Friday, April 21, 2006

A Stroll Around the Tate Britain then Homeward Bound!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006:

Today, we walked over to the Tate Britain and toured the wing devoted to one of our ancestors, JMW Turner. He paints mostly landscapes juxtaposing ancient ruins with contemporary country scenes or sea themes such as this work entitled " Ulysses deriding Polyphemus" in the style termed Romanticism which I find a little on the surreal side.

"Looking at Turner's pictures of the yellow dawn or the red of sunset, one is aware, perhaps for the first time in art, of the isolation of colour in itself. Even his sea-pieces contain flecks of bright unmodulated colour that enliven their at first sight more monochromatic treatment. To extract from the continuous range of light the purity of yellow, blue or red, the hues that command and comprise the rest, required an uncompromising integrity of vision. Turner had precisely 'the disposition to abstractions, to generalizing and classification' that Reynolds regarded as the great glory of the human mind, though in a form that Reynolds would hardly have recognised. Quite early in Turner's career his pictures were already accounted 'among the vagaries of a powerful genius rather than among the representations of nature'." - The ArtArchive

Often called "the painter of light" (and you thought that was Thomas Kinkade!) or the great pyrotechnist, Turner painted over 20,000 paintings over the course of his life. He exhibited his first work in the Royal Academy at the tender age of only 16 and was given full membership by the time he was 27.

Then we toured the work of British historical artists (much more my cup of tea). I saw the famous Lady of Shallot and works by famous portrait artists like George Romney. I also was introduced to works by John Everett Millais who is now on my favorites list. His statue graces the courtyard outside the Tate and I can see why!

Tomorrow its back to Heathrow and an 11 hour flight home over Iceland, Greenland, Hudson's Bay and beyond. It's going to be hard to pull myself back to the present after two weeks of immersion in another time and another place!

Forgive me if I use phrases you may not understand when I get back. I've learned that potato chips are called crisps and french fries are called chips. A baked potato is referred to as a "jacket" potato". Egg salad is called Egg Mayonnaise and often includes sprigs of watercress but if you want lettuce, tomato, etc. on your sandwich you say you want it with salad. However, if you order an egg and watercress sandwich, you get boiled egg and cress dry with no dressing at all. Salad here is often served with no dressing at all or only a hint of vinaigrette and Americans (including me) are notorious for wanting lots of ice with their beverages (usually they're served with no ice at all!)

I've learned that you won't find any "rubbish" bins in a train station so you have to carry your trash around with you until you can emerge from the underground and find a trash can. (security reasons). On our first trip out and about, we wandered around endlessly in Victoria station trying to find a trash can to dispose of our breakfast napkins until we finally asked a passerby. We thought we just didn't know what they looked like. I've learned that a mailbox here is referred to as a box but is in actuality a round red can-shaped receptacle. I've learned that if something is in good condition you say it is in "pretty good nick." And most importantly, I've learned when you need to go to the restroom you need to "pop the lu".

A Jaunt to York

Even though the tour company said it would take three hours by train we got to York in only two so we arrived at 9 a.m. We had been given tickets for the hop on, hop off city tour bus so we hopped on and rode up to the Jorvik Viking Center. It's sort of like the Epcot Center travel through time ride. They put you in a car on a track and you are taken on a winding ride through a Viking settlement. They are proud of their authentic surroundings and smells. Trust me - Viking settlements are really smelly! After you exit the ride you enter a small museum displaying artifacts and containing reenactors that demonstrate some of the ancient Viking handcrafts. The Jorvik center also had a great gift shop where I got some excellent books on Viking history and archaeology as well as some nice figures for my office (My office is really going to be heavily populated after this trip!)

Then Jane and I wandered through the Shambles and we found several large antique shops that we had great fun exploring. Jane bought some half dolls and we each bought a 100-year old handmade miniature doll. Jane bought a lady in a very detailed gown while I bought a doll dressed as a Stuart-era gentleman in a tiny velvet suit with lace collar and cuffs, leather boots and gloves, and sporting a real beard and mustache. They are only about 1/2 doll house size (about 3" tall). I was also excited to find an authentic (certified) 4th century bronze Roman military cloak brooch in pretty good nick. We also came across a store that had small real metal Roman helmets complete with hinged cheekpieces and crest that I can display in my office (a bit too small for my head!) They had a life-sized vinyl Roman officer out front but I didn't want to buy another ticket home for him!

After lunch we walked over to Yorkminster Cathedral and I was surprised to discover that they are the first cathedral I have visited that actually allows photos in the sanctuary. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and only used the flash when I absolutely had to but got some nice shots both inside and outside. They even had some Tudor-era funerary effigies like those I saw at Westminster Abbey. I find the effigies a fascinating study in portraiture and historical fashion. Using my zoom lens, I was able to get closeups of some of the gargoyles high up on the ramparts. I was a little surprised, though, that they are really rather small. Of course the stained glass windows were very beautiful and I managed to get some good photos of some of the particularly detailed ones. If I had wanted to take pictures of all of them it would have taken me days! Jane talked with an artist apprentice out in front of the church that had rolled out the template for a new ceiling fresco he was working on in pastels that is a new addition to the church's artwork.

Jane waited upstairs (she didn't want to see anything dead) while I went down into the crypt but I really didn't see any tombs or coffins. The church authorities have displayed historical artifacts down there in museum-like display cases. The church is built over an old Roman fort and you can see the dais that was used by the commanding general to address his legions. They displayed busts of Vespasian and Septimus Severus who actually commanded troops in the area at one time and a bust of
Constantine that was actually unearthed in York. He doesn't resemble the formal busts in Rome at all!

The museum is set up so the displays begin with
Rome then progress to Saxon and Viking times and end with the establishment of Christianity. It also includes the silver ritual vessels used in church services over the centuries.

