Salon Archive

Issue: 88

Weekly meeting report

At this week's meeting, Alan Ball told Fellows that cities were forever renewing themselves in a cycle of destruction and construction. Taking this as his theme, along with the related strands of work and industry, Alan then showed Fellows a series of illustrations drawn largely from the work of artists working in England in the twentieth-century, but with excursions further afield.

A full report on last week’s meeting can be read on the Fellows’ side of the Society’s website.

Forthcoming meetings

6 May: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Early English Patronage and Collecting, by Dr Elizabeth Goldring

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died in 1588 leaving one of the largest collections of paintings and other works of art in Elizabethan England. This lecture examines the varied uses to which the numerous surviving inventories of this collection may be put, not only to identify which extant paintings were in Leicester’s collection, but also to shed new light on the dates and interpretations of these paintings. One such case will be considered in detail: a portrait traditionally identified as depicting Leicester’s nephew, Sir Robert Sidney (1563—1626). New archival findings suggest that the portrait may be read as an image of Robert mourning the death of his elder brother (and Elizabethan England’s model poet-courtier), Sir Philip Sidney (1554—86).

13 May: Ballot

20 May: The Jesus Chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral: a reconstruction of its appearance before the Reformation, by Dr Elizabeth New

Medieval St Paul's Cathedral was largely destroyed in 1666, but work by historians and archaeologists (particularly in recent years culminating in the publication in April 2004 of a new history to mark the 1,400th anniversary of the bishopric of London) has established many details regarding the structure and organisation of the capital's lost medieval cathedral. This paper focuses upon one area within Old St Paul's: the Jesus Chapel in the eastern crypt. Utilising a variety of cross-disciplinary sources, in particular the records of the Dean and Chapter and of the Jesus Guild which occupied the chapel from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-sixteenth centuries, a new reconstruction of the interior of the crypt chapel will be proposed. Particular attention will be paid to the furnishings and fittings, and also to the ways in which the Jesus Guild and others used this space for religious services, meetings and burials.

Flying Scotsman not first to reach 100mph

Salon’s editor thought twice last week before including the item on the Flying Scotsman, wondering whether railway history counted as an antiquarian interest. He need not have worried: he has received more emails on this topic than any other in Salon’s history — all pointing out Salon was guilty (along with most of the UK’s press) of perpetuating the myth that the Flying Scotsman was the first steam engine to break the 100 mph barrier. Clearly there are many Fellows with a well-informed interest in the subject.

In fact, the City of Truro was the first engine to ‘do a ton’. Built at the GWR Swindon Works in May 1903, the engine reached a top speed of just over 102mph in May 1904 as it descended a gradient at Whiteball in Somerset while hauling a train of ocean mails from Plymouth to London. The 101-year-old steam locomotive has recently been the subject of a �130,000 overhaul to put it back into working order and, like the Flying Scotsman, the City of Truro will be taking part in this year’s Railfest celebrations to mark the railway bicentenary. Further information about the City of Truro is available at the Gloucestershire–Warwickshire Railway website.

Last train pulls out of St Pancras

Here is another railway story for all those Fellows who are interested in transport heritage. A significant moment in the history of St Pancras was reached on 9 April when the last Midlands-bound passenger train departed from the massive Grade I-listed train-shed, closing a chapter on more than 130 years of railway history. In the short term, Midlands-bound trains will depart from an interim station to the rear of the old station while an entirely new station is built further west. St Pancras itself is undergoing a �310-million reconstruction in readiness for Eurostar services to begin in 2007.

The train shed, built in 1868 by the Midland Railway's chief engineer, William Barlow, has a glass and cast-iron roof, measuring 700ft long, 245ft wide and rising 100ft above the platforms, forming the largest clear-span enclosure in the world at the time of its completion. The roof will be restored, re-glazed and repainted. The grimy yellow iron trusses will be returned to their original striking sky blue. Sir George Gilbert Scott's exuberant Midland Grand Hotel, with its flamboyant spires and towers, is being converted into loft-style flats, while a new hotel is being constructed round the corner opposite the British Library.

The only sour note is the Eurostar operating company’s decision to change the station’s name, on the questionable grounds that this is necessary to increase understanding of its location among Continental travellers. ‘London Central’ is one of the new names being suggested, along with ‘London Fasttrack’ and ‘Union Station’. Newspaper correspondents have suggested that (by analogy with Waterloo) ‘Agincourt’ and ‘Crecy’ might be more appropriate!

