Friday, 9 December 2016

Friday 9th December - Angeli Ministrantes

Thank all the Wombats, it's Friday! I'm rather tired today, I don't know about you, but tomorrow is the weekend so let's crack on with today's angelic offering...

Angeli Ministrantes (1878) Edward Burne-Jones
To misquote Little Women, Christmas won't be Christmas without any Burne-Jones and here we have two rather statuesque examples of his angelic figures, here to minter to our needs, to look after us.  I suppose that is what is known as a 'guardian angel' in a way, someone who will look after us in a lieu of our parents...

Guardian Angel (1900) Unknown German Artist
Lawks, tiny munchkins on a rickety bridge!  If the angel can make herself useful and mend the bridge whilst she's there, that would be great, otherwise she's just wafting about looking glow-y.  I suppose in 1900 there was very little in the way of street lighting, especially in the middle of threatening rural areas and it's not like the little girl can get her mobile phone out of her basket and double-shake the torch on.  I do wonder where the parents of this pair are though - and they say parents these days are lax.  I rarely make my daughter wander across derelict bridges in the middle of nowhere.  Also, in 1900 there was quite enough dangers surrounding childhood without adding more.  Well done little children, you've managed to survive all manner of childhood illnesses and industrial accidents and malnutrition.  Now walk around at night across a bridge with half its boards missing.  Come on Parents, it's not the Hunger Games, a tad more care please.  Possibly Angels were the Social Services of the Victorian era?

Tapestry of Angeli Ministrantes (1894)
Anyway, back to Burne-Jones.  Angeli Ministrantes and the companion piece Angeli Laudantes (Praising Angels) were originally conceived as stained glass windows for the south choir of Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire.  Burne-Jones listed them as '4 colossal and sublime figures of angels' and they were so popular that they were bought for other churches as well.  Later, they were turned into tapestries by John Dearle at the Merton Abbey Workshop of Morris & Co, who added the background and border details.

Tapestry of Angeli Laudantes (1894)
If we are to start ranking angels in terms of usefulness, attractiveness and impressiveness, then Burne-Jones angels are about as good as it gets.  They look capable, imposing, no-nonsense.  I was about to say they are the Tesco Finest of the angel world but no, they are even better than that.  They are the Waitrose 1 of the angel world.  That's pretty bloody good, that's 'leaving the packet out on the side for everyone to see' good.  If I have a criticism, and it is only a very minor one, then I think they have far too much in terms of robes.  Aesthetically, it's glorious, but I'm being practical here. That is a lot of fabric draped about which begs the question how do they do anything?  How do they play the instruments or even walk half the time with the amount of layers and layers they seem to be swathed in.  Possibly it gets chilly when they are about their angel business.  Personally I might be tempted to give them one less layer but a pair of fleece-lined boots.

Oh, and how do wings and robes work? Do you have holes in the back of the robes to put your wings through?  That's how it works at Build-a-Bear with My Little Pony Rainbow Dash.  But the angel wings look huge and so there would have to be some sort of split that you could then do up.  Do they have velcro in heaven...?

On that deep ecumenical question, I'll be off and see you tomorrow...

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Thursday 8th December - The Awakening

Are we all doing okay?  We are still in the early stages of Angelvent and so I thought I'd just check that we are all holding a glass of mulled wine and at least one mince pie before I continue.  By the way, at this time of year, that constitutes a perfectly acceptable breakfast.  Mince pies contain fruit which must count as one of your five-a-day.  Marvellous.  Onwards!

The Awakening (1898) Thomas Cooper Gotch
Well, there's a lovely surprise to find in your bedroom.  I must admit that I have never woken up to find a trio of angels warbling in the corner, but then my bedroom is in no way as tidy as this.  That is an impressively tidy room.  I did wonder if she was a nun as she has a cross on the wall (just seen) and she is wearing the white robe, but her bedspread seems a little fancy for a nun. Are nuns allowed fancy bedspreads? And that much hair?  Anyway, whoever our awakened lass is she seems to be quite happy about the whole thing, unlike this one...

The Awakening Conscience (1853) William Holman Hunt
Yes, yes, I know she looks quite happy in the painting but we all know she didn't start out like that.  In the original scene she looked horrified as she heard the knock at the door by Jesus as she bounced on the knee of her illicit gentleman acquaintance.  Gotch's girl already has Jesus in her room and so being 'awakened' (awoken?) by a heavenly visit isn't a worry.

