praça Rossio the shop is obviously aimed at tourists – but guess what we were??? well duh! – and in more than one comment it has been referred to as the Disneyland of canned sardines.  And when I saw the windows Disney was the first thing that popped into mind.  What’s so special about can of sardines from OMFSP? Well to be honest it’s  just that: a tin of sardines in oil.  But… BUT the tin is specially designed and year specific. The year appears on the top of the tin with information about something important that happened and the names of two or three people who were born in that year. When you buy several tins they give you little paper bags in the form of envelopes so, if you were so moved, you can send a tin to a loved one.

Yes it’s a big marketing scheme but we fell for it – hook, Ferris Wheel, Merry-go-round, line, fairground calliope, friendly costumed staff, and sinker.  As I said – hey we’re tourists!  And we’re helping some poor Portuguese sardine fisherman, okay? said he perhaps a touch to defensively!

Yes we fell for the slick marketing that is the Fantastic World of Portuguese Sardines!


Further alone in the high-end shopping district of Chiado a very trendy shop featured these ceramic sardines in their main window.


A little research revealed that they are by the Bordallo Pinheiro ceramic studio.  Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro was a famous caricaturist, watercolourist, humourist, and ceramic artist in the 1800s.  The panels, pots, table centerpieces, fountain basins, pitchers, plates et al created in his faience factory in Caldas da Rainha became highly prized.  The company still produces high end ceramics for home decorating and entertaining – and these sardines!


These, to say the least, unusual souvenirs of Lisbon have been created in the satirical spirit of Bordallo Pinheiro’s caricatures of yore.  The original design from the 19th century has been adapted to highlight the June festival when Lisbon celebrates it’s Patron Saints – and sardines – with a wide range of carryings-on.

We didn’t buy one but if this one had been around I would have been sorely tempted.  Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately for our Visa card – Mouraria’s Door was sold out however a left click on the photo will take you to all the other Sardinha de Lisboa that are available.


On this day in 1837: The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern, the only battle of the Upper Canada Rebellion, takes place in Toronto, where the rebels are quickly defeated.

A Limited Collection – Part III

Anytime I come upon something like this display of 18th century ceramics in the Rijkmuseum my first reaction is something like “wow”; my second is “I wish Ron were here!”  As much as much as I did get a good deal of enjoyment from seeing the “limited” pieces on exhibit from the collection I know I would have have gain so much more with him beside me.  Ron is a recognized authority on Chinese Export porcelain and in demand for his talents as a speaker on ceramics in general and the booming trade between the various “East India” companies and China  during the 18th and 19th century in particular.  And he’s one of those lecturers who makes things come to life, the best sort of lecturer there is.  One of the first things I did when I got back to the apartment in Amsterdam was to send him a copy of this photo.  It would have been more fun to share it and the other wonders on display with him in person

As I mentioned religious objects were not as prominent in the art of Holland’s Golden Age but that did not mean that they were entirely absent.  Any upstanding householder would want to have something on display to both inspire devotion and signal the devoutness of their family.  This plate from the late 1600s was one of four by an anonymous artist depicting Biblical scenes (in this case The Entry into Jerusalem).  The broad white border acting as a frame clearly indicates it wasn’t meant for the family dinner table but to be hung on the wall for all to see, admire and perhaps even meditate upon.

This violin is also meant only to be decorative.  It could be assumed that any sound coming out of it would be less than mellow however it is one of the finest examples of the work being done at Delft at the beginning of the 18th century.  Again the painter and modeler are unknown but indications are that it was made between 1705-1710.   The front depicts a ballroom or dance hall in the city with couples elegantly dancing while others gossip or just look on.  Unfortunately the reverse was not on display but according to the Museum catalogue it shows how country folk in a tavern enjoy the dance as much as their city cousins.  I particularly love the antic – almost demonic – head on the scroll, it could almost be singing Dance Dance Dance Little Lady in manic glee as couples whirled around him.

More often than not the painters who worked in Delft – like the creators of the two previous pieces – were unknown however  Frederik van Frijtom was a free-lance painter who style was immediately recognizable.  He would often sign special pieces and his unique style make even unsigned works recognizable as his.  Unlike many of his fellows who painted over the glaze Frijtom did not use the sponge technique which depended on stencils for the initial design.  He hand painted scenes of his own creation on the base layer before the glazing was done.

And he painted on the white ground using a unique style – he set out his design with thin contour lines using various shades of blue. He then filled them in and built them up with thousands and thousands of tiny dots.  By varying the intensity of the blue he was able to add dimension and depth to his landscapes that were often lacking in that of his contemporaries.   His wall plaques were popular with the merchants (and their wives) throughout the Netherlands.  This large plaque (62cm x 105cm – 2’x3.5″) is a stunning example of the work Frijtom was known for and is a good indication of why he, unlike so many, was not to remain anonymous.

