Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bearding Van Dyck

I have just returned from a visit to the US which for an Australian, means 15 hours pinned to an uncomfortable seat by the person in front of you on full recline with nowhere to go and nothing to do except watch the TV screen in front of you. What a brilliant invention inseat TV is! I managed to catch not only Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis a deserving Oscar winner) but also a little gem of a BBC TV program called Fake or Fortune.

Henrietta Maria after restoration
The Henrietta Maria Portrait before restoration
The concept of this program is to discover the provenance and attribution of notable artworks and it just happened the program I caught was on a suspected Van Dyck. Phillip Mould, the presenter of the program and an art dealer, purchased (for a few thousand pounds) a picture of a young woman described merely as Flemish School 17th century. He suspected he had found a Van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria. Like the layers of paint on the picture itself the program peeled back the history of a much copied portrait of Henrietta Maria, portrayed as St. Catherine.  Why was the painting overpainted? Was it because the Catholic imagery was unpalatable to a Protestant society? What was Henrietta Maria trying to convey with the symbolism of St. Catherine?

All of this is by way of a long winded preamble into a quick look at Anthony Van Dyck, the pre-eminent portrait painter of Charles I court. Think of any iconic portrait of Charles, his wife, family and friends and you can be sure the painting was by Van Dyck.
Anthony Van Dyck - self portrait

Born in Antwerp in 1599, the young Van Dyck learned his art in the studio of Peter Paul Rubens. He first came into contact with the English Court in 1620 under the patronage of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.  Charles I came to the throne in 1628 and threw himself into patronage and collection of great art works, often with the advice of Van Dyck. In 1632 he returned to the English Court as “principalle Paynter in ordinary to their majesties”. Over the next ten years, until his death in London in 1640, he brought the English court to life in a way never before seen in portrait painting.

Portrait painting was controlled by the Guild of Painters so to avoid this monopoly, Van Dyck was given a studio at Blackfriars on the river, along with a suite of rooms in the now unused Eltham Palace. During his time at court he painted over 70 portraits of the royal family and a special causeway was built to facilitate their visits to his studio.

However not every portrait was completely painted by the Master himself. He established a large studio in London, effectively a production line of portrait painting. It was his practice to make a drawing on paper which was then put on to the canvas by an assistant. He generally painted only the head of the sitter. Clothing and backgrounds were subcontracted. Although he had a studio of pupils and assistants there seems to be no connection with his studio and later painters of any significance.

Margaret Lemon
Not long after his arrival in London, Margaret Lemon became his mistress and he had a daughter by her. In 1638 Charles I granted him the rights of a “denizen” (effectively a citizen) and he married one of Henrietta Maria’s Ladies in Waiting, Mary daughter of Lord Ruthven. Over the next few years, Van Dyck travelled extensively in Europe but in 1641, in Paris, he fell ill and returned to London to die at the age of only 42. His tomb and monument (paid for by the King) in St. Paul’s Cathedral were destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

During his lifetime he lived extravagantly but managed to leave his wife and mistress and their daughters well provided for. Both daughters eventually lived in Belgium.

Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, in the robes of the Order of the Garter c. 1615. Unknown artist,National Portrait Gallery, London
One of his great patrons was Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke and by comparing these 2 portraits (above and below) you can immediately see the shift from the formal portraiture of the early part of the century with Van Dyck’s natural approach. I particularly love this portrait of Pembroke because it is in the National Gallery of Victoria and is the only Van Dyck I have ready access to!

Phil Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. National Gallery of Victoria

 The beautiful face of the young Queen that emerged from beneath the varnish of the Mould portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, is immediately compelling (and was the catalyst for Mould’s belief he had found a Van Dyck). However Van Dyck may have been guilty of flattering his sitters. When Sophia, later Electoress of Hanover, first met Queen Henrietta Maria, in exile in Holland in 1641, she wrote: "Van Dyck's handsome portraits had given me so fine an idea of the beauty of all English ladies, that I was surprised to find that the Queen, who looked so fine in painting, was a small woman raised up on her chair, with long skinny arms and teeth like defence works projecting from her mouth...

April 1 is the release date for my latest book, SECRETS IN TIME, a short contemporary time travel with a seventeenth century cavalier and a Van Dyck portrait!