The Awakening (1891) Solomon J Solomon
What exactly Solomon's awakening figure is up to I'm not sure, but I love the curling feathers.  Although there is some gold in his hair I don't think that's a halo, the naughty so-and-so.  Is it Love being awakened/awoken?  What exactly has woken him up in his semi-nude reclining state? Filthy baggage.  Maybe it is Icarus being awakened by his love of the sun and falling from great heights.  That would be enough to wake you up, I grant you...
The Awakening (1916) John Charlton
Isn't it interesting how we use consciousness and awakening to explain religious feeling when many people, especially nowadays would say it is exactly the opposite.  To be clear I am fairly religious but have absolutely no problem with what anyone else believes if it makes them happy and they do no harm to others.  If there is a God (and I think there is) then I don't think He or She would be awfully impressed by us hurting each other as that is a bit pointless.  I think you get more favour from everyone if you are a nice person who does lovely things and has a bit of cake in the afternoon to stop you being grumpy.  Anyway, the Victorians, by the looks of it, obviously believe you could 'awaken' to the religious truths (for want of a better word) of everyday life.  Much like a Magic Eye picture, you would suddenly see Jesus or Angels.  Actually I have that Magic Eye book...
Really rather good...
Now, I don't mean to be a stickler but surely that is counterindicated by the word 'belief'.  I personally think these pictures of awakenings are a sign that the Victorians were not so cosy with their religion and that faith was not enough anymore.  What they needed was fact, to be able to see angels or Jesus and be proved right.  See, look, there is a bunch of nicely arranged angels in the corner of the room!  Listen, Jesus is at the door, I best put my skirt back on!  The tricky thing about belief is that you can't prove it, that's the thing.  Also, maybe belief isn't there to prove yourself right at the expense of other people.  I'm not sure that trio of angels would approve of that either.

In conclusion, go and have that slice of cake and I'll see you back here tomorrow...

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Wednesday 7th December - The Virgin with Angels

Once I get my daughter's birthday out of the way I'm suddenly confronted by CHRISTMAS which looms onto the horizon and reminds me of the presents I haven't made yet.  Yikes.  On with Angelvent!

The Virgin with Angels (1900) William Adolphe Bouguereau
Were you feeling decidedly under-angel-ed?  Were you feeling a lack of agels in your life? Well, I have a bucketload of them here (official unit of measurement), all over the shop.  The place is stuffed with angels, you can't swing a holy child without hitting one.  In fact, Mary's looking a bit nervous, holding Jesus a bit awkwardly as if she's worried she's running out of room.  Mind you, that's what happens when you have a baby, everyone turns up and your house feels really small.  And that's people without wings.  Factor in the wings and that is a packed party.

Virgin of the Angels (1881)
I quite like a Bouguereau nativity scene.  His whites have been through the special wash and come out sparkling and the stable never looks outrageously shabby.  It's a nice Waitrose nativity, if you know what I mean. The angels in this one have turned up as a musical threepiece - one on a violin, one on a little lute-y thing and the third one on a kazoo (just out of shot).  I find the solidness of the angels and their big swan wings in the 1881 painting rather more appealing than the angelfest of his later work.  Part of what I love about the nativity is the utterly bonkers nature of the string of events that happen to this couple, who are really very ordinary. 

The Madonna of the Roses (1903)
Before everyone turned up, it was so nice and quiet...
They are both young, she's pregnant, there's a fairly comfortable donkey to ride but on the whole that isn't a great journey to be making in the nineth month of pregnancy.  Then there are no hotels, but there is a shed, which you have to give birth in.  Then some shepherds turn up which isn't too odd but some angels told them to do it.  Then some more angels turn up, then some blokes on camels in turbans turn up. Everyone wants to see the baby, and its non-stop.  Mary sits there in both pictures with an expresion of 'Ah well, that's life isn't it?' and whatever religion you are (or none), that's not a bad way of facing life at this time of year.  Sometimes Christmas can be somewhat overwhelming, noisy, uncomfortable, annoying and filled with people who you secretly wish would sod off home again now. For the good of all mankind, put on a brave face and get on with it. 

Also, you get something pretty damn special out of it:  Mary got Jesus, I'm getting a new blade for my Kenwood Food Processor.  Yes, I know, he was the Son of God, however can he slice brussel sprouts so finely that they caramelise? 

See you tomorrow...

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Tuesday 6th December - The Protecting Angel

Today is my daughter's 11th birthday.  I tend to blame my chaotic Christmas arrangements on the fact that I am always focused on getting Lily's birthday sorted, and then her party, only to be horribly surprised how close to Christmas I suddenly am.  In fact, after 11 years, I really should be better at it.  Ho hum.  Happy birthday Lily-Rose!  On with Angelvent before she wakes up!

