The Wolsey Garden in Autumn

Tucked behind the main buildings of Christchurch Mansion there is a small tranquil garden, the Wolsey Garden, and despite its formal structure it has beds planted in a loose, informal style. The main walkway is bordered with a hedge of clipped yew whilst the smaller beds of the garden are edged with lavender that spills over the paths softening the hard edges.

Entrance to The Wolsey Garden restored in 2006 by The Friends of Christchurch Park.

The garden is planted with a mixture of herbaceous perennials with evergreen domes of yew in the middle of the beds to provide yearlong interest and structure.

Soft, silvery planting.

At this time of the year it is the floriferous lilac asters that bring colour to the design and complement a delicate silvery sculpture that makes an elegant focal point for this small space.

Lilac asters with ‘Triple Mycomorph’ in the background. The sculpture was commissioned and donated by Tom Gondris in memory of his parents.

The sculpture, ‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds, was donated to the garden by local businessman and prominent member of The Ipswich Society, Tom Gondris, in memory of his parents Eugen and Else. Tom’s family were a Czechoslovakian Jewish family living in Sudetenland in 1938. When his parents recognised the imminent threat from Hitler they were able to arrange for their only child, Tom, to board the last Kindertransport to leave Czechoslovakia. Nine year old Tom left his home and, sadly never saw his parents again. More about his fascinating life story can be read here.

‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds (1915–1997). Aluminium alloy. 1992

When I visited the garden earlier this week it wasn’t only the asters still in flower, but a few semi-double white roses added both colour and a light scent to this quiet and peaceful space.

Before I wrap up this post I must draw your attention to the magnificent, mature cedar that stands on the western boundary of the Wolsey Garden.

Its striking evergreen form will become more and more prominent when its deciduous neighbours drop their leaves as the autumnal changes gather pace.

The delicately refined and the brutally honest

Sometimes a national event becomes a moment to note that nothing is fixed forever. The recent ten days of state mourning and a state funeral is one such example.

Visit any local parish church and you can see how the great and the good have been memorialised in stone or glass to be remembered to the end of time! Naturally, as with most aspects of human society the expression of commemoration is subject to the form of the times and the ability to pay for the memorial. The fine and elaborate tomb of Sir Robert Drury and his wife, Lady Anne, reflects the status they enjoyed whilst alive and the elite memorial fashion of the early sixteenth century.

The tomb of Sir Robert Drury (1456-1536) and his first wife, Lady Anne. Sir Robert was a Knight of the Body to Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

By the time of the eighteenth century more and more middle class professionals and their families were worthy enough and had means enough to be publicly remembered and were able to afford wall monuments.

18th century wall monuments for the great and the good of the locality. St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

But if we revisit the medieval period we find memorials which are less a decorous celebration of a life, but more a prompt to the onlooker to consider their own mortality. One expression of this sentiment is the Transi or Cadaver Tomb. There are over 40 medieval cadaver tombs extant in England and Wales and one of these is for John Baret (d.1467) and it can be found in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. Baret was a wealthy cloth merchant and a gentleman of the household of the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds who had his memorial constructed in 1463, four years before his death.

The Cadaver Tomb of John Baret. Limestone. 1463

This particular cadaver tomb is unusual as traditionally the tomb had a clothed human effigy on the top of the tomb, and the naked emaciated corpse below. Baret reversed the convention and had his single-carved, three-quarter sized, naked corpse on the top with his miniature, clothed version below on one side of the tomb in bas-relief.

The miniature, clothed Baret in bas-relief.

Baret also had these words carved near his effigy’s head, “He that wil sadly beholde one with his ie, May se hys owyn merowr and lerne for to die“. (‘He that will sadly behold me with his eye, may see his own morrow and learn for to die’.)

