Tuesday 30 April 2013

May - Très Riches Heures

In April I began showing the monthly illustrations from Très Riches Heures - welcome to May.
A May jaunt, a pageant celebrating the "joli mois de Mai" in which many are wearing green garments known as livrée de mai, they have green foliage in their hair, wreathed around their necks and decorating their horses. The riders are young noblemen and women - princes and princesses. In the background is Hôtel de Neslè the Duc de Berry's residence in Paris. 
The zodiac symbols in the blue tympanum show Taurus - the bull and Gemini - the twins. As with all of the calendar illustrations in the centre of the tympanum the chariot of the sun makes it yearly cycle through the heavens.
The "Golden Age" of the book of hours in Europe happened around 1350 - 1480; the book of hours became popular in France around 1400 and many major French artists undertook manuscript illumination. John Duc of Berry, the French prince for whom the Très Riches Heures was made was the third son of the future king of France, John the Good. The young prince lived an extravagant life, and commissioned many works of art which he amassed in his Saint Chapelle mansion. Upon his death in 1416 an inventory was done on his estate describing the incomplete and unbound collection of the Très Riches Heures.
See June illustration here.

Friday 26 April 2013

John Whitehurst - clockmaker, scientist, geologist

Those of you who have followed my 'blogland' journey for a while will be well aware that my roots are in Derbyshire, and that I have a fascination for the enlightenment period that took place there in the 18th century. In pursuit of that interest I now bring you Lunar Society member and clockmaker extraordinaire - John Whitehurst.
via BBC paintings
John Whitehurst - 1713 - 1788 - painted by Joseph Wright of Derby
It is exactly three hundred years ago this month that John Whitehurst was born in Congleton, Cheshire, close to the Derbyshire border, the son of a clockmaker. He received only a slight formal education and was taught clock-making by his father; his father also encouraged and fostered his pursuit of geology whilst they took long walks in the Derbyshire Peak District.
He moved to live in Derby in 1736 where he became one of the foremost scientists of his day, father of modern geology and founder member of the Lunar Society along with Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, the painter Joseph Wright  and others.
In Derby he established a very successful business not only making clocks, but fine scientific instruments. He made thermometers, barometers, and philosophical instruments. He was consulted on almost every undertaking in Derbyshire and neighbouring counties in which skills in mechanics, pneumatics and hydraulics were required.
Whitehurst pioneered the method of using a single source material to construct the workings of a timepiece. This helps reduce variations in performance caused by temperature and humidity. It was so successful that it has never been bettered. This technique may have come about following a challenge he was presented with by the founding father of America, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin asked him to design a clock that used fewer materials as there was a drastic shortage of raw resources at that time across the Atlantic. Whitehurst met Franklin's  challenge, and in due course Franklin signed the documents that founded the United States of America as Whitehurst's clock ticked gently away in the background. 
In 1774 Whitehurst moved to London to take up a post at the Royal Mint. London is where he spent the rest of his life exploring different avenues of science and where in 1779 he was elected a member of the Royal Society.
In 1783 he was sent to examine the Giant's Causeway and other volcanic remains in the north of Ireland.
He had already published his theory on geological strata in 'An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth'. This eventually facilitated the discovery of valuable minerals beneath the earth's surface. 
It is thought that Whitehurst was the model for Joseph Wright's famous painting of A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery.
 Derby Art Gallery - via BBC paintings
Whitehurst placed such heavy demands on his commitment to learning and research that he tired himself out and impaired his health. Even so, he lived to be 75 years old - a good age for that period. He was married but there were no surviving children to carry on in his footsteps.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Tintinhull House and Garden, Somerset

I want to thank two of my blogging friends - Loi for introducing me to this garden on his blog and June who recently reminded me on her blog that it was somewhere that I wanted to visit.
Exquisite Crown Imperial Frittilary
Amateur gardener Phyllis Reiss designed this small garden in 1933 when she and her husband, Captain F.E. Reiss, bought the house. Her vision was greatly influenced by "Hidcote" and the Arts and Crafts style of garden.
White and blue Anemone blanda en masse
The house was built in the 17th century of honey coloured Ham stone, and reshaped in the early 18th century. It is rightly designated as a Grade l listed building.
Having no family of their own they had intended to leave the property to their nephew, but he was sadly killed in WWll, so in 1954 she gave the house and garden to the National Trust.
Initially the Trust let the house to tenants, including the garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse, but now it can be rented as a holiday let from the Trust.
This round window in the apex of the pediment showing a grotesque head at its centre is an intriguing design, both sides of the window can be opened.
I do have a weakness for door knockers, and this one is a fine example
This is the original 17th century part of the house

