Mary Tudor, a favourite sister

St Mary's Bury Suffolk
St Mary’s Parish Church, Bury St Edmund’s, Suffolk.
Resting place of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk.
Mary Tudor was the fifth child of seven born to King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York. Mary Tudor’s first marriage was to King Louis XII of France and she was his third wife.

These two pictures were displayed near Mary’s tomb. The image on the left is Mary Tudor (c.1514) painted for Louis XII. The original is attributed to Jean Perréal of Paris, Royal Painter at the French Court. The portrait was painted before Mary left England for France. The image on the right is a copy from a portrait of Mary (c.1516) painted with her husband the Duke of Suffolk. The original oil is attributed to Jan Gossaert.

The marriage to the King of France only lasted two years and upon the death of Louis, Mary scandalously married Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, in a secret ceremony in Paris.

It was a secret wedding as the couple had not gained approval from the English King Henry VIII, her brother. For a royal sister to marry without permission was considered treason and both Mary and Charles could have been executed. Fortunately, following a defence of their marriage by senior advisers such as Cardinal Wolsey, the King decided to level a large fine instead. The Duke and Duchess were then formally married in public at Greenwich Hall in London.

Buried next to the altar. Mary Tudor Queen of France. St Mary's, Bury St Edmund's, Suffolk.
Buried next to the altar.
Mary Tudor Queen of France.
St Mary’s, Bury St Edmund’s, Suffolk.

Mary Tudor may have been a King’s sister and a King’s wife, but as the Duchess of Suffolk she was buried in the Abbey at Bury St Edmund’s in Suffolk. It is possible she had a stone tomb within the Abbey in the Tudor style, but following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Abbey was spoiled and she was reburied in St Mary’s Parish Church. A space next to the altar, as her royal rank dictates, is marked as her resting place, but without a formal funereal structure.

These plaques hang above the area of Mary’s tomb.


Sacred to the Memory of Mary Tudor, Third Daugther of Henry the 7th King of England, and Queen of France; Who was first married in 1514 to Lewis the 12th King of France, and afterwards in 1517, to Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk. She died in His Life Time in 1533, at the Manor of Westhorp in this County and was interred in the same Year in the Monastery of St Edmund’s Bury, and was removed into this Church, after the Dissolution of the Abbey.

Interestingly, the aristocratic, but not royal Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, is buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

St Mary's interior - site of a royal Tudor burial, a pleasant English church, but no Westminster Abbey or St George's Chapel, Windsor.
St Mary’s interior – site of a royal Tudor burial, a pleasant English church, but no Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Sometimes it is black and white

NatDynamic2About four times a year I collect together my recent work and spend a day having my scarves modelled and photographed. Every time I’ve done this I have started out with a vague idea of what I wanted, but never clear or strong enough to get instant results. But of course, nothing is simply instant and now experience has shown me that it always takes two or three hours minimum before we start to achieve some worthwhile images.

All my product photographs are in colour as if you are going to buy a scarf you want to see what colour it is. But every now and then a shot just looks so much better in black and white.


Visual Connections – A game of two rhinos

Rhinoceros, Dubbo, NSW
©Garrulous Gwendoline
Last week, fellow blogger Garrulous Gwendoline, posted a delightful piece about her visit to Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia. She illustrated her account with some charming animal photos. Along with some appealing pictures of that special Aussie bundle of fur, the koala, there was a striking photo of a rhinoceros. As soon as I saw the photograph I was immediately reminded of the popular woodcut made by Dürer 500 years ago.

rhinoceros woodcut
Dürer woodcut rhinoceros from notes!

Art Historians are fascinated by Dürer for many different reasons and one of them is this woodcut. He constructed his image of a rhino not from his own direct visual encounter, but from secondhand reports sent to him in Germany. The first living rhinoceros to be seen in Europe for over 1000 years was a gift sent from India and had arrived in Lisbon in 1515 amid much interest and curiosity. I think we can say it was an opportunity not to be missed and Dürer set to work and produced his high quality prints. A woodcut and drawing of Dürer’s rhino is held by the British Museum.

