Today, 24th November, marks a couple of birthdays in our family. My great-grandfather, Harry Whatmore was born on 24 November 1879 in Limehouse, London. He was probably born in the family home, 32, West India Dock Road. According to the 1891 Census he was still living there 12 years later along with his parents, William and Ann, and his four sisters and three brothers.
In this photograph of Harry, I gather he was over 80 years old at the time, you can see a small statue in the background on the windowsill. A strange oriental piece that shows a Chinese man growing out of a lump of knobbly wood.
The sculpture has been in our family since one of Harry’s older brothers, Bill, a seaman, brought it back from a stint in the Far East. It is carved out of a single piece of irregularly, lumpy wood. I think it might be cedar root and possibly an example of the Chinese traditional folk art of cedar-root carving.
As I look at the old family photo, below, I wonder what happened to the sisters and the other brothers of Harry and Bill. I don’t remember my grandmother every talking about them although she did once mention the Limehouse Whatmores had been involved with running some kind of Christian Seamen’s Mission on the West India Dock Road.
I expect Bill brought other gifts back from overseas, but my grandmother was a great one for selling off stuff as and when required. She was certainly not sentimental by nature. This is the only known ‘art’ survivor from her family and it was not appreciated by my mother at all (she thought it rather creepy), but it was a favourite with my father.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now reading ‘Salt and Spittle’ you may have thought I was going to post a ‘foodie’ review following a visit to a new, ironically named local pub, but no that’s not the case.
Of course, I am sure some folk will already know about pre-Reformation baptismal rites, but this was all knew to me despite my longstanding interest in medieval art, sculpture and architecture. Perhaps, that is because the ‘salt and spittle’ aspect did not easily lend itself to artistic interpretation.
The ‘sal et saliva’ (salt and spittle) was part of the sacrament of baptism where salt was placed in the infant’s mouth whilst the nose and ears were anointed with the priest’s saliva during the ceremony.
Fascinatingly and somewhat serendipitously, there is a medieval font in Ipswich where it is still possible to read the ‘sal et saliva’ carved into stone. The eight sided, fifteenth-century font bowl of the church of St Margaret shows eight angels bearing scrolls. Originally, all eight angels had carved faces and text on their scrolls, but then the iconoclasts came to visit. It isn’t clear whether the angels were defaced sometime during the sixteenth century or later when William Dowsing made his destructive tour through East Anglia.
“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.”
William Dowsing. Record – St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich. 30th January 1644
However, the survival of the text might simply have been that the font had been moved up against a pillar or the wall and had therefore restricted access for arm with chisel. Although, it does appear that the angel’s face was removed. I suppose it will remain an unresolved mystery as to why this text ‘sal et saliva’ has survived.
The Reformation in England had mixed outcomes but at least one benefit was that such a superstitious and unhygienic aspect of baptism fell out of practice. I can’t imagine many modern parents would want their baby anointed with spittle not least in these Covid 19 times.
Sometimes it is only too easy to make assumptions. This image of a rather smug looking cat could be a ‘Good Luck’ greeting card or a contemporary print.
In actual fact it is one of twelve similar, although not identical, twelfth-century lions carved in relief to decorate a marble font bowl.
The square font bowl is made from black Tournai marble and is set on a Tudor stone base. Although Tournai marble fonts decorated with lion motifs are found throughout Europe, there are only nine in England. This particularly fine example can be found in St Peter’s Church, College Street, Ipswich.
There is evidence of a church on this site since Saxon times and further evidence of a stone building from 1130 when an Augustinian priory dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul was established to the east and north of the church. It is thought that the font dates from the latter part of the twelfth century and that it is almost certainly the original priory font.
The font arrangement we see today in St Peter’s was organised by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey when he claimed St Peter’s in 1528 following the dissolution of the priory.
However, the damage to the font base we see today occurred after the Cardinal’s time. This deliberate defacing of the figures was carried out by William Dowsing, when according to his journal, he visited Ipswich on 29th January 1643.
Through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Suffolk wool trade brought prosperity to Ipswich. The extensive rebuilding of the old church begun by Wolsey was continued after his fall and death with the wealthy parish funding the rebuilding work.
