Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Sparkle: The Cullinan V

Queen Mary's Brooch
The Cullinan V
The Royal Collection
At 3016.75 carats, the Cullinan Diamond was the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever mined. In cutting and polishing the stone, nine numbered diamonds were fashioned. This is the Cullinan V.

Centered in a setting of platinum and diamonds by famed jeweler, Garrards, the Cullinan V weighs a whopping 18.8 carats. The diamond is detachable for independent use. The Cullinan V was a gift from the government of South Africa to Queen Mary in 1910. Queen Mary wore the diamond often, and, in fact, during the 1937 coronation wore this stone in her coronet since the Koh-I-Noor diamond had been removed for use in Queen Elizabeth’s (later known as the “Queen Mother”) crown.

Frankly, all I can say in addition is, “Humina, humina, humina.” It’s just too magnificent.

Masterpiece of the Week: A Sèvres Bust of French King Louis XVI, 1785

Bust of Louis XVI
Louis-Simon Boizot, 1785
The Royal Collection
British King George IV had a special interest in the history of France—particularly the empire as it was during the reign of the Bourbons and earlier dynasties. King George IV commissioned Sèvres porcelain-makers to create a series of busts of the French Kings from Louis XII to Louis XVIII. The busts were created in biscuit. Biscuit, an unglazed porcelain which mimics the look of marble, was referred to as Parian ware after the Nineteenth Century.

Of these remarkable biscuit figures, only two survive today—owing largely to Parian’s delicate nature. This bust of King Louis XVI is particularly exquisite. Great attention was paid by sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot to ensure that every detail was accurate down to the positioning of King Louis’ buttons and badges.

Biscuit is a stunning material if not a fragile one. While it’s a pity that only two of these busts remain, we can take comfort in the fact that all of them weren’t accidentally destroyed. This piece and its brother can be seen in Britain’s Royal Collection.

Painting of the Week: A Portrait by William Holman Hunt, 1847

William Holman Hunt, 1847
F.G. Stevens
Tate Britain
William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite School of artists which strove to create crisp, romantic, almost hyper-realistic artwork of fantastical themes. His early work, however, was defined by a sharply contrasting loose style of approach. This painting of Holman Hunt’s friend, F.G. Stevens is an excellent example of the artist’s early work. Here, we see a figure of a young man, painted in free, natural brushstrokes. We can, however, see the elements of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood beginning to develop in the romanticized facial features of the model.

F.G. Stevens was a frequent model for Holman Hunt and his friends. Stevens was also a painter, but later abandoned brushes for a pen and embarked on a successful career as a writer and critic. His influence, in fact, was one of the driving forces behind the acceptance of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England. This just goes to prove that when all of the different arts work together, something exceptional will always happen.

At the Music Hall: Every Little Movement, 1910

Every little movement
Has a meaning all its own.
Every thought and feeling,
By some posture, can be shown.
And, every love thought
That comes a-stealing
All your being must be revealing
All its sweetness
In some appealing little gesture
All of its own.

With lyrics by Otto Harbach and music by Karl Hoschna, Every Little Movement (Has a Meaning All Its Own) was first published in 1910 and quickly became a very popular song. Harbach and Hoschna used the tune in the musical, “Madame Sherry,” and since then, the song has been a popular favorite which has been recorded numerous times by such legendary performers as Doris Day, Judy Garland and The Platters.

I found this clip of Doris Day’s version of Every Little Movement. This was a big hit for her. Enjoy!

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 54

Here!” Punch shouted to the man with the pistol, “Shut yer gob!”

“Are you sassin’ me?” The man said threateningly, aiming the pistol at Julian’s head.

“Don’t know what that means. All you humans ‘round here talk so bloody strange.” Punch grumbled. He knelt down next to Robert. “Didn’t get ya, did he?”

“No.” Robert stood up with Punch’s help. “Just startled me.”

“I’ll do more than startle you!” The man said. “What’re ya doin’ on my property?”

“Didn’t know we was on yer property,” Punch shouted back. “Don’t know where we are! Not as if we just set about to come and bother you. So, put your fool toy away and let us be.”

“Dear Lord, Mr. Punch, do let me handle this.” Robert rasped.

“Sir, I am Robert Halifax. We…” Robert began.

“Halifax?” The man lowered his pistol. “Not related to Cecil, are you?”

“Cecil is my brother. We’ve come from England to see him.”

“What’s with your friend? Is he stupid?”

“I ain’t stupid! Smarter than you’ll ever be, you fat sack!” Punch spat.

The man raised his pistol again.

“Sir,” Robert said quickly. “My friend means no harm. He’s just spirited.”

“I’ll say.” The man grunted. “Cage. I’m Edward Cage. This is my property.”

“Mr. Cage,” Robert responded with as much charm as he could muster, “Cecil has told me so much about you.”

“Did he mention I don’t cotton to trespassers?” Edward Cage barked.

“He did, actually.” Robert smiled weakly. “We’ve become a bit disoriented in the dark, here. We had no intention of wandering onto your land. I assure you.” Robert coughed.

“You sick?” Mr. Cage asked.

“No. It’s the dampness in the air.” Robert said, clearing his throat.

“Dampness…huh.” Punch muttered.

“Because we don’t want any sick folk around here. Talk of a fever, you know—out in the bayou. Nasty stuff.”

“No, I didn’t know.” Robert said. “However, there’s no need for concern, I don’t have any sort of illness.”

“Why are you and your angry friend out in the middle of the night—walking through people’s fields?” Edward asked, finally lowering his pistol.

“To look for me chum what’s been taken.” Punch answered. “And if you think I’m angry now, just see what I’m like if you push me.”

“Mr. Pun…errr…Julian!” Robert hissed.

“What’s his name?” Edward asked.

“This is Julian, Lord Fallbridge.” Robert said.

Mr. Punch frowned. “Yes. That’s right. That’s who’s standin’ here.”

“Not this one. The name of the man that’s been taken?” Edward growled.

“Naasir.” Robert answered.

“Sounds like a colored fella.” Edward laughed.

“He’s African.” Robert explained. “He is Lord Fallbridge’s valet.”

“Someone took your slave?” Edward Cage smirked. “That’ll get a man hanged in these parts.”

‘He ain’t a slave,” Mr. Punch groaned. “He’s me chum even if he is a foreigner. Don’t have no slaves.”

“Your friend is tetched.” Edward guffawed.

“He’s just different.” Robert said firmly.

“Same thing.” Edward grumbled. “I can’t help you. Now, kindly, leave my property.”

“Of course. Please, Mr. Cage, do forgive us. We truly meant no harm.” Robert said.

“Sure you didn’t. But, you gotta be more careful around here. This isn’t like London.” Mr. Cage said. “But, your brother’s a good fella, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Come along, Pun…Lord Fallbridge,” Robert said, correcting himself.

