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...

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday 2nd December - An Angel with Cymbals Amongst Fire

Welcome to Day Two of Angelvent, a leisurely stroll through some nice pictures of angels, with a glass of sloe gin in one hand and a mince pie in the other.  And that's just breakfast.  Anyhow, today I bring you this rather fetching angel...

An Angel with Cymbals Amongst Fire (1898) Thomas Millie Dow
Well, there you go then.  One thing I immediately noticed (other than his legs) was that the cymbals aren't attached to his hands at all, just balanced there.  That is both beautiful and precarious.  Surely he is going to drop them and then you don't want to be bending over in a skirt that short, trust me.  Mind you, being an angel, the cymbals probably just stay on his hands by celestial magic or something.

An Angel with a Lyre (1898)
Dow obviously did a nice angel, but then his work always seems to have a magical edge, with such paintings as The Kelpie (1895) which I'm sure you are familiar with even if you didn't know who it was by.  Anyway, Thomas Millie Dow has been a bit of a neglected artist until the twenty-first century.  He is mentioned in David Martin's influential book on the Glasgow Boys of 1898 (for a free copy go here) but otherwise he's not someone whose name has become household even though many of his pictures are reasonably well known.

The Herald of Winter (1894)

I've used Dow's work before in Blogvent.  In 2012 I used The Herald of Winter which is both odd and jolly in equal measure.  For Dow, the coming of Winter meant only one thing it seems, time to take to the wing.  A bit of a traveller, he started out in Fife, then studied in Paris, then travelled extensively in Canada, America, Italy and Tangiers.  A reason for his lack of posthumous fame might be the dismissive attitude of Dow's contemporary, the Scottish National Gallery Director Sir James Caw.  Caw felt Dow's work relied on 'decorative beauty as opposed to intellectual and emotional significance', and that The Herald of Spring, for example, was 'charming but inexpressive'.  Well, that's just rude.

Anyway back to the chap at the top, with his miniskirt and sandals.  When you start looking at pictures of angels, you have to start thinking about whether you are surprised when angels are portrayed as obviously male.  Now, this should not surprise me as in Victorian art an awful lot of angels are male or at least androgynous enough to be neither or both female or male at first glance.  I think my surprise comes from this...

That's your archetypal angel of Victorian-ness.  She's a pretty blonde girl in a white frock.  Then this sort of thing happens...

My apologies to Anna Davies, Karen Thompson, Val Mitchell and Joanna Martin
I would love to hear from you if your school allowed the boys to be angels.  That's me in the gold tinsel halo as I was the Angel Gabriel.  I'm not sure why we insist on little girls being the angels in the school play as it can't be about wearing a frock as the Shepherds and Kings all wore robes too.  I had great hopes of Lily being a Christmas Angel because of her lovely blonde hair but instead she was the chicken at the Nativity. There's a costume challenge for parents.  Looking back at our school Nativity, above, I remember I was dead jealous of Joanna Martin who got to be Mary, but then she had to hold hands with Joseph and we all know boys smell, so what the Lord gives with one hand, he takes with the other.

On that Biblical note I'll be off and see you tomorrow...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Thursday 1st December - The Nativity Angel

Well, here we are again!  Welcome to the annual ridiculous spectacle that is Blogvent, or for this month...

Angelvent!

Now, I know it sounds like the grill on the back of an angel where the hot air comes out, but Angelvent will be 24 days of lovely pictures of angels to get you in a Christmas-y mood.  To start off, we have this little cutie...

Angel of the Nativity (Laura Gurney) (1872) Julia Margaret Cameron
I was rather spoiled with pictured of winged poppets by Julia Margaret Cameron but I'll start here with little Laura Gurney, or Dame Laura Troubridge as she became after she married Thomas the Stockbroker in 1893.  Hers is a lovely happy story of wealth and no asylums, which is probably why I didn't know much about her.  She was Cameron's great-neice, the granddaughter of Sara Pattle, who became Sara Prinsep of Little Holland House.  Being family, little Laura and her sister Rachel were among Auntie Julia's regular victims...

Rachel and Laura Gurney (1872)
Not Sleepy (1872)

Group (Laura, Mary Hillier, Rachel and Daisy Taylor) (1872)
Laura Gurney inhabits the role of Cameron's angelic child, shared by many others.  Just as Mary Hillier became the Holy Mother of the images, the protector of all the children she could hold in her wide arms, children seemed incomplete without those beautiful swan wings.  There are a suite of pictures of 'cupids' chubby and mischievous, but somehow Laura's pious and solemn expression is more angelic than pagan.  I find the image Not Sleepy very interesting; on one level it makes me smile as the best way to photograph children is when they are asleep.  My favourite image of Lily-Rose when she was a baby is when she was spark out, rather than the many others we have of her screaming her lungs out, red and angry and shouty (she has been an absolute angel from a year old so I think I got off lightly).

The Shunammite Woman and Her Dead Son (Percy Keown and Mary Ryan) (1865)
Many of Cameron's images of babies are asleep (essential for that long exposure), for example Madonna and Child from 1866 where Mary Hillier cradles a sleeping Percy Keown.  However, a very similar image, The Shunammite Woman and Her Dead Son from 1865 shows Mary Ryan and Percy together, but this time he is meant to be dead.  The reason I picked up on the poignancy of Not Sleepy for two very fidget-y girls is that in 1872 Cameron took four photographs of 10 year old Adeline Clogstoun (the same age as my daughter).  What makes these photographs very difficult for me to look at is that they were taken when Adeline had died after an accident.  She is stretched out in a bed, her hands folded and for all the world like she is sleeping.  I have many questions about these pictures and why Cameron did not attempt to do the same when her own daughter died, but I find the images upsetting.  It's when the mother part of me wins out over the art historian part, despite the fact that I am normally fine with post mortem Victorian photographs.  Anyway, given that the images of Laura and Rachel Gurney were taken in the November and Adeline died in the June of the same year I wonder if the image of a sleeping child had lost its appeal.  In any case, I take the title Not Sleepy to be an very emphatic statement of the beauty of life, however much it fidgets.

This Blogvent I will recommend the occasional book for your shopping list but mainly I will be asking very politely if you would please donate some money to Fanny Cornforth's memorial fund via our funding site.  We have raised over £600 so far but we would love to reach our target, so if you want to help us remember a Stunner in need, pop over and donate.  There are some rewards for various levels and each donation will help us towards our target, no matter how small.

See you tomorrow for more Angelvent gorgeousness...