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St Martin of Tours

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St Martin of Tours

November 11th is St Martin of Tours day and is celebrated all over the world. He was born in Pannonia in modern-day Hungary. Martinus served in a Roman cavalry unit as a horseman and travelled across Europe.

Bishop and the Geese

He converted to Christianity at an early age and at some point before 361 AD he left the army and joined the cult of Hilary of Poitiers.

In 371 AD he was consecrated as the bishop of Tours. It wasn’t his first choice of job and to avoid being appointed he tried hiding in a shed full of geese.

St Martin’s cloak

Another tale relating to St Martin tells how when encountering a beggar at the gates of Amiens he cut off a length of his cloak so that the poor man could warm himself.

As well as patron of the poor and geese, St Martin also takes care of wine makers, inn keepers, soldiers and tailors.  During the Middle Ages a remnant of his cloak was carried into battle. The people responsible for looking after the relic were called “Cappellanu”, and the name was used for all priests who accompanied soldiers in battle. In French this became “Chapelains” and eventually  the English “Chaplain”.

Ancient Twitter Feed

TwitterWindow

Covfefe Tweet

The medieval Twitter post is taken from York Minster where there are lots of stained glass windows of birds. Some of these have scrolls coming out of their mouths with Latin text.

Trump Tweet

I thought it made a funny juxtaposition, the idea that these were very early tweets. After all medieval leaded lights were called the poor man’s bible and used as a way of communicating religious messages.

So here we have the traditional Twitter bird drawn in an 11th century style, with a scroll coming out if its mouth quoting the famous Trump nonsensical “covfefe” tweet of 2018. The comment, love, retweet and share buttons have also been given a retro look.

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King John Tweet

#Magna Carta

Next I decided to look at a historical incident from a modern communications stand point. So I chose a tweet about the signing of the Magna Carta, in 1215, at Runnymede. The war between King John and the 25 Barons was finally ended with this treaty. I liked the idea of him referring to this important, historic scroll, in a Trumpesque way, as a “big document”, with the hashtag “Magna Carta”. The idea that the barons like it and then the 25 of them shared King John’s tweet is amusing.

The image of the bird is taken from a stained glass window in the Zouche Chapel at York Minster. However, I’ve painted it blue to represent the Twitter logo. The share, love and comment buttons are pretty much the same as the earlier ones, while the retweet is slightly different. The image combines both the elements of the cathedral’s leaded light and the Twitter format giving it a fascinating mixing of eras.

 

Religious Painting for the 21st Century

Religious imagery has always reflected its time. Not just the painterly rules governing its style but also the environment, fashion and setting. It was during the Byzantine period that the church lay down certain regulations on how religious topics could be painted.

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Modern day St John the Apostle

#Church

The church dictated how things were portrayed, what constituted suitable subject matter and even the choice of colours. There were conventions that had to be adhered to and how images were painted was heavily regulated.

Despite all of this the pictures are of the age. The clothes, the hairstyles and the equipment are most definitely from the Medieval age.

Renaissance painting

The same is true when we reach the Renaissance period. Although the rules had started to relax, there are certain things that are definitively from the 1500s. The style, landscape and buildings all indicate a particular moment in time.

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Saint Xanthippa

If you look at religious paintings through the ages, this holds true. There is always an element or two that places the painting in a specific era. They will all feature Jesus, an angel, the saints and the Madonna but they also show off religions relevant to their age.

#Fake News

We are in the time of mass communication with icons, labels and brands. Social media speaks to the masses with fake prophets and the devil inside is only a #smiley face away. So how can we represent religion effectively in the 21st century?

We use hashtags all the time, our conversations are peppered with emoticons and emojis. Why not use these iconic symbols as a way of depicting the age old images of religion?  Make the ROFL image our repentant saint. Why can’t saint Elijah have #cave as his marker?

Sponsoring Church

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Saint Catherine of Alexandria

When Simone Martini painted his beautiful drapery on his saints, do you think he made up the patterns on each fabric, or did he have a deal with a local cloth merchant? There shouldn’t be anything wrong with incorporating the merchants of our time. Such as IKEA furniture, H&M clothing or modern buildings.

Religion isn’t a static thing it changes over time and so does how it is portrayed. Today’s religious paintings should echo our own time and reflect on the concerns and styles and ways of communicating. After all isn’t that what religion is all about, communicating?

At Death’s Door in Assisi

DSCN7333The phrase “at death’s door” is synonymous with being seriously ill. When someone is looking really under the weather you’ll often hear, “Oh! he’s at death’s door”. While the meaning is quite obvious, where exactly is this deadly door.

Bad luck

DSCN7329So! during the middle ages and beyond it was considered bad luck to take the corpse from a house using the main entrance. Seriously ill people or the recently departed were laid out in the front parlour. From here, there was a smaller door next to the front door that led into the street. It was through this which the dead person in their coffin could be passed.

Death’s door

These doors of the dead are easy to recognise as they are only half doors and were built with a stone ledge to support the coffin as it was DSCN7343removed from the house. The body could be balanced here while everything was made ready for their last journey.

Ghostly image

I’ve been walking around the many medieval cities of Italy, and most recently, during my research for Assisi. As you explore the town you can make out the ghostly remains of these bricked up doors in the walls of the houses.

Others have been put to use and turned into shop display windows or now form entrances to another part of the building. Looking around I do wonder how many of the people using these entrances or pricing up trinkets realise that daily they pass through death’s door.

The Artists and Poets at Marmore

 

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Jacob Hackert

For over two millennia the Cascata delle Marmore has been a source of inspiration and wonder to many. Artists, poets and engineers have all paid a visit to this man-made waterfall and marvelled at its spectacle.