Sunday 21 April 2013

Our April garden

It is a glorious day - we are heading off out for the day with a picnic to make the most of it - hope the sun is shinning for you too.
Something has been nibbling the tiny Rip Van Winkle daffodil.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Quiz answer

Isaiah 41:15
Behold, I make of you a Threshing Sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff.
Yes, the answer is a Threshing Sledge. They were still being used in Spain until the 1950s - 60s.
The prophet Isaiah uses an image derived from the mode of threshing in the East at that time, where the heavy sledge was made to pass over a large pile of sheaves, and to bruise out the grain, and separate the chaff so that the wind would drive it away.
Well done  MarianMarkKirk and Attila, who doesn't appear to have a blog - all four are the victors of the quiz.
I am now adding Val as a winner - I misunderstood her comment - apologies Val.

Thursday 18 April 2013


Does anyone know what this is used for? There are references to them in the bible and although I saw this one in La Mancha, it is not exclusively Spanish.
It is approximately 2 meters high x 1 meter wide. Comments with the correct answer will not be shown until I give the answer on Saturday. 
Several blogging friends have asked about the white things sticking out - these are knapped flint stones.

Monday 15 April 2013

Spain's capital city - Madrid

Palace and cathedral in the last image
It is impossible to do justice to Madrid with only two days in the city. Should we concentrate on the architecture or see the art?  In the end we had an overview of the city via a bus, and spent our time catching as much art as we could within the time available. Madrid is a beautiful city with wide tree lined boulevards, beautiful sculptural fountains, parks, a royal palace, Neo-Gothic cathedral, three internationally famous art galleries, and adjacent to the Prado an oasis of calm in the beautiful botanical gardens.
The Prado
Botanical Gardens
We saw most of the great masterpieces in the Prado - from Rubens to Goya, Velázquez  to Caravaggio, Dürer to Bosch, Mantegna to Fra Angelico, but in the end the image I have selected is Picasso's Guernica which we saw in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. A 20th century icon of the Spanish Civil war, of worldwide anit-war sentiment and of the fight for freedom. Guernica is one of the most emblematic images of the contemporary world.
The ruins of Guernica
When seeing this painting for the first time many people are surprised at how immense it is, measuring 11 feet high and 25 feet long.
On the 26th April 1937 the population of Guernica were going about their business. It was market day when they suddenly became the target for the world's first saturation bombing raid carried out by Nazi aircraft at the request of General Franco. This is Picasso's powerful painting of outrage at the deaths inflicted on the innocent men, women and children on that black day. Interpretations of the painting vary widely and contradict one another.
Picasso said that the wounded and dying horse represents the people of Guernica, the face on the right holding a lamp represents witnesses to the massacre staring in horror and disbelief, a lamp held aloft being a symbol of hope. The figure on the right with arms held up in terror looks as if he is being swallowed up by the fires of hell rather like the medieval wall paintings showing the Last Judgement. On the left side a mother who was breast feeding her child cries out in anguish as her child lies dead in her arms. The small daisy flower in the centre of the painting at the bottom is a symbol of innocence in the midst of despair. A light bulb shaped liked the evil eye blazes in the upper centre. Picasso said the bull represented brutality and darkness. When I look at the painting I feel that it symbolises the aggressor, who though a witness, totally dissociates himself from the act.
Picasso refused to allow his painting to be displayed in Spain until after the end of the Franco regime.  Initially it was in the Prado but behind a bullet proof glass screen. Now it is unprotected and has a whole room to itself in the Reina Sofia along with many photographs made by Dora Maar who documented the progress of the painting. Dora Maar was one of Picasso's many lovers. A number of groups in Spain, particularly Basque Nationalists, object strongly to the painting being permanently exhibited in Madrid. Since the opening in 1997 of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museo, they have been calling for its transfer there.