abendgules: (Romanesque rules)
Robert and I are back from a short break to Spain: he started in Santiago, then met me in the south where we spent 3 days in Grenada, 1 night in Jaen and 3 more days in Córdoba.

While he was in Santiago, I'd detoured via Polderslot for their autumn event, to catch up with my favourite non-Thamesreach shire.

Lots to write, not lots of time. Short version:

I'm going back to Spain. Lots to see, not enough time. We'd thought we might reach Seville but it needs its own trip.

In Grenada we stayed within the Alhambra, not at the Parador there (most expensive hotel in Spain) but the small not-very-well-known Hotel America.

The drawback of choosing a hotel on the top of a steep hill chosen for its amazing views and defensive capabilities is the walk down and up, to see anything that is *not* on the hill.

The Parador hotel in Jaen, similarly, is positioned on one of the hills' peaks, next to a (rebuilt) castle overlooking the valleys of olive trees, ringed with other hills.

You can totally see how tiny kingdoms and chiefdoms could sit up there, thinking, 'this is my world, and I'm damned if anyone will make me yield it'.

It was like a James Bond Evil Hideaway set. Awesome.

The Córdoba Mezquita (prev a mosque, now a cathedral) was one disappointment; all the photos and impressions I'd seen had hidden just how much of the mosque has been converted into a Christian shrine. There are very few spaces that still really reflect the original Islamic construction, which itself was expanded and improved over several hundred years, til 1492.

It made me realise all those past views and pics were very carefully selected!

Late period Gothic architecture just cannot compete with the classic Islamic designs.

The major cities' taxi fleets are now all Toyota Prius cars. This could make, I suspect, an amazing difference to the noise and air pollution in dense, medieval cities with narrow streets.

Imagine if all London black cabs had battery/gas assist fuel systems...

We arrived in Córdoba during the 3rd annual citywide tapas competition. We got the map and list of participating restaurants a bit late, on our last evening. Next time I'll know to ask for one from the outset.

We came back on Sunday, into driving rain and grey skies. Huddled on the airport shuttle bus headed to the train station, we stared at each other, thinking, 'why the hell do we live here again?'.

At home, Haggis was very glad to see us, but we suspect there's a bit more Haggis to love now; we have to institute some kitteh exercise time. When we moved she lost the benefit of 2 storeys of stairs to race up and down, and doesn't go out as often. Also wonder if some unauthorised treats were on offer from the catsitters!

Laundry still needs doing, dust elephant herds are roaming the floor, kitchen still a mess. I thought I'd cleared the fridge well, but hadn't counted on some preserved food not preserving very well. Sigh.
abendgules: (self-portrait)
Everyone and their dog says Bath is beautiful. And it probably is.

I wish I could confirm this, but I couldn't tell because the damn tourists were in the way.

We went to Bath after goncalves and J's wedding. I've been meaning to visit for ages; partly to feed my Roman bug (nurtured since childhood visit to Hadrian's wall), partly to take the waters for myself.

It's a good thing I knew what I wanted to see, otherwise I'd have given up and gone home.

From the train station onward, it's a wash of tourists; people jamming up the station exits ('where did my ticket go? why didn't it come back?') to those walking too slowly ahead of you, to the buses swinging round narrow streets trying to avoid gormless goggling pedestrians, to the relentless promotion of Bath itself.

I can honestly say I've not seen any location so given over to tourism since I was last in Niagara Falls.

Aside from standard upmarket shops on the main pedestrian mall, and the pubs, restaurants and places aimed at tourists, I could not see any businesses that were run for their own sake, for the people of Bath. I didn't even spot an accountant office or a bookies, at least not between the train station and our destinations.

We did find an excellent pub, which would serve both locals and guests, and seemed to have a goodly share of locals in it: the Raven of Bath. We liked it so much we went twice in one day - once for lunch, once after visiting the spas and before the train. Recommended.

Itinerary:

Roman baths: my first reason for visiting.

Crammed, crammed with people, with a worrying long queue outside, which proved to be for tourbus groups. But still packed.

The advantage of modern portable audio-tours, I guess, is that the people packed into exhibits are mostly quiet. They're not talking to each other or even to their kids. They're listening. So if you're not listening to an audio tour, you can enjoy the visit relatively quietly.

The Baths are impressive; they're layers upon layers of building, Roman, Georgian, then Victorian idea of what Roman would look like, then reconstructed Roman. The baths have been restored so you see the Roman water level and layout and piping of the main bath, and the water system that fed the hot bath is maintained. It's quite bright green with minerals and oxidisation.

The supporting exhibits are good, but I really don't like crowds so I didn't linger where it was cramped. The exhibits do, though, emphasise this was a liminal location - it was about visiting and socialising, but also a spiritually connected place, where Romans set up plinths to demonstrate they'd held their end of their deals with their gods...and threw in curse tablets to make the lives of thieves miserable.

The displays of waterworks, brickmaking, carving and building were best, IMO.

There is a water fountain at the museum, so you can indeed take the waters of Bath. It's chock full of mineral content, and tastes a bit iron-ish, sulphur-ish.

Fashion museum: second reason for visiting.

I'd heard other clothing mavins really running down this museum and wanted to see it for myself.

And certainly it's small. It's in the basement of the assembly rooms, a lovely Georgian building restored to Georgian condition (but w/ modern heating and lighting), and so when the dance hall is in use it sounds like a herd of elephants are doing the maraca over your head.

