Monday, 24 April 2017

Classic cars and vintage buys

Some amazing sights at the Classic Car Boot Sale at Kings Cross in London at the weekend. Gleaming cars from yesteryear and so many household knickknacks that once might have been discarded, but are now collectors’ items.
Great to catch up with writer and craft expert Mary Jane Baxter, who was selling an assortment of goodies from her delightfully decorated Mobile Makery, including some vintage French posters she’d picked up on her travels through Europe. There was so much to tempt the crowds from the many stalls. But the stars of the show were the cars. No need to go to Cuba for a dose of motoring nostalgia!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival 2017

Spectacular sights on the Thames this weekend between Deptford and Woolwich Arsenal, with some 30 tall-masted ships from around the world taking part in this festival of sail. Many are moored at Woolwich, including the Nao Victoria (below, centre), an exact copy of the first ship to sail around the world in 1522 as part of Magellan's expedition.
Visitors can book on select vessels for a cruise from Woolwich that takes you under the Emirates Airline cable car....
.......and through the Thames Barrier.
There are also free visits to ships anchored in the river, and great views from the riverside walk as these reminders of yesteryear glide past, sails billowing.
Landlubbers have not been forgotten.
Family entertainment with plenty of food and drink has been laid on in the Festival Villages at Greenwich and the Royal Arsenal Dockyard. You may spot characters from the past.....
...or even a mermaid!
On Saturday evening a spectacular show of fireworks will light up the night sky at Woolwich. The festival culminates in a dramatic finale on Sunday - a Parade of Sail, with all the ships mustering on the river around Deptford/Greenwich before setting sail at 5pm, and heading off to Portugal.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Battle of Medway Commemorations, June 8 – 17, 2017

Battle of the Medway. Credit: Kevin Clarkson

It’s being billed as 'the greatest of forgotten battles': in 1667 the Dutch launched a daring raid on the Medway river in Kent, navigating treacherous shoals and currents to attack Royal Navy ships in  what had been regarded as a safe anchorage off Chatham. They burnt 13 vessels and towed away two more, including the flagship, the Royal Charles. It was the culmination of a series of tit-for-tat skirmishes and a crippling blow for the Royal Navy, already in a bad way because of lack of money. It led Charles II to agree to a quick end to the Second Anglo-Dutch War and a favourable peace for the Dutch.
The 350th anniversary of the battle is being marked by Medway Council with a 10-day programme of events, including exhibitions, sporting events and a concert and culminating in a river-based finale (artist's impression, above), Medway in Flames. This will retell the battle through big screens, digital projection, and fireworks.
The backdrop to the event will be Upnor Castle, where you can still find guns used in the battle. A further big attraction will be two fleets, including some tall ships, that will be coming over from the Netherlands - the first on June 8 and the second on June 14 - to take part in the commemorations.
The mastermind behind this new Dutch invasion is Frits de Ruyter de Wildt (above), a direct descendant of the man who commanded the assault, Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. During a  reconnaissance visit to Upnor Castle, he said that while his ancestor was known as the Great Terror of the Seas, this fleet would be coming not in fire, but in friendship. In fact, the raid was actually a blessing in disguise for England – it led to the complete rebuilding and reorganisation of the Royal Navy, with huge investment in new ships and dockyards. Much of this is still evident at the Historic Dockyard Chatham (below), which will be playing a major part in the festival.
The rebuilding of the navy laid the foundation of British supremacy at sea for the next 200 years and contributed to Britain’s economic success and the growth of the empire. So rather than commemorating a defeat, Medway in Flames will be celebrating the centuries of friendship and trade between the two countries. After all, in 1689, just twenty-two years after battle, the Netherland's William of Orange and his wife, Mary, were invited to become rulers of England.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Glorious Years: French Calendars from Louis XIV to the Revolution, at Waddesdon Manor

