Throwback Thursday

A week or two ago I recalled a visit to the Exhibition celebrating the reopening of the Vatican Library back in 2011. One of the many beautiful illuminated manuscripts that caught my eye was a choir book from the 16th century – the earliest compilation by one composer in their vast collection. I thought I’d revisit it today.

Willy Or Won't He

An engraving from 1578 by Etienne Duperac of the Sistine Chapel shows the full pomp of a papal religious ceremony with the singers in their “cantoria” (lower right) gathered around a lectern. The bottom of the hand coloured engraving has been cut off but other copies show that every important participant is identified by a number corresponding to a legend at the bottom of the page. (From the V&A website)

There was a time when the finest composers and musicians were attached to the Papacy. Music at both Saint Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel were of a quality equal to any in the world. Many great composers are recorded to have been associated with the music making in the Papal chapels and court: Dufay, Ninot le Petit, Festa, Josquin, Palestrina, de Morales,  Landi – a roll call of the major talents of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. …

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Siren with a Lens

I was searching for a past post earlier this week and came across this item from September of 2009. We had gone to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to see the much publicized Bulgari Exhibition and as so often happens another show proved a more satisfying and memorable experience. And the memory had me turning to a bookshelf to retrieve the wonderful catalogue that had been published.

Willy Or Won't He

I fell in love with the circus and Burt Lancaster when I was about 10 or 11. Back in 1956 my brother took me to see Ringling Bros Circus in one of their last appearances under canvas and I was enchanted. That same year Trapeze was released and I remember having the comic book and reading about it in one of the screen story magazines. And it had some poster! Lancaster and Tony Curtis in white circus tights. And standing between them Gina Lollobrigida all spangles, cleavage, doe eyes and pouty lips. But even at 10 the sight of Burt in tights did more for me than Gina in spangles.

La Lolla was one of those buxom foreign stars that came into the studio system as it was fading into oblivion. She was exotic, she was beautiful, she was Italian and she was hot. But she was always more than…

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Of Sandwiching, Blocking and Binding

… and the beautiful results thereof

Quilts-2
A quire of quilts filled St Paul’s Anglican during the Stories in Stitches 2017 exhibition.

I was surprised to discover how many of my friends are or have become quilters – including, in a blow for equality, a few men of my acquaintance.  I’ve been told it’s a relaxing if eventually obsessive hobby/occupation.  Though it is not a hobby I can see myself having either the patience or dexterity for I am more than appreciative of the finished results.  At the end of September there was a great opportunity to appreciate the glorious results of the work and artistry of Island quilters.


There were so many beautiful pieces on display and I took a goodly number of photos of some that I found particularly interesting.  Unfortunately in some cases I didn’t get the name of the quilt or the artist that created it and for that I apologize but where that information was captured I’ve included it in the captions.

With the celebration of Canada’s 150th year as a Confederation it was not surprising to see several quilts that commemorate that anniversary.

Glorious-and-Free1
GLORIOUS AND FREE – exhibited by Roberta Giddings  based on a pattern from Quilter on Fire in BC and the work of Blueberry Cove LongArm Quilting Studio in Cardigan. (A right click will reveal the patterned fabric under the maple leaf.)
Seal-of-Canada
THE COAT OF ARMS OF CANADA – a traditional patchwork piece by Robin Petty at Petty Quilt Junction.
Remembering
REMEMBERING – a lovely tribute in hand quilting and appliqué by Brenda MacKinnon.

Many patterns for quilts go back centuries – we know that Ulysses convinces Penelope of his identity by describing the counterpane or quilt on their wedding bed.  I’m sure none of quilts on display went back that far but many of the patterns were traditional however each bore the mark of the individual quilter or quilters.

Dear-Jane
DEAR JANE – this was hand quilted by Jean Steele and inspired by Jane Stickle’s American Civil War quilt from 1863.

Though some of the quilts were for sale many were unavailable as they had links to family or friends and special occasions.  There is still a strong tradition here of wedding, newborn, and anniversary quilts as gifts.

Unknown-3
Again I did not get the name of the piece or the very talented quilter who created it.  The centre panel would appear to involve several techniques.  (A right click will bring it into close-up.)

