Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Metropolitan Museum of Art Announces Medieval and Renaissance Art Exhibit

Good news for those of you living in the New England Area! The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced an exhibit of Medieval and Renaissance Art Treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum beginning May 20, 2008 and running until August 17th. The exhibition will feature thirty-five masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum. With works that date from 300 to 1600, the exhibition will feature pieces of ceramics, glass, metalwork and sculpture that rarely leave Great Britain.

The most anticipated pieces are the Carolingian ivory cover of the Lorsch Gospels (pictured right), an ivory statuette of the crucified Christ by Giovanni Pisano, Donatello’s bronze Winged Putto with Fantastic Fish, two gilt-bronze statuettes of prophets by Hubert Gerhard, and the Codex Forster 1, one of Leonardo da Vinci's famed notebooks.

This exhibit will give American museum goers a chance to see these pieces before the Victoria and Albert Museum installs them in their new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, scheduled to open at the VAM next fall.

For more details, visit the Metropolitan Museum's Website

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spring Fashions Inspired by Art History

This spring's fashions are inspired by the kind of "romantic freshness" that was prominently displayed in last year's period drama, Atonement (starring Keira Knightly and James McAvoy).

The Spring runways almost always display the year's most feminine fashions, but this year they seem to have stepped it up a notch, with designs that borrow heavilly from the heady romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites. And I'm not the only one who thinks so!

Horacio Silva just wrote a lovely piece for New York Times TMagazine on Jane Morris' contribution to this season's fashions, called The Innocence Project. Be sure and check it out! His discussion of the Pre-Raphaelite's influence on fashion is very interesting, although he does make a factual error (Jane Morris was not a fan of floral prints! Although she enjoyed using them for decorating, she preferred solids, which is amply evident in all of the photographs ever taken of her). The slide show of spring fashions accompanying the article really demonstrates the "turn to the romantic" that designers seem to be taking. Even Roberto Cavalli, who is best known for his plunging necklines and penchant for animal prints has shown a surprising romantic streak this season. This beautiful white lace gown is typical of the soft silhouette and feminine fabrics that Cavalli's utilizing this spring. Note also the Edwardian hairstyles! It looks like this will be a great season to find fearlessly feminine pieces in a variety of fabrics (especially soft floral prints).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Edmonton Opera's Production of Falstaff

My husband and I went to see Edmonton Opera's production of Falstaff last night. We had such a good time! I absolutely loved it. The cast performed impressively, both as singers and as actors. My husband and I were particularly impressed with the amusing antics of John Fanning as Falstaff and Christiane Riel as Alice Ford. Colin Ainsworth and Nikki Einfeld were charming as the young lovers Fenton and Nanetta.

The liberetto for Verdi's Falstaff is taken from William Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. In the story, Sir John Falstaff is a fat old knight who has fallen on hard times. In an attempt to better his financial situation, he chases after two married noblewomen. The ladies discover that he has been going after both of them at the same time and resolve to make him pay for his indiscretions. Much hilarity ensues when the husband of one of the ladies decides to catch Falstaff in the act...

This opera proved yet again that these stories are meant to be seen and heard. I have heard Falstaff on the radio countless times as part of the Metropolitan Opera's Satarday Texaco broadcast. I always enjoyed the music, but it was impossible for me just how funny the second act is until I saw it for myself. My husband and I were both laughing out loud(at intermission he remarked that it was just like a telenovela!).

I'm constantly impressed with the quality of the Edmonton Opera. When I first came here, I never would have believed that a prairie town in the middle of the frozen north (sorry, Canada) would have such a great opera. Going to the opera has been one of the things that have kept me from missing Seattle too dreafully. It's truly one of the best things about Edmonton.

One of the most exciting part of the night was when the director announced the "lineup" for next season. Edmonton Opera will be performing Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment and Verdi's La Traviata. In addition to the regular season, they'll also be offering tickets to Bizet's The Pearl Fishers (almost everyone has heard that opera's beautiful men's duet, "Au Fond du Temple Saint"). I can hardly wait!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gothic Revival and Spirituality: John Henry Newman and AWN Pugin

Thank you for all of your comments on my France trip! I'll definitely be following your advice!

Before I move on to John Ruskin's interpretation of Gothic architecture, I'd like to spend a bit more time talking about the Medieval/Gothic revival of the early 19th century that Augustus Welby Pugin was such an important part of.

If you're a church history buff, you've probably heard of John Henry Newman (pictured right), the Anglican cleric who converted to Roman Catholicism after falling in love with the church's apostolic heritage (he later became a cardinal). Before his conversion, Newman was an extremely influential member of the Oxford Movement that aspired to return the Church of England to its Roman Catholic roots. Newman and Pugin were both heavily involved in a religious movement that idealized the Middle Ages for the spiritual awareness they believed the people of the time possessed.

