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.
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 year at Christmas time the Cornhill in Ipswich was a public space that, although newly refurbished, was a cluttered muddle.
The splendid Town Hall and Corn Exchange was dressed with lights and the traditional, tall Christmas tree was erected, but any civic grandeur was lost with an ill-considered large new sculptural artwork and an additional seasonal shopping marquee plonked in the middle of the concourse.
During the course of 2018 there had been an extensive remodelling and refurbishment of the Cornhill as part of £3.6 million revamping of the town centre. Previously in front of the Town Hall the old paved pedestrian area that hosted the market stalls had sloped down towards the Town Hall. These stalls have now been moved to a pedestrian street to the side of the Town Hall, whilst to the front the Town Hall most of the sloping concourse has gone to be replaced with steps and a level area with a pavement fountain arrangement. Surprisingly and pleasingly, the new steps provided a good vantage point to view the youngsters participating in the Global Strike that took place earlier this autumn.
And, incidentally, whilst enjoying the passion and energy of the striking youngsters, I noticed the less than impressive sculpture ‘The Plinths’, often referred to by the locals as Cornhenge, was no more. It had not been well received (that’s a polite understatement) and despite costing in the region of £45,000 (according to the local paper), it has been removed. Its departure has left us with a clear view of the Town Hall and a more grand and impressive yet welcoming civic space.
Of course, with the sculpture gone it has also meant that the purely functional and expedient move to squeeze in more retail opportunities into the area (for example that seasonal Christmas marquee) have also been dropped.
However, we do not get off that lightly. In what looks like a last minute desperate decision the marquee has been squeezed into Lloyds Avenue.
One positive thought for this seasonal period is at least Ipswich doesn’t yet suffer from the faux Christmas Markets that have sprung up round the country in a pale imitation of the traditional community Weihnachtsmärkte of Germany.
That’s enough of the complaints, Scrooge has left the building, and instead let’s feast our eyes on a very attractive display of lights decorating the Town Hall.
Or, take an evening stroll down the Buttermarket with its eclectic architectural mix of buildings enhanced by an elegant display of Christmas lights.
Last week I accompanied my father to a summer’s evening concert at Snape Maltings. I am old enough (just) to remember being driven past the old Maltings when it was being converted into a concert venue from 1965 to 1967. It was one of the earliest examples of an industrial building being repurposed for arts use. The whole site has expanded considerably over the intervening five decades. As well as the main concert hall there is now the smaller Britten Studio, rehearsal rooms, cafes, restaurants and bars, holiday accommodation and a variety of retail outlets including the Snape Antiques Centre and The Maltings Gallery.
All round Snape Maltings has pitched itself as a cultural centre and as such hosts visiting art installations that are placed amongst permanent works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
When I was at the Maltings back in June, for a sublime performance by Vox Luminis as part of the the Aldeburgh Festival, a fitting installation was on display called ‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms) by Ryan Gander.
Last week, we saw another art installation had joined ‘To Give Light’. Round the other side of the Concert Hall, near the main entrance, there is a slightly raised mound between the Maltings and the River Alde. Set on the lawn, unmissable and incongruous, currently stands a fisherman’s hut complete with ‘A’ board pavement signs.
However, there’s nobody selling fish from this hut. Instead, a small crowd of carved people trapped inside the hut gaze out at our world in dismay at the polluted and damaged oceans. (This work was originally sited on Aldeburgh Beach facing out across the North Sea. It had been commissioned for the Siren Festival, Aldeburgh.)
The pavement advertising boards draw our attention to the plight of marine mammals and
the sign written boards hanging on the hut further detail many of the shocking facts regarding the precarious state of the oceans.
‘Siren’ is an ecological art installation that disturbs and informs. It is the type of intriguing and evocative work that affirms a place for visual culture within the wider environmental discourse.
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.
The English famously cut off the head of a king over 350 years ago, but assassinating Prime Ministers has not been the British way, except once, in 1812. During that momentous year Napoleon invaded Russia and the USA declared war on Britain and on this day, 11 May 1812, a lone, disgruntled merchant, John Bellingham shot and killed Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister. Perceval’s last words, according to the UK Government’s ‘History of Past Prime Ministers‘ were ‘Oh, I have been murdered’.
Prime Minister Spencer Perceval by Joseph Nollekens. Marble bust (stamped 1813) modelled from death mask taken by Nollekens in May 1812.
Prime Minister from 1809 until his assassination, Perceval was in office through turbulent times with the Napoleonic Wars unsettling the British and the Industrial Revolution gaining momentum spawning the ‘Luddite’ riots. There was also an on-going issue of the national debt – sounds somewhat familiar?
Make of the Gillray what you like, I couldn’t possibly comment. But instead we could take a break from all the gloom, and now as then, have a nice cup of tea – very British!
As Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ receive the much lauded BBC period drama conversion to a television series, a new portrayal of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554) will appear on our screens. This time the Duke is played by Bernard Hill and as in Mantel’s books he is loud, angry and ferociously ambitious. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk was one of England’s most powerful nobles whose first wife, Anne, was sister to Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.
Heraldic shields held by lions at each corner of the chest-tomb of the third Duke of Norfolk.
Tudor chimney at Framlingham Castle. One of the residences of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk.
