Saturday, 19 May 2012

Bartholomew Fair

Thou whoreson little tidy Bartholomew boar-pig..... [2 Henry IV - Doll Tearsheet to Falstaff]

William Hogarth depiction of Southward Fair (1734)

Bartholomew Fair was a medieval fair held each year in the grounds of the priory of St Bartholomew the Great in the London parish of West Smithfield. A charter for the fair was first granted in 1133 and the last proclamation was in 1855, though by this time the fair was a shadow of its glory days of the past.

The fair had three branches to it. Firstly, it was a Cloth Fair, an important meeting place for the buying and selling of cloth from throughout the country. Secondly, it was a Horse Fair, bringing together horse-dealers and horse-coursers. And lastly, it was a pleasure fair, offering traders and Londoners a tasty selection of food and drink, of sex, of ballads and freak shows, of sex, of performing actors and puppet shows, of sex, of tightrope walkers, and of sex. A pamphlet of 1641 aptly described the attraction for all comers:

Hither resort people of all sorts, high and low, rich and poor, from cities, towns, and countries; of all sects, papists, atheists, Anabaptists and Brownists: and of all conditions, good and bad, virtuous and vicious, knaves and fools, cuckolds and cuckoldmakers, bawds and whores, pimps and panders, roughs and rascals.

The fair had its own justice system known as The Court of Pie-Powders, its name deriving from the French pieds poudreux, the dusty feet of travellers. It had total jurisdiction during the official three days period of the fair, and was so independent that its rulings were not even subject to the king's.

In 1614 the Smithfield area was given a facelift which included paving for the site of the fair at a cost of £1,600 to the city authorities, and on 31 October of the same year, Ben Jonson's theatrical depiction of the fair, and satire on the puritans who would close it down, had its first performance by the Lady Elizabeth's Men in their new theatre, The Hope.  The play, entitled simply Bartholomew Fair, appears to have been immediately popular with London playgoers, and remained popular through the Restoration.

The fair survived for another 240 years, until Victorian morals brought about its final demise, and with it a colourful part of English life.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Et in Arcadia ego & Honorificabilitudinitatibus

This canvas from French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) has the alternative titles Les Bergers d’Arcadie (The Shepherds of Arcadia) and Et in Arcadia ego, a Latin phrase meaning ‘Even in Arcadia I’where Arcadia is a place of untroubled quiet and peace, and I the pronoun for Death.

A graceful poetic image, you might think, reminding us, in the words of an Elizabethan proverb, that we all owe God a death. But there is something about the simple Latin phrase that troubles some people, and that is that it lacks a verb, and whilst this is perfectly standard grammar in that ancient language, to these malcontents it suggests that the phrase is incomplete, giving rise to speculation that it holds some deep hid meaning for the world and Mankind.

One suggestion is that it is an anagram for I! Tego Arcadia ego, which translates to English as Begone! I Keep God’s Secrets, thus implying that the tomb in the picture is that of Jesus Christ. [The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln]. 

The same theme is pursued in a bestseller, only this time the authors decided to add another word and to make the phrase Et in Arcadia ego sum, another anagram (they say) this time for Arcam dei tango iesu, meaning I touch the tomb of God Jesus. [The Tomb of God by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger]

And while we’re on the subject of making anagrams from Latin, let’s not forget a certain Isaac Hull Platt, who in 1905 argued that the longest word in a Shakespeare play - honorificabilitudinitatibus [Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.1.41] - is an anagram for Hi ludi F Baconis nati tuiri orbi, which translates from the Latin as These plays, F Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world, thereby ‘proving’ that Shakespeare's words were in fact those of Francis Bacon, a claim, incidentally, to which Bacon never made any, er, claim himself.

Poussin’s picture hangs in the Louvre in Paris, and a second version is in Chatsworth House in England.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Pioneers of Photography #3 - Félix Nadar

Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known the world as Nadar, was a French aeronaut, caricaturist and photographer, who was born in Paris in 1910.

From 1850 he commenced a series of photographic portraits of prominent contemporary personalities, among them Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Sarah Bernhardt, George Sand, Guy de Maupassant, Edouard Manet, Ernest Shackleton and Georges Clemenceau. And around 1865 he created his startling and innovative Revolving Self-Portait.

He experimented in the creation of artificial light by means of the burning of powder of magnesium, and in 1861 used the technique to produce photographic images deep below ground in the Paris catacombs. The long exposure of 20 minutes necessitated the use of dummies rather than living people.

Always curious about the latest technical advances of his time, he developed a lively curiosity in balloons, and in 1858 he took the first ever aerial photograph from an altitude of 80 metres. His airborne exploit was caricatured in this image by Honoré Daumier, and it also inspired the Jules Verne novels Five Weeks in a Balloon, and  From the Earth to the Moon, the hero of which has the name Michel Ardan, an anagram of Nadar. But tragedy was to follow when an immense balloon he constructed, appropriately named le Géant (the Giant), with he and his wife aboard, landed badly and was dragged for 16 kilometres, with both being badly injured.

Catastrophe near Hanover of le Géant in 1863
In the seige of Paris in 1870-71, following the débâcle of the Franco-Prussian War, he created with others a company for the construction of military balloons to be used in enemy surveillance and communications. A total of 66 balloons were mass produced in the period September 1870 to January 1871, marking the beginning of the aeronautical industry.

In the aftermath of the defeat, he returned once more to photography, and had one last triumph at the Exposition Universelle de Paris, a retrospective of his work organised by his son. He died in Paris on 21 March 1910.

Sarah Bernhardt
photographed by
Félix Nadar

Friday, 11 May 2012

Johan Jongkind: the 'true master'

'The father of the modern landscape' [Manet]

He was born Johan Barthold Jongking in 1819 in the Dutch town of Lattrop and lived most of his adult life in France.
He was known as 'the painter of Harfleur and Paris streets' and played an important part in the development of Impressionism.  Monet called him his 'true master'.
Jongkind died at Grenoble in the French Alps in 1891 where he buried in the local cemetery.

The Seine and Notre Dame de Paris (1864)

The Stagecoach (1867)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)

Le Rêve (The Dream)

Henri Julien Félix Rousseau, known as le douanier Rousseau (the Customs officer Rousseau) was a French post-impressionist artist of the Primitive school, who painted many jungle pictures though he never visited a jungle in his life, getting his inspiration from the menagerie of animals at the jardin d'Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. 

Criticised at first for their lack of realism, the laughter was dissipated when Le Rêve was exhibited for the first time. In the words of poet Guillaume Apollinaire: "This year no-one laughs, all are unanimous: they admire".

Le lion ayant faim se jette sur l'antilope.
(The hungry lion attacks the antilope)