The story of an unhappy Doge.

books, earth, history, illustration

Willima Frazers 19th centrfrf Willima Frazers 19th centrf Willima Frazers 19th centr fhgyWillima Frazers 19th centrf

 

Spending the day researching and producing my latest project.  Whilst wandering in virtual space through the exhibition space at the British Library, I came across this beautiful 19th century copy of an older map of the world.  The detail is breathtaking, and the map itself records not just the geographical understanding of that time, but also the belief systems that dominated the European viewpoint in the 1400’s .

In  William Frazers 19th century copy of a map made in 1450 by Fra Mauro, South is at the top, and thus appears upside down to us.  Europe is top right , Africa below, Asia to the right. When the original was drawn the Europeans had not yet discovered the Americas or Australia.

Fra Mauro was commissioned by the Venetians to produce the map, but the Doge was unhappy at the small size of Venice in relation to the world. He was reported to say ‘ then make the world smaller’. Twas ever thus.  But glad to say he didn’t get his way.

Mauro placed the Garden of Eden outside the world, unusually for the time as it was generally portrayed to be in the extreme East.  Theologians were pondering where paradise could exist on earth, and in Mauro’s map Eden is linked symbolically to the world through the landscape and the four rivers flowing through the walls.

The elements are represented by the diagram in the top right, earth is brown and green, then water followed by fire and the outer ring of air.

In the left hand corner is the diagram of the Ptolemaic system, an antecedent of the map of the solar system. This understanding was generally accepted until the 16th century , when astronomers put forward alternative theories.

The exhibition is now closed, but the online link is http://www.bl.uk/magnificentmaps/map2.html

Willima Frazers 19th centrfrfs

 

 

 

That fierce decorum – mad women and greek revels.

Art, history, poetry, United Kingdom
dancing maenad Greek. www.vroma.org

dancing maenad Greek.
http://www.vroma.org

The Maenads       by Ursula K. Le Guin

Somewhere I read
that when they finally staggered off the mountain
into some strange town, past drunk,
hoarse, half naked, blear-eyed,
blood dried under broken nails
and across young thighs,
but still jeering and joking, still trying
to dance, lurching and yelling, but falling
dead asleep by the market stalls,
sprawled helpless, flat out, then
middle-aged women,
respectable housewives,
would come and stand nightlong in the agora
silent
together
as ewes and cows in the night fields,
guarding, watching them
as their mothers
watched over them.
And no man
dared
that fierce decorum.

Nothing really changes, as change happens as the only constant. While we live in our own here and nows, reflect on the absurdities of our own behaviours and belief systems, the one thing you can be sure of is someone , somewhere has done it before.  After reading the poem, I fell a little in love with the women who waited for the young revellers at the bottom of the hill, protecting them from the men folk, remembering their own past revelries.  The term maenads means diffferent things to different folk, but these young women are performing a ritual of dance and frenzy that goes back to the followers of the Greek Dionysus, who encouraged his nymphs who had nursed him, and mortal followers into rites involving intoxication and dancing in order to achieve a transcendental state wherein they could receive insight and prophecy.  It has come to mean ‘mad women’ , the rituals involving frenetic activity including the ripping apart and eating animal, the spirit of the animal bringing strength and fertility.

In Ancient Greece women would if they were lucky , live to about 40 and in addition to childbearing, the weaving of fabric and managing the household were the principal responsibilities of a Greek woman.  Life was probably quite monotonous and the opportunity to indulge in a little letting down of the hair was most likely grabbed with both hands.

Nottingham on a Friday night , mainly without the ripping of animal flesh, but a great deal of intoxication, bare flesh and taloned fighting.  Then back to work on Monday morning. Glad I only have sons. Although they will of course be the meat.  Hey ho, middle-age has its compensations.

 

Soulmates – Brothers-in-arms.

Art, culture, history, illustration

John Ruskin quote on Digitised copy of old Lindisfarne manuscript by Anne Corr

John Ruskin and William Morris were nearly contemporaries, Ruskin born 15 years earlier than Morris. Both men pursued meaning via art and both men were significant contributors to the world, as commentators on art, and as social commentators on the need for men to address the deep necessity to include appreciation and practice of art within their daily life. Their preoccupation with the understanding that economic criteria should not be the ruling criteria over men’s lives is echoed in Ellen Dissonayakes more modern writing about the importance of the common man making things, ‘ making special’.

