31 January 2009

Two Magnates

Offstage during the Cadfael novels but exerting powerful influences are two magnates: Ranulf de Gernon, the earl of Chester, and Henry de Blois, the Bishop of Westminster. (leaf showing King David from the Winchester Bible, image in the public domain, via wiki commons)

For information about Ranulf de Gernon I cannot do better than refer you to the excellent article at Chester Wiki, which quotes extensively from contemporary historians and sets Ranulf's life not just in the context of the struggle between Stephen and Matilda but also against events in other parts of Britain. As wiki articles can always be changed I have to say caveat quaerens, but certainly at the time of this post the article is an fine example of what wikis are capable of.

Farnham Castle was built by Henry de Blois, Stephen's brother and the Bishop of Westminster. The castle's website has an article on the life of Henry. The British Museum has some altar plaques presented by Henry the Bishop, who was most likely Henry de Blois. Henry de Blois was also the most likely patron for the production of the Winchester Psalter, one page from which shows the resurrected Christ. For other illustrations from the Winchester Psalter, click the Winchester Psalter link in the right-hand column on this page. Also due to Henry de Blois’s patronage is the Winchester Bible (scroll down and click on thumbnails), still in the library of Winchester Cathedral.

23 January 2009

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus

Ovid's next story is told by Alcithoe. After rejecting other possibilities she settles on the story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Hermaphroditus was a beautiful young man who a nymph called Salmacis fell in love with. He rejected her advances and then believing himself alone again decided to go for a swim in a pool. Salmacis fell even more in love when she saw his naked body and wrapping her arms round him in the pool she prayed to the gods that they might never be parted. The gods granted her prayers by making them one composite being, both male and female -- hence our word hermaphrodite.

The above 1510 picture by Gossaert, otherwise known as Mabuse, is from Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans-van Bueningen, but does not appear to be on their website. The picture below by Spranger dates back to 1581 and is now in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. A few years later in 1585, Scarsella, otherwise known as Scarsellino also painted a picture of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, now in Rome's Galleria Borghese, but not on their site.

This news report of Christie's activities in 2006 is illustrated by a photo of Lodovico Carracci's Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, which probably dates from the last decade of the 16th century (further details and another photo here).

The two pictures below date from the first decade of the 17th century. The upper one is by Badalocchio and is now in Rome's Galleria Pallavicini, while the lower one is by Carlo Saraceni and is now in Naples's Galleria di Capodimonte, but neither appears to be on its gallery's website.

At about the same time the poet and playwright Francis Beaumont (of Beaumont and Fletcher fame) was writing an epyllion or short epic poem on the subject of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.

Wtenbrouck's 1627 picture, Wooded Pool With Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, is now in The Hague's Mauritshuis.

Albani painted two paintings on the theme of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus: one, dating from the 1630s is in Paris's Louvre, while the other (shown below), from about 1660, is in Oldenburg's Landesmuseum, but again not on their website.

Moving on to the 19th century, François-Joseph Navez painted the picture of the Nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus below in 1829, and it is now in Ghent's Museum voor Schone Kunsten.

Another poet, Swinburne, wrote a poem called Hermaphroditus, and dated it Au Musée du Louvre, Mars 1863. He was presumably inspired by this statue in the Louvre. The statue itself is from the 2nd century AD but the mattress for it was carved in 1619 by Bernini.

You can see images from an undated, but presumably quite recent, film about Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.

The modern Australian artist Josonia Palaitis has painted a series of works based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, one of which shows Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.

17 January 2009

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me

"Timor mortis conturbat me" is a quotation from the Latin version of the Roman Catholic office for the dead, and means something like afear of death troubles me. Morales's setting can be heard in the youtube video embedded below, and those who can read music can follow the score.

This example of a 15th century book of hours contains the office of the dead (scroll down to the link for folio v116-117r).

