A vast interior – Milan Cathedral

Sculptural-friezeThe impressive, ornate Duomo di Milano is unmistakable and familiar to anyone vaguely interested in medieval church buildings, but what about inside . . .  naturally it’s vast. The interior space can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres. It feels magnificent as you enter the immense, shadowy gloom from the bright Milanese daylight.

It is hard to capture the scale of the space which is dominated by the 52 pillars that make up the five aisles of the church, but a few shots down the nave to the altar and beyond . . .

and then standing in the transept to the right of the main alter looking across to the northern apse, encompassing the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree,  . . .

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Across the transept looking northwards to the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree.

and then turning around to face the altar of Saint John Bono (San Giovanni Bono) on the southern side of the transept, and you begin to get the idea.

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Altar of San Giovanni Bono filling the southern apse of the transept.

Milan Cathedral has taken over 600 years to complete and during those centuries various architectural and art styles have come and gone. Interestingly, although the Altar of San Giovanni Bono looks at first glance as if it was a whole, complete design created at one time by a single sculptor, it is actually a combination of sculptural pieces. The main figure of San Gionvanni Bono in the centre of this classical style altar, was sculpted by the 18th century sculptor Elia Vincenzo Buzzi around 1763. The statue stands beneath the inscription ‘Ego sun pastor bonus’ (I am the Good Shepherd) and it is flanked to its right by The Guardian Angel and to the left by St Michael. I liked the composition of The Guardian Angel grouping and thought it made an interesting photograph. Our guide simply walked past the whole altar affair, ignoring it and began to relate the details of the more famous Marco d’Agrate statue of St Bartholomew nearby.

Now back home, I have spent some time digging around in the literature and at the same time examining my photographs. I’ve discovered that the two statues flanking the central display were created by a different sculptor and not Buzzi. They are the work of Giovanni Bellandi and were carved 140 years earlier than the Buzzi work. If you look closely the Bellandi work is less stiff and formal than the Buzzi statue. In any case I just liked the idea of such a grand altar being a successful composite of more than one artist’s work carved over a century apart.

Another decorative element of the building that significantly adds to the drama of the experience is the beautiful stained glass.

Soaring 20 metres up towards the ceiling the windows are filled with stained glass some from the 15th and 16th centuries with more additions in the 19th century and some new windows commissioned as recently as 1988. Stained glass is more fragile than stone, and requires regular maintenance. The cleaning and repairing work began in the 17th century and has been carried out ever since.

Of course, over the centuries, many hundreds if not several thousands of people have worked to build and adorn the cathedral and most of them remain unnamed. In our individualistic times celebrating named, famous artists, it is refreshing to think of the extensive collaboration of these unnamed people, working together over hundreds of years, to create such a magnificent building as the Duomo.

 

Magnificent patterned floor

Magnificent patterned floor of Candoglia white, Varenna black and red marble (1584) designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-96) – laid by many hands.

 

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day – 26 March 2017

 

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As we approach Mother’s Day (here in the UK) I have been lucky once again to be selected by UK Handmade to have a couple of my scarves featured in their Spring Showcase.

As you may already know I take all my own product and publicity photos. I have been photographing my own work for four years now, but try as I might I still can’t get my head round photographing in advance, in preparation for the next season. I always marvel at the wintery Christmas television adverts that were most likely shot in high summer.

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The best I can manage is to create the feel of a season. For spring this year I initially had a go at working with yellow, but in the end I have chosen pink for the main colour. I’m going all out with spring pink. In fact I have even rearranged my shop homepage to start with all the pink and mostly pink scarves. Who doesn’t love a little double pink cherry blossom?

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Visual Impressions

craft-platform-imagesScrolling through various Instagram accounts for craft marketplace platforms, I noticed there was almost a ‘house style’ for images. This is despite photographs being selected by different platforms and originally uploaded by many different crafters. Neutral rules the day with plenty of white. Is this style just for the world of handmade, or, are some of the luxury brands presenting themselves in a similar manner?

luxury-brandsNaturally, I looked at the Instagram accounts for Hermès, the world’s most famous brand of scarves, and Liberty, a store famous as purveyors of pattern and colour. And, it is easy to see – hardly any computer white and plenty, plenty of colour.

Now, how about an Instagram account promoting the work of specialist, artisan crafters. Displaying craftwork that is neither particularly homespun nor high-end, big brand luxury – I chose to look at the feed for the Craft Council.

inbetweenImages chosen by the Craft Council do have more white than the luxury brands, but also considerably more colour than Etsy, DaWanda and Folksy pictures. I made a comparison with my own recent postings to Instagram and although I don’t stick rigidly to scarf photographs the overall feel of my account is most like the Craft Council.

Now I have attempted to put this insight to use. I have experimented adding and subtracting colour to one of my scarf photographs aiming to make the image more interesting.

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Firstly, too much colour with no white in sight. Next near enough devoid of colour  altogether. Then finally, a corny compromise – the colour pop!