Right now there's a detailed display of Georgian clothing, which is one of this museum's strengths. And here I did get the audio tour, as I don't know much at all about Georgian clothing.

The pieces on display are in beautiful condition, AFAICS, and the exhibit points out where gowns have been remade and reused - several examples of gowns cut in one style but with fabric from 20 years earlier. One bright gold dress has clear hemlines where it's been let down for someone taller (or who needed a longer skirt for a different style).

But the written and audio info, to me, didn't provide a fraction of the detail I wanted. I wanted to know what it was lined with, what the pleat style was called, how many yards went into the skirt, how many panels in the bodice, and how it was hooked or laced up. None of this was forthcoming.

The written bumf put the styles in context (ie. in this year Mozart was resident in Salzburg, in this year the American civil war started, etc) which are useful references. But I dearly wanted the 'advanced' setting on my audio tour for all the gory details.

The next section was a dressup area - not of interest to me, but clearly in use every time Robert or I passed through.

Then the exhibit about how the collections are stored, with illustrations of items from each decade from 1820(?) to 1910. I thought this was very effective, both displaying items, and showing how to store them - hats, shoes, gowns, coats, everything. Each decade had a relevant quote from a novel from the appropriate era (not historical fiction, but written at the time as contemporary, like Austen or Dickens or Bronte or Forster), which was another good contextual tool.

The last exhibit was wasted on me: 'design of the year' from 1960s to modern day. Yawn.

Thermae spa: the modern Roman baths

These were a treat, because I hardly ever go to a spa, but I love saunas. This spa features baths using the same hot spring as the Romans used.

So for a 2 hour session you have the very social experience of sharing your bath with several hundred other people. YMMV.

Closest I got to the sauna was the scented steam rooms, which were ranged from not very steamy to very steamy. But not the same as the penetrating heat of the dry Finnish sauna. Sigh.

It was now end of day, and I'd had my fill of people and crowds. We retired to the pub again for a reviving drink before braving the train home.

I'd still like to visit again, to see the distinctive architecture, maybe take one of those bus tours. But maybe in a blustery February, sometime that will really keep the tourists away.
abendgules: (tea in winter)
Had a short break in Bristol and Bath including [livejournal.com profile] goncalves and J's wedding, and a lazy day in London seeing the Sam Fogg exhibit in the West End.

Started sniffling on Monday night. Am now 2 days into the first cold of the season.

Suppose it could be worse and I could have been sick at the wedding, or in Bath, or all of Monday. That would have been miserable. But I'd rather not be sick at all.
abendgules: (self-portrait)
I spent a few days with [livejournal.com profile] badgersandjam this week. Her flat is very conveniently located close to a train station, so it's easy to reach. While there's a bit of road noise, it's beautifully naturally lit, and there's no screaming-neighbours noise that we put up with regularly.

We watched the news of flooding carefully - some streets in the Oxford area were closed, and Oxfordshire was expecting snow this week, though I don't know if it actually appeared.

I'm still watching because I'm headed into Berkshire for a dance workshop, and staying in Wokingham, and hoping it doesn't flood.

Looking at the maps of the flooding, I think our former house in Caversham would need sandbags, if not actually be flooded this year.

Ari and I puttered on quills (with me *still* getting the cutting sequence wrong, but will sort for Scriptorium3 next month, I hope), books - her library even impressed Giano, the most dedicated bibliophile I've ever met - and making wire rings.

Her neighbourhood is home to the better sort of charity shop - in fact in Summertown (posh part of Oxford) there was the ordinary Blue Cross shop, and then the 'vintage' shop further down the street. I've never seen original art in a charity shop before, but you can buy it in the Oxfam in Summertown. I'd be very happy shopping on this strip, and fought off the temptation of buying yarn in one.

I enjoy visiting; I also enjoy getting home to my cat-fur-covered comforts, and getting kneaded and purred into cat furniture again. Haggis has stayed close while I've been home. At Ari's flat, I swear I kept seeing movement out of the corner of my eye, and expected it to be a cat.

On the new-place-to-live front, not a lot of progress. I'd hoped to spend the rest of this week viewing, but I'm not getting a lot of response from agents. I'm beginning to get a bit nervous.

Robert commented that some of the agents he phoned were surprised he was calling about places when we don't have to move til end of March - implication being it's way too early to look at what's available.

This helps a little, though I'd still much prefer the matter settled, and honestly can't remember how far in advance we booked in past househunting efforts. I don't really want to spend the coming month gambling on finding somewhere in the nick of time.
abendgules: (self-portrait)
We got more of our Raglan kit back yesterday from the Vitus-Wagon.

Moar Laundries in my future.

Man we took a lot of stuff. Not quite the kitchen sink, but we do take the dining room table (which happens to be a handsome trestle table from a single plank), and it's now restored.

Haggis-puss can now perch for window-viewing in her usual comfort, and my sweetie can squeeze his gaming mates around a table again, though it's not the same w/out [livejournal.com profile] armillary.

On the long weekend just past, we puttered and drank beer. It was delightful to have nothing more demanding than grocery shopping planned, and we stuck to that plan.

Robert had a 'make do and mend' session with his pewter moulds, resulting in better pours and results for a couple.

Here's the hourglass token, a 3-part pin back mould previously mentioned.

Here's the tidied-up order of the Fox token for Insulae Draconis.