During Pugin and Newman's time, Gothic Revival was closely connected to spiritual renewal, and a number of sermons were preached on the subject. Some portrayed Gothic architecture in a positive light, some did not. For example, a rather inflammatory address on Gothic Architecture entitled "The "Restoration of Churches" is the Restoration of Popery!" was given by Reverend Francis Close of Cheltenham in 1844(186).

When Newman decided to have the Chapel of St. Mary and St. Nicholas constructed in the Gothic style in 1835, it created a bit of a stir. This was prior to his conversion to Catholicism, but Newman was still a controversial figure. And while Newman did not join the Camden society--Pugin's circle of Gothic architects--he praised the style, and started his own group, the Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture (190).

Although Newman and Pugin were initially close friends, they ultimately had a falling out over (what else) the importance of Gothic architecture. Newman eventually came to beleive that, while Gothic architecture represented the perfect style for the Middle Ages, and that it should be preserved, it was not necessarily the best design for the 19th century (206). In the end, he rejected the notion that only one style could truly glorify God. This infuriated Pugin, who felt betrayed by Newman.

The lasting contribution of the early 19th century Gothic revivalists was their belief that one's moral and spiritual convictions are reflected (and informed!) by the work one produces. Augustus Welby Pugin wrote in defense of Gothic architecture that "the belief and manners of all people are embodied in the edifices they raised"(186). We will see that this sentiment had a powerful influence on the works of both William Morris and John Ruskin, although they would later re-interpret it in a more secular light. Morris himself saw Pugin's revival in Marxist terms: "the Gothic Revival was and is really connected with the general progress of the world, with...aspirations towards freedom"(206). In contrast, Pugin's desire was for the restoration of the Middle Ages, and through it "the star-gilt world that lived in his imagination"(206).

Source consulted: James Patrick, "Newman, Pugin and Gothic" Victorian Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Winter, 1981): 185-207

Image courtesy wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Call for Submissions

Just a reminder to please submit a link to one of your great posts here for inclusion in Earthly Paradise's first Art History Carnival!

Remember, you can submit a link to a post on pretty much anything Art History related. I don't discriminate between categories of art, so antique furniture has just as much of a right to be included in this issue as posts on Picasso. This also means you can post links to other art objects as well, if you've found anything beautiful that you would like to share.

The Carnival will be held on May 1st. For more info, read this post.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I'm Going to France!

After writing my post on Gothic Architecture I had the most desperate yearning to go back to France. My Mom has been studying in Paris for about a week and I really wanted to go and visit her while she was there.

Well, after some encouragement from my dear husband, I've decided to go! I will be in Paris from May 10th-20th with a few days in the middle to take a side trip to the countryside. I can hardly wait.

I would love some travel advice from you! What is your favourite sight in Paris? I've seen most of the touristy things, so off-the-beaten-path tips would be most welcome. And where should I go outside the city? We went to Strassbourg and Aix-en-Provence last time--I loved both places, but I have to admit that Aix was my favourite. One thing I'd really love to do this time is to visit a winery.

I plan to take tons of pictures and I'll be doing my best to blog the trip. So if there's a place you want to see, tell me to go there!

Now all I need to do is finish my thesis before the trip! Only 20 more pages to go!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gothic Revival in Architecture and Augustus Welby Pugin

The Gothic Revival in architecture was one of the cornerstones of the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements. And while many people familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement associate Gothic Revival with Ruskin and Morris, Augustus Welby Pugin was actually England's leading exponent of Gothic Revival in the 19th century. It was Pugin's unique, moral and artistic interpretation of the medieval period that had the greatest influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The other day we examined Horace Walpole's mini Gothic revival in the 18th century. Walpole did a great deal to re-popularize Medieval style, but he knew little about architecture and his "Gothick" mansion at Strawberry Hill was about as authentic as Cinderella's castle at Disney World. So while Walpole is considered by some to be the father of Gothic revival, it's a comparison somewhat akin to calling Marie Antoinette the mother of rural revival because she constructed a play village at Versailles.

It was not until the 19th century that a more heartfelt champion of Gothic style was born. Augustus Welby Pugin was born in 1812 in London in a family of exiled Gallic Aristocrats who had fled the French Revolution. The elder Pugin worked as a draftsman for the architect John Nash. His son exhibited a natural talent at drawing and his sketches were so popular that he was chosen to design furniture for Windsor Castle at the tender age of 19! Shortly thereafter, he went into business for himself.

Pugin was the polar opposite of Horace Walpole, whose interest in Gothic style was more for entertainment value. Pugin represented the new wave of Gothic revival in the 19th century, because he saw Medieval design elements as a moral force.