These days it appears we have travelled a long way from the clear-eyed almost brutal memorials of the medieval dead to a time where youth is lauded to such an extent there is almost a denial that death exists at all. If there’s one positive to be taken from the ten days of national mourning, it is that it provided an opportunity for ordinary people to discuss their own experiences of loss and bereavement more openly.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar

Last week I had to ring an information telephone number and when my call was connected I was informed the current waiting time was 60 minutes. Interestingly the voice didn’t say one hour, but 60 minutes. Maybe, they think you’ll mishear and be hoping it was only going to be a 16 minute wait. Eventually after 57 minutes of holding on, I spoke to a human who endeavoured to help, but when they attempted to put me through to another department the advisor inadvertently cut me off.

Momentarily I was stunned. Disbelief was rapidly followed by R A G E. My blood pressure must have rocketed into the stratosphere. I felt I needed to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Breathe some fresh air. Go for a walk. Visit somewhere soothing and peaceful.

I strolled over to Christchurch Mansion which is near to where I live and at 10.15 on an August weekday morning it was open and thankfully still quiet. Of course, I have visited the Mansion on a number of occasions since I moved to Ipswich, but as yet had never investigated the Toy Room. To my surprise, along with the usual faded dolls and well-cuddled teddy bears, there was this fascinating gem. It is a Victorian Glass Dome display called the Doll’s Toy Bazaar.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is roughly 22 inches tall by 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep.

It’s difficult to understand the scale of this piece from photographs even when estimated measurements are given so I thought I’d include a sequence of photographs with ‘normal sized’ reference points.

Left, dome on the middle shelf of the case next to a doorway. Centre, dome above the antique dolls. Right – a little hard to see, but me with my phone in the toy mirror.
An aerial view of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar show it’s not as cluttered as it first appears.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is packed with miniature versions of familiar homeware. It’s relatively easy to spot candlesticks, glasses, porcelain ornaments and a few crocheted doilies.

Candlesticks, bottles, ornaments and a couple of white egg cups.

But something I didn’t notice until I looked at my photographs was this grouping of three very tiny houses. I think you can tell how small they are by the brush behind which has a head of bristles the size of a modern toothbrush head.

A model of three tiny houses – a toy for a Doll’s house nursery perhaps?

Looking at the entirety of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar made me consider the nature of the person who had collected and selected and arranged this display. Her name was Henrietta Clarke and she died in 1869. I’ve not been able to find out anything else about this Victorian woman at all. There’s no indication of her marital status or age at the time of making the display nor even if she grew to adulthood.

Mind you examining her creation we might presume that she had had steady hands and a patient temperament although lurking beneath the Victorian etiquette of feminine passivity there might have been an inner core of turmoil and vexation.

Doll’s house drinking glasses. Each glass is the size of your little finger’s finger nail.

Tribe at the Festival (not Glastonbury)

There are festivals and festivals. The Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts has been going since 1948 and is a music festival, but one without camping. It was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and the writer and producer Eric Crozier.

Before the evening concert at Snape Maltings from across the River Alde.

The first festival was held from 5th to 13th June 1948 with a varied programme of choral, orchestral and chamber concerts, recitals, exhibitions and lectures and three performances of Britten’s opera Albert Herring.

The Maltings through the grasses and reeds, 21 June 2022.

Over the following 20 years the festival’s increasing international reputation for excellence and its subsequent expanding audiences led to Britten and Pears realising the need for a dedicated festival concert hall. The disused maltings at Snape were selected for redevelopment. According to Kenneth Powell of the ’20th Century Society, “Britten was a demanding client: he wanted a 1000 seat hall, costing no more than £50,000, and completed in time for the 1966 Festival. The concert hall eventually cost £127,000 and seated 830”. It was opened by the Queen on 2 June 1967, the first day of the 20th Aldeburgh Festival.  

However, just two years later on 7th June 1969 the concert hall was destroyed by fire. The hall we see today is the replica rebuilt, as requested by Britten, to be “just as it was”. The Queen came again in 1970 to open the hall, as she had done in 1967, and is reported as saying that she hoped not to be asked to come back a third time. The Queen may not have been back to the Maltings, but with the exception of the two years for Covid cancellations, the Aldeburgh Festival has returned every year since.