The Protecting Angel (1897) Joseph Wilson Forster
There are many types of angels in Angelvent and so we are taking a break from Annunciating angels to see what other jobs they do.  Here we have a rather splendid protecting angel with one of those swingy catholic incense things, hang on ... the word I was looking for was "censer", but as I am all too often un-censered here, it's unsurprising I didn't know it.  Anyway, the angel is obviously looking down on us and praying for our naughty souls.  I would say the angel was more feminine than androgynous, and I also would say is a fair portrait of someone as the face seems to be very definitely someone rather than an idealised figure, if you know what I mean.  Again, she has the red and white and blue wings and a blue robe.  Now, I know that blue was used for the most Holy figures traditionally, because of the high price of blue paint ground from lapis, but according to some holy friends of mine, blue is also the colour of the holy spirit in the Bible, which is handy.  Also, blonde little girls look lovely in blue and so Mary always seemed to be a girl with long blonde hair in my school, not that I'm bitter.  Despite having long blonde hair Lily did not get to be Mary, she was 'the chicken at the nativity'. This year she's a grandfather clock.  For heavens sake.

Portrait of a Lady (1898) Joseph Wilson Forster
 Moving on from my parental bitterness and thwarted Biblical ambition, Joseph Wilson Forster did some rather interesting art.  Born in 1861, the son of a Quaker sugar refiner, Forster studied art at the Royal Academy before marrying the daughter of the Canon of Canterbury and settling down to the life of a professional artist.  The family moved to Bushey, where he taught at the school of Arts and Craft.  Bushey, in Hertfordshire, strikes me as a bit like St Ives as more and more artists I come across have ties to the place.  I've written about Ida Perrin, of course, but also Lucy Kemp Welch and Hubert von Herkomer have close ties to the town. I feel a road trip coming on...

Love and War (1915)
Flipping heck!  I now feel the need to write a book just so I can have that on the cover.  It's a tad overblown, I grant you, but it is from 1915 when obviously it was still okay for some people to portray war as something romantic and heroic, rather than the horrifically pointless mudbath it actually was.  Another winged friend appears in this painting, this time cupid, bestowing love upon our Edwardian girl and her puzzlingly armoured lover.  Is she meant to be medieval too?  I'm now picturing some sort of time travelling epic where an Edwardian woman finds love with a medieval knight - She was Lucy Scoggins, the omnibus conductor's daughter, he was Richard the Lionheart, but somehow love blossomed...

I'm off to write an epic romance, I'll see you all tomorrow!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Monday 5th December - Ecce Ancilla Domini!

Into our second Angelvent week and I hope you are all beginning to feel festive.  I have to make a 'shedload' of mince pies later (official measurement) as both of Lily's grandparents are coming tomorrow for her 11th birthday.  Best get on with today's entry...

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1849-50) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
I thought I'd pick a more obscure one for today.  Only joking, this is probably the most familiar angel picture to you but looking at it in terms of a depiction of Gabriel, it has some very interesting differences to what we've seen so far.

Sketch of Mary from Ecce Ancilla Domini!
When I look at this picture, as I have on many occasions, I have to admit that I'm normally looking at the figure of the Virgin Mary, as modelled by Christina Rossetti.  Her curled position on the little bed draws the eye and she doesn't look best pleased about the whole Holy Baby malarky.  I know it is meant to be all that Medieval perspective stuff, but the slanting of the bed always makes me feel like she desperately trying not to slide down it.  Poor old Mary, parenthood isn't easy at the best of times but she really did have it a bit rough. Anyway, back to old flame-y feet...

Angel feet!
Rossetti chose feet over feathers and so Gabriel has no wings, but instead his feet have pale fire licking up the sides.  It makes me think of Hermes, although his shoes were winged, but still it is that classical, speedy walker-between-worlds vibe he seems to be carrying.  Something else I didn't notice is that the Angel Gabriel is swanning about in a tabard - his frock is open at the sides.  That has to be chilly but then when you are one of God's messengers I suppose you have your own ways of keeping warm, plus his feet are on fire so I suppose it all balances out. 

William Michael Rossetti (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
Also, the figure of Gabriel was modelled on William Michael, the artist's brother.  One of the shocking things for the Victorian audience was that Gabriel is very obviously nude and made of nice pink fleshiness, which is all a bit saucy as he goes about brandishing his lily at ladies in their beds.  Well, really!  But then I am brought to the realisation that we are looking at William Michael Rossetti's pink bits.  It's obviously the young and rather nicely built WMR and not the older, stroppy, controlling WMR, but still it feels rather wrong to be looking at his flaps, if you excuse the impression.

Yes, I think I will leave you with William Michael Rossetti's Holy flaps, and I'm off to make mince pies.  See you tomorrow!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday 4th December - The Annunciation

I always think of images of the Annunciation at this time of year for some reason.  Probably because we are told the whole story from Angel Surprise to Donkey to Stable, all in one go.  For that reason, even though in theory all this happened back in the Spring (I know, humour me), Mary's pregnancy from Immaculate Conception to birth seems to last about a month.  Bring on the Annunciation pictures!

