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A sculptural field trip in Yorkshire

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:23


A frosty trip across to Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, followed by a visit to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

I'd gone to YSP to look specifically at the exhibition 'Relics in the Landscape' by the contemporary American sculptor and artist Daniel Arsham, as an example of his work is included in the TMA on Greek and Roman Sculpture. There are six pieces, all displayed in the Formal Garden which is (as it implies) a formal green space, overlooked by a balustraded viewing path. Each sculpture is cast in bronze and coloured to simulate the patina seen on a classical statue. All the sculptures are modelled on existing iconic objects either classical sculptures or 'pop icons' like Pikachu or the bicycle from the film E.T.. Sometimes the scale is increased, and each sculpture is also marked by areas of what the artist calls 'erosions' as though they have been eaten away in some process of decay. Within the erosions are geode-like 'crystals' cast in stainless steel, the combination 'suggesting growth, transformation and the persistence of time'. Most of the statues are based on a plinth of some form, but the dominant sculpture 'Unearthed Bronze Eroded Melpomene' is designed to appear as though parts of the sculpture may yet to be excavated from the ground.



Unearthed Bronze Eroded Melpomene 

This is based on a statue dated from c. 50 BCE of Melpomene, in Greek mythology the muse of tragedy and lyre playing. The original sculpture is now held in the Louvre Museum. Arsham has dramatically scaled up the head from the original statue.





Bronze Eroded Venus of Arles

This is also based on a statue now held in the Louvre Museum, Vénus d'Arles thought to have been created in the 1st century BCE.



 

Bronze Eroded Astronaut and Bronze Crystalised Pikachu

Whilst the massive bronzes in particular had a dramatic impact and were beautifully set in the landscape I was left a little 'underwhelmed' by the works. The patchy erosions, didn't seem to me to really give quite the idea of a transforming process that may have been intended - perhaps that was because the 'crystals' were cast objects, images I've seen of Arsham's work for interior display use 'actual' crystals and I think look more intriguing. We're used to seeing classical statuary in various stages of decay, so for me it would have to be the 'change' that could bring some excitement. 

The idea of Pikachu as a latter-day Ozymandias didn't really grab me 😂  



After some packed lunch and a lovely bowl of soup at YSP I headed home via Leeds, and dropped in to see the exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute 'The Colour of Anxiety'

This was a great, three room exhibition of sculpture from the Victorian period, but with lots of really direct links to A111 and to the development and questioning of tradition.

The full title of the exhibition was 'The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture' and the key to all the exhibits was a reflection on the move 'away from the the whiteness of Neoclassical marble' by British sculptors in the second half of the nineteenth century - and the inclusion of colour in their work.

There were links in this movement to the 'Gothic Revival' which we will look at later in the course, with interests in medieval art techniques, the rediscovery of ancient polychromy in sculpture, 'Orientalism' and new industrial techniques. The exhibition encourages us to also think about the impact of ideas of societal degeneration, Darwinism', race and imperialism and changing sexual politics.

'From the Hope Venus to the Tinted Venus'

Sculptures in this room included Antonio Canova's Venus (a representation of the Neoclassical ideal) and Hiram Powers's The Greek Slave which essentially has Venus in chains, representing a Christian white slave in a Turkish market, but perhaps indirectly talking of American slavery (Powers was American) - but also emphasising (like a number of the works here) naked bondage.

There was book on display by Antoine-Chrystome Quatremère de Quincy who apparently coined the term 'polychromy', challenging beliefs that ancient Greek sculpture was never coloured.

There was also a preparatory model for a 'Tinted Venus', by John Gibson that went on show in 1862 with 'ivory-tinted skin, blue eyes and rosy lips.' It apparently went down a storm with the public - but outraged artists and critics.

Finally, of relevance to A111 there was a 'table-top' sculpture of Cleopatra Dying, by Henri Baron de Triqueti, which was made from ivory and bronze (known as chryselephantine sculpture) on a marble and ebony base. This was seen as meeting a 'growing taste for coloured materials but also a fascination for all things Egyptian.'