After we left the cathedral we walked toward the
York Museum Gardens where the Constantine the Great exhibit is on display. Jane was getting really tired and not particularly interested in the exhibit so I put her back on the tour bus and sent her back to the railway station while I went into the museum. Probably the most spectacular item in the exhibit was the Great Cameo depicting Constantine, his wife and children in a chariot pulled by prancing centaurs with Jupiter hovering over all. This huge cameo is about twice the size of a very large western-style cowboy belt buckle and is framed in gold encrusted with precious gems. I also toured the museum's permanent collection of Roman, Saxon, and Viking artifacts but my knees were about to give out on me so I didn't try to climb the stairs to the upper galleries that displayed local decorative arts.

I went out and caught the tour bus to get a ride back to the railway station but, of course, had to take the rest of the tour in the meantime (about 45 minutes). I learned about the famous local bandit Dick Turpin and saw the traitor's gate where the boiled and tarred heads of the town "bad boys" were displayed on spikes. We circled the medieval guild hall that is the oldest guild hall still in existence in Europe and were told all about the successful local "Kit Kat" candy bar factory (the guide even had us sing the Kit Kat advertising ditty!) We passed a very old church and learned about the small door called the "devil's door" on its west side. Apparently, back in medieval times, people believed that when a baby was baptized, the devil would then flee the child's body and needed a doorway to escape the church so each time a baby was christened this little door would be opened before the ceremony to accomodate the devil. The guide explained that most "devil's doors" were placed on the north side (the dark side) of the church but for some reason this little church had placed it on the west side. Of course
York has most of its original medieval city walls in tact and you can see the slits in the wall where they used to shoot arrows and pour boiling oil over their attackers. There is even a small portion of the original Roman wall still visible as well.

I caught up with Jane at the railway station and we caught the
6:00 p.m. train back to Kings Cross.

Madame Tussaud's, Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge, and Roman Bath

Monday, April 10, 2006: I can't remember where I left off so I'll start with Wednesday. Wednesday we had passes to Madame Tussaud's wax museum. As expected the wax figures were the best I have ever seen. Of course the Tom Cruise was one of the most popular (for me and my sister too!) although I think the most handsome was Colin Ferrel with his natural black hair rather than the streaky bleached hair he had for "Alexander". Mel Gibson's eyes were a very brilliant blue and my sister couldn't resist cuddling up to John Travolta. Their Indiana Jones figure looked much more like Harrison Ford than the sculpture of him in Tussaud's Las Vegas venue. As for the women, Julie Roberts and Angelina Jolie were big hits. I wish they would have had Clive Owens and Gerard Butler but maybe they're still in production!

In the world showcase, I was surprised that the most popular figures tourists were posing with were Adolph Hitler and Fidel Castro!!?? I preferred Admiral Lord Nelson myself! I had hoped to photograph Henry the VIII and Elizabeth but they had been removed temporarily to make room for a photo setup with Queen Elizabeth, Phillip and Prince Charles. The Pope John Paul II figure was very elaborate and a lot of rather silver-haired and somewhat wrinkled women (does that describe me?) were posing with the Beatles.

After leaving Madame Tussaud's we caught the train back to Westminster to tour Westminster Abbey. I was thrilled when we exited the underground and I looked up to see the famous statue of Boudicca, the warrior queen of the Iceni tribe who rebelled against the Romans in 62 CE. Prior to this time, the Iceni had coexisted with the Romans and Boudicca's husband Prasutagus was a client King. However, when Prasutagus died, the Roman governor of the region decided to seize her land and had Boudicca flogged and her daughters raped as a lesson in power. He discovered he had made a major mistake. She and her followers succeeded in burning down Camulodunum (modern day Colchester), Londonium, and Verulamium (the Roman site I will visit Saturday at St. Alban's).

We pressed on to Westminster Abbey. It was so huge and filled with so many memorials that it took us the rest of the day. I was particularly interested in the tomb effigy of Elizabeth I. The face was sculpted from her actual death mask. I was also surprised to learn that her sister Mary (daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon) is interred with her, and is engraved with a very loving inscription written by Elizabeth. I found all the fashions represented in the funeral effigies fascinating since they depicted styles from the time of Edward I up to the 19th century. Westminster does need to raise funds to clean many of the memorials that are darkly discolored from the prolonged exposure to candle smoke and the pollution of the industrial revolution.

Thursday, we went on a guided tour to Stonehenge, Roman Bath and Windsor Castle. Even though people have said Stonehenge is just a bunch of rocks, I still found it impressive. Of course I was fascinated by Roman Bath and spent my entire time there walking around the complex. I even crawled down and swished my hand in the water to see how hot it is (not too - just comfortable for bathing). Later my sister said there was a sign that said you weren't supposed to do that but I didn't see it! (She had gone shopping with a lady she befriended on the tour). I also went into the Pump Room and paid 50 pence for a full glass of the healing waters. I don't like drinking hot water but I figured I needed all the help I could get. At least it wasn't as nasty as the Lithia water down in Ashland.

We accidentally waited for the tour bus on the wrong side of the Abbey where it let us off and the driver didn't see us so we almost got left. Jane's friend called the office and they had the bus come back for us. Unfortunately it made us late for Windsor Castle and it was nip and tuck whether we would get there before they closed admissions for the day. We made it with only 5 minutes to spare. We raced (or should I say hobbled!) over to St. George's chapel (that section of the complex closed first) and I thought the high altar there was more beautiful than the one at Westminster Abbey. Then we headed over toward the state apartments and saw Queen Mary's doll house (Jane loved that) and the 20 lavishly furnished rooms that make up the public rooms of the palace. I was totally enthralled with the exquisitely detailed wall-length tapestries. I was surprised that the colors were so brilliant but I guess many of them are replacements that were obtained after the catastrophic fire a few years ago.

Friday, we thought we were going to have a relaxing day over at the Tower of London - famous last words! All of the stairs almost finished us both! I did enjoy looking at the crown jewels and all the sets of armor though. There were several sets of King Henry VIII's armor - both battle dress and jousting armor. I blushed, though, when I saw the suit of armor that was designed to fit a Henry VIII if he took a walloping dose of Viagra!

