Showing posts from April, 2012

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)

Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Born 11 May 1824 at Vesoul, Haute-Saune, France.
Attended Ecole des Beaux-Arts and tried unsuccessfully to enter Prix de Rome, a scholarship for art students.
He improved his skills with The Cockfight (1846) winning third-class medal at the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts at Paris, known as the Salon.
His success at the Salon led to a career as painter and sculptor in a style that became known as Academicism.

Peter Paul Rubens and Marie de' Medici

Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most successful artists of the seventeenth century and counted monarchs, statesmen and church leaders among his clients, one of the most lucrative being Marie de’ Medici, the second wife of Henry IV of France. 

Rubens had attended Marie's marriage to Henry in 1600, a grand event that took place in her home town of Florence, although one important party  had been missing from the celebrations, the groom himself, who sent a proxy in his place, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Now twenty-two years on Marie wanted to commission a series of paintings to illustrate her life, and the artist she chose for the work was Rubens.

The canvases which the artist was to produce numbered twenty-four in all, of which three were portraits of Marie and her family, and were to adorn the new residence of Luxembourg Palace that she was having built in Paris. They were intended to bequeath to posterity an account of her life. One of the paintings, The Coronation in Saint-Denis, w…

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’   'D'où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous? 
It was the title of one of Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin’s paintings and in many ways encapsulates the life of the man himself. He worked for a time as a stockbroker before he rejected ‘artificial and conventional’ European civilisation and set off in search of a tropical paradise where he could live the simple life. His travels took him to Panama, where he briefly worked on the construction of the canal, and then to Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, where he painted many of the native girls and had affairs with several of them.

Sir John Vanbrugh: Architect, Playwright, Soldier, Spy

‘There is something so catching to the ear, so easy to the memory, in all he writ, that it has been observed by all the actors of my time, that the style of no other author whatsoever gave their memory less trouble than that of Sir John Vanbrugh’. [Colley Cibber]

John Vanbrugh was born in London in 1663/64, the eldest son and one of 19 children of Giles and Elizabeth Vanbrugh, themselves the descendants of Flemish religious refugees from the previous century. The family moved to Chester in 1667, possibly as a result of the Great Fire which had destroyed most of the city of London in 1666, where the young Vanbrugh evidently had a good education, possibly at the King’s School. 
Giles Vanbrugh made his living as a sugar refiner, but his eldest son appears to have had no wish to follow in his father’s footsteps, and instead secured a military commission in the foot regiment of the Earl of Huntington, an aristocratic relative of his mother. He resigned his commission the following year af…

Shak.Rap - Shakespeare and Hip Hop

Was Shakespeare the world’s first rapper? In 2009 British rap artist and MOBO award winner Akala accepted a BBC challenge to stage Othello with a hip hop twist. The result was Othello Retold, with 50 Manchester based MCs, musicians, dancers and visual artists. Here is part of their creation:

The course of deception never did run smooth Yet Othello still had more to proveCold is his heart, shielded by a cageHis evilness never fades Like a blade with no size As sharp as a colour that blindsDeception, manipulation, manifested in his creation To divide, step into and overrideFaithfulness does not lie but doubt corrupts the mindOthello’s lost inside his heart skipping the beat The rhythm of Iago’s defeat
Akala believes that Shakespeare and hip hop have a lot more in common that we may imagine. To demonstrate this he posed some quotations and asked if we could tell if they were from Shakespeare or Hip Hop:


(1) I am reckless, what I do to spite the world.

(2) A dead bird f…

Shak.Rap Answers

(a) Shakespeare - Macbeth 3.1.111-112

(b) Hip Hop - Nasir Jones aka Nas

(c) Shakespeare - The Tempest 3.1.63

(d) Hip Hop - Inspectah Deck

Sex in the Restoration Theatre

In his book The Art of Living in London, 17th-century author Henry Peacham relates the following anecdote about a tradesman’s wife who went to see a play without her husband and there lost her purse:

“Where did I put it? Under my petticoat, between that and my smock”. “What” quoth her husband “did you feel nobody’s hand there?” “Yes” quoth she “I felt one’s hand there, but did not think he had come for that.”

In Restoration England if a gentleman was seeking an extra-marital affair, the ideal place to seek a partner was in one of the city’s many theatres, and in particular in the pit. Help (if help were needed) was available in The Young Gallant’s Academy (1674) by Sam Vincent, in which Chapter V devotes itself to ‘Instructions for a young gallant how to behave himself in the playhouse’....

Having ‘paid his half-crown and given the door-keeper his ticket’, the gentleman should ‘presently advance himself in the middle of the pit, where having made his honour to the rest of the company, bu…

Edward ‘Ned’ Howard and a Restoration cause célèbre.

Edward ‘Ned’ Howard (1624 - c.1700) was one of four Restoration playwright brothers with a reputation for being difficult and demanding. He particularly disliked actors improvising their parts, and in 1667 became embroiled in a controversy involving his play The Change of Crowns, in which comic actor and fellow playwright John Lacy, regarded as the greatest comedian of his day, was performing.

It all happened on Monday 15 April 1667 at the King’s House theatre. It was the first performance of the play and the house was packed. King Charles II and the Queen were there, along with the King’s brother the Duke of York and the Duchess, and various members of the Court. Also present was Admiralty official Samuel Pepys, who was unable to find a seat and had to stand by the door. But he found the play ‘the best that ever I saw at that house’, and that Lacy ‘did act the country-gentleman come up to Court, who do abuse the Court with all the imaginable wit and plainness about selling of places, …

The Music of William Shakespeare

What music did Shakespeare listen to? On Saturday 21 April 2012 between 10.30-11.00 a.m. (BST) BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting a selection of what they call 'Shakespeare's favourite songs' chosen by scholar Stanley Wells, RSC director Greg Doran and musician Lucie Skeaping.

The selection to include a lullaby that the poet's mother may have sung him; bawdy tavern songs; and songs from the pen of the man himself.

Sir Peter Lely and the Windsor Beauties

The English Stuart king Charles II (1630-1685) had an eye for the ladies as well as being a prolific squanderer of public money. It is depressing to think that England abandoned its republic for a wastrel who had scant regard for parliament and who even cynically betrayed his own people's safety by accepting an allowance from Louis XIV of France in exchange for his non-interference in Europe.

Among the idle king's many mistresses were Barbara Villiers, also known as Lady Castlemaine; and the stage actress Nell Gwynn. The picture above by Sir Peter Lely is of Nell Gwynn, though there is an alternative belief that it depicts Lady Castlemaine.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) was a Dutch-born artist who became a leading painter of the English court following the death of Sir Anthony van Dyck. He was portrait artist to Charles I, and he painted Oliver Cromwell when he was Lord Protector. In 1661 he was appointed Principle Painter in Ordinary to Charles II.

Among Lely's works were ten p…

Samuel Beckett's new suit

'...the suit is lovely except that it doesn't fit anywhere'.

It is the year 1936 and Samuel Beckett is living with his mother at the family home of Cooldrinagh in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock. Some years earlier he had resigned his post of lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, and had recently undergone psychiatric therapy at the Tavistock Clinic in London. Now, back in Dublin, he is broke, unemployed, and quite likes getting drunk.

He mother is frantic for him to find employment, and he persuades her to fund a trip he could make to Germany in order to study paintings with a view to finding a post of curator of an art gallery. His mother agrees, and on the morning of 28 September 1936 he sets off for six months of wanderings around the newly created Third Reich. 

The trip is long and at times tiring, and towards the end he finds himself in the town of Bamburg, where he has a strange encounter with a tailor.

The man pours his soul out to Beckett: his poor health, his debts, even…