These days, something that no doubt would have surprised Cardinal Wolsey, St Peter’s is no longer a site of Christian worship. The church, redundant since 1973, was converted in 2006-08 to a music and arts centre. It is a popular venue in normal, non-Covid times regularly hosting ‘The Ipswich Hospital Band’ and a ‘Jazz by the Waterfront’ series.
These cats look like they’ve taken a few sips from those beer glasses momentarily balanced on the rim of the font as enthusiastic jazz fans offer their applause at the end of a set. And, here’s to a return of the music in the not too distant future.
Note – April 2020 – I made this visit before the Covid Lockdown and like many public places this building is currently closed.
Last week I went to visit the ‘Marvellous Machines’ exhibition currently showing at the Ipswich Art Gallery. It is a fascinating, stylish display of visually elegant and appealing mechanical artworks.
And, what’s more you get to push small, red buttons to make the automata work in all their whirring and squeaky intricacy.
In these digital times it’s easy to take for granted all our speedy, convenient tech. We click and scroll without a second thought as to what is actually going on beneath the screen.
It wasn’t always so and the ‘Marvellous Machines’ exhibition reminds us of all those bewitching clockwork and mechanical objects from the past. Some examples such as mechanical toys were purely for entertainment and some were functional equipment that was often beautiful too.
Functional objects from the past on display in this exhibition included a braille typewriter, a rather attractive ‘shrimp’ sweet making machine
and a scale model of the an early Otis lift.
Of course, humans have used mechanisms to make moving toys for thousands of years.
Naturally, in an Art Gallery some of the works on display are examples of art. These delightful mechanical sculptures by Paul Spooner are exquisitely crafted, and are both beguiling and witty.
I particularly liked the manner in which the mechanics are also on display in this piece. It has become an expression of our contemporary culture to reveal inner workings. Here you can see the cogs and spindles are finely made and are assembled in a functional and satisfyingly ordered arrangement.
Another work by Peter Markey, Artist-Painter, resonated surprisingly strongly with me. It’s as if he has been spying on me!
‘Marvellous Machines’ featuring these quirky pieces from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, continues at Ipswich Art Gallery until 3 November 2019. If you can’t get to Ipswich a list of upcoming events displaying some of these mechanical sculptures is available on the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre website. Finally, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre sell some of their work online offering one-offs, limited editions and even ‘build your own’ kits.
Rodin’s world-famous sculpture ‘The Kiss’ is currently the centre piece of the ‘Kiss and Tell’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. It is on temporary loan from the Tate and it is fascinating to see it spotlit at the centre of a dark, navy blue room.
The inspiration for the figural forms of ‘The Kiss’, was taken from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and are the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Originally, the design for the two lovers, together with precursors for other renowned Rodin sculptures ‘The Thinker’ and ‘The Three Shades’, were part of a major government commission. In 1880, the French government had commissioned Rodin to create large, ornamented entrance gates for a new decorative arts museum in Paris.
The gates were to be over six metres high and were to feature forms inspired by Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’ as well as the ‘Divine Comedy’. The museum was not built, but Rodin repurposed some of the sculptural details to make stand alone pieces one of which became ‘Le Baiser’ the marble version of Francesca and Paolo and is known to us English speakers as ‘The Kiss’.
Also on display at the exhibition was a sketch for ‘The Three Shades’. The shades are the ghosts of dammed souls that stand at the entrance to hell and point to the sign “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. It is always thought-provoking to see the creative processes behind a finished work of art such as preparatory drawings and small-scale models. And, indeed, when discussing his work towards the end of his life, Rodin said “It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work”.
Another sculpture by Rodin in the exhibition shows a more formal, restrained style. This marble portrait bust of society beauty Mary Hunter, shows a polished and contained individual. I understand the societal constraints of the times, but I still think this is a chilly and detached piece especially in comparison to the vital, visceral quality of ‘The Kiss’. Mind you this could be partly due to the fact that, according to the exhibition label, the actual carving of the marble was carried out by an assistant working under Rodin’s direction.
Personally, I am not keen on this style of portrait and it feels too similar to a death mask for my taste. I much preferred another portrait head by Rodin, this time in bronze, of the popular Japanese actress, Hanako.
Apparently, Rodin, who met Hanako in 1906, was fascinated by the range of emotions the actress could portray with her face. Unfortunately due to the low light and darkness of the piece my photograph of this compelling bronze portrait does not do it justice.
