Thursday, September 29, 2011


Enjoying the late return of Summer for several cloudless days now, with the temperature touching 27 degrees Celsius, I spotted a Robin in my garden. They really are exceptionally tame birds. For a full 20 minutes he hopped back and forth from fence to ground in search of food, occasionally singing, curious at my watching him. The secret to observing nature's wonders is quite simply stillness and silence, two commodities increasingly in short supply in the world today. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

William Lawes

Today (September 24th) is the anniversary of the death of the English composer William Lawes (1602-43). William Lawes was composer in residence to King Charles I and during the English civil war he enlisted in the Royal army; however in 1643 he was shot and killed during the siege of Chester, aged just 41. Lawes death prompted King Charles I to declare a period of mourning and to honour him with the title of 'Father of Musick'. William Lawes is chiefly remembered today for his Viol Consort Setts for 5 & 6 viols, his music being characterized by lyricism, a wide variety of keys, experimental harmonies and varied moods. 

One of Lawes last works was a fantasy on a penitential psalm entitled, 'I am weary of my groaning'. With William Lawes death English music lost potentially one its greatest composers. However his Consort Setts are today frequently recorded and performed, notably by Fretwork, the foremost musicians associated with the revival of  music for viols. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Michael Jarvis

Today the sad news that Michael Jarvis, one of Newmarket's top race-horse trainers for 40 years has died aged 73 of cancer. The master of Kremlin House Stables began training race-horses way back in 1968; his major wins include Eswarah winning the Oaks in 2005, Ameerat winning the 1000 Guineas in 2001, Holding Court winning the French Derby in 2000, Rakti winning the Prince of Wales Stakes and  Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Carroll House winning Europe's most prestigious race, the Prix de l' Arc de Triumphe in 1989. He also won big Group 1 races in Italy, Germany, France and the Topkapi Cup in Istanbul, Turkey.

Michael Jarvis was first and foremost a real gentleman, modest and soft-spoken. I had the pleasure of congratulating him at Yarmouth race-track in August 2007, with the first time out win of Ancien Regime, a 2 year old owned by Sheikh Mohammed. Jarvis belongs to a generation of true sportsmen, highly successful as a race-horse trainer for decades and much respected in the Flat horse-racing world.

Here's a photo of Jarvis with his long-serving 'in-house' jockey Philip Robinson in the parade ring at Yarmouth race-track on a cold April day in 2008.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vitruvian Man

Recently, when speculating upon whether the German mystic Hildegard von Bingen's manuscript illustration of Universal Man  is in any way related to the Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci's well-known image of Vitruvian man, I found that Sir Thomas Browne once owned a book entitled L'Architettura di Vitruvio (Venice 1641) complete with a commentary by the Italian humanist Daniele Barbaro (1514-1570) [1]. But in fact its highly improbable that the writings of Vitruvius could have been re-discovered in Germany in the 12th century, the rediscovery of Vitruvius usually being credited to the Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolini in 1414. It was Vitruvius who noted of the proportions of the human body that-

Just so the parts of Temples should correspond with each other, and with the whole. The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square. [2]

It's quite possible that Browne also once owned books by Italian Renaissance painters, including those of Da Vinci. The 1711 Sales Catalogue advertises Books of Sculpture and Painting with choice manuscripts for sale, but as the American scholar and editor J.S. Finch noted, no such books arrived at the auction-house having mysteriously disappeared. 

It's in Plato's philosophical discourse the Symposium that the idea of an original, androgynous, double-natured man can be found -

The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word "Androgynous" is only preserved as a term of reproach. In the second place, the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast. Now the sexes were three, and such as I have described them; because the sun, moon, and earth are three;-and the man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round: like their parents.

while in Sir Thomas Browne's discourse The Garden of Cyrus (1658) one reads-

Nor is the same observable only in some parts, but in the whole body of man, which upon the extension of arms and legges, doth make out a square, whose intersection is at the genitals. To omit the phantastical Quincunx, in Plato of the first Hermaphrodite or double man, united at the Loynes, which Jupiter after divided.