Pugin converted to Roman Catholicism in his adulthood, and his conversion experience motivated him to express his faith through architecture. Unlike Walpole, who toyed about with Gothic style as a plaything, Pugin idealized the Middle Ages for its intertwining of faith and beauty. In 1836, Pugin synthesised his thoughts about the moral superiority of the Middle Ages in a book entitled Contrasts, A Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the 14th and 15th centuries and Similar buildings of the Present Day. Showing a Decay of Taste .

Pugin's writings struck a chord with his 19th century audience and he soon received a number of commissions. Pugin is best known for designing the interiors of the Palace of Westminster (Parliament, shown right) in London. His greatest contribution, though, was the way he recast the medieval as a moral force, something that inspired John Ruskin, and later William Morris.

Sadly, Pugin had a nervous breakdown while trying to prepare the Medieval exhibit for the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851. He was institutionalized briefly, but was released to die at home in 1852.

For more information, see the Pugin Society. Sadly, I took a look at Project Gutenberg, and it doesn't look like any of his works are available online yet! This is a project for somebody! I would really love to read his books, and I'll definitely be posting a review once I do.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill and Gothic Revival

The appeal of Gothic architecture was so strong that it couldn't stay buried for long. The first major Gothic revival began in 1740's in England. Horace Walpole, the eccentric 4th Earl of Orford, was one of the first to re popularize the style. Walpole is one of those fascinating characters who makes the study of history worthwhile. I do so enjoy a good yarn, and Horace Walpole's life and work make for as good a story as I have ever read. Walpole was the son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole and the cousin of the famed Lord Nelson. Horace was an incurable romantic, given to dramatic and aesthetic indulgence--a bit of an 18th century Oscar Wilde (except with better breeding). Horace was quite taken with the Medieval period from an early age and decided to construct his own castle in homage to Gothic architecture. His most famous contributions to history were his neo-Gothic castle, Strawberry Field, the world's first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, and the drama-laden Goth catch-phrase: "This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel."

In 1747, Horace Walpole purchased a small villa near Twickenham. Together with a couple of friends, with whom he formed a "committee of taste," Walpole began working to transform the building into an estate, complete with an in-house printing press so that he could print his literary works! The resulting structure was christened Strawberry Hill. While Strawberry Hill is not an example of authentic Gothic architecture by any means, it helped inspire a movement to revive Gothic style.

Horace Walpole continued working on the house for the next 50 years. During that same time period he also wrote what is widely regarded as the first Gothic Novel, The Castle of Otranto, in 1764. He initially claimed that the novel had been discovered in the library of "an ancient Catholic family in the north of England." He also claimed that the original story dated back to the crusades. People didn't seem entirely convinced, so he eventually confessed that he had written it himself. His novel, in addition to his letters, are available here, courtesy of our friends at Project Gutenberg.

As we will see later, Horace Walpole's Gothic revival differed sharply from the revivals of the 19th century. Men like Pugin, Morris and Ruskin, admired Gothic style for its emphasis on natural beauty, whereas Walpole's revival is characterised by its extravagance and dedication to romance over nature. All of this raises an important question in my mind: both Morris and Walpole constructed anachronistic Gothic paradises for themselves (Morris at Red House and Walpole at Strawberry Hill). So was there any real difference between them? Leave a comment!

For more information on Strawberry Hill, visit Friends of Strawberry Hill, a site devoted to the preservation of Horace Walpole's project. They have some fabulous photos!

Further reading: I have gleaned some of the information in this post from a great article in Architectural History Vol. 38 (1995)entitled "Strawberry Hill: Building and Site" by Peter Guillery and Michael Snodin.
The 19th century woodcut of Strawberry Hill is courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gothic Architecture

Gothic architecture and style was a major influence on the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement. For the next few days, I will be examining the history of Gothic architecture and style.

If the word "goth" conjures up images of depressed mall goth teenagers wearing too much eyeliner, it's time to re-educate yourself!

The Goths were a group of five eastern Germanic tribes after the demise of the Roman Empire. They were not architects, and have no relationship to Gothic style aside from the name.

Gothic architecture itself emerged in 12th century France and was originally called "French Style." It was the dominant style between the 12th and 16th centuries, but was later mocked by some as being "Gothic"(as in backward and barbarian). The Gothic style is characterized by mathmatic precision, symmetry and a desire to reflect the glory of God through awe-inspiring architecture.

Some of the most distinctive features of the Gothic style of architecture were the flying buttresses, used to support the height of the buildings, and pointed arches (which actually originated in Assyrian and Islamic architecture).