Antonio Canova Venus  (The Hope Venus) 1817-20

Antoine-Chrystome Quatremère de Quincy Minerve Du Parthenon from Le Jupiter Olympien, ou l'art de la sculpture antique considéré sous un nouveau point de vue 1814

Henri Baron de Triqueti Cleopatra Dying 1859


Echoes of Slavery

The second room presented a number of works that have complex and challenging relationships with race and slavery. These were all statues or images representing black women, often either in chains, or markedly sexualised, or both. Several were produced, or reproduced, in bronze to give colour to the body. The exhibition also included two contemporary works by black artists Sanford Biggers and Maud Sulter. I particularly liked Biggers's statue Nile, which was caved in black marble and had a West African Dan mask on the body of a Neoclassical human form representing originally the River Seine.


Deathly Women

This was the final room and had some startling statues, almost all femmes fatales. These included the man-eating serpent woman Lamia, by Sir George Frampton who was quite astounding and looked basically like Tilda Swinton - well Tilda Swinton in some wild garb! 


There was a Pandora by the Victorian sculptor Harry Bates, but the standout for me was another work by the same artist, Mors Janua Vitae 'Death, gateway of Life', illustrated below - made me think of some the imagery in the illustrations in Birds, Beasts and Flowers I think DH Lawrence might have approved!

A curious feature': Harry Bates's Holy Trinity altar front (1890) -  Document - Gale Academic OneFile

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A grand day out and I learned a lot from the exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute - just the right scale for an exhibit and a really excellent written guide and signage. Not really thought that much of the Victorian period in terms of arts (perhaps just the pre-Raphaelites) but I think this could be a really fascinating transitional period - so many social pressures and changes going on.





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Steven Oliver

'... a powerful story [...] very much for our times'

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:24

RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

The programme included two short essays, the first was by John Bowen an academic at the University of York and focused on the social background to the original novella. 

'It was a young society, still close in many ways to the Regency of Dickens' youth; a world less stuffy and less secure than we might assume'

'It was a youthful world, not least because so many die young.'

'These decades [1830's and 1840's] were two of the worst to be born into or to have to live through in modern times, as a widespread a systematic social crisis engulfed almost every aspect of people's lives.'

'Britain at this time was rapidly moving towards its commercial and industrial zenith, but working people saw few of its benefits'

Bowen discusses the exploitation of children in the workplace and lack of regulation and often of physical protection in factories.

'The 1830s are often called the 'Angry Thirties' and the 1840s the 'Hungry Forties', for good reason'

  • Bad harvests in the late 1830's
  • Corn Laws keeping price of bread high
  • 1832 Great Reform Act extends franchise, but not to working class
  • The New Poor Law [1834] removed some protections and introduced the workhouse
  • Persecution of Trades Unions

[The essay could also have mentioned the first cholera epidemic in 1831/2 and the beginning of the Great Famine in Ireland in 1845]

Bowen characterises Dickens at this time as '...both riding high and haunted by his past' a celebrity after the success of early novels, but with his 'shameful family history - of poverty, imprisonment and suffering'

The essay discusses Dickens' response to The Parliamentary Report of the Children's Employment Commission and makes links to A Christmas Carol as mentioned in A111. Bowen suggests that Dickens 'succeeded, at least in part' in striking a blow for the 'Poor Man's Child' - as contributing to an increased recognition and campaigning for reform, with some practical legislative consequences in the 1840s. 

Bowen seeks to address George Orwell's critique that Dickens only sought an individual 'change of heart' rather than addressing systematic causes of poverty, suggesting the virtues he promoted were essentially communal ones and necessary in the absence of other routes to social support. 

Orwell too credits Dickens with wanting much more than this, and states that moral criticism of society has its own 'revolutionary' credentials, 

'Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old — generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another.'

Bowen concludes by highlighting the roots of A Christmas Carol: in Dickens's childhood experience; fairy tales and parables; and social circumstances of his day. He suggests that whilst it draws on Christian morality and values its focus is on change in 'the here and now' and to marvel at the positivity that Dickens brings despite his personal experiences.....'an 'ever-generous anger.'


RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

The programme is illustrated with a variety of images - some centred around social circumstances and communal responses to poverty. The credits for the image above point to the 'Science and Society Picture Library' of the National Museum of Science and Media.

Searching the library the original images is: ‘A Night in the Streets of London’, c 1857. Photograph by Swedish-born photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1813-1875). 

There is also an interesting short biography for Rejlander on the National Museum of Science and Media website. According to his entry in the ODNB, a mirrored image of this photograph was used by the Shaftesbury Society for over a hundred years to highlight the plight of homeless children.

The image below is a contemporary one of a woman working in PPE during the COVID pandemic in a church preparing boxes for a food bank.

RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

Quotations were placed throughout the programme, each displayed on a 'Christmas Gift Tag' with period decoration. There were 14 quotations in total, three were from Dickens himself and there were quotes also from GK Chesterton (an admirer and literary critic of Dickens) and John Forster (Dickens's friend and biographer) - but the most striking in terms of attempting to make links between contemporary political discussion and A Christmas Carol were four by members of the ruling Conservative party:

'Too many people in Britain, we argue, prefer a lie-in to hard work... Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world' 

Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, Liz Truss: Britannia Unchained 2012

'To have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens I think is rather uplifting... Inevitably, the state can't do everything, so I think there is good within food banks.'

Jacob Rees Mogg September 2017

'It is very hard to believe that the right to paid holiday is an absolute moral right.'

Jacob Rees Mogg March 2013

'Dignity is not just about how much money you have got ... It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect.'

Jeremy Hunt, October 2015



RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

The programme contrasts differences in the social and economic circumstances of children living in the Victorian period and the present day. This is done under the headings of School, Work, Toys and Food. Overall there are of course dramatic improvements in all areas - but the programme also makes reference to rates of inflation in 2022 and the significant increase in food prices. It end by saying that 'Thea parcel from a food bank is given to a person facing hardship every 13 seconds.'

The second essay in the programme is by Sir Christopher Frayling and explores the adaptation and performance of A Christmas Carol.

RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

Frayling discusses Dickens's public readings and the presence of multiple 'bootleg' versions on stage by the 1850's, emphasising Christmas jollity over social conscience. He suggests that by the start of the 20th century A Christmas Carol was being seen as a tale for the kiddies, in which the 'nasty ogre...becomes a fairy godfather', 'Neverland rather than now-land'.

'Then' Frayling says, 'came the cinema.' He mentions a number of film adaptations:

  • 1901 - first film adaptation, short 'trick film' centred on special effect of Marley's ghost
  • 1914- version made by London Film Company which, 'had avoided "those vexed social questions" which were in the original novel, but that this was to be applauded'
  • 1935- British feature film Scrooge had as 'centrepiece a singing of the national anthem by the great and the good inside the [London] Mansion House ...while the poor and needy huddled outside the gates joined in - showing ... we were "all in this together"'
  • 1938- MGM version centred on Bob Cratchit with Scrooge learning the hard way to make better use of his money
  • 1951- 'Alastair Sim' version, weaves 'post-war rationing and the origins of the welfare state into the story' has an emphasis on the characters of Ignorance and Want and incorporates an entirely new character 'Mr Jorkin' as the face of greedy capitalism.
  • 1970- Scrooge becomes a screen musical with all singing, all-dancing jollity
  • 1984- George C. Scott as a US-made market-driven Scrooge, not a bad man just one not yet using the power of 'caring capitalism', missing out on getting his '80's greed to do good.
  • 1983-2009 - Animated and puppetry versions, featuring Disney characters, Muppets, Bugs Bunny and (apparently) Barbie
  • 1946 - Frayling's stated preference, Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life' - a loose adaptation, but one which he thinks balances 'the darker side of A Christmas Carol and the jollity'

Overall, Frayling's main points are around how Dickens's story is reshaped by the concerns and priorities of the times - perhaps with an understandable foregrounding of the social messages at times when societies are economically 'hard-pressed'.

RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

RSC A Christmas Carol Programme

Alongside a timeline of Dickens's publications a number of key dates are highlighted with reference to social and political events across the same period. There are references to Peterloo, the Reform Acts, Chartism, the Factory Act, Irish Famine, repeal of the Corn Laws and the Indian Rebellion.

