Posts tagged ‘Durer’

July 23, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 18

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Week 18 of lockdown but not to worry – the end is nigh. Probably not words you want to hear in relation to Covid 19 but hey, it’ll be over by Christmas brayed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – the man who reads nothing, knows nothing and says whatever springs into his head – no, not  Italian party filled with glamorous Russian women hosted by Russian oligarch, Lebedev, media mogul and owner of the Independent in England. I’m saying no, but possibly.

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Anyway, let’s get onto more intelligent life. Spotted a couple of yellow hammers this week on two occasions around the same spot. One was singing that familiar refrain, a little bit of bread and no cheese, in a birdy fashion. Very pretty birds with vivid yellow from breast to head; the gilets jaunes of the bird world. According to the RSPB website yellow hammers are in decline to the tune of 54% loss between 1970 and 1998. Don’t have more recent figures but they’re surely not good. As with so many of our songbirds they’ve lost the battle against industrial farming that swallows up every cultivated field inch thereby depriving birds of seed sources around the margins where wildflowers and grasses once thrived. On another walk we spotted a jay, apparently cooling off with its wings spread over a tree branch. I managed a not very good photograph of it from behind before the bird realised there were potential enemies around and flew off. Another unusual discovery was a giant tiger moth in among grass as the side of the road. I think it may have been dead but didn’t want to poke it, in case it wasn’t.

Neighbour is missing her daily early morning swim since pools closed down in March. From what she was saying I suspect that when they do open she won’t be rushing to take the plunge, irrespective of her longing to exercise in water again, for she realises that pools could be Covid hotspots despite chlorinated water. Have you ever looked down when swimming in them? And that’s only what you can see. Pee and spit tends to dissipate. Then there’s social distancing. Our local pool isn’t large. In fact, it’s quite a bit smaller than first designed because bigger pools cost bigger bucks so it’s narrower and that means very few swimmers could be safely accommodated to comply with social distancing. Plus, changing areas, showers and lockers would create points of contact. When it comes down to it, swimming pools being confined by necessary number reductions would become a costly public service. Get in the sea.

Anticipating spring blossom on fruit trees and bushes is always exciting during the dark days of winter. And fairly soon following on from the flowers the fruits swell. So far so good but then if you aren’t an idle or wasteful harvest comes round super-fast. While picking apples is easy-peasy lemon squeezy, picking blackcurrants and other small fruit, specially gooseberries, is largely just a chore. Sweet Alpine strawberries are the exception, coming in penny numbers.

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Still we enjoy eating our way through frozen supplies in succeeding months so once the little blighters are packed into their plastic boxes we can relax. But I’m getting ahead of myself for we have a huge crop of large glossy blackcurrants ready for picking. Redcurrants, too, although I doubt we’ll pick many as we’re not so keen on them and certainly not as keen on them as our blackbirds who just love them. I used to make jam. A lot of jam and jelly and redcurrants are good to mix in with other fruits because they are tart and have lots of pectin to help with set but we have jam still from years back so I’m not inclined to add to the collection. Anyway, in a rush of blood to the head I threw out our store of empty honey jars last winter. I like to use honey jars for jam because the shape makes storage easy and you can get your spoon or knife in easier than with some narrower jars. And don’t forget to pick blackcurrant leaves. They make delicious tea.

 Visited neighbours in their garden this week. It’s a garden like no other garden. Once it was the walled garden of the local ‘big house’ and retains a very long and very tall stone wall on which are attached many old and established espalier fruit trees; apples, pears, plums – with a few recent replacements for lost plants – bought to match the old metal labels still attached to the wall.

Within the vast area of this garden is a large skelp of water – rather two skelps of water plus a burn running through the property. No wonder we hardly see our neighbour, he’s got so much work to do in the garden. All that said, I noticed their blackcurrants were way less big and glossy than ours!

After a tour of the policies it was time for a cup of tea (each couple providing their own) but the fine morning had given way to a changeable afternoon and the light shower that began when we sat down, on appropriately socially distanced seats, turned to pelting rain. But we’re Scottish. So out came the umbrellas and we doggedly sat on, drinking tea and chatting till eventually we decided to pull the plug, so to speak. Mind you, that was after about two hours of conversation and it was hardly surprising that despite umbrellas – and partly because of the rain streaming down them onto us, we squelched our way home to peel off every stitch of sodden clothing down to the scud. Good to catch up, though.

