Friday, 18 May 2018

"Lodged within my heart" : a Turkish Epithalamium or Bridal Shower

Ancient Constantinople, style of Anton Schwarz, 1769-1839  © Durham University

300 years ago in May, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of George I's ambassador to Constantinople, attended a Turkish "bridal shower" or epithalamium.

Pera, Constantinople, May 1718:
"I was three days ago at one of the finest [bagnios]  in the town and had the opportunity of seeing a Turkish bride received there and all the ceremonies used on that occasion…

All the she-friends, relations and acquaintance of the two families newly allied meet at the bagnio. . ..I believe there was that day at least 200 women.  Those that were or had been married placed themselves round the room on the marble sofas, but the virgins very hastily threw off their clothes and appeared without other ornament or covering than their own long hair braided with pearl or ribbon.  Two of them met the bride at the door, conducted by her mother and another grave relation.  She was a beautiful maid of about seventeen, richly dressed and shining with jewels, but was presently reduced by them to a state of nature.  Two others filled silver gilt pots with perfume and begun the procession,  the rest following in pairs to the number of thirty.  The leaders sung an epithalamium answered by the others in chorus, and the two last led the fair bride, her eyes fixed on the ground with a charming affectation of modesty. In this order they marched round the three large rooms of the bagnio.  'Tis not easy to represent to you the beauty of this sight, most of them being well proportioned and white skinned, all of them perfectly smooth and polished by the frequent use of bathing.  After having made their tour, the bride was again led to every matron round the rooms, who saluted her with a compliment and a present, some of jewels, others pieces of stuff, handkerchiefs, or little gallantries of that nature, which she thanked them for by kissing their hands.

I was very well pleased with having seen this ceremony and you may believe me that the Turkish ladies have at least  as much wit and civility, nay, liberty, as ladies amongst us."

From Letters from Turkey, Mary Wortley Montagu, published officially 1763.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu*    Charles Jervas  after 1716   © National Gallery of Ireland
*Cousin by marriage to Lady Elizabeth Montagu, the blue-stocking hostess (see May 2017 blog)

Lady Montagu's letters draw a wonderful detailed picture of her experiences in Constantinople, and on the journey via Vienna across Europe.  Intelligent, curious and engaging, she was clearly more successful in society there than was her husband's embassy to the Ottomans, and her letters reveal intimate details of women's lives in Turkish high society.   Accounts like hers of the exotic Mediterranean past later inspired both dress fashions and many late Victorian artists.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema's "Roman" baths,  1909  © Tate Britain

The historic Cagaloglu Hamam, Istanbul, built 1741

She also recorded this pencil inscription from a private bagnio at C,orlu.   Translated into English for her,  it is a fitting verse for lovers:

"We come into this world, we lodge, and we depart;
He never goes that's lodged within my heart."

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Entertaining the Moroccan Ambassador in 1682

The Moroccan Ambassador,  'Mohammed Ohadu '   Godfrey Kneller and Jan Wyck 1684
©  English Heritage, Chiswick House

The visit of Muhammad ben Haddu al-'Attar, the Moroccan Ambassador to England in the reign of Charles II, is recorded not only in this dramatic portrait in the style of van Dyck, but also by the institutions he visited, in the newspapers and in diaries.  He was in England from late December 1681 until 23rd July1682.

John Locke's friends also mentioned the ambassador in their letters to him.  Writing on 9th May, 1682, from Thames Street, on the route between the Tower and Westminster, Mrs Anna Grigg breaks into her rather cross letter to note that,

"just now pases under my window the Morrocco Embasador, in civility to him I will begin to be calm lest he should popp up and say I look sowerly, and that my writing now may have some merit these men in blanquets are at this minute at my Elbow dining…"  Locke Correspondence, E.S. De Beer

Muhammad as the Moroccan ambassador may have been in the procession, but this was the date when the ambassadors from Bantam (Java)  entered into London, so she may have been mistaken.   "Blanquets" hardly does justice to Muhammad ben Haddu's colourful velvet riding habit in the Kneller painting.  He was much admired for his daring horsemanship, seen riding regularly in Hyde Park.  Godfrey Kneller was the court portrait painter, but  Jan Wyck, a Dutch Baroque painter of military scenes, would have been called upon to provide the mettlesome horse and the exotic landscape in the background.