In William Morris’s words,

“These arts, I have said, are part of a great system invented for the expression of a man’s delight in beauty: all peoples and times haveused them; they have been the joy of free nations, and the solace of oppressed nations; religion has used and elevated them, has abused and degraded them; they are connected with all history, and are clear teachers of it; and, best of all, they are the sweeteners of human labour, both to the handicraftsman, whose life is spent in working in them, and to people in general who are influenced by the sight of them at every turn of the day’s work: they make our toil happy, our rest fruitful.”

Ruskin became an important influence of a wide variety of men of repute, and he wrote about an array of subject matter emphasizing the connections between nature, art and men. Tolstoy described Ruskin as, “one of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times”. Not a bad review from a fellow thinker. T.S. Eliot, W. B Yeats and Ezra Pound all felt his influence, and Gandhi was so impressed by his work ‘Unto This Last’ that he wrote a version in Gujurati (The SarvdayaThis is a very brief glimpse into the work and influence of two remarkable Victorians, who I consider to be preoccupied with the same considerations that still test us all, How to live a purposeful and meaningful life, how to bring our own sense of creativity to our own lives, and more critically, how to maintain our humanity within a technologically driven economic context. Ruskin would have been blogging today, he had alot to say over a myraid of subjects. HIs verbose style is perhaps anachronistic in our era, but the message is as true now as ever. I will however give William Morris the last words. Just because I can. ( I love his wallpapers too).

So I will say that I believe there are two virtues much needed i in modern life, if it is ever to become sweet; and I am quite sure thatthey are absolutely necessary in the sowing the seed of an ART WHICH IS TO BE MADE BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE, AS A HAPPINESS TO THE MAKER AND THE USER. These virtues are honesty, and simplicity of life. To make my meaning clearer I will name the opposing vice of the second of these–luxury to wit. Also I mean by honesty, the careful and eager giving his due to every man, the determination not to gain by any man’s loss, which in my experience is not a common virtue.

And in all I have been saying, what I have been really urging on you
is this–Reverence for the life of Man upon the Earth: let the past
be past, every whit of it that is not still living in us: let the
dead bury their dead, but let us turn to the living, and with
boundless courage and what hope we may, refuse to let the Earth be
joyless in the days to come.

 

Tulip mania

Art, history, illustration

Interpretation of Jakob Markells Tulips 16th CenturyInterpretatino of  16th century tulip illustrations digital media Anne Corr v 1Digital reinterpretation of 16th century illustrationdigital illustration using 16th century botanical illustraitionin the style of Hans Bollongier 1639  Still Life with Tulips  Digiatal media Anne corr v 2

 

I have taken 16th century botanical illustrations and digitally altered them to  produce contemporary images of these beautiful flowers.  It seems absurd that tulip bulbs became the hottest investment for a short while during the 1600’s in Holland, but they did.  One bulb could fetch twice the price of a painting by Rembrandt, or the annual income of a wealthy merchant, but the  mania was short lived.  Tulips were a status symbol in Dutch circles , and because they showed off colours in a more vibrant way than any other flower, they were the chosen plants to demonstrate wealth in flower gardens of fancy estates. Thus demand began to outstrip supply, and the market for the precious bulbs rose to dizzy levels for a short time. Perhaps we should take the lesson from the Dutch, to maintain proportion in our desires!

A Human Affair.

Art, culture, history, Life, Thoughts

I was privileged to see my eldest son this week, down from University temporarily to speak at his old college.  As usual I came away with feelings of extreme pride and stimulated by the depth and range of his conversation.  He gives me hope in a world which increasingly feels uncomfortable for me,  full of  absurdity that I cannot reconcile.  He is studying International Politics and History,  and in the course of conversation I mentioned Albert Einstein and the impact he had on contemporary intellectual thought at the time.  It provoked me to consider the question of who would be of similar stature in todays  climate.  My son was aware of Einstein as a great scientist, but not as a polymath,  which was surprising to me.  Einstein had an interest in the human race, and his influence extended well beyond the academia of the scientific cohort.  Heralded during his lifetime as a genius because of his groundbreaking work in physics,  Einstein was used to being asked to discuss his opinions on political and social questions too.  Born a Jew,  he later made it clear that he did not believe in an  anthropomorphic deity, preferring the label of agnostic to that of atheist,

“I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.”

