A Wool Church – Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk

raphaelFor anyone seriously interested in exquisite fifteenth-century stained glass then Long Melford in Suffolk is well worth a visit.

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Finished in 1484 the Great Church of the Holy Trinity contains a collection of some of the finest medieval glass in the country including a Lily Crucifix image and a rare roundel featuring a three hares motif.

suffolk-wool-church-holy-trinity-long-melfordHoly Trinity is one of Suffolk’s so-called ‘Wool churches’ as the erection of these buildings was funded from the profits of the medieval wool-trade. Advantaged Suffolk landowners prospered from the successful export of high quality wool and wool cloth to continental Europe and invested their profits building fine churches in the hope of facilitating a speedy journey for their soul through purgatory to heaven.

The medieval glass we see today filling the large ground floor windows features portraits of donors. These portraits would originally have glazed the upper, smaller, clerestory windows. For about 100 years during the 19th century some of this glass was used to reglaze the east window (1828) with more being installed in the west windows during 1862/3, however today these windows are clear. The present arrangement of the medieval glass, all along the north aisle, was carried out during the late 1940s.

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Across the nave to the north aisle windows now glazed with the medieval glass that was originally in the clerestory windows.

The height of these lofty clerestory windows helped protect the glass from the various destructive onslaughts that occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries. The lost/destroyed stained glass would have consisted of biblical images and religious themes popular in the medieval period and similar to those of the Victorian glass found in the south aisle windows today.

victorian-windows-long-melfordIn the medieval period clerestory windows were filled with a variety of images from Old Testament prophets and local church dignitaries to ethereal representations of angels and archangels. Amongst the many surviving medieval donor portraits (to be explored in a separate post) there are two archangels.

Here, at Holy Trinity it is the archangels St Gabriel and St Raphael that have survived. They are both exquisitely painted displaying subtle and detailed work using silver nitrate stain. They have been painted by a craftsman that understood how to use the translucent quality of his materials to achieve an unearthly quality, literally letting the spirit/light shine through.

There is another little gem hidden away in the Clopton Chantry Chapel. One of only five examples in England, the east window of the chapel bears a ‘Lily Crucifix’ dated from 1350. Christ is not on the Cross, but is instead crucified on white lilies. The blue background and the white lily represent the Virgin Mary and the motif symbolises the joint suffering of Mary and Jesus.

Finally, an unusual and rare three hares roundel has been placed above the north door. This motif is believed to have come to Europe from perhaps as far away as China via the Silk Road. If you look carefully you can see that although there are only three ears each of the three hares has two ears!

 

 

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Autumn – endings and beginnings

graduates-ucl-london

It’s that time of year again when most of the tribe are back from their holidays and it’s the beginning of a new academic year. It was first starting nursery, then school, then university and now for this year’s graduates, hopefully, it’s starting work. September is also the fashion show season. London’s Fashion Week has just finished on Tuesday, New York was the week before and those interested will continue to watch as Milan and then finally Paris present their style innovations.

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London Fashion Week 2016 trends from Google search. Still looks more like Spring Collections than buy now for autumn to me!

It is different this year as instead of showing a spring collection for buyers to order now with stock arriving in their stores next March/April, some brands were showing ‘see now, buy now’ or ‘runway to retail’ collections. Either way, in reality this doesn’t directly affect me as I only paint one-offs, but I do keep an eye on the changing trends. Mostly I’m interested in trends for colours and the feel of the overall palette that is on offer. This September I’ve noticed the odd glimpse of orange amongst all the very patterned designs from brands still showing designs for next spring. However, it appears the ‘see now, buy now’ presentations as shown by Burberry have logically chosen colours that feel more seasonally now, more autumnal, with hints of old gold, muted pink and dark plum amongst the black and grey.

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London Fashion Week 2016 – Burberry

As you can see above there’s plenty of black and grey generally popular for northern winters. I’m not holding my breath that there is going to be a sudden shift away to more colourful clothing to brighten our grey winter days. Wearing high fashion can be akin to a high-wire act, and for women over 40 it can be downright treacherous and inevitably blacks and greys remain the tried and tested favourites for mortals. And, you can always add colourful accessories to otherwise understated combinations to refresh and update your look.

