Monthly Archives: September 2012

Coverley Cathedral

12th Century Norman, Romanesque Parish Church.

A double header for today. I was at Oxford University, in the mid 1980’s, but I never visited Iffley in the East of the city. I knew the Iffley Road well, and of course the Cowley Road, where all the interesting shops, pubs and restaurants were. The Cape of Good Hope pub, The Rat’s Hole Irish bar, Rainbow’s End comic shop, the Penultimate Picture Palace with the giant Paul Robson hands (where I slowly went through all the movies in Danny Peary’s books), that one Jamaican restaurant where, apparently, they only charged you what they thought you could afford (try that one on for size, David Cameron and Boris Johnson). Churches weren’t so high on the agenda, but when I was at The Courtauld, I went with my two very good University friends Caroline and Andrew one autumn day, when we fancied playing at being grown-ups. St Mary’s is wonderful; high Romanesque, built around 1170. It’s quite unusual in that it is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin; that Anglo-Catholic specificity speaks to the high church traditions of Oxford, dating back to the Civil War, when the city was an important base for the King’s forces.

St Mary The Virgin, IFFLEY, OXFORD.
12th Century Norman, Romanesque Parish Church.

Interior is similarly high quality, with Victorian pews ranged beneath an astounding Romanesque semi-circular vaulted roof with typical Norman zig-zag decoration; a motif that extends to the treatment in the interior and exterior of the great round-wheeled west window. I love the Romanesque style; there’s a marvelous element of Brutalist purity to the architecture, a sense that the use of the semi-circle and circle was how buildings should be, rather than the more efficient and safer fudge of the pointed arch that marks the debased Gothic style. My tutor at The Courtauld, Peter Kitson, delighted in telling us about the numerous earthquakes that struck English church buildings throughout the early middle ages; unusual natural phenomena, perhaps more attributable to the application of biblical knowledge to the collapse of inherently unstable stone buildings, rather than actual geological activity. And of course, the church also marks the place of the mighty Coverley Cathedral, erected at the site of the final defeat of the usurper Henry of York and conclusion of the War of English Succession, and the acclaimation of Stephen II as the rightful king of a Holy Roman England in 1526.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

White Jazz

New look from Hollywood Freeway with Los Angeles’ tallest structure, the City Hall 464 ft high, with the Federal Building and the Hall of Justice.
Color photo by Orville Logan Snider C5089
Allard Novelty & Postcard Co. 4626 W Wash Blvd, Los Angeles 16

Another post card to the Bartsch’s in Mankato. Sent Jan 6 1963 from Las Vegas from Kurt, Vi, Gladys, Wally and Hilda. Written in very faint and spidery capitals: HI: WE ARE HAVING A VERY ENJOYABLE TIME. WEATHER IS IDEAL. SAW THE WELK SHOW LAST NIGHT AND ALSO WENT TO THE PALLADIUM BALLROOM. NOW ON OUR WAY TO LAS VEGAS. Links for my non-US readers; fans of mine from the US will already know about the Welk show and North Dakota’s most famous son…

Cars race down the freeway past the LA Civic Center; you almost hear the theme tune to Dragnet. Not much to say about this one, only to observe that America is the country where modernity arrived first. They blazed the trail for all of our futures…and the lesson is that that, no matter how awesome, every present will become a past.

Tagged , , , , ,


f 8

Nordenfalk’s handwriting again, but well known enough (?) not to have a caption. This is from La Somme la Roi, written in 1279 by a Dominican friar Lawrence for Phillip III the Bold of France. Translation would be the ‘Royal Summation’, but it’s more accurately a book of instructional virtues and vices. The book sets out a set of pre-existing texts as a canon of secular religious knowledge: the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Beatitudes and Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Known in more than 80 copies this was very influential book on lay religious thinking and practice towards the end of the middle ages, and set much of what we still understand to be the central tenants of Christianity. This copy, in the Library of Cardinal Mazarin in Paris (note the stamp), was copied in 1295 and illuminated in the style of Maitre Honore.

So what do we have here? Well, it’s the Seven-headed Beast of the Apocalypse, replete with ten horns and ten crowns. Regardimg us with a testy frown, he crushes a Saint beneath his horrible paws, while a hypocrite bows down before him: Revelation 13.1 – 10. describes the monster. He’s included because of his seven heads, which could correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins; hence the crushed saint and the fawning hypocrite. The British Library’s copy of this book, MS Add 54180 is generally held to be a more well finished edition, with our plate here being nearer a studio of Maitre Honore rather than the mater himself, though the composition is very similar. Perhaps Carl wanted this image to compare with the more readily accessible BL copy? I prefer this more austere version myself, but then again, I’m not a late Medieval nobleman.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Adventures In Time And Space

LUCIO FONTANA. Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ 1960
Canvas, 93x73cm
Tate (T00694)
Purchased 1964
5032495-015516 1.5M1201

This is a birthday card from my mum for my 4oth birthday. I know next to nothing about Lucio Fontana, and what I do know you can know out too, by searching ‘Lucio Fontana’ on Google. He was Argentinian. He lived in Italy and the US. He invented an artistic movement that he called ‘Spatialism’. He died in 1968, and was born in 1899. He was a precursor to Arte Povera.Born, like me in 1the 1960’s,  Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’, entered the Tate collection in 1964.