Nevertheless, he was less likely to be sympathetic to the hard line atheists than to the religious,  believing that it was critical for humans to have some belief in the transcendental than none,

“[T]he fanatical atheists…are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people—cannot bear the music of the spheres.”     Einstein and Religion: physics and theology. Princeton: Princeton University Press,

His personal belief in a unifying force, but not in a personal God , is a viewpoint that I have been drawn to  over the past decades,  and it interests me that Einstein was appreciative of Buddhism , considering it to be the one religion most fitted for the 20th century.  His won belief system has often been misrepresented, but he clearly stated it in his correspondence and in his books.

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”   from The World As I See It.

Politically Einstein was drawn to Socialism,  believing that capitialism had failed to perform adequately to make use of human creativity,  and he argued in an article for Monthly Review in 1949 for a planned economy under the principle of Socialism,

“A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.”    from  ‘Why Socialism’ 1949.

The range and the depth of his thinking provides insight that continues to be relevant today, and his influence will continue well into the future I would guess.  So I am still uncertain who I am as attracted to as a thinker in today’s landscape.  Got to put my thinking cap on.  Interestingly Einstein had a deep interest in humanism and met with Rabindranath Tagore in 1930, another thinker that deeply resonates.

Oh, and he had a chemical element named after him in 1952 , Einsteinium.  How cool is that?

 

 

Honouring

history, Life, Thoughts, United Kingdom

 

Taking some time today to remember all victims of all war ; all families of all victims of all wars.  All sorrow for lives unfinished, but removed;  for all those young souls who never had the chance to fall in love, father a child, further a passion.  For all the parents of those young souls, and the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents.

For all of us, to remember the sacrifice of others. 

Slowing down and speeding up with Anais Nin

books, culture, Life

“The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision”   Anais Nin

How much more prescient are these words now, in the advent of social networking. Are we worrying needlessly about the delusional nature of a social networking site where hundreds of ‘friends’ are a normality to a member of the general public. I don’t imagine Facebook affects you if you are moderately normal and functioning within a network of family and friends, but there are signs that many people in U.K are not functioning in a way that I would term healthily. Parents are overly protective of young children with consequences that have not yet been fully recognised, understood or overcome. Children who are discouraged to go out, who are only permitted to have friends within the restricted parameters of parented chaperoning will be unable to experience the pain and the joy of exploration of the world, and of human relationships.
Anais writes about the secret of a full life, and I am aware of the word ‘secret’. Most of us don’t live a full life all the time, or at least I think that most of us learn that living fully is only part of the experience of being human, some part of that experience includes feeling that we are inadequate, or living less fully than we want to. ‘Secret’ suggests a full life is only available some of the time, and I think that’s right. How we unlock it’s potential is down to each individual to find the authority of their own understanding of need and the confidence to search for a way to fulfil that need. What I think about social networking is that it can both enable and disable those attempts. We can’t remove the positioning of social networking in peoples lives, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that it would be a positive move. But we can manage the position it is allowed in the lives of youngsters growing up, helping them to realise it as an adjunct to existing networks of real friends, real family. Facebook and the internet is a place where reality and fantasy co-exist. It should be treated with a lightness of touch , a recognition of it’s limitations , and an awareness of it’s potential dangers. It isn’t cars that cause pile ups or kill pedestrians, it’s drivers, and the same goes with all the technological wizardry that connects the human race. Let’s have ‘L’ plates on our computer screens, let’s have an agreed ‘Highway Code’. Like the car, it is the speed of this thing that can bring benefits and disadvantages. We need to learn how to cope with the speed and remember that sometimes it’s more fun to walk, and yes, healthier too. A full life contains stillness as well as adventure, introspection and reflection as well as boogie nights, though they add to it.

A ten foot hut on a mountain side, and Heraclitus.