The Annunciation (1898) Robert Fowler
Well, if you will go wandering around in a field of lilies, this sort of thing is bound to happen. Mary, wearing a less traditional pink frock, has been surprised in a meadow by a red-winged Gabriel.  Again, we have the question of the red wings, but I'm guessing they are red mainly as a contrast to the white and green in the picture.  Just in case we were in any doubt, Gabriel is pointing up at God, answering the age old question 'Who's the Daddy?'  Blimey, it's like a festive edition of the Jeremy Kyle Show when you think about it. Unmarried couple turn up in the middle of the night, she's pregnant and the Father's friend was the one who gave her the news...

The Annunciation Frederick James Shield
Here's another point-y Gabriel - what's with all the pointing?  In all likelihood Mary is probably thinking 'So you don't think I'm bright enough to know where God lives but I'm okay carrying the Saviour of Mankind. Thanks for that.'

Robert Fowler and his magnificent moustache
So, to our chap Robert Fowler - born in Fife, he seems to be the Scottish Alma Tadema or Lord Leighton, spending his time in the British Museum being inspired by the Elgin Marbles.  His work is very reminiscent of theirs...
Dance of Salome (1885)
But then looking at his Angel Gabriel above, the handling of paint is much freer and not so polished and Academy.  Although I always like the clean, crisp drapery of Victorian classical, something about the soft focus pastel of his Annunciation reminds me of the illustrations I have in the Bible I was given on my Christening. I shall have to investigate who did the illustrations in my many and varied Bibles, heaven knows we have a few...

Birth of Venus (c.1890s)
Anyway, Robert Fowler is not a name I know well but I now would like to see some more of his stuff, especially if it is as pretty as his Birth of Venus.  Do you think the seagulls circling round her think she's got some chips?

Anyway, on that profound question I'm off to rest my aching feet after a day of walking around the Harry Potter Studio Tour for Lily's birthday (which is next week) and so I'll be with you again tomorrow...

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Saturday 3rd December - The Angel of the Annunciation

First weekend of Angelvent and I've taken a few minutes out of sewing Hogwarts robes (don't ask) to bring you this rather lovely picture...

The Angel of the Annunciation Mary Gwenllian Gibson
 Isn't that marvellous?  The wings are splendidly patriotic, in red, white and blue.  Now, this is the Angel Gabriel I assume from the title, so should have the white wings of an Archangel, but also has the blue of a Cherub and the red of a Seraph.  I wonder if that is an artistic way of alluding to the blue of the Virgin Mary and the red of the crucifixion? Anyway, I really like the faint, stylised lilies on thehis sleeves and the turquoise cape that flows from the golden collar.  That brought me on to thinking about haloes.  Aren't they odd things when you think about it? It's a neat visual shorthand to show you the holy people in the picture but the origins of the convention seem a little less Christian. Homer describes the glowing light around the heads of heroes at the end of battles, and depictions of Perseus killing Medusa sometimes had a glow around his head. There are lots of different haloes in Christian iconography, with cruciform haloes for Jesus (one with a cross inside it), triangular haloes and nice flame-y haloes, like the one above. There is never a need to go under-haloed, apparently...

Detail of Angels (1460-80) Benozzo Gozzoli
 Although our Angel Gabriel at the top was painted around the beginning of the twentieth century, it is obviously drawing its inspiration from the flattened forms of the Renaissance. It reminded me of that wonderful Virgin Mary by May Cooksey...

Maria Virgo (1914) May Cooksey
Very nice too. So, who was the artist, Mary Gwenllian Gibson?  Daughter of a pharmacist, Mary Gibson was born in 1888 in Wolverhampton.  She studied and then taught at the Wolverhampton School of Art, teaching leatherwork, needlework and bookbinding.  In 1926 she exhibited three leather panels intended to be an altar front, at the Royal Society of Artists Birmingham.  She was also a painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in the 1940s and 50s, and eventually dying in 1966.

Mary Gibson (c.1930s) Robert Jackson Emerson
Mary was a friend and colleague of the sculptor and painter Robert Jackson Emerson.  The couple were very close and Mary was at Emerson's bedside (presumably as well as his wife) when he died in December 1944.  Despite living in Devon in her retirement, when she died in 1966, her body was taken back to Wolverhampton and lies not far from Emerson's, in St Phillip's Churchyard.

There are some lovely photographs of the frame of Gibson's angel at Richard Christie's blog here.  

I'll see you all tomorrow...