Where would we be without a calendar? They’re an essential part of our busy lives, helping with planning and reminding us about holidays, outings and engagements. But they’re not a modern phenomenon – back in 17c France, they were hanging on the walls of upper and middle-class homes in and around Paris, alerting people to events such as royal birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. More usually called almanacs, they reached their golden years under Louis XIV, who cannily used them as a propaganda tool to shape his image, with illustrations glorifying his family and regime and highlighting his country’s victories and peace treaties. (France was at war for most of his reign.) But because, like ours, they were taken down at the end of the year, few have survived. This makes the new exhibition at Waddesdon Manor all the more special.
The house’s original owner, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839 – 1898) was fascinated by social history and managed to collect some 70 such almanacs, 26 of which are on show for the first time. All are exquisitely drawn, with writing so tiny that magnifying glasses are provided for close scrutiny. The earliest dates from 1656, two years after the coronation of Louis XIV, and shows the king triumphant. In a later one (top), he is on horseback, presenting his troops to the viewer as an example of French military might.
Others celebrate subjects such as his son’s recovery from smallpox (above) and the coronation of Louis XV in 1723. As well as wall calendars, there are some pocketbook almanacs. These range from official directories, listing members of the royal households, schedules for the postal service and carriage travel to collections of songs, poems and illustrations. Some even have erasable pages for note-taking and recording gambling gains and losses – the PDAs of yesteryear.
Most of the calendars took two months to design and execute and went on sale in December. (In contrast, Louis XV’s souvenir coronation book was such an elaborate undertaking it took nine years to prepare.) Not surprisingly, there was a surge in calendar production after the French Revolution of 1789, when the monarchy was abolished and the royal family lost their heads.Time was reinvented with the new Republican calendar, which removed all royalist and religious connections and looked to the natural world for inspiration. Instead of honouring saints, each day was named after an aspect of agricultural life, such as the day of chicory on 23rd Frimaire (November). The 12 months were divided into weeks of ten days, with the extra 5 days collected together at the end of the year. Printed almanacs were essential to ensure that people were getting the message.
This calendar for 1794 by Philibert Louis Debucourt shows the figure of Philosophy seated on a marble throne, recording the principles of the new calendar in the book of nature. The text along the bottom describes the objects at her feet, including the abandoned Gregorian calendar, as ' the gothic monuments of error and superstition on which the ignorant and ridiculous division of time was founded.' However, the change brought problems with business and foreign trade, and when Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor, he brought back the Gregorian calendar.
The exhibition has one modern calendar. British artist Adam Dant (above) was commissioned to create a 21st century almanac inspired by those on show. The Mother of Parliaments: Annual Division of Revenue satirises modern British MPs by using them as replacements for the French kings and their attributes. Instead of the traditional saints’ days of the old almanacs, the birthdays of the  Honorable Members are listed (should you wish to send a card) and blank spaces are left left to take  details of the year’s budget. Look carefully and you’ll find Harry Potter, lurking near the Department for Education.
Glorious Years: French Calendars from Louis XIV to the Revolution runs until Oct 29 2017, Wed – Sun, free with admission to Waddesdon Manor (National Trust).
Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP180JH

Monday, 20 March 2017

Michelangelo and Sebastiano at the National Gallery, London

This intriguing exhibition explores the creative partnership between two artists, the superstar Michelangelo and his protégé, Sebastiano, and gives an insight into their complementary talents and divergent personalities. There are some seventy items on display – paintings, drawings, sculptures and letters. Their friendship lasted more than 25 years, which was surprising in itself (Michelangelo was notoriously difficult to get on with)  but owes much to the fact that for most of that time they were in different cities, Michelangelo in Florence and Sebastiano in Rome. A key factor in this partnership was their intense rivalry with another key Renaissance painter, Raphael, whom Michelangelo hated. While Michelangelo preferred painting egg tempura on wet plaster, Sebastiano and Raphael excelled at oils and the latter rapidly became a Vatican favourite, landing the plum jobs. So Michelangelo did his best to help Sebastiano, generously providing drawings and designs for some of his major works. A key painting in the exhibition, the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, on loan from the Hermitage (above), is their first collaboration, and the first large-scale nocturnal landscape in history. Michelangelo did many sketches (some of his work can be seen on the back of the wooden panel) and Sebastiano translated them into a monumental altar-piece. This met with widespread praise, and as a result, Sebastiano was given two major commissions, the Borgherini Chapel and The Raising of Lazarus, both of which were completed with Michelangelo’s help.
Recent scientific research on The Raising of Lazarus (above) – the gallery’s first acquisition in 1824 – has revealed that Michelangelo was quite hands-on, intervened at a relatively advanced stage to revise the figure of Lazarus so his right arm is drawn back across his body, rather than reaching towards the outstretched hand of Christ, and thus increasing the dynamism.
The spectacular Borgherini Chapel has been recreated for the exhibition in near lifesize form with digital imaging. It's an impressive achievement, and is surrounded by preliminary sketches for the project. Michelangelo did the premilinary drawings for the central Flagellation of Christ before he left for Florence and possibly a layout for the half-dome Transfiguration, while Sebastiano completed the decoration on his own between 1519 and 1524. Below, Sebastiano's cartoon for the head of St James Major.
The letters that flowed between the two show how they helped each other. Sebastiano begs his ‘dearest compare’ (who was godfather to his first child) to ‘remember me...and recommend me to the most reverend Monsignor (Cardinal Guilio de’ Medici); and if I’m any good at this work, please let me carry it out...’. Michelangelo does his best: ‘I beg your Most Reverend Lordship... to obtain Sebastiano Veneziano, the painter, some share in the work at the Palace... as I’m sure he will do credit to Your Lordship’. Sebastiano also reports that Pope Leo X praised Michelangelo’s work but told him he was ‘terribile’ (daunting, awful) and that ‘one could not deal with him’. He goes on: ‘And I replied to His Holiness that your terribile character did not harm anyone, and that you appear terribile for love of the great works you carry out.’
Among Michelangelo’s great works on display are two versions of the Risen Christ, both from Italy. The first was abandoned when a dark streak in the marble emerged. It was later finished by an unknown hand and found a home in the Church of San Vincenzo Martire.  Behind it is a plaster cast of his second, successful, version, which never leaves the S. Maria sopra Minerva. It’s the first time these statues have been seen together.
A cast of another of his masterpieces, the Pieta, is also on display and can be seen from all angles, unlike the original, now behind glass in the Vatican.
Towards the end of the show is a portrait of Michelangelo, believed to be by Sebastiano. He’s looking round, smiling and relaxed, as he invites us to look at his sketchbook. It’s a very different view of a man usually regarded as a tortured genius, and the curator, Matthias Wivel, is to be congratulated for the way the exhibition sheds light on another side of his character and introduces us to the tensions and rivalry of Renaissance art.
At the National Gallery, London, until June 25. Admission charge.