Woke one morning to discover some varmint had overturned a bird feeder stand and made off with one of the peanut feeders. A prolonged search and application of track and trace revealed it towards the roadside. This was not the first time we’ve lost feeders and corvids were initially suspected, along with squirrels because we haven’t heard badgers in the garden lately, despite the bedroom window being open most nights.

 One night-time raid was quickly attributed to badgers when a seed feeder was destroyed – totally flattened – obviously by feet bigger than belonging to any crow, jackdaw or squirrel.

We don’t mind badgers getting their fair share of food but eating a whole container of peanuts is not fair shares. It’s gluttony. Now we take that particular peanut feeder in at nights because attaching the container to the stand with wire didn’t work and we lost it the following night as well. Other peanut feeders are hung higher up on tree branches and they stay out as Brenda Badger is too short to get at them.

 Finished revising my old novel Banana Pier which took almost as long as writing it. Actually no, it didn’t but my slow pace of work meant it was a long-drawn-out business. Decided to publish it on Amazon which is not the easiest thing in the world to do, I find. But easier than the long wait for rejection from a publisher. I retitled it, too, as Evil Brings Men Together which says more about the story than Banana Pier which is a local reference and might have led some to imagine it a book on port commerce.

 I used Amazon a few months back to publish my latest novel, set in Germany in the early 1600s featuring the brilliant artist Albrecht Durer. I don’t think Durer got up to the dodgy business in The Durer Affair, despite the name – then, again maybe he did. When I was writing it – I’d imagine Durer and his mates, Willy Pirkheimer and Otto Beck, accompanying me on my daily walks or sitting in the backseat of the car. I realise how crazy that must sound but it was a way of getting into the characters and, hey, I’ve got a vivid imagination! I never tried the same trick with my protagonist from Banana Pier cum Evil Brings Men Together – for obvious reasons.

Not much time left for TV and book. Now reading another Ethel Mannin book – one off our bookshelves – Brief Voices; an autobiography from 1959. A different side to her character emerges through these essays about her travels and impressions of different parts of the world but I don’t have my notes to hand so I’ll try to write something on this next time.

 Working our way through Series 2 of Bordertown on Netflix. We’re fairly certain we watched Series 1 ages ago and weren’t enthralled by it but Series 2 is absolutely absorbing television. A million miles different from Deadwind I complained about last time, Bordertown is well crafted, well-scripted and directed. Excellent stuff.

 Stay safe.

April 22, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 5

Another week gone. Five down and we are now into our sixth week. So how did last week turn out?

Weather has been running hot and cold and very dry. Our last rain consisted of some light showers on 2nd April and we wouldn’t mind a good drenching because we don’t have water to spare for tubs and pots outside which this year will have to be used to grow vegetables and herbs. Bought seeds online and they have now arrived. Didn’t foresee this as after a lifetime of growing fruit and veg we recently got rid of our vegetable plot and this is the year it has become more vital than ever to grow our own this summer so will have to see how that goes. Some vegetable seeds are in as short supply as bread flour and yeast but in a way that’s encouraging because more people appear to be returning to growing plants in their gardens instead of hard-landscaping that has become a widespread phenomenon in recent years.

After deciding to cut down on fresh vegetables because of uncertainty about contamination since so much supermarket produce comes in from abroad, just like PPE, we have refreshed our stocks of gherkins, pickled red cabbage and sauerkraut (I know but it’s pickled) but I did order one or two British-grown apples, red and green cabbage and carrots and tomatoes. The cabbages are tiny wee things hardly worth a damn as my late aunt might have said. The tomato arrived. I stress tomato singular. Described as a British beef tomato it was quite a nice example but a single tomato between two people over a fortnight will take some mathematical calculations over the best way of dividing it up. Cost 85 pence which fairly astonished me. None of the vegetables that arrived I would have selected had I been able to do my own shopping but they are fresh – even having spent their three days in quarantine and undergone a warm soapy bath.