“Wait a tick.” Punch said. “Here! What’s with all them statues in there?”

“Models for the museum.” Edward answered sharply. “Not for public display yet!”

“I’m only askin’.” Punch muttered.

“Please,” Robert pleaded.

“Fine.” Punch frowned. They began to walk off back toward the Fontanals’ Plantation.

“Hey!” Edward Cage shouted after them. “Don’t go tramping through the same ground.”

They paused and looked—confused—at Edward Cage.

“Go to your right and walk up the road on the hill.” Mr. Cage ordered. “And, then, you might as well check the Rittenhouse place for your lost slave. Seems to me that folk who’re missing often end up there. Can’t miss it—highest point in Marionneaux.”

“Thank you.” Robert called back.

“Now, get!” Edward barked.

“Rittenhouse…” Punch muttered. “That’s where that sick-makin’ Nanny is.”

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.” Robert panted. “How could I have been so blind?”

At that very moment, Naasir flinched as be felt his skin begin to tingle from the heat of the growing fire. He knew that the alcohol on his skin would make his whole body flash like lightning, yet he did not scream nor show terror of any kind.

“She is here,” he whispered.

‘What’s he sayin’?” One of Naasir’s captors grunted.

“Who cares?” the other laughed.

A smile crossed Naasir’s lips as he saw the shadowy figure of a dark-haired woman come up behind the two men. With two swift motions, she clubbed them both on the back of the head with a piece of firewood. They each fell to the ground with a sharp thud.

As quickly as the flutter of a bird’s wings, she was at Naasir’s side, the firelight illuminated her face.

“I know your eyes.” Naasir said weakly.

“No you don’t.” The woman whispered.

“Yes, you have his eyes.” Naasir continued.

“Quiet!” The woman demanded. “Listen, if you don’t get out of here, I’ll kill you myself.” She untied him quickly. “Go. Hurry!”

“Thank you, Miss.” Naasir said as she helped him to his feet.

“Go!” The woman repeated. “That way—down the hill.”

“You came as I knew you would—the great beauty.” Naasir continued—still dazed.

“Hurry!” The woman said again.

“What shall I call you?”

The woman paused, and smiled. “My name is Barbara Allen.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-53? If so, you can read them here. Make sure to come back on Monday, September 27 for Chapter 55 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Keep Your Hands Busy

Do you ever find yourself fidgeting while you’re trying to relax?  Sometimes our minds need a break, but our bodies are ready to keep going.  Long before the days of television and video games, people relaxed by doing things—crafts, art, games.  When you settle down for the day, you can still sit in front of the TV, but why not do something with your hands?  Play a game of cards, color in a coloring book, take up that craft that you always enjoyed, but haven’t touched in years.  There are so many things that you can do with your hands while you’re resting that don’t take a lot of mental energy.  Using your body’s natural energy will help you rest better, too.  Our hands were made for a lot more than just fidgeting.

Object of the Day: An Antique Victorian Sewing Bench

This attractive sewing bench is a rather unusual piece of furniture. It appears to have been made specifically for someone—perhaps even in the home. It’s most assuredly hand-crafted. Ebonized wooden sides have been pierced and heavily carved with clear Eastlake influences. The splats are adorned with bas relief stars which have been gilt. The legs are saw-scalloped and resemble ferns.

Turning the piece over reveals a rather bold signature. The date of creation and some sort of maker’s mark are painted in huge black letters, “1883, W. KISS.”

What’s most peculiar about this piece is that the footrests and hinged lid are upholstered in red carpet with a pattern of ochre and black crosses. Four very small, but obvious, burn marks on the top tell me that this piece most likely spent a good deal of its early existence in front of a fireplace. A lady would have kept her sewing in the casket, and removed it in the evenings to work in front of the fire.

Its quirks give it a certain charm. Today, it resides quietly at the end of a hallway—its casket empty and only touched when being dusted. I must confess that sometimes I feel that pieces of furniture have personalities. This one seems to want to be used. It’s a pity I’m such a mess with a sewing needle.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Fun: “Wicked Mr. Punch,” 1932

Punch Magazine, 1892
This unusually dark children’s song was recorded on September 21, 1932 in London for Decca Records. “Wicked Mr. Punch” was Al Bowlly with Arthur Lally and His Orchestra. The lyrics are as follows:

Wicked Mr. Punch meets Judy,
Makes a date for lunch, gets broody.
When she appears, he boxes her ears instead.
Now, Judy’s on the floor, shouts “Murder!”
Somebody next door, has heard her,
Follow the clue, it’s covered, it’s true, she’s dead.
What a dreadful tale of grief and woe,
To the village jail, Old Punch must go.
So the people cry, “Arrest him!”
And the coppers try to get him,
But, Mr. Punch defiantly shouts, No! No!

I hope you enjoy this amusing little song...

Mr. Punch in the Arts: John Anthony Puller’s “Punch and Judy”

English genre and landscape painter, John Anthony Puller, was born in London in 1799. Puller showed at the Royal Academy at the young age of twenty-two, and from 1825 to 1867 exhibited over eighty paintings at the Royal Society of Artists. Known for his sensitive and colorful scenes, Puller always demonstrated an easy manner in depicting everyday life. His particular forte was showing natural scenes of the way people really lived.

This circa 1850 painting entitled, Punch and Judy, shows observers of a small village, “Punch” show. Young and old of varied classes have gathered to watch Mr. Punch and his wife. Even a dog sits passively by to watch. To mirror the mischievous Mr. Punch, Puller has included children sneaking a look into the rear of the performance tent in an effort to see the puppeteers. This sort of painting is what set John Anthony Puller apart—his skilled hand was able to combine the human-themes genre scenes that he so loved with the beauty of landscape painting.

Puller’s painting dates around the same time that Lord Julian and Robert would have departed England in Punch’s Cousin. I find this work particularly enjoyable. It gives us a sense of the visual style of a “Punch” show of the era. Julian would have seen a similarly styled show near Fallbridge Hall, or, perhaps even in its city counterpart in London.

Antique Image of the Day: "Prince Arthur in Fancy Costume," 1870

Prince Arthur in Fancy Dress
William Notman, 1870
The Royal Collection
The son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Arthur grew to be a spirited lad and a young man who enjoyed a good party.  When stationed in Canada, at the age of 20, Prince Arthur attended many a soiree, often in fancy dress.  For this particular occasion, he seems to have styled himself as King Charles I—a curious choice, indeed.  However, doesn’t he look quite pleased with himself in this photo taken by William Notman in January of 1870?  One wonders what was going through his mind at that moment.

Pets of the Belle Époque: "Sammy the Poodle," 1896

Sammy the Poodle, 1896
The Royal Collection
Noble Hounds & Dear Companions
One of the many dogs in residence with Queen Victoria was a black poodle named Sammy.  Sammy was known to be a good companion and a loving friend to Prince Edward of York while the family stayed at Sandringham.  Sammy, it seems, also had a bit of a “fair grounds” side to him.  Possessed of remarkable agility, Sammy was known to be able to balance himself—bridge-like—on the backs of two chairs as seen in this 1896 photograph by an unknown photographer.  As they say, “Don’t try this at home.”