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The programme to this adaptation of A Christmas Carol seems particularly rich in academic and social commentary and the production team appeared happy even to court a little controversy by presenting contemporary political quotes in the text. Overall I think it did a very good job of encouraging the audience to think a little beyond the traditional boundaries of a 'feel-good' Christmas panto.

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Steven Oliver

Birds, Beasts and Flowers

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:26

Very excited today to have a look at a rare copy of a poetry collection which includes one of the poems I'm studying in A111, DH Lawrence's 'Bat'. Looking through my local university library catalogue (the SCONUL scheme is just such an excellent thing if you can get to a local library) I'd found a reference to a book in their 'rare books collection', the Cresset Press 'Birds, Beasts and Flowers' published in May 1930 - just two months after Lawrence died of tuberculosis.

The book was a limited edition of 530 copies illustrated with wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, and it is a beautiful thing.

An open book

There's an excellent account of the book, with lots of detail about both the illustrations and the artist at the following reference.

Keith Cushman, “Lawrence, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers”, Études Lawrenciennes [Online], 41 | 2010, 

Online since 28 January 2014, connection on 04 January 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/lawrence/151; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/lawrence.151

The book contains a full-page frontispiece which I've shown above and nine full-page engravings before each section of the poetry collection, there are two smaller engravings as head- and tailpieces. 

'Bat' is one of four poems in the section 'Creatures', but perhaps sadly only 'Fish' and 'Mosquito' make it into the accompanying illustration. As the article explains, Lawrence was persuaded by Hughes-Stanton to contribute short 'prefaces' to each section and these were often the focus for the illustration. The texts Lawrence added are cryptic to say the least and seem to sometimes have only tangential contacts with the original poems (written nearly a decade earlier) so not sure they particularly 'help' in thinking about the poems. (The only link to 'Bat' is probably in the preface text that talks of how the sun's rays 'hurt the creatures that live by night', although that really speaks more to Lawrence's poem 'Man and Bat' in which the poet is trapped in his bedroom with a lost bat.) However, certainly made me think about the examples in A111 from William Blake's work and the comment made in the learning materials about taking image and text as an 'artistic totality'.

Open book

One final point was the discovery that the text of 'Bat' in this edition differs from that in the 'The Faber Book of Beasts' - the penultimate line in the latter edition, 'In China the bat is symbol of happiness.' is missing. I have to say I prefer the poem without it, a challenge for another day to discover which version of the poem originally included that extra line!

Poem Bat Poem Bat

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A lightening trip to Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:26

A parental taxi-run to Oxford allowed for a hasty (15min) dash into the Ashmolean Museum and more specifically to the 'Cast Gallery' that began in 1884 as a resource for teaching classical archaeology. The following are a few 'snaps' I managed to take - along with a promise to come back and spend some quality time in the future! (spent almost more time in the loo than I did in the gallery 😆)

 Ashmolean Museum

The text is taken either from the accompanying museum labels - or from the online catalogue.

Early Greek kouros

Cast of early Greek kouros, Delphi, Greece, c. 570 BCE

'The stocky, heavily muscled naked figure stands in the schematic ‘walking’ pose copied from Egypt by early Greek sculptors, signifying motion and life. One of a pair excavated in the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (now in Delphi Museum). The pair used to be identified as Kleobis and Biton, after a story in Herodotus about two statues at Delphi, supposedly of these two boys from Argos, who pulled their mother, a priestess, in a cart to a festival she needed to get to. The subjects are however more likely to be heroes or exemplary worshippers of Apollo, the god of the sanctuary. Such figures could carry a range of different meanings.

The engraved and simply modelled body surface, and the large eyes and flat-topped head are typical of the earliest large-scale Greek statues. The long hair is elaborately carved in thick, beaded locks, an archaic aristocratic fashion of the period. The subject is beardless, yet has strong muscle development, a full scrotum, and a trimmed mat of pubic hair - he stands on the threshold of manhood.'