Blacks and greys are fine, but, I guess at heart I am traditional as when I think of autumn I think of warm browns, old gold and burnt orange.

Anyway, after all that, here are two little black crows flying off into their futures . . . . .

into-the-future

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100 years ago today

 

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From 2014 to 2018 there have been and will be a number of different moments when people remember and commemorate the tragedy that was the First World War. For military historians the 15th September 1916 saw the first use of tanks on a battlefield. Tanks were deployed and active in the fighting at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. This battle was part of the long and infamous Battle of the Somme that had begun over two months before. It is hard for us to appreciate 100 years later the desperation of those times. Nobody could have imagined in 1914, at the beginning of the war, that two years later 19,240 British soldiers would lose their lives on the fist day of any battle, but that is what happened at the Somme on the 1st July 1916.

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Remembering heroes, battles and wars is part of human culture. How we commemorate various aspects of World War One says as much about how we view war, violence and sacrifice today as it does about how we think about the horror and carnage of the past. Perhaps somewhere an artist is marking the arrival of the tank into warfare, but it is a tricky subject. Today we don’t want glorification. National memorials are seldom hard, enduring sculptures instead they are fleeting events or services, or, ephemeral installations attempting to capture the vast, incomprehensible loss of life. Such an art project was the ‘19240 Shrouds of the Somme’ by Rob Heard that was set out in the Northernhay Gardens in Exeter, Devon.

The work showed 19,240 figurines each laid out in its own handmade shroud. The artist obtained the seven volumes of the War Graves Commission’s lists of those who died on the 1st July 1916 and recited each soldier’s name as he wrapped a figurine in its shroud and crossed that name off the list.

The overall work has a desperate, poignant appearance and the scale allows the observer to see each discrete form, each individual death, repeated over and over again. It isn’t remotely pretty – why should it be. It is marking a terrible event. The work looks wretched, pitiful and sorrowful without being sentimental. It works in all the ways that the over-hyped, simplistic and incredibly sentimental ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ did not. That was the poppy installation that filled the Tower of London moat with gaudy, ceramic poppies in a trite representation of the carnage of war.

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Sentimental – how to make the blood of war acceptable. Not 21st century art’s finest hour.

 

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Working up a fennel/morning glory design

Fennel-2Change of season and change of mood and I’m feeling like working stripes into my more floral scarf designs. Looking at Mother Nature’s versions of decorative streaks has given me a good place to start.

Some variations of Morning Glory have been worth stripping back to a slightly less intricate rendering and then worked with different colour combinations.

However, although these ideas would work well if I was screen-printing them onto a scarf, my freehand, painting style needs to have a looser starting point. I thought I’d combine these heavier looking floral shapes with my recent fennel inspired motifs.

Fennel-1

Here’s work in progress of a version I’ve created combining the two ideas.

 

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Romantic reflections -Shakespeare in the window

Romantic-reflections-Yet-We-sleep-we-dreamOxford Street in London this summer has a visual treat. Selfridge’s, well-known for eye-catching and innovative window-dressing, has teamed up with some world-famous fashion designers to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. There are 12 displays – here are five I managed to photograph between the crowds on a very busy Oxford Street.

The Alexander McQueen interpretation is from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ using the quote “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream”

‘Romeo and Juliet’, was chosen by Christopher Kane with the quote “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” providing inspiration.

Christopher-Kane-But-soft-what-light

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also gives us another romantic, inspirational couplet for Erdem – “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged cupid blind”.

Erdem-Love-Looks-not

Bucking the trend and displaying an alternative, challenging interpretation J W Anderson uses perhaps one of the most famous Shakespeare quotes “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from ‘Hamlet’.

JWAnderson-Hamlet

Although I love the unashamedly romantic frills and ornate prints of the Alexander McQueen window, there is something haunting and long-lasting about the Issey Miyake display. “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better” from ‘Twelfth Night’ is the chosen quotation. The textured, structural coat shaped from cloth adorned/woven with words from the significant text captures our contemporary engagement with Shakespeare in a most memorable fashion. Particularly striking, I thought, emerging from the reflections of a 21st-century cityscape.