More essential items were sent out by an excellent health store in Aberdeen, although it only posts out a tiny fraction of its food. Our reserves of Vego chocolate and hazelnut spread have been supplemented by two jars. It is the nectar of the gods and just the thing to perk up folk in lockdown who receive a single tomato to last two weeks.

My confidence in the legal profession has taken a dive this week. I’ve had two experiences over recent months – dire and fairly dire but amusing. Dire has descended into dire hell in sheer incompetence. I suppose fairly dire has also but I’m more amenable to that solicitor. I suspect solicitors are finding their proofing skills are sadly lacking without their office staff to check details for them. Latest signed update went into the pillar-box today hot on the heels of another one yesterday. Professionals huh?

Having dipped my toes into the waters of picture communications I set up a WhatsApp account this week to speak with family and friends and have discovered the signal is much better than on our landline.

Still walking locally. Some days it can get a bit too busy for comfort although it’s always good to catch up with neighbours and folk we hardly know who live about the area. This week the cotton mask I ordered arrived. It’s well made and won’t be as hot as wearing a scarf as the temperature increasingly heats up. Lots of unfamiliar faces keep appearing to walk up the hill at the back, most presumably farther away neighbours who’ve always kept their distance till now. Heard from a social media friend that his wife who works in a care home had a run-in with people who had travelled some distance to walk their dogs in our local village park. Some people don’t seem to recognise the devastating impact of possibly carrying infection from one place to another. My friend now has Covid-19 and so his wife is also in quarantine. One of the women who had been delivering groceries and medicines to people in this area is now also self-quarantined.

Still reading Jack London but think I’ve probably reached my limit of stories about dogs and heroic canines taking down other animals. I suspect for many readers times have changed and the thrill of a kill is confined to a blood-thirsty deranged minority. However, London’s To Light a Fire is very fine piece of writing which I urge you to read.

As for our couple of hours of TV in the evenings we gave up on the BFI’s recommended films for a while. Like the parson’s nose, they’re an acquired habit. The final straw was The Long Day Closes by film director Terence Davies. Having spent an inordinate amount of time watching the opening credits scroll down the screen in a font that was all but illegible and around half an hour staring at a bit of a rug I asked my husband if the film was by that bloke that ruined Sunset Song?” It was. I won’t ever forgive him for that. He took one of the best books ever written misunderstood it totally and made a masterpiece into film kitsch. To prove not all directors are self-indulgent bores we watched two super films – The Guilty is a Danish drama largely comprises a single actor in a police control room. Perhaps a little predictable towards the end but enthralling nonetheless. That was on Netflix. On Amazon Prime we watched the Chinese movie The Farewell that explores eastern and western attitudes towards death – charismatic and charming film with the subject ably handled. On a completely different level we’ve started watching Breaking Bad. Yes, I know – so behind the times. But good huh?

And finally – my alter ego Alex Chisholm published the latest magnum opus on Amazon Kindle and paperback due out soon. The Durer Affair is set in the little town of Nuremberg in the year 1504 where the artist, the painter Albrecht Durer, lives in harmony with the world until strangers arrive who turn his world and that of his fellow townsmen and women upside down. It’s comic and it’s tragic – as is life. You can follow the adventures of Durer and his friends Willy and Otto who all have prodigious appetites for pork knuckles washed down by Ana Brauer’s blackest beer and there’s even a doggy aspect to this page-turning thriller in the form of a very un-Jack London little hound called Ulf.

Stay safe.

My blog on Davies’ Sunset Song

March 8, 2016

Melancholia 34 – it’s magic!

What strikes me most when I look at Albrecht Durer’s Melencolia I is that bulky human form hunkered down in contemplation at the forefront of the picture. Others are drawn to its celebrated mystical square in which every which way adds up to the magical number 34.

Albrecht Durer is one of the most charismatic and talented artists ever. Let’s cut to the chase as an illustrator he was the epitome of all things brilliant. Melencolia I is literally a magical picture stuffed full of symbolism and disputed meaning – which any trawl through artistic sources will bear out.

 

Leaving aside Durer’s spelling of melancholy for a moment let’s look first at what this term meant during the period of the Renaissance. Before the system of western medicine we use today the ancient Greeks believed human nature and health were determined by four temperaments and their associated humours.