John Evelyn records his appearance at court in January 1982: "Saw the Audience of the Morroco Ambassador: his retinue not numerous, was received in the Banqueting-house both their Majesties present:"

Whitehall Banqueting House, with its ceiling by Rubens, 1635    Historic Royal Palaces

"he came up to the Throne without making any sort of reverence, bowing so much as his head or body: he spake by a Renegado English man, for whose safe returne there was a promise:   They were all Clad in the Moorish habite Cassocks of Colourd cloth or silk with buttons & loopes, over this an Alhaga or white wollan mantle, so large as to wrap both head & body, a shash or small Turban, naked leg'd & arm'd, but with lether socks like the Turks, rich Symeters, large Calico sleev'd shirts &c: The Ambassador had a string of Pearls odly woven in his Turbant; I fancy the old Roman habite was little different as to the Mantle & naked limbs: The Ambassador was an handsom person, well featur'd, & of a wise looke, subtile, and extreamely Civile: Their Presents were Lions and Estridges &c:  Their Errant, about a Peace at Tangire &c:…"  Evelyn Diary, 11th January 1682

At a banquet in their honour two weeks later, "both the Ambassador & Retinue behaved themselves with extraordinary Moderation & modestie, though placed about a long Table a Lady between two Moores: [the ladies*]…as splendid as Jewells, and Excesse of bravery could make them:  The Moores neither admiring or seeming to reguard anything, furniture or the like with any earnestness; and but decently tasting of the banquet :  They drank a little Milk & Water, but not a drop of Wine, also they drank of a sorbet & Jacolatte: did not looke about nor stare on the Ladys, or expresse the least of surprize, but with a Courtly negligence in pace, Countenance, & whole behaviour, answering onely to such questions as were asked, with a greate deale of Wit & Gallantrie…"
Evelyn then likens the Russian ambassador to " a Clowne, compared to this Civil Heathen".
 *the hostess was Charles's mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth and the bejewelled Ladies included Nell Gwyn and others.

Evelyn Diary, 24 January 1682,  E. S De Beer, © Clarendon Press

While in London, the Ambassador visited the Royal Society and also Lincoln's Inn, who have his signature in their archives with that of his secretary/translator,  but no details of his visit in their records.

The Arabic inscription reads as:
Praise be to God alone! Written by the servant of the wise, the pilgrim to god, Muhammad the son of Muhammed the son of Haddu, belonging to Sus, the Bahamwani.  May God be gracious unto him! Amen."    ©  Lincoln's Inn archives, 4th March 1682

Written in Roman script is his secretary/translator's  signature, apparently Alhash Mahamed Lacos Abencerahe.  © Lincoln's Inn Archives

The ambassador  was also a guest of the Royal Society and visited Oxford University at the end of the month.  He broke his dusty journey at Shotover on 30th May,  (" a sweet place".. according to Evelyn) as guest of Sir Timothy and Lady Tyrrell, the parents of Locke's friend James, where he experienced the contemporary equivalent of "afternoon tea" in an English country garden.

Shotover House, new built by James Tyrrell , c. 1713-18
 "There is here in the Grove, a fountain of the coldest water I ever felt : 'tis very cleere, his plantations of Oakes &c. is commendable"  Evelyn, Diary 1664

Plan of Shotover House and grounds  © Ordnance Survey 

 "as for the Entertainment of our Moorish Embass: since you expect a further account of it
all I can tell you is that the collation was in the well Arbour, which was the more surprizeing because he expected nothing there, which stood all ready against he came in being onely sweetmeats and milk- meats; Tarts etc. he eat of many things but drank nothing but milk and water and seemed by what I hear, much better satisfyed with this runing banquet then with that which was much more costly that my Lord Bishop made him.  His carriage was very civill and obliging; and his parting complement I shall not forget.   which was, his prayers that wee might all (of that Family) live long to enjoy that pleasant place, and that our good K. might live as many years as Adam, and when those were past live them over agen, that wee might alwayes live in peace."

James Tyrrell writing to Locke, June 1682.  Locke Correspondence (as above).

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

May Labours: "Grass and greenworld all together"*

Here is the month of May from one of my favourite Calendars of the Months, a roundel from the ceiling of Piero de Medici's private study, where he kept his treasures.

