Saturday 18 October 2014


“Painting is concerned with all the 10 attributes of sight; which are: Darkness, Light, Solidity and Colour, Form and Position, Distance and Propinquity, Motion and Rest.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Jan Van Eyck (≈1390-1441) was a Flemish painter who perfected the technique of oil painting. He painted in a realistic, naturalistic style on wood panels, mostly portraits and religious subjects. His paintings are full of allegory and made extensive use of disguised religious symbols. Exquisite detail and paint painstakingly applied in thin layers and glazes make of his paintings marvellous shiny translucent, jewel-like confections. His masterpiece is the altarpiece in the cathedral at Ghent, the “Adoration of the Lamb” (1432). Hubert van Eyck (Jan’s brother) worked alongside Jan.

Jan van Eyck has been credited with the “discovery of painting in oil”. Oil painting, however, was already in existence for many decades before Van Eyck, and was used to paint sculptures and to glaze over tempera paintings. The real achievement of Van Eyck was the development of a stable varnish that would dry at a consistent rate. This was created with linseed and nut oils, and mixed with resins.

The breakthrough came when Jan or Hubert mixed the oil into the actual paints they were using, instead of the egg medium that constituted tempera paint. This made of the medium a creamy, easily manipulated paste, which dried slowly, allowing for re-working and blending. The result in the finished painting was brilliance, translucence, and intensity of colour as the pigment was suspended in a layer of oil that also trapped light. The flat, dull surface of tempera was transformed into a jewel-like medium, at once perfectly suited to the representation of precious metals and gems and, more significantly, to the vivid, convincing depiction of natural light. The development of this technique transformed the appearance of paintings.

Little is known of van Eyck’s early life. The few surviving records indicate that he was born ca 1380–90, most likely in Maaseik. He took employment as painter and Valet de Chambre with John of Bavaria-Straubing, ruler of Holland, in the Hague around 1422, when he was already a master painter with workshop assistants. After John’s death in 1425 he was employed as court painter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in Lille, where he remained until 1429 after which he moved to Bruges, working for Philip until his death there in 1441. It is known that he was highly regarded by Philip, and undertook a number of diplomatic visits abroad on his behalf, including to Lisbon in 1428 to arrange the Duke’s marriage contract with Isabella of Portugal.

Van Eyck painted both secular and religious subject matter, including commissioned portraits, donor portraits (with the donor kneeling before a seated Virgin Mary) and both large and portable altarpieces. He worked on panel, either as single panels, diptych, triptychs, or polyptychs. He was well paid by Philip, who sought that the painter was secure financially and thus had artistic freedom and could paint “whenever he pleased”. His work comes from the International Gothic style, but he soon eclipsed it, in part through a greater emphasis on naturalism and realism. Van Eyck utilised a new level of virtuosity, mainly through the use of oil as a medium; the fact that oil dries so slowly allowed him more time and more scope for blending and mixing layers of different pigments. He was highly influential and his techniques and style were quickly adopted and refined by Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden and later generations of Early Netherlandish painters.

The Ghent Altarpiece above, (also called the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or The Lamb of God, Dutch: Het Lam Gods) is a very large and complex polyptych panel painting. The altarpiece is composed of 12 panels, eight of which are hinged shutters. The wings are painted on both sides, giving two distinct views depending on whether they are open or closed. Outside of Sundays and festive holidays, the outer wings were closed and often covered with cloth. It was commissioned from Hubert van Eyck, about whom little is known. He was most likely responsible for the overall design, but died in 1426. It seems to have been principally executed and completed by his younger and better known brother Jan van Eyck between 1430 and 1432.

Although there have been extensive attempts over the centuries to isolate the passages attributable to either brother, no separation has been convincingly established. Today, most accept that the work was probably designed and constructed by Hubert and that the individual panels were painted by Jan after his return from diplomatic duties in Spain. The altarpiece was commissioned by the merchant, financier and politician, Joost Vijdt, then holding a position in Ghent similar to city mayor. It was designed for the chapel he and his wife acted as benefactors for, today’s Saint Bavo Cathedral, at the time the parochial church of John the Baptist, protectorate to the city.

