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.


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: (Romanesque_Initial)
This weekend I fought the sloth - well, once I'd gotten out of bed, I did.

Saturday we went to see Elizabeth I and her people, exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. Very worthwhile, even if you're not a 16th c mavin. Attended with Kat, who was a PS4 widow for the weekend.

I was very excited to find a portrait and works of a woman 'caligraphist' - a professional woman calligrapher, who lived in Edinburgh at end of 16th c. How cool.

Had a drink in the Coal Hole afterward, and then vietnamese for dinner with my sweetie. While we had a pleasant time, our frugal souls felt a bit hard done by.

exhibit: £12.50 x 2 = £25
drinks: £4 x 3 = £12
dinner: £35 (won't go there again, not worth it)
giftshop: £16

Total: £88 for an afternoon in London, and we haven't travelled 5 miles. I didn't count travel because we already have travelcards. I'll point this out next time someone moans about cost of events...

On Sunday I wrestled with my usual weekend blahs: have loads to do, can't settle on a task, sit and have a cup of tea til I figure it out, half the day disappears while I argue with myself. I sometimes wonder if anyone else loses days this way.

In the end, I settled for hauling out my perfumery supplies and looking at soapmaking again for Christmas. It's a slightly fiddly process, but an engaging one, and I now have the supplies for at least 2 batches of soap.

Ordered some supplies from Baldwins to this end.

I may try 'Spanish leather' this year, as described by S Pointer in her book about historic cosmetics, though I suspect it will be a very heavily scented process.

I did have a go at making scented bath bombs, but managed mostly to make a mess. Will double check the method for getting them to 'set' into a shape that is a little less chaotic - it worked well at the Make Lounge a couple of years ago, but I may have missed a step.

Late afternoon (took that long to pry myself out of the house) walked to Bangla City on Brick Lane, for more supplies - they're a good source for food-grade oils for creams and scrubs. Was reminded how much I hate crowds, especially oblivious ones. However, they also stock lye on the shelf, very cheaply.

Anyway: the upshot is, if you're on my giftlist, you're getting smellies.

Haggis entertained us on Sunday chasing her tail: apparently this tail is still giving her grief, and needs chasing, well into adulthood.

For added annoyance, her tail appears to send out 'I need chasing' signals in the most awkward of places: while she's perched on a windowsill, or on the top of the bedstead rail, or while she's exploring inside my large backpack, that was sitting on the landing. She only escaped her tail's clutches when the backpack started sliding down the stairs.

On the knitting front, am now experimenting with a TARDIS scarf to use up the 3/4 of a skein of TARDIS blue yarn leftover from the shawl. Am debating whether to add Daleks for variety.

I just finished the third book of Manda Scott's series about Boudica. I found the author in a Big Book of Historical Whodunnits recently, and was really impressed, and the series is just as good. 4th is on order at the library.

It's rare to find an author who incorporates a meaningful spiritual experience into the story - a bit like Pullman creating the daemons for his alternate world, the characters in this Britain have a vivid spiritual life, full of ghosts, gods and results from prayers,and they fully expect their actions affect their souls directly. These ghosts and gods are real, just as real as the physical, living people. Most (non-believing) authors can't set aside their modern selves enough to 'speak' as a believer from another period would.

Where her characters are speaking to ghosts of ancestors, friends and family, we as modern people would say, 'my mother's voice in my head says...' or 'that's my grandmother talking'.

It's akin to the different 'strains' of voices in your head; the ones that nag, the ones that tell you you're doing it wrong, you 'should' be doiong X, why aren't you doing Y, you're letting Z down. The gods, consistently, are neutral, avoid answering questions, but do ask a lot of probing, reflective questions of their believers.

I quite enjoyed this dimension in the story, but I know not everyone would.

Also interesting is that Scott is a reenactor, someone who has fought in battles, worn the clothes, eaten the food, camped under canvas.

Her characters still seem almost supernaturally physically fit and active (surviving swimming in winter streams), though perhaps I just don't expect anyone to be physically resilient, when I am so unfit. Only 100 years ago people living such an active life would not be so unusual.
abendgules: (seneschal_cat)
In cheerier news than me martyring myself with quills: Thamesreach is an excellent shire.