You can see examples of most of these features in the photo on the right. This was taken by yours truly in Summer of 2005. I miss Paris so much! Notre Dame is a great example of Gothic architecture. You can see numerous pointed arches in the photo, along with the flying buttresses that are supporting the weight and height of the building. The buttresses were essential to creating the lithe structure of the buildings, which look like fairy palaces in comparison to the heavier structure of Romanesque architecture.

Moreover, as a result of the ribbed and vaulted ceilings they made use of, Gothic buildings were also significantly lighter and brighter inside than Romanesque structures (which is why it's kind of funny that we tend to associate anything "Gothic" with darkness). Gothic architecture was actually about creating light, bright places! This vaulted ceiling in King's College Chapel at Cambridge University illustrates the the power of the ribbed, vaulted ceiling. You can also tell from the windows on the right how this structure permitted architects to leave more room for windows. Kings College Chapel has one of the most famous and ornate vaulted ceilings in the world. I saw it in high school on a trip to England and I was absolutely dumbfounded. The sheer majesty of the architecture was breathtaking. The building was completed in 1515 under the reign of King Henry VIII.

A more detailed picture of the construction of flying buttresses can be seen below (thank you wikipedia commons!). As a side note, doesn't the very phrase "flying buttresses" sound terribly romantic? I seem to recall Anne of Green Gables saying something about them, but I can't quite remember it at the moment.

Sadly, in the wake of the Renaissance, the style police decided that Gothic architecture was abandoned. The powers that be wanted to return to a more classical style and they did for a while, but as we will see tomorrow, the enduring popularity of Gothic style led to its revival just a century later.

All images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, save the photo of Notre Dame, which is mine!

For more information on Gothic Architecture, take a look at Yale University Press' fantastic new art history glossy, Gothic Architecture.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Visit to St. Augustine, Florida

Some of you may know that I spent the end of last week in Florida. It was an amazing trip. I've never been to Florida before and the weather was just perfect--such a pleasant change from Edmonton! My husband was there for a conference and I went to join him for a few days when it was over.

We had such a great time! We went to Orlando, Palm Beach and St. Augustine. Thursday we went to see Cirque de Soleil perform in downtown Disney. It was absolutely incredible. I've never really seen anything like it before--and it was so different from watching them perform on television. On Friday we drove to St. Augustine to walk around the town and take a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos. Saturday and Sunday were spent in Palm Beach.

St. Augustine was one of my favourite parts of the trip. It was established in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in North America. The city was burned down numerous times--Francis Drake even razed the town to the ground in 1586! The picture at the top of this post is of the Cathedral of St. Augustine. It was constructed between 1793-1797.

The picture on the right was taken at the Castillo de San Marcos. Apparently the Castillo was never taken in battle! They had tons of cannons on the fort, which helps explain why. It's made out of coquina, which is a sort of limestone made up of millions of bits of tiny shells all squished together. Apparently the strange material was actually very good for defending the castle--when it was hit with cannon balls they usually just bounced off! I was a bit surprised at how small the Castillo was, though. I was amazed when they told us the entire town of St. Augustine used to go there to hide when the town was under attack by the British!

One of the Castillo's most interesting bits of history was totally overlooked by our tour guide. Apparently St. Augustine also was home to the first community of free blacks in North America! In 1738, a group of Africans that had fled from slavery in Charleston, S.C., came to St. Augustine. The governor of the territory, Manuel Montiano, gave the people sanctuary and gave them land two miles to the north of St. Augustine to turn into a settlement. This place, called Fort Mose was the first free African community in what later became the United States. There was a caveat, though: these new Floridians needed to swear "to shed their last drop in blood in defense of the Spanish Crown" (source: Florida's Black History). Still a lot better than the lives they were living up north!

It was a fascinating trip. After we finished touring St. Augustine we decided to go swimming in the Atlantic. It was incredible! White sand, warm water...I wish I could be there now!

William Morris and Acanthus

When I think of William Morris, one of the first things that pops to mind is the acanthus plant. Acanthus leaves are one of the most popular decorative motifs in Arts and Crafts design, and they have been used extensively since the time of the ancient Greeks to depict foliage. The Romans also made use of the leaves, as did the Byzantines. Acanthus leaf designs were also an important aspect of Byzantine, Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture.

William Morris did countless designs featuring the acanthus leaf and his bold interpretation of the plant was a hallmark of his style. The Woodpecker Tapestry features them quite prominently, and most of his tapestries use acanthus leaves in the border. Many of the books produced by Kelmscott Press also use acanthus leaves in their illustrated borders, as do the other fabric and wallpaper designs produced by Morris and Company. The wallpaper design featured on the right, called 'Acanthus,' was part of a group of wallpapers that William Morris produced in the 1870s that are distinguished by boldly coloured large patterns. This particular wallpaper required thirty blocks in order to be produced, making it one of Morris and Company's most expensive designs at 16s a roll (source: Victoria and Albert Museum).

