Saturday 8 November 2014


“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” - Mark Twain

For Art Sunday today, Joachim Patenier (1485-1524), who was one of the great Old Masters of the Netherlandish Renaissance, and a pioneer of landscape painting as an independent genre, Joachim Patenier (Patinir, Patinier) became a master of St Luke’s Guild of Antwerp in 1515. Around 1520 he became close friends with Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), the famous German Renaissance draughtsman, who had a great respect for Patenier’s combination of acute naturalistic observation and innovative sense of fantasy, and considered him one of the best landscape artists of the age.

Patenier’s known output numbers some 20 paintings, none of which are dated and only five are signed. Consisting mostly of religious narrative paintings with panoramic views, the landscape element typically dominates the composition, with details of buildings, trees, peasants, hermits, holy families and even the occasional Christ, painted with a meticulous, high quality technique.

While following the tradition of Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441), Patenier seems to have been influenced by Bosch (his senior by 30 years) in the way in which he depicts landscape from a bird’s-eye view. As with Bosch, the figures in the foreground seem to be detached from their surroundings, the religious subject matter being only a pretext for the depiction of a marvellous world of fantasy.

Like a true Renaissance Man, Patenier directed his talents to landscapes at a time when the discovery of new lands and distant places was everywhere arousing passionate interest. Into his boundless universe Patenier puts tiny figures preoccupied with the familiar actions of their everyday lives. His pictures are full of naturalistic details. In “St Jerome” (Louvre) a little dog is shown leaping after a bird in flight, while in the background of “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” (Prado) the realistic details of the harvest are matched by the adoration of the god Baal, which serves as an excuse for the inclusion of fantastic edifices surrounded by jagged rocky cliffs.

Patenier’s imaginary landscapes re-create and bring together in one varied scene the natural elements of the countryside around Antwerp and the cliffs near Dinant, washed by the Meuse. But his fantastic rocky crags are also the legacy of a Christian symbolism, still widespread at the beginning of the 16th century. The aerial perspective of his compositions is designed in a succession of three coloured planes: Thus, in the version of St Jerome in the National Gallery, London, the eye is caught first by the saint’s blue robe standing out against the warm brown of the rocks behind him. A second plane, showing a valley between the rocks, is painted in cool luminous tones; and, finally, the eye comes to rest on the mountains in the hazy distance. Using a whole gamut of greys for the rocks and a delicate pink for the rooftops, Patenier emphasises this scheme with great subtlety. The tiers slip away towards a rather high skyline, a well-tried technique used by Bruegel and Hercules Seghers (1589-1638).

“The Crossing of the Styx” (seen above, also known as “Journey Into the Underworld”, in the Prado) is a “history painting” that stands apart from the rest of Patenier’s work, which is generally serene in mood. In depicting the medieval idea of the ‘chosen’ and the ‘damned’ Patenier created a surprisingly secular picture in which, between a celestial kingdom in the tradition of Van Eyck and a flaming inferno reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch, a vast, deep-blue river stretches as far as the eye can see towards new horizons. Equally striking is the violent expressionism of “The Burning of Sodom”, painted in browns and reds, with its phantasmagorical rocky crags grouped against the background, without regard to the rules of perspective.

Regarded today as an important figure in Flemish painting, his best known works include: “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” (1515, Koninklijk Museum, voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; and Prado); “The Baptism of Christ” (1515, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); “Temptation of St Anthony” (Prado); “The Penitence of St Jerome” (1518, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); “Journey Into the Underworld” (1522, Prado); and “The Sermon of John the Baptist” (Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

Patenier is seen as one of the most creative Northern Renaissance artists, whose work acts as a bridge between Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and Pieter Brugel the Elder (1525-69).

Friday 7 November 2014


“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” - Democritus

Emilio de’ Cavalieri (ca 1550 – March 11, 1602) was an Italian composer, producer, organist, diplomat, choreographer and dancer at the end of the Renaissance era. His work, along with that of other composers active in Rome, Florence and Venice, was critical in defining the beginning of the musical Baroque era. A member of the Roman School of composers, he was an influential early composer of monody, and wrote what is usually considered to be the first oratorio.