On Friday, prompted by some visiting AnTiri, we went to the British Museum to see one of its occasional displays from the non-display collection - a fabulous Roman serving dish, part of the Mildenhall treasure. (There are some very promising daytime talks about the components of the treasure for thems that can reach them.)

We had a creditable turnout of locals and guests, and spent a goodly 20-30 minutes crawling around the edge of the dish's display cabinet, speculating about how it had been assembled. Other museum guests drifted in and seemed to drift off quickly in comparison.

On to the Holborn Whippet pub for a quick pint, and Robert and I wrapped up at Chang's Noodle (where we enjoyed such a great meal a few weeks ago sending [livejournal.com profile] pogbody on to her new home in The Middle of no-whEire). Yum.

We counted it a successful beer and museum: a brief stay at the museum, something learned/considered/admired, and off to the pub. Well done us!

On Saturday, Giovan and Margaret once more invited folks to their home to poke each other with swords and work on assembling clothes. Much happy poking and pinning apparently ensued, sufficient to prompt [livejournal.com profile] exmoor_cat to start planning for the next rapier revel in July, which is brilliant.

I'm so pleased: a healthy group is one that gathers on its own, not just at official functions, IMO.
abendgules: (Confesse)
This is a crosspost from my Mirrors for princes log.

Today I saw the Lost Prince exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery - featuring the life of Henry Stuart, first son of King James I and VI, heir to the throne.

Henry was groomed to be the next king, and it was a terrible shock when he died at 18, leaving a teen Charles to be refitted and trained in his place. I've read a bit about English Civil War, but I'd not known that Charles I had been the 'spare' to his brother's 'heir'.

When Henry was a child, his father wrote a book of advice for him - Basilikon Doron (1599). I'd never heard of it before today, and got to see both a beautiful embroidered book cover of it, and the original handwritten copy, in a delicate italic hand.

I'm not adding it to my book list for discussion at present; I have other medieval & renaissance titles I want to read first. But I thought it worth highlighting.

I was charmed that a royal father, whose son was raised apart from him, in another household, set aside time and energy to write out his advice for his son. He'd been Scotland's king for some years by then, knew many of the troubles of being Elizabeth's (unspoken) heir; noone else could speak to a prince with the same authority.

Luminarium page of James I & VIs writing

Folger Shakespeare library page with Basilikon Doron, with discussion for (highschool?) students

abendgules: (Default)
On Sunday we braved the downpours and went to meet my cousin Sarah at Guildhall Gallery, to see the 'Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker' exhibit of livery company regalia and craft examples. Guilds and companies have a long history in London, as the first trade unions and examples of early charitable organisations, looking after their own aged, infirm, orphaned and widowed, when noone else did.

The companies still exist, but their joining requirements have often changed to accommodate whoever is interested in them - I know that the worshipful company of gold and silver wire-drawers no longer require that you be in the trade to join (so I was told by one of their remaining token wire-drawers, at a MEDATS conference some years ago).

Most of the exhibits were post-1600, but there were some early medieval and medieval gems:

the first guild charter from Henry II, 1155, for the weavers' guild was on display in suitably illegible Romanesque secretary hand;

a 12th century ring seal, found in the Thames by a mudlark;

some 14th and 15th c guild books, listing the membership, particularly those who'd died who you were supposed to pray for;

some late-period plate, and portraits, of course, including the famous Holbein painting of Henry VIII giving a charter to the guild of barber-surgeons, with the key members looking suitably grateful and obsequious.

There was the first known example of a metal candlestick, dated about 1325, and a very innocuous one it was, representing one of the metalworker guilds (not the goldsmiths). There was a post-period horn-plate lantern, created by the horners - those who work in animal horn. Apparently the horners now support research into plastics, their material's functional descendant.

On the metalwork side, there were the 'hall marks' - sheet plates of metal that showed each craftsman's mark, that was displayed in the livery hall. Hallmarks are of course still a going concern; in a way the goldsmiths' company has changed the least in its purpose since foundation. Their website is very slick.

There were pattens, but they were dated to 1800. It hadn't occurred to me that pattens would continue in use after 1600, even though I know that chopines were fashionable well after the 16th c...but there would have been muck to tread through, or avoid, for centuries to come! 