I was also dumbfounded by the size of a jousting lance. Although it was designed with flutes to ensure it would splinter when thrust solidly against another knight's armor and weighed only twenty pounds, I think I would chicken out if I saw someone riding towards me wielding that thing!

There were historical reenactors presenting little vignettes that I photographed and, I found way too many goodies at their gift shop! Jane says she isn't taking me to any more shops featuring "knight" goodies.

Saturday, Jane went back to Portobello Road for more antique shopping so I caught a train to St. Albans and had a very interesting visit to the new Roman Museum at Verulamium. I was particularly excited to see a set of hipposandals and the remains of a real section of lorica segmentata.

I admired the beautiful designs on the red Samian ware on display and was intrigued to learn that the delicate vines and leaves were added to the ware by a bag and nozzle apparatus similar to the ones used by modern day cake decorators. I also liked the ram-headed handles used with the patera displayed there. (Patera are dippers used during ritual proceedings.)

I was also glad to see an early Roman helmet and a funeral pyre-blackened set of chain mail. Of course I love mosaics and there are several spectacular mosaics completely intact discovered at Verulamium including a sea god (a horned Neptune?), a lion dragging a stag, and a number of mosaics featuring floral motifs that are apparently the most numerous patterns found in Roman Britain. I found an excellent book on Mosaics of Roman Britain in the gift shop. I also bought a small replica of the Venus of Verulamium for my office.

I didn't realize that a decorated lead coffin I had seen on a program on PBS is housed at the Verulamium museum along with a sculpture of the reconstructed bust of its inhabitant so seeing it in person was a special treat.

I walked down the street and explored the remains of the Roman theater. I'm afraid the Normans did a really thorough job of reusing Roman building stone so there is little remaining but it was still interesting to see.

At 2:30 p.m., two members of Legio XIII Gemina delivered a lively presentation in full Roman kit. I was a little surprised that the officer said the groin protector was primarily used to hold the legionary's tunic down in windy conditions. (?) He also did a thorough job of explaining the construction and functional attributes of a pilum. I knew the iron shaft would bend on impact but he pointed out that the pyramidal shape on the haft immediately behind the iron portion also served to overbalance the remaining wooden shaft so it could not be flipped around and its pointed end used as a javelin by the enemy. Of course he adeptly demonstrated thrusting techniques with the gladius and various uses of the scutum as a weapon as well as a shield, using the boss and the edges. He also pointed out that the scutum was laminated so it was about four times as strong as a Celtic shield. He was very informative and obviously very enthusiastic about the Roman army and Roman civilization. It is the first time I have ever seen a serious Roman reenactor and it was thrilling!

Today, we celebrated Palm Sunday by attending services in St. Paul's cathedral. St. Paul's is extremely beautiful with walls adorned with sparkling mosaics. When you are there for church there is no sightseeing allowed so we didn't go down into the crypt but I did see the Duke of Wellington's monument in the main transcept of the church. My favorite admiral, Lord Nelson is interred there as well. Afterwards, we participated in a procession with palm frond crosses led by two tiny donkeys that had been commandeered for the celebration. Attending a service in a cathedral gives you an opportunity to listen to the massive organs and the choir. The service was "high church" so it is a very nonparticipative form of worship. The audience sits quietly and simply sits and stands on command while the choir sings all the responsive readings. The only point in the service where the audience were expected to say anything was the during the declaration of the Nicene Creed. We were talking to some ladies from Canada and one of them said she could see why the populace became disenchanted with this form of worship.

Afterwards we took the train back to Westminster and crossed the bridge and went up in the London Eye. Even high up in the Eye, London stretches out before you in every direction. Well, I better sign off. It's time for a sandwich and early bedtime since we have to get up at 5 a.m. to catch a train to York tomorrow.

To the Tower!

Friday, April 7, 2006: As you know, I struggle a bit with stairs but escalators and ramps are very rare. My face is still rather tender (I may have cracked my cheek bone) but it did not discolor much so it's not obvious. I just have to prop myself up a little to sleep on that side.

We are having a busy time and I've already filled up one of my camera's Gigabyte memory cards. We've hit a snag however on a trip to Fleetwood. The train from St. Alban's is much more expensive than I thought and leaves either too early to see what I wanted to see in St. Alban's or too late to get us to Manchester until way late at night. We also would need to rent luggage storage in Paddington Station as we have too much luggage (with our local purchases) to wrestle it all around alone on a train. In addition, after riding around the
Kent countryside with Richard and seeing the very narrow streets and road directional symbols that I don't know what they mean, I am too uncomfortable about driving here to get a car. So, I found an alternative to get to York. The tour company we have been using here has a tour to York where they would take us up there and drop us off at the Viking Center (around 10 a.m.) on Monday and leave us for several hours to explore the city. I've written my friend in Fleetwood to see if she can meet us there and called the Normandy guest house and cancelled our reservations. I'm feeling much less nervous about the whole trip north now.

You know how I dive right in to any place that I visit (My sister is almost worn out!). So far we have seen:

Buckingham Palace, The Royal Mews, Trafalgar Square, The Victoria Memorial, Madame Tussaud's, Westminster Abbey, The British Museum, Portobello Road Street Fair, Oxford University, Stratford-On-Avon, Warwick Castle, Stonehenge, Roman Bath, Windsor Castle, Leed's Castle, Ingtham Mote, Lullingstone Villa, Big Ben and Parliament, and all the little nooks and crannies around our hotel. Today, we're going to the
Tower of London. Whew!

I have the train information to St. Alban's for Saturday where I'll see the
Roman Museum at Veralamium, a demonstration of Roman military tactics by Legio XIII, and hopefully have time for some shopping (a concession to Jane). Sunday, I thought we'd dress up a bit and attend services at St. Paul's Cathedral then catch the tube over to Westminster and go up in the London Eye and maybe take a cruise up the Thames. Monday we'll go to York if I can arrange it then Tuesday we'll walk over to the Tate Britian (it's just up the street from our hotel). I thought that would give us a more laid back day before we have to get up early the next morning and catch a shuttle back to Heathrow.