It was officially installed on 6 May 1432 to coincide with an official ceremony for Philip the Good. It was later moved for security reasons to the principal cathedral chapel, where it remains. While indebted to the International Gothic as well as both Byzantine and Romanic traditions, the altarpiece represented a new conception of art, in which the idealisation of the medieval tradition gave way to an exacting observation of nature and unidealised human representation. A now lost inscription on the frame stated that Hubert van Eyck maior quo nemo repertus (greater than anyone) started the altarpiece, but that Jan van Eyck – calling himself arte secundus (second best in the art) – completed it in 1432. The original, very ornate carved outer frame and surround, presumably harmonising with the painted tracery, was destroyed during the Reformation; there has been speculation that it may have included clockwork mechanisms for moving the shutters and even playing music.

The altarpiece was opened on feast days, when the richness, colour and complexity of inner view was intended to contrast with the relative austerity of the outer panels. As viewed when open, the panels are organised along two registers (levels), and contain depictions of hundreds of figures. The upper level consists of seven monumental panels, each almost six feet high, and includes a large central image of Christ flanked by frames showing Mary (left) and John the Baptist (right), which contain over twenty inscriptions each referring to the figures in the central Deësis panels. These panels are flanked by two pairs of images on the folding wings of the altarpiece. The pair of images closest to the Deësis show singers in heaven, while the outermost pair show Adam and Eve, naked save for strategically placed fig leaves. The lower register has a panoramic landscape stretching continuously across five panels. While the individual panels of the upper tier clearly contain separate – albeit paired – pictorial spaces, the lower tier is presented as a unified mise en scène. Of the 12 individual panels, eight have paintings on their reverse visible when the altarpiece is closed.

Since its creation the altarpiece has been considered one of Northern European arts masterpieces and one of the world’s treasures. Over the centuries the panels have come close to destruction during outbreaks of iconoclasm, or damage by fire. Some panels were sold and others looted during wars. The panels that had been taken away by the German occupying forces were returned to St. Bavo’s Cathedral after World War I. In 1934 two panels, The Just Judges and Saint John the Baptist, were stolen. The panel of Saint John the Baptist was returned by the thief soon after, but the The Just Judges panel is still missing. In 1945, the altarpiece was returned from Germany after spending much of World War II hidden in a salt mine, which greatly damaged the paint and varnish. The Belgian art restorer Jef Van der Veken produced a copy of the stolen panel The Just Judges, as part of an overall restoration effort.

Friday 17 October 2014


“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” - Blaise Pascal

Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, 1610; SV 206 and 206a),  commonly called Vespers of 1610, is a musical composition by Claudio Monteverdi. The term “Vespers” (evening prayers) is taken from the Hours of the Divine Office, a set of daily prayers of the Catholic Church which have remained structurally unchanged for 1500 years.

In scale, Monteverdi’s Vespers was the most ambitious work of religious music before Bach. This 90-minute piece includes soloists, chorus, and orchestra and has both liturgical and extra-liturgical elements. The Vespers are composed around several Biblical texts that are traditionally used as part of the liturgy for several Marian feasts in the Roman Catholic church: The introductory “Deus in adjutorium” (Psalm 69), five Psalm settings, sacred motets (called “concerti”) between the Psalms, a traditional Hymn, a setting of the “Magnificat” text and the concluding “Benedicamus Domino”.

The sections contain striking contrasts, but the unity and continuity of Monteverdi’s grand design is maintained theatrically as well as musically. The overture, for choir and orchestra, is manifestly operatic, and close to that of Monteverdi’s first opera, “Orfeo” - an upsurge of joyous energy, interposed by an orchestral toccata and ending with a jubilant “Alleluia”. The instrumentation (cornets, sackbuts, a variety of single and double reeds, recorders, strings, organ, and harpsichord) is, with the exception of the instrumental ritornelli, mainly intended to contribute to the formal structure of the choral sections, colouring the choir in the manner of organ stops, as in the “Dixit Dominus”, “Laetatus sum”, “Audi, coelom”, and the beginning and end of the closing “Magnificat”, the climax of the whole work.

The ways in which Monteverdi treats the cantus firmus by incorporating it into the counterpoint of the choral writing, as in “Dixit Dominus” (Psalm 109), is not found in earlier choral literature, nor is the flowing, unfettered parlando (recitation) style used in “Nigra sum”, a metrically free poem with allusions to the biblical Song of Solomon. The concerto “Due Seraphim” is probably the most interesting section in the Vespers. It is set for two “answering” voices - a sort of singing competition for angels - and almost exceeds the limits of human vocal technique. The choral writing is also demanding in its splendour and complexity, much of it in six, seven, and, as in the psalm “Laudate pueri”, eight parts; yet the simplicity of the two-part hymn “Ave Maris stella” is also among the many treasures of this magnificent work.