These pattens were strictly functional ones, for a child, and in addition to the wooden sole had a circular metal cleat attached to the bottom, that added another couple of inches of height. They'd be just as big a pain in the butt to walk in as my pattens, I expect.

There were also gloves - an example of a glove of Elizabeth I, laid next to one of Elizabeth II, from her Coronation. Styles in embroidery had changed somewhat, but not greatly (E2's was more heavily crusted with raised work). E1's had extra stitching running from between the fingers onto the back of the hand, to make her fingers look extra long and delicate.

Following the visit, we moved on to Spitalfields for coffee and visit with Sarah, who was passing through for a wedding, and we got to view her wedding pictures and catch up a bit on family gossip.

I'm very fond of my cousins, but haven't seen most of them in over 10 years, often longer. My mum's family worked hard to keep in touch when we were all little, with regular gatherings, weddings, and notably my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1979, where everyone pulled out the stops to show up.

My memories of children and teens I hung out with at family gatherings, fixed in my own teens and early 20s, are often jolted by current pictures of adults, some of them with gray hair, some of them with kids. How can relatives younger than me be going gray?? Goodness knows I'm ageless and untouched by the years...

abendgules: (Default)
While my mum was here Robert and I wanted to find something of interest to her to see, that was new to us too, and we settled on the Foundling Hospital, which dates from the 18th century. I hadn't realised that the organisation still existed as a modern charity called Coram, dedicated to vulnerable children, nor did I know the details of its founding patrons, Hogarth and Handel. Handel actually dedicated the fees from performances of the Messiah to the hospital. 

There's a similar foundation in Amsterdam; children taken in, given shelter, food, clothing, and trained for modest trades or for service. 

The striking difference was the dates: the orphanage in Amsterdam dates from the end of the 16th c, where it takes London (or rather a few rich Londoners) another 200 years to decide to do something about poor children.

There was also a distinction in motivations, at least as I read it: the city of Amsterdam cared for its own, and saw a responsibility as a community to care for orphans. It was a social privilege to aid them, just as it was a social privilege to be part of the city watch. There may have been a streak of piety in it, but it's rarely mentioned in the museum - it's just what you do as part of the city. (Outside the city, mind, you were probably on your own.)

For the London hospital, the founders are moved partly by Christian charity, and partly by the hatred of waste; one of the founders had lived in the American colonies, which were wide open to expansion at the time, and needed fresh young bodies to work land, build, do trades. It offended him to see London children's lives effectively wasted because of poverty and lack of opportunity. He wanted them trained so they'd be available as colonists.

So it was like a free-market version of 'doing the right thing', rather than a community commitment.

One happy addition to the hospital was an exhibit of Quentin Blake's artwork (now closed). Blake is associated with Roald Dahl's books. This display was of commissions for hospitals and institutions: one for a children's hospital, one for a treatment centre for eating disorders, one for a seniors' centre, one for a maternity ward. 

And I found there's a joyfulness in Blake's art, that is hard to resist. Generally I don't bother with art after 1600 (unless it's by friends). But his free, cheery, enthusiastic drawings made me smile just looking at them - you can't help it. 

I loved the kids' hospital series, where children were visiting planet Zog, and the Zoggians were looking after children, and equally being examined and cared for by kids - having their alien spots examined, being put to bed in a tree, reading books together. 

I knew you could make beautiful things; I didn't realise you could make things that made you feel better in this way.

If there's a display of Blake's work anywhere near you...I recommend it.
abendgules: (15thc_worker)
 I seem to be going through a lull in posting. This isn't because there aren't fun things happening (or even less fun ones), but that I'm finding less time to post from work. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is jump back onto the PC.

Some recent highlights:
- mid-Feb, Robert, Master Paul, Tom Monmouth and I went to a conference at the Wallace Collection, celebrating the life of Claude Blair, who was one of the leaders of medieval armour research. He worked at the Tower armouries, then the V&A, and evidently had inspired several generations of historians and colleagues. He remained active and engaged in research and correspondence to almost the very end of his life. 