[Note that the hair on this kouros is shown coming over the shoulders, more like a kore - presumably a 'local' (in either time or place) variant in style?]

Image of Peplos kore 

Cast of ‘Peplos kore’, from Athenian Acropolis, c. 530 BCE

'The young woman held an offering in her outstretched left hand (missing) and wears an unusual combination of clothes: a thin underdress visible at her feet, a thick belted dress or skirt, and a short mantle. The outer clothing would have been brightly patterned and painted.'

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Athens, Acropolis Museum, inv. 679.

Found in three fragments in the 1880s, northwest of the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis.

Small statue of kore type. She has long hair falling in symmetrical tresses on either side of the head and down the back, held by fillet, and crowned by stephane. She wears a chiton, a long garment held by a belt, a long jacket, and a short mantle. Studies of remaining pigment on the original marble surface have revealed complex painted decoration, with animal friezes on the long garment and lotus-palmette and running spirals on the jacket.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)

 
 Image of Diadumenos 

Cast of Diadoumenos (hair- binder) of Polykleitos, from Delos, c. 100 BCE

'A young athelete ties a fillet around his head after winning a contest. The marble statue is a sensitive Hellenistic version of a bronze victor statue by the famous fifth century sculptor Polykleitos of Argos, made in c430BC. Over forty later copies attest the impact of this statue.'

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Athens, National Museum, inv. 1826.

Found in 1894 in the House of Diadoumenos on Delos, Greece.
Statue of naked athlete tying fillet in hair. A himation and quiver are draped over the supporting trunk to his right. Hellenistic, c. 100 BC copy of a statue of 440-420 BC by Polykleitos of Argos.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)

 Image of Diskobolod 

Cast of Diskobolos (discus-thrower) of Myron, 460-440BC

'An athelete is coiled up in a taut, momentary pose, about to throw the discus- one of the pentathelete’s five events. The cast combines a headless statue from Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli and the head of a statue found in Rome. Copied closely from a lost bronze victor statue by the Athenian sculptor, Myron, active c460-440BC.'

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Statue: Vatican, Museo Pio Clementino, Sala della Biga, inv. 2346. Head (Lancelotti Head): Museo Nazionale Romano, inv. 126371.
Statue found in 1791 at Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, east of Rome. The head found (with its body) in 1781 in Villa Palombara on the Esquiline Hill in Rome.
Statue of naked, male athlete with short hair throwing the discus. The cast combines a statue in the Vatican with the head of a statue in the Museo Nazionale (ex. coll. Lancellotti). Roman, 2nd century AD, copying statue of c. 450 BC by Myron of Eleutherai.
Modern: lower left arm with hand, right lower leg with foot, fragments of body, right arm and diskos.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)

 Image of Augustus#
Emperor Augustus, from Villa of Livia at Prima Porta, near Rome c. 20 BCE

'Augustus raises his right arm in the gesture of a general addressing his troops. The military commander's cloak and armour were the most distinctive of all Roman power costumes. The breastplate carries an elaborate allegory of the return of the standards lost to the Parthians in 19 BCE. The marble statue was once brightly painted'

'At the time of its discovery (1863), extensive remains of the statue's colouring were visible. In this reconstruction, the original pigments were recreated and their approximate shades were applied on the cloak, parts of the armour, the hair, the eyes, but not on the skin or on the ground of the armour, which were originally left uncoloured. The result shows some of the startling effect of polychromy applied to statues in antiquity.'


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Second, painted cast of the same original as B 161.
Cast acquired in 2009 from the Musei Vaticani. Reconstructed polychrome version produced under the scientific direction of P. Liverani.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)


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Steven Oliver

Scrooge's nexus

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:25

I've really enjoyed some of the new perspectives that A111 can bring to 'old friends' like A Christmas Carol. A simple one has been to put aspects of the novella in the context of their (possible) settings. The podcast 'The Rest is History' produced a Christmas Carol special in 2020 and sections were recorded at sites that may have featured in the book. I spent time pausing the podcast and looking up locations on Google Maps 'street view' as the story moved up and down Cornhill in the financial hub of modern London. 