Plato's Original Man bears some resemblance to the Biblical account in Genesis in which God, taking a rib from Adam when asleep, forms a companion for him, naming her Eve. (Gen.2: 21-22)

Nevertheless an interesting  correpondence between the geometrical design of Hildegard's Universal Man and Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is evident; while Sir Thomas Browne's own highly original interpretation of the Platonic archetypes can be detected throughout  The Garden of Cyrus

[1] 1711 Sales Catalogue page 39 no.18
[2]  Vitruvius - On Architecture Book 3, i, 3

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hildegard von Bingen

Today (September 17th) is the feast day of the German Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen (1098 -1197 ) who not only wrote music but  was also a poetess, theologian, a Benedictine Abbess and all round polymath. The Sibyl of the Rhine as she was known, was consulted by princes, popes and emperors for her prophetic insight. Like Julian of Norwich, Hildegard experienced serious illness before receiving her visions. 

It was the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who remarked -

The creative mystic was ever a cross for the church, but it is to him that we owe what is best in humanity.

Jung might have added  and her as far as Christian mystics are concerned for many notable women mystics are recorded throughout the history of Christianity. Recently, feminist interest in Hildegard has  also grown, as has her place in  'New Age' philosophies for her holistic approach to life.

The above picture entitled  Motherhood from the Spirit and the Water dates from 1165. It's an extremely intriguing quaternity of images conveying a certain numinous quality of Hildgard's mystical experiences and   shares in my view, an affinity with the Layer Monument quaternity.

The other image worth pondering upon in Hildegard's art is her Universal Man, an illumination from her Liber Divinorum Operum (1165). To my mind its an image which strongly suggests that perhaps Hildegard had the opportunity to read of the so-called Vitruvian man of antiquity, the human proportional representation which Leonardo Da Vinci based his own famous image upon. Essentially a vision of the Anthropos, or Greater Man within, of which Christ remains the most potent living symbol of; Hildegard can be seen in the bottom left corner,  receiving and writing her vision.

But with mystics one can never be too confident there was ever a previous vision to the original one presented. However, universal and cosmic, Hildegard von Bingen and her Christian faith has endured, nine centuries on, to speak deeply of the spiritual life. The mystic, as ever, has the last word on the soul.

There's been a renaissance in recordings of Hildegard's music in the past two decades, I particularly like Richard Souther's pop music interpretation Vision (1995) with Emily van Evera singing. Hildegard's music has been considerably modernized on this recording, complete with multi-tracking and synthesizers but nevertheless its a very inexpensive buy on Amazon and a great introduction and reinterpretation. I used some of its tracks as interludes when first acting as Sir Thomas Browne in the church of Saint John the Baptist, Maddermarket in December 1996. 

A more traditional approach to Hildegard's music is A Feather on the Breath of God with Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices (Hyperion 2000). But there's a bewildering range of recording available in the catalogue at present, a veritable mine-field of good and uninspired  interpretations of Hildegard's music.

Here's the link to the Wikipedia entry on  Hildegard von Bingen

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Joseph Stannard

Today is the birth-date of Joseph Stannard, the Norwich artist who died tragically young of tuberculosis aged just 33. Joseph Stannard ( Sept. 13th 1797- Dec. 5th 1830) was one of the most gifted artists who exhibited collectively under the banner of  Norwich School from 1803 to 1833, the city being the home of the first regional art movement in British art. Such was the precocious development of the young Joseph  that he began exhibiting his paintings aged 14 in 1811. He looks confident and aware of his talents in his teacher Robert Ladbrooke's portrait of him.