Issey-Miyake-Love-sought-is-good

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Summer seals

Horsey-beach-rocks-and-seals

It was very windy last weekend and the sea was rough with plenty of white horses. On the sandy beach granite rocks are strategically strewn across the shoreline in attempt to reduce erosion, but what’s that? – a rock just moved.

grey seals on the beach

A few members of the grey seal colony at Horsey Gap, Norfolk.

Walking down towards the sea we find members of the Horsey Gap grey seal colony flopped out and sunning themselves. Or, playing rough and tumble in the surf.

Or, simply having a little nap.

The seal colony at Horsey Gap on Norfolk’s east coast is popular with visitors in late winter when all the pups have just been born. We were surprised to find so many seals on the beach in August. Of course, there are always one or two of them watching the watchers. . . .

. . .  especially when some of those watchers come a little too close and then the whole colony clumsily, but speedily move a couple of metres towards the water and away from the nosey humans.

Humans-visitors

You can’t see in these photos just how windy it was, but every now and then a gust whipped up the sand stinging any exposed skin. It reminded my father of the Shamal that blows down from Iraq and across Kuwait almost continuously during June and July each year.

It-was-very-windy

 

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High summer flowers – lilies, dahlias and hollyhocks

High-summer-lilies

August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.

I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.

I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.

White-lily

Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.

I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.

Rich-colours-arrangement

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Seen from a train

Summer-baked-FensJust over three weeks ago, when we had our mini heatwave, I was on a train crossing the Fens. It’s an agricultural and market garden region famous for being flat.

Fenland-green

Up to the 17th century it was wet, low-lying marshland, until drainage schemes transformed the landscape. The Earl of Bedford brought the Dutch drainage engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to the region and, with royal support from Charles 1, draining began around 1630. The King received 12,000 of the 95,000 acres of the reclaimed Fen land for the Crown .

Criss-cross-Fens

The process of draining was not entirely supported by the local population but gradually over the course of the 17th century the marshland became arable, workable farmland.  Eventually, over 300 years the marshes evolved into the Fenland landscape we see today.

The sepia picture was taken from the train. The original capture looked less interesting.

I had more luck when the train pulled into Ely and was stopped for a few minutes. One day I’ll get off and go and make a long overdue visit to the magnificent Norman cathedral known as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.

Ely-Cathedral-from-the-train

 

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Returning to a bird theme

Cora-in-progressJust added to my online shop another flat silk crepe silk square working with a stork motif placed within a stained glass window frame.

Cora-Jewel-1

Since I last worked with a stork motif it has greatly changed. Somehow it’s reduced in size and morphed into various stylised shapes of beaks and feathers!

However, I think the stained glass influence is still obvious.

It is surprising how effective the final addition of green over the various soft golds has lifted the design.Agne-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Cora-jewel-tied-WP

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The Oxburgh Hangings

Stork-The-Shrewsbury-HangingOf course, the outstanding exhibit at Oxburgh Hall is the needlework hangings embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots, Bess Hardwick (Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury) and their ladies-in-waiting between 1569 and 1584.  These hangings were NOT actually sewn at Oxburgh Hall, but arrived some time in the 18th century along with Mary Browne of Cowdray Park, a wife for the 4th Baronet, Sir Richard Bedingfeld.

Kings-Room-Oxburgh-Hall-1973-shows-hangings

The King’s Room, Oxburgh Hall circa 1973 showing the Marian Hanging above the fireplace and the Shrewsbury and Cavendish Hangings on the four poster bed. The hangings are now in a special room with no daylight and hang in sealed, moisture controlled display cabinets.

These embroidered panels are a visual and cultural expression of Mary’s time spent during her imprisonment by Queen Elizabeth 1. As such these embroideries are of a wider historical interest and significance than any part of the fabric of Oxburgh Hall or any other content of the hall, but, sadly, sewing is not such a crowd puller as a moat!

The-Marian-Hanging-with-Marys-cypher

The Marian Hanging – so-called as many of these panels have either Mary Queen of Scots’ initials or cipher.

Virescit-Vulnere-Vitrus-Marian-Hanging

The centre square of the Marian Hanging shows a hand cutting down the unfruitful branches of the vine, with the motto ‘Virescit Vulnere Virtus’ (Virtue flourisheth by wounding).