This was my final summary image, hopefully next year I'll find some time to visit some of the sites on foot! 

Aerial view of Cornhill area of London, with possible locations for settings within A Christmas Carol

The podcast is available here: https://play.acast.com/s/the-rest-is-history-podcast/132-a-christmas-carol

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Does this reputation rest on its laurels?

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:25

I've enjoyed the section of A111 dedicated to examining the use of portraiture to create and promote 'reputations' for Elizabeth I - both during her lifetime and, in the figure below, following her death in 1603. 


Unknown artist (English school), Queen Elizabeth I in Old Age or Allegorical Portrait of Queen Elizabeth Ic.1610, oil on panel. Corsham Court, Wiltshire. Photo: © Bridgeman Images.

Beginning to learn to decode courtly art; the meaning of colours, clothes, the 'language' of flowers, a whole string of props from sieve's to stoats, certainly adds to the enjoyment of what otherwise are perhaps rather dull (certainly static and mannered) images. It has also been interesting to discover the way in which the written and visual arts combined in this tiny world of elite courtiers. Exploring the 'Allegorical Portrait', and the images of 'Death' and 'Time' that bookend Elizabeth, a number of authors point to links to the works of the Renaissance poet Petrarch - and in particular his 'Triumphs', written between 1351-1374.1,2,3.

Image of Petrarch

Francesco Petrarca, 1304 - 1374. (Petrarch) Florentine poetStefano Tofanelli & Raphael Morghen. Out of Copyright, National Galleries of Scotland

In this collection of six poems, Petrarch describes a sequence of linked allegorical battles, victories and triumphal parades, starting with that of Love, Love is then conquered by Chastity (personified by Petrarch's muse, Laura), Chastity is defeated by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity. 

'Laura' was one persona through which Elizabeth could be presented as having 'acceptable' female power (along with Diana, Deborah, Judith etc.). In this instance chaste but triumphant, without having to engage in actual physical conflict. There are visual links to the 'Triumph of Chastity' in particular in a number of portraits of Elizabeth, the 'Sieve' portraits link her with the vestal Tuccia who miraculously proves her chasteness in holding water in a sieve. Tuccia features in the 'Triumph of Chastity', as does Dido, another character in at least one sieve portrait. There are quotes from the Petrarch poems in some portraits as well.

The first lines of Petrarch's 'Triumph of Fame' certainly appear to capture the look of Elizabeth in the 'Allegorical Portrait'.

When cruel Death his paly ensign spread

Over that face, which oft in triumph led

My subject thoughts; and beauty's sovereign light,

Retiring, left the world immersed in night”

      ‘The Triumph of Fame’(Petrarch)

But Roy Strong and others see links in this posthumous portrait through all of the sequence of Triumphs,1,2,3 highlighting the presence of a laurel wreath (the mark of a Roman Triumph) at the very apex of the picture and the inclusion of both 'Time' and 'Death'. The general view seems to be that the portrait was created at a point in James I's reign, possibly in the 1620's when he was losing favour in some quarters whilst attempting to establish a marriage for his son Charles with the daughter of (Catholic) Philip III of Spain. Making this then a piece of Protestant 'protest', showing the old Queen in eternal triumph, having backed the 'right side' in the religious divide. 

However, not all authors see the portrait in this light. The collection of essays 'Dissing Elizabeth' brings together a number of perspectives on dissent from the vision of 'Good Queen Bess' which was expressed in a variety of ways. This includes through visual images and the book's editor, Julia Walker, considers the Allegorical portrait in her chapter on Elizabeth's reputation after her death, 'Bones of Contention: Posthumous Images of Elizabeth and Stuart Politics'4


J. M. Walker Ed. (1998). Dissing Elizabeth: negative representations of Gloriana. Duke University Press.

Walker views the portrait as a mocking parody of the 'Armada Portrait' which we studied in A111. She highlights the mirrored seated postures, the same plush red imperial furnishings and contrasts the over the shoulders backdrop of Armada victory with an Elizabeth wasted by the ravages of the now overlooking 'Time' and 'Death'. The Imperial crown that took pride of place is now being whisked away by (left-handed) cherubs, along with any vestiges of Elizabeth's power...