Supporting the main Rodin pieces were examples of various sculptures that either influenced Rodin or works that were influenced by him or had an obvious Suffolk connection. A portrait bust by Maggi Hambling of her tutor, Bernard Reynolds, falls into the last category. The original bronze was cast in 1963 whilst Hambling was attending Ipswich Art School.
“I studied at Ipswich Art School from 1962 until 1964. For my portrait of Bernard Reynolds, I worked in clay as he toured the sculpture studio, his head always tilted towards the ceiling, in the manner of an inquisitive, exotic bird”.
Cardinal Wolsey (1470 or 1471-1530) sadly ended his days being hounded by King Henry VIII and died in Leicester en route to London following his recall from York to be tried for treason. It hadn’t always been so as Wolsey had spent much of his life and good fortune entwined with the Tudors despite being born the son of a butcher in Ipswich.
Thomas Wolsey – by Jacques le Boucq (1520-73) circa 1550. This drawing is thought to be a copy of a lost portrait dated 1508 when Wolsey was in his late thirties and a royal chaplain.
Thomas Wolsey – unknown artist 1589-95. This oil on panel painting is a later copy of a lost original work painted about 1520 when Wolsey was at the height of his power. He’s shown in his cardinal’s robes.
Thomas Wolsey was clever and after attending Ipswich School he studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. Henry VII had made Wolsey Royal Chaplain, but when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, Wolsey’s intelligence, administrative competence and diplomatic skills began to be recognised and rewarded. He rose through the ranks, both ecclesiastical and secular, to become Archbishop of York in 1514, Cardinal in 1515 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529. And, he was passionate about the role of education creating the Cardinal’s College of Mary, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford, although neither of which outlived him in their original form.
Despite all his accomplishments Wolsey ended his days in disgrace and was buried in ignominy in Leicester Abbey without a significant, grand monument to mark his burial. In fact Wolsey had been overseeing arrangements for his eternal resting place including a design for a sarcophagus and accompanying sculptural adornments some six or so years before his death.
By 1524 the sarcophagus had been made and the Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano, was commissioned to create four bronze angels to complete the monument.
However, despite these exquisite Renaissance angels being sculpted and cast by 1529 a year before the Cardinal’s death, the full memorial tomb was never assembled and erected in its entirety as . . . . .
unfortunately for the Cardinal he dramatically and cataclysmically fell from the King’s favour following his failure to obtain a divorce from Pope Clement VII permitting Henry to escape his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.
There may not be the grand tomb in Westminster Abbey for Cardinal Wolsey that he had envisaged, but there is an engaging tribute to Wolsey in his home town of Ipswich. It is a commemorative statue by David Annand that I hope Wolsey would have deeply appreciated as it depicts him not only as the Cardinal, but gesticulating, as if in full flow, educating the world (or at least the good folk of Ipswich as they stroll up St Peter’s Street).
The 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, . . .
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.
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.
Sometimes a single photograph simply doesn’t convey the sheer scale and drama of a building. Last month I was staying in Milan and took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Italian Gothic cathedral – the Duomo di Milano. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the third largest in Europe with only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Seville Cathedral being bigger.
Even when you walk across the Piazza del Duomo through the tourist crowds it doesn’t ‘feel’ huge as unlike many other medieval cathedrals it is broad rather than tall. Then, the closer you get the magnificent marble façade looms and looms above you. The scale is best appreciated when a few humans stand in front of the mighty west doors – mille grazie soldati!
The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and was begun in 1386 and took over six centuries to finish. It is constructed from grey and pink-veined Candoglian marble that was ferried down a system of waterways from the Lake Maggiore quarries. From a distance it looks like an intricately iced cake, but up close you can truly appreciate the many marble statues and the fine ornate decoration.
Glimpsing ‘The Madonnina’, the highest point. Gilded copper.
There are 3,400 statues, 135 spires including 700 figures and 96 large gargoyles adorning the church. Looking up at the spires you might assume they were simply decorated with architectural, sculpted foliage, but in fact they are spires with multiple niches each holding a statue and finally each pinnacle is topped by another statue.
Interestingly, such a vast and lengthy undertaking as building and embellishing a magnificent cathedral resulted in a collaboration between local Lombardy sculptors and workers from further afield including French and German sculptors.
And inside. . . The interior can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres – I think the guide below was just checking to see where they all were on this very, cold morning.