Joseph Stannard's life is exemplary of  the romantic notion of a struggling  artist. Living in the turbulent era of  the early nineteenth century, he was often in financial difficulties and in poor health. In addition to his artistic skills he was, like his younger brother Alfred, a strong rower. He was also an  accomplished ice-skater who entertained the locals with his skill during cold winters. Stannard's era was also that of the Napoleonic wars which were prohibitive to travel  in mainland Europe. When stability returned to Europe, Stannard took the opportunity to visit Holland. In Amsterdam in 1821 he viewed paintings by seventeenth century Dutch landscape masters Ruisdael, Berchem and Hobbema which deepened his interest in marine and seascape subjects. He married in 1822 and in 1824 his fortune changed when the Norwich manufacturer John Harvey commissioned him to paint what is his master-work, Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon. Harvey's agenda was to establish Norwich as a sea-port for the export of his merchandise. After visiting Venice and witnessing festivities held on the water there he organised a similar event for Norwich society which promoted his idea of Norwich returning to its sea-port status.

In many ways Stannard's  Thorpe Water Frolic is an important social document of a rare day off work for Norwich's textile workers who are depicted upon the right bank of the river Yare. The growing middle-class, civic dignitaries and aristocracy of Georgian England are located on the opposite river-bank.

Joseph Stannard has used a fair amount of poetic licence in his capturing the mood of the event, complete with musicians playing Schubert, courting couples, naval officers, rugged seamen and city loom workers  all enjoying a work-free day on the river. Particular attention to weather conditions and a vigorous cloudscape frames the lively water-event.

Stannard's own boat the Cytherea is on the extreme right of the canvas. Joseph can be seen shielding his brow with his hand looking toward his patron Harvey standing in a gondola. He certainly entered into the spirit of the event which attracted 20,000 people in 1824, his boat is described thus-
'its colour is purple; the inside is adorned with an elegant gilt scroll, which completely encircles it; on the back-board where the coxswain sits, is a beautiful and spirited sea-piece, representing a stiff breeze at sea, with vessels sailing in various directions, painted in oils, and the spoons of the oars are neatly covered with gilt dolphins'.
There's an interesting inter-play between Stannard the sailor who depicted the rigging and canvas sails of boats with every rope in its correct place and the medium of canvas on which he painted. Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon is dominated by a canvas sail catching the breeze. The large-scale oil on canvas painting itself measures 108 x 172 cms and  is a jewel in the crown of the Crome and Cotman  galleries in Norwich Castle Museum.

Although the artists of the Norwich School  had the inspiration and natural beauty of the Norfolk landscape and its waterways upon their door-step, the tragedy many artists suffered from was a distinct lack of local patronage, obliging many talented members to engage in much drudging, teaching work in order to make a living, such was J.J.Cotman's frequent fate; worse still,  it also suffered from an  intense rivalry between leading families.

Ever since the young Joseph Stannard had enquired about lessons from the founding father of the Norwich School 'Old Crome'  John Crome (1768-1821) a bitter hostility existed between the two families. Crome quoted an extortionate sum which was in effect a snub to the Stannard family. The hostility between the Crome and Stannard families seems to have persisted throughout the nineteenth century, even to the grandchildren of the two masters of  'Old Crome' and Stannard, both families producing several generations of artists.

In some respects Joseph Stannard's biography comes across as the consumptive poet of romanticism not unlike Keats. In his finest paintings, Stannard's paintings burst beyond the confines of restrained Classicism into a lyrical, early Romanticism.There's also an equal balance between landscape and realistic portraiture of people who are active and integral to the landscape in Stannard's painting, unlike Crome's landscapes in which people are often incidental, or present only for emphasis of scale and perspective.

Throughout the 1820's Stannard  had intermittent bouts of poor health and resided at various Norfolk coastal resorts in order to recuperate. His later works include several highly original beach scenes which include activities of working fishermen. However in December of 1830 he died of tuberculosis aged 33. A memorial stone commemorating Joseph Stannard can be seen in the church of Saint John Maddermarket, Norwich.