In the late 16th and 17th centuries a craze for tulips engulfed much of Europe and led to, as difficult as it may be to believe, a financial crises in Holland.  The tulip made its initial appearance from Turkey around 1593 and Holland was the main

centre of cultivation and distribution.  Tulips became so popular that at the peak of the craze people were trading their entire estates for one bulb.  But after the crash in 1634 the price of a bulb was no more than that of the common onion that they so closely resembled.  Meanwhile fortunes had been made on speculation then lost when the bubble burst and the depression that followed effected the Dutch economy for several years afterwards.  But during the boom (or bloom?) years tulips appeared in all the finest homes and if you were planning to have blooming gold in your home you needed a container worthy of these precious bulbs.  Tulip vases became – and stayed even after the crash – all the rage and this pair of six foot tall tulipieres (though created sometime after the crash had wreaked it financial havoc) would have displayed 36 individual blooms each.  As beautiful as these may have been gracing the entrance hall of a good burger’s home, investors of the time learned the hard lesson that it is better to stop and smell a flower than stake your fortune on one.

The Dutch East India Company had a lucrative trade with the Chinese and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain in the 17th century.  These pieces became popular for their workmanship and detail but were available only to the very wealthy.  At first the ceramic studios in Delft did little other than admire the imported items however when trading abruptly halt in 1620 with the end of the Ming Dynasty they began to make copies of Chinese pieces and adapt Chinese designs.

Though I know that Ron would have told me straight off that one was the import and the other the Delft “rip-off” I was hard pressed to tell the difference.  The notes in the gallery referred to the top piece as being of Chinese origin – a piece brought in as one of those many during the late part of the 1600s.  Not more was given in the way of information.

The bottom piece is from the de Ross factory founded by Arendt Cosijn in 1675 and dates from the period of the 1705-1720.  It is attributed to Dammas Hofdijck who also created that intriguing flask I posted about last week.  Though the dish gives the appearance of having been made in China the painting is fuller and the surface more lustrous than the Chinese original. The painter used a wider palette of colours including red and black, which given the techniques of the time were difficult to fire. 

Though the Delftware is the more colourful my own preference is to the original – perhaps because of its delicacy and muted colours. I may be reading too much into it but the Dutch version seems to cry out “look-at-me” in the spirit of an emerging wealthy merchant class.

08 July – 1822:  Chippewas turn over a huge tract of land in Ontario to the United Kingdom.

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A Limited Collection – Part I

The recent trip to the Baltic was bracketed in a way by visits to two of the most famous museums in the world – Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum at the beginning and the Hermitage in St Petersburg towards the end.  Both have unparalleled collections though the Russian museum has to win hands down for size. With over 3 millions pieces it is estimated that only a third of its acquisitions are on display and that a lifetime could be spent going from room to room and still there would be things left to see.

Though smaller in size the Rijkmuseum collection is as rich in its own way with art and artifacts reflecting the Golden Age when Holland was a centre of commerce and world trade, an exceptional Asian collection and a unique collection of drawings, litho and photo graphs.  The collection long ago outgrew its 19th century building and a ten year expansion and renovation programme has been on-going since 2003.  But during that period the Phillips Wing of the Museum has been the location of The Masterpieces – an exhibition that presents all the most important paintings in the collection together with selected items reflecting Dutch culture in the glory years.  And there is even room for special exhibits and currently they are showcasing a selection of the work of master engraver Hendrick Goltzius and a fantastic series of Japanese surimono prints that are part of a collection recently been donated to the Museum.

For anyone who has been accustomed to the museums in many other European countries the most striking difference at the Rijksmuseum is the rarity of images of Christian iconography in theircollection.  Not that they are not there just that when entering a gallery you aren’t confronted by painting upon painting of annunciations, virgin births, crucifixions, transfigurations or martyrdom.   During the Golden Age glory was given to God in the word and it was the bounty he had showered upon the good upright burghers of the Netherlands that became the major subject of its art and artisans.

Enter a ceramic gallery in the Bode or the Prado and you will be confronted by Madonnas, Apostles, Saints, Patriarchs and Prophets as well as the usual figures from mythology.  At the Phillips Wing enter the gallery devoted to the ceramics of the Netherlands – the majority from Delft – and the paucity of religious subjects is immediately apparent.  The famous white and blue tin-glazed earthenware ranges from everyday household items to elaborate decorative panels and table pieces with fanciful landscapes, seascapes, flowers and elaborate curlicues.

Perhaps it was the paucity of religious subjects that drew me to one piece amongst the trove of white and blue that gave the gallery a particular glow.

This picture from the Rijkmuseum website gives a clearer picture of St Mathew and a partial view of St Luke that can’t be seen in the current display.  It is strange that something like this is not put on a turntable so that all aspects of the artwork and all eight figures can be seen.

 It is difficult to determine the exact purpose of this octagonal flask – perhaps it was meant to be used in a Catholic church (a flagon for sacramental wine) or it may have just been for use in a Catholic household to remind the family of its religious heritage.  Fired somewhere between 1700 and 1710 it features 8 figures (sadly only 5 were visible in the display case) Christ (Ecce homo -Behold the Man), Saint Mary, St Peter, St Mathew, St Thomas, St Bartholomew, St Luke and St John the Baptist.  Each carries their iconic attributes (which denotes it as intended for a Catholic audience) however the other decorations are typical of Delftware: leaf wreaths, lily motifs, putti and angels heads. 