May labours:  glazed terracotta ceiling decoration by Luca della Robbia, 1456  Florence. 
©  V& A Museum

Piero commissioned the leading fashionable sculptor, Luca della Robbia, to decorate the ceiling with 12 coloured enamel plaques showing the agricultural labours for each month (the purple and green vestiges are the colours of Piero's livery).   The images are thought to be based on the classic Latin farmers' encyclopaedia (in 12 volumes) De Res Rustica, by Columella (AD 4 - c. AD 74)  which was listed in Piero's library inventory.  As well as showing the monthly task -  here the cutting of the spring grass in May - each calendar roundel indicates the month's average hours of daylight, in pale blue, and the phases of the moon, so important for planting.  
Above the head of the sun is the zodiac sign for Gemini, the classical twins,  the constellation of Castor and Pollux. The zodiac signs are commonly linked with the monthly labours, together representing the earthly and the heavenly cycle of the year.

The ceramic roundels are finely painted, but Piero's calendar is secular and eminently practical.  This was a time of transition when new printed books were embellished with hand painted illustrations.  Piero also commissioned illuminated manuscripts, and his library would have included devotional Books of Hours.   The other traditional image used for the May Calendar page, especially for noble patrons, were scenes of falconry and its associated pleasures of courtly dalliance.  This contemporary Arras tapestry illustrates both of these sports being enjoyed by the wealthy:

"Falconry":   Devonshire Hunting Tapestry, Arras c. 1430  
© V & A Museum

Central detail from "Falconry"
© V&A Museum

Detail from "Falconry" (top left corner) 
© V&A Museum

In Anglo-Saxon manuscript Psalters, calendar pages for May also celebrate the spring grass, with shepherds tending their flocks.  In the same vein is this May page from the Tiberius Miscellany of the eleventh century; a general knowledge collection, the manuscript included history and astronomy as well as monthly calendars.  So it seems that these early medieval texts, whether devotional or practical,  combined the seasonal labours with Christian imagery in their illuminations.

MS. Cotton Tiberius B. c. 1040   © British Library

* from "The May Magnificat"   G. M Hopkins

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Celestial bodies: "…things of Beauty Growing... " Michael Cardew

Korean porcelain vase,  Choson dynasty c. 1650-1700 
© Fitzwilliam Museum

This large 'moon jar' is one of my favourite pieces in the Fitzwilliam ceramics galleries. Unlike this photo,  it shines milky white and the lighting in its display case throws curving highlights on its sides. You can see the rivulets where the viscous white glaze has run down the sides and almost see the ridge where the two thrown hemispherical halves were joined together by the potter with wet clay when leather hard.  This matching would take very great skill, but any faults resulting in the firing were accepted in Korean philosophy as nature at work.   It represents the Confucian ideals of purity and simplicity which were admired by Choson scholars and courtiers - works of art which were in fact storage jars for rice or wine.  

This one below belonged to Bernard Leach and was a gift to Lucie Rie who kept it in her studio. It shows the firing faults of unevenness around the join, the grit particles in the glaze and specks of ash from the kiln, all features admired by the Koreans for the natural freedom of the firing process.  Few of this large size survived the firing stresses intact.

18th C. Choson glazed white porcelain moon jar  (ht. 47.5 cms)  acquired by Leach in Korea, 1935
© British Museum

These rare surviving Moon jars have inspired contemporary potters from Bernard Leach to Park Young-sook today, for their serenity and their technical challenge,  and there are several interpretations in the current Fitzwilliam ceramics exhibition, Things of Beauty Growing: British studio pottery .  

  Intertidal Jar, stoneware with Waun Llodi clay,  ht. 36 cm.    © Adam Buick  2011

Adam Buick now concentrates on the challenge of creating Moon jars ('hang-ari)  from small to large, using Pembrokeshire clays from near his studio, in close relation with the landscape.   He uses local earth and stone inclusions in both bodies and glazes,  often stones and seaweed collected from the beach, which fire with very unpredictable results. 

Moon jar,  ht. 27.5 cms.   Adam Buick, 2012
© British Museum 

The inclusion stripes in this modern pot are formed by rolling brown clay into the porcelain clay before throwing, so the stripes appear randomly as the moon jar is turning on the wheel.  Compare it with this medieval Chinese vase:

Chinese Song dynasty stoneware vase, c. 960-1279 
© Fitzwilliam Museum

The unusual striped decoration shows the ancient potter's varying control of the brush-strokes, reacting  to the momentum as the vase turns on the wheel.  It is displayed next a twentieth century piece -  William Staite Murray's tall striped vase, The Bather. 

The spacious exhibition explores modern studio pottery through the basic shapes of  vase, bowl, charger, and set, and also as monument,  as well as the different techniques and materials used.  

Halima Cassell is represented by The Virtue of Unity, a current work of 36 bowls,  using clays from around the globe, which she carves when just firmer than leather hard.  Each one is different, with an origami-like complexity of folds, and interchanging positive and negative spaces, as in printmaker M.C. Escher's optical illusions. These include apertures, some of which are only seen by the shadows the lighting casts around them.