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 53

Robert stopped and bent over—coughing violently. Punch paused and put his hand on Robert’s back.

“Here, Chum.” Punch said, squinting Julian’s eyes in the darkness. “Been doin’ a lotta that, you have.”

Robert straightened up and wiped his mouth, tears trickled from his eyes and he gasped for air.

“Maybe we’d better slow down, what.” Punch said softly.

“No, dear Punch, I’m quite fine now.” Robert responded raspily.

“Don’t sound like it.” Punch frowned. “Now, what with you bein’ a physician and all, you can’t be tellin’ me that you think all this coughin’ and spittin’ is right.”

Robert cleared his throat. “I assure you that I’m fine.”

“Now, I don’t know much ‘bout these things,” Punch continued, “not havin’ use of a body for too long, but seems to me that a man’s not ‘sposed to be sputterin’ quite so much as you’ve been doin’. And, you look all sorts of pale where you used to be quite hardy lookin’. Almost as pale as me master.”

“Our passage was long, and I’m tired.” Robert said slowly. “That’s all it is.”

“Don’t believe you, Chum.” Punch shook Julian’s head. “Why are you so stubborn?”

“I’m stubborn?” Robert laughed. “I? You of all people are calling me stubborn?”

“Ain’t people.” Punch smiled. “I can be as stubborn as I want.”

“Well, then, let’s use some of your stubbornness to find Naasir. Don’t waste your time worrying about me.”

“Seems to me that that’s the way to do it.” Punch answered. “See, I’m learnin’. I’m learnin’ that it’s proper to worry ‘bout the folk what you care ‘bout. That’s one thing that I can learn from me master, see. He’s nothin’ but a big ball o’ worry. But, I can worry, too.”

“Listen,” Robert said gently. “You are learning. You’re doing splendidly. Truly. I have to confess that—though I have no right to say this—I’m proud of you. Very proud. And, I know that Julian would be proud, too.”

“Really?” Punch smiled.

“Yes.” Robert answered. “And Julian would be even prouder if we found Naasir. So, let’s do soldier forth and see what we can find—even in this accursed darkness.”

“Only ya gotta tell me, ya do. You gotta tell me if you’re feelin’ poorly. Promise?”

“I promise, Mr. Punch.” Robert nodded. “Or, should I say, Mr. Molliner?”

“Am a Molliner.” Punch sighed. “Just like me master. Just like our father. Still can’t quite believe that he’s gone.”

“It’s a difficult thing to comprehend.” Robert said throatily as they continued to walk carefully across dark fields. “Cecil and I lost both of our parents when we were quite young.”

“How?” Punch asked.

Robert didn’t answer.


“It’s a very unpleasant story.” Robert mumbled.

“I know ‘bout unpleasant stories.” Mr. Punch answered. “You can tell me. I’m good at listenin’ to things and keepin’ ‘em safe in here.” The tapped Julian’s chest.

“My father was also a physician,” Robert explained. “You see, my mother became quite ill, and he stopped everything to look after her. He couldn’t keep up. Expenses kept mounting. Times being what they were, he had many debts. He was taken to gaol where he died—a debtor. They didn’t take us. They left us to fend for ourselves. So often, I’ve wished we’d have gone, too. At least we could have all been together, even if was in a Debtor’s prison. Then, at least, my father and mother could have been together. Perhaps, they could have helped each other. I wish, Mr. Punch, I wish we had all gone. However, they didn’t want my mother in there. They couldn’t be responsible for her.”

“”Sponsible how? What was her illness?”

“She was mad, Mr. Punch. That’s what they called it, at least. Madness. It wasn’t madness as much as it was sorrow. A terrible, gnawing sorrow that ultimately killed her.”

“Here.” Punch whispered. “Sorry.”

“It’s no use being sorry now, dear Punch. It’s long in the past.” Robert said, momentarily stumbling on the uneven terrain.

“Still sorry, I am.” Punch shook Julian’s head. “What did ya do, you and Cecil?”

“We lived with my aunt and uncle.”

“I’m an uncle.” Punch said proudly.

“Yes, you are, and a fine one.”

“Were they good to ya? Yer aunt and uncle?” Punch asked.

“Not especially, no.” Robert answered softly.

“Huh.” Punch grunted. “Now I understand.”


“Why you’re so kind to me and me master.” Punch answered.

“That’s part of it at any rate.” Robert smiled. He looked to the sky. “I do wish we had some moonlight—anything to cut this blackness.”

“Can’t tell where we are.” Punch squinted. “Smells sweet.”

“That’s the sugar cane.” Robert said. “I suspect we’re on the land of the neighboring plantation. Fantanals, I think is the name.”

“Sounds right.” Punch responded. “Chum, what’s that?” Mr. Punch pointed Julian’s finger toward the horizon. “Light?”

“Some kind of building. I see torches.” Robert said, grabbing Julian’s arm. “Come on, then.”

As they got closer, Punch growled, “Coo, what is that place? Don’t look like no farm.”

“No.” Robert whispered. “It’s certainly not an agricultural building.”

As quietly as they could, they approached the structure. A faint light flickered in the windows.

“What’s this?” Punch whispered as he strained to see inside. “Full a people, it is. Only they ain’t movin’.”

“Those aren’t people,” Robert said. “They’re statues.”

Suddenly, Punch screamed as a shot rang out! Robert stumbled backwards.

“You’ve got half a minute to tell me why you’re on my property before I shoot you both in the face!” An angry man bellowed.

Did you miss chapters 1-52? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Get Your Vision Checked

Admittedly, I don’t like to go to the eye doctor.  I don’t enjoy the puff of air in my eye, the cold contraptions and the questions of “Which is better, one or two?  One?  Or two?”  Still, having had less-than-perfect eyesight since I was a pre-teen, I’ve always known that it’s something I have to do.  Our vision changes over time, unfortunately.  Sometimes, we try to ignore the fact that what we see isn’t quite as crisp as it once was. 
However, we owe it to our own safety and quality of life, as well as the safety of others, to ensure that we’re seeing the world as clearly as possible.  If you haven’t been for an eye checkup in awhile, you might consider making an appointment—especially if you’ve noticed any changes in your vision.  An uncomfortable half an hour spent at the eye doctor is a relatively cheap price to pay for good eyesight.

Object of the Day: An Antique Gilt Bronze Chandelier

Crystal chandeliers come in many styles, shapes and materials. Craftsman from Portugal and Spain created a variety of unique gilt bronze fixtures, borrowing from popular Belle Époque French trends.