I first came across the words "timor mortis conturbat me" in the 15th century Scottish poet William Dunbar's "Lament for the Makers", a poem in 25 stanzas, the last line of each of which is "Timor Mortis Conturbat Me". Here are the first two stanzas as an example:

I THAT in heill was and gladness
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmitie:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance here is all vain glory,
This fals world is but transitory,
The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The poem continues with a poetic version of the Dance Macabre in contemporary art, and then moves on specifically to poets remembered by William Dunbar. Dunbar's works, including "Lament for the Makers" were among the first books to be printed in Scotland. (picture of danse macabre courtsey of P. Charpiat, via wikicommons under creative commons licence)

12 January 2009

On January 12 Benedict Biscop is commemorated by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Benedict Biscop was the founder of the dual monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, where Bede lived, studied, and wrote. The monastery's church survived Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries and became a parish church. (picture domain manuscript illustration from wikipedia commons)

As well as making passing reference to Benedict Biscop in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede wrote some biographical notes on Benedict Biscop in his Lives of the Abbots of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, and described the founding of the monastery as follows:

He [Benedict Biscop]came to the court of Egfrid, king of Northumberland, and gave an account of all that he had done since in youth he had left his country. He made no secret of his zeal for religion, and showed what ecclesiastical or monastic instructions he had received at Rome and elsewhere. He displayed the holy volumes and relics of Christ's blessed Apostles and martyrs, which he had brought, and found such favour in the eyes of the king, that he forthwith gave him seventy hides of land out of his own estates, and ordered a monastery to be built thereon for the first pastor of his church. This was done, as I said before, at the mouth of the river Were, on the left bank, in the 674th year of our Lord's incarnation, in the second indiction, and in the fourth year of King Egfrid's reign.

After the interval of a year, Benedict crossed the sea into Gaul, and no sooner asked than he obtained and carried back with him some masons to build him a church in the Roman style, which he had always admired. So much zeal did he show from his love to Saint Peter, in whose honour he was building it, that within a year from the time of laying the foundation, you might have seen the roof on and the solemnity of the mass celebrated therein. When the work was drawing to completion, he sent messengers to Gaul to fetch makers of glass, (more properly artificers,) who were at this time unknown in Britain, that they might glaze the windows of his church, with the cloisters and dining-rooms. This was done, and they came, and not only finished the work required, but taught the English nation their handicraft, which was well adapted for enclosing the lanterns of the church, and for the vessels required for various uses. All other things necessary for the service of the church and the altar, the sacred vessels, and the vestments, because they could not be procured in England, he took especial care to buy and bring home from foreign parts.

Some decorations and muniments there were which could not be procured even in Gaul, and these the pious founder determined to fetch from Rome; for which purpose, after he had formed the rule for his monastery, be made his fourth voyage to Rome, and returned loaded with more abundant spiritual merchandise than before In the first place, he brought back a large quantity of books of all kinds; secondly, a great number of relics of Christ's Apostles and martyrs, all likely to bring a blessing on many an English church; thirdly, he introduced the Roman mode of chanting, singing, and ministering in the church, by obtaining permission from Pope Agatho to take back with him John, the archchanter of the church t of St. Peter, and abbot of the monastery of St. Martin to teach the English. This John, when he arrived in England, not only communicated instruction by teaching personally, but left behind him numerous writings, which are still preserved in the library of the same monastery. In the fourth place, Benedict brought with him a thing by no means to be despised, namely, a letter of privilege from Pope Agatho, which he had procured, not only with the consent, but by the request and exhortation, of King Egfrid, and by which the monastery was rendered safe and secure for ever from foreign invasion. Fifthly, he brought with him pictures of sacred representations, to adorn the church of St. Peter, which he had built; namely, a likeness of the Virgin Mary and of the twelve Apostles, with which he intended to adorn the central nave, on boarding placed from one wall to the other; also some figures from ecclesiastical history for the south wall, and others from the Revelation of St. John for the north wall; so that every one who entered the church, even if they could not read, wherever they turned their eyes, might have before them the amiable countenance of Christ and his saints, though it were but in a picture, and with watchful minds might revolve on the benefits of our Lord's incarnation, and having before their eyes the perils of the last judgment, might examine their hearts the more strictly on that account.

