Tag Archives: Courtauld

Bridge To The Table Mountain

Crickhowell Bridge C-86836X
Judges of Hastings (01424) 420919

Staying on the Welsh theme, a postcard of Crickhowell Bridge. This was a thank you card for birthday presents from my niece, and so might be the newest card on this blog. It shows, in the boring style, an expanse of tufted green field, with the 13 spans of the bridge behind, carrying the A4077 across the Usk (Afon Wysg; River Usk) into the town of Crickhowell, and behind that the Crug Hywel, Table Mountain, from whence the town gets its name.

This is an intensely familiar vista for me, since I spent many long holidays in the Brecon Beacons with my family in the 70s and 80s; and my sister now does the same. My family have owned a house, up the A479 in nearby Tretower, since before I was born, and I know the area from before it was the gastropolo mecca that it is now. That’s not really the subject for this blog, which is about images, but maybe for another day. The bridge was built in 1709, and modified up until 1749 (and many times since; I can remember when cars passed on the bridge, and for many years a bailey bridge ran alongside before they installed the traffic lights. This was a feature that my father, an army engineer in Burma in WW2, was never tired of pointing out; and I follow in his tradition).

These vernacular architectures, designed by many other forgotten engineers and architects over the centuries are a largely untold story. Coming from an academic art historical tradition of taxonomies and conaisseurship, I long, Ballard-like, for a typology of these bridges, an analysis of source and influence. It’s amazing to me, especially given where I live now, that these simple structures still carry traffic, and are still known. Crickhowell was the birthplace of Colonel Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India, from whom we get Mount Everest. Names and histories are important.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Chantilly 1695 Ingeborg-Ps F10

Another of Carl Nordenfalk’s study images from my Courtauld cache. This is from the Ingeborg Psalter from the Museum Chantilly in Conde, Paris. Made in 1195 for Ingeborg, the Danish wife of French king Philip II (Augustus); the first king of all France and the last of the Frankish kings. She was his second wife, and only lasted a few weeks before Phillip changed his mind about a Danish alliance, and Ingeborg spent the next 20 years as hostage in various castles in France. Hopefully this book was some comfort: it is one of the key works of early Gothic painting, sumptuously illustrated in bright colors on gold, 200 folios and 51 illustrations covering the life of Christ and the prophecies of the Psalms. So key in fact that other works by the same artist or aetelier are called by ‘The Master of the Ingeborg Psalter‘.

This an illustration of the passage from Genesis 18, where three mysterious men visit Abraham and Sarah on the plains of Mamre, announcing that she will bear a son, Issac. This a surprise to the couple, since both are old and Sarah beyond childbearing age: (Gen18:12): Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Tradition has it that the men were actually angels, specifically Raphael, Micheal and Gabriel. I’m not sure we can indentify which angel is which, but we can certainly see the deference on the part of Abraham and the nervousness of Sarah as she peeps from the doorway of the tent. Raphael is supposed to have healed Abraham, so perhaps it it he who gestures to the Staff of Ascelpius on the table, while the Micheal is in the center, giving the blessing and announcing the baby? Gabriel is supposed to have left the meal in order to mastermind the destruction of Sodom, so perhaps he’s the one with the “hello, I must be going” gesture to the far right of the lower panel. They were served fresh bread, butter and milk, and what looks like a particularly yummy calf’s head soup.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Apocalypse 1160

Verdun, Bbl. de la ville, crd 66, Commentarius in Apocalpsin
Verduner Schule, wohl um 1160

This a photograph from my old Courtauld cache of a page from the Municipal library in Verdun, Northern France. It’s labelled as an image from the Commentary on the Apocalypse of St John the Divine; and there he is, John of Patmos being boiled in oil by the Emperor Domitian. Not only did the Saint miraculously survive, but the entire audience in the Coliseum were converted to Christianity. Still, he ended up being exiled to Patmos, anyway. I’m seeing the upper panel as the sinuous figure of John on his island, being divinely inspired to write his Apocalypse by an angel and a single trumpet.  This is page 1 after all. Unfortunately the online catalogue for the Verdun Library does not list this MS, and any search for Monasterio Sancti bitoni (from which this MS presumably came) only ends up with pages and pages of the pneumatic and distressingly hardcore Audrey Bitoni (ah, the internet!); which may mean that I’m mis-reading that lowercase b. It certainly seems that there is no Saint Bitoni; maybe a search of all x-itoni religious houses in Northern France?

Carl Nordenfalk, who took the photograph, helpfully indentifies it as School of Verdun, c 1160. It’s certainly early french, with beautiful sketchy style. I’d be surprised if the figures did not come from a musterbuch of some kind; though I’m equally surprised that Nordenfalk didn’t have a stab at identifying that himself. It’s clear that one of the books owners were similarly inspired to copy the figures and provide their own inscriptions; there may have been more, since it looks from the top edgge of the page that the book was cut down and rebound at some point.

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This a really rare image: I can’t find it anywhere else. It comes from a cache of b/w photographs that I was given when I worked at the slide library at the old Courtauld Institute in Home House, Portland Sq. I’ve always hoped that they were taken by someone really cool, like Willbald Sauerlander or Kurt Weitzmann…and one of these days I’ll try and research them; they’re all noted on the rear in pencil, and seem to have been produced for a conference paper in Germany.

Bibloteque Nationale fr 2186 Le Roman da la Poire f2v ca.1250

It’s an illumination on the reverse of the second page of a C13th manuscript of a secular french romance, Le Roman De La Poire (The Romance of the Pear), and it’s a beautiful illustration of the Wheel of Fortune. The Rota Fortunae was a very common and important medieval literary device, first made developed and popularised in Boethius’ ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’, written by the Roman aristocrat, politician and scholar Boethius as he awaited execution by Theoderic the Ostragoth in 525 CE. “I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected. … Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune.”

Fortune, staring us directly in the face, a slight smile on her lips, turns her wheel, and the mighty are laid low, the humble raised up…and so it goes. It’s a great book of ideas, and very affecting; the last gasp of classicism echoing down to Alfred the Great, Carl Orff and Merv Griffin.

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