When a seventeenth-century cavalier hurls himself over her garden wall, Doctor Jessica Shepherd is more angry than surprised. Although she ís no stranger to military re-enactors, there ís something different about Nathaniel Preston. If he ís to be believed, something…or someone…has sent him forward in time from the midst of a civil war to the quiet English countryside of the twentieth century.
With time working against them, Nathaniel has to convince Jessica why fate brought them together before he ís forced to return to his own era and certain death in battle.
Can the strength of love overcome all obstacles, even time itself?

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Lady Mary Wroth - paving the way for women writers

In earlier centuries it was not so easy to pusue a career in writing if you were a woman. In the 17th century there were a few notable women that made a name for themselves through their writing, Aphra Behn was probably the most famous, but Mary Wroth was another whose life and works are often overlooked today. I think her life is fascinating and she is on my shortlist of  'what to write about next.'

Lady Mary Wroth was the daughter of Sir Robert Sidney, later Earl of Leicester, and Lady Barbara Gamage. She is best known as the first English woman to write a sonnet sequence and her work helped to open up the English literary world to women. She was one of the first women writers to move beyond solely religious or pious subject matter, by writing secular love poetry and romances.

She was born Mary Sidney, on October 18, 1587 and like other wealthy girls of her day, Wroth was taught at home by private tutors. Her mother was known as a patron of the arts, and in 1973 a previously unknown manuscript containing 66 poems written by her father was discovered. A love of poetry  seemed to run in the family. Mary Wroth was heavily influenced by her father's literary brother and sister -  her uncle, Sir Philip Sidney, was famous as a poet, and her aunt, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, both composed her own and edited her brother's works.

In contrast to Mary Wroth's literary family, her husband, Sir Robert Wroth, whom she married in 1604, had little interest in the arts. He was a wealthy landowner and preferred hunting and outdoor pusuits.Sir Robert Wroth had a reputation as a wastrel, a spendthrift, a drunkard, and a womanizer. Mary must have been relieved at his death, though not when she discovered he had left her in debt. 

However, her husband's friendship with King James I did at least bring her to court. She even got a role in a masque - Ben Johnson's Masque of Blackness, as the Ethiopian nymph Baryte. Lady Mary became a personal friend of Ben Jonson who dedicated The Alchemist to her, and there has been speculation that she might have been his lover, though there is little evidence to support it. 
After her husband's death she could no longer afford the expense that attendance at court demanded, and she was plagued by vicious rumours, which led eventually to her fall from favour with Queen Anne. This led to her concentrating more on her work, and in doing so she produced Urania, a pastoral romance containing thinly veiled references to characters at court. Sir Edward Denny, obviously suffering from a guilty conscience, took the work to refer to him, and an account of his own infidelities, and he complained to the King. 

Denny succeeded in having Wroth's book removed from circulation, and her work fell out of favour. Love's Victory, a tragi-comedy was written in the mid 1620's despite her lack of popularity. Mary Wroth died almost a recluse in 1653, at the age of 66.

From her long poem: Pamphilea to Amphilanthus 

Love like a jugler, comes to play his prise,
And all minds draw his wonders to admire,
To see how cuningly hee, wanting eyes,
Can yett deseave the best sight of desire:

The wanton child, how hee can faine his fire
So pretely, as none sees his disguise!
How finely doe his tricks, while wee fooles hire
The badge, and office of his tirannies,

For in the end, such jugling hee doth make
As hee our harts, in stead of eyes doth take
For men can only by theyr slieghts abuse

The sight with nimble, and delightful skill;
Butt if hee play, his gaine is our lost will:
Yett childlike, wee can nott his sports refuse.
Deborah's books
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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Ancient death rites

My father died recently, my mother many years before. I was with my mother when she died, and with my father in his last hours.

My mother had the good fortune to die at home, under Hospice care. My sister Robin and her partner Betsy came prepared with a bag of rose pedals.

In the dead of night, I was reading "Wild Swans" by Edna St. Vincent Millay to my mother when she breathed her last. It was a poem she had pointed out to me many decades before, when I was a teen. "It's about death," she'd told me.