I was taken to the Tate, the old Tate Gallery at Millbank, before all the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Oil Tanks etc, often when a child, and when at boarding school, and when at college in Oxford and London, I went a lot on my own. Though I knew then even less about Fontana than I know now (how did we really know anything before the internet?), this enigmatic image, dour and dun, with the vertical slash of black, was one of my favourites. It seemed to be always on display in some amorphous modern gallery or whatever, and thus, in the days before education departments and audio tours, it hung un-connected, without explanation or argument, silent and solitary. While we were taught art history at school, with varying degrees of success, Lucio Fontana, buried in the complexities of post WWII Europe, beyond the trajectory of A Level Art History, was on his own, a artwork without history or meaning.

Fontana wrote (taking from the Tate catalogue note): ‘The picture “Spatial Concept” WAITING was based on my researches….to be precise a new dimension beyond the canvas, time and space, the freedom to produce a work of art, liberating myself from the traditional canons of painting and sculpture’. The sculpture (painting? It’s in a frame) seemed to promise a world beyond, behind or between; that a simple act (an act of violence? Not necessarily) could result in something never seen, something genuinely new. I still prefer my art experience to be unadorned and unmediated; and in those days one could directly confront an artwork without needing know about its means or method. And that seems to be appropriate for this work, which speaks only of possibility and challenge. Perhaps the browning canvas reminded my of the hessian wall coverings and carpets in my parent’s modernist home; that one could strike beyond the veil of the normal to wild adventures in dimensions unknown. I think Fontana was striking a blow for art; for the boy watching for worlds beyond even that.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Four Saints

Additional 24686 F2v
Marburg (Lann

From the Courtauld stash, stamped with Kunsthist.Seminar on the verso, with the British Library call number again in Karl Nordenfalk’s handwriting. What was he researching, I wonder? In this case, it’s the Alphonso (previously) Tenison Psatler dated to c 1284. From the collection of the C17th Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Tenison (1636 – 1715), the psalter was recognised as having been commissoined for the marriage of Alphonso, Earl of Chester, the 10 year old son of Edward I to Margaret of Flanders, daughter of Count Florent V. The offspring of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and first in line to the throne, Alphonso died in 1284, just 2 weeks before the wedding. This luxurious piece was put in hold, until being restarted for the wedding Alphonso’s sister, Elisabeth, Edward’s eighth daughter to to John I, the son of Florent in 1285. John died in 1299, while his father as killed on the orders of Edward 1 in 1296. It was subsequently added to by various owners at various later dates.

So who do we have here? St Catherine and her wheel and sword are pretty clear, as is St Margaret of Antioch, besting the lusty dragon from whose belly she burst. Both younger women, we have two older ladies in full headdress. One is St Anne, teaching her daughter, the virgin Mary, to read. The final saint is named below (cut off in Nordenfalk’s image; he was looking at style, not content) the image as St Barbara, with her lamp. These female saints might seem to be appropriate for the second use of the psalter, given the relative rarity of St Margaret in English illumination, and the ‘Barbara’, who might have been particular to Margaret. In any case, all are most suitable for exemplifying female virtue, constance and family life.

Tagged , , ,

Antiques Village

Antiques Village, Metro Centre, Gateshead. G.022007L
Photograph by E.Storey. A Dennis Postcard

In the spirit of the boring postcard, here’s lovely one of the sadly defunct Antiques Village from the Metro Centre in Gateshead, Britain’s first shopping mall/centre. I can’t remember when or where I bought this, but, I suppose, given the specialised nature of the image, it must have been in Gateshead (Newcastle Central Station, WHSmiths?). The card is a classic of its type, with subject of the photograph in darkness, while the expanse of brown-tiled flooring takes up 1/3 of the picture.

I spent a lot of time in Newcastle in the 90’s, working on a lot of arts funding projects; both Newcastle, and especially Gateshead, who were very prescient in their arts infrastructure decisions.  Gateshead suffers from being ‘on-the-way-to’ Newcastle, and I’ve never been to the Metro Centre, but it looks wonderfully eighties. The nearest I got to the Metro was the Gateshead Garden Festival in 1990, part funded by my then employer. Pre-the John Major National Lottery, the Garden Festivals were a Thatcher-era boondoggle to assist in the regeneration of post-industrial Britain. The Gateshead festival had a pretty forward looking  arts commissioning programme, that has provided me with many happy hours of identifying where all that art ended up (some, weirdly, in the pre-YBA collection of Lord Palumbo: whatever happened to him?). I was going to try and come up with something on the awesomeness of Edward Thomas West Dennis & Sons Ltd., Scarborough, postcards, but I see that the internet has beaten me to it.

Tagged , , , , ,