So what of the ‘tribe‘ at the festival? It is an artwork. It is these fine bronze men striding out towards the reeds. ‘Tribe’ by Laurence Edwards is part of a a three-year creative collaboration between Britten Pears Arts and Messums Wiltshire for 2022, 2024 and 2025.

‘Tribe’, Laurence Edwards, 2019-21. Bronze. Walking Figure 1, 238.8 x 134.6 x 83.8 cm, Walking Figure 2, 240 x 142.2 x 81.3 cm, Walking Figure 3, 238.8 x 124.5 x 88.9 cm.

The bronzes are currently on display as part of the Aldeburgh Festival at the Maltings site. They will then feature as part of Laurence Edwards’ solo exhibition ‘Tribes and Thresholds’ at Messums Wiltshire from 6 August – 16 October 2022. And, then next year they will travel to the other side of the world to Australia to be installed at the Orange Regional Museum in New South Wales.

It is difficult to appreciate from a photograph the compelling presence of these bronze men not least their imposing size.

Five men.

As a group of three there is an intensity and solid quality to the ‘Walking Men’, but also, for a static sculpture, a strong sense of movement. And, then, when you look up and into their faces expecting purpose and resolve instead there is a questioning hesitancy coupled with a hint of resignation or perhaps even loss. Altogether a captivating work.

St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich

Ipswich has twelve medieval churches and St Margaret’s is a glorious, though slightly unusual, example of one of these fine, historical buildings. From the outside it appears like many medieval parish churches you find in an English town or village, but inside it has a superbly carved, fifteenth-century double-hammer beam roof embellished with, and this is the surprise, a programme of late seventeenth-century paintings.

St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich – a Grade I listed, mediaeval beauty.

Originally part of the Holy Trinity priory, St Margaret’s was built during the course of the fourteenth century for the growing lay community that flourished around the Augustinian priory.

St Margaret’s in the bright sunlight of early spring and the soft hues of a winter sunset.

Ipswich during the medieval period was a successful, wealthy town with the East Anglian wool traders exporting to the Continent from the Port of Ipswich. Successful merchants and townsfolk, like any good Christians of the time, provided funds for the church and towards the end of the fifteenth century a double hammerbeam roof was added to the building in order to raise the roof and add a clerestory.

The fifteenth-century clerestory and double hammerbeam roof.

Several merchant families are recorded as major benefactors of the church who provided the funds for raising the roof. John (died 1503) and Katherine Hall (died 1506) and their son, William, were woad dyers and woad merchants, and their initials and merchant marks have been noted carved in the timbers of the roof. Other initials and marks belonging to the brickmakers, Henry and Isabel Tylmaker who left legacies in their wills of 1445 and 1460, can be seen together with the mark for a thatcher, John Byrd the Elder.

Left photo, the nave looking to the east, middle photo, looking to the west and finally the righthand photo shows the large, useful mirror to aid viewing the ceiling.

Looking up at the roof you can see amongst the ornate, decorative embellishments, carved saints, both male and female, unfortunately most are difficult to make out and even harder to identify in the gloom (binoculars and a very sunny day are needed).

Ornate fifteenth-century carving.

Altogether there are over 120 carvings embellishing the roof structure including on the south side symbols of the Passion. The ladder, spear, nails, crown of thorns and scourging pillar have been recorded, but without binoculars I couldn’t see them let alone manage to photograph them in the ambient light despite it being a very sunny day. A camera with more oomph than mine was needed.

Detail of the fine carvings.

Since 1700 there has been a decorative scheme of shields used to hide the damage caused by William Dowsing and his iconoclasts who visited during 1644.

Margarett’s, Jan. 30. There was 12 Apostles in stone taken down; and between 20 and 30 superstitious pictures to be taken down, which a godly man, a churchwarden promised to do.