This gleaming chandelier most likely heralds from Portugal and dates to the 1920’s. Defined by curved arms which end in volutes at both ends, an ornate crown which creates a cage-like “vase” at the top, and a heavily carved base and finial, this chandelier was found in a local antique store stripped of its many crystals. With the crystals replaced, it now proudly lights my study.

The odds of finding a bronze chandelier with all of its original prisms are rather slim. However, you can purchase fixtures such as this one and dress them however you wish. Here, I’ve opted for long crystal spears and “angel-shape” prisms which complement the florid, natural lines of the piece. Prisms can be purchased online or from a local lighting store, offering you a wide selection of sizes and shapes.

Portuguese designers relied heavily on winding, uninterrupted lines and showed magnificent skill in metalwork. There’s something innately organic about these pieces—at once speaking of elegance and the gracefulness of the outside world.

Reminder: The "STBE" Challenge

I’ve already heard from some of you who wish to send me photos of the lovely things you’ve found in your own hometown.  Whether you’re in Cairo or California, there’s something to be found that would interest all of us here at “Stalking the Belle Époque.”  I look forward to seeing your pictures.  Together, we’re creating a global community!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gem of the Week: Malachite

This bright green mineral gets its name from its resemblance to the color of the leaves of the mallow plant. For centuries until the Nineteenth Century, malachite was ground for use as a green pigment in paint suspensions. However, the mineral’s properties reacted badly with acids which caused the color to fade or change over time.

Early Victorian Scottish Malachite Buckle Bracelet
Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry, San Francisco
Malachite has long been used in jewelry as well as in the decorative arts. The unusual vibrancy of the color, often banded with darker and lighter greens, immediately puts one in mind of nature. The Victorians frequently employed malachite in their jewelry—often in pieces designed to be worn during the day or in the country, when diamonds or other faceted gems were not considered appropriate. Jewelry makers in Scotland used Malachite with stunning creativity—crafting beautiful brooches, bracelets and rings which showcased the stone’s natural color and smoothness. Scottish artists often combined malachite with silver, colored agates and onyx to create complicated and amazing designs.

This luxurious mineral continues to be popular in jewelry and in furnishings. Legend has it that wearing malachite will ward of disease, witchcraft, and even lightning. That would be a nice side effect, but the best reason to wear malachite is simply that it’s beautiful.

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A Set of Malachite Candelabra

The famed Parisian design firm of Thomire & Cie created these magnificent candelabra of gilt bronze and blazingly green malachite in 1828. The candelabra presently have eight arms, but originally had sixteen. Why or when they were altered is something of a mystery. The candelabra are part of a garniture set which flank a matching clock.

As the story goes, the set was purchased for £500 by King George IV’s Confectioner, Francois Benois. Later, a gift of the set was made to the sovereign. Today, the set is one of the treasure of The Royal Collection.

Song of the Week: "God Save the Queen"

The Royal Collection, 2006
God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen!

No, it’s not necessarily, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” though that’s what comes to mind when most of us in the U.S. hear the melody of “God Save the Queen.” England doesn’t have a national anthem, per se. “God Save the Queen” rather fits the part and is used as the song which represents England and The United Kingdom internationally.

Much historical debate surrounds the true origins of the tune that we know today as “God Save the Queen” (or alternately “God Save the King” depending on the monarch), however, the first written record of the present version of the song occurs in 1744 and was being sung in theaters and music halls by 1745. Some scholars believe that the Biblical phrase, “God Save the King” was used by the Royal Navy as early as the 1500’s and served as a watchword. The response was meant to be “Long to reign over us.”

Curiously, the song has no official version and is not controlled by the monarchy or by parliament. One set of three verses is the most commonly used, though only the first two verses are usually sung. Over the centuries, many have tried to “improve” the song by changing the lyrics or adding additional ones, however, the one version continues to be prevalent. Every so often, efforts are made to introduce an official national anthem to England. Two suggestions are frequently, “Jerusalem,” and “Rule Britannia,” however, there’s something so innately British about “God Save the Queen,” that it’s doubtful it will change anytime soon.

I found this video on YouTube and found it enormously charming. The only thing that could have made it better would be if Her Majesty was wearing the pelican pendant pictured below.

Mastery of Design: A Bejeweled Pelican in her Piety

A Pelican in Her Piety
The Royal Collection
This strange and beautiful pendant heralds from the late Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century and is most likely Spanish or Portuguese in origin. Perched on a round base of gold and surrounded by diamond-studded foliage, the pelican has pierced her breast so that she might feed her three children. Without getting into a discussion of more practical ways a pelican could feed her children, we’ll just accept that this rather grisly image is meant to be allegorical of Christ and also representative of works of charity.

Regardless of the unusual subject matter, this pendant is a true masterpiece. The figure of the pelican and her children are rendered in beautiful white enamel with blue markings. On one of the three babies, red enamel shows where his mother’s blood has spilled upon him. The pelican’s wound is a rather sizeable ruby surrounded by diamonds. The mother’s wings are also set with diamonds, faceted much like those that surround the entire piece. The whole is topped by a diamond and black enamel cross, and is finished with five dangling pearls.

This piece entered the Royal Collection in 1872. Little is known about its origins though the gold work and design correspond to Spanish jewelry-making of the time. Today, the piece is on display as part of the Royal Collection thereby continuing to prove that piety can be found in the oddest of places.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: "After the Misdeed"

"Get over it, Lady."

Image from the National Gallery, London -- "After the Misdeed," Jean Beraud, 1895-1890

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 52

Naasir groaned as the ropes cut into the flesh of his wrists. He tried not to move. The slightest motion caused the fibers to dig deeper into his skin. Sweat poured from his scalp, collecting in the dark folds of the cloth that had been tied around his eyes. He could see nothing.

“Now, then, Priest.” A man’s voice growled with the throatiness of the sea. “Will ya do as we say?”

Rough, thick fingers brushed against Naasir’s check as someone removed the gag from his mouth.

“I will do only what the spirits direct me to do.” Naasir answered softly.

“Like spirits, do ya?” The same man laughed.

Naasir suddenly felt warm liquid being poured over his head. He pressed his lips shut, but the wetness still entered his mouth and stung. He could feel his shirt dampen and his nose filled with the overpowering bitterness of whiskey. He sputtered.

“Do what you will.” Naasir croaked. “Do what you will, but my destiny is set out before me. I know my place. I have seen it for it has been written, and, I am not afraid.”

A sharp blow across Naasir’s face toppled him over. He lay on his side on the ground.

“You’d best be afraid.” Another man shouted.

Naasir smelled fire. As he felt the warmth grow hotter and closer, he screamed. “I am not afraid!”

At the yellow house on La Colline Cramoisie, Mr. Punch stalked the floors of the back parlor mumbling to himself. He paused in front of a small bronze sculpture of a woman.