One treat: he's gotten a Orden des Lindquistringe badge I carved years ago to actually work as intended - he's a better caster, and he uses better quality pewter now.

It's modelled on an early 12th c example of an enamel roundel that's attached to a reliquary casket, except the orginal is about 3-4x as large.

I can 'enamel' this when my glass paints get back to London after this weekend.

Counter-intuitively, to get a smoother cast, you need a less-smooth mould (see notes on surface pitting).

The tokens are photographed on newsprint because the camera takes sharper photos that way.
abendgules: (Oooops)
Christmas is Robert's and my favourite time to Make Stuff(tm) - uninterrupted blocks of time to work on projects.

This year's list for me is a mix of old favourites, repairs, and making new stuff.

Scrolls x 4 for 12th night

Largesse list
- Veil pins - old favourite
- Finishing pouches
    - sewing
    - eyelets
    - braiding or plying cords
    - assembly
- Cards with Romanesque initials
- Handkerchiefs - hemmed
- leather pouches
     - cutting
     - braiding

'Me' list
- Finishing current fencing hood - hemming
- finishing new fencing hood - pressing, cutting out, sewing, hemming
- new fencing gowns - pressing, cutting out, sewing, hemming (still debating weights of linen to use - still don't have a punch tester nearby)
- refreshing plum gown
    - new neckline
    - reworking eyelets, possibly without heavy facing
    - lining sleeves, possibly with fur
- finishing 16thc shirt
- finishing 16th c doublet
- lightweight partlet
- finishing wool cap with brim stiffener

Non-SCA
- knitting bolero cardigan

Robert has a whol' heap of casting to do - Sir Vitus is hoping plenty of PCS holders will join him on the field at Estrella, for which he needs tokens; my sweetie now also has commissions.
abendgules: (Default)
 For our last day Ooop North (now armed with OS maps borrowed from Haakon's dad) we started out with a ride along the coast to the village of Craster and Dunstanburgh castle. Craster is tiny, and has basically been consigned to the tourist industry, lacking a real fishing industry anymore. It feels a bit sad to me - fishing villages shouldn't be retained simply to remain 'quaint' entertainment for others.

It's maintained partly because it's en route to Dunstanburgh, a huge ruin on a shore peak, built by Thomas of Lancaster, one of the cousins of Edward II, as one-fingered salute to the king. It's within sight of his Bamburgh Castle, further up the coast.

We couldn't quite make it to Bamburgh, much as I wanted to - my Dad was evacuated to the town during WWII, and remembers it very fondly. It's now flogging itself as the premier wedding venue of the North East. 

Dunstanburgh requires a half-hour + walk from the village parking lot (no parking within the village, at all), past the houses, through the two cattle gates (freeing a couple who were trapped by a bullock who was blocking the gate,  using it as a scratching post), past the grazing cattle and the sheep, up up up the hill. Building this pile must have been a hell of a lot of work, hauling stone out to the point.

What's left of Dunstanburgh is the perimeter wall and the barbican tower. The sandstone used for all these sites has eroded in wonderful sculptural shapes, gradually giving way along the lines of the layers of stone.

Robert noted that the barbican wasn't very well fortified; the one portcullis was positioned at the inner end of the arched entryway, well within the walls of the barbican, and there was no sign of hinges or attachment points to hang an outer door. Perhaps there had been wooden doors hung on wood posts outside the walls; without them, once any attackers had gotten inside the archway, they could attack the portcullis unhindered. We wondered if it had actually seen any action, or if it had been mostly symbolic.

Even on a mild autumn day, it was pretty bleak and windswept; I couldn't see anyone staying there willingly.

One of Craster's features is its kippers, and the Jolly Fisherman pub has a firm reputation for its crab soup and kipper pate. The pate was off, but the crab soup (with cream and whisky) was brilliant, and the pub was packed at lunchtime. 

Back onto the bikes (groooooan!) and off, slowly, back to Alnwick, this time to take in the castle. Alnwick is a pretty town, but is also driven strongly by the tourist trade, and has preserved a lot of its Ye Olde Towne Looke with low-rise shopfronts and old-fashioned streetlamps. 

Alnwick castle is not cheap - £25 for two adults for the castle alone. It's owned by the Earl of Northumberland, has been the set for Harry Potter and many other films, and by God, there's money to be made from family days out, parents towing kids who arrive already wearing their knights and princesses costumes.

If they didn't bring one, they can borrow one from the Knight's Quest area - a courtyard set aside to show kids how squires trained to be knights, but mostly an excuse to dress up in a tacky costume, and beat your brother up with a boffer sword. The display armour was rusty, and the 'magic potion' area had no staff this late in the day. Maybe it does meet the demographic it's aiming for, but any SCA kid would be pretty disappointed.

There are big display boards to illustrate the glories of the Northumberland dynasty. It begins with a hiss and a roar when the first Percy bought the castle in the 14th c (absolutely no mention of when it was actually built, who owned it, or how it came to be for sale, though I see the website provides a teeny smidge more detail). The intros emphasised the heroes and the benevolence of the family; always portrayed as being considerate of their underlings, looking after their peasants, training them in militias, supporting local charitable works. Apparently Percys are still held in high regard locally, as the family is still the biggest landowner in the NE.

The main residential hall, which is promoted as 'still used as a family home' was just about the tackiest interior I've ever seen, 'lavishly decorated'  by a Victorian-era Italian designer. Picture the worst combination of Victorian -over-the-top decor with hunting-lodge accessories (a lifetime supply of 19th c weaponry, powderhorns and stuffed heads), and you begin to touch it.