‘The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford, parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches.’ Journal commenced 1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.
Decorative shield pierced by metal tie-rod. The ties were installed to stabilise the nave walls/roof in the early nineteenth century.

This particular display of heraldry is explained in depth here if you’re interested. It reminded me of how far most of us have come from some of the pedantic and somewhat trivial aspects of the British class system.

Moving on from that aside, and returning to the roof and its programme of late seventeenth-century paintings, we see an elaborate tribute to William and Mary. There are 50 panels that were painted and installed in late 1694 and early 1695. Along the centre at the highest point of the ceiling run a series of ten sky panels with clouds and gilt stars. Then to either side of those run panels of heraldic arms. In this sequence above the north aisle two panels show the arms of England and Scotland and on the other side above the south aisle of France and Ireland.

The third series of panels (those immediately above the clerestory) feature texts such as ‘Feare God’ and ‘Honour the king’. Not all the panels contain words, many simply show trompe l’oeil cartouche imagery popular in the Baroque period. The painting is thought to be by local artists, with perhaps the more accomplished depictions by either William Carpenter alias Cheeseman (a painter and glazier) or Thomas Steward (a painter and engraver). Both men are in the local record as having being paid for creative work during the 1690s in the Ipswich area.

Left- cloud panels seen along centre of the roof. Right – panel trompe l’oeil cartouche with text.

St Margaret’s painted ceiling is unusual and part of Ipswich’s history, but it is still heavy-looking, dark and gloomy despite undergoing a programme of conservation and cleaning in 1994/5. Perhaps regional tastes at the time of William and Mary were for dark and heavy and not elegant interiors, but somehow I think that this was the best that could be afforded. Ipswich, at the end of the seventeenth century was no longer a wealthy town exporting wool to Europe.

Gorgeously Grotesque Ceramics

Every now and then we have a pleasant surprise when we discover something new. When you’re way past your half century novelty and surprises become less frequent, but they can still pop up and make you smile.

And, this was precisely my response on my most recent visit to Christchurch Mansion when I took the time to scrutinise a few ceramics that I must have hurried past at least ten times before.

These fabulous monsters and goblins are examples of the intriguing and imaginative work of Blanche Georgiana Vulliamy. Startlingly grotesque and so brilliantly coloured I can’t believe I had not noticed them before.

Blanche, one of thirteen children, was born at the family home, Oakstead, on Spring Road, Ipswich, in 1869. In 1890, after finishing her studies at the Ipswich School of Science and Art, she moved to London where she trained as a portrait artist. At some later point in the 1890s she moved down to Devon to live with her grandparents in Torquay. During this time she began working with Royal Aller Vale pottery in Barnstaple.

In her work as a ceramic production designer she created pieces that have the feel of medieval gargoyles. Her work was widely popular and she designed ranges for various manufacturers to produce under their own names. Baron, Wardle, Wileman, Brannam, Watcome as well as Royal Aller Vale all made ranges from her designs.

Naturally, she also sold original pieces from her studio and both Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra (then Princess of Wales) bought examples of her work.

Blanche at work..

Blanche was not only a ceramicist, she exhibited paintings at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and, whilst living in London, she wrote the play ‘Give Heed’ which was produced by Miss Kate Rorke at the Court Theatre in 1909. The play was also published as a book by Constable & Co. And, then during the course of World War One, Blanche sketched a series of pastels featuring searchlights in the night sky. A collection now held at Christchurch Mansion.

WW One Searchlights. Blanche Georgiana Vulliamy. 1914-18. Pastels on paper.

Blanche was active from the end of the 19th century until her death in August, 1923. She bequeathed examples of her work to Ipswich Museum. I have read from old newspapers that Christchurch Mansion held an exhibition of her work in 2001. Perhaps next year, 2023, they might hold another to mark the centenary of her death.