British Museum, The Royal Mews, Lullingstone Villa, Ingtham Mote, Leeds Castle, Oxford, Stratford-On-Avon then Warwick Castle - oh my!

Wednesday, April 5, 2006: - Sorry to interrupt my commentary for so long but the internet was, as my British friends would say, a bit dodgy on Sunday and we returned too late Monday and was too tired to write Tuesday after touring all day.

Sunday we spent all morning at the
British Museum after struggling with finding the right bus stops. So many immigrants are working in service jobs that even asking a bus driver is pointless because they don't seem to know any routes other than their own. Anyway, as you can guess, I was racing around shooting pictures until my shutter finger was almost worn out. I love mosaics so I was thrilled to find the stairway with mosaics from Halacarnassus all the way up the walls. I also didn't realize that there was anything left of the Tomb of Mausalus at Halicarnassus so was thrilled to see the large statue of Mausalus and his warrior queen Artemisia (she was the only female ship's captain serving the Persian king Xerxes at the battle of Salamis).

Of course I made a point of seeing the Elgin marbles. I was a little disappointed, however, because I didn't realize they were in such bad "nick". I only photographed a few fragments that still bore enough carving to tell what the original picture was about. I also made a point of finding the Rosetta Stone. I walked past it twice before I realized it was in the case that everyone was clustered around. I tried to get a picture of the surface of it without all the visitor reflections but I realized that it might be more interesting if I caught this reflection that one's imagination could presuppose was Cleopatra gazing b ack at us from antiquity.

I managed to photograph what I thought was the most interesting of the Greek, Roman, and Near East exhibits and started on the Egyptian exhibits when I had to report back to the main hall to meet my sister for lunch. I love the Greco-Roman mummy portraits from the Fayum region of Egypt and was lucky enough to see the beautifully painted sarcophagus of Artemidorus. I had watched a BBC program where the mummy was CAT-scanned during a study of it and never thought I would actually get to see Artemidorous' handsome visage in person.

We had to head over to the Royal Mews at 2 p.m. since it takes a while to get back to that part of London and the Mews no longer admits visitors after 3:15. The mews is the British word for stable and the Royal Mews contains not only the horses but all of the main state carriages used in royal processions. Of course the coronation coach was the spectacular grand finale.

Walking back to the Victoria Memorial so I could finish photographing it, I took a nose dive on the uneven paving stones along the side of Buckingham Palace. My face hit the stones so hard that I was afraid I was going to be totally black and blue on the right side of my face but, although it is a bit swollen and very tender to try to sleep on that side, it didn't discolor too much. My biggest concern was my camera but although it clattered to the ground, it seemed to have survived the mishap better than I did.

Monday, we took the train to Swanley where my friend Richard picked us up and drove us all around Kent where my father's parents grew up. First we visited the Roman excavation at Lullingstone Villa. Lullingstone is one of a number of 1st to 4th century Roman villas that have been discovered in the Darent Valley of Kent. It was initially excavated between 1949 and 1961 by retired British Lt Colonel Geoffrey Meates. The villa initially contained central living quarters that were erected about 75 CE. Then, the rooms were extended and a bath block was added to the south of the building. Later, rooms heated by an underfloor hot air system called a hypocaust were added as well. Finally, in the mid-fourth century, a lavish mosaic-decorated apsed dining room was constructed. The site is considered an important example of religious change that occured during this period of Roman occupation. A painting of two water nymphs, creatures that played an important role in pagan mythology, is still visible in the "Deep Room". While fragments of paintings of Christians in prayer were also found at the site.

Next, we toured a beautiful medieval manor house at Ingtham Mote. This moated structure was built in 1320. The original owner is now thought to be Isolde Inge later called St Pere. Until recently, Sir Thomas Cawne, a knight who may have fought with the Black Prince at Crecy, was credited with the construction.

Historians attribute its amazing state of preservation to the fact that none of its residents were particularly ambitious, seemingly satisfied to fulfill their roles as squires, sheriffs, or courtiers. That's not to say the house didn't witness at least a little intrigue. One of the subsequent owners, William Haute, joined Jack Cade and other lords, magnates and people of Kent to issue the The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent against Henry VI. Haute's son (or grandson) Richard, later joined in a rebellion against Richard III. So it may seem like a miracle that Ingtham's closest brush with destruction is said to have occurred during the English Civil War when Cromwell's soldiers, who had planned to loot Ingtham Mote, lost their way and ended up sacking another estate instead. I'm sure each visitor to the house is truly grateful! More pictures...

We topped off our day with a visit to the spectacularly beautiful Leeds Castle.

"Wonderful in manifold glories are the great castle visions of Europe; Windsor from the Thames, Warwick or Ludlow from their riversides, Conway or Caernarvon from the sea, Amboise from the Loire, Aigues Mortes from the lagoons, Carcassonne, Councy, Falaise and Chateau Gaillard - beautiful as they are and crowned with praise, are not comparable in beauty as with Leeds, beheld among the waters on an autumnal evening when the bracken is golden and there is a faint blue mist among the trees - the loveliest castle, as thus beheld, in the whole world." - Lord Conway

Originally the Saxon manor named Esledes
, Leeds Castle was a stronghold of the Saxon royal family beginning with the reign of Ethelbert IV (856-860). It was later conveyed to the powerful house of Godwin by Edward the Confessor but following the Norman conquest it was granted to a cousin of William II Rufus, Hamo de Crevecoeur. When the de Crevecoeur family fortunes waned following the battle of Evesham in 1265, the castle passed to Sir Roger de Leyburn. His son later conveyed the castle to Edward I and his queen, Eleanor of Castile. From that point for the next three hundred years, Leeds Castle remained a royal home.

This canopied day bed in Queen Catherine de Valois' chamber is topped by a golden crown to denote the eminence of its royal occupant. The queen used this room to receive adviers, courtiers and petitioners. After the death of her husband, King Henry V, she fell in love with the Welsh Clerk of her Wardrobe, Owen Tudor. They were discovered and imprisoned but the Queen was subsequently released. When Tudor escaped, they secretly married and Catherine gave birth to a son, Edmund, who became the father of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty.