“Don’t know how good ya have it, metal woman.” Punch muttered. “Don’t got a heart nor any mind. Just standing there forever, holdin’ your wheat and lookin’ pretty. Don’t know what it’s like ta feel pain, to feel like you don’t got power over things what are tryin’ to hurt you. Don’t know what it means to care ‘bout nothin’.”

Adrienne interrupted him. “Mr. Punch, do come and sit by me here. I would be comforted to have you by my side.”

“What kind of comfort can I offer?” Punch asked, sitting beside Adrienne. “Don’t have any power, I don’t.”

“But, you do, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne smiled. “Do you see? I already feel better having you near.”

“’S that so?” Punch wondered.

“Yes.” Adrienne nodded. “You know, my own brothers are far from here. I miss them terribly. Just as Cecil always missed Robert. But, now, you are here. You are my new brother and I feel that I am safe, just as when I was a little girl and my Matthieu would cradle me in his arms when the storms frightened me.”

Punch nodded Julian’s head. “I got the ‘pression you mean that.”

“I do.” Adrienne winked. “You are my new brother.”

“Hm.” Punch grunted. “I don’t know what to say to that, I don’t. Only I feel like I’m not good to nobody. The two men went out without me.”

“They’ve given you the task of keeping me safe and to protect Fuller.” Adrienne responded.

“That’s true.” Punch said. “How’m I doin’?”

“Very well, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne laughed.

Punch sunk Julian’s body deeper into the couch. “Crikey, but when are they comin’ back?”

“They’ve gone to see where Naasir might have been taken. It could be awhile.”

“I’ll never forgive meself if anythin’ happens to Naasir. Kept me secret he did. Least I could do is see that nobody hurt him.”

“You can’t be everywhere at once, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne said soothingly.

“Can’t be nowhere.” Punch grumbled. “Never—not without me master. What’s he gonna say when he comes out and finds Naasir’s been taken?”

“He doesn’t know?” Adrienne asked. “Lord Fallbridge is…how do you say it? He is in there with you, yes?”

“Yes, only he don’t know a lot a the things what happen when I’m the one movin’ the body around. See, I keep things from him—not to be cruel, you see, but to help ‘im out. Sometimes he don’t understand things so well and they make him afraid. So, I keep those things for him like they’re kept in a box what he can’t open. Only I can see ‘em, and that helps to protect ‘im.”

“How long have you been protecting Lord Fallbridge?” Adrienne asked.

“Oh. Long.” Mr. Punch answered. “Ever since he were a little fella. Only I didn’t have to make the body work on me own until he were a grown man. See, he used ta think that he’d heard me—when I was in the cabinet and such.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Adrienne wrinkled her brow.

“Nothin’ a be sorry ‘bout, Lady Chum. Hard thing to understand, it is. See, when Julian were a boy, he’d talk to me—puppet me, I mean—when I had no legs. I sat on a shelf in a cabinet and he’d take me out and play with me and tell me things what happened to him and so on. Sometimes the things he’d tell me were hard things to say, and, so, I took ‘em from him so’d he’d not have to say ‘em again. Always so nice to me, he was—to take the time to talk and ask about me. So, I figured, I’d help him out. Only it was hard to help him out when he weren’t with me, so I found a way to be with him all the time. You see, I made that happen. Don’t know how I did it, but by talking with Julian, I became a part of him. I got to be in two places—me body in the cabinet and me thoughts in Julian. Only then other things happened what weren’t so good and Julian needed me more and more. Then, me head got split open and I was lost in the sugar cane. So, I could only be in Julian and nowhere else. Understand?”

“Surprisingly enough, yes, I do.” Adrienne nodded.

“That’s why you’re me Lady Chum.”

“That’s why I’m your new sister.”

“Well, then.” Punch sighed. Suddenly, he bolted upright. “Someone’s here! There’s footsteps!”

Punch commanded Julian’s body to dart to the door of the back parlor. “”S safe, it is. It’s me chum and Brother Chum!”

“Ah, dear Punch.” Robert coughed, patting Julian’s shoulder. “Did you keep our precious Adrienne safe?”

“Her and our nephew,” Punch said proudly. “Did you find Naasir?”

“Sadly, no,” Cecil answered. “The plants at the west end of the property have been trampled. There’s a path—as though a body has been dragged—which leads into the Fontanals’ Plantation and, perhaps all the way to the Cage’s. We dared not go any further. While Manuel Fontanals wouldn’t mind our trespassing on his land, Mr. Cage certainly would. I know he keeps guards on the property, and we didn’t want to risk being shot.”

“Here, this Cage man, he’s the fellow what’s your employer?” Punch asked.

“Yes.” Cecil nodded. “He owns the waxworks in addition to his sugar cane plantation.”

“Didn’t Naasir say that his brother was workin’ on a plantation?” Punch said quickly.

“Yes, his brother, Cephas,” Robert nodded. “I don’t recall which plantation—perhaps he didn’t say.”

Adrienne rose and tugged on the bell-pull. A dark-skinned woman—quite young and beautiful—entered.

“Gamilla,” Adrienne began, “do you know anyone named Cephas?”

“Yes’m.” Gamilla nodded. “He works over ta Mr. Fontanals’ place. Just took a bride,” She smiled. My cousin, Hannah. Such a pretty young thing, ma’am.”

“Do you think you could send one of the men with a message to Cephas?” Cecil asked.

“Reckon, I could, Mr. Halifax.” Gamilla nodded. “Mr. Fontanals don’t mind if we go on his land.”

“Fine, then, if you would, please, tell Ty Chidi to run over and find this Cephas and tell him that his brother, Naasir, is in danger and that we are trying to help him.” Cecil said.

“I’ll do that, Sir.” Gamilla nodded.

“And, how is Gros Chidi. Is he resting?”

“Yes, Mr. Halifax.” Gamilla answered. “He’s right fine. Dr. Halifax was powerful nice to him.”

Robert nodded his gratitude.

“Good. Hurry, then.” Cecil said. Gamilla rushed off on her mission.

“Here!” Punch said. “We still don’t know where Naasir is!”

“Punch, dear fellow, it’s pitch black out. We won’t be able to find him tonight.” Cecil said softly.

“Only you promised!” Punch cried.

“I promised that we’d help him, and we shall. But, until sunrise, it’s quite impossible.”

Punch frowned in disappointment, “Brother Chum, nothin’s impossible.” With that, Mr. Punch ran from the room.

“Robert, stop him!” Cecil shouted.

“No, Darling.” Adrienne shook her head. “Let him go.”

“I’ll go with him. Keep Adrienne and Fuller safe.” Robert said, hurrying from the room.

Robert caught up with Punch just outside the house.

“What’s West?” Punch panted.

Robert pointed the direction.

“You comin’ with me, Chum?” Punch asked.

“Where else would I be?” Robert smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-51? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Make Someone Smile

Each of us has the power to bring joy into the lives of the people around us. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to be “the class clown” or put on a big extravagant display. Sometimes all we need to do is offer and kind word or a pleasant manner.