A Queen of France in Suffolk

This is St Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds and until the Reformation it was known as the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St Mary’s Church, Honey Hill, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

It is a large parish church and has the second longest nave of any parish church in England. It was originally part of a monastic complex, the medieval Abbey of St Edmund.

The Abbey was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England. From 903 AD it held the relics of the martyred Anglo-Saxon king St Edmund and pilgrims visited the shrine from across Europe.

Visualisation of the medieval Abbey of St Edmund before the Reformation by Victorian artist, W K Hardy. 1883

With the arrival of the Reformation the Abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII in 1539. Since then over the centuries the valuable building materials of the Abbey have been removed for reuse elsewhere. Interestingly, St Mary’s survived and today we see the largest West Window installed in a parish church in England. It is measures 35ft 6in by 8ft 6in.

The long nave and the large West Window of St Mary’s.

On a sunny day the interior of the church is patterned with rainbow-like light from the large south facing windows. It is a pity that all the medieval stained glass is long gone, but there’s still some fine, high-quality Victorian stained glass filling the windows. The West Window is a particularly elegant creation, and was designed and made by the London firm Heaton, Butler & Bayne. The window was installed in 1859 having been paid for by local landowners as a thanksgiving for the bumper harvest of 1854.

The West Window. Heaton, Butler & Bayne, c.1859

And what is that positioned directly beneath the centre of the window ?

Royal Coat of Arms beneath the West Window.

Yes, you might have recognised it. It is the coat of arms for the British Royal family. And, you don’t get to erect those on any old building even a fine church unless . . . there is a state or royal connection. And, here in the parish church of a Suffolk town it is a royal connection in the form of the tomb of Mary Tudor, Queen of France.

Mary Tudor was the favourite sister of King Henry VIII and for political alliances in 1514 was married to the much older King Louis XII of France. Louis died in 1515 at 52 years old leaving Mary a widow at 17 years old. Letters between Mary and Henry indicate she had agreed to marry Louis only on condition that if she survived him, she should marry whom she liked. Six weeks later in Paris she secretly married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who had been sent to France by Henry to escort Mary back to England.

 Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. Wedding portrait by Jan de Mabuse. c. 1516

In Tudor times to marry a royal princess without the permission of the king was treason and Charles Brandon could have been executed. However, thanks to the eloquent and effective negotiating skills of another Suffolk man, Thomas Wolsey, the King was persuaded to fine the couple £24,000 instead.

Mary Tudor was the Duchess of Suffolk until her death at Westhorpe Hall, Suffolk, on 25 June 1533 at the age of 37. She is now buried in the corner of the sanctuary of St Mary’s Church.

In the corner close to the alter is the tomb of the once Queen of France and latterly the Duchess of Suffolk, Mary Tudor, favourite sister of Henry VIII.

It is obviously strange to see a Duchess of that period, let alone a Royal Tudor princess, buried in such a plain fashion. Of course, originally as King Henry’s sister and the Dowager, Queen of France she was buried in state in the crypt of the magnificent Abbey Church on 21 July 1533. Then five years later at the time of the Dissolution her body was the only one permitted to be removed and reburied in the nearby parish church of St Mary’s.

It is unclear whether there was a funerary monument erected at the time of her reinterment but a couple of centuries later, in 1758, a tablet was laid above her remains.

Fast forward just under another 150 years and at the suggestion of Edward VII, who visited the church in 1904, a marble kerb was placed to surround the grave tablet and prevent the clergy walking over Mary’s tomb. I agree with and leave the last word to one of the church’s Vergers who at some point remarked on the ‘ugliness of the kerb’.

In Need of Some Colour – Part II, The Maldon Embroidery

Last week, we took a brief tour of Maldon in Essex, but I failed to mention the specific reason for my visit which was to see ‘The Maldon Embroidery’ on permanent display at the Maeldune Heritage Centre.

The Maldon Embroidery. (Photograph from the Maeldune Heritage Centre website.)