And though the ubiquitous Anne of Green Gables is often joked about there is a great deal of pride in and love for Lucy Maud Montgomery here on the Island.  This is beautifully illustrated in this lovely quilt which was my hands-down favourite amongst so many beautiful creations in the exhibition.

Lucy-Maud
MAUD’S ALBUM – hand quilted by Edith Zakem who worked in appliqué, embellishment, silk ribbon and hand embroidery.

I am hoping to do an extended post on this beautiful quilt with close ups and details as well as the story behind it – I was told it has travelled to Japan and back. However I wish to contact Mrs Zakem for information as well a permission to write about her work.

On this day in 1784: Russia founds a colony on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

 

Exhibition Hopping – Part 1

Over the past two months I’ve seen three exhibitions that have shown the impressive curating teams at three of our Canadian museums. Two have been right here in Ottawa and the third in Montreal.

Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination – National Gallery of Canada

Traditionally the NGC attempts to mount a “blockbuster” for the summer months when the tourists are flocking to the National Capital to stare through the fences at the now inaccessible Parliament Buildings and manouveur the detours and construction that is Ottawa.  In past years it has included a Van Gogh Exhibition (with not a sunflower in sight!!) that drew the biggest crowds in the history of the Gallery.  This year’s Exhibition deserves to have a similar success but unfortunately a drop in tourism, road construction that makes access difficult and the sad fact that Doré is not a household name has meant that attendance has been disappointingly low.

The National Gallery and Musée d’Orsay used Doré’s well-known illustration of Le Chat botté as their poster for Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination.  A click on the picture will take you to their mini-site devoted to this exceptional exhibition.

If attendance has been low the quality of the exhibition is of the highest.  Of course Doré the illustrator is a known quantity: it is Doré the sculptor and, for me at least, Doré the landscape artist that astounds the most.  As you enter the exhibition area it is difficult to miss Poème de la vigne, the massive (4 metres high and weighing in at 6000 lbs) bronze that was brought to Ottawa on a flatbed from its home at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  But as is often the case as impressive as the large pieces are it is  the smaller exhibits that cause that little catch in the throat that says you are looking at a master at work.

Frolic (Leapfrog) is a bronze from 1881 – a brilliant piece of suspended animation.  Its form and fluidity are a prime example of the talents of the artist as more than an illustrator.  The delicate balance of the work is an astounding piece of calculation.

If his bronzes impressed it was his landscapes, particularly those of Scotland and the Pyrenees that came as a complete surprise.  Unfortunately I found that most of his religious paintings – and he did a great many – reeked of that faux-sanctitity that was typical of French art of the period.  But those landscapes! 

A range in the Pyrenees painted in 1860 – Doré’s landscapes are romanticism at its highest – and that is meant as a compliment.

Several years ago the summer show was a brilliant exhibition: The Great Parade: Portrait of the Artist as a Clown.   It celebrated the history of the circus with some 200 lithographs, paintings, photographs and sculptures.  Though Picasso’s overwhelming show curtain for Parade had me near tears with its sheer exuberant glory what stuck in my memory were two paintings of French street performers:   Grimaces et Misères (Les Saltimbanques) (1888) by Fernand Pelez and an earlier work by Doré: La famille du Saltimbanque: L’enfant blessé (The Family of Street Acrobats: the injured child (1874).  

 The artist’s comment on the painting removes any taint of maudlin sentiment and places the scene in the very real world:

He (the child) is dying.  I wished to depict the tardy awakening of nature in those two hardened, almost brutalized beings.  To gain money they have killed their child, and in killing him they have found out that they had hearts.

When curators Paul Lang, Édouard Papet and Phillipe Kaenel set up the exhibition they wanted to show the often overlooked influence that Doré has had over visual arts up to our own time.  In the work of cinema directors as diverse as George Méliès, Jean Cocteau, Cecil B. DeMille, Carol Reed, Terry Gilliam,  and Roman Polanski entire frames mirror the work of the Illustrator.   And the sway he has held over cartoonists and graphic artists to this day is another aspect of this remarkable man that, until now, has been neglected.

That rocket struck Moon in George Méliès La voyage dans la lune bears a more than passing resemblance to Dore’s Frost-Bitten Sun.