When you go to a store and the clerk is sour, how do you respond? Usually, it’s quite off-putting. A visit to the doctor is never a fun experience, but it’s certainly less so when the nurse is sulking and petulant. We can’t deny what we feel each day, but we don’t have to share our pain with those around us. We always hear that “laughter is contagious.” Well, so is sorrow.

So, today, try to make someone smile. The simplest possible way to do that is to smile at someone. By extending that effortless, easy display of positivity, you’re giving an invaluable gift to someone—a gift that, hopefully, they’ll pass on to the person they see next.

Object of the Day: “Doux Retour” by Émile Bruchon, 1890

In many ways, along with the Moreau brothers, the work of Émile Bruchon epitomizes the French Belle Époque sculptural style. Seeming weightlessness, flowing garments, delicately rendered vegetation and beatific expressions define the spirit of the era.

Doux Retour (Sweet Return) is another allegory of Spring—a favorite theme of Nineteenth Century French artists. Here we see a female figure—young and lithe—who appears to be landing with gentle grace to the earth. She wears a diadem reminiscent of Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt. As she alights, her gown catches the breeze. She bears a bouquet of newly blossomed flowers in her right hand and cradles a branch, heavy with ripe apples—in her left.

The replication of motion was one of the hallmarks of Bruchon’s work. From the movement of her garments to the power in her limbs, this sculpture speaks of energy. Even her face appears to be captured mid-expression as if she’s about to smile broadly.

Artists of this period were interested in capturing a single moment in time. Bruchon has achieved just that with this solid snapshot of the changing of the seasons.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Masterpiece of the Week: Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1620

Judith Slaying Holofernes
Artemisia Gentileschi, 1620
Uffizi Gallery
The Biblical figure of Judith has often been used to represent Judaism itself. A Jewish widow, Judith was a noblewoman in the town of Bethulia which was under siege by an Assyrian army led by a tyrant called Holofernes. One night, Judith enchanted Holofernes with her great beauty as she and her maid, Abra, got the man intoxicated with wine. When Holofernes, passed out, Judith seized the opportunity to murder him so that she could protect her people. With Abra’s help, Judith used a sword to decapitate Holofernes—bringing his head as a trophy to Bethulia. Her people, so encouraged by the display, battled the Assyrians and won.

The story of Judith was a favorite of Artemisia Gentileschi who painted the subject twice. She was intrigued by the idea of a powerful woman. The first version, painted in Naples, is an excellent painting. However, her 1620 version, painted in Florence, is a superior work. Artemisia portrayed Judith in her trademark Artemisia gold—a symbol of strength. The strength of the women seems to reflect Artemisia’s personal fortitude.

Indicative of her quest for realism, Judith shows the veins and muscles of the dying man as he struggles—his legs tangled in his blood-red bed clothes—against the sword at his throat. Blood spurts from his wound onto the two women. Judith’s determination is readily apparent in her face and the tension in her arms as she wields the heavy sword is palpable.

This work is indicative of the power of Artemisia’s painting. Seeing this scene makes her historic induction as the first woman in the Academia seem very fitting indeed. Her talent knew no gender.

Recommended Reading: The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

Artemisia Gentileschi
Self Portrait as a Martyr
Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593, the daughter of well-respected painter Orazio Gentileschi. She learned at her father’s side. Orazio was a devotee of Caravaggio. This influenced Artemisia’s painting greatly and she emulated the use of musculature and chiaroscuro which dominated Caravaggio’s work. However, where Orazio painted idealized forms, Artemisia strove to produce pictures of startling realism. Her subject matter focussed heavily on strong female figures. She had a particular fondness for the subject of Judith slaying Holofernes.

In Baroque Italy, for a woman to be accepted as a credible artist was next to impossible. However, Artemisia persevered despite considerable hardships including rape and abandonment by her husband. Still she soldiered on, becoming the first woman to be accepted into the prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.

A move to Florence to begin a new life marked an important opportunity for Artemisia when Cosimo II de Medici became her patron and introduced her to a new world of interesting people and incredible circumstances. Today, she is considered one of the most talented painters—male or female—of her time and her surviving works grace museums such as the Uffizi Gallery.

Author Susan Vreeland has crafted a remarkable novel, The Passion of Artemisia, which offers a fictionalized account of the artist’s struggles and triumphs. Admittedly, the book, being fiction, is not an entirely accurate biography, however it does capture the sights and smells of Baroque Italy and gives us a look into what life must have been like for this remarkable woman. Inspiring, heart-breaking, and gripping, Vreeland’s novel is a fitting tribute to one of the first female art pioneers.

Term for the Day: Doric Column

The Parthenon
The Doric Order refers to the simplest of the three Greek architectural orders (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian). A Doric column, as originally designed, had no decorative base wherein the columns shaft sat directly on the ground. The shaft of the column was fluted with twenty fluted grooves and the capital was a simple gently turned ring which affixed directly to the entablature (the horizontal beam) of the structure. An excellent example of the Doric order is the architecture of Athens’ Parthenon.

Over the centuries, Doric columns, while still the simplest form, have evolved to include bases and more decorative capitals. In Renaissance architecture, Doric columns without fluting and slightly more ornate caps became known as “Tuscan” columns. Still employed today when replicating classical architecture, the Doric columns has become a symbol of strength, authority and perseverance.

Building of the Week: The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Most people commonly refer to The Palazzo degli Uffizi (Uffizi Palace) as “The Uffizi Gallery” though, technically, the gallery is housed within the palace itself. Commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici in 1560, the original palace was initially designed by Giorgio Vasari and was intended to house the offices of Florentine Magistrates. The name “Uffizi” means “Offices.”

The initial phase of building was completed in 1581 by Alfonso Parigi and Bernardo Buontalenti based on Vasari’s original designs. As envisioned, the palace stretches toward an uninterrupted view of the Arno River, visible through a Doric columned screen. Vasari was also a painter, and, in designing the palace employed his knowledge of perspective so that the whole of the structure would resemble a stylized streetscape. Designed to include long expanses of unbroken cornices, Doric columns and niches (which were finally filled with sculptures by world-famous artists in the Nineteenth Century,” the palace appears to reach out over the river.

With the offices of the Tribunal and the State Archive housed in one location, a committee was formed under the direction of Buontalenti and de Medici to select the finest masterpieces from both the de Medici art collection and also from Florentine artists to house within the palace. Soon, the palace became the home of a fine exhibition of art, thereby making it one of the first museums in the Western world. Though open to visitors as early as the Sixteenth Century, the Uffizi Gallery was opened to the public in 1765 and has stayed open ever since.

Not only is the Uffizi a museum, it is also a gathering place for artists to share, to learn, to relax and observe. Early in the palace’s history, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci could be found enjoying the sights and tranquility of the gallery.