Creepiest of all: the stuffed pet dogs sitting on the chairs in the entrance hall and the library - I counted at least four. I know that tastes were different in the past towards taxidermy, but I don't understand why you'd keep these reminders of past dubious choices, when you're trying to present your family as hip and with-it modern royals. Talk about ghoulish - ick ick ick.

One gem in the hall was a small display about the gardens, that included a 15th c grant from Northumberland, giving the local priory the right to keep bees and to sell bee products. It was a beautiful document, with a huge great seal that was stitched into in its own leather pouch to protect it, and a great swishy Renaissance signature of 'Northumberland' at the end.

So Alnwick was, at the end, a bit of a let-down. It's in good shape, and is probably paying for itself, but seemed to cater to a slightly different market than the average English Heritage/National Trust pile. 

Our last northern ride was getting from Alnwick back to the train station. Alnwick doesn't have its own station, it was closed in 1968 (madness, leaving a town this side with no direct service!) - the nearest is Alnmouth, about 4 miles NE. The ride, though hilly (another push up the biggest hill required) was not as bad as I feared. Either I was adapting rapidly, or it was improving with familiarity. 

Haakon and his dad came to see us off (and bring our biggest bag), and our train home was peaceful, finished with one last 20 minute ride from King's X to our flat. The bike paths are better lit than I expected at night, and are almost deserted. 

Next trip: Robert needs panniers, and we have to arm ourselves with our own OS maps. They're works of modern art all on their own.
abendgules: (Default)
Our first modest cycling holiday was a success.

The point of the trip was to attend the christening of Haakon and Odindisa's little boy J, with Robert standing as one of the three godparents. Looking at the map, we saw that several castles were within fairly short distances of the village we'd be visiting, but were a bit too far for walking. So we decided to try cycling - short distances, regular breaks, and no offroading required.

We have now returned from Ooop North oozing with virtue (literally out our pores), only moderate achiness and discomfort, and a sense that we've gotten a break with a minimum of stress on ourselves - in fact, it was far more relaxing a holiday than I expected.

Early start Sat AM, to reach 8am departure from King's X station. But before 7.30 on a Saturday morning, the pedestrian paths are empty, even in London. We rode almost straight into the baggage car.

Arriving at midday we found that Haakon had sent his dad to collect us, not knowing we were on bikes. However, this worked out well - we had someone local to advise us, and we could leave the big backpack at the family house, and carry on to Warkworth castle unencumbered. And so we did, testing our legs on the first part of the trip. Most of the hills on this stretch were gentle (though the road proved a smoother ride than the designated bike path), except for the last one, the one that Warkworth Castle is actually perched on, which left me gasping.

At the bottom of the village, we stopped for a picture at the bridge. The modern bridge dates from the 60s, so the 14th c stone bridge with a keep at one end is, I think, the one my dad would have known when he was a keen amateur cyclist in his youth, along with my grandad.

Warkworth is one of the Percy family castles, and features an all-mod-con three-storey keep that was the latest in 15th century efficient design for lighting, heating and supply management. It's even featured in the recent Brears book about kitchens and dining in the middle ages; all the food supplies stored on one floor, with careful accounts kept by the comptroller, and the kitchen and living space on the top two floors.

The earlier ground-level hall and kitchen are now gone, with just a single tower to show where you once entered the duke's hall; aside from the excellent tower, most of the castle is perimeter walls only.

After lunch in the pub (someone has a sense of humour here, having installed leopard skin print toilet seats in the ladies' room - not certain what it says about the owners), we rolled on, back south towards Alnwick. 

Jeeeeeez - who put all these hills in the way??

I had to stop and get off a couple of times (once in each direction). It wasn't so much that a given hill was too steep to ride, but it was too steep to ride after the three previous hills had sucked all the strength and stamina out of my legs.

I spent a couple of hills just panting, unable to catch my wind. After the first stop, I tried to concentrate on breathing more deeply and exhaling just a bit longer than before, to try to make the most of the work my lungs were trying to do for me.

Alnwick came not a moment too soon (yet another wretched slope! you wouldn't even notice it in the car). Spotting [livejournal.com profile] ormsweird 's excellent suggestion, Barter Books, we pulled into the former train station and flopped on a bench. 

The bookshop is a delight; huge, eclectically arranged, with both current fiction and non-fiction and antiquarian books. It has a model railway circling above your head, and a coffee station with an honesty box (apparently with a 120% return on 30p coffees and biscuits). Comfy chairs and padded benches throughout, to encourage you to browse. What a pleasure!

We spent at least an hour there, before tackling the route back to the village  - which proved later (consulting an OS map) the hilliest route between Alnwick and Longhoughton available. Sigh.

However, we found that our B&B was absolutely luxurious. £40/night buys you a lot more in NE England than it does in the SE; like huge bedroom, high-quality bed, huge ensuite bathroom with large tub and separate shower, and a well-stocked paperback bookshelf - even puzzles and board games in the cupboards. 

The whole suite was very stylish - well lit, beautifully finished, with thought put into all the details.

Maybe I've just grown accustomed to our mismatched china and cutlery in our cluttered, decor-free flat, but the elegant bone china and cutlery seemed to complement the colour scheme and the very restrained decor. 