Apart from offering to his public his contemporary theory of art and reinvigorating the medium of print, Dürer also left us a short series of self portraits as a visual record of his ideas and confident imagination. This is one of my favourite self portraits as he presents us with a dramatic, intense, almost 21st-century celebrity style version of self. There is much art historical discussion about his choice to portray himself in such a Christ-like manner, but I think the general consensus is that he is idealising and promoting the role of the artist as opposed to himself. Well, he certainly makes himself look attractive and appealing in a very human way. One day I hope to travel to Germany to see the original hanging in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, but for now here it is.

Dürer self portrait 1500
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Self-portrait with fur-trimmed robe (1500)
Limewood 67.1 x 48.9 cm

“Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremberg, portrayed myself with characteristic colours in my 28th year.” Translation of the Latin inscription.

Guild Membership – Previously Essential, Now Optional

Broderers Guild at Norwich CathedralSince the shock of the financial crisis and a general reappraisal of ‘values’ there has been a move to revisiting some older traditions. People are interested in buying locally, knowing the maker and trusting in the small scale. Perhaps these sentiments, together with the Internet connecting artisans working in the same field though geographically remote, are factors that have contributed to a mini revival in the idea of the Guild.

Richard II of England
Richard II – King of England from 1377 – 1399. Portrait at Westminster Abbey painted sometime in the 1390s.
Guilds, whether merchant or craft, were an essential aspect of European medieval life. They were the groups of organised craftsmen or merchants who collectively provided assistance for their members as well as setting standards for trading or production within their profession. There is evidence of guild activity from as early as the 12th century, and from the 13th to the early 18th centuries guilds wielded significant economic and civic power in their communities.

A guild could represent one or more trade sometimes named for their profession such as Carpenters’ Guild or sometimes named after a saint such as the most powerful merchant guild in Norwich, the Guild of St George.

In 1388 in England King Richard II required all guilds to record their membership details and activities. The returns for Norwich showed there were 19 guilds including the Dyers’, Weavers’, Fullers’, Mercers’, Drapers’ and Merchants’ guilds. By 1444 the Norwich based Worsted Weavers’ Guild was so influential they gained the power to regulate the woollen cloth industry throughout East Anglia.

Nowadays there are a couple of active textiles guilds in the Norwich area. They are the Broderers’ Guild at the Cathedral and the Eastern Region of the Embroiderers’ Guild. Although they are interested in maintaining craft standards they no longer wield commercial power or support their members with alms or perform Mystery Plays, but nevertheless they continue working within the handmade and craft traditions. I, myself, have recently joined the Guild of Silk Painters.

guild of silk painters brochure

Gravity, Titian and the Nature of Looking

still from film GravityThe big event film of the moment is Gravity and ‘film’ is always an aspect of our contemporary visual culture that offers rich source material for those of us who are a bit opinionated (oops). This film is a mainstream Hollywood offering with two big ‘A’ listers, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, playing second fiddle to the 3D imagery of our beautiful planet. ‘Gravity’ is not an art installation, but the first 20 minutes or more are so compelling visually that you almost disengage with the narrative of the film and just soak up the shots in a floating, mesmerized trance. The British film critic, Mark Kermode, who is not a fan of 3D, said that this was one film you really should see in 3D. Furthermore, the general view of the professional critics is to see it on the biggest screen possible. That said, ‘film’ is so much more than a series of shots. It was fascinating to see the 3D shuttle and the weightless astronauts and viscerally thrilling to glimpse the Earth from the enormity of space, but once this waned, the rest of the film was disappointingly formulaic.

Titian - Portrait Man in Blue
‘Portrait of a Man in Blue’ – Titian, circa 1512
Oil on canvas
32 x 26″ (81.2 x 66.3 cm)
National Gallery, London

This now brings me to the point of Titian. Titian you are thinking, what? Well, not just Titian, but artists like Dürer, Vermeer and Hockney too, and all the artists who consciously experiment and play with perspective. Because as we know we do not see our real life world in lens-photographic-cinematic focus. The human eye is rapidly adjusting and re-adjusting as we look around ourselves. Our attention and our eyes focus and re-focus as we register and respond to our visual environment. And, this all happens as our outrageously, sophisticated brains process the raw visual data supplied from the optic nerve – looking and seeing is so much more than registering light. When we watch a 3D film and the objects come out of the screen at us it is more like Titian’s depiction of the sleeve in the painting ‘Portrait of a Man in Blue’ than looking at someone in real life. The artist chooses to draw our attention to the magnificent, costly silk sleeve by making it appear slightly larger than we would expect. Another striking example showing a heightened three dimensional form in a two dimensional representation is ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by Palma Vecchio. As we look at each painting in its entirety we see realistic looking people in attention-grabbing fine robes, but if we deliberately move our focus around each image we see that the proportion of the nearest sleeve is exaggerated. It looks more as if the sleeve might break out of the surface of the canvas. Although the representations are not quite 3D, neither are they how we would see the sitter in reality.