Photo by Craig Porter
Today, the Uffizi continues to house some of the finest treasures of the art world. The collection includes works by Donatello, da Vinci, Cimabue, Giotto, Titian, Uccello, Duccio, Artemisia Gentileschi, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt Van Rijn among many others. It’s only fitting that a magnificent building designed by a painter should become the permanent home of the works of the art world’s most talented painters and sculptors.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 51

What do ya mean when you say ‘that woman?’” Punch growled to Cecil. “You can’t mean that snake Evangeline?”

Cecil knelt down next to his wife—still seated at the dining room table—and took the purple feather from her lap. He held the feather up to the candlelight of the chandelier and glowered at it.

“That’s precisely what I mean, Mr. Punch.” Cecil sighed.

“She’s here, that one?” Punch said wildly. “She’s been in this room? In this house where my chums and me nephew are?”

“Brother,” Robert interrupted, “How can you be sure?”

“This is Iolanthe Evangeline’s calling card.” Cecil said, twirling the feather between his fingers by its stiff tip. “She leaves a feather behind when she wants to make her presence known.”

“This is all my fault.” Robert shook his head. “I shouldn’t have come directly here. She knew I was coming to Marionneaux with Julian and Naasir…”

“And me.” Punch added.

“And, you, dear Punch.” Robert nodded. “I led her right to your door.”

“Robert, Robert,” Adrienne sighed, composing herself. “She has been here before. She already knew the path to our door.”

“Could it be that she sent one of her henchmen to try to scare us?” Robert asked. “Perhaps she’s not been in this house.”

“If she has, I’ll kill her.” Punch roared. “I’ll find her and I’ll pull her painted head right from her sick-smellin’ body. Nobody’s gonna scare me lady chum and nobody’s gonna do nothin’ to hurt me family.” Mr. Punch tilted Julian’s head to one side. “Family? So that’s what the word means. Never knew afore.”

Robert smiled and put his arm around Julian’s shoulders. “Yes, Mr. Punch. That’s what the word means. However, we’ll solve nothing by killing people.”

“Solve a lot, I’d say.” Punch grunted. “Got a problem, hit it with a club. That’s the way to do it.”

“Not in our world. Outside the confines of a tent set up in Covent Garden, the rules are slightly different.” Robert said softly.

“I do appreciate the sentiment, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne said, the smile returning to her lips. “However, I don’t wish you to harm anyone. It wouldn’t do to have Fuller’s new uncle, well uncles really, in a prison for committing murder—even the murder of a monster.”

“Nah,” Punch shook his head, “It’d be easy. She’s all made up of wax and paint. Kind of a puppet herself if you think ‘bout it.”

Robert took his arm from Julian’s shoulders. “Well,” he muttered.

“What’s that?” Punch asked.

“Mr. Punch, you’re quite an intelligent chap.” Robert said slowly.

“Always thought so of meself, I did.” Punch nodded. “What makes you think so, too?”

“Perhaps Iolanthe Evangeline is a puppet.”

“No, Chum.” Punch shook Julian’s head. “I didn’t mean it like that. She ain’t really a puppet. Got legs and no strings. She’s a people. I was bein’ poetic like what me master is always doin’. See, I pay attention when he’s out doin’ whatever ‘tis he does.”

Robert squeezed Julian’s arm. “I’m being poetic, too, ‘Chum.’ What does one think of when one considers a puppet?”

“You came to the best party for that one,” Punch grinned. “I think a lots a things. Known a good many puppets, I should say. I know lots ‘bout what makes a puppet what ‘tis.”

“Very well. What’s the one thing that makes a puppet what it is?” Robert asked.

“More than one thing. Can’t just be one. Wooden hands that can’t grasp nothin’. Head made a stuff that ain’t soft. Hollow body what a man can put his hand in.”

“That’s what I’m saying.” Robert continued.

“That ogress woman ain’t hollow. She’s got all that stuff inside her what the rest of ya got. Remember, I was gonna spill her guts.” He turned to Adrienne, “If you’ll pardon me sayin’ it, Lady Chum.”

Adrienne nodded weakly. “Quite all right.”

“Again, I’m being ‘poetic’ as you say. A puppet is controlled by someone else.” Robert said.

“I ain’t!” Punch frowned. “I ain’t controlled by nobody but meself.”

“You’re not a puppet anymore. You’re…” Robert struggled, coughing.

“I know. Still not quite sure what I am. I see what you’re sayin’. You think maybe some other party’s what’s makin’ this terrible woman do the things what she does.”

“Exactly.” Robert nodded.

“No.” Adrienne shook her head. “Iolanthe is her own driving force. No one dictates to her.”

“Don’t know ‘bout that, Lady Chum, if you’ll pardon me objectin’. Only I saw that she had fear in her when we was in her place. She’s got somethin’ else what makes her tick, she does. Sure, maybe it’s greed in part. Goin’ on ‘bout business and money, she was. But, maybe it’s fear, too . She was terrible frightened that Naasir was something more than just a man…like me…” Punch’s eyes widened.

“What is it?” Robert asked.

“Where’s the man?” Punch said wildly. “Where’s Naasir bein’ kept?”

“Out back with the others.” Cecil rose to his feet.

“Where?” Punch paced around the room, grabbing a hunk of bread from the sideboard and shoving it in Julian’s mouth. He grew increasingly frantic.

“Follow me.” Cecil said.

“Darling, you don’t think…” Adrienne rose.

“I don’t know, Dearest,” Cecil said gently. “Robert, do stay here with Adrienne. Mr. Punch and I will go to the cabins.”

Cecil and Mr. Punch hurried to the cabins at the rear of the property where the household staff lived.

“We made a place for him in here.” Cecil pointed to a cozy little structure with bright calico curtains in the window.

Cecil knocked on the door.

“Naasir!” Punch cried.

The door opened. A dark-skinned man staggered out, rubbing his head in bewilderment.

“Gros Chidi,” Cecil said, “Where is Lord Fallbridge’s man?”

“Dunno, Sir.” The man moaned. “Some fellas come in and done took him away. I tried for to stop them, but they done hit in the face.”

“No! No!” Punch screamed

“What did these men look like?” Cecil asked.

“White men. Maybe Creole. Didn’t talk none. One of ‘em had a wooly black beard.” Chidi answered.

Mr. Punch thumped Julian’s fist loudly against the wall.

“How badly are you hurt?” Cecil asked.

“I’ll be fine, Sir.” Chidi nodded.

“Still, I want you to go to the house and ask Gamila to fetch Dr. Halifax to the kitchen to have a look at you. Tell her, also, that she should stay with Mrs. Halifax in the drawing room until I return.”

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Halifax.” Chidi nodded, walking toward the house.

“Here!” Punch demanded, “Now, what are we gonna do, Brother Chum.”

“I don’t know.” Cecil sighed loudly.