The speakers were either colleagues who had collaborated with him, or folks he'd inspired, and all the talked had some link to his own work, or one of the topics he'd touched on over the years. It was fascinating stuff; if you have to die, it would be nice to have so many people remember you so fondly, with respect and affection even for the rough sides of your character. 

The fun part for me was watching the audience, which was about 70% academic to 30% reenactor. The reenactors are the 'young' ones, who are  wearing T-shirts, ponytails and earrings. I was one of maybe 5 women in a group of 80? 90? attendees.

- had a week off in late Feb/early March, just because - well, actually because I have leave to use up otherwise I lose it. I spent the week puttering around the house, scribing, sleeping in, visiting the British Museum, and hanging out with my sweetie. Embarrassingly, I did almost no exercise that week; evidently it's good use of time to go for a run at lunchtime when I'm at work, but I can find lots of other things to do other than run when I'm on my own time!

Going to the BM was an effort to work on my sketching skills - I want to draw more accurately what I see in museums.

This is harder than it sounds; I'm a bit crap at fast sketching unless there's a time limit. I did succeed in sitting down to draw two of the Lewis chessmen (bishop and a knight), and I was really, really pleased with the result, but each one took about 30 mins, which isn't really sketching, it's drawing. It's also brain-demanding; after each drawing, I couldn't settle down again to draw anything else the same way.

Drawing, I've found, has a very calming and centering effect on me. I came away almost in a relaxed and meditative state of untroubled peace, happy with myself and with the world. I had had little idea it would be so powerful. I think it's the effect of having to focus so closely and carefully on a specific task, to the exclusion of almost everything else, that enables that peace. 

- at the end of that week, I went to MEDATS' most recent seminar day about 'Making it', which mainly focused on weaving skills. It had a higher proportion of speakers who had actually re-created the skills they talk about, rather than researchers and academics who knew the records, but had not attempted the skills.

Most impressive to me were the weavers and spinners; one Danish speaker had woven an entire sail on a warp-weighted loom for a reproduction Viking ship, from wool. Another weaver was working at Eindhoven, the recreated Dutch village, to recreate 15th c broadcloth on a four shaft loom; a third was a spinner who had worked extensively to develop the vocabulary to explain handspinning.  There were also demonstrations of techniques of cardweaving, spinning with a very early spinning wheel (the style shown in the Luttrell Psalter) and warp-weighted loom.

At this event, picking the reenactors out from the academics was harder work. :-) And the crowd was about 90% women.

- In amongst all of this, I'm scribing. I'm working on some of my weaker skills of sketching, painting and gilding with Nerissa, who comes over every couple of weeks to play. I'm always amazed at how much better I understand illumination techniques by demonstration, even though I read lots of instructions, and can learn well on my own - I learned to knit mostly by myself. But some handwork, it seems, is just better in person.

Nerissa has lent me a pen to practice left-handed scribing (I'm naturally a leftie). I'm pleasantly surprised at how well I've done with it, even though I've never practiced it. She insists it's perfectly do-able, and certainly with her pen I can 'push' the nib more than I expected to.

I'm not convinced it's my favourite though - there's a part of me peversely proud that I've learned right-handed, 'against' my own writing hand, simply because, well, right-handedness is traditional, regardless of inclination, and most calligraphy tools are intended for right-handed users.

I'm working on a variation of my favourite bastard secretary hand, for a 16th c backlog scroll. I'm modelling it on a period Tudor grant, and would like to get it as close as I can. The more I practice it the more I see how it's different from my 'standard' hand, and so the more work I see!
abendgules: (callig_cats)

This week I attended the first of my short run of drawing classes at Sir John Soane's museum. Soane was a contemporary of Pugin's (who designed Westminster Parliament building), and was the architect of choice at the end of 18th/start of 19th c.

From the website:

On his appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 Soane began to arrange the Books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures. By 1827, when John Britton published the first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an ‘Academy of Architecture’.  

In 1833 Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to settle and preserve the house and collection for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. On his death in 1837 the Act came into force, vesting the Museum in a board of Trustees who were to continue to uphold Soane’s own aims and objectives.