Despite the Duke of Norfolk being one of the most prominent courtiers, he remained a Catholic throughout the violence and upheavals of the Reformation during the latter part of Henry’s reign and the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI. However, towards the end of the Henry’s reign both Norfolk and his son, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, ended up in the Tower of London. The pair had been found guilty of treason and in January 1547 Henry Howard was beheaded at the Tower. His father’s execution date was set for 29 January 1547 but King Henry died the day before. Following the death of Henry VIII the old Duke of Norfolk was not executed, but instead spent the next six years in the Tower. As a Catholic he was finally released on the accession to the throne of Queen Mary. He died a year later aged 80 years old at his Kenninghall residence, but before his death he had commissioned England’s finest early Renaissance tomb.
The chest-tomb is exquisitely carved from alabaster depicting the twelve Apostles plus St Paul and Aaron carved round the four sides with effigies of the Duke and his first wife, Anne, lying along the top.
The representation of the twelve Apostles was a traditional Catholic theme that was found in churches across the country often painted on the rood screen. However, the interpretation of this popular medieval choice is created here in an early Renaissance European idiom, possibly carved sometime in the mid-sixteenth century. The sculptor is unnamed, but the work is regarded as Italianate in style, but also displaying French influences.
The individual saints stand in shell-headed narrow niches, four along the north and south sides, and three at the east and west ends of the tomb. The design of the tomb suggests it was intended to be viewed from all four sides, but this is no longer possible.
The tomb is just to the south of the high altar under the East Window.
Detail of the tomb which can be seen close to the east wall.
Instead, the tomb-chest is positioned up close to the east wall of the chancel. The Duke of Norfolk had been overseeing the partial rebuilding of St Michael’s Church when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The rebuilt and enlarged chancel was to provide space to accommodate the tombs that were removed from Thetford Priory with the dissolution of the monasteries. Of course, this tomb may originally have been destined for Thetford Priory where traditionally the Norfolks had been interred.
According to a visiting Venetian ambassador, the Duke of Norfolk was described as ‘small and spare in person’ and here he is displayed as stern, thin and angular. The effigy wears full armour, it has a long, pointed beard and around the collar the inscription reads ‘Gracia Dei sum quod sum’ – ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am’.
The parish church of St George, Bloomsbury, is a glorious example of English Baroque architecture. It was consecrated on the 28th January 1730 and is the last parish church designed by architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Within 20 years the church with its idiosyncratic spire (stepped like a pyramid) was a well-known building on the London skyline and as such appears in Hogarth’s famous print ‘Gin Lane’.
It has a very grand classical portico, but you have to look up 150 ft to the base of the spire to see the sprawling lions and rearing unicorns (best viewed with binoculars). Each 10ft sculpted animal is not an original as these were removed in 1871. The civic minded Victorians feared that in their decaying state a beast could crash down and cause a fatality. Fortunately, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s original drawings for this striking architectural ornamentation have survived and as part of an extensive programme of renovations in 2006, the sculptor, Tim Crawley, was able to re-create these dramatic pieces. Hawksmoor’s interpretation of the ‘lion and unicorn’ theme has the animals fighting over representations of the English crown.
This provocative imagery displayed on a spire topped with St George was considered inappropriate by the Commissioners who initially refused to pay for the work. It is not that the lion and the unicorn used for architectural ornamentation is unusual, but that they are shown fighting over the crown. The lion represents England and the unicorn Scotland as in the traditional heraldic symbolism used from the reign of James I (1603) onwards. The pertinent point here is that at the time of the design and building of St George’s the dust was still settling on the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland that created the United Kingdom.
And, of course, there’s the old English/Scottish/British nursery rhyme:
The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.
Sometimes you can’t help but wonder what a critic from a past age would make of our contemporary world. Although not the first to use the expression ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, I expect the Victorian writer, Walter Pater would be amazed at out current convoluted interpretations of ‘Art’. In his book, ‘The Renaissance’, published in 1873, he wrestles with the contemplation and definitions of beauty in a broader discussion of aesthetics. His book is partly a response to the 19th-century changes in manufacturing which brought about factory-based mass production. In his Chapter “Luca Della Robbia”, Pater discusses Italian Renaissance sculptors and their reinterpretation of the work of the Ancient Greeks. Pater draws our attention to the difference between the Ancient Greeks and the Renaissance Italians and gives us his Victorian’s view on the importance of individualism and personal expression through this extract about Michelangelo:
To him [Michelangelo], lover and student of Greek sculpture as he was, work which did not bring what was inward to the surface, which was not concerned with individual expression, with individual character and feeling, the special history of the special soul, was not worth doing at all.
Victorian Pater was looking for an artist to bring something of their inner self to their work. I think we would agree that Damien Hirst understands the value of confidently expressing himself. Although, it is hard to know whether it’s his inner self. He, as an individual almost becomes the brand, certainly his name is. However, I was still surprised to see these digitally printed silk scarves displayed in an art gallery window. They are branded Damien Hirst for Alexander McQueen. I don’t know about Art for Art’s Sake, perhaps Brand for Brand’s Sake. Fashion Houses have long traded on the designer being the brand, but I thought these limited editions scarves interesting blurred the lines between art and fashion.