Battle to save ‘people's palace’ hotel

Another of London’s landmarks is under threat of redevelopment of a less benign kind. According to a report in The Times, written by our Fellow Marcus Binney, the newspaper’s Architecture Correspondent, the Crown Estate Commissioners are set on demolishing one of London’s most popular and flourishing historic hotels — the Regent Palace Hotel, which is located just north west of Piccadilly Circus.

Built in 1915, the French baroque Regent Palace was conceived as a ‘people's palace’ hotel, offering luxury on a budget. True to its origins, the 920-bedroom hotel still offers a basic room for �64 (or less on the web), which is why it is almost always fully booked. Under the proposed redevelopment, the site will be cleared to make way for a much more expensive five-star hotel, plus 1 million square feet of offices and shops.

Rather like the London Ritz the Regent Palace Hotel is built in the French Beaux-Arts style — with an abundance of escutcheons, medallions, cherubs and beefy Louis XVI brackets — except that it is faced in white faience in a departure from the Crown Estate Commissioners’ usual stipulation that Portland stone must be used (prompted by the trouble they had with Nash’s stucco).

One of the more remarkable external features is the Venetian ‘bridge of sighs’, sailing high above the street and leading to an extension across the road. Ironically, there were protests when this extension was built because it involved the demolition of Hickford’s Concert Room, the main concert venue in the West End in the mid-eighteenth century and the venue for a recital on 13 May 1765, by the nine-year-old Mozart and his sister. The Encyclopaedia Britannica of the day lamented the demolition of the building and the ‘deplorable disregard of its unique interest and historical associations’.

The architects of the main hotel — W J Ancell and Sir Henry Tanner — also created a domed corner entrance imposing enough to stand on one of the grand boulevards of central Paris. Originally there was a Louis XIV restaurant and Winter Garden here, as well as a splendid circular entrance hall. These have gone, but the 1915 grill room survives in the basement — now the Atlantic Grill — as has an exceptional series of Art Deco interiors by Oliver Bernard, restored as recently as 1994 by David Connor, including the splendid bar, still with its Jazz Age carpet and large circular columns, and the Chez-cup Bar — partly in the round with bold horizontal stripes of walnut veneer and steel strip, reminiscent of a cinema.

The 20th-Century Society is calling for the hotel to be listed and has described the redevelopment proposal as ‘highly objectionable’, while Save Britain's Heritage said: ‘It seems unbelievable that this building could not be converted — with a little imagination — into a hotel of the highest quality.’ A spokesman for the hotel has also said: ‘We are profitable and we would like to carry on as we are’. The Crown Estate has asked Westminster Council's permission to demolish the hotel. The Council says it expects to make a decision later this year.

Bell-makers oppose plans to list more ancient bells

A plan to change the way church bells are listed has been criticised by Britain's two remaining bell foundries because they fear that designation will make it more difficult for them to carry out tuning, repairs and recasting work. The proposal to double the number of listed bells has come from the Council for the Care of Churches, which says that listing criteria have not been reviewed since the 1930s. The new criteria would list all bells cast before 1600, all ‘good quality bells’ made between 1600 and 1750, bells with ‘interesting features’ and those made after 1851 that have ‘rings of excellence’ or which are ‘significant examples of technical innovation’. The Council says this would double the number of listed bells but that this would still only account for 3 per cent of the total.

Lined up in opposition to the plan are the Whitechapel Bell Foundry — the UK's oldest manufacturing company — and John Taylor Bellfounders in Loughborough, Leicestershire, which traces its origins to master founders working in the area in the fourteenth century. They are concerned that the proposals will lead to a drop in business of such a magnitude that it could force them out of business. Much of their work comes from correcting faults in ancient bells to tune them, a process that can involve adding or removing metal. A spokesman for John Taylor Bellfounders said: ‘The Council wants to treat bells as artefacts rather than as musical instruments ... church bells are the most widely heard musical instrument and it would be like never tuning a church organ. If they are so worried about conservation and preservation, what about protecting bell foundries that have been working for hundreds of years?’

The Council says a balance is needed between preserving historic bells and allowing ringing to develop. It has also pointed out that its lists are advisory and do not have statutory force.