The temperaments or personality types were sanguine (easy-osy), choleric ( angry), phlegmatic (steady-Eddies) and melancholic (depressive). People were susceptible to becoming one or other of these types because of an excess of one of four humours dominating the body: yellow bile, black bile, blood or phlegm.

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Too much black bile for instance was believed to enable malign agents to enter the person so creating an emotional state that could display itself as frenzied or delusional and in some cases the person was believed possessed by the devil. Heroism and romantic yearnings were attributed to others less extremely affected by melancholy, for others still the mood was more despondency tending towards hopelessness.

Look at Durer’s picture and while there are interpretations galore the figure which dominates it certainly has an air of despondency about her. This engraving has given rise to a huge amount of discussion about its symbolism and if you look at it, really look at it, it’s clearly obvious the whole thing is steeped in meaning – only we’re not sure exactly what.

Some symbols are fairly straightforward and recur in very many pictures of the Renaissance, allowing those who know them to find so much more in those pictures than can be gleaned from a casual glance. Some symbols remain with us today on tombstones – e.g. the hour glass signifying the passing of time, life running out, the transience of life.

The bunch of keys hanging from the figure’s belt denotes power – that power which does or should belong to the figure – and a purse implies wealth – which can be interpreted in terms of money or of talent. Perhaps of greater relevance to this picture is when the two, keys and purse, are shown together they represent the cold planet Saturn and Saturn is also associated with melancholy.

There’s a ladder leaning against an unfinished building and tools and instruments used by masons and builders lie scattered around – builder’s block? Is Durer telling us he was suffering from the painter’s equivalent of writer’s block – painter’s block? We don’t know for sure but it seems he was undergoing a crisis of confidence in 1514 with the recent death of his mother. Had he lost his motivation? Possibly.

As a young man there was none more fun-loving, confident and humorous than Albrecht Durer but it may be his life had reached a point of crisis and for many this picture is said to be an allegory for the depression tormenting him.

Empty scales attached to the string course around the unfinished tower or building signify balance (possibly) and those bells attached to the wall – eternity. The skinny dog, I’m not sure, dogs were sometimes included in pictures as able to look into a person’s soul – to find good or evil – which could be what was going on if Durer was suffering doubts and depression. They could also mean faithfulness or devotion – but why so skinny?

 

Things get really interesting with the appearance of that odd 3-D block – a truncated rhombohedron, I believe, that has a human skull traced onto it. Skulls, again familiar in our cemeteries, refer to death (think pirate flag) the passing from life to the afterlife. The solid block demonstrates Durer’s fascination with mathematics- one of the many interests of this highly intelligent man – and is now known as Durer’s solid.

The bonnie wee cherub or putto sitting on a millstone is industriously writing or drawing, perhaps – as Durer should be.

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Returning to the main image; the winged figure at the forefront of the picture. Winged but earthbound this is a traditional-looking Genius from classical art who is sitting in the chaos of abandoned tools and symbols depicting life’s brief span and clutching a pair of calipers (which measure the distance between two points – which could be an allusion to mood). Genius is awaiting inspiration and without that she, and the tools are useless. A fabulous bulked out figure, no sylph-like muse she sits slouched to one side resting her head on her hand looking more resigned to her predicament than blackly depressed.

The wreath on Genius’s head might be a reference to the crown of thorns worn by Christ at his crucifixion and adopted at Christian burials in the hope the souls of the dead will be saved. Or it could hark back to Germanic pagan wreaths made to mark a change in seasons or mood. Then again the ancient Greeks adorned their heroes with laurel wreaths and the ancient Romans likewise to portray success and power.

All this said how do we know this as a picture about melancholy? We know because Durer has handily provided us with its title in the form of a fluttering banner pulled along by a bat. Bats come from darkness. The banner reads, MELENCOLIA I. Not the usual spelling and it has been suggested Durer has broken up the word into mele from the Greek for sweetness and col meaning suffering – a dichotomy of emotions and this contradiction is further alluded to in the squiggly symbols at the end of melencolia which were often used during the medieval period to denote to and fro – going away and returning.