Part of the mandate of the museum is continuing education, and when we visited last week, I spotted an evening class for grownups, and on impulse signed up the next day. It's a class of 8 people, with one instructor, and a chance to spend a couple of hours a week for 5 weeks refining drawing skills and practicing on the thousands of artifacts in the museum. Soane wanted it used to inspire students, and it's certainly an inspiring collection.

I haven't done drawing in a class since junior high, and I've never been very confident of my skills. Learning calligraphy was a revelation, because I always thought I 'wasn't artistic'; so I'm really quite excited to be doing this.

About half of the class are Soane Museum regulars, who knew the instructor well enough to chat about his newest commission (a show in London for the Indian high commission); the rest were wide-eyed newbies like me. One was a staff member and the ed coordinator dropped in towards the end.

Part of the fun was adventuring into the museum after closing time; all the staff seemed very excited at having permission to explore the house in the quiet and the dark. It gave the rooms a completely different feel, they said.

Another fun bit was trekking through all the back corridors from one part of the three joined buildings to the middle unit, to reach the museum, without tripping the door alarms - weaving through the old boot room, pantry, and kitchen (with newfangled top-of-the-line 19th c iron range in the fireplace) and up the stairs to the drawing room, painted a bright 'Turner yellow' (a lead oxychloride), which was apparently cutting edge when the house was furnished.

This week's lesson was in using pencils to develop an eye for shading and tones - when you look at an object, what is the darkest tone? the lightest? the inbetween ones? what can you draw in small units of shading to create a whole? It was about 'learning to look', a catchphrase that I've heard before, but that is hard to teach if you don't 'have' it. I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of 'it' over this course.

abendgules: (penwork E)
It has felt like a very cultural 10 days or so.

Started with a visit from [livejournal.com profile] camele0pard , who was in town on a short visit to catch up with London based friends, which was most welcome. She brought the requested Swedish treats (reindeer-flavoured squeeze-cheese, and Lakrits) plus a jar of whortleberry jam, which is used like cranberry sauce on savoury dishes. The 'too-hot-for-you!' Lakrits proved that Swedes must have very mild tastes for chilies. :-)
After dinner, we spent some time paging through the Luttrell Psalter - an act of culture by definition, really.

(Trying to remember how we spent the weekend, and failing - a bit alarming. We did not do any reenactor shopping though.)

Nov 3rd was the Official Bend Gules Holiday, and as such, was celebrated by Robert and me with a day in the museums (with happy notes from [livejournal.com profile] jpgsawyer  and [info]nickajordan - thank you!) .

We visited the Sir John Soane Museum - a house full of architecture and design souvenirs, casts and artifacts, very much in the vein of late 18thc- early 19th c neo-classical revival (he has some medieval bits too, but isn't as keen on them). He established his house as a museum to inspire future students of architecture and design, and even had it protected by an act of Parliament. 

While there, I picked up a flyer about continuing ed, and as a result, have signed up for a short course in drawing skills for grownups. It runs on weekly for the next 5 weeks after work. I'm really looking forward to it; I've always wanted to take a course about improving my drawing and this one will hopefully be a good fit.

This museum borders Lincoln Inn Fields, in the heart of the Inns at Court, so we lunched in the fields (actually a very tame park surrounded by 18th/19thc buildings, just S. of Holborn). From there, we walked to SOAS at UCL to view their treasures, and then on to our real goal in Bloomsbury, the Petrie Museum, which is dedicated to Egyptian archeology. There we found a couple of items worth the whole day - some cross-shaped pendant moulds cut into stone, possibly early Byzantine. Right next to this mould was a second one that reminded me of 'spangle moulds' from the MoL book, but much earlier. Splendid!

After a fortifying half-pint, we wrapped up the day with a short browse in the British Library, and no visit is complete without a dip into the bookshop. My newest treasure...

The only downside was getting home on a Tube strike day, which, on the bus at rush hour, was tedious.
abendgules: (Default)

Hurrah for living just a channel-width from the Netherlands. The good folk of Polderslot were the very first Drachenwalders I ever met, and they hold a special place in my heart. They made me welcome long before I moved kingdoms, and meeting them confirmed to me that I'd be able to make a home in this land.