And...it was beautifully quiet. No neighbours' noises, no screaming matches, no babies. Just birdcalls. Amazing.

We fell into bed and I dozed off looking at the OS map.
abendgules: (abbey_cats)
Some cycling.
Some groceries (shopping at Lidl sort of counts as 'food').
Some time in the library (got parts 2 &3 of Fionovar tapestry out - I don't own a copy).
Laundry done, cleaning done enough for gaming guests on Monday.
Lengthy swathes spent scribing and painting, including a bit of time spent with [livejournal.com profile] starmadeshadow , who had some useful tips for dealing with the aggravation that is W&N alizarin crimson.
Finished 3 backlogs, one blank for DW, and scribed the text for yet another for DW. Lots of painting for this evening! My deadline is Wednesday after work, when Vitus comes by to pick up the folder to take to Double Wars.
Sigh - Double Wars - maybe next year...
Robert cleared and sorted the armour cupboard, leaving ample space for Adventure-Cat to explore - no open door can be resisted.
Over the weekend, he reconditioned a set of sinfully ugly old gauntlets, and strapped and padded a helm for one of our youngest potential fighters, who is counting the days til his 16th birthday before he can authorise. 
Gabs will be a serious force to reckon with after that...think a very young Cennedi, without the Cennedi attitude. :-)
My sweetie also set up a lightweight cane fence to double the height of the fence between us and the Screaming Neighbours with the Barking Dog next door (not to be confused with the Drunken Neighbour (sing) with the Whining Dogs, (plural), who lives below us).
So we have a smidge more privacy in the yard.
Robert cooked the most sumptuous Monday night dinner imaginable - it was practically wasted on the gamers (one of their number is an extremely conservative eater, and eating chez nous exposes him to 'weird food'): lamb and mutton meatballs with walnut and pomegranate sauce (tinned sauce from the Persian grocery, wow, amazing), with bulghur wheat, and a beautiful compound salad (herbs, pickles, fruit).
It was to die for.
[livejournal.com profile] starmadeshadow  rounded it out with a fabulous small chocolate cake with jersey double cream and pink plonk.

It's a continuing problem - why dine out, when your sweetie can cook better food than you ever find in a restaurant?
abendgules: (15thc_worker)

Just for fun while we were in Bruges and Ghent, I started noting the different styles of rosaries that were shown in the late-period paintings. It gave me something to focus on while studying the rich and startlingly clear and crisp images of the 'Flemish Primitives', which is the collective description for those painters who worked around the same time as Van Eyck in the late mid-15th and early 16th centuries.

So here are my findings. All of the rosaries I noted were rounds (rather than straight strings).

Unfortunately no cameras, bags, jackets, etc etc were allowed into the Groeningmuseum, so I had to hunt up the images online afterward in Vlaamsekunstcollectie. My Flemish is crap, so bear with me (search is in English, descriptions are in Flemish). 

ETA: sorry about the crap links. Use the advanced search from the link, and enter the inventory number to find the pieces I saw.

You can zoom on these images, but the enlargements aren't great - too low-res.

Master of the Holy Blood, active 1500-1520, inventory no 1991.GRO0008.I
Madonna with SS Barbara and Catherine (allows zooming, in popup window)

Rosary of coral beads on long cord, hanging from the knot of her blue sash, over a black gown.
Agnus Dei medallion at the bottom
6 decade beads visible, and they're filigree beads (look like 2 halves of a cast bead maybe?) about size of a fingernail

Jan Provoost, 1462-1529, inventory no. 0000.GRO0216.I-0218.I
Death and the Miser (2 two-part images)  (a miser trying to give Death an IOU, very good, then the donor and his wife at prayer, with a bishop and St. Gudula watching over them)

Very long rosary of coral beads, about 8 decade beads of shiny gold, though possibly more, because the top of the rosary is hidden by the woman's gown. HUGE gold cross at the end, with pearls on pins in the ends and the corners of the cross, and in the corner of the arms of the cross.

Gerard David, active 1502-1508, inventory no. 0000.GRO0035.I-0039.I
Baptism of Christ (triptych)  

This is a large triptych, with Christ being baptised in the middle, and the donor with his sons on the left side, and his wife and the daughters on the right side, both sides being watched over by handy saints.

The donor's wife has a rosary of large gray filigree or what I'd call a birdseye pattern if it were woven, separated by BIG gold filigree decade beads. At the bottom is a simple Latin cross, with 4 pearls in the joints.

The donor's daughter has a black bead rosary w/ a medallion at the end, and large faceted gold beads for decades.

On both, the pendant appears to be in the middle of a decade, with 5 'normal' beads on either side, which I thought was a bit unusual.

In the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent:

Anonymous Master, c. 1480-1490, S. Netherlands
Holy Trinity with Donors and Saints , inv. no. 1973-AE

The wife(?) of a donor has a rosary w/ the cross visible. You can see 6 beads between decade beads. Oddly, the cross is not centred between decades, but is next to one of them. There's also 1 additional pendant that looks like a rock w/in a gold base. You can see two other 'rounds' on one side of the rosary, suggestiong 6-7 rounds total for the whole piece.

One non-rosary related observation: a crown perched on top of a travelling hat.

Master of the Prelate Mur, c. 1450
Adoration of the Magi , inv. no. 1903-E

The magi have arrived to worship Christ, and one of the leading travellers has flung down his hat in his haste to get to his knees.
His hat is shaped a bit like a Robin Hood hat, but the crown is rounder, more cylindrical, and has a pointy nipple on top. And within the brim of the hat, you can see his crown.