The Maldon Embroidery was initially called ‘The Millennium Embroidery’ as it was commissioned to celebrate 1,000 years of Maldon’s history.

Left, depiction of the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, one of the oldest churches in England. It is just down the River Blackwater from Maldon at Bradwell-on-Sea. According to Bede it was built by Bishop Cedd in AD654. Right, sculpture of Bishop Cedd in a niche of All Saints Church, Maldon. The text PANT is the word used for the River Blackwater in the Old English poem ‘The Battle of Maldon’.

It was unveiled over 30 years ago in 1991 to mark the millennial anniversary of the Battle Of Maldon in 991. The whole work is 42 feet long and 26 inches wide and is formed of seven panels. It was designed by the famous photographer, artist and textile designer, Humphrey Spender (1910-2005) who lived locally in the village of Ulting four miles from Maldon.

Left, Earl Byrhtnoth sculpture by Nathaniel Hitch (1845–1938) in a niche of All Saints Church, Maldon. Byrhtnoth died at the Battle of Maldon and, right, is shown in the embroidery fighting the Viking invaders. His name in old English is beorhtnoðbeorht (bright) and noð(courage).

This textile work falls within the tradition of a ‘Bayeux tapestry’, and like the Bayeux original it isn’t actually a tapestry (woven), but is embroidered (hand stitched).

Left, Maldon is granted a Royal Charter by Henry II in 1171 and, right, a photo of the unusual triangular church tower of All Saints Church, Maldon also featured in the embroidery.

Furthermore, Humphrey Spender felt the term tapestry was associated with something “faded and dun-coloured”. And, as we can see this intricately detailed, colourfully vivid work is anything but faded.

Thomas Plume (1630–1704) famous for his library which he had built in the 1690s on the site of the collapsed nave of St Peter’s church. At the time he also had the church’s surviving West Tower restored.

The content of the embroidery is partly chronological and partly thematic. The significant Battle of 991 is near the left end and we then walk along its length and across time with depictions of noteworthy local events and well-known landmarks.

The finished embroidery of the warfare panel, corpses and all. Image from the official Instagram account ‘humphreyspender’.

Unsurprisingly, as the embroidery was made to mark 1,000 years since the Battle of Maldon, warfare is one of themes. The war panel flows from left to right in a transition from ancient to modern warfare.

Part of the original design on paper for this panel. Image from the official Instagram account ‘humphreyspender’.

When we reach the end we have travelled through time to 1991. The final panel shows vignettes of Maldon’s twentieth-century highlights such as the 1980s construction of new roads and roundabouts around the town.

This is the final panel. Top right in the mouth of a lion you can just read Lee Cash (the driving force for this project) and at the bottom right the beginning of designer Humphrey Spender’s name (apologies I didn’t capture the full panel).

Working together with Humphrey Spender, Mrs Lee Cash and Andrew Fawcett, a further 85 embroiderers took three years to create this work of art.

Edward Bright (1721–1750) was the ‘fat man of Maldon’ at 47.5 stone and was famous as the fattest man in England during his relatively short life.

May I just at this point apologise for the multiple reflections in the photographs and the lack of pictures of full panels. It is a physically long piece of work and naturally it is protected behind glass, but sadly opposite large windows. I am not sure if the glass is of a special quality, but the display room is brightly lit with damaging daylight.

Left, the tugboat Brent moored on Hythe Quay and again featured in colourfully glory on a panel of the Maldon Embroidery.

Discussing his love of bright colours, Humphrey Spender, who lived in a Richard Rogers steel and glass residence for over three decades, once commented on the fading of domestic textiles in his home saying they’d faded substantially in just 15 years. Well, the Maldon Embroidery is already 30 years old and so far it is still very colourful, let’s hope it stays that way.

The Coat of Arms (crest) of Maldon.

John Constable -A Suffolk Artist

Last month I went to see the ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.

Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, John Constable (1776-1837) is known as one of the most important of all British artists with many of his famous works featuring the gentle countryside of his bucolic home county, Suffolk. Constable’s landscape paintings not only showed a new way to paint, but through sharing his visual interpretation he also encouraged his audiences to view the landscape in a different way.

I think this idea of a historical and different way of perceiving reality, as well as a historical way of viewing any re-presentation of that reality by an artist of the corresponding period, is more difficult for us to imagine than we realise. We are, after all, living in a time after the Impressionists, after the Post-Impressionists and after the Modernists, indeed, we now appear to exist in a time considered so postmodern much of our realities are viewed with deep skepticism. Please just hold this in mind as you look at the next two paintings and as you read the context for their creation.

‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’. July 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33 x W 50.8 cm

On show in this exhibition is a very special pair of paintings. In the summer of 1815 with the health of Constables’ elderly father, Golding, failing and his wife, Ann, John’s mother, having died earlier that spring, John came to visit with his father in East Bergholt. During the course of his stay he spent many hours in the fields sketching and painting. Two paintings produced at this time were ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’ (above) and ‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’ (below).

Constable never exhibited or attempted to sell these two paintings during his lifetime. Although highly finished, these were private works, records of the landscape that was precious to him at a difficult time. I think this is a fine example of the difference between the sensibilities of the early 19th century and our ‘show all, tell all’, skeptical 21st-century existence.

‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’. August 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33.1 x W 50.7 cm

Returning now to the exhibition more generally it is possible to detect that Constable believed in the necessity of being skilful at drawing. A capability in the world of art that has not always been fashionable. At the beginning of his career Constable often copied from Old master prints, to develop his technique. He continued this practice into later life, collecting prints by Dutch and Flemish artists such as this copy of Jacob Ruysdael’s ‘The Wheatfield’ (below).

‘The Wheatfield’ by Constable (top) after Jacob Ruysdael. 1818. Pen and sepia ink on paper.

Of course, the exhibition also displays some of Constable’s original drawn creations such as this pen, ink and watercolour study of East Bergholt church.

‘St Mary’s, East Bergholt Church: the exterior from the South West’. c. 1796. Pen, ink and watercolour on paper. H 25.8 cm x W 39.7 cm

On the picture it is just possible to make out a faint set of pencil grid lines drawn in preparation for the transfer and enlarging of the church into the finished oil painting.

‘East Bergholt Church’. c. 1796-97. Oil on board.

Naturally, there can’t be a Constable exhibition without at least one painting that includes some aspect of Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I had just taken the above photo and was about to leave the gallery when the Gallery Steward approached me and asked if I’d spotted the kingfisher flying over the water in the Mill Stream painting. I hadn’t.

‘The Mill Stream’. c. 1814. Oil on canvas. H 71.1 x W 91.5 cm. The building we see is Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I paused and looked. And looked closer, and closer and squinted and eventually he pointed it out to me. There it was a brush stroke of red and two of blue, the kingfisher.

A sequence ending in a spot magnification (thanks to computer wizardry) to capture Constable’s kingfisher flying across the Mill Stream.

Christmas Trees at the Mansion

The other week, before Omicron arrived, I popped into Christchurch Mansion to catch up on the latest ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition. The gallery is only a 15 minute walk from where I live and I always enjoy walking through the Mansion’s park on my visits, particularly at dusk.

A winter sun setting as seen through the old glazing.

As I said I went to see the art, but I was distracted by the fine sunset and then the Christmas Trees on display. And, as this is my last post before Christmas this year, I thought we might make a toast or two in the Servants’ Hall.

In 1923 this room was fitted with panelling and an overmantle taken from The Old House, 32 Carr St, Ipswich.

The servants’ hall was first recorded as such in the 1840s, although it was probably used in this way much earlier. The space was conveniently situated near to the kitchen, to the servants’ staircase to the attic bedrooms and to the service wing of the mansion where the work of running the house was carried out.

That’s the butler perhaps.