If you are looking to add an Arts and Crafts touch to your garden, you can't go wrong with this lovley plant, which symbolized "art" in the Victorian language of flowers.

Image of acanthus plant courtesy of Wikipedia commons.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Museo de Arte de Ponce

For more than 45 years The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon has been a key piece in the extensive collection of European artworks in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, a lovely white modernist art museum in the south of the island. The painting by Edward Burne Jones depicts the death of King Arthur, whose head is resting in the lap of Morgan le Fay. The painting was purchased from Christies’ auction house in 1963 by Puerto Rican businessman, philanthropist and politician, Don Luis Ferré.

When Don Luis Ferré purchased the Burne-Jones artwork, its popularity was at its nadir. Pre-Raphaelite art was completely out of fashion in the 1950s and 60s, but this didn’t bother Ferré, who believed that beauty was the “essence of life” and part of the key to addressing the grinding poverty and inequality in Puerto Rico. Towards that end, he began collecting art for in 1956, with the help of Julius S. Held, an art history professor at Columbia University, specializing in the works of Rubens.

Held wrote Ferre the following regarding the importance of choosing quality works for the museum: “After all, what you are building up is not meant to appeal only to the taste of 1959, or not even of 1969. A museum is built for the centuries, and as long as we do not let down our standards of quality, we will come out all right, because tastes and fashions change.”

Ferre took Held's advice, and the long term value of his collection of artworks is now internationally recognized.

Unfortunately, Ferré's hopes for the economy of Ponce were not realized to the same extent. Ponce is a poor colonial city that has not been helped by industrialization. Even the pharmaceutical companies that formed the nucleus of the town’s industrial hopes have decided to move on to places where they can purchase labour for even less.

Nevertheless, people continue to visit Ponce’s Museo de Arte. And while Pre-Raphaelite art was decidedly unfashionable in the 1960s, it is enjoying a tremendous burst in popularity today that has helped boost the museums international reputation. As a result, museums from all over the world have clamored to borrow some of the famous works collected by Ferré’s museum.

The museum also houses the Frederick Leighton painting "Flaming June" (pictured right), which is also on loan to the Tate Gallery at present.

The Museo de Arte is also loaning a number of its paintings to the Phoenix Art Gallery, whose exhibition "Passport to Europe" is built on works from the Museo de Arte's collection.

sources: Museo de Arte de Ponce (link to English version of their website) and Celia Quartermain's article in New Statesman.

Special thanks to James at Tippyleaf Tea for bringing this story to my attention.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Paella Recipe

Paella is one of my favourite things to make for people. It's extremely simple but is a great crowd pleaser. This recipe feeds four starving people, or 6 normal people. I have fed 15 people with it before, but it was a bit of a stretch! Of course, Paella works best if you have a Paella pan, but don't worry at all if you don't have one. They are really cheap though, and the traditional ones are made of steel, so they heat up really quickly and help speed up the cooking process.

Here's my "12 step" Paella Recipe

3c. chicken stock--maybe a bit less
1 tsp./1 gram saffron
1/4 c. olive oil or so
chicken, if desired, raw shrimp/prawns, mussels and fresh sausage. Spanish chorizo is best of course, but if you don't have "spanish sausage" italian sausage works beautifully.
1 fresh red pepper
4 cloves garlic
green beans(obviously not necessary! I was out when I made the Paella pictured above).
1 onion
1 tomato
1 and 1/2 cups medium grain rice (it's really important that you use medium grain--otherwise the recipe won't turn out quite right).

1. Toast the saffron a bit on the stove and grind it into powder with the back of a spoon. Add the powder to the chicken stock.
2. Heat pan and add oil
3. Saute shrimp, sausage and other meats (but not the mussells! We'll do that later).
4. Saute onion and garlic until onion turns clear.
5. Add tomato to onion and season w/salt
6. Cook tomato and onion mixture until it darkens slightly
7. Add rice and stir for a minute or so until rice loses opaqueness
8. Pour in 3 cups chicken stock. Stir or shake pan so that the rice covers the bottom evenly.
9. When liquid boils, arrange the mussels in the pan, submerging them as much as possible. Add sliced red pepper and green beans on top. Don't stir the rice from now on!
10. Cook on m. high, rotating the pan so that the mixture cooks evenly (8-10 minutes).
11. Reduce heat to medium low, cook for 10 more minutes.
12. After ten minutes, arrange the shrimp and sausage on top of the rice and cover with foil and cook for five minutes.