During a recent members’ night a series of Méliès’ films were shown including a Cendrillon which was Doré inspired by way of the Folies Bergère.   At times it was like one of Doré’s Contes de Fées come to life at other times pure escapism for the tired tycoon.  And the special effects were remarkable considering Méliès was working with one camera and very primitive techniques.  And a recent viewing of L’Inferno – the first full length silent film ever made in Italy – reveals that many of the tableau vivant and effects are straight out of Doré’s famous plates for Dante’s masterpiece.  And in more recent times take a look at that Dream Works Puss in Boots?  He remind you of anyone?

Two very different views of Street People by Doré.  Above:  London from a series of studies of Victorian London that accentuate the grim and smog laden atmosphere of the world’s largest city of the period.  Below:  The Beggars of Burgos, the former capital of Castille have a more romantic appearance than their Albion neighbours.   Doré’s views of Spain were to add to the Romantic notions the French seemed to harbour about the people beyond the Pyrenees.

There are only two weeks left before the exhibition ends (September 14) and I urge anyone in and around Ottawa to catch it while you can.  I certainly plan to make a visit in the next few days – once was not enough.

“How long must one be an illustrator before they become illustrious?” – Gustave Doré

August 30 – 1918: Fanni Kaplan shoots and seriously injures Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. This, along with the assassination of Bolshevik senior official Moisei Uritsky days earlier, prompts the decree for Red Terror.

A Gondola on Sherbrooke Street

 They gave the city the name Venetia as if to say Veni etiam – Come again!

Francesco Sansovino
Citta Noblisissima et Singolare – 1581

I have a confession to make: in the many times I’ve been to Venice I have never taken a ride in a gondola. Nope, not even the traghetti that Venetians use (at €1 a ride) to cross from one side of the Canale Grande to the other.  Oh I’ve watched the gondolas a million times and even taken the odd picture of a Gondolieri or two – just as a cultural observer of course.  But to actually fork out the money – the last price I heard was €80 for a 40 minute ride* – for a tour through the canals: not going to occur during the lifetime of the reigning monarch. But then I said that about going to Venice during Carnivale and look what happened!

One of the scenographic features of the recent exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts was a long wall cut by irregularly placed windows.  Through the windows you could see a gondola – not a priceless antique ceremonial gondola but an ordinary 20th century Venetian gondola.  Not that there is really anything ordinary about a gondola:  they are still handmade of 8 different types of wood (fir, oak, cherry, walnut, elm, mahogany, larch and lime) and are composed of 280 pieces. 

 The etymology of its name gondola is uncertain; it may be a portmanteau word –  the verb dondolare (to rock gently) and the Middle Age Greek kondura or short-tailed boat – older gondolas had a less soaring stern than today´s ones.  Or it may come from the Latin cunula or rocking crib.

The design has evolved greatly over the centuries and to govern further changes was codified by the city of Venice in the mid-20th century.   The gondola is still evolving: its sesto, the scalar ratio between the frames in its shape, is frequently updated.  This allows for changes to be made as gondolas fight the rise of the waves caused by motor boats and cruise liners.  Unlike older gondolas a modern gondola is asymmetrical to account for the position of the gondolier at the right on the stern (yes gondolas are right hand drive!). 

The elaborate stern decoration is called a risso or ringlet (that lovely brass decoration in the picture above) and is said to resemble the swirl of water in the wake of the vessel.  The prow decoration (and somehow I didn’t get a proper photograph of this one – how the hell did that happen?) is called a dolfin (dolphin) because of the resemblance to a dolphin’s muzzle.  The shape of both decorations has changed over the centuries.  The risso has become smaller and the dolfin has become redolent with symbols of Venice: the upper part recalls the Corno del Dose/Capello del doge (Crown of the Doge); the shank the meandering of the Grand Canal;  the arch signifies il ponte di Rialto and il bacino di San Marco; the comb the city´s Sestieri (six districts); the opposite tooth is Giudecca; while the decorated points between the teeth represent the three main Islands of the Lagoon (Torcello, Burano, Murano).  It should be noted that the cemetery island of San Michelle is missing from this symbolic icon – no point in tempting fate.

