Imagine a group of internationally known, avant-garde artists building an amusement park together in 1987—attractions by Salvador Dali, David Hockney, Michael Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein (with music by Philip Glass, no less). An over the Big Top extravaganza. So delicious! So Tom Stoppard! So It-couldn't-happen now! Only wait: it can happen now, at least Luna Luna is being revived; and one day next year, you may be able to visit it in a city near you.
Picturing a World
More hands from Renaissance Painting & Drawing Techniques. A story I am working on now involves a printer and bookseller in an imaginary Renaissance world. The company prints textbooks on cheap paper if a print run will make a profit. For less-used titles, students borrow fascicles of approved exemplars to copy by hand. I'm always interested in concrete, material details of life in my fictional settings, whether they make it into the story or not.
This is a detail from a 16th C copy of Rogier van der Weyden's Saint Luke drawing the Madonna. For the religiously literal-minded today, it must seem silly to imagine that one of Jesus's disciples was around as an adult to sketch His mother when He was a baby; but to the more mythically minded Middle Ages and Renaissance, what mattered was not chronology, but devotion. Luke the Evangelist and presumed author of the third Gospel was also believed to be an artist, ergo … a lot of symbolism packed into one painting. Well, leaving aside all the whole, huge topic of belief, resonance, and levels of interpretation, I come down to loving this detail for its exactitude in portraying an artist at work. Even better for the historical novelist is a splendid website post, History and Usage of Metalpoint Drawing.
Website alert: For historical fiction writers, a new website called After the Plague provides a wealth of information on life, health, and death in Cambridge, England, in the period ca. A.D. 1000–1500. It takes findings derived from scientific investigations of a thousand skeletons of people who lived in and around Cambridge and uses them, not only to generalize, but to reconstruct individual lives. Sixteen essay-length profiles are included.
A History Blog post, Diana Cecil's lips restored to former thin splendor, concerns the restoration of a 1634 portrait of Diana Cecil. What struck me most, however, was this earlier portrait by William Larkin. Just look at those textiles! We live in an age of conspicuous consumption, no doubt about it; but our fashionistas can't begin to compete with the luxurious attire of the Renaissance. Display was the whole point.
In the week or so between Thanksgiving and Saint Nicholas Day, I try to keep Christmas frenzy at bay (with, of course, the minor cheating, like starting an Advent calendar). An annual rereading of Greer Gilman's Moonwise is a good compromise: mythic, ritual, and seasonal. So is literal walking in November woods. Yesterday, under a gray sky, I was on a hillside floored with fallen leaves and realized I was walking "in 'tCloudwood."
Holidays are repetitious. Repetitions make commercial work easier. Even writers who try to avoid doing so repeat themselves unconsciously. After all, humans (as well as AI) are pattern-seeking creatures. Well, may your holiday fall into whatever pattern you love—or carry you into novel ways of picturing your world. Happy Thanksgiving!
Image via a Norman Rockwell Museum post, Illustrations as easy as pie.
Well, I meant to post this image at Hallowe'en. Having no inspiration to start off Thanksgiving week, I'll toss it out for any giggle it might bring you. And who knows? Maybe it will prompt somebody to write a holiday story—something about party ideas in a turn-of-the-century American magazine? maybe a fantasy story about a fashionable coven in an alternative universe? What's your fancy?
A 16th manuscript containing hundreds of plants pressed between its pages—what better to inspire historical fiction or a fantasy story? The Herbarium of Ulisse Aldrovandi could provide a precise model for a story set in the Renaissance or a modern-day tale of scholarly sleuthing. Taking a cue from it, you might invent your own magical or scientific object. It could be the hobby of a scientifically inclined woman, the collection of a botanist devoted to creating a taxonomy, or the magical hoard of a literate witch. It might be comprise pressed plants only or it might involve plants stuck between the pages of a lavishly illustrated herbal. In any case, the pictures and the very idea of it made my heart go pitter-pat!
Image via Royal Society Open Science website.
Words could evoke the rural setting—the mythical America Americans like to believe in. They could make the dog running to greet his master recall Odysseus's homecoming. But the set of those shoulders? No. In a world where wars continue and continue, we need all the arts—visual, poetic, musical, and narrative—to remind us of what we have done and are doing, and who pays the greatest price. Armistice Day—if only. For a thoughtful essay on N.C. Wyeth's Homecoming, read Homer, Wyeth, Rockwell: Three Visions of Veterans.