La Bella by Palma Vecchio
‘Portrait of a Woman’ (La Bella) – Palma Vecchio circa 1520
Oil on canvas
37 1/2 x 31 1/2″ (95 x 80 cm)
Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

In the 21st century with the luxury of affordable digital photography, photographic images are everywhere and by a process of osmosis we are accustomed to seeing our 3D world rendered into a lens mediated 2D version. It’s normal, we take it for granted unless the lens distortion is so extreme it makes the subject look bizarre. And, this is the point where I return to ‘Gravity’ where the level of the 3D special effects is so good that we accept it as a near truthful account of what astronauts see and experience. I think perhaps this is why most viewers have been enthralled by the spectacular visuals, and they are beautiful, but in the end for a whole film to be outstanding there needs to be a strong script, believable characters, hopefully an unpredictable narrative and a sympathetic score, not just great 3D wizardry used effectively.

Beauty in Decay

Autumn-redsHalloween – bit of a party in some quarters so I understand! In the northern hemisphere it can be seen as a marker for seasonal change, abundance into scarcity, with roots deep back into pagan times. Certainly at this time of year there is plenty of fading and decay in the garden, but it can still be beautiful.

dead dahlia flower arrangement
Beauty in Decay

Oh – okay, then – as it’s Halloween here’s a bad-tempered vampire, irritated rather than demonic.


October 3 – A Grandmother’s Birthday

1962 beach portrait
My mother on the beach – 1962.

Sometimes we don’t appreciate the moments we are living and then with a blink of an eye they’re gone. We are lucky in our family as my late mother agreed to be the ‘star’ of a 3 minute video filmed by one of her grandchildren as coursework for a school exam.

family portrait 1912
My mother’s granny, Clara, with her children – 1912.

I remember my mother saying to me that she was the last person still alive who could remember her Granny. Like many families we have old photographs some even of our Victorian relatives, but now with videos and YouTube a moving, talking memento is captured and shared. It brings a new dimension to memories as individuals along with the film-maker actively curate their lives. But there is still space for a single shot to capture the essence of the person.

Where’s The Drama? It’s all in the Lighting

Often the first line of advice from any professional photographer to us aspiring amateurs is ‘lighting, lighting and, probably, the lighting’, with the specific recommendation to use natural daylight whenever you can.

arabian night dahlias targazer lilies arrangement
Flowers – internal shot taken at dusk with no post-production colour adjustment .

Obviously, it is not always possible to get the shot you are after with the available natural light in your chosen setting which is a great pity but sometimes unavoidable – so you end up trying out photographic lights.

However, as an amateur I find natural light really is by far the best when photographing flowers especially when you are trying to capture that little essence of nature. Now, as I’m sure we all know all daylight is not equal, but I was really quite surprised by the difference between mid-afternoon and early evening when I tried out this small experiment taking internal shots of my mantlepiece.

afternoon photo flowers
Mantlepiece – photo taken in the middle of the afternoon (15.30)
evening photo flowers
Mantlepiece – photo taken in the early evening on the same day (19.15)

Ah yes, I hear them spinning in their graves and their groans of boredom as all the Old Masters mutter on about aspects of windows, geographical location and time of year . . .

The Sincerest Form of Flattery and Botticelli’s ‘Madonna of the Book’

Recently I’ve been pondering the nature of ‘copyright’. On one side of the debate we have the most aggressive legal (though somewhat amoral) approach as practised by patent trolls suing whomever they can in Marshall, Texas (see article) and on the other side, the seemingly limitless lifting and reusing of images, text and music without reference, citations, credits or fees, like a rash all over the Internet.

madonna book botticelli
The Madonna of the Book – Botticelli. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan.
The original.
In the middle of these two extremes are ordinary people living in our everyday world trying to share interesting experiences, sometimes for gain, but often just for the joy of passing on the delightful, the fascinating and the newsworthy. Copying is a human past-time and indeed, copying was part of the training when an apprentice studied painting with a great master. The tradition of copying whether for learning or commercial reward is demonstrated by these various copies of ‘The Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli.