The queen's bath was canopied with white damask and was designed to be easily dismantled so it could be moved to another residence when the queen relocated to another palace or outdoors in good weather.

Hot baths were still very popular during the early Middle Ages and most towns, as late as the mid-1200s had public bathhouses.

"By the mid-1300s, only the very wealthy could afford firewood for hot water in the winter. The rest of the population was forced to be dirty most of the time." -

Henry the VIII refurbished Leeds Castle early in his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the room termed the Queen's Gallery reflects their relationship in its ragstone fireplace emblazoned with the coat of arms of the House of Lancaster and the castle of Castile as well as the pomegranates of Aragon. However, Henry spent little time there after their separation. But, the faint play of light on a shadowed bust of Henry in this room gave me the feeling his spirit still frequents these halls.

A number of portraits and busts of the Tudor dynasty adorn Leeds Castle but I was particularly struck by a portrait labeled as unidentified but attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1635). Gheeraerts painted a number of portraits of Queen Elizabeth I but for some reason, art historians are hesitant to identify this portrait as one of them even though the lady wears a white dress (Elizabeth's favorite colors were white and black), she wears a crown upon auburn hair, and is lavishly adorned with pearls (another symbol used frequently by Elizabeth to emphasize her personnae as the "Virgin Queen".

Perhaps I was simply pleased to take my own photo of a potential Queen Elizabeth portrait in a white gown that I can use as I please after locking horns with the National Portrait Gallery over the noncommerical, educational use of an image of a similar portrait of Elizabeth in their collection. See Copyright Wars

Other artwork at Leeds includes this 14th century Burgundian limestone sculpture of St. Barbara, the patron saint of artillery who lived in the 4th century CE. She cradles a tower in her left hand that symbolizes her imprisonment to discourage suitors.

"According to legend, Saint Barbara was the extremely beautiful daughter of a wealthy heathen named Dioscorus, who lived near Nicomedia in Asia Minor. Because of her singular beauty and fearful that she be demanded in marriage and taken away from him, he jealously shut her up in a tower to protect her from the outside world.

Shortly before embarking on a journey, he commissioned a sumptuous bathhouse to be built for her, approving the design before he departed. Barbara had heard of the teachings of Christ, and while her father was gone spent much time in contemplation. From the windows of her tower she looked out upon the surrounding countryside and marveled at the growing things; the trees, the animals and the people. She decided that all these must be part of a master plan, and that the idols of wood and stone worshipped by her parents must be condemned as false. Gradually she came to accept the Christian faith.

As her belief became firm, she directed that the builders redesign the bathhouse her father had planned, adding another window so that the three windows might symbolize the Holy Trinity.

When her father returned, he was enraged at the changes and infuriated when Barbara acknowledged that she was a Christian. He dragged her before the perfect of the province, who decreed that she be tortured and put to death by beheading. Dioscorus himself carried out the death sentence. On his way home he was struck by lightening and his body consumed." - The Legend of St. Barbara

Another interesting sculpture is the carved oak figure of a laughing crusader at the head of the spiral staircase leading to the Gloriette Landing. The 16th-century style oak staircase was actually built by Armand Albert Rateau in 1929 but the figure gripping his sword and shield blend nicely with the genuine period art throughout the house. One concession is made to modern interpretation however. The crusader's shield bears a grinning lion sticking its tongue out as if the crusader was a refugee from Monty Python's dubious heroes in "The Holy Grail".

Another example of "faux period" design is the blue-panelled bedroom of Lady Baillie. Mrs. Wilson Filmer purchased the castle in 1924 when the Wykeham Martin family was forced to sell the estate to pay death duties and potential buyer, William Randolph Hearst, bowed out of the transaction. Lady Baillie, as she became known, hired interior designer Stephane Boudin to redecorate parts of the home. Boudin had joined the leading interior design firm in Paris, Maison Jansen, just the year before. He eventually became president of the company whose client list included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Lady Baillie's bedroom was redesigned to emulate the Regence style of the early 18th century. Boudin installed blue boiserie with several doors concealed behind the
azure panels. To reflect Lady Baillie's love of birds, Boudin placed bird-shaped ceramic pieces around the room including pairs of famille rose cranes from the Qianlong period.

One of Boudin's last commissions in the 1960s was to convert the bedroom tha
t had once been used by Queen Catherine of Aragon to a boudoir. Again he used white bedding and woodwork to emphasize the size of the room but incorporated a homey warmth with country-style wallpaper and a playful Victorian rocking horse.

The Merry Monarch, King Charles II (so named because he fathered numerous illegitimate children, of whom he acknowledged fourteen, and was an avid patron of the arts), is the subject of this Flemish tapestry based on Abraham van Diepenbeke's illustrations for a book on horsemanship published in 1658. Traditionally, if a king, knight, or nobleman is represented in an equestrian image with both of the horse's front feet raised, this symbolized a death in battle. However, this is not the case for King Charles II. Although he was the target of the Rye House Plot, he and his brother, the Duke of York, escaped the angry Protestants enraged because Charles, a Protestant himself, would not support their Exclusion Bill that would remove his catholic brother from the legal succession. Later, Charles died suddenly of uremia, a clinical syndrome due to kidney dysfunction.

"When he knew he was dying and in great secrecy, a priest, Father John Huddleston, was summoned to his bedside. Charles was admitted into the Catholic Church and received the last rites. He was succeeded by the Duke of York, who became James II in England and Ireland, and James VII in Scotland." - Wikipedia

The Thorpe Hall Room features warm, ornately carved-pine panelling rescued from a coat of green paint and brought to Leeds from Thorpe Hall near Peterborough. It was originally designed in 1653 by Peter Mills, who, together with Sir Christopher Wren, famous architect of St. Paul's Cathedral, supervised the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Once again we find birds as accent pieces. This time they are 19th century Chinese biscuit-ware ducks. They are accompanied by a Chinese ridge tile rabbit.