Marian Hanging monogram octagon

This octagon above the centre square on the Marian Hanging shows the monogram ‘Marie Stuart’ crowned, with thistles, Mary’s cipher and motto ‘Sa Vertu Matire’ (In my end is my beginning).

In March 1569, three months into Mary’s stay/incarceration with the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Shrewsbury wrote of Mary

‘This Queen continueth daily to resort to my wife’s chamber where with the Lady Lewiston (Livingston) and the Mrs (Mary) Seton she useth to sit working with the needle in which she much delighteth and in devisisng works.’

From this we learn that both Mary and Bess worked together in the design as well as the execution of the embroideries. Many of the designs have motifs and Latin mottos taken from emblem books that were popular across Europe during the middle of the 16th century. It appears inspiration was taken from woodcuts printed in a selection of natural history books including ‘Icones Animalium’ by Conrad Gessner (1560), ‘Devises héroïques’ by Claud Paradin (1557) and ‘La Nature et Diversité des Poissons’ by Pierre Belon (1555).

Designs were drawn onto linen canvas and then embroidered. Coloured silks, silver thread and silver-gilt thread were used, employing both cross-stitch and tent-stitch, to create the finished pieces.

The present arrangement of embroideries at Oxburgh, mounted on green velvet, is believed to have been made sometime in the 18th century to create the three hangings. They are called the Marian Hanging (after Mary, Queen of Scots), the Shrewsbury Hanging (after Bess Hardwick) and the Cavendish Hanging (after Mary Cavendish, Bess’s youngest daughter). Individually, each embroidered panel may originally have been used for cushions and were sometimes given as gifts.

Some of the designs have hidden meanings for the imprisoned Queen, such as the despair of the yellow rose eaten by ‘canker’ (bottom right-hand corner of the Marian hanging but, sadly, it was too dark for me to get a photo in focus without a tripod!). Quite a few different birds are featured. They make interesting shapes to embroider, but, also, of course, a bird can always take to the sky, fly away, escape.

Not all the designs featured birds and animals from the wild. A few panels show domesticated animals and farm activities.

Whilst one or two panels depict mythical beasts in all their intricate glamour such as this cockatrice.

A-Cockatrice-Marian-Hanging

A cockatrice from the Marian Hanging. Such a mythical beast was said to be able to kill with a look!

This is only a small selection of all the beautifully embroidered panels. The hangings are in a small room with restricted lighting, but they do look so much better in real life than in photos. Well worth a visit.

The-Cavendish-Hanging

The Cavendish Hanging

Note – for any Art Historians who stumble across this post. There are currently two books available on the Oxburgh Hangings, ‘Emblems for a Queen: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Michael Bath (2008) and ‘The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Margaret Swain (1973). For detailed technical information the V&A Museum is a great resource.

Scissors-owned-by-Mary-Queen-Scots

A pair of scissors once owned by Mary, Queen of Scots displayed in the King’s Room at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.

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A quintessentially English weather drama

Clouds-bringing-rain

Suffolk is well-known for big, open skies. These skies of cool blue with puffs of white cloud were made famous in the paintings of Suffolk-born, John Constable, from Dedham Vale on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Flatford-Mill-John-Constable

Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) by John Constable   1816
Oil on canvas. 52.4 in × 6.4 in × 62.3
Tate Britain, London

However, it’s not always sunny in Suffolk and recently there have been spells of speedily arriving storm clouds and heavy summer showers.

rainbow over sea

Dark skies, heavy showers and bright rainbows over the North Sea at Aldeburgh.

These conditions, combined with the evening sunlight, have resulted in some spectacular, brilliant rainbows. Sadly, I didn’t get the best shot as it was gone by the time I’d run back indoors to get my camera, but one rainbow looked like it was dipping into a pot of gold in the depths of the sea. It was the brightest, most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen.

The next morning following the stormy showers it was the return of blue skies and white clouds complementing the painted houses bright along the seafront – a very English view.

Next-morning-sunny

Still, what’s to do on a stony, shingle beach with a very calm sea, ah yes, skim stones.

Pebble-Beach-Aldeburgh

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