I ran to tell my sister and Betsy, and then our poor grief-stricken father. Soon, Robin and Betsy set to work, cleansing my mother's body. This was something they had done before for friends who had died. They dressed Mother in a lovely nightgown and sprinkled her all over with rose pedals. She looked beautiful, and at peace.

On news of our father's death in the small hours of the morning, Robin and Betsy went immediately to the hospital. My sister insisted that she join the nurses in that ancient ritual: cleansing the body. "She does that," Betsy assured the nurses, who were taken aback.

I recently read a beautifully touching article in the Huffington Post, Inside a Home Funeral, on the ritual of cleansing the body. As the writer said, he entered "a holy space." My sister and Betsy are very special people, both strong and tender. I'm strong and tender, but not in that way—and I admire them greatly for it.

Too, their practice of helping to cleanse the body of a loved one has reminded me how it must have been in ancient times.

I was surprised not to be able to find any ancient images of a body being cleansed. It was certainly an important practice. From a website on funeral customs:
"Certain Jewish customs were adopted by the Church as "pious practices" (as distinguished from articles of faith) because of their association with the burial of their Divine Founder. An instance of this is the ceremonious cleansing of the body after death. St. Chrysostom writes of this as being "hallowed in the person of our Lord" (whose body was washed as soon as it was taken from the Cross). To the Christians this Jewish custom (the special obligation of a son to his father's body) signified that the dead, freed from the stain of sin by the Sacraments, might be received into Heaven "where no unclean thing may enter."   
"The charitable St. Martin took particular care to search out the dead bodies of the poor and destitute, and we are told, "Never failed of washing them with fair water."
A very good book on the history of Western death rituals is The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes  Toward Death over the Last One Thousand Years, by Philippe Aries.

Sandra Gulland
Author of The Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun
Website; Blog; Facebook

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Witch Trials of New Mexico and South Carolina

This time I'm going to blog about little known colonial witch trials. The witch trials of New Mexico were associated with the Spanish Inquisition. Beatriz de los Angeles was a Native woman. She and her mixed heritage daughter, Juana de la Cruz, were gifted in the use of herbs and tutored friends in the making of love potions. In Santa Fe, allegations were brought against them for sorcery. A friar had been warned of Juana's powers in 1626.

In 1628, the accusations increased, but still no investigation was made. In 1631, numerous witnesses came forward. Beatriz was accused of experimenting on two Indian servants, who later became ill and died. She then allegedly turned her attention to her lover. Although the records aren't specific, she served him a drink, and he later died in the same fashion as her servants.

Juana was suspected of being a witch even before her mother. She was presumed to have been unfaithful to her husband. As a result, he beat her. In an act of revenge, she gave him a potion where he later died. Stories circulated that she also had an evil eye, and children that she held became ill, which included one child eventually dying.

Supposedly both women traveled by magic. Fortunately, the friar in charge was skeptical about all of the stories, and the women were never tried.

Also in New Mexico, the Spaniards attempted to suppress the customs of the Indians. The numbers against the Native people were overwhelming, and in 1675, the governor attempted to stamp out their traditions for good. He arrested forty-seven medicine men on sorcery and witchcraft. Three were hanged in order to send a message to the others.

The South Carolina witch trials seemed to have bypassed the 17th century. In 1792 Winnsboro, Mary Ingelman, who had a knowledge of "pharmacy... and simple cures," and three others were found guilty after cattle got sick and people began acting possessed. Rosy Henley accused Mary of casting a spell on her that made her levitate. Another neighbor said that Mary caused his cow to fly, then fell down and broke its neck. Jacob Free said that she turned him into a horse and rode him. In an illegal trial, the sheriff was judge and jury. Four people, including Mary, were flogged and tortured by burning their feet "until the soles popped off." After they were let go, Mary was assaulted by another man, who threw a log over her neck. She wasn't rescued until the next day.

Mary filed suit against the sheriff. He was fined five pounds, which was never paid, and he left town.

And finally for South Carolina, in 1813, a girl testified against an older woman by the name of Barbara Powers in Chesterfield. She claimed that Barbara choked her with "great violence," then turned her into a horse and rode her. Barbara was acquitted.

Kim Murphy