The work of Dammas Hofdijk of the De Witte Starre factory it is intriguing in its choice of Saints: the norm would have been the four Evangelists, Saints Peter and Paul as well as the Virgin, John and Christ.  Here only Peter is included with two of the Evangelists and St Thomas the Doubter and Saint Bartholomew also known as Nathanial.  Perhaps for the Church or family it was intended for these Saints had a particular relevance.

An interesting website devoted to Delftware gives a detailed description on how it was produced.

27 June – 1898: The first solo circumnavigation of the globe is completed by Joshua Slocum from Briar Island, Nova Scotia.

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Sicilian Ceramics

It seems that no matter where you go here in Italy there is a regional style of ceramics: though many of the items – particularly those made for mass consumption in locations far removed from Italy – bear striking similarities there are colour, themes and designs that are specific to Umbria, Tuscany, the Veneto, Napoli or Sicilia.  Its hard to avoid the shops crammed with wall plaques, holy water stoops, pots, Christmas ornaments, jars, urns or table wear of dubious provenance.  However it is still possible to find the work of local artists that reflect the tradition of the region but with a twist that also reflects the approach of the creator.

Though, god knows, we don’t really need more things in the past four years the household inventory has been augmented by a few items, particularly the Christmas ornaments – yes I know as if we really need more Christmas ornaments.  However a wall plate, a Beaulieu-Hobbs name plaque and a large jar, all created by Valentina Pietrosanti in Sermoneta, will also be making their way back to Canada come July.

I’m pretty sure that Nicky thinks the sunshine that he loves so much comes out of this ceramic pot – and Nora is willing to let him do the ground work and she’ll just bask in the rays afterwards.  The pot itself shows the distinct style of ceramics from the Lazio region – particularly the lemon branches.  It was created by the very talented Valentina Pietrosanti at Labratorio Uscio e Bottega in Sermoneta.

And they will be kept company by a few little items that were picked up on the trip to Sicilia. The style there seems to be a bit more naive and colours at times more primary than in many of the other regions.  Having said that I saw a plate in Erice and a platter in Ragusa –  though both are the work of artists in Caltagirone, a town famous for its ceramics, on the east side of the island – that had subtle colourings and simple almost primitive designs but still, I find, had echos of some of the antique patterns of Siciliana.  

I bought this plate in Erice however it was produced by Giacomo Alessi in his workshop in Caltagirone near Catania.  The town is renowned for its ceramics and Alessi is one of the better known artists in the field.  What attracted me was those pomegranates – they are as exuberant and as light hearted as the island itself.
This piece is also from a studio in Caltagirone though again bought in another part of the island.  Francesco Boria is perhaps better known for his pieces in the antique baroque style so this subtle use of the green and simple line drawing is surprising when compared to much of his work.

Equally fascinating are the ceramics of Agosto Fiorito who works in miniatures as part of an artisan collective on Via Bara all’Olivella in Palermo. His ceramics have a charming naivety and his creation of presepi has led him to adapted the multitude of small items that fill the scenes of these traditional Nativity scenes and turned them into, of all things, fridge magnets.  Taking his inspiration from the rich world of the Sicilian kitchen he has platters of sea food, pasteria trays of dolci and paper cones of the fresh vegetable on the shelves of his clutter corner of this wonderfully atmospheric shop.

Agosto Fiorito’s miniature ceramics – a left click will show them in actual size – are tiny representations of the riches of the farms, seas and pastry shops of Sicilia.  Those vegetabls would made a wonderful caponata and the casatte and canoli look good enough to eat.

Fortunately Fiorito’s little gems will pack easy and may well find their way into various Christmas stockings as a reminder of the time spent here  The other pieces are going to require some special handling so I’ll have a few words with the movers and Sant’Anna, their patron saint, to make sure they arrive back in Canada in one piece.

28 maggio – San Just

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Aprile’s Plate

Since last June I have included a ceramic plate commemorating the month on the sidebar. I found these rather endearing creatures in the breakfast room of Maso Wallenburg the B&B we stayed at on the outskirts of Trento last May. My dear friend Walter was, as always, observant and commented that I didn’t have a plate for the month of Aprile posted. He figured that the little man with the short pants who had gone up the ladder in Marzo would come down it this month.

Unfortunately I don’t know if he ever did or not. For some reason when I was taking pictures of this series of happy (?) peasants at work and play, I neglected April. It must have been all the mountain air, good food and great wine.So until I continue the series in May I thought I’d make do with this rather fun ceramic plate from a shop in Spoletto. The various combinations of Venus, satyrs, chubby cherubs, flamingos (?) and Leda with that damned Swan certainly suggest spring-like festivities if not activities. Not that I am suggesting that April is the month for a Bacchanal – an amphora of nectar or a goatskin of wine anyone?

02 aprile – San Francesco di Paola