Tuesday, January 14, 2014

REPOST, ONE YEAR LATER: Damask, Wool, and Canary Yellow Forever Charmeuse

Occasionally, I wonder what was happening around Marlinspike Hall a year ago, and consult this blog, Pandora's Box of naught-but-the-truth, captured as if in oxygen rich amber, in vivo.  And since it happens to feature our dearly departed Tante Louise, all the better to haul it back into the limelight.

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Left: Lorenzo Ghiberti | Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401-1402. Right: Filippo Brunelleschi | Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401-1402 | Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise Collection | these images were provided by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore

The KillJoy of Marlinspike Hall, here!

We only have three vehicles equipped with sirens in all of Tête de Hergé, and I swear they all decided to congregate in the neat triangle formed by Marlinspike Hall (the Manor itself, not the tremendous plot of our grounds), the Cistercian Monastery, and the now defunct organic Pig Farm that one might say was "across the road."

Now, the dot that marks us as one corner of this precise triangle emanates from a super-advanced Find-Us Thingy, a GPS designed for Unmappables, and is embedded into the wood of our superb imitation of the Florence Baptistry's North doors, what most of us just call "the front door," as it leads to the drawbridge, moat, and rudimentary lane out of the Haddock family holdings.

Do you remember our neighbor, the Organic Pig Farmer?  With pure poetry, I introduced her here exactly one year ago:

In other local soap opera news, we are never at a dramatic loss these days thanks to the vocal stylings of CrackHead Lady Across The Way, who turns out to be a very well-known organic pig farmer.  She steals the limelight with soliloquies to her Ugg boots and curious crowds gather -- mid-morning and again at midnight -- to watch her use the muddy pits of the hog lot as an exfoliating (yet wonderfully moisturizing) body wash.
Even then, something told me that trouble was afoot, and I swear I hold no prejudices against muddy crackhead exhibitionists.  Plus, bacon is "the" ingredient in haute cuisine, and we were thrilled to have such luscious pigs so close by, flavor on cloven hooves.  On her clear days, we were working with her and our resident geneticists on creating a tasty pig that ruminated -- which we figured would have burst open a world of consumers hungry for bacon, even if they wanted to be snooty and call it pancetta, which is hog, excuse me, pork belly cured with salt and peppered with peppercorns, fennel, nutmeg, and what have you. In Italy.  Harrumph.

But making a ruminant of a single-stomached pig was proving more than our animal husbandry and genetic experts were able to accomplish within a single season, and capturing the attention of the crack whore organic pig farmer, genius though she was, was nigh unto impossible.  The Jewish people shall not know -- with hearts' free of oppressive judgment -- bacon in 2013.  Don't believe the fast talker who tells you its easy to increase salivation, thereby increasing the microflora necessary to the decomposition of cud, or that making a pig's teeth incessantly grow to accomodate all that chewing, is easy.  That person is a ruminatory fool.  In any event, we'll miss her, and the promise of bacon.

What?  Oh, no.  No, she wasn't behind the flashing lights and dread-inducing sirens.  She was evicted about two months ago.  And the brothers of the Monastery are clean, as well.  The only time official vehicles congregate in their parking lot coincides with various taste testings from the Abbot's Private Keggery and the Postulants' fudge and fruitcake. It's hard to believe they make most of their money from office supply products.  No one turns out the day the Legal Pads arrive...

Anyway, why such a concentration of an entire country's siren-abled mobile forces last night, and why in this concentrated triangle of Tête de Hergé?

Would La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore be sufficient response?

Sometimes she just chaps my ass.  Whilst frosting Fred's balls.

Let me hasten to say that Sven Feingold and his son, Cabana Boy, were not involved, each having been on duty, the one doing the near bonsai-like, minute zen changes necessary to Maze Maintenance in the winter time, the other employed in turning the spits in the East Wing Medieval Kitchen.  Not sexy work, but he gets to take off his shirt and have cool water ladled over his fire-burnished torso.

No, it was The Castafiore that so monopolized constabulary resources that the whole region east of the Lone Alp was left unprotected.

Since June of last year, I've been adapting to life without one of my shoulders. Many things depress me as I go through this process -- not near as many things as I had feared, though, and I had an Awesome List of Stuff to Fear all prepared.  But what never occurred to me was the damned front door.

We were concerned about the insertion of the GPS for Unmappable Locations into our incredibly realistic copy of the Baptistry Door, imagined it's beauty gouged, an ugly puncture.  I should have trusted in Tante Louise, who, in addition to overseeing all Emergency Services and Correction of Gossip, is a Renaissance Junkie.  You'd not be able to find the insertion site if you took all blessed day looking.