For the first time in months, I attended an event without Robert - last one was Dance Moot in February.  Happily though, this time I shared the trip with [livejournal.com profile] armillary , who decided dancing trumped a fighting event in WD, and joined me on a leisurely trip by rail and sail to the Low Countries.
part the first of the journey ) 
abendgules: (15thc_worker)
One of the boons of London is free museums. No matter how many times you've been there, there's always something to see that you hadn't noticed before.
This weekend some of the Thamesreach faithful went to the V&A to be, well, research geeks.

Lady Katherine of Great Chesterfield suggested it - she's on a Tudor textiles research kick right now - so we started in the Textiles study room.
Katherine settled down to take pics of 16th c textiles - silk velvets, silk and gilt brocades, etc.
Lady Nesta dug into the embroidered fabric samples.
Lord Guy wandered about...not sure what he was after.
And our newest newcomer Annora showed up to join us, expressing an interest in 13th and 14th c era. She's also interested in calligraphy - hurrah!
My lord Robert hied himself off to the new Medieval galleries to take pics of crosiers and other bishop-related accessories.

My find of the day was another bishop-ish accessory, something called a sudarium - a sort of like an oven pad for handling a bishop's crosier. While it's listed online, it has no photo - I guess it's not a high-priority item in the textiles room.
It's a triangular piece of brocade, no bigger than a small hand, with a long white linen hanky bit that hangs from it, sort of like a cuff - the cuff is ornamented with strips of embroidery. Not clear if you stick your hand into it like a glove, or just put it between your hand and the crosier staff like a high-end pot holder.

What was interesting was the decoration - 2 strips of German-style geometric embroidery, edged with the teeniest tiniest narrow ware woven trim (which I think I could make on an inkle loom, though original was probably cardwoven). I sketched it out, and want to try it at home (after I finish the current inkle project I guess...sigh).
The triangular brocade bit was edged with a wide-ish flattish fingerbraid (maybe 7-strand?) with a chevron pattern, and tassels, probably silk. It struck me as a  sort of effort to use up every scrap of expensive material; perhaps it was the best some burgher could offer to their local church.

It's an early collection item - part of the 'Bock collection', whatever that was, dated 1863, so there's not a lot of info about provenance. Both BM and V&A are crammed with early donations that predate the business of detailed provenances and well-documented sources.

I also sketched a very pretty '5 end silk damask' (don't know what the five ends refer to), that had splendid patterns of whorls and leaves in it, a bit like the leaves I'm trying to draw in penwork inside Lombardic initials. It was a good practice to draw what was really there, rather than the impression of it.

We wrapped up with a pint at a nearby pub, sadly priced for tourists.

Happily this coming weekend is the next MEDATS conference, and the topics look fabulous: 'Stiffening, stuffing and quilting: the extra dimension', giving us a further chance to pack our brains full of textile research goodness.

My Sunday was quieter, and I felt a bit low. I'd finished all my current scrolls (just packed off the last one for delivery at DW this week), didn't have any new ones for immediate use, nothing on TV, and Robert out at Vitus' to re-stash the Vitus-wagn.

I regularly find Sunday afternoons hard to cope with; I don't know if it's the anticipation of the end of the weekend, or the lack of structure, but I'm most prone to moping on Sundays if they're not adequately filled. My best solution, short of busyness, is serious napping.

On the scribing front: I'm glad to finish the last scroll for DW. I was really happy with the calligraphy; I've taken a small step closer to the original with the line spacing, which I found very satisfying. The base painting was ok - still not happy with alizarin crimson, and may have to find a smoother-painting substitute. But the whitework...the whitework still lets me down. More practice required. Will post the images post-event.

My next backlogs are peerage scrolls, and I'm going to have to plan, and practice, a whole lot more before committing to them. For one I'm hoping to collaborate with [livejournal.com profile] da_dotty - she's a far better and more experienced illuminator than I am, and together hopefully we can produce something more splendid than I could do alone. The second is another possible collaboration, depending on the text and art style I settle on. We'll see!
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: (maciejowski)

My sweetie and I spent a splendid holiday Monday with Master Paul and milady Anne, perusing the new V&A medieval galleries and then going on to see the Staffordshire hoard display at the British Museum. 