Cavalieri was born in Rome of an aristocratic and musical family. He was the son of Tommaso de’ Cavalieri (ca. 1509–1587), the close friend of Michelangelo. He probably received his early training there, and was working as an organist and music director in the period from 1578 to 1584. He spent much of his time in Rome as an organiser of Lenten oratorios.

While in Rome he became associated with Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici.In 1587, Ferdinando de’ Medici succeeded his brother as Grand Duke of Tuscany, and in 1588 he brought Cavalieri to Florence as an overseer of artists, craftsmen and musicians. Cavalieri was master of ceremonies for the extremely opulent intermedi that the Medici family required for events such as weddings. Count Giovanni de’ Bardi, the founder and patron of the Florentine Camerata, also collaborated on these productions.

In May 1589, the festivities for the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinando to Christina of Lorraine included a performance of Girolamo Bargagli’s “La Pellegrina”, with six especially elaborate intermedi. The first number of the final intermedio was initially a piece by Bardi but was replaced in the actual intermedio by Cavalieri’s virtuosic number based on the Aria del Gran Duca which became popular all over Europe and occurs in many arrangements and variations such as that made by Peter Philips in Antwerp.

Cavalieri may have got some of his ideas for monody directly from Bardi, since Cavalieri was not a member of the Camerata during its period of activity a few years earlier. He may have developed his rivalry with Giulio Caccini, another extremely important and influential early monodist during this period.

In the 1590s, while still in Florence, Cavalieri produced several pastorales (a semi-dramatic predecessor to opera, set in the country, with shepherds and shepherdesses as common characters). In addition to his musical activities, he was employed as a diplomat during this time, assisting in papal politics, including buying the votes of key cardinals for the elections of popes Innocent IX and Clement VIII who were expected to favour the Medici.

During the 1590s he made frequent diplomatic trips to Rome, remaining active in the musical life there. He premiered his famous “Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo” in February 1600; this piece is generally held to be the first oratorio. According to Roman records the piece was produced twice that year at the Oratorio de Filippini adjacent to Santa Maria in Vallicella, and was witnessed by thirty-five cardinals.

In 1600 Cavalieri produced “Euridice”, one of the first operas, by Jacopo Peri (libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini); this was part of an elaborate set of festivities for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de' Medici. Unfortunately for Cavalieri, he was not given control of the main event, the production of “Il Rapimento di Cefalo” (his rival Giulio Caccini took over from him) and he left Florence in anger, never to return.

Among Cavalieri’s secular compositions were madrigals, monodies, and pieces he wrote for intermedi; his sacred compositions included a setting of the “Lamentations of Jeremiah”, and the “Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo”. This work, probably the most historically important composition of Cavalieri to survive, consists of alternating speech, strophic songs, recitative-like sections and madrigalian parts; subsequent oratorios often used it as a starting-point.

It is the first work to be published with a figured bass. Most importantly, however, it was an attempt to demonstrate, at musically conservative Rome, that the modern monodic style was consistent with the aims of the Counter-Reformation and could be adapted to a religious as opposed to a secular purpose. The quick adoption of the modern musical style by other Roman composers attests to its effectiveness in this regard. Cavalieri was followed by other Roman School composers of the 17th century who included Domenico Mazzocchi, Giacomo Carissimi and Alessandro Scarlatti.

Here is his “Rappresentatione di Anima et di Corpo” (Representation of Soul and Body)  performed by Concerto Vocale & Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, conducted by René Jacobs. With: Marie-Claude Chappuis: Soul; Johannes Weisser: Body; Gulya Orendt: Time; Mark Milhofer: Intellect; Gulya Orendt: Counsel; Marcos Fink: World; Luciana Mancini: Secular Life.


“Governing a great nation is like cooking a fish - too much handling will spoil it.” - Lao Tzu

We are beginning to experience warm days of Summer in Melbourne, alternating with milder weather. As for the next two days the temperature maxima will go above 30˚C, simple easy food that is tasty and light is indicated. This dish foots the bill perfectly!