Where was I?  Oh.  I can't open or close the thing without hurting myself.  It takes two arms to properly fling it, insofar as it can be flung.  If you try to work with just half the door, using only one arm, there is an imbalance created that causes you to fall down, or, if you are in a wheelchair, to tilt over.  And then fall down.

Great thing, therefore, that I've not felt much like going out, or that I don't go any goddamned place alone.  Excuse my French. (Fred claims that our bacon and pancetta Castles-in-Spain never would have worked out, given my proclivity to cursing.  Mr. Perfection, who never divides the dark, silent nights with screams of "Oh, Fuck!" informs me that the devout, kosher-observant Jews we hoped to attract with our ruminating porcine achievements would turn on their heels in shock, distaste, and haste the first chance they had to meet the Pork Proprietress -- moi.)

Back to the Bacchanalia that was last night...

I kaboomed three times, directly into deep, drooling slumber, as most everyone had the evening off for contra dancing, a current fascination that I cannot explain.  The only projects we had going on in-Manor that required expert staffing were the Spit Marathons and Sven's small team of miniature botanists out in the cold, making tiny adjustments to the maze that is the central draw to every summer's ManorFest.  Myself?  As I said, I was trying to sleep, but the wafting scent of charred meat was dampening the success of that project, and then, all hell broke loose with the maintes-mentioned three sirened vehicles' descent upon our sacred triangle of Unmappable Manor, Pig Farm, and Monastery.

The Castafiore, in fluorescent pink tights and a deep wine red sheath dress to which some ill-advised and low-payed tailor had added a plethora of multi-directional ruching, was hoofing it from one angle of the triangle to the other, having attempted to rob the fabric store next to her preferred pub back in town.  The Tunnel System between the Town Saloon District and Marlinspike Hall was closed for repairs.  My Darling Diva refused to let go of her dry goods, her sundries, the elemental bones of costumes for the upcoming operatic season, all baroque, mannerist, and several new renascences. What was so precious?  I'm copying from the inch-thick pile of paperwork Tante Louise released with Bianca when we bailed her out, complete with TL's official parenthetic annotations:

-- 1 bolt Canary Yellow Forever Charmeuse, with the necessary Schmetz Microtex Sharps needles ("The suspect claims they prevent 'unpightly suckers.'")
-- 15 yards of Auburn Shetland Wool, 59" width.
-- The very last 7 yards in the region of Coral and Gold Silk Damask -- ("More proper to the eighteenth century than the Renaissance.")
-- A dozen pincushions (?)
-- Buttons, patches, and 29 books of swatches ("Come dawn, the CSI Unit will sweep the area as we suspect there was considerable slippage in the snow.  Given the pincushion seizure, we are particularly interested in retrieving stray straight pins.")

Why am I so angry?  Am I The Castafiore's Keeper?  I don't know.  I probably am.  Damn it.

All I know is that I can't move half my body for having spent last evening pumped with adrenaline, trying to jerk open our previously mentioned superb imitation of the Florence Baptistry's North doors in an effort to welcome and assist our mostly voluntary and usually deputized law enforcement agents.  You know, hot chocolate and a deeply soulful veggie soup, and catching up with the news from the more remote regions of this vast land.  No one gossips like a law man sipping soup and wiggling his frozen toes before a raging Medieval Spit.

This morning, Bianca, after sleeping it off, is full of remorse, but devoid of fabric and other ill-gotten gains, and she is in Wailing Mode.  Sven has lost his botanic zen in his efforts to comfort her.  Cabana Boy and Sven have promised to make her restitution of damask, wool, and charmeuse.  I suppose she's waiting for me to promise to pay the accompanying fines and replace the sotten sundries.  Well, she'll be waiting a long time.

Fred hurt his back doing some show-off move at the contra dancing fête designed to impress The Mousse, that non-feminist, non-existentialist, born-to-flirt beatch of the famed Wednesday Night Supper and Ukulele Gatherings.  She instigated the whole dance craze among the Haddock Manor Staff, knowing it would spread faster than the flu to twitchy-toed Fred.

I should give him a backrub or a heating pad.

The Manor still stinks of meat, my stomach still turns.  And life goes on.