Paul and Anne live outside the Royal City, and so they squeeze as much as they can out of occasional visits, including raids on the associated bookshops (resulting in corresponding raids on wallets). There are several excellent interesting new books in both museums, cleverly priced at about £20. Doesn't sound like much until you pick up four or five of them!

The hoard display is just a small taster of the entire hoard, found just this year by a metal detectorist (no, I don't like the term either, but it's common here). Like most keen history amateurs, he did the right and honourable thing, which is to report the finds to the portable antiquities scheme, and helped the excavation of the entire collection. (The site is still a secret as it's on private land, and the landowner doesn't want the publicity.)

The hoard has been officially declared 'treasure' which means it's given a market price, and now museums and collectors are free to bid on it, at £3.285 million, with the proceeds divided between the finder and the landowner.

The local museums in Birmingham are hoping to keep it locally, and seem to have the support of the British Museum in this cause.
The hoard is just that - it's a collection of valuables, that look suspiciously like they've been stripped off other items. There are a number of sword and sword-belt fittings  of gold and inlaid garnet, and a large gold cross that has been folded down into scrap, and the gem fittings that might have decorated it have had their gems removed. Other bits look like riveted belt ornaments.

For small-finds geeks like Robert and me, the most interesting piece is what appears to be a domed button of gold, decorated with garnet inlay, with a large loop shank at the back. I've never seen buttons this early-period before, certainly not designed like this. The description calls it a 'scabbard boss'. I suppose we get to find out, when the analysis is done.

The photos are very good on the staffordshire hoard site (see links), so I recommend them.

The new V&A medieval galleries are...interesting, and they'll stand up to several visits, I think, and I think they may well grow on me.
They're spread over three floors, with the main one off the foyer designed a bit like a renaissance garden, with statuary and wall-mounted decor to walk around and through, and with balconies from the upper floors allowing views over the space - a bit like an italian villa.
It's feels large and airy, especially with some daylight from overhead: the impression of ample space is wonderful.

The galleries have several sheltered spaces for low-light items like textiles - mostly eccelesiastical, some other samples, plus the boar hunt tapestry has been moved down to this display from the tapestry room on the top floor.

The nooks and crannies are where you find the smaller-scale items that always intrigue me most.

Some treasures I spotted that might interest [livejournal.com profile] xrian :

a 'charm' rosary: that is, wooden Ave beads with  small silver 'charms', each one representing an instrument of the Passion, acting as Paternoster  decade beads. I wrote down the museum number, and O happy day, the rosary is in the digital collection!

There are 5 Ave beads between each charm: it's dated to late 15th c/ early 16th c. I'm not sure when the convention of 10:1 become common.

Next to this one was the 'Langdale Rosary', which had 95 saints' beads - gold beads each one engraved with a different saint and their identifiying characteristics.

Wow. The V&A's online collection is really well-organised now. It used to be like pulling teeth to find anything; now you can search by location! I had the Langdale's museum number wrong, but I knew it was adjascent to the item I pulled up, so I could search other items in the same room! How cool is that.

For those who can't get to the new displays:
Medieval and renaissance room 8 - late roman, early Romanesque
Medieval and renaissance room 9  - 1200-1400 ish
Medieval and renaissance room 10 1350-1500 (includes the embroidered copes)

Room 10 has the Boar hunt tapestry, and it also has an item I've never seen before: a wool applique wall hanging, called the Tristan hanging, with a series of scenes from the Tristan & Isolde story.

The figures are crude - none of them have face details, they're just bodies and heads - but they're clearly styled for late 14th c, with high waisted women with sloping shoulders and wasp-waisted gents in short cotes and long toed shoes.

All the appliqued pieces are reinforced along their edges with leather cord, whipstitched in place. The item description calls it 'gilt leather' but any gilt is long gone. The leather strips acted more like black backstitch on a crossstitch piece, providing firm edges and draping details in gowns and fabrics.

It looks, well, crude, compared to embroidered pieces of the same period. But it might have been the best someone could afford, to give them the feel of having a nice textile wallhanging to warm their hall.

Apparently it's mentioned in Staniliand's 'Medieval embroiderers' book: check figure 11. 

I don't think we spent enough time to see all the newest displays, so there's still plenty to see on future trips.

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: (Default)

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