500 g salmon fillets
1/3 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried dill tips
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 180˚ C. 
Mix the oil and lemon juice in a bowl and place the salmon pieces in the mixture, coating well on all sides.
Place salmon in the oiled baking dish, and drizzle the remaining oil/lemon mixture from your bowl over the salmon.
Season with dill, sea salt, and pepper.
Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until salmon is easily flaked with a fork.
Garnish with lemon slices and fresh dill sprigs.
Serve with a seasonal green salad.

Please add your favourite recipes here, using the Mr Linky Tool.

Thursday 6 November 2014


“Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.” Proverb

Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran” (published 2003) is a controversial book, and that is reason enough to make one read it. However, it has a theme that is of utmost importance to every thinking person: How literature and art empower us and make us able to challenge the established world order.  Other themes running through it of course, are intellectual freedom, censorship, oppression by the State, the status of women in general and more specifically in Muslim countries.

It is a very well written work, literary in its aspirations, as one would expect from the author (who was a professor of English literature at the University of Tehran), but at the same time a work that tries to record objectively a transition period in Iran’s history where after the ousting of the Shah, numerous contenders tried to fill the power vacuum, the Ayatollah Khomeini being finally the successful leader.

Within the space of a few months, Nafisi relates, Iran went from what was essentially a modern, westernised society to the non plus ultra Islamic Republic. Her loyalties were divided early on. Her western ways and previous life in the USA as a student were extremely attractive, but also her feelings of allegiance to her country and her desire to improve the lot of the common people, were important factors contributing to the conflict of her emotions. Nafisi concedes that Islam as a religion is the right of her countrymen, but has difficulty in reconciling herself with the fact that it should also drive the machinery of the state as absolutely and as brutally as it ended up doing.

The major theme running through the novel is that of free choice. The Islamic Republic wants to make people adhere to the law of the Koran by depriving them of any other choice except what the Koran prescribes. This is censorship to the ultimate degree. Nafisi argues that as free, rational, ethically and morally responsible adults, people should be educated so that they make the right choice, even if they are presented with many other wrong, but nevertheless even more attractive options. This is of course is nothing new, and Christian philosophy preaches the same point. The lot of women in an Islamic state is the other major theme and it is this, which she develops most fully as the lives of women are woven into the narrative at many levels.

One can learn a great deal by reading this book, but at the same time there are things that do not surprise one. The extreme cruelty of one human being to another is something that I have learnt gradually, but I am fully aware of at this stage of my life. The other thing is that fanaticism and extremes of politics, religion or ideology are capable of generating much hate and are responsible for the great majority of human suffering on this planet. The human spirit nevertheless soars above all this and as much repression one suffers, as many tortures and brutality are experienced, intellect can save one, one’s spirit cannot be broken if one’s resolved and true to oneself.

Tuesday 4 November 2014


“A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories.” - Andy Goldsworthy

The theme for this week’s Poetry Jam contributors is “Pebbles”. Here is my poem:


A pebble was once

A piece of jagged rock
As a diamond renitent.

My advancing years, are as a pebble

Engendered from years of friction, on my
Youth – its naivety embarrassing…

A pebble is now wise,

Made even more enlightened because of its
All identical with its jagged, parent rock.

I’d rather clasp a smooth pebble in my hand,

Than a piece of sharp, angular rock.


“In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” - André Maurois

For Literary Tuesday today I am reviewing a book that I read while away travelling. This was a book that was given to me by a fellow traveller who had just finished reading it and did not want to keep it, and after I was through with it I passed it on to yet another fellow-traveller as I did not want to keep it (and, I assume, so it goes on…).