I mention this because SCA royals and royal peers tend to wear crowns and coronets on top of other headwear, regardless of period practice. I particularly dislike the wearing of coronets on top of straw sunhats, as I think it's looks very silly.

Judging from portraits and illuminations, kings and queens did not always wear their crowns. But the SCA convention is that anyone entitled to a coronet will wear it, particularly if they're on the throne.

This is the first example I've found of a crown within anything other than a cap of maintenance-style head covering.

I don't know if this is a good example: the Magi are not typical folk, they're decidedly exotic, and obviously Not From Around Here. This may be an example of their Strange Foreign Ways - so outlandish, that they wear crowns over their hats. Or maybe it's to help identify them - like a big arrow indicating that these guys aren't just wise, they're royalty too.

But I thought it was nifty to see anyway.
abendgules: (catching snowflakes)

I'm gradually posting my holiday diary in excerpts, in date order (which means they're waaaaay back there in your Friends pages by now!) so here's a summary link post, that I'll keep up to date:
part I: University
part II: Antwerp and landing in Bruges
part III: first full day in Bruges - day of museums
part IIIa: seeing a Bosch in person
part IV: more museums, and the basilica of the Holy Blood
 

abendgules: (armory)
18 November

Our first stop is the Civic Hall - not intending to visit, but sort of drawn in. It's been a civic centre since 14th c. but was renovated in 19th c. in the Gothic revival style so popular at that point. It is gloriously...camp, as in over the top: bands of painted ornaments layered on top of one another, topped off with 'scenes of Bruges' history, that are reminiscent of Osprey book artwork. It took decades to complete, not least because, in the fine bureaucratic tradition, so many committees required consultation on the design. The original artist in fact died waiting for planning permissions...

Apparently Bruges got swept up in the 19th century Gothic Revival just as much as England did - I'd previously thought it was an English phenomenon. Many medieval buildings were restored to their medieval ideal, at least according to 19th century views and tastes. Since Bruges has been carefully maintained to keep the medieval look and feel, it's sometimes hard to distinguish which buildings are originally medieval and which have been built in that style but much later.

We make a quick return to the Groeningmuseum, to sketch a bit more and see if we missed anything. Am sorely tempted by the bookshop, which Robert marches past without missing a beat. Sigh.

From Groeningmuseum we move to the Gruuthuse, which is the former home of a wealthy burgher family. They seem to have taken their name from their house - the house where 'gruut', the herbs flavouring needed for beer, was mixed and doled out. Being basically in control of beer production in Bruges made the family wealthy early on in Flemish urban history.

The Gruuthuse is now a museum (no surprise), but is currently occupied by a temporary exhibit while they're being refurbished. Most of the temp displays were highlighting the stuff you can see in other related Bruges museums. There are some very handsome tapestries, with one in near-mint condition, very rich and with strong yellow-green colours.

The hall itself is handsome, with an arched roof, painted, all the joints of the arches decorated with musicians, carved and painted.


One amazing feature of the Gruuthuse is the private chapel. One of the best-known sons of the family is Louis de Bruges, lord of Gruuthuse - he was named Earl of Winchester, in thanks for housing Edward IV in exile during the wars of the roses. Louis was devout, and arranged to have his own chapel extended from the upper floor of his house into the cathedral of Our Lady next door: his chapel is actually attached to the cathedral and the windows overlook the altar. You can kneel on the bench, and get an excellent view of the centre of the cathedral. A small door connects the cathedral up some stairs to the chapel. So he didn't have to get out of his dressing gown and slippers to attend Mass.

We did visit the cathedral as well - currently covered with scaffolding. The front half of the church is designated a museum, housing some recently-found 13th c. graves, and the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold (sometimes called Charles the Rash). The older graves are directly under the altar, and the interiors of the stone coffins were painted with angels, crosses, Mother Mary, presumeably to comfort the dead.

A few fragments of Mary's 'liturgical garments' are framed on the wall: fragments of a pall, practically crumbling, and a belt with a buckle.

In the side chapels there are patches of original paint exposed on the walls; columns and reliefs show that at least a bit of test cleaning & restoration has been tried. I think you'd freeze trying to work in the chapel in winter - perhaps it's summer work only? The damp indoors would really sink into your bones. The beautiful diapered patterns and vermilion columns show you how gaudily brililant the churches must once  have been.

Next to the Civic Hall is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which houses as its main relic a vial of the holy blood, brought back from the holy lands by pilgrims (read: crusaders) in the 12th century. It too is a riot of Gothic Revival decor: it's as if someone flipped through the Dover book of medieval border decorations, couldn't make up their minds, and decided to use all of them on the walls.

We visited both the downstairs crypt, carefully preserved in 12th c Romanesque style (heavy, with huge pillars and thick walls) and the upper chapel, where a recording tells you in 3 languages that you are permitted to venerate the holy blood in a respectful fashion, between set hours. And indeed, there was a priest set up on a dais, where you could walk up the stairs, kiss the vial and say a prayer.

I found this a bit weirding-out-ish: I didn't realise anyone still venerated relics, seriously, in this day and age. But then, people believe in healing crystals and homeopathy, so I guess a vial of blood from the middle east is no more or less magical.

