(Yet) Another Artist Of Whom I’d Never Heard

Well, had you (assuming, of course, that you are not an expert in eighteenth-century French flower paintings) heard of Gerard van Spaendonck? You will gather from his name that he was not French – he was born in 1746, in Tilburg now ‘wool capital of the Netherlands’, but then part of the Duchy of Brabant, the debatable land tussled over by for two centuries by France, Spain and the Dutch Republic. As with tapestry weaving, flower painting in France was boosted by talent from further north: in 1769 Spaendock arrived in Paris, and within five years had become miniature painter to Louis XVI. Continue reading

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Object of the Month: June 2018

This fire screen, standing 104 cm (3 ft 5 ins) tall, must in the summer have graced fireplace of a well-to-do eighteenth-century individual, probably in France. When I first noticed it, I thought it was embroidered, perhaps by a daughter of the house, but on closer inspection, and after looking it up on the Fitzwilliam Museum‘s ‘Search the Collections‘ page, I discovered that it was woven in the tapestry manufactory of Beauvais, and indeed that Beauvais tapestry is in fact a Thing. Continue reading

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The Emperor Diverts Himself At Tennis

One tends not to think of Charles V as a jolly type. Admittedly, it would have been difficult for him to have been as gloomy as his son, and heir to the Spanish Empire, Philip II (‘horrible, and holy’ as Lytton Strachey later remarked), but his job as the firm-handed ruler of about half of the known world and claimant to most of the rest must have been rather tiring, and it is perhaps not surprising that he eventually retired to a monastery. Continue reading

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Slow Venice

I’m not sure that I would choose to visit Venice in June again – though I can imagine a few compelling reasons, such as a once-in-a-generation exhibition of all the known Carpaccios in the world (she said hopefully). The main reason is that it is (or was last week) too bloomin’ hot for me, though it wasn’t in fact as super-crowded as I had feared (or not in the bits I tend to go to, anyway). Continue reading

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Mariana Starke

Miss Starke (sometimes given the ‘courtesy’ title of Mrs) had the great good fortune to have relatives who needed nursing in a benign climate abroad. (Less good luck for the relatives, obviously.) As a consequence, instead of staying in the genteel family circle at home and writing somewhat unsuccessful plays, she more or less invented the genre of travel guides which her publisher, John Murray, developed as the rising middle classes – whether out of curiosity or dire financial need – started travelling en famille to Europe after 1815. Continue reading

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Object of the Month: May 2018

How many bear jugs does one person need in his or her life? The answer, in the case of Dr J.W.L. Glaisher (about whom I have written before), appears to be at least twelve. This is the number bequeathed by him to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1928, and at the moment a fine clutch (the collective noun is given variously as pack, sloth or sleuth …) is on display in Gallery 27. Continue reading

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More Cats in Art …

Just a quick couple of additions to the genre after a visit to the Prinsenhof in Delft. In addition to the legendary bullet holes in the wall (embedded after they had passed through the body of William the Silent (alas!) in 1584, and which I’d wanted to see ever since A-level history 50 years ago), it contains many fascinating paintings, maps and artefacts illustrating the gradual emergence of the Dutch Republic.

Continue reading

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