Art, culture, history, illustration

Mixing up my inspirations , Heraclitus inspired me today and sent me spinning off into a totally different direction towards Japan. How?  Heraclitus was a guy who lived before Socrates did, and lived where modern Turkey is today.  He was a loner, didn’t mix well and liked to encourage his readers to question themselves as opposed to rely on previous erudite classical authors like Homer. So far so good then. He wrote with precision, using language to attract the reader in a witty way, often writing quite obscurely in order that the reader thought about the content. He wrote in Greek and he liked paradox.  I warmed to him very quickly. listening to Melvyn Bragg and his guests on Radio 4. One of the ideas that we talk of today is attributed to him,  the idea of permanent flux,

“We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”

The  river will be experienced differently each time we step into it, since the water and ourselves are changed.  This idea is similar to the thoughts expounded by Kamo no Chomei, a writer in Kyoto who lived between 1153 and 1216.  He wrote a long essay called ‘An Account of my Hut’ which I have read in translation and was transported in time and place. His writing is heartbreaking in places, describing the disastrous times through which he lived, seeing the devastation of the Great Fire, Whirlwind, famine, the move of the capital and its effects on the people and earthquake. Too much witness for one man. Here are some of his beautiful sentences ,translated into English. It opens with the same thought from Heraclitus.

  Though the river’s current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same.  Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long.  In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing. 
First came the fire,
 I heard that the fire broke out in Higuchitominokoji, in a shack where a dancer lived.  Then, spread by the wind, it touched place after place, until finally it reached everywhere, like the unfolding of a fan.  Houses far off became engulfed in smoke as  those near the center were caught up in swirling flames.  The brightness of the fire was reflected against the solid cloud of ashes blown up in the night sky, a deep red at the center, which, as the wind had flames leaping 100 to 200  yards, kept shifting.  People caught in the middle gave up all hope.  Some died as they were completely overcome by  the smoke, others as they became dizzy in the eye of the flame.  Still others, who barely escaped with their lives, lost everything they owned.  Some of the great treasures in the Palace were also reduced to ashes.  How great was the damage?  Sixteen buildings in the Imperial Court were burned, but it is impossible to calculate the total loss.  Perhaps a third of the capital city was destroyed by this fire.  Scores of men and women were killed, and who knows how many horses and cattle? 
 
Then came whirlwind, followed by the move of the capital, the government buildings and the people.
 I happened to visit the new capital, at the seaport in Settsu, at this time.  It was obvious that the place was too narrow even to lay out the streets properly.  On the north side the mountains were crowding in and the south side was sloping into the sea.  The sound of the waves was noisy all year long, and the salt water wind was especially strong.  The Imperial Palace was right in the mountains, and the trees used to build it became the fashion, with comments about the peculiar points of elegance it had.  Houses were re-constructed from the components of so many being floated down the river as almost to dam it; still, though unoccupied land was plentiful, few new houses had been built.  So the old capital was already ruined, while the new capital was not yet established.  People came to feel like floating clouds.  The natives of the place complained because they had lost their land, and those who had moved there about the difficulties of building in this new place.  The people I saw on the streets who ought to have been riding in ox-carts were on horseback, and instead of kimono, ancient headdress, and formal wear most had assumed the clothing of soldiers.  The manners of the capital had changed, became no different from those of country samurai.  People wondered if, in these troubled times, courtly manners would be lost completely, and whether this might not presage greater catastrophes to come.  Finally, after all the complaints, in the winter of that year the emperor returned to Heian-Kyo.  However, by then most of the mansions had already been pulled down, and I don’t believe that as many new ones were ever built. 

Then the famine arrives.