Here conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner at the Versailles Chapelle Royale and performed by the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and the Pages du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. In 1964, Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducted it for the first time, and then he decided to found the Monteverdi Choir. This concert actually marks the 50th anniversary of this world-renowned vocal ensemble.


“The clever cat eats cheese and breathes down rat holes with baited breath.” - W. C. Fields

A classic French dish with a little twist today, making it a bit more interesting and a little more reliable in turns of rising to the occasion…


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus softened butter for brushing
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 tablespoons self-raising flour
3 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
100 g diced ham
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups shredded aged Gouda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and brush eight 1-cup ramekins with butter. Lightly coat the ramekins with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and set them on a sturdy baking sheet.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cook over moderately low heat until smooth and very thick, about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and cayenne. Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolks. Let cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the Gouda and ham.
3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar at medium-high speed until frothy. Increase the speed to high and beat until firm peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the soufflé base until no streaks of white remain.
4. Spoon the soufflé mixture into the ramekins, filling them to 1 cm below the rim. Run your thumb inside the rim of each ramekin to help the soufflés rise evenly. Sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and bake in the bottom third of the oven until the soufflés are puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, bake in an 8-cup soufflé dish at 190°C for 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

Join me for Food Friday and leave your recipes below by using the Mr Linky Tool:

Wednesday 15 October 2014


“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” - Les Brown

If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:

There would be:

  • 58 Asians
  • 21 Europeans
  • 17 Africans
  • 4 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
  • 52 would be female
  • 48 would be male
  • 70 would be non-white
  • 30 would be white
  • 71 would be non-Christian
  • 29 would be Christian
  • 98 would be heterosexual
  • 2 would be homosexual
  • 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from USA
  • 80 would live in substandard housing 
  • 70 would be unable to read 
  • 50 would suffer from malnutrition
  • 1 would be near death
  • 1 would be near birth
  • 1 would have a university education
  • 1 would own a computer...

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent. The following is also something to ponder...

  • If you woke up this morning with more health than are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week. 
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation are ahead of 500 million people in the world. 
  • If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death are more blessed than three billion people in the world. 
  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep are richer than 75% of this world. 
  • If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace ... you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. 
  • If your parents are still alive and still married ... you are very rare, even in the United States and Canada.
  • If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all. 

Consider donating some money to charity, because you are able to and because there are millions upon millions of people on earth who need support in order to survive just another day…

Tuesday 14 October 2014


“Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.” - J.M. Barrie

Poetry Jam for the latest challenge directs: “This week, write a poem about a graveyard…” In addition, there is added condition that the poem must be 28 lines or less. Here is my offering:

Spring Funeral

Spring deep in earth awakens sodden seeds
Making more acute my pressing needs;
The rain that gently falls will wash me clean
No more will I my painful memories glean.

I loved you such a long time ago
And yet I chose dreams to forego.

The greenwood leaves unfurl and open fresh
The breeze still cool, tempers my burning flesh;
Desires, passions, loves I bury deep in earth
Path chosen, heart dies, mind more is worth.

I loved you such a long time ago
But now allegro turns to largo.

As flowers fresh are laid by a new dug grave
Your thin disguised betrayal I forgave;
The falling night will usher in the stars
Silence – except for mournful cries of nightjars.

I loved you such a long time ago
Now where to turn? To whom to go?

Monday 13 October 2014


“Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths.” – Molière

Molière (1622-1673) is the pseudonym of Jean Baptiste Poquelin, who was a French actor and playwright, the greatest of all writers of French comedy. Among Molière’s best-known dramas are “L’ École Des Femmes” (1662, School for Wives), “Tartuffe, Ou L’ Imposteur” (1664, Tartuffe, or the Impostor), “Le Misanthrope” (1666, The Misanthrope), “L’ Avare” (1668, The Miser), and “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” (1670, The Bourgeois Gentleman). His masterpieces are those plays in which, attacking hypocrisy and vice, he created characters that have become immortal types, such as the hypochondriac Argan, Tartuffe, the hypocrite, Harpagon, the miser, and Alceste, the misanthrope.

