I was in London for a client meeting recently and Charlotte surprised me with a visit after I was finished. It goes without saying that the depths of my delight as this surprise are quite indescribable. One of our activities was to visit the National Gallery. One of the first pieces of transcendent religious art which we saw was The Annunciation by Carlo Crivelli. This masterpiece was completed in 1486 and is an example of the late Gothic Italian style.
Born in Venice, he absorbed the influences of the Vivarini, the Bellini, and Andrea Mantegna to create an elegant, profuse, effusive, and extreme style, dominated by strong outlines and clear, crisp colors—perhaps incorporating just a whiff of early Netherlandish manuscript style. Smart History
The Annunciation is a very important moment in the Gospel and indeed is foundational to the Christian faith. It is the moment the angel Gabriel came down from heaven and announced to the Virgin Mary that she was going to be the mother of Jesus. It is also the moment Gabriel announces that Mary’s cousin, who is a lot older, will also conceive a child (John the Baptist). I have included the full reading and the full painting below:
26 The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.
31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
35 And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
37 for nothing will be impossible for God.”
38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The below is the upper part of the painting which was the first to transfix me. The way the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven through a swirling vortex and passes through a small golden arched aperture was very moving to me. The strands of light surrounding it look like the strands surrounding the vortex look like the decorations around the host in a monstrance. The gold detailing around the fascia are absolutely incredible to me. Again this is a painting from 1486. The way Crivelli brought out the detailing in this painting astonishes me. Every square centimetre has been considered and rendered with such mastery that I am lost for words. Look at the draped carpet in the top right corner and the colours on it.
Below is the lower part of the painting. I love how the frame of the painting matches the render on the room. On the bottom left we have the angel Gabriel and St Emidius with the Italian town of Ascoli Piceno, of which he is patron Saint. It also shows the beam of the Holy Spirit entering the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit represented as a bird. The detailing in this is exquisite, the folded fabric of Gabriel, St Emidius and Mary’s clothing, the grille and plant on the window sill, the gold and red thread of Mary’s bedding, the items on the shelving and the book holder where Mary is reading scripture paint a beautiful picture. Libertas Ecclesiatica is written under this scene:
The inscription along the base of the painting reads “Libertas Ecclesiastica” (church liberty), and refers to Ascoli’s right to self-government, free from the interference of the Pope, a right granted to the town by Sixtus IV in 1482. The news reached Ascoli on 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation, which is probably the message the official in black is reading. Smart History
Emidius is the patron saint of the town of Ascoli Piceno, and Crivelli painted this altarpiece for the city’s church of the Santissima Annunciazione (the Holy Annunciation). A proud citizen, Emidius seems to have hurried to catch up to Gabriel to proudly show off his detailed model of the town, which he holds rather gingerly, as though the paint hasn’t quite dried. Ibidem
It is unusual to see Gabriel and Mary separate but the message is just as striking: the beautiful joyful mystery of the annunciation. Mary has been chosen to carry the saviour of the world and will forever be called blessed. This painting is an absolute joy and likely was part of the inspiration of the Pre-Raphaelite works which Charlotte and I so love.
48 From now on, all generations will call me blessed.
A question has been intriguing me rather: what are the factors for choosing AOTM? Is it the album I have listened to the most all month (which would be Confident Music for Confident People by Confidence Man)? Or is it the best album I have heard all month (Probably Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds, the more modern recording)? In the end, I have chosen Bliss Release by Cloud Control as it is the most suitable to describe my July. I wanted to play this at a dinner during the hottest day of the year but was constrained to listening to Andrew (Andrwho?) Bird. This would have been my choice and is one of my favourite summer albums. It was introduced to me by my father, whose taste in music is a strong redeeming quality for other nefarious aspects of his character with which one has to put up. I am sure he feels the same about me.
There’s an appealing open-heartedness about the debut from Australian psychedelic poppers Cloud Control, a sense of wide-eyed, slightly fried wonder. You might even pin down their entire worldview to a single line in the song Ghost Story: “I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.” Singer Alister Wright sounds so amazed by everything that one suspects he could conjure awe out of a parking permit renewal reminder. Guardian
There’s Nothing In the Water is very much in keeping with the Cloud Control theme, it is a cool, well produced slick piece of Australian psychedelic pop.
Gold Canary is the standout track on the album. The riffs, drum line and catchy lyrics add up for a real toe-tapping winner of a track. In a way it is about freedom and being released from one’s cage.
Just For Now is another perfect summer tune, which allows us to cruise along a mountain highway, or sip tea through a sunny Saturday morning without a care in the world.
This Is What I Said recalls Paul Simon’s Graceland with its African-inflected guitar line and Wright’s conversational but oddly stilted lyric: “She said, ‘Can you feel the tangible chill in the air?'” One half expects the next line to reveal the speaker is nine years old and the child of his first marriage. Guardian
This album has, in various comment sections of the sources I consult for making these posts, been described as ‘criminally underrated’. I am minded to agree. This is close to a perfect album and is certainly a very high quality summer album with ‘good vibes’ as the youth of today would say.