Leeds Castle is also home to the earliest known equestrian statue in the history of English sculpture - the Lumley Horseman. This carved oak figure was originally commissioned in memory of King Edward III by the 7th Lord Lumley for his castle in County Durham. The artist is not known but is thought to have been a Flemish sculptor working in England.

Wood carvers of this period often used tints of red, blue, green or white to add detail to their work. Bands of carvers would often travel from church to church embellishing altars and choir screens. One such carver was probably comandeered for this commission. - See the history of woodcarving

One of the contestants in the Hundred Years War, Edward III was the founder of the chivalrous
" Order of the Garter, allegedly as a result of an incident when a lady, with whom he was dancing at a court ball, dropped an item of intimate apparel (possibly a sanitary belt, though sources describe it as being made of velvet). Gallantly picking it up to assuage her embarrassment, Edward tied it around his own leg, and remarked Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame on him who thinks evil of it'), which became the motto of the Order of the Garter." - Wikipedia

He also fathered the famous "Black Prince", Edward of Woodstock. Like Alexander the Great, Edward demonstrated his courage and military talent at the age of 16 at the Battle of Crecy.

As the light began to fade toward sunset, Richard took us to
Aylsford Church where our grandparents were married in 1913. We topped the evening off with a delicious dinner of cider chicken at his home. His son is very into computers and was thrilled to have someone to talk with about computers. I think I have definitely made a new friend!

Yesterday, we took a tour bus up to Oxford University and then Stratford on Avon and toured Shakespeare's birthplace and had a brief photo op at Ann Hathaway's cottage, Then we finished our day at Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle has been purchased by Madame Tussaud's so beautiful wax replicas of English royalty are displayed throughout the castle. There is also costumed reenactors demonstrating archery, knighthood, and everyday 16th century life.

A visit to one of the world's largest antique fairs at Portobello Road in London

April 1: Today, we got up early (I was awake by 3:15 a.m. anyway!) and took the underground over to Portobello Road to explore the world's largest antique fair. As we had been warned, the prices were pretty steep but we managed to find some things anyway (you know me!). My sister bought a Dutch half doll, some beautiful antique lace for some doll costumes she is making, some antique bottles and crockery for her husband, a delicate circa 1880s cameo, and a floral design embellished biscuit jar (English style cookie jar).

At the booth that Jane bought her husband's bottles and crockery, I found an English porcelain ointment jar with
an 18th century scene for only 40 pounds. I have admired them in US antique shops for a number of years but in the US they sell for between $225 and $375. I also found a shop that sold meticulously painted military figurines. I purchased a lead Napoleonic Era mounted French Cavalry Officer, hand-painted in Spain, for only 45 pounds and a hand painted resin 90 mm figure of a Napoleonic-era Sharpe's Rifleman for only 20 pounds.

The crowds were horrendous and, without any benches to rest, I wore out by
noon (We had been there since 6:30 a.m.) so we went back to the hotel for a nap. Jane turned the TV on and up popped John Wayne in "In Harm's Way". We both burst out laughing. At commercial, the announcer told us to stay tuned for NCIS, Miami Vice - New York, and Law and Order!

After a rest we wandered down the street to a Portugese spiced Chicken eatery and ordered a very tasty sandwich each then shared a tangy coleslaw and chips. We topped it off with a custard tart and a coconut tart. The coconut tart was much like a plump coconut macaroon. I preferred the custard tart myself. This was also the first restaurant we have encountered so far that offered free soda refills.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped into an upscale supermarket (sort of like Market of Choice) but found a much more diverse variety of products including cups of creme brulee! Even their frozen dinners looked better than ours! We plan to go back there Monday evening and pick up some breakfast items for Tuesday morning as we must catch our tour bus for Stratford-On-Avon before the hotel opens its continental breakfast center.

Tomorrow we will be heading over to the
British Museum. Then on our way back we will stop off at Buckingham Palace and tour the Queen's Mews (stables). I also want to get more pictures of the Victoria Monument while we are there.

Rule Brittania! A Journey to the "Mother" country

March 31, 2006: Well, we had our first full day here in London without having to deal with customs, trains, luggage, and taxis. We got an early start. After a continental breakfast of toast, cereal, fruit, and chocomilk (their version of milk and hot chocolate mixed) we met my friend and co-moderator of our Imperial Rome discussion group who had offered to take us on a London walkabout. We hiked around the local area photographing churches, window boxes, pubs, and phone booths (I'm afraid my sister here didn't know what I was talking about when I mentioned Dr. Who! She was never much of a sci-fi fan!) then we finally made it to Buckingham Palace. The Queen is in residence so visitors cannot go in this time of year but I got some nice shots of the exterior and Jane and I plan to return and tour the Queen's Mews (stables) and photograph the coaches later this week. The Royal Mews is closed on Friday (today) so we will have to find a spot in our schedule for our return visit. They also don't open until 11:00 and don't admit anyone after 3:15 p.m. this time of year so it is quite a challenge to find a time slot that won't disrupt an entire day. I'm sure it will be worth it though. I also hope to get some more pictures of the Victoria Monument.

We walked through St. James park enjoying the ducks, swans, and early flowering trees. It was pleasantly peaceful after the frenetic activity of Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station yesterday. We emerged near the palace entrance where the changing of the guard passes by in parade. It was pretty chilly so they were wearing gray overcoats but it was nice to get to see them. I couldn't get a good picture as the crowds were lining the street and I'm too short to shoot over their heads. However, we walked over to St. James palace and when we came around the backside there was a guardsman at his post. We waited until the crowd of tourists around him moved on then I was able to get several nice pictures of him including a closeup.

"Built largely between 1531 and 1536, St. James's Palace was a residence of kings and queens of England for over 300 years. It remains the official residence of the Sovereign, although, since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, the Sovereign has lived at Buckingham Palace. High Commissioners present letters and Ambassadors are still formally accredited to the Court of St. James's for this reason. The palace was built by Henry VIII on the site of the Hospital of St. James, Westminster. Much survives of the red-brick building erected by Henry VIII, including the Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, some turrets and two surviving Tudor rooms in the State apartments.