Captain Haddock is not the greatest fan of the Front Door, and has offered something lighter and more utilitarian.  But I have my predilections, which is why, I suppose, I understand The Castafiore tearing around the various local properties, her skirt up to her neck like a veterinarian Elizabethan collar, clinging to vestiges of lost eras.

It's such a great story, the story of the doors.  Two magnificent artists, competing in a city decimated by the plague, are given the challenge to enervate in bronze the tale of Abraham's moment of supreme heart-rending obedience.  They -- the artists -- are so young, in their twenties -- Brunelleschi was 24, Ghiberti was 23.

I'm not aware of a movie or novel treating the subject, but wouldn't that be riveting?  [But... it is the sort of thing Hollywood screws up on a regular basis, so perhaps it's best left to Vasari and contemporaries.]


Of the Baptistry Door Competition, only two of the submitted panels survive, and one does dare to say they are the two most important. A stupid "dare to say," really, when we look to this competition to learn much more than how Ghiberti managed to pull a cap on over his huge bogglehead -- hoping to see some of the politics in art and follow the devilry of guilds functioning almost as mafiosi. Shoot, "mafiosi" sounds so cool there, don't you think? But it's hard to divorce Sicily from the term. Still, let it stand! You get my drift, even if my drift is flawed.

Anyway, here are the basics of the story, this adventure of doors, admission to... well, I cannot imagine.

 From the SUNY Oneonta Art Department:
Few buildings in Florence have as much significance to the life of the city as the Baptistry. Opposite the west facade of the Duomo, the Baptistry is at the religious center of Florence. The building was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence. It is in this building up until recent years that every Florentine citizen received the sacrament of Baptism. This building is thus critical in the religious and social identity of the city. 
The current building was probably built between 1059 and 1150 , and it is an excellent example of Tuscan Romanesque architecture. In the thirteenth century, it was believed that the building was built as early as the mid-sixth century and had been designed as a copy of Lateran Baptistry in Rome, the most important baptistry in Christendom. Another legend, developed during the thirteenth and fourteenth century, traced the foundation of the Baptistry back to a Roman temple of Mars that was subsequently rededicated to St. John the Baptist. The Baptistry was thus the principal monument in Florence associated with the ancient Roman foundation of the city. 
The Arte del Calimala, the wool merchants' guild, from as early as 1157 but at least by 1182 was given responsibility for the maintenance and embellishment of the building. The Calimala was the wealthiest and most influential of the major guilds. Established in the twelfth century, the guild was composed of dealers and refiners of foreign cloth and the wool importers as well as importers of silk, brocade, jewels, and other precious materials from the Levant. Until the late twelfth century, the Calimala also represented to the bankers, but they withdrew to form their own guild, the Arte del Cambio. The retail dealers were joined in 1247 by importers of goods from Levant to form the Arte della Seta. Despite these split-offs, the Calimala was still the most prestigious guild in Florence. During the thirteenth century, the Calimala had commissioned Coppo di Marcolvaldo to decorate the octagonal dome of the building:

Baptistry Dome, Last Judgment

At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Arte del Calimala initiated another major project: the creation of three magnificent, bronze entrance doors for building. In 1330, Andrea Pisano (c. 1290-1348) was commissioned to do the first set of doors on the south side. Pisano completed the project in 1336:

South Doors, Pisano
An economic crash between 1339 to 1346, political upheaval, and the outbreak of the Black Death in 1348 led to the suspension of plans to complete the two remaining doors. During the winter of 1400 - 1401, the consuls of the Calimala decided to open a competition for another set of doors. These were originally intended for the East door. These doors, facing the west entrance of the Duomo, were the most important doors. Just as the competition was initiated Milanese troops under the leadership of Gian Galeazzo Visconti were threatening Florence. Some see the motivation of the Calimala to revive the door project as an attempt to bolster civic unity and pride by embellishing one of the city's most important monuments. Another factor frequently cited for initiating the competition was Calimala's rivalry with the Arte della Lana, the Woolworkers Guild, which was given authority over the fabric of the Duomo. The Arte della Lana was at that moment engaged in the project of decorating the west facade of the Duomo, directly opposite the east entrance of the Baptistry. 
This combination of factors -- the history of the building, the Arte del Calimala's patronage, the fame of Andrea Pisano's doors-- made this an extremely desirable commission. As stated by Richard Krautheimer (Lorenzo Ghiberti, p. 34): "The most important group of patrons in Florence called for a trial piece for the new bronze door which would eventually decorate the most illustrious building in the city and which would, besides, have the privilege of standing alongside the only important bronze sculpture theretofore produced in Florence." 
The competitors were expected to submit panels representing the Old Testament story of the Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac. It depicts the moment when Abraham, ordered by God to sacrifice his only son, is about to plunge the knife into Isaac's neck, but his hand is stayed at the last moment by an angel. This story of divine delivrance would undoubtedly have resonated with Florentines, whose city had been delivered by the sudden death Gian Galeazzo Visconti in September of 1402. 
Ghiberti in his account of the competition records the name of seven competitors, all from Tuscany: Filippo Brunelleschi, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia, Simone da Colle, Niccolò d'Arezzo, Niccolò di Pietro Lamberti, and Francesco di Valdambrino. Two of the competition panels have been preserved: one by Lorenzo Ghiberti and the other by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Ghiberti's Sacrifice of Isaac Submission