After a year of such suffering, people hoped the new year would be better, but the misery increased as, in addition to the famine, people were afflicted by contagious disease.  Everyone suffered from malnutrition, until 
gradually to say that “All the fish will choke in shallow water” would fit very well.  Now even those wearing bamboo hats, with legs wrapped in leggings, walked frantically from house to house begging.  I saw vagabonds of this kind, as they were walking, suddenly collapse and die.  Close to the roofed mud wall at the side of the road, the number of bodies dead from starvation continually increased.  Because no one even tried to clear away those corpses, the odor of the putrefaction became offensive throughout Heian-kyo, and people could not even  stand to look at them.  The city was permeated by the smell, and the mountain of corpses accumulated along the Kamo river bed until there were places where horses and carriages could not pass.  Poor woodcutters, becoming exhausted, were unable to carry firewood into the city, and, as fuel became scarce, people were breaking up their own houses and selling the wood in the city.  However, all the wood a man could carry would not sell for enough to sustain him for a single day.  And it was not unusual to find red paint and gold and silver foil here and there among the firewood, because desperate people would sneak into temples and steal the image of the Buddha, or pull down temple ornaments and furniture to  turn into firewood.  I was born into a world in which this kind of thing could happen.
followed by earthquake,
 Not long after this (1185) there was a violent earthquake, causing unbelievable damage.  Mountains crumbled, rivers were completely filled up, and waves from the sea inundated the land.  The earth split and water gushed out.  Boulders broke off in the mountains and tumbled into the valley.  Ships were tossed around on the sea, and horses were unable to keep their footing on the roads.  In the vicinity of Heian-kyo, temples, shrines, and towers were sodamaged that not a single one was left in good condition.  Some collapsed; others were turned upside down.  Dust and  ashes billowed up like smoke.  The sound of the movement of the earth, and of the destruction of houses, was like thunder.   People who were inside the houses might be crushed at once, but those who ran outside were faced by the cracks in the earth.   Since they did not have wings, they could not fly up into the sky, or become dragons riding in the clouds.  We can only imagine their misery.  Among the most dreaded of catastrophes, we must conclude that the earthquake is the worst of all.
He ponders about the ways of the world,and how the modern ways concern him.
 Someone of low status who becomes a neighbor of a man of power, even when he has cause to be very happy, cannot celebrate loudly, or if his sorrow is severe, his lamentation and weeping must be muted.  His conduct is controlled by anxiety, for in any situation he is as fearful as a sparrow caught in a hawk’s nest.  Poor people, living as neighbors to the rich, morning and evening are embarrassed by their poorly dressed appearance, even as they go nto and leave the house, seeing their neighbor’s flattering condescension.  The wife and children envy the neighbor’s servants, who look down on them with haughty expression, provoking bad feelings.  They can never have peace of 
mind.  If it is crowded in the neighborhood, and the next-door house catches fire, there is no escaping the spreading fire.  If you live outside the city, where it is sparsely populated, it is difficult to go and come, and you have to worry about being attacked by thieves.  People want power and authority, for if their family has none, others look down on 
them.  But people who have property have many worries, too, just as the poor people who envy them do.  Whenever you must rely upon others, so are not self-sufficient, then those others come to possess you.  Even helping a stranger, if you are drawn to that person, infringes on your independence of spirit.  On the one hand, it is difficult to maintain independence in following the standard social conventions, but, if you do not, you will seem absurd, will look like a lunatic.  And wherever you live, whatever you do, in the short period of time of this life, you should seek  peace of mind–but this seems impossible for human beings. 
As Thoreau was to do later in history, he retires to the mountains, and lives a simple hermitic life,
  In general, the past, present, and future history of human beings is a product of the mind.  If there is no peace of mind in possessing the elephant or horse, or the seven wonders or treasures of the world, it is meaningless to have palaces and buildings of many stories.  Now I dwell in my tranquil residence.  It is only a ten-foot hut, but I love it.  
 When I want to go to the capital for something, I may feel ashamed to go in the appearance of a beggar, but I return feeling sorry for the people I see there, who are so caught up in and preoccupied with wealth and honor, so busy doing things.  
He ends the letter at the end of March 1212, reporting that he is now a priest and remains in the tiny hut on the mountain.
I feel love towards this dead Japanese priest.  He has produced a feeling of love in a middle aged woman in Europe nearly a thousand years after he lived. How fantastic is that?  I hope he found peace. I think he found some.
Sources

Home is where the hearth is.

Art, culture, history, Life

These are the dinkiest rooms anywhere, and I wouldn’t mind drinking from that bottle in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to scale down to their size. Exquisitely crafted,the 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms showcase elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Mrs James Ward Thorne of Chicago must have had a lot of fun instructing her master craftsmen to produce these scale models. That is one project I would have loved to have had the money and the time to dedcate to. These  were done between 1932 and 1940 and I really, really want them in their dinky gorgeousness.

miniature rooms at http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/thorne

 

 

“Who should it call father?”

culture, history, Life

A young widow, pregnant with their first child laid this letter on the chest of her dead husband.  We know this because in 1998 archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of a tall  thirty year old man Eung-Tae Lee in an ancient tomb in South Korea. With that letter she had left a pair of hemp sandals that had been made with her own hair.

Ted Hughes the poet wrote

 The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

I wonder about the young mother and their unborn son.  I  hope she had the will to start to live again, to love her child.  Four hundred and more years I send my love to her.

Source http://www.archaeology.org/1003/abstracts/korea.html