Buildings later sprawled to cover the area of four courts now known as Ambassadors' Court, Engine Court, Friary Court and Colour Court. The great Tudor Gatehouse at the southern end of St. James's Street still bears Henry VIII's royal cypher HR, surmounted by his crown, above the original foot passages leading through to Colour Court.

Henry VIII's illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, whom he contemplated recognising as his heir, was living in the Palace when he died in 1536 at the age of seventeen. From then on St. James's House, as it was known, saw a succession of Royal inhabitants who lived there while playing their part in some of the more famous events in English history.

Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, stayed there the night after her coronation. Before she was discarded following the birth of Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, the initials HA entwined in a lovers' knot appeared on a couple of Tudor fireplaces in the State apartments.

It was in St. James's Palace in 1558 that Mary Tudor signed the treaty surrendering Calais. Elizabeth I was resident during the threat posed by the Spanish Armada and set out from St James's to address her troops assembled at Tilbury, to the east of London." - The Royal Residences

We turned down a side street and looked down an alley and we saw an interesting looking courtyard. I noticed a sculptured portrait of a general that looked like Santa Anna. Sure enough, the building was once inhabited by the Texas legation after the Mexican American War but the monument was probably Sam Houston. If he knew I thought he looked like Santa Ana he would probably turn over in his grave!

After Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, England was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Republic of Texas as a nation. Their charge d'affaires to the Court of St. James, Dr. Ashbel Smith rented office space at 3 St. James's St in an upper floor above Berry Bros. and Rudd (who opened a grocers here in 1696) If you pop in you can see a large set of scales used to weigh coffee - nearby residents would also get themselves weighed here - the shop's ledgers record the weights of Lord Byron, Horatio Nelson, his mistress Lady Hamilton and Queen Victoria's father." - The London Guide to Sightseeing

As I don't like to feel guilty about indulging myself at exotic restaurants when I'm on vacation, I didn't bother to go in and tip the scales.

Then we walked on down to the exclusive shopping district at St. James Place and I got a chance to photograph a "beadle". Going back to Teutonic times, a beadle was originally an officer of the court or deputy for the local constable.

After the Norman Conquest, the beadle seems to have diminished in importance, becoming merely the crier in the manor and forest courts, and sometimes executing processes. He was also employed as the messenger of the parish, and thus became, to a certain extent, an ecclesiastical officer, but in reality acted more as a constable by keeping order in the church and churchyard during service. He also attended upon the clergy, the churchwardens and the vestry. He was appointed by the parishioners in vestry, and his wages were payable out of the church rate. From the Poor Law Act of 1601 till the act of 1834 by which poor-law administration was transferred to guardians, the beadle in England was an officer of much importance in his capacity of agent for the overseers. In all medieval universities the bedel was an officer who exercised various executive and spectacular functions.

He still survives in many universities on the continent of Europe and in those of Oxford and Cambridge, but he is now shorn of much of his importance. At Oxford there are four bedels, representing the faculties of law, medicine, arts and divinity. Their duties are chiefly processional, the junior or sub-bedel being the official attendant on the vice-chancellor, before whom he bears a silver mace. At Cambridge there are two, termed esquire-hedels, who both walk before the vicechancellor, bearing maces.

This beadle is a private security guard for the posh
shops in this elegant upscale mall. I think his dashing suit and top hat are much more fetching than a guard's uniform!

guide, my friend Richard, joked with him about the local ordinance against whistling and singing. He promised the beadle that he would keep us under control!

We continued on to Picadilly Circus. There was a beautiful bronze fountain of plunging wild horses that photographed well and in one plaza there were bronzes of FDR and Winston Churchill sitting on a wooden park
bench. We stopped to rest a bit in a little park that had a cute bronze of Charlie Chaplin. Then we continued on to Covent Garden. There we paused for a soda and listened to a quartet playing a selection of classical and turn-of-the-century songs including the English Hornpipe. Then we struck out for Trafalgar Square. Of course I had to photograph the bronzes of famous British war heroes and the fountains in front of the London Gallery and Britain's own triumphal arch. We could also see Big Ben from there, too.

My sister was exhausted so we hopped on the underground and rode back to the station nearest our hotel. I noticed on the train there was a picture of a befuddled George Bush with the caption "Investing, like public speaking, is best left to the experts!"

We rested a bit then went out for dinner. We were wandering around reading menus and mumbling about fish and chips when this nice English boy spoke up and said if we really wanted good fish and chips we should go down to the Sea Fresh restaurant a couple of blocks away. We took his advice and dined on a very lightly breaded cod fillet with chips that was very good. The only thing I didn't care for was the fact that the fish was cooked with the skin on but the fillet was more like a large slab so I just ate above the skin and had plenty to eat.

It's an early day tomorrow as the
Portobello Road street market opens at 5:30 a.m. (I think if we get there around 8 a.m. that would be fine as far as I am concerned!)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hesse A Princely German Collection

Portland Art Museum: Last Week when I was up in Portland, Oregon attending the Instructional Technologies Strategies Conference I had the exquisite pleasure of also attending the Hesse: A Princely German Collection exhibition at the Portland Art Museum.

Like many Americans who receive little instruction in European history below the college level, I was vaguely aware of the German ancestry of Hessian soldiers in the American Revolution but had no idea that central Germany was not the typical monarchy that ruled most of the European states from the 16th century onward.

The exhibit catalogue explains: "By the end of the 17th century, most of the modern European nation-states had been forged by monarchs who ran them with professional centralized administrations. This was not so for a considerable area in central Europe that was not defined by natural boundaries. The German language was the only common denominator among its principalities. In the centuries following Charlemagne's coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 800, C.E., this area of central Europe became known as "The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation." Although the designation lasted until 1806, it meant little in terms of political power. From the 16th century onward, the Emperor was usually a member of the Habsburg dynasty. Still, he had to be elected and was obliged to consult with the hereditary and ecclesiastical German princes and representatives of the great cities who voted him into office."