It was in the tiny basilica museum, on a five-minute visit, that Robert found a real gem: the noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood, a brotherhood comitted to keeping the holy blood safe in Bruges. Their emblem is, you guessed it, a pelican in its piety: a huge one is carved above the main entrance, with a rather frazzled Pelican feeding at least 7 chicks.

Even better though - they have a small 'Parurebook' to record the style of the livery of the brotherhood. The earliest 15th c versions are essentially longish houppelandes in dark colours, with a honking big Pelican on one shoulder, and a cascade of blood droplets falling across the body along a sash (see the illustration on the Brotherhood's webpage!).

So: an authentic historic noble order, dedicated to (at least some) good works, with its emblem a Pelican: how cool is that? Robert was pretty pleased.

From Bruges, we took the train onward to Ghent, less than 2 hours away.
abendgules: (callig_cats)
I forgot to add this item to my report about the Memling in SintJans Museum:

I saw my first Bosch painting in person. It's a triptych, on loan to the Memling in St Jans while something else of theirs is on tour.

It's a scene of the rapture, or of the end times when the holy head for heaven (one side of the triptych) while the lost are eaten, tortured, tormented and generally turned into sadistic playthings.

Bosch always looks modern to me, the way the giant bugs/creatures swallow tiny humans. I wonder if he believed in the hereafter, or if he was simply putting the scariest spin he could on the Bible's stories about heaven and hell. While we tend to think ' he's got to be mad' now, I wonder if he was judged unstable by his contemporaries, or if he was admired?

His macabre visions were serious at the time, compared to the silly take on them (picture a giant foot stomping someone a la Monty Python). Python sees fun and silliness where Bosch seens horror and desperation.

Wikipedia says he was member of a very conservative brotherhood, so he may have been reflecting a fairly demanding and judgemental view of the world that promised a fairly miserable afterlife to the vast majority of humans.
abendgules: (catching snowflakes)

Days in Bruges

Waking up in Bruges, we find that a cold breakfast is laid out for us as self-serve, in the kitchenette on the same floor as our room: cereal, rolls, bread for toasting, cold cuts, cheese, yoghurt, orange juice, tea and coffee. It's a far more complete 'Continental breakfast' than I'm used to, and it's delightful.

The decor is very spare and lean: muted colours, clean lines, simple geometric patterns, a bit like upscale IKEA. In fact, it's almost exactly the same colour and style scheme as the 'brasserie' we ate at the night before, down to the very plain white china pattern and the pale green serviettes.

Perhaps after living with the detailed medieval and florid baroque exteriors, going with crisp and spotless 'Scandinavian' interiors provides a rest for the eyes and the brain.

The B&B owner, Lut, offers to drop our bags at the B&B of a friend (Lut can't offer us 2 nights); friend proves to be outside the centre of the tourist area, but is still walking distance, and is considerably cheaper. Hurrah for well-connected professional hosts.

We head out around 10-ish to see the archeological museum. The main museums in Bruges have joint 3-day tickets for 15 Euro: a great deal. The archeo museum turns out to be very kid-oriented, taking you through the history of the site: from Bronze Age to post-medieval, the region's history is driven by natural access to the sea - for some periods, there is no direct seaside access inland, and evidence of occupation disappears for a century or so. And when the port and the canals begin to silt up in the late middle ages, Bruges' importance wanes as merchants and shippers move elsewhere.

Some splendid moments in the museum are provided by the video of Bronze Age reenactors making axes: one by knapping a flint axehead, one by casting a bronze one, and then sharpening them respectively.

The museum cleverly associates period and modern artifacts by mixing them: putting modern pitchers, cups, plates next to period examples (often in similar styles) and putting period shoes and purses in modern shoeboxes in the display. The displays also provide a lot of information without text - you're handed a laminated guide to the museum in the language of your choice, but a lot is conveyed well with visual association instead.

In addition to trading, medieval Bruges was driven by three industries, all fitted within the old city: dyeing, tanning and clay (bricks, tiles and pottery). I dread to think how the city smelled on warm days, with all these stinky, messy water-intensive industries all in close proximity.
An excellent display of madder, dyers weed(?) and woad connected the dye plants directly to the Belgian flag (red, yellow, blue) - very effective.

On to the next museum: Memling in Sint. Jan, which refers to the 16th/17th c artist, Memling, working for St Jaanshospital. The museum is housed in the original hospital building - built to house sick pilgrims, travellers and poor - though the main focus of the care was spiritual, making sure you were prepared to meet your maker while you were, uh, travelling to hopefully meet your maker, so to speak. Lepers and other contagious folk and pregnant women need not apply!

The beds and bedding were endowments by rich patrons in perpetuity (bit like having an academic chair or a hospital ward named after you). Patrons names and images would hang by the bed, and occupants were encouraged to pray for their benefactors. The hospital was active until the 19th century, and the Benedictine nuns working there wore the traditional gown and veil (very 15th c. prosperous modest burgher look) until Vatican II in 1966. The Benedictines still live next door in the Beginhof.

One fabulous display was of the restored medieval coffer of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. Anything pre-Eyck (ie. pre-1400) is fairly rare here: Bruges was constantly rebuilt and refurbished, including artworks.

This coffer had been repainted several times, and recently was restored to its original red and vermilion colours - working down through 12 layers of paint to the original bottom four layers! A very splendid example of a delicate and thorough restoration.