I absolutely appreciate the need for creative/ideas people to make a living from their endeavours if that is their chosen path. And, when you consider all the different types of creative professionals, I think photographers are having the hardest time with the unattributed reproduction of their work on the Internet. It takes skill and time to take professional photographs and often more time and work in post-production. The music industry has finally found a suitable business model in the brave new world of the web by making money from live performance and merchandise, but what about the authors and the visual artists.

Victorian copy of Madonna of the Book.
My 19th-century copy of the “Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli. Another copy.

Victorian copy of Botticelli work
Detail of my Madonna of the Book – a Victorian copy. The face is a really good version, but the hands, hair, flowers and textiles are not well copied.

It is all a very tricky area. People should get recognition for their work and their ideas, but then for how long? You would think that when the maker/creator dies that would be it – but not so. I am not at all legal so sorry if this is technically adrift, but in the UK the duration of rights for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works is 70 years from the maker’s death. Of course, there is also the notion of ‘fair use’ – not as straightforward as it sounds, and then ultimately all the copyright laws vary from country to country.

So, here’s a little conundrum, my deceased mother painted this oil painting (The Whisper) of Cardinal Ratzinger talking confidentially to another cardinal. She created it from a photograph in a newspaper and I have now photographed the oil painting – it’s making my head spin!

And, finally, my BIG ‘copyright’ gripe, why aren’t we allowed to photograph ‘owned by the nation’ works of art (out of copyright) if they are in a curated, pay for entry, ‘event’ exhibition in a museum/art gallery? It’s all as clear as mud . . . (is that a quotation from somebody, should I reference it??)

Vanitas – A Contemporary, Personal Version

Back in May a fellow blogger, Frances Allitt, wrote on her blog Before the Art a piece about the tradition of ‘Vanitas’ depictions in Western Art History. It was illustrated with fine 16th and 17th century oil paintings similar to this example from the collection at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Stilleven, Grueber not de Heem
Still Life – Johann Friedrich Grueber, 1662-1681

Towards the end of her post she uploaded her own ‘Vanitas’ photograph and invited her readers, us, to have a go too. So I thought I’d try some staging and shots and create my own Vanitas portrait.

Vanitas photograph

Of course some objects in the photograph are particular for my life, and other items displayed are those often found in a formal Vanitas painting. The dying flowers and the spent candle are symbols of the transience of life. The traditional memento mori image is a skull, but I’ve used an alternative image to signify death and corruption, the rotting peach.

I have also included two photographic portraits one of my late mother and one of my great-grandmother. Both pictures were taken when they were young women. In this photo my great-grandmother was 18 years old and already suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. She died when she 36 years old.

Vanitas Close-up

July Pinks and Patterns

July in the garden

Portrait of my mother
Valeria by Valeria
(my mother)
girl in garden photo
Photo taken by my mother in preparation for a portrait. (All these big hats. She was an old romantic at heart.)

Sometimes July can be a quiet time in a garden. My mother used to complain that once the delphiniums and the first flush of roses were going over you had to wait until August for any real colour interest. She had an on/off relationship with her garden as her real love was painting. She did appreciate flowers, but wanted easy plants with a long flowering season – don’t we all. She painted portraits, not flowers, but like many of us she often photographed subjects in the garden.

The pink flowers blooming in the middle of July in my garden are the stronger, brighter pinks moving into the fuchsia and magenta shades that are now taking over from the predominant pastels of June.

We can use nature’s graceful arrangements of blooms and foliage as our inspiration for colour and tonal combinations, and sometimes a quite messy shot can give rise to an interesting motif and pattern structure.

PS – If anyone recognises the ‘unknown floribunda’, the larger, dark pink photo, I’d like to know, please? I actually bought it believing it was ‘Blue Moon’ as that was the name on the label, but I know it certainly isn’t as I had ‘Blue Moon’ in another garden. Any guesses?