Halima Cassell at work 

The Virtue of Unity    Halima Cassell  2009- 2017
(photo from

The title of this major exhibition is taken from a the words of an interview with Michael Cardew (1901-1983). 

"…if you trust your material and you trust your instincts, you will see things of beauty growing up in front of you…"  Michael Cardew

[quoted from Simon Olding's review: see]

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Images for a wet April

April, 2002  Wilhelmina Barns-Graham 
Courtesy the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

Here are some poems from a gentler age to console us during this endless wet, grey April,  beginning with Thomas Hardy's counterpoint second verse to his Maytime "This is the weather the cuckoo likes" .

"This is the weather the shepherd shuns
And so do I,
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
And thresh and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I."

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Budding elms, Mayfield, April 1901   Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson 1847-1906
© Manchester City Art Gallery

If Hardy does not lift the spirits a little, Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Inversnaid" is a great poem to recite to vent frustration:

"This darksome burn, horseback brown
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet."

Inversnaid  G. M. Hopkins  1876-1889

And writers and artists travelling in distant countries dream of English springs:

Taj Mahal from the Fort,  April 1878,    Marianne North, botanical artist
On loan to the British Library from Kew Botanical Gardens

"Oh shall I never, never be home again?
Meadows of England shining in the rain
Spread wide your daisied lawns: your ramparts green
With briar fortify, with blossoms screen
Till my far morning - and O streams that slow
And pure and deep through plains and playlands go,
For me your love and all your kingcups store,
And - dark militia of a southern shore,
Old fragrant friends - preserve me the last lines
Of that long saga which you sung me, pines,
When, lonely boy, beneath the chosen tree,
I listened, with my eyes upon the sea.
Brumana   James Elroy Flecker

This month too saw sailors, far from home, fight the deciding battle of the American War of Independence, when Admiral Rodney defeated the French in the West Indies in 1782.

Battle of 'the Saints', April 12, 1782    Thomas Lunn
©  National Maritime Museum   Greenwich

Sunday, 1 April 2018

April Labours: the promise of abundance

These April flowers come from the Labours of the Months series in the famous Rose Window of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Lausanne, Switzerland.  It is the work of an intinerant artist from Picardy,  one Peter of Arras,  dated c. 1231-35.

And here I show my ignorance:  is this man bringing spring flowers indoors from the outside to welcome spring, or even to store like herbs in a rather grand cupboard, or is that a window shutter he is opening to show the new clover growing in abundance?   His headdress could be a crown or a garland,  personifying April, holding large bunches of purple trefoil and perhaps alfalfa, or other fodder plant; his gown is also decorated with flower patterns.

Figure of April, from the Rose Window, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Lausanne, Switzerland 

It is a masterly piece of design, interpreting the typical April Labours motif of spring flowers in an unusual style, to suit its ecclesiastic setting.  Notice how his foot brings him outside the circular frame and the sense of movement in the plants and his robes.  

Set in the Cathedral's great Rose window, and its detail not all visible to the naked eye, its christian message seems to read of good husbandry and the promise of abundance.

Today is Easter Sunday in the UK and although some snow is forecast, primroses are blooming at the end of my road.  Happy Easter!

Monday, 26 March 2018

March 1947: Plus ├ža change...

Back in March 1947, Britain suffered from severe gales, snowstorms and three times the normal rainfall.
There were also other problems looming in Europe, but everyday life was measured in small comforts, including of course, a cuppa.

Marylebone Station, built 1899 for the Grand Central Railway, London

On 26th March 1947,  Maggie Joy Blount, a Mass Observation contributor,  recorded:

"In London since Saturday.  Saw S.  Thinks that Russia will soon withdraw altogether from Europe and retire behind impenetrable 'iron curtain' to prepare for war.  Says they, (Russians) are realists, out for the good of their own country and their unborn millions, determined to get it in their own way and just think us foolish.  He said ' I don't like the Americans, but I'd rather live in America than a Soviet-controlled Europe.'
London cold, drab as ever.  Worked in libraries. Best reference library I know is at Marylebone.  Convenient, comfortable, a desk for each worker, light, shelves, ink*.  Have discovered a tea room in Marylebone main railway station."
*[ the forerunner of wi-fi access?]

Quoted from Our Hidden Lives,  S. Garfield

And a glimpse of spring's return, despite international problems.

Inside  Marylebone Station