Brunellesci's Sacrifice of Isaac Submission

Ghiberti won.  Some say, and I'm just sayin' what I've heard said, understand?  Some say that Ghiberti won, at least in part, because his submission panel weighed about 7 kilos less than Brunelleschi's work, thanks to hollowing out some of the bronze projections -- which represented considerable savings in bronze.  Money.  Money has always talked.

Robert Paul Walker wrote a book whose title characterizes the competition in that way that makes one love certain art historians: “The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World."

Of Brunelleschi's panel, Walker said:

Brunelleschi’s work is by far the more dramatic and disturbing, all angles and movement and raw emotion., like nothing that had ever been created before. His Abraham is a tall, powerful figure, grasping a frail Isaac along the jawline with his left hand, the father’s thumb under the boy’s chin to better expose the neck, or perhaps to cut off the flow of oxygen so that his son won’t feel the fatal blow. In his right hand, Abraham holds the knife, driving the blade forward with such forceful commitment that the angel sweeping down from the sky must grab his wrist to stop the sacrifice. The story literally bursts out from the panel, breaking the boundaries of the Gothic quatrefoil within which it is supposed to be contained, just as Brunelleschi burst through the boundaries of the Gothic art with his creation.
And of Ghiberti:

Ghiberti’s panel is more elegant and more beautiful. His Isaac is a perfectly modeled classical nude while his Abraham is a smaller, more graceful man, his left arm wrapped around the boy’s shoulders while his right hand holds the knife hovering in the air, as if he has not yet made the decision to strike. The angel floats above them, open palm over Abraham’s well-coifed, curly hair, no need to grab the father’s arm but able instead to stop him with a word. The whole scene plays out against an exquisitely cascading mountainside, all neatly contained within its quatrefoil boundary. Whereas Brunelleschi’s piece demonstrates an artist aching to forge a new and more powerful image of reality, Ghiberti’s demonstrates masterful perfection of the art, as remarkable in its own way for the time and place and age of the artist as is the work of his rival.
MaItaly summarizes:
Both artists had turned in extraordinary panels, and the committee couldn’t decide which was best. The story is that they called both artists together and asked if they might be willing to work in tandem on the doors. Brunelleschi was the one to refuse, saying that he would gladly concede the project to Ghiberti rather than work with anything less than full creative control. The project went to Lorenzo Ghiberti. It was a huge victory for him and a humiliating defeat for Brunelleschi, who was left with nothing after so much work and anticipation. It was the aftermath of this competition that got the creative snowball rolling in Florence. Ghiberti would spend decades completing not just the north doors (seen here to the left), but a second set of east baptistry doors, a work so impressive that Michelangelo studied them and dubbed them, “the gates of paradise”. It was Brunelleschi however, who would make the bigger leap forward, inventing a system for perspective and revolutionizing painting while completing one of the most daunting and difficult architectural projects in the world: the building of the giant red dome on top of the Duomo across from the baptistry.
 I'd have bored you so much more had I gone into the choice of the competition "text," and you're welcome.  It's hard to top Kierkegaard.

It was early morning. Everything has been made ready for the journey in Abraham's house. Abraham took leave of Sarah, and the faithful servant Eleazar followed him out on the way until he had to turn back. They rode together in accord, Abraham and
Isaac, until they came to the mountain in Moriah. yet Abraham made everything ready for the sacrifice, calmly and quietly, but as he turned away Isaac saw that Abraham's left hand was clenched in anguish, that a shudder went through his body - but Abraham drew the knife. 
Then they turned home again and Sarah ran to meet them, but Isaac had lost his faith. Never a word in the whole world is spoken of this. Isaac told no one what he had seen, and Abraham never suspected that anyone had seen it. 

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