Wikipedia has a page on Joseph  Stannard which links to a number of his paintings.  

Monday, September 12, 2011


Living in a city which has more medieval churches anywhere north of the Alps and rich in other cultural treasures, it's easy to overlook some art-work in Norwich's churches. It's not all entirely medieval here in Norwich, at the church of Saint Margaret for example, there's an east window commissioned in the 1960's and utterly 60's in style, depicting the Ascension of Christ. A refreshing change from the garish colours of Victorian stained-glass in many churches.

The Norwich organisation HEART (Heritage Economic Regeneration Trust) a charitable body, promoted four 'Open Days' from September 8 -11 to celebrate the City's extraordinary rich cultural heritage. Held every September the 'Open Days' make accessible some historic buildings not always open to the general public.  HEART's annual event grows in popularity each year, as I and a small army of volunteers will testify, after a hectic four days of meeting and greeting literally hundreds of visitors.

It's time to take stock of Norwich's cultural heritage. The public support and interest in the city's cultural heritage is strong and enthusiastic. However this support can never be matched economically in full by public donation alone. The future of many historical buildings in Norwich cannot be guaranteed until government or local council designates a greater value and percentage of tax or rates towards regional heritage. Although the whole world cannot thrive upon the growing tourist industry, Norfolk and Norwich in particular could gain enormously if highlighted as a tourist destination, including the creation of new jobs. The shortage of hotel space for visitors which Norwich once suffered from has now been remedied by several new large hotels, while HEART's recent 'twinning' with the city of Ghent could well provide further insights into how to effectively develop a tourist economy. 

The problem in reality is one which not only haunts Norwich but England as a whole, as the recent riots demonstrated. It's one of identity and self-confidence, who we are, how we address the world and how we wish the world to  view us. Norwich is a city rich in tourist attractions and mellow in atmosphere, but which cannot at present either decide or is lacking funding between the following - a faster and more efficient travel connection to London, which is feared will somehow erode the city's character - the construction of a new Northern bypass causing some serious local ecological  damage - or the  development  and expansion of routes from its airport, enhancing  its  continental connections. Its not seen as possible to have both a Northern by-pass and extended runways for a larger airport. Each of these projects, delayed or otherwise, impact considerably upon the city's future. Norwich's geographical location, as much of its cultural past indicates, lays very much towards the North-sea board of Europe, its historic past is intimately connected with the Baltic ports, the Benelux coast-line and even remoter parts of Europe. These geographic locations may ultimately be the source of Norwich's future economic well-being. Governments however, especially the present-day Euro-sceptic's, may influence the future otherwise. Norwich's true, radical identity is revealed by it's motto, which is Do Different. Whether the city will live up to its motto in the future is another matter.

For myself the Heritage week-end gave me the chance to create a few of my own modest events including the opportunity to talk on the Layer Monument and a demonstration of the marvellous acoustical properties of the church of Saint John Maddermarket. Connecting my ipod to an amplifier which in turn was connected to two 75 watt PA horn speakers placed high up in the organ gallery, when playing recordings of organ music by Pachelbel, Jehan Alain and Arvo Part, some visitors believed they were hearing a newly restored church organ!

I met many interesting people throughout the four open days and was amazed at the knowledge displayed by many on Norwich's cultural history. I also slowly began to realise as the four days progressed, that in many ways the greater part of Norwich's cultural heritage is to be found not so much in  its stone and art-work but in its people, both living and deceased.

P.S. Extensively restored at great cost in 2007, the 17th century Berney Monument remains as elusive as ever to view. I've lived in Norwich my entire life and have yet to see it. Although advertised as viewable from 10-4 p.m. on Saturday the church of Saint Peter Parmentergate was locked up by 1 p.m. !

The Berney monument is of particular interest having like the Layer Monument, a quaternity of statuettes in this case allegorical figures of Faith,  Hope, Charity and a winged Father Time. 

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