A certain word, “prose” seems to confound some people and only yesterday I read this word used in relation to a poem. I am quoting here a short extract from "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" that illustrates very nicely the word and resolves the confusion that M. Jourdain as well as some other people are suffering from. The conversation in this extract is between the hero of the play, Monsieur Jourdain, a shopkeeper who has made a fortune and wishes to be admitted into the aristocratic circles and a Professor of Philosophy that M. Jourdain has employed to cultivate his mind. M. Jourdain wishes to seduce a pretty woman of the aristocracy and make her his mistress:

PROF. PHILOSOPHY. Undoubtedly (it would be gallant to write her a letter). Is it verse you wish to write to her?
MR. JOURDAIN. Oh no; not verse.
PROF. PHIL. You only wish for prose?
MR. JOUR. No. I wish for neither verse nor prose.
PROF. PHIL. It must be one or the other.
MR. JOUR. Why?
PROF. PHIL. Because, Sir, there is nothing by which we can express ourselves except prose or verse.
MR. JOUR. There is nothing but prose or verse?
PROF. PHIL. No, Sir. Whatever is not prose is verse; and whatever is not verse is prose.
MR. JOUR. And when we speak, what is that, then?
PROF. PHIL. Prose.
MR. JOUR. What! When I say, “Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my night-cap”, is that prose?
PROF. PHIL. Yes, Sir.
MR. JOUR. Upon my word, I have been speaking prose these forty years without being aware of it; and I am under the greatest obligation to you for informing me of it. Well, then, I wish to write to her in a letter, “Fair Marchioness, your beautiful eyes make me die of Love”; but I would have this worded in a genteel manner, and turned prettily.

So our word of the day today:
prose |prōz| noun
1 written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure: A short story in prose | [as adj. ] a prose passage.
figurative plain or dull writing, discourse, or expression: Medical and scientific prose.
2 another term for sequence (sense 4).
1 [ intrans. ] talk tediously : prosing on about female beauty.
2 [ trans. ] dated compose or convert into prose.

proser |ˌproʊzər| noun
ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin prosa (oratio) ‘straightforward (discourse),’ feminine of prosus, earlier prorsus ‘direct.’

Sunday 12 October 2014


“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” - Alfred Hitchcock

For Movie Monday today, the last made film by the great Italian director, Luchino Visconti. It was produced in 1976 and based on a novella by Gabriele D’Annunzio, one of the most popular and yet one of the most aristocratic “fin-de-siecle” writers in late 19th century Italy. L’ Innocente (The Innocent One) was directed by Visconti in his wheelchair and one can see the sparkling intellect of this great artist of the seventh art burgeoning forth and leaving us a legacy of one of his most gorgeous cinematic creations.

The film is set in turn of the century Italy and centres around the life of one of the ruling class aristocrats, Tullio Hermil, who is a self-professed atheist and totally amoral individual whose selfishness and lack of conscience drive him to psychological torture and ultimately brutal acts. He is married to Giuliana and has a mistress, Teresa Raffo (another aristocrat and played with panache by Jennifer O’Neill). The way that Tullio and Giuliana’s marriage has degenerated into a complete travesty of that estate is characteristic of Tullio’s outlook on life. There are many scenes early in the film where Tullio humbles and hurts his wife by telling her the details of his affair. He constantly shames her and ensures she knows her place by telling her he regards her as a sister rather than a wife.

His capricious and demanding mistress, Teresa, is more than his match and she will ultimately detach herself from him. Tullio goes back to his wife only to discover that she has had a lover herself and that now she is pregnant. His vanity and “honour” are wounded and he demands that his wife has an abortion so that they can “have another try” at their marriage. She, however, resists and the baby is born. Tullio’s repugnant character comes to the fore in the conclusion of the film and the whole elaborate edifice of “nobility” and “aristocracy” that has been created by Tullio crumbles into a heap of worthless debris.

The images and cinematography of this film are stunning and although the pace is slow, we did not find it tiresome at all. The plot, although not convoluted nor assisted by any subplots keeps our interest up throughout. Tullio’s appalling character has a morbid fascination and we watch spellbound as his repulsive acts are piled one atop the other. Giancarlo Giannini who plays Tullio is exceptionally good in this role and he acts with every particle of his body. His face can convey enormously powerfully every shade of feeling and emotion that is demanded of him and the close up shots of his eyes I found particularly chilling. In fact, this not a film for the faint-hearted, as despite its “soap opera”-like plot, there is real depth and subtlety in both the story and the translation onto the silver screen.