When travelling I cannot read any of the usual books I like to read when at home so I opt for something light and easy to digest that does not require much concentration and is easy to put down and pick up again every now and then. The author of today’s book in question is one that is frequently found topping the best-seller lists, Irishwoman Maeve Binchy (her website: The book is “Night of Rain and Stars” and this is the synopsis from Maeve Binchy’s site:

“Four strangers, with nothing in common but a need to escape, meet in a Greek taverna high above the small village of Aghia Anna. From Ireland, America, Germany and England, they have each left their homes and their old lives, when a shocking tragedy throws them unexpectedly together.
Fiona is a young nurse, trying to make her family understand her need to follow her own path. Thomas desperately misses his young son and fears that his ex-wife will come between them. Elsa abruptly left her career as a television presenter, but someone from her past refuses to let her go. And shy, quiet David is determined to make a stand against his overbearing father. With these four is Andreas, the taverna owner, who badly misses the son who left home nine years ago and has never returned.
Nights of Rain and Stars is the story of one summer and four people, each with a life in turmoil. With the help of Vonnie, a middle-aged Irishwoman who lives in the village and is now a near-native, they find solutions - though not necessarily the ones they anticipated...”

The book was light and easy to read, rather predictable in its plot and fairly well-written. It is formulaic in its layout and relies on the Greek setting to keep interest up. I found a couple of amusing cultural howlers in it, but overall the Greek setting is convincing. The book has a sprightly conversational style and the right amount of romance versus reality. Gave me ideas about writing a book targetted for the sort of reader Ms Binchy is writing for and I guess when I have few days to spare I might just sit down and write such a bread-and-butter novel. Who knows it may be published and pay for my next trip!

The “Romantic Times” webpage rates this book 4.5 stars (very generously out of five, I presume). In a nutshell, this is what their review boils down to: “Women’s fiction at its best”. This is a characterisation that I do not like, as I think a good book should appeal equally to a good reader whatever their sex, race, nationality or age. However, marketers tells us that writers have to do their market research and target the expected audience suitably, and pander to their expectations accordingly… If a writer wants to make a living out of his writing nowadays, marketing is very important.

Should you wish to read a short story by Maeve Binchy, check out her website as she has a free one for your perusal.

Sunday 2 November 2014


“You are not going to get peace with millions of armed men. The chariot of peace cannot advance over a road littered with cannon.” - David Lloyd George

Yesterday we watched a movie on DVD that was extremely disturbing and upsetting. However, it is one that every thinking person should watch especially as it is unfortunately based on real events. The film is “Lord of War” (2005) and was written and directed by Andrew Niccol (who also wrote and directed another good movie that I recommend, “Gattaca” – 1997).

The film is about Yuri Orlov (played ably by Nicolas Cage) who is from a Ukrainian family living in Little Odessa, NY. He witnesses a Russian mafia hit in his neighbourhood and decides that guns rule the world and the only way to get power and money is through guns. He makes it his life’s goal to become a successful arms dealer. It soon becomes apparent that he has enormous talent in his chosen profession. As he says: “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?” He enlists his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) into the business and the story follows the rise of the Orlov brothers over the course of 20 years. We are taken to the end of the Cold War to the advent of terrorist threats and dictatorships in third world countries.

Yuri becomes the “Lord of War” supplying arms to anyone and any country for a profit, without ever questioning the ethics of what he does, nor taking sides. He becomes very successful, very wealthy and marries his childhood fantasy woman, supermodel Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan). They have a son, and live in a luxury apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. He manages to elude the law as personified by Interpol Agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), by always outwitting him and keeping a step ahead. 

The film climaxes to a powerful and catastrophic conclusion, which unfortunately is not at all uplifting, nor does it presage well for the future. This is definitely not a movie where the “good guys” win, unless you think the good guys are in fact the warlords and the arms dealers. However, what a pyrrhic victory is the one that we see depicted on the screen…

The film was well made and despite the long introduction where Yuri narrates for a quite a few minutes, it is engaging and rivets one attention to the terrible story that unfolds in front of one’s eyes. It is beautifully written and made and by a strange quirk of cinema, one cannot but take the side of Yuri, who is one of the most likeable antiheros I have seen. The man is amoral and has no conscience, he makes money that is drenched in the blood of innocents and yet one sympathises with him as he is a victim of modern society and the world’s dirty politics.