Some of the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan. This is a GOOD thing. It tastes amazing when the saffron rice carmelizes--I absolutely love this part!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Walter Crane's Beauty and the Beast

Generally speaking, I adore Walter Crane's illustrations. They are so imaginative and I know many people have grown up with his drawings of tales from classic children's' literature. I have to say that when it comes to his drawings of Beauty and the Beast, I think I just might have to say I prefer Disney.

Something about the boar's head on the Beast is just a little too disturbing. I suppose it reinforces the idea that the beauty falls in love with the beast despite his ugliness. Now that I'm a little older, I have to say I find the story exceptionally unfair. For one thing, what guy would fall in love with a girl who had the head of an animal? And what story would commend him for it? Let's face it, in fairy tales, women are put through very different tests than men, constantly proving their "worth" by what they'll put up with.

One of my all time favourite fairy tales is the Princess and the Pea--now there's a girl I can identify with! Except now that I think about it, even she is forced to spend a miserable night tossing and turning on a lumpy mattress. At least she doesn't have to endure being starved, beaten, bewitched, or married against her will, like many of the other fairy tale heroines.

Don't get me wrong--I adore unvarnished fairy tales. But it always amuses me when I really start thinking about the deeper messages in the stories.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Day Dream by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted this portrait of Jane Morris, entitled "Day Dream" in 1880. I would have to say that her grasp on the branch is quite provocative. I also love the detail of the leaves on the honeysuckle vine! The painting was accompanied by the following sonnet, which Rossetti inscribed on the frame:

The thronged boughs of the shadowy sycamore
Still bear young leaflets half the summer through;
From when the robin 'gainst the unhidden blue
Perched dark, till now, deep in the leafy core,
The embowered throstle's urgent wood-notes soar
Through summer silence. Still the leaves come new;
Yet never rosy-sheathed as those which drew
Their spiral tongues from spring-buds heretofore.
Within the branching shade of Reverie
Dreams even may spring till autumn; yet none be
Like woman's budding day-dream spirit-fann'd.
Lo! tow'rd deep skies, not deeper than her look,
She dreams; till now on her forgotten book
Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand.

Both the painting and poem were inspired by Tennyson's poem of the same name, The Daydream.

Image courtesy the Victorian and Albert Museum

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Book Darts

I'm in love with Book Darts. It sounds pretty silly, but I'm in the middle of writing my thesis and I seem to use them all day every day at the moment. They're one of those products that I simply couldn't live without, so I thought I'd share them with you today.

Book Darts are an alternative to highlighters, dog-earing and other generally frowned on ways of keeping track of what you read. Except they are of course far better because they cannot damage the pages of your favourite book. I used to use page tabs, but they are sticky and if you leave them on books they can leave a residue, and worse, discolour the pages of your book. Book Darts function as a linemarker to help you keep track of exact lines in books (I really love using them when I'm reading poetry). They also make the perfect bookmark because they let you know exactly where you stopped reading. They're made of bronze and can't stain the pages of your beautiful books.

I still remember how delighted I was when I first discovered Book Darts sitting in small glassine envelopes in my favorite bookshop. I think they came 15 to a packet--I quickly lost them, because that's just the way I am. So I kept buying them in small quantities throughout University. Later I discovered their tins, which hold more marks and are a bit harder to lose!

Book Darts are also made in Hood River, Oregon, so you're not supporting some megaconglomerate that manufactures their product overseas for pennies while charging you an arm and a leg. I think William Morris would heartily approve!

image courtesy the Library of Congress. I guess they're fans as well!

Oh, I should mention that I am in no way affiliated with book darts. Or any other product that is mentioned on this blog. Though it would sometimes be nice if I was. I could use a few more book darts!

Monday, April 7, 2008

La Belle Dame sans Merci

Of all John Keat's poems, La Belle Dame sans Merci had by far the most influence on the Pre-Raphaelites. The symbolism and sadness in the poem, combined with its femme fatale leading lady must have made it difficult for them to resist! It has inspired numerous paintings. The most popular versions are probably those by John William Waterhouse, Arthur Hughes, and also later versions by Frank Cadogan Cooper and Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee. Walter Crane and Henry Maynell Rheam also did works inspired by the poem.

The poem describes an encounter between a knight and a mysterious lady. The story opens with a description of the knight "palely loitering" among the hillsides. He has had the misfortune to encounter a lovely woman with wild eyes, whose managed to convince him that she desperately needed his help, when in fact, she was merely plotting to ensnare him. As the knight lies sleeping in her lair, he dreams of the other "pale kings and warriors" that had been lured to her resting place. They warn that "La Belle Dame sans Merci hath thee in thrall!" When he wakes, he's wandering in the countryside. The moral of the story? Don't talk to strangers! Especially when they are lovely damsels in distress!

John William Waterhouse was inspired by Keat's poem and unveiled this painting in 1893. He certainly captures how convincing the lady is--she doesn't look like she could harm a fly. The knight is completely drawn in.