By the kindness of my good friend Colin, Charlotte and I managed to go to Oxford ostensibly to see Grace Jones at the Kite Festival. We did not want to spend the day in a field for the one artist we wanted to see, so we spent most of the day in Oxford. Among our wonderful and unforgettable dalliances, we visited the Ashmolian. Heading straight for the art after having seen a beautiful sculpture of Antinous and Hadrian (Memoirs of Hadrian was by Marguerite Yourcenar was one of the first books we shared), we happened upon a Pre-Raphaelite room. My interest in them was non-existent prior to meeting Charlotte but, as with many now sacrosanct parts of my life, they have brought me tremendous joy. The below represents the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Some historical context below:
Holman Hunt was among the crowd on London Bridge on the night of 10 March 1863, celebrating the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to the future Edward VII. He made sketches of it, but did not complete this painting until 16 May 1864, retouching it in 1866. He was fascinated by the contrasts of natural and artificial light and by the ‘Hogarthian humour’ of the crowds. He introduced portraits of several friends and acquaintances, including Thomas Combe in a top hat on the extreme left, arm in arm with the artist himself; and Mrs Combe with Millais’s father and brother and the artist Robert Braithwaite Martineau. The frame was designed by Hunt to combine emblems appropriate to a wedding and the arms of the royal families of Denmark and England. Art UK
Hunt, William Holman; London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
This painting transfixed me in Oxford. I stood in front of it for many minutes in awe. The colours and lighting is so vivid. The smoke, fire, clothing and even the cloth on the flags all add up to a splendid procession of movement and celebration. Charlotte is right to label this as a man’s painting. It has a brooding, dark and smokey atmosphere. In fact on second review, it appears almost haunting.
I am glad to have brought this painting to your attention. This is yet another of the innumerable examples of wondrous beautiful things which Charlotte and I enjoy together. Thank you, my dearest, as ever for having introduced me to Holman Hunt.
I should put out there that my darling Charlotte has the most excellent taste in restaurants, among other things, and this suggestion of hers was no exception. In a city suffused with bars serving food and tinnitus, actual restaurants are a rarity. This is one such place. Spacious, not too loud, with no silly music pounding in your ears, Topokki was a winner for me.
In keeping with her excellent taste, Charlotte ordered the star dish of the evening, the beef noodles. The beef was enhanced with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper among other secret ingredients. The sum of this chewy beef with the fondant noodles and crunchy bean sprouts was hearty and scrumptious. I will most assuredly be ordering these on our next visit.
My dish was good but did not reach the snow capped summit heights of Charlotte’s. This also contained beef, but in the bulgogi style, which is a gui (grilled dish) made of thin, marinated slices of meat, most commonly beef, grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle. Sirloin, rib-eye and brisket are used for this dish. I loved this in the ramen. There were pieces of tofu floating around along with what the restaurant describes as fried egg. Regrettably I am not as good a food critic as I appear so I was unable to catalogue the swirling member of my stew, below. Overall, however, this was a potent and completely flavourful dish which quite floored me.
Our drinks consisted of crushed pear juice (very specific 238ml) and Korean citron tea. The latter was exactly the kind of drink I love. I have been a bit lemon obsessed over the last few months. This drink is the most delicious, hearty, warm, citrusy sweet drink. It is the sort of beverage which warms the soul.
Overall I must say this is one of the better economic restaurants I have visited in Birmingham. I am amazed at the consistency in Charlotte’s choices and look forward to her next pick.
Three Favourites are here again. See below three albums covers that have tickled me rather as the month has progressed.
Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath (1980)
There has been a lot of religious art on this blog recently but sometimes it pays to be slightly irreverent. The idea of three angels taking a break from finishing my rosaries when I fall asleep praying, having a fag, is very funny to me. I had not noticed them playing cards before! One of the things which caught my eye on this album was the angels’ shoes. Most of the art on this blog features angels without shoes. What an interesting feature.
Music From the Penguin Cafe – The Penguin Orchestra (1976)
This album was introduced to me by my father. I had forgotten about until Nick and I were flicking through the 1001 albums You Must Hear Before You Die book. This is an excellent album in its own right and contains some superb artwork. HAve a look and be disturbed and amazed in equal measure.
Elvis Presley – self titled – 1956
The picture of the king of rock, early in his career, riffing and having a great time is is very touching. This album cover shows the king in his prime, rocking out. It has made me very happy at the time of writing. Charlotte and I bonded in the beginning of our relationship having dinner at her apartment listening to Elvis’ 1960 album, which I cannot recommend enough.
Well there you have it. Tune in next month for the next covers.