“Can’t let some blokes take Naasir ‘way.” Punch cried feverishly. “Can’t let ‘em. You know what that ogress was gonna do? She was gonna burn Naasir. That’s right! Burn ‘im. Can’t let her burn ‘im!”

“But, we have to protect the family, too, Mr. Punch.”

“Naasir is part of the family!” Punch shouted. “Just cuz he don’t look like the rest of us don’t mean he ain’t! In here,” He pounded Julian’s chest, “I don’t look like you and Robert. I got a hunchback and a nose that touches me mouth! Don’t mean I’m any less of a thing than anyone else. Just means I’m different. Naasir’s different, too, but he’s still me chum. He helped me and now I gotta help him.”

Cecil lowered his head. “And, so you shall, Mr. Punch. We all shall.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-50? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Learn Something New

What excites you? Are you a fan of a particular actor or sport? Do you consider yourself an aficionado of a particular art? Is history your thing? Do you love reading? Consider what thrills you, and, then take a few minutes today to learn something new about it.

The Internet—aside from its well-documented pitfalls—offers the whole world to us. Do a little research about the things you enjoy. You’ll likely find dozens of people with similar passions who have taken the time to document the subject. By learning new facts about the things that you hold dear, you’re not only solidifying your affection, you’re also enriching your mind.

Object of the Day: A Paperweight by Caithness Glass, Scotland

Founded in 1961 and granted a Royal Warrant by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1968, Caithness Glass in Scotland has been responsible for producing some of the most magnificent art glass pieces in the world.

As a longtime collector of paperweights, I became familiar with Caithness Glass while in my early teens. One of my favorite pieces is this striking paperweight called “Helter Skelter.” Designed by Colin Terris, “Helter Skelter” is described as “A random spiral of millefiori canes descending frantically to a dark bubble base.”

A striking mix of colors, the millefiori stands out against the black pool beneath them. Red, purple and white create jewel-like forms—suspended in solid crystal. What most appeals to me about this piece is the use of traditional elements in a contemporary design. This is the genius of the artists at Caithness.

Here we see that the ideals of “The Beautiful Era” have been preserved and repurposed. It’s a combination that we should seek in all areas of our lives.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Recommended Reading: Montgomery Clift: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth

Undoubtedly, Montgomery Clift was one of the most talented actors of his generation. He was, however, one of the most troubled. His early life was defined by his mother’s quest to be accepted by her wealthy birth family. She prepared her sons and daughter for the life she dreamed of by sequestering them from the outside world and ensuring that they were only exposed to the things that she thought were the rightful stuff of a noble birth.

Montgomery Clift was a man who was always torn in many directions. The result was a fragmented person--an assemblage of pieces. This chaos afforded his work with a unique brilliance, but dulled his personal life in a haze of prescription drugs and alcohol which climaxed in a horrific car accident.

Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Clift is by far the superior of the few that have been written. She chronicles his life from birth until his too-early death and includes the most intimate details of a man who yearned for success as an actor, but loathed the public eye. While we’ll never understand this complicated man, Bosworth manages to shed some light into the darker corners of his existence by talking with those with whom he was closest. Her writing is honest, clear and unbiased.

If you’re a fan of Montgomery Clift, I would recommend reading this book. However, if you aren’t familiar with Mr. Clift, this is an excellent introduction to an astonishingly talented and deeply complex man.

Film of the Week: Enchantment, 1948

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by Irving Reis, 1948’s Enchantment featured an amazing cast which included David Niven, Teresa Wright, Farley Granger, Jayne Meadows, Evelyn Keyes and Leo G. Carroll.

The story of the film centers around the residents of an elegant Belgravia townhouse during both World Wars. While in London, American servicewoman, Grizel Dane (Evelyn Keyes) seeks out her aged granduncle, General Sir Roland “Rollo” Dane (played by David Niven). She finds Rollo to be quite disagreeable at first, however, he reluctantly allows her to stay with him in the house. During her visit, Roland recounts two tales from his youth. The first concerns his father’s adoption of a young orphan girl, Lark Ingoldsby. Lark is a lovely young thing, and Rollo’s sister, Selina takes an immediate dislike to her—resenting the attention she received from both Rollo and their brother, Pelham.

Rollo explains that as Lark grew up, she became all the more charming and beautiful. The adult Lark was played by Teresa Wright. Selina (played by Jayne Meadows) treated Lark as she would a servant. However, Pelham and Rollo recognized Lark’s intellect and desire to have a more comfortable life. Rollo, in fact, formed an extremely close bond with the girl. However, he soon departed for the Great War—leaving Lark behind. During his absence, Pelham begins to have romantic feelings for Lark who politely rebuffs him, preferring the attentions of a young Italian nobleman.

In the “present,” Rollo becomes involved in the relationship between Grizel and a wounded serviceman (Farley Granger). He tries to impress upon them the fleeting natures of love and of time. He recounts his missed opportunity with Lark whom he, too, loved deeply. Grizel, encouraged to seek her love, rushes out into the streets during a bomb raid. As the bombs fall, the picture ends with a very shocking twist.

This is truly a wonderful film. The writing is superb—based on a novel by Rumer Godden. What I find particularly lovely about this picture is that the house itself is really the central character. The opening narration is from the house’s point of view—a very clever device which perfectly demonstrates the nature of domestic life during times of peace and times of turmoil.

Humanitarian of the Week: Audrey Hepburn

Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics.

--Audrey Hepburn

Enchanting, ethereal and elfish, Audrey Hepburn remains a sentimental favorite of people of many different generations. She redefined elegance through her work in film and her interest in fashion. Her acting with sensitive, yet powerful, and she was undoubtedly a master of her art.

Born in Belgium in 1929, young Audrey had dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. However, the Second World War turned her life and the lives of her family upside down. Audrey never forgot the atrocities that she saw during the war, and the admiration she felt for those who braved the battle-scarred lands to offer aid and comfort to suffering people. She vowed that she would one day offer such kindness to people in need.

With her desire to dance a seeming impossibility, Audrey began to take modeling jobs, becoming increasingly comfortable in front of the camera, until one day, Hollywood came calling. We all know how that turned out. With twenty-five lovely film performances to her credit, Miss Hepburn is forever burned into our collective imaginations.

Though successful as an actress, Audrey craved success as a human being and felt that the most important part of her life was giving back to others. After retiring from film, Miss Hepburn was appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). She had worked with UNICEF since the 1950’s, however, she relished the chance to become more physically involved and soon embarked on several worldwide journeys to assist children who were faced with poverty and famine. She worked up until her premature death from cancer in 1993.

In 1994, Miss Hepburn’s sons founded The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund so that their mother’s work could continue. Audrey Hepburn was a true pioneer—a beautiful and talented woman who defined herself by what she could do, not what she did for a living. Her efforts paved the way for other humanitarians who yearned to make a difference in the lives of their fellow humans. For this reason, Audrey Hepburn is our “Humanitarian of the Week.”