Originally constructed in 271 BC to drain the stagnant waters in the Riete Valley which, were believed to harbour malaria and caused death and destruction in the local area. The waterfalls are comprised of three drops over which the Velino River plunges into the wooded basin below and joins the River Nera.

Roman beginings

From its earliest days the falls have held a fascination for creative spirits and in the 19 century BC, the famous Roman poet, Virgil mentions Marmore, in his epic poem The Aeneid. 
“A valley of dark woodland and in the trees,
a river that roars and falls over big rocks.”
 
Dante Alighieri, poet and proclaimed father of Modern Italian, talks about the Cascata delle Marmore in song XX of Paradise, where he says
“Udir seemed to me a river mormorar – that came down clear stone, stone down –
that showing the uberta of his cacume.”
 
F.-Towne-1799-La-cascata-di-Terni

F Towne

Romantic views

The waterfalls at Marmore were a great source to the Romantic poets and painters, with the likes of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Wordsworth all paying visits to them during their Grand Tours.
In his poem the “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage“, Bryon writes –
” The roar of the waters – from the headlong height 
Velino cleaves the wave torn precipice,
The fall of waters! where they howl and hiss and boil in endless torture,
while the sweat of their great agony wrung out from this
Their Phlegethon, curls round the rocket of jet
that gird the gulph around the pitiless horror set.”
 
Talking in a letter, of his time at the falls, Shelley says –
“I saw the Cascata del Marmore of Terni twice, at different periods. Once from the summit of the precipice and again from the valley below. The lower view is fat to be preferred.”
 
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Leonardo da Vinci 1473

Renaissance painters

Painters also came to the luscious countryside around Terni to capture the verdant beauty of Valle Nera.  One of the first being the great Leonardo da Vinci, who sketched the area in 1473.  In the mid-17th century, the Neapolitan artist, Salvator Rosa set up his easel at the base of the waterfall as did the early English Impressionist painter, JMW Turner, who traveled through Umbria in 1819 and took time out at Marmore.
Others who, with their pallet and brushes in hand, have explored and recorded the area include Camille Corot in 1826, Joseph Anton Koch, Giuseppe Vasi, Jacob Hackert, Abraham Teerlink, Thomas Patch in 1745 and Rosa da Tivoli.
Cascade of Terni 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

JMW Turner sketch 1819

Classic authors

The author, Charles Dickens recalled his time at the falls in 1846 in his book “Pictures of Italy”. Architect and theorist, Eugene Viollet le Duc commented that “the waterfall is wonderful“.
While children’s story book writer Hans Christian Anderson said that
“the huge mass of water rushed from the top of the mountain to the rock“.
This dark, roaring and rugged landscape has been the focus of many an artists hue and poets turn of phrase. Over the years it has brought out the creative spirit in many and should you find yourself in Umbria, I urge you to take advantage of the chance and visit this inspirational wonder.

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The Geometry of Gothic Stained Glass

Gothic ArchWhile preparing for the new series of stained glass courses I got to thinking about the design work that went into Gothic cathedral tracery. These stone pillars support and divide the leaded lights and so wonderfully illuminate, both physically and metaphorically, these old buildings.

Medieval stained glass

Looking over photographs of Chartres and York Minster cathedrals my mind wandered back to my mathematics and technical drawing classes at school. After all, much of the beauty in these old windows owes itself to the mathematical principles of the golden mean and the sacred geometry.

GothicWindowWhether you believe in Divine design or not, there is much satisfaction, to be gained in observing how the craftsmen of old put these windows together. Look at any Gothic stained glass window and you will see an array of equilateral triangles, circles and squares all delicately put together to form perfect symmetry.

 

Window geometry

 

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These simple shapes are flipped, rotated and reversed in a complicated format to produce the awe inspiring lights we see in churches across the globe. It is fascinating how with nothing more than a compass and straight edge you can copy these designs and create your own Gothic, Norman or Tudor arches.

GothicTracery

Strike an arc, join the intersecting points and you’ve got an arch Rotate a circle three or four times and you have perfect trefoils and cinquefoils. The repetition of of our most earliest geometric exercises at school allow us to accurately replicate the stained glass windows of the Medieval artisans.

Next time you find yourself beneath a perfectly constructed rose window, have a look at the way the shapes were constructed. A marvelous combination of straightforward geometrical shapes, creatively assembled.

If you would be interested in finding out more about stained glass courses in Italy please email me at:  travellingcontent@gmail.com

 

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Swedish Furniture in Medieval Manuscript

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IKEA Medieval Bedroom – watercolor and ink, 21 cm x 29 cm (For Sale)

SpaDayI’ve always loved the works of the International Gothic period. A time when conventions were being broken and new techniques explored. Artists in this era were busy exploring ways to represent three dimensions, trying out different ways of painting trees and attempting to understand the nature of water.

Modern Medieval

The thought behind this current crop of works is to take the idea of these magnificent rooms and fill them with modern furniture. I found it amusing

IKEA lamp

IKEA Dudero lamp

playing with how someone like Simone Martini might paint a modern IKEA chair or see how his bed spreads would look on a Hemnes bed.

Using a typical palette of the day and acrylic gold paint gives these watercolours a wonderful sense of a Medieval artist’s take on the modern world. Living in Italy it’s not difficult to find 700 year old buildings so the only garish thing is to fill their ancient rooms with cheap, modern furniture. This I’m sure happens all over the country, not everyone can afford or will like antique furnishings.

Swedish furniture

The aim is to continue in this way, creating bathrooms, sitting rooms, kitchens and dining rooms, all featuring IKEA furniture within a medieval surrounding. Each will have bold, bright colours and dark or golden backgrounds, giving them a dramatic effect. Obviously if people want their own lounges recreated in a period fashion, I’d happily look at that too.

Fingers crossed for a fun time. 🙂