It is not certain either the reason Durer put an ‘I’ after melecolia. For some is stands for our current letter J – a swash letter and an alternative form of the J before the early 15th century and frequently used in religious pictures of Christ – so maybe J for Jesus. Then again it may refer to the three types of melancholia described the German Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa in De Occulta Philosophia in which he arranged three orders of melancholy – 1 the imagination as required by artists; 2 – reason; 3 – the intellect. In such a case Durer’s engraving is illustrative of the first of these – melancholia I i.e. Imaginative and, yes, he apparently is telling us he is suffering from artist’s block.

Then it is also suggested Durer meant this melancholia picture to be the first of a series on melancholy, just never got round to the others. Not too compelling an argument- but, of course, if he really was suffering from melancholy and couldn’t get himself geed up then it is likely he would not have completed a series but I think this explanation is highly unlikely. Others say the picture is part of a different series, that of the engravings of The Knight and St Jerome in his study.

Back to the banner. It is partly enclosed between a rainbow and the sea and shares the space with a comet travelling across the sky. This is thought to be Ensisheim’s meteorite which landed at Alsace on 7 November 1492 and was described in the wonderful Nuremberg Chronicle and illustrated by Durer. Did I say Durer came from the town of Nuremberg in the German state of Franconia?

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Even people with no interest in art are familiar with Durer’s Melencolia I because of the inclusion of a magic square in this work.

Durer’s magic square has been described by geeks as a gnomon magic square i.e. a square comprising 4 rows along and 4 rows down with each row adding up to the magical number 34- up, down and across. The inner central square of 10, 11, 6, 7 also add up to 34 and symmetrically placed paired numbers add up to 17 – half of the magical 34 which makes this square even more incredible. Apparently.

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There is a lot written about the magical qualities of 34 but you’re on your own with finding out more about it. All I have to say is the square will look familiar to anyone who has ever done Sudoku. Back in Durer’s time people were equally fascinated by puzzles and brainteasers. Durer has configured his square to include the date of this engraving, 1514, along the bottom row which might explain some confusion over changes he made to the other numbers in his square and whether he was deliberately adding or concealing clues as to the meaning of the picture, or not. Certainly this magic square has been the subject of umpteen articles many of which you can read for yourself online if at all interested in tying yourself up in knots and getting nowhere.

A century on from Albrecht Durer the English scholar Robert Burton wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy – exploring how those afflicted with melancholy were driven by emotion that could be either uplifting or depressing. His insights into the condition, such as they were, proved hugely popular and were pinched by other writers for his tongue-in-cheek handling and humour. This meandering literary marathon has been claimed by some to be the best book ever written, but I wouldn’t know.

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The state of melancholia inspired literature of all kinds, musical composition and works of art. Surely the most beautiful interpretation is Albrecht Durer’s engraving of 1514.

Another writer inspired by Durer’s picture was the Scottish poet B. V. Thomson whose work The City of Dreadful Night from the 1870s tells a tale of someone who has lost his religious faith. It begins as it means to go on:

O melancholy Brothers, dark, dark, dark!
O battling in black floods without an ark!…

…The moving moon and stars from east to west
Circle before her in the sea of air;
Shadows and gleams glide round her solemn rest.
Her subjects often gaze up to her there:
The strong to drink new strength of iron endurance,
The weak new terrors; all, renewed assurance
And confirmation of the old despair.

You get the idea, it is not a light piece of verse. Thomson’s great title was soon nicked by the more famous writer Rudyard Kipling for his short stories and by the American author O. Henry. But which writer hasn’t nicked someone else’s brilliant phrase?

Back in Durer’s time life was far less compartmentalised than now and the state of melancholy was seen as affecting people physically, mentally and as Thomson explored through doubts over former certainties. Melancholy was also linked with dilemmas conjured out of conflicting ideas relating to natural and moral philosophy; it was entangled up with the supernatural – as Durer has done here through allusions to alchemy, mathematics and astrology into the bargain.

Durer’s synthesises of melancholy with so many symbols relating to conflict and loss of inspiration were surely references to his own doubting genius but his meticulously worked wondrous talent can keep us guessing as to its true meaning for another six hundred years.

Magical.