09 January 2009


The Toynbee Convector's recent post on Chinese Pilgrims reminded me of the wonderful comedy action TV series from the late 1970s Monkey, based somewhat loosely on Wu Cheng-En's classic Chinese novel The Journey to the West, which I then read in Arthur Waley's much abbreviated translation. The novel, in turn, was based on legends surrounding a real Chinese monk's pilgrimage to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures.

The TV series was a Japanese production atrociously dubbed into English by the BBC. Youtube has the opening sequence and this extract from one of the episodes to give you the flavour:

I was most put out on my recent visit to London to see that I'd just missed an opera based on the story of Monkey.

07 January 2009

Byzantium 330-1453, a review

I went to see the exhibition Byzantium 330 - 1453 at London's Royal Academy yesterday (Monday). The exhibition covered the history from Constantinople's foundation by Constantine to its fall to the Turks in 1453, court life, domestic life, the church, icons, the Byzantine Empire's artistic interaction with Latin Christendom, its interaction with other cultures, and St. Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai. The exhibits were overwhelming in their profusion, and I wish I'd gone earlier in my visit back to Britain so that I would have had time to go to the exhibition twice. The three hours I spent there really wasn't enough. Fortunately, despite the sign saying no re-entry, the staff were quite happy to let people go in and out for toilet breaks or a cup of coffee. As it was I had to skimp the section called "Beyond Byzantium" which dealt with the Orthodox church amongst the Slavic peoples and with the Coptic church, Armenia and so on.

The objects on display included busts, statuettes, coins, books, textiles, icons, jewellery, household goods and church equipment. Despite the large number of people at the exhibition, the exhibition space was large enough for it not to feel crowded, though there were slight traffic jams around the objects featured on the audio guide. Although the wall boards were informative and provided context for the objects on display a glossary would have been helpful, particularly for the icons. The audio guide went some way to remedying this, although it did mean some backtracking when the audio for one object explained something I'd seen earlier. I think I can now tell the Virgin Hodogetria from the Virgin Psychosostria, but an earlier note somewhere that the Kimisis (Greek) of the Virgin is the equivalent of the Dormition (Latin) of the Virgin (in itself hardly a term I use every day) would have been nice, and until I was able to look it up on the internet, I had no idea what the salient features of a Deesis were. Despite this shortcoming, I would have no hesitation in recommending the exhibition to anyone, although as I said, you might find two visits necessary.

02 January 2009

Podcast Review: Isabelle Pafford on the Roman Republic

This podcast is a series of lectures on the Roman Republic given by Dr. Isabelle Pafford of Santa Clara University. The lectures take us from the founding of Rome down to the death of Julius Caesar. Unfortunately some of the lectures are missing due, I gather, to technical problems. It's the first time I've listened to the iTunes U, so I'm not sure how much of what I have to say is specific to Dr. Pafford's course and how much is due to a format imposed by iTunes U or Santa Clara University itself.

Dr. Pafford struck me as an engaging and stimulating lecturer who interacts well with her students. There were certainly times when I was dying to leap in and ask questions. On the other hand, there did seem to be an awful lot of moments when she lost her place in her notes or slides and we had to wait for her to find her place again -- but perhaps that is more noticeable to those listening in than it would be to those present. She does have a penchant for trying to draw analogies with contemporary personalities and events, some of which work better than others.

On her page at the Santa Clara University website, Dr. Pafford says of herself, "She likes to use technology in her classroom, when possible, and many of her class lectures are available as podcasts." I think more thought needs to be given to who the podcasts are actually aimed at -- are they simply for her own students who miss lectures for whatever reasons, are they aimed at whetting the appetite of prospective students, or are they aimed at the interested public at large? If the podcasts are meant for the public at large, then it would be helpful if she could put notes online in the form of reading lists or links to sources to accompany the lectures. I'm not sure how useful the podcasts by themselves without any supporting material would be to anyone who had no knowledge of the Roman Republic to orient themselves.