An excellent original musical score by Franco Mannino is complemented by classical selections, including one particularly ironic use of Gluck’s “Che Farò Senza Euridice”, the aria Orpheus sings when his beloved wife, Euridice, dies. The costumes and sets look amazingly authentic and complement the action extremely well. One is drawn into this historical period of decadence and decline, a perfect setting for the tale depicted. In short, this a masterpiece from a master director, a fitting goodbye from the artist who also gave us: “Death in Venice”, “The Damned”, “The Leopard” and “Conversation Piece”.


“Love does not just sit there, like a stone; it had to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” - Ursula Le Guin

Jean-Baptiste Regnault (9 October 1754 – 12 November 1829) was a French painter. He was born in Paris, and began life at sea in a merchant vessel. At the age of fifteen his talent attracted attention, and he was sent to Italy by M. de Monval under the care of Bardin. After his return to Paris, Regnault, in 1776, won the Grand Prix for his painting ‘Alexandre et Diogène’, and in 1783 he was elected Academician. His diploma picture, ‘The Education of Achilles by Chiron’, is now in the Louvre, as also the ‘Christ Taken Down from the Cross’, originally executed for the royal chapel at Fontainebleau, and two minor works – the ‘Origin of Painting’ and the work shown above, ‘Pygmalion Praying Venus to give Life to his Statue’ (1786 Musée National du Château et des Trianons).

Besides various small pictures and allegorical subjects, Regnault was also the author of many large historical paintings; and his school, which reckoned amongst its chief attendants Guérin, Crepin, Lafitte, Blondel, Robert Lefèvre, Henriette Lorimier and Alexandre Menjaud, was for a long while the rival in influence of that of David. Besides Merry-Joseph Blondel, Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, Robert Lefèvre, and Henriette Lorimier, Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s students include: Godefroy Engelmann, Louis Hersent, Charles Paul Landon, Hippolyte Lecomte, Jacques Réattu, Jean-Hilaire Belloc. Jean-Baptiste Regnault was married first to Sophie Meyer, then Sophie Félicité Beaucourt. He died in Paris and is buried in Père-Lachaise Cemetery.

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was an accomplished sculptor. His relationships with the opposite sex were less than fortunate and it seems that no matter how beautiful the women who modelled for him were, their hearts and souls were lacking in beauty. He determined to create his ideal in womanhood by making an ivory statue. He put his heart and soul into the creation of this masterwork and imbued it not only with his ideal beauty, but also all of the imagined virtues that his ideal woman should have.

Upon finishing this wondrous statue, which he named Galatea (“milky white”), he fell in love with his own creation. He spent all of his time contemplating it and adorning it with roses, pining and sighing, melting away with unrequited love. Finally, in desperation, he prayed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to deliver him from his miserable existence. Aphrodite brought the statue to life in answer to his prayers. True enough, Galatea proved to be intelligent and compassionate, beautiful in soul as well as in looks, softly-spoken but independent, erudite and artistic like her husband. Their daughter Paphos gave her name to the city of Paphos, the centre of Aphrodite’s worship on Cyprus. The myth was the inspiration for many artists and writers.

George Bernard Shaw’s comedic masterpiece, “Pygmalion”, is his funniest and most popular play (first performed in 1913). It was claimed by Shaw to be a didactic drama about phonetics, and its antiheroic hero, Henry Higgins, is a phonetician, however, the play is a humane comedy about love and the English class system. Higgins trains an uneducated Cockney flower girl so that she passes off as a lady, in both manner and speech. It also examines the repercussions of the experiment’s success. The scene in which Eliza Doolittle appears in high society when she has acquired a correct accent but no notion of polite conversation is one of the funniest in English drama. Pygmalion has been both filmed (1938), winning an Academy Award for Shaw for his screenplay, and adapted into an immensely popular musical, “My Fair Lady” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (1956; and the film version, 1964).

The legend of Pygmalion is an interesting philosophical proposition about love and how we view the beloved. The creation of an ideal image with which we fall in love and the subsequent search for that ideal in life is widespread in myth, legend, literature, drama and of course in real life. When we fall in love we fall in love with the image of the ideal that is projected onto the victim of our affections. How closely that real beloved corresponds with our mental ideal of the beloved, may have something to do with the long-term success of the relationship. The situation of course is made more complex when there two people in love with each other, rather than one lover and one beloved. Attainment of one’s ideal in love may be seen as an allegory of the soul attaining a heavenly state of ideal bliss.