Arthur Hughes' knight looks quite taken with the lady. He doesn't seem to notice the ghosts of other lost souls trying to warn him away!

Sir Frank Dicksee painted his rendition in 1903. This painting is quite popular these days! I seem to see it in every calendar featuring knights, ladies and the like. I do love the mystical femme fatale quality that Dicksee has captured. The knight is certainly transfixed.

Frank Cagadon Cowper's version (1926) of La Belle Dame is strikingly modern in comparison to the other paintings. Look at the lovely textile designs on her dress! Interestingly, his knight is perhaps the most historically accurate.

Finally, on a lighter note, here's a 1920 Punch cartoon featuring the knight and lady. She's clearly more interested in her reflection in the knights armour than she is in seducing him. Hmm.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Art History Carnival

Earthly Paradise is announcing the creation of an Art History Carnival!

Having noticed a dearth of Blog Carnivals on the subject, I will be hosting a Carnival of Art History on my blog on the first of each month (and hopefully some of you out there will be sharing the duties with me!). You can submit articles for inclusion in the carnival until the first of the month.

What kind of blog articles will be included?
Posts covering all periods and art mediums are welcome, as are posts discussing art criticism, theory and aesthetics. All submissions will be carefully reviewed.

What is a Blog Carnival?
A blog carnival is (according to Wikipedia) "a type of blog event...similar to a magazine, in that it is dedicated to a particular topic, and is published on a regular schedule, often weekly or monthly. Each edition of a blog carnival is in the form of a blog article that contains permalinks links to other blog articles on the particular topic.

Blog Carnivals are a great way to help your blog reach a new audience and to make new friends in the blogosphere! There are so many great carnivals out there, but sadly, no Art History carnivals to be seen. I thought I'd have to fix that!

Who can submit?
Anyone, as long as you have a blog! If you don't, submit one of your friend's articles (except they better be good--I'll be reading them!).

Can I host a carnival? Absolutely! Please let me know if you'd be interested in hosting the next issue of the carnival.
So, start submitting!

How to submit articles
You have two options:

1. Send an email to the host (address normally included in all carnival announcements). Include the title and permalink URL of the post you are nominating for inclusion in the carnival, along with the name of the blog. Please put "Art History Carnival" in the title of your email to help the host to recognize it in their inbox!

2. Use the submission form provided by Blog Carnival.

One final thing to keep in mind:
To keep things current, posts should have been written after the date of the last Carnival.

Thank you for your participation! Share the news if you know someone who likes to write about art!

John Keats

I picked up a lovely volume of John Keats poetical works the other day that I thought I'd share! (I wish it was a better photo). I instantly fell in love with the little art nouveau roses on the cover. It was printed in 1908 and while the binding has faded, the rest of it is in great shape! I just love beautiful old books and when I came across this one I had to have it.

In John Keats short life (1795-1821) he wrote some of the most beloved poems of the romantic movement. Keats died of Tuberculosis (as did his grandmother, mother and brother), but poets Percy Shelley and Lord George Gordon Byron blamed his death on the scathing criticisms of his work.

Keat's poetry is brimming with emotion, which is hardly surprising, since he was just a teenager when many of his most famous poems were written. His insight is staggering nonetheless (though a trifling juvenile). When I look at how much he accomplished in his short life, there are no words.

His poem, When I have fears that I may cease to be (1818), is one of my favourites. I love the way he expresses his fears that he may die never having experienced "high romance." You could cut through the emotion with a knife! Keats is so dramatic and so honest about his feelings--no wonder the Pre-Raphaelites loved him.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin were huge fans of John Keat's poetry and helped contribute to a revival of his work in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Rossetti's favourite poems by Keats were "La Belle Dame sans Merci" "The Eve of Saint Agnes" and "Isabella." These poems were popular subjects for paintings by the Pre Raphaelites and their followers.

Of Keat's poems, La Belle Dame sans Merci had by far the most influence on the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Tomorrow I'll be doing a post on various artists' rendition of this work!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rocker Jimmy Page will be Keeping his Morris Tapestry for Now

Several of you asked about what Jimmy Page's William Morris tapestry (designed by Edward Burne-Jones and woven at William Morris' shop) sold for at auction last month. I've been checking back at Sotheby's regularly and it turns out that it didn't sell.

Although many other items in the auction sold for several times their value, the tapestry failed to sell for its reserve price, and will remain in Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page's extensive collection of Pre-Raphaelite art.

Page purchased the tapestry back in 1978 for $80,000 and is only the third person to have owned it. He put it up for auction because the mammoth art piece (it's 24 feet wide) is too heavy for him to hang on the oak panelings at his new mansion near the Thames. Perhaps he will be lending it to a museum since he can't display it at home.