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Different interpretations – costume designs for Madama Butterfly at the La Scala Museum, Milan.

madama-butterfly-foujita-1951Last November I was visiting Milan and had the opportunity to go to the opera at La Scala to see a semi-staged version of ‘Porgy and Bess’. It was intense and moving and very dramatic. The next morning I went back to La Scala to visit their museum to see their temporary exhibition featuring costumes from previous productions of Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly’.

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Sketches for the 1904 première of Madama Butterfly at La Scala, Milan. Costume designs by Giuseppe Palanti.

The première of ‘Madama Butterfly’ took place at La Scala 1904. The above sketch and the poster (below) comes from this production with costumes by Giuseppe Palanti (1881-1946).  The drawings for his designs were on display showing an interesting interpretation of a Japanese aesthetic as seen through the eyes of a late-nineteenth-century Western artist.

Naturally, costume designs for a staged performance are always going to be larger than life and to be visually effective they have to work for the front row to those in the gods. There was plenty of colour from the costume designer Luigi Sapelli (aka Caramba, 1865-1936) in La Scala’s 1925 production for those seated at the back to appreciate.

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Costume by Luigi Sapelli (aka Caramba, 1865-1936) for 1925 production.

Fast forward to 1951 and La Scala invites the Japanese artist, Foujita (1886-1968 ) to work with them on their latest Madama Butterfly production. Interestingly, his costumes were more muted with stylised motifs. Foujita was born in Tokyo and studied both in Japan and Paris. He lived most of his life in Paris becoming a French citizen in 1955. I can’t help but feel that maybe he was very well placed to create a ‘fusion’ collection of costumes for the opera.

By the time we see the costumes for the 1985 production, there is a change in sensibility resulting in a more contemporary less overtly historical look.

This is hardly surprising as the famous Japanese fashion designer, Hanae Mori (born 1926) created the costumes. I think her work gives us a more subtle interpretation with a nod to the historical. Indeed, one costume features a traditional Ukiyo-e image adding interest to a dramatic black costume.

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Silk scarf painting

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Last autumn I felt like renewing how I approach my work. Nothing major, but some adjusting here and there, some tweaking and a few small changes in how I create my silk pieces. I have been developing using some of the more regimented medieval motifs into less restrained pieces, combining the stylised forms with looser more naturalistic ones.

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Then when introducing the colours I started by wetting the silk with water first and then adding the dyes in a painting style more similar to working with watercolours.

The results – after steaming to fix the dyes – were okay. I was happy with the outcome using this type of medium weight flat crepe and this scarf is now listed on my shop.

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A few of my favourite things (brightening a dull February)

winter-beach-walkI know it’s known as the short month, but sometimes February simply feels too long. I often find it more gloomy than the dark days of November. Perhaps it’s the closeness of the much anticipated spring compared to the everyday reality of more grey, depressing drizzle. So I thought I’d consider some uplifting, diversions and a culinary treat!

Blue flowers – no fresh ones in the garden yet, but these saved and dried from last year.

dried-winter-flowersPhotos – capturing the delicate winter light at the waterfront,

harbour-winter-sunor, that brief moment of low February sun at home.

low-winter-sunCake. Making a naughty, but nice treat. . . .  and naturally eating it!

dada-cake-treatMemories. A moment of sentimental recollection on finding long forgotten toys during an otherwise fruitless search of all those boxes in the attic.

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Down the rabbit hole with John Tenniel

alice-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glassIt’s just over one month into the New Year and the world of politics is thrashing from one extraordinary tweet to another and here in the UK a notable Member of Parliament has even suggested some of our politicians are living in Wonderland.

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Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Chapter VII, A Mad Tea Party, ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll. 1898 Illustration by John Tenniel (from my grandmother’s 1905 edition)

In last week’s parliamentary debate on Brexit, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, expressed his views on the hopes of his Pro-Brexit colleagues saying,

“Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union,” he said. “Nice men like President Trump and President Erdoğan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

Flicking through my Grandmother’s copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, to find the famous John Tenniel illustration of the Hatter’s Tea Party, I spotted a few more delightfully grotesque images I’d forgotten.

Interestingly, there is a tradition hailing from Suffolk, that a medieval stained glass, representation of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is the inspiration for the Duchess in John Tenniel’s illustrations found in ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’.

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This splendid painted glass is part of the spectacular, medieval stained glass windows of Holy Trinity, Long Melford in Suffolk. However, when digging around for further information I read that some commentators have suggested Elizabeth Talbot looks more like the Queen of Hearts. I’m not sure whether it is the headdress styles or the facial expressions depicted that have prompted such comparisons.

Of course, either way it’s a nice idea, but I think, in truth, I am more in agreement with Marilyn Roberts who, writing in ‘The Mowbray Legacy’, suggests that the well-known painting, ‘Grotesque Old Woman/The Ugly Duchess’ by Quentin Massys in the National Gallery, was more likely Tenniel’s inspiration.

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‘The Ugly Duchess’ or ‘Grotesque Old Woman’ by Quentin Massys. Oil on oak panel 62.4 by 45.5 cm. circa 1513 National Gallery, London.