All the servants ate together in the hall, but it was expected that the butler and the housekeeper would retire to take wine and a dessert. These formal meals provided an opportunity for junior servants to learn how to serve by waiting on the older servants.

Yes, that is a red hat on top of the tree.

The furniture now on display is not typical of a usual servants’ hall, but represents the sort of pieces that might be found in a large farmhouse kitchen or country inn. I think the idea is to give the visitor an essence of Victorian life rather than historical accuracy. Also, I am not sure how many servants would have been offered a serving of the rather fancy apples à la Parisienne!

Pommes à la Parisienne

And, as for those toasts

Sometimes what glitters is gold

In these times when curators of large, famous Western museums are grappling with the contentious issue of repatriation of cultural artefacts, it is interesting that even smaller, regional museums also have collections of objects from ancient times and very, far-flung places. This situation has partly arisen from the Victorian obsession for collecting combined with their civic movement that saw the building of museums in many county towns across the country.

Ipswich Museum is like many regional museums in this respect and has a section devoted to the Ancient Egyptians. The outstanding core of this collection is a small, dark room with at its centre a decorated Egyptian mummy that contains the remains of Lady Tahathor. She was a wealthy woman who lived and died in Luxor 2,500 years ago. She was brought to England in 1856 by George H Errington, then in 1871 she was donated to Colchester Museum and since 2010 has been the centre piece in Ipswich Museum’s Ancient Egyptian gallery.

This coffin contains the mummy of Lady Tahathor. 2,500 years old. A CT scan was performed at The Oaks Hospital, Colchester and suggested she died of natural causes in her mid-twenties.

At the head of this display and spotlit to catch the drama is a gold death mask. This is not from Ancient Egypt per se, but was in fact made between AD80-120 for a Roman citizen who lived in Egypt and wished to be buried in the style of an Ancient Egyptian god as opposed to the usual Roman manner.

Golden mummy mask for Roman Titus Flavius Demetrius. Ad80 -120.

The Roman citizen’s name was Titus Flavius Demetrius and his golden mummy mask was excavated by pioneering Victorian archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Hawara in Egypt in 1880. Only a death mask for Titus is on display and there doesn’t seem to be any record of what happened to the mummy. However, the early 20th-century curator, Gay Maynard, is credited with the masks acquisition for Ipswich Museum.

Titus’s death mask is not the only golden death mask on display at Ipswich Museum. There is another also from the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt made for a man known as Syros. It is nearly 2000 years old and is made of layers of linen or papyrus paper with plaster. It bears a gilded face of inlaid limestone with glass eyes and painted brows and has a border with painted vignettes and Greek text on top of the head.

This mask was placed on the mummy Syros who lived and died in Roman occupied Egypt. (On loan from the British Museum)

This golden mask is a longterm loan to Ipswich Museum from the British Museum who bought it in 1889 from the Rev. Walter L Lawson. Apparently, the Rev. Lawson collected Ancient Egyptian objects from excavations at Hawara in Egypt in 1889-90, but it is unclear whether he actively took part in the digs. However, there are records of him purchasing pieces from the antiquarian market in Luxor in 1889.

Nut, goddess of the sky. Ancient Egyptian goddess.

It is intriguing how the Ancient Egyptians still hold such fascination for many of us and it is encouraging that a local museum can share an interesting display of fine, original objects. The provenance and ownership of some pieces may be tricky, not least the mummy of Lady Tahathor, but maybe sharing human histories and practices can partially eclipse any ‘generating society’s’ privileges.

The two Romans, Titus and Syros, rejected their society’s death practices and in a way appropriated those of the Ancient Egyptians, maybe they were simply converts. However, for whatever reasons they had, the result for us 21st-century visitors to Ipswich Museum is to witness their choices made 2000 years ago in the form of these two gilded masks. Both are indeed finished with real gold even if technically they were not made for ‘real’ Ancient Egyptians. Oh, the delicious complexity of being human.