For more info, check out the Guardian's report.

If you'd like to see what the other items in the auction sold for, you can take a look at Sotheby's website. You'll need an account, but it's worth signing up just to look at all the beautiful artwork they have!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

100th Post

My husband has been pestering me to start a blog practically since we met. I'm extremely passionate about art, beauty, literature, poetry, philosophy and history and I think he knew I'd enjoy having a chance to share my views with the world in a totally new way!

I started blogging on a more committed basis in December. Since then, I've been keeping it up as part of my New Year's resolution to devote time each day to work on things that are of interest to me.

Over these past few months, what has really stood out at me as a blogger has been the amazing people I've met along the way. There are so many talented, knowledgeable people out there that I never would have had a chance to meet were it not for blogging. And so, for my 100th post, I would like to salute you, my fellow bloggers!

My sincere thanks to my readers. Thank you all for your comments and your encouragement. I have learned so much from reading your blogs! Blogging has been an amazing experience and I couldn't do it without you!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Arts and Crafts Projects from Across the Blogosphere

Well, I'm fast approaching my 100th post, so I thought I would take today to feature some of the amazing art projects completed by you, my new blogosphere friends!

Kate at Cranberries and Cheese is always creating something new and exciting. This week, her blog features a few of her designs that she will be exhibiting at an art show, including a lovely silver ring she cast herself and this fabulous wire tree (pictured right), dressed in pearls from one of her grandmother's necklaces!

In the world of woodworking, Brad at Tree Frog Furniture has been busy in his shop creating Arts and Crafts furniture reproductions. He just finished a fantastic Stickley Music Cabinet (pictured right) and he's just announced that he's embarking on a new project: a Harvey Ellis Dresser! Stop by his blog to see the whole creative process unfold!

The fantastic fashionings of confectionary cobbler Nancy at Fete et Fleur are fast becoming legendary! They remind me of Manolo Blahnik's sketches. Her latest shoe creation is inspired by the "Fairy Queen of Scots." How perfectly charming!

On a more whimsical note, isn't this piece of embroidery cool? It looks so REAL! This dragonfly, embroidered by Paula of The Beauty of Life, reminds me a lot of the flies my dad used to make for fly-fishing. The form of embroidery is called stumpwork, I believe. Wouldn't this look incredibly neat embroidered on a little boys overalls? Paula always is crafting the most fascinating things. She often makes more traditional pieces, but I actually really love it when she is in a creative mood.

Last, but by no means least, Kate of My Life is but a Tapestry has revealed that in addition to her considerable talents working with fibers, she is also a painter! She finished this lovely painting, entitled "The Youngest Groomsman," just the other day. The realism of the picture is striking and the colours are so warm and inviting. The young man seems quite aware of the significance of his position, doesn't he? I just love it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jane Morris and Artistic Dress

Thomas Carlyle once wrote that "society is founded on clothes" and it seems that most social reformers throughout history have agreed. From the long hair sported by hippies in the swinging 60s to the indie fashions of today, clothing has always played a major role in protest. Not surprisingly, clothing also played a leading role in the Pre-Raphaelites vision for a better society. The fashion trend known as "artistic dress" which was popularized by the Pre-Raphaelite models was one of the movement's main legacies.

The movement towards artistic dress can be found in the Pre-Raphaelite's paintings and literature. In Morris' Utopian novel News from Nowhere, the working people are freed from the exploitation of greedy capitalists. One of the first things they do with their freedom is to create beautiful things, including clothing. Their dress is characterised by bright colours, embroidery and handcrafted buckles. The women of Nowhere are "clothed like women, not upholstered like arm-chairs"(53). Because their clothing is not as restrictive, the are able to participated in activities like rowing boats and making hay.

As with their notions about art and architecture, the Pre-Raphaelties weren't content to let their ideas about clothing remain in the art scene. Artistic dress soon became wildly popular in the real world as actresses and other women connected to the art world began imitating the styles sported by Jane Morris and the other Pre-Raphaelite models, such as Lizzie Siddal.

Artistic dress was a reform movement, and was sometimes referred to as "Dress Reform" or the "Rational Dress Movement." Dress reformers were particularly concerned with the restrictiveness of Victorian-era undergarments (especially the corset). As you can see from this painting of Jane Morris, her dresses did not have the extreme "wasp" or "S" shape that was all the rage at the time, and instead featured a more natural silhouette.

As the popularity of artistic dress grew, companies began offering styles that catered to the new trend. Arthur Lasenby Liberty's department store soon became a mecca for followers of the fashion of aesthetic or artistic dress. Liberty specialized in fabrics that appealed to fans of Pre-Raphaelite style and even sold ready-made "artistic" fashions.