Among these principalities, Hesse-Kassel was ruled by the powerful family of Hesse, descended from the 13th century Dukes of Brabant. The Hesse rulers were instrumental in the adoption of the Lutheran faith and promoted the "Jugendstil" fusion of arts and industry.

"As active participants in the German Renaissance, Landgraf Wilhelm the Wise (1532-1592) and his son Moritz the Learned (1572-1632) regarded the assembling of a collection of works of art, be they paintings, scientific instruments, or antiquities, as part of the enhancement of the state and a personal duty of leadership."

We should all be thankful that they did.

The official exhibition description:

"The term "“Hessian" evokes the 18th century German soldiers whose training and prowess were so esteemed that they were engaged by the British to fight in the American War of Independence. Few outside of Germany, however, know of the noble family that has led the state of Hesse since the 16th century and continues to this day. Art historians are familiar with the great Madonna by Holbein which belongs to the family and is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt. Apart from this unsurpassed masterpiece of German Renaissance art, the vast Hesse art collections are virtually unknown.

The Portland Art Museum is the exclusive venue for the first public presentation of the artistic wealth of the house of Hesse which will take place October 2005 through March 2006. In addition to the great Holbein Madonna, this ground-breaking exhibition will include outstanding examples of German baroque silver and furniture, a royal coach, a gilded throne, German Romantic paintings, Winterhalter portraits, a Russian dowry, Jugendstil from the Hesse-sponsored Darmstadt artists colony, classical antiquities, and jeweled orders and tiaras.

One of the leading princely houses of Europe, the Hesse dynasty has welcomed into its ranks daughters of George II and of Queen Victoria; Tsar Nicolas I; Kaiser Friedrich III; and King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. The family tree includes the last czarina, Alexandra Feodorovna, who was born Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt. The family archive contains a wealth of unpublished material, letters, photographs and documents from which a chapter of European social history has yet to be written."

I was overwhelmed by the "Cinderella" beauty of the coach of Landgraf Ludwig VIII of Hesse Darmstadt, ca. 1750. This gilded beech wood, bronze, leather, oak and iron conveyance was the most ornate coach I have seen to date. I was amazed that at such an early date, a coach would be totally enclosed with beveled glass and the ornately carved leather suspension straps tighted with bronze cranks were state-of-the-art for the time period as well.

This "berlin" style coach was fashioned after a coach originally designed by Piedmontese architect and engineer Phillippe de Chieze for Grand Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg. Smaller than the other touring coaches of the day, it was used for ceremony more than travel. It was usually taken by boat to a landing nearest the site of a scheduled ceremony. There, sturdy wheels were installed for the short journey inland then replaced by ceremonial wheels like those pictured here for the actual procession.

I was also very impressed with the detail of tiny figures that populated paintings by Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Elder, the court painter of Hesse-Kassel Landgraf Wilhelm VIII. His paintings have the scope of a large landscape but he populates the foreground with people enganged in various activities. As tiny as they are, the people have delicately detailed facial features and their costumes reflect the range of fabric used at the time, including some of the diaphanous tulle used in women's fashion. The military figures are resplendent with minute buttons and carefully detailed military decorations and ribbons.

Some of the most ornate metalwork I have ever seen was displayed in towering silver table fountains used to mix water with wine for guests.

"The classical Greek practice of diluting wine with water remained customary in southern Europe. Table fountains which performed the procedure quasi-mechanically, made their first appearance in 16th-century Florence at the court of the Medici. In northern Europe, however, wine was consumed full strength. Moritz the Learned's creation of an Order of Temperance in 1601 is an indication of the concern of German princes that drunkeness had become a social problem. The novel table fountains fashioned as glamourous silver sculpture offered an eyecatching means of advocating moderation." - Exhibition Catalogue

The goldsmith's craft was also demonstrated in the expansive Gilded Bronze Surtout de Table designed by Karl Friedrich Schninkel between 1815 and 1830.

"The surtout de table traditionally served as a centerpiece for a formal table setting. In the 18th century such centerpeices were usually composed of footed dishes for fruit and candies or assemblages of porcelain figures. Around 1800 these were replaced by gilded bronze centerpieces featuring a long deck with various sculptural embellishments. The fashion reached its pinnacle in the French Empire centerpieces by the bronze-worker Pierre Phillippe Thomire (1751-1843)." - Exhibit Catalogue

I couldn't help but marvel at the classically-inspired figures and wonder if the prince ever thought mere mortals would be able to gaze at his dining room splendor.

As someone who has an ongoing love affair with historical portraiture, I was dazzled by the huge portraits of Princess Anna of Prussia and Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna of Russia by German artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter. I collect modest Victorian-framed prints of famous historical personalities produced by Cameo Creations in the early 1900s and have one by Winterhalter but it is nothing like the spectacular 5-foot portraits displayed in this exhibition. I kept returning to them again and again trying to assimilate them like a fine glass of wine. Although not noticeable in this photograph, Winterhalter's conveyance of light and inner beauty was very inspirational. Of course the ornate Rococo frames were art in themselves as well.

"Born in a small village in Germany's Black Forest, Franz Xaver Winterhalter left his home to study painting at the academy of Monaco. Before becoming court painter to Louis-Philippe, the king of France, he joined a circle of French artists in Rome. In 1835, after he painted the German Grand Duke and Duchess of Badew, Winterhalter's international career as a court portrait painter was launched. Although he never received high praise for his work in his native Germany, the royal families of England, France, and Belgium all commissioned him to paint portraits. His monumental canvases established a substantial popular reputation, and lithographic copies of the portraits helped to spread his fame.

Winterhalter's portraits were prized for their subtle intimacy, but his popularity among patrons came from his ability to create the image his sitters wished or needed to project to their subjects. He was able to capture the moral and political climate of each court, adapting his style to each client until it seemed as if his paintings acted as press releases, issued by a master of public relations." - The Getty Center