Afternoon museum: Groeningmuseum, which is The Big One in Bruges, and houses the 'Dutch Primitives'- Van Eyck and his late 14th to late 15th c. contemporaries. (One Van Eyck that is in London is 'Marriage of Arnolfini', of a dour couple in a wealthy-looking bedroom, and the woman looks very pregnant).

Most of the paintings are religious topics, and they're incredibly richly detailed and brilliantly coloured, working in the newfangled oil paints (instead of egg tempera), with powerful 3D effects. For worshippers, they must have been incredibly lifelike, almost ready to jump off the walls and run around the churches with them.

(One that is in London is Van Eyck's marriage of Arnolfini, of a couple in a wealthy-looking bedroom, and the woman looks very pregnant).
Unfortunately, big sections of the exhibits are closed: the museum is suffering from an infestation of woodworm, which is a pretty serious matter when so much of your art is painted on wood panels! so the earliest pieces that we were looking forward to were offlimits. Sigh.

Since photos are firmly verboten, we took sketches instead of whatever took our fancy: belt fittings, jewelry, rosaries (for [livejournal.com profile] xrian ), necklines, headdresses. It felt very grown-up and mature to be sketching in a gallery! I'd love to do a full-on 15th c European gown like some of the ones I saw - presumeably after I perfect all the other clothing styles that interest me - it could be very lush and rich!

Our last stop that day was to the 'American coffee shop', run by an expat American who is trying to introduce a 'coffee shop' to Bruges. She's clearly starved for intelligent conversation, and was happy to tell us her life story in about half an hour as she packed up.

Dinner that evening: frites and carbonnade (Flemish beef stew) from the chippie in Van Eyck square.

abendgules: (herald_cat)


Mon 16 Nov: lie in, as much as one can when staying at the home of two active children. Midmorning we set off to Bruges, with a stop in Antwerp to see the cathedral.
Somehow, having grown very accustomed to English Reformation history, I had not realised that Antwerp, and indeed much of Belgium, remained Catholic. It may have experienced the Reformation as much of Europe did, but also got a solid dose of Counter-reformation afterward.
So much of the architecture and artwork we saw in Antwerp and in Bruges was firmly Catholic, even though most of my brain now associates 'cathedral' with 'Church of England'.
In the Antwerp Cathedral, we were fortunate enough to catch the second half of an English tour of the building, and specifically the artwork of Reubens. I hadn't realised he was one of the banner-wavers of the early 17th century, and of the Counter-reformation.
Our guide was terrific at explaining how Reubens fits into the development of post-period art: what makes him different from his predecessors, and distinctive in the art world. He had a firm grasp of the history of the cathedral itself, even of its time spent as a stable for Napoleonic forces' horses.
He showed us the earliest stained glass in the cathedral: a huge side piece, dedicated to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and to the Duke and Mary of Burgundy, from the English wool merchants working in Antwerp, to commemmorate their rulers setting up a trade agreement between England and Burgundy, that made the merchants rich and suitably grateful. The 'English chapel' area was still painted with crossbows and other symbols for St. Sebastian, their patron saint.
I always treasure people who are passionate about what they know, and have a gift for explaining its subtleties: even watching sports is more entertaining when you know what skills and strategies to look for. This guide was clearly a Reubens devotee, describing him as 'avant-garde' for his time, and he highlighted the pieces' strengths (the dynamic movement in his images, the figures gazing outward drawing viewers in, Reubens circumventing counter-reformation strictures on depictions of Christ).
He wrapped up by saying, 'Every time I come here, I still find something new in this painting.' If only every art collection could have such a committed interpreter!

abendgules: (downhill)
I always swore that I'd only ever be sick on company time, but my body hasn't gotten the memo, or e-mail.

I picked up Robert's scritchy throat around Crown, but managed to save the full cold til Easter, when it would only inconvenience me. Argh.

Admittedly, til I'm on wages being sick on company time is expensive. But being sick on a holiday weekend feels like time taken from me, rather than from someone else.

So we had a subdued hols. I girded myself on Saturday  to see Van Dyck at Tate Britain with the splendid Anne and Paul, then on to the Wallace to take in the glorious 14th c. gold and silver jewelry hoards - suspected to be Jewish jewellers stock and cash, stashed possibly during the pogroms that broke out during the Black Death (cause of course it's the Jews' fault), never reclaimed, til the 19th and 21st centuries.

Gorgeous, mid-14th c brooches, clasps, spangles, rings, and belts or circlets (hard to tell which, fragmentary), plate, and extraordinary Jewish wedding bands.

Sappy hearts and flowers jewelry is period, apparently.

Catalogue looks great, and is only  £18 paperback - very worthwhile.

I then staggered home, and retired to the sofa for the rest of the weekend, kept company by Bab5, John Adams, Dollhouse (more Joss Whedon, akin to 'La Femme Nikita' only techier) and occasionally my sweetie, with tea and sympathy.

Got some accessories-sewing done towards the Cranach gown, but still have a heap of hemming, and some fitting, left before it's decent.

abendgules: (catching snowflakes)
Luggage-less, Robert and I borrowed some clothes and finery from the household, and everyone bar Sarra (who still had sermon to write) tramped off to the event. Sarra lent me one of the 12th c. gowns I've admired often over the years, a fine red patterned bliaut with plain red lined sleeves, and a beaded silk veil - very elegant. Robert looked very fine in a long tunic and hood - I've always liked a gent in long skirts.

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