Though in the 17th and 18th centuries there were between eight to ten thousand gondolas in the Republic an earlier map from the 1500’s by Jacopo de’Barbari suggests that batellas, carolinas and galleys were the major modes of transportation.   Many gondolas where privately owned though there were also gondolas for hire.   Today there are approximate 400 gondolas, all of which are used in the tourist trade or for sporting events.

Gondolas were brightly, at time garishly, painted and laden with gold or silver ornaments and silk draperies and trappings.  In reaction to the extravagant nature of many of the private gondolas the Senate issued a sumptuary law in 1609 that all gondolas were to be painted black.  This did not stop people from adding elaborate  parecio or removable metal ornaments that served no real purpose other than decoration.  Elaborate metal-work (gold, silver, iron or brass), draperies and carvings often graced the felze or cabins that were a feature on gondolas up until the late 1940s.  However these enclosures that served as a source of protection from the sun, rain or prying eyes were removed after complaints from tourists that it blocked their view. 

The rèmo, or oar, is specially made by the rèmer (oarmaker), who exclusively builds oars and fórcola or oarlocks. The wood used for the rèmo is split beech, well-matured and without knots. It is carefully crafted to have a tapered blade at the end; the thickness of the oar gradually diminishes, which allows the oarsmen to row more with greater ease and agility.   A gondola is rowed not punted and the design of the boat and the oar mean that the effort required to paddle one with two people on board is equivalent to what a person would expend walking at the same speed.

The fórcola or oar lock is a highly personalized feature of any gondola.  It is a basic form that is adapted to the height of the gondolier, his arm length and rowing technique.  Its complex design allows for eight rowing positions the chief being a slow forward row, a powerful forward row, turning, slowing down, a backward row and stopping.  The process of creating this deceptively simply looking piece of wood takes several years and the knowledge of a craft and tools that are centuries old. While searching for information about this unique oar lock I came across an interesting site created for Saverio Pastor a master rèmer of Venice who creates oars and oarlocks.   A click through the various pages of Maitre Pastor’s site give visual life to the creation of the fórcola, its use, history and construction.

In the 17th century there were several thousand gondoliers and often they were run as a small private collective – three gondoliers and one dispatcher.  History suggests that they were the “secret holders” of the city:  conversations, assignations, plots and family (monkey) business were all overheard by the “family” or “taxi” driver.   Today the profession is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses (425 regular – 175 fill-in) after 400 hours of training, a period of apprenticeship and a comprehensive exam of knowledge of Venetian history and geography, foreign languages and, of course, safe and efficient navigation of the gondola.  Few secrets or intrigues are overheard today other than mutterings about the price of a Bellini at Harry’s.  Prior to the Second World War the standard uniform for gondolieri was a black outfit however in modern times the more colourful blue and white or red and white stripped blouse has become the norm. 

It was not until 2010 that male dominance on the profession was challenged by Giorgia Boscolo who became a licensed gondolier (I’m not sure there is a feminine ending for the title) in August of 2010.   She was one of three female students that year – unfortunately the other two did not pass.  Her father, a retired gondolier, had some reservations and was quoted as saying:  I still think being a gondolier is a man’s job, but I am sure that with experience Giorgia will be able to do it easily.  Giorgia’s response was a typical Venetian shrug and the observation that “Childbirth is much more difficult.” 

Back to the exhibition that started me on the Veniza nostalgia trip:  so how do you get a slender (1.4m/4ft 6in) but long (11m/36ft) boat up to the third floor exhibition rooms of the Desmarais Pavilion?  Why the way you get anything into an upper story in most cities in Italy:  through an upstairs window!

While going through the many posts, articles and webpages available about gondolas and gondolieri I came across this rather fun quiz:  How Stuff Works – Gondola Quiz.   The first time I’ve ever put a “check for understanding” on a post.

*To be fair that is per gondola not per person and is the tariff set by the city of Venice. A gondola holds up to six people so the cost per person depends on the number in the group.  The routes are set and agreed upon prior to leaving the statzione.  And the gondolier does not – repeat – does not sing!

January 28 -1958: The last episode of the British radio comedy programme The Goon Show is broadcast.

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