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Valentine’s Day – Red, pink or maybe . . . ?

agatha-cherry-detail-copyIt’s just under two weeks’ to Valentine’s Day. Naturally, there’s plenty of red merchandise filling the shops, but I’ve noticed there’s more choice than ever and if red Valentine’s cards, red flowers, red boxes of chocolates, and so on, are perhaps too traditional, you can now find similar in pink.

Currently, I do have several predominantly pink silk scarves listed on my online shop. However, perhaps a combination mixing it up – pink with accents of deep red is less obvious and slightly more memorable??

Mind you choosing a scarf that is not overtly considered the traditional Valentine’s ‘colours’, say, grey (altogether more muted with the merest hint of pink), could be just the ticket!agatha-silver-comp3

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Winter visit to the beach

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It’s been a hectic few weeks and it’s nearly the end of January and Christmas has faded into a hazy memory!! Finally, in a quiet moment I eventually uploaded photos from our visit to the beach on Christmas Day which is now a family tradition. This year we ignored the weather forecast of heavy grey skies with the odd shower and drove over to Waxham.

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Naturally, as is often the way, the coast has its own weather and although it was very, very windy it was sunny skies and racing white clouds. It was delightfully refreshing. However, there was a downside and that was the occasional slap in the face from sand whipping along the shore. And, boy did it sting!

It seems each time I visit there are additions to and deletions from the sea wall graffiti. These new, free form ‘faces’?? may yet be filled with colour before the images are either painted over by the authorities or worn away by the winter waves.

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One poor little seal pup had missed the receding tide and was stranded on its own between the rocks at the top of the beach. I used a telephoto lens for this photo. The pup didn’t look too happy and I didn’t want to disturb it further by getting closer. We hoped all the dog walkers would keep their pets away too.

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Immediately the other side of the sea defences, on this part of Norfolk’s east coast, farmland runs along the dunes. It looks a little odd to see sheep grazing on muddy earth, but they are actually grazing the brassica crop, which looks like it’s turnips.

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Time to leave. Interestingly, and I’m not sure why but there were far fewer walkers this year than in previous years. Maybe the WRONG weather forecast had put people off!

leaving-waxham

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Mutter, mutter, mutter – La La Land

Let’s start with a point that I am sure we’d all agree with, a movie is not real life, and, however much we suspend our disbelief when watching a film, deep down we know we are watching a fiction. Now let’s consider musicals. Loosely, that is films where, at the drop of a hat, characters move from speaking to singing and dancing to tell the story. Now, here, we are in no doubt that we are watching a fiction. Some folk like musicals, some do not. Oddly, for some time there has been this strange situation that ‘the Hollywood musical’ has been viewed as passé and naff yet musical theatre in the West End (London), on Broadway and around the world, has been extremely popular. Apparently, if you believe all the hype, change is coming. The latest Hollywood musical ‘La La Land’ is going to make screen musicals popular again.

Written and directed by the youthful, Damien Chazelle, ‘La La Land’ presents a 21st century musical version of the Hollywood dream scenario. It opens with an energetic, fast-paced, one-take, song and dance routine in the midst of an LA traffic jam. Then the focus tightens and we are introduced to Seb and Mia, played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (two major Hollywood stars), who will then sing, dance, play the piano and act out their tale for us.

playing-piano

A musical is fiction in capitals. Now, with that in mind, and taking into account that there are sequences of true flights of fantasy in this film, was it too much to ask that the two leads could actually sing and dance! I am a huge fan of Ryan Gosling, but honestly he can’t sing. It is really impressive that he learnt to play the featured piano pieces for the film but this ‘jazz’ playing must have had true jazz aficionados stuffing their fingers in their ears. I understand that Damien Chazelle is passionate about the old musicals (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as well as the big Hollywood hits, Singing in the Rain, et al) so why wouldn’t he celebrate the essence of ‘the musical’ which is the music, the singing and the dancing. I’ve heard well-known film critics explain that using stars that aren’t tiptop song and dance people gives an authentic feel to their performances. Mmmm, really? – I just feel so sad for all the young, talented musical theatre trained performers, wannabe film stars, grinding their teeth as they watch this.

However, I admit, I seem to be in a very small minority on this one. I was not impressed. All the knowing, clever, referential ‘homage to the great musical’ fell rather flat for me when the film’s leads turned out to be musical lightweights. What is the point of a musical if the stars can’t carry it (or a tune!)? I’ve heard and read plenty of reviews of this movie and cannot for the life of me understand what’s going on. Is this a postmodern and then post-ironic musical? One reviewer went as far as noting that there is ‘the charm of amateur singers’!!

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I think we are living in unnerving and challenging times at the moment and people are looking for ‘warm glow’ escapism. I went to a Monday afternoon, big screen showing with a fair sized audience and there was a palpable feeling of disappointment at the end of this film.

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I wrote the above on Monday evening and originally concluded my mutterings with “Something just didn’t feel right about it for me.”

Since then I’ve read these two, interesting and powerful, slightly less mainstream articles . . .

‘The Unbearable Whiteness of La La Land’ by Geoff Nelson

and

‘La La Land’s White Jazz Narrative’ by Ira Madison III

 

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‘Reproductions’ – a pictorial essay

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This follows on from last week’s post, ‘John Berger – Look again’.

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