'... it seems more than a possibility that Elizabeth with Time and Death was commissioned not merely as a parody of the queen at her most powerful, but as a dismissal of Spain as the natural enemy of England and English monarchs, substituting instead the more universal Time and Death.'

Armada and Allegorical Portraits of Elizabeth I

Walker considers that the portrait's patrician owner must have fallen very much in the King's camp at the time of the 'Spanish Match' controversy.

I found Walker's chapter fascinating, the contested 'Bones' she refers to in her title are those of Elizabeth herself which were relocated by James I from a prime site under the main altar of the Henry VII chapel in Westminster Abbey to shared accommodation with her older sister Mary, whilst Mary Queen of Scots (James's mother) getting a massive new monument.

However, it was interesting that Walker makes no reference at all in her work to the alternative (and earlier) academic ideas that the allegorical figures might have been drawn from Petrarch. 

 

There is one difference between the image we looked at in A111 and the one that Walker shows in her figures (and in the cover art for the book) - the portrait is slightly cropped at the top, just sufficiently that the laurel wreath is invisible.


So I'm left wondering, did access to only a cropped image influence Walker's interpretation of the portrait, or was the image cropped so as to better fit the interpretation? Or.... (and no doubt most likely) was the cropping entirely coincidental, something that happened when the book was being setup for printing for example?

No answers - but perhaps that in itself is an excellent way to mark one of the key learning points from the Elizabeth I chapter, that interpretations between historians vary and will continue to vary as they try and evaluate the fragmentary and complex primary evidence.

References

  1. Campbell, H. (2007) ‘“And in their midst a sun”: Petrarch’s Triumphs and the Elizabethan icon’, in A. Connolly and L. Hopkins (eds) Goddesses and queens: the iconography of Elizabeth I. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, pp. 83–100.
  2. Peterson, K.L. (2018) ‘Picturing Elizabeth I’s Triumph of Melancholy’, English literary renaissance, 48(1), pp. 1–40. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1086/696110.
  3. Strong, R. (1987) Gloriana : the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I. London: Pimlico.
  4. Walker, J. M. (1998). Bones of Contention: Posthumous Images of Elizabeth and Stuart Politics. In J. M. Walker (Ed.), Dissing Elizabeth: negative representations of Gloriana (pp. 252–276). Duke University Press.

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Steven Oliver

Gloriana

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:25


This was a surprise inclusion in a set of freebie postcards that I picked up from University of York library on one of my 'OU Wednesdays'. The cards promote the University Archives collections, and this image is the frontispiece of Christopher Saxton's 'Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales' (Tabula Anglia), the first atlas of any country. This hand coloured copy dates from 1590 and is in York Minster Library. 

I can now recognise Elizabeth's coronation robes, she is seated between figures who represent astronomy and geography, but still much on the engraving is beyond me - who are the couple in the image above the Queen's head and what are they up to?

The inscriptions translate as:

A gentle governess of Britain rules.

This mark of distinction shines for all to see.

-

While sad wars wear down around all the races. And blind mistakes wreak havoc upon the entire world. You bless the Britains with peace, long and true with your piety: (ruling with) even handed justice, wisely with gentle rein, Held dear at home, while celebrated abroad, and with a long rule you have this now for such a time, a kingdom everlasting.


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Steven Oliver

The Virgin Mother

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:24


This is Damien Hirst's 'The Virgin Mother' at Yorkshire Sculpture Park a few months ago. I'd always thought it was just a bit overblown and kitsch and a rip-off of anatomical models, but now seeing it in a new light after reading Mary Joan Winn Leith's analysis in her book 'The Virgin Mary' in the 'a very short introduction' series. Everything from the nudity to the nipples gets a link to Marian symbolism!

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Steven Oliver

Jumping straight to Week 7

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:24


A walk around Beverley yesterday and I bumped in to this! Mary Wollstonecraft lived at this house, 2 Highgate in Beverley, from age nine to 16. Apparently the location was only established four years ago. She will have received her education somewhere in the town, whilst her father was failing as a farmer.

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