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Picturing a World

Cripplegate flowers and laundry

Blog post alert: My interest in gardening history keeps me on the lookout for humble gardens, flower boxes, and pots grown in windows. In this image, other writers might take note of the laundry, the broken window panes, the proximity of the ramshackle building to the wall. And this is just a detail! For the full image and many more, see John Thomas Smith's Antient Topography at the ever rich Spitalfields Life.

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Elegy by Simon Armitage

Poetry for public occasions is awfully hard to write without becoming too obvious or downright maudlin. Congratulations to Simon Armitage for hitting exactly the right note in his tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh: The Patriarchs: An Elegy. You can hear him read it if you scroll down through this coverage of the funeral at the BBC.

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Artist, jester

I keep an eye out for images of medieval scribes and artists. This one from Pierre Sala's emblematic Livre d'amour jumped out at me because the artist is painting a jester—yea! Oh, and wait a minute, look!—the jester is painting a portrait of the artist.
 
The British Library labels the artist and jester, wise man and fool; and the Livre d'amour certainly contains emblems. Could this one suggest that any persona we project is also a parody of ourselves? I can imagine having a writer or actor in a story pin it up as a reminder of that lesson.

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Necessary readers

Well, I've sent the manuscript of my fantasy novel to four writer friends. I expect encouragement (after all, they are my friends). What I hope for are probing questions, comments, and criticisms to guide me toward strengthening the story.
 
Of course, it's asking a big favor to request someone to read the manuscript for a whole novel, especially a first draft. Sometimes we're reluctant to make such a demand even for a shorter piece, especially since work never seems to live up to the excitement of first inspiration. That's where writing buddies come in: we read each other's work because we know that putting it out there is a necessary part of living in the arts. It's important to friendship, moreover, to keep up with what matters most to people dear to us. That's one reason I love this picture by Catherine Chaloux.

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Women ride astride

Inez Mulholland's spectacular appearance at the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., might seem merely a brilliant stroke of theatricality, but there really was a connection between saddles and suffragism. In 1910–1911, Nan Aspinwall rode coast to coast astride to show that women could (as they should: side saddles are more dangerous). Alberta Clare also rode coast to coast and made the connection to voting rights explicit. You can read more about them in an article, Sidesaddles and Suffragettes. And for a delicious vintage linen riding habit from the period when clothes were adapting to the new style of riding, click here.

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Frames in albums

This drawing of a priest looking at an album of pictures appears in Framing the drawing. an article about Renaissance artists who drew frames around drawings they collected. I found the whole thing interesting—more ways to frame! —but what electrified me was this particular image. It's so suggestive for a character in a story. Look at the man's concentration, the delicate tension in his extended finger. Connoisseur, scholar, merchant, alchemist? He seems to be pointing to something on the upper edge of the page. Why? Pick up clues where you find them, I say, and let your imagination run.

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Dancing Bear

My bedtime reading this week is Peter Dickinson's lively YA historical novel, The Dancing Bear. I first read it as a library book and then was lucky enough to come across a secondhand copy with its dust jacket by David Smee intact. I read it every few years, and this time around it seems as good as ever.
 
For the first time, though, I got to wondering about David Smee. I can't find much about him on the internet, although a Summary Bibliography of his works has images of many dust jackets and interior illustrations, including the jackets he created for Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books. I can see how those covers would seem definitive to the readers who were introduced to Earthsea by them.

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Lucretia in a frame

Blog post alert: The History Blog's post on the Getty acquires rediscovered Artemisia Gentileschi Lucretia reports on the recent sale of this painting at auction for $5.3 million. Women painters, the historical injustice of attitudes toward rape victims, and the mysteries of the art market are all serious subjects unto themselves. But what caught my eye was—the frame!

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Tiny gallery

Website alert: A Guardian article, Honey, they shrunk the art … top artists create works for tiny gallery features this abstract painting by Fiona Rae. Hurrah! She's new to me, and the project by the Pallant House Gallery is delicious to anyone who loves scale-model miniatures—including, of course, Queen Mary's Dollshouse, which was part inspiration for the current project.

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Helene Schjerfbeck’s Convalescent

A tick bite has me on a prophylactic antibiotic, which in turn has side effects. Drat! But it's a good excuse to post this image of a convalescent by Helen Schjerfbeck, which I recently ran across in an article about the artist.  Schjerfbeck was a splendid find for me at a show of Women Artists in Paris at the Clark. She's quite astonishing.
 
Convalescence was a common motif in late-19th C painting, but this one strikes me as particularly interesting because it doesn't stress piteousness. Instead it shows the child on the mend—a welcome motif during a pandemic. Or at the start of tick season. Stay well, everybody.

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