The movie has one on the edge of one’s seat and at long after one has seen it, the message that driven home at the end of it, just like the sting on a scorpion’s tail is “The greatest arm dealers in the world are USA, UK, Russia, France and China. These are the members of the UN Security Council…” Do see this movie! It is not “pleasant”, it is not “escapist”, it is not your typical “Hollywood pic”, but it is violently gripping and in a strange way entertaining, but the message is dark and filled with innumerable warnings as to where our world is going.


“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917) was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. He was a superb draftsman, and particularly masterly in depicting movement, as can be seen in his renditions of dancers, racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and for their portrayal of human isolation.

Edgar Degas grew up in Paris, France where his mother was an opera singer and his father a banker. Edgar’s parents had money and he was able to go to good schools growing up. His mother died when he was thirteen years old. Edgar showed a talent for drawing while young and wanted to become an artist. Edgar’s father loved the arts, but knew that it was a tough way to make a living. He wanted Edgar to become a lawyer. Edgar went to law school, but was soon begging his father to let him study as an artist. Eventually his father agreed to support his art career.

Edgar spent a lot of time at the Louvre, where he copied many of the masterpieces of classical artists like Raphael. He also attended art school at the School of Fine Arts. He later travelled to Italy to study the Old Masters, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. He stayed with his aunt who was married to the Baron Bellelli. He later painted a famous picture of their family called “The Bellelli Family”.

In 1859, Degas returned to Paris. He wanted to become a famous artist. Initially he painted traditional subjects including portraits and grand historical scenes. He submitted his paintings to the Salon, in an attempt to gain prominence. However, the Salon wasn’t impressed with Degas’ paintings. This gave Degas the opportunity to veer away from traditional, conservative painting and experiment with new styles of painting. He began meeting with other artists who thought the same way and this new group would soon be called the Impressionists.

When a number of new artists, including Degas, decided to part ways with the Salon and have their own art show, many people derided them. One critic said their paintings looked unfinished, as if they were “impressions” of a scene rather than finished paintings. The name stuck. Besides Degas, other artists that were part of this group included Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir, and Camille Pissarro. Degas didn't identify himself as an impressionist instead, calling himself a “realist”. He wanted to paint scenes of real life and try to capture a moment, almost like a camera.

His paintings may look spontaneous, but he spent a lot of time planning them out. He would study his subjects and make lots of sketches before starting on a painting. Like many Impressionists, Degas liked to experiment with light, angles, and focus. Sometimes subjects would have their backs to the viewer or be cut off by the edge of the canvas. He would paint subjects off centre and have them doing mundane things, like scratching their backs or ironing clothes. He differed from many Impressionists in that he did not paint outdoors or study the effects of light on landscapes.

One of Degas’ favourite subjects was the ballet dancer. He loved to paint the dancers practicing in rehearsals or backstage before a show. He wanted to capture their energy and grace, but also their hard work and effort. During his career he created more than a thousand pictures of dancers. His eyesight failed later in life making it difficult for him to paint with oils. During this time he painted using pastels. He very seldom considered a painting complete, always wanting to improve it and there are several examples of reworked paintings.

As we have the Melbourne Cup approaching it is apt to show one of Degas’ horse pastel drawings, the “Racehorses in a Landscape” of 1894. It is a pastel on paper, 47.9 x 62.9 cm and in the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. A group of jockeys, formally dressed for the occasion, prepare for a cross-country race through an imposing landscape of hills lit by the setting sun. This picture is very much in the tradition of the outdoor horserace scenes painted in England in the late eighteenth century, and subsequently emulated by painters such as Delacroix and Bonington. Degas himself produced a similar outdoor scene in 1884; in this pastel, however, he moves away from a literal rendering, giving free rein to his skills as a colourist. This shift may reflect the influence of Paul Gauguin (whose painting “The Moon and the Earth” Degas had bought in 1893), and of his own experience in producing colour monotypes.