Conservators made redundant and then shortlisted for award

Conservation work carried out on the huge and dramatic Victorian painting of the Battle of Hastings that hangs on the wall of the Battle Abbey school hall has been shortlisted for the Pilgrim Trust award. The news of the nomination is ‘not without its ironic aspect’, however. As Maev Kennedy reported in The Guardian, English Heritage has just announced the redundancy of the conservators responsible and the closure of its Regents Park conservation studio (a new, but smaller, facility will operate from a base in south London in its place).

The closure is part of a wider pattern of contracting-out at English Heritage, which is affecting staff in all parts of the organisation. Rather than supporting a large complement of full-time staff, English Heritage is switching its resources into buying services from external suppliers — not just in conservation, but also in archaeological and architectural field survey, for example. Edward Impey, FSA, Director of Research and Standards at English Heritage, explained that the strategy was for EH to become ‘an expert and informed client’.

As for the painting shortlisted for the Pilgrim Trust award, it is a 27ft x 17ft canvas by FW Wilkin commissioned by Sir Godfrey Vassal Webster for Battle Abbey, which was then his family home. The huge painting was later put into store and the conservators had to deal with the consequences of 140 years of neglect before it could once again be winched into place on the Great Hall wall.

English Heritage restructures its regional presence

English Heritage is also reorganising the management of its regional office network. In place of the existing nine Regional Directors and nine Assistant Directors, there will be thirteen new posts. Nine of the new posts will still be called Regional Director but the jobs will have a revised role, combining casework delivery under the planning system and relationships with other regional bodies. They will report to four new Planning and Development Directors for the North (combining the North East, North West and Yorkshire offices), South (London and the South East), East (East Midlands and East of England) and West (South West and West Midlands). Stephen Bee, Director of Planning and Developments at English Heritage, says that the aim is to strengthen regional delivery, sharpen English Heritage’s strategic role in the planning system and engage more constructively at an earlier stage in the process, with the aim of having a greater influence on the results.

Tony Blair praises British Library project

Not noted for his enthusiasm for any part of the heritage (unlike his deputy, who is a great fan of inland waterways), the Prime Minister singled out the British Library’s ‘Turning the Pages’ project in a speech last week, hailing it as a ‘magnificent example’ of what the internet could achieve in ‘opening access to a broad spectrum of our cultural heritage’.

‘Turning the Pages’ is a site featuring electronic facsimiles of ten of the Library’s greatest and rarest literary treasures, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to the world's earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra. The facsimiles are so real that the pages appear to crinkle as they are turned by mouse clicks. Small details, such as the cat on the opening page of the Lindisfarne Gospel of St Luke, are revealed by a zoom facility. The zoom also shows the glee on the faces of the devils and lascivious women who torment St Anthony in the Sforza Hours, a book of hours commissioned by the Duchess of Sforza in the 1490s.

Other books on the website are the Luttrell Psalter (1590), the fourteenth-century Hebrew Golden Haggadah from Spain, the Sherborne Missal of around 1400, Sultan Baybars' Koran of 1306, Elizabeth Blackwell's Herbal of 1737—9, and Andreas Vesalius's Anatomy from the sixteenth century.

To see ‘Turning the Pages’, go to www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/digitisation.html. The site requires a Macromedia Shockwave plug-in, which can easily be downloaded from the same site.

Morris tapestry sells for record �180,000

An anonymous buyer from London has paid �180,000 (double the expected price) at auction in Edinburgh for a William Morris tapestry called Greenery, depicting a woodland scene. The tapestry attracted world-wide interest from museums and private collectors. The Fine Arts Society of London went as high as �170,000 before bowing out to the successful bidder.

Greenery was commissioned in 1892 by Percy Wyndham, the politician and art connoisseur, for his new house, ‘Clouds’, near Salisbury. The house was designed by Philip Webb for Wyndham between 1881 and 1886 and the interiors, costing �27,000 and paid for by an insurance claim after the place had been gutted by fire, were all by Morris.

The tapestry was woven at the firm’s Merton Abbey workshops in Surrey. It depicts three trees — a pear, sweet chestnut and an oak — with rabbits, deer and a fox, and is inscribed with a Morris poem called The Forest. In 1905 a copy was made, which now hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The tapestry was at ‘Clouds’ for forty years before being sold back to Morris & Co in June 1933. The company then sold it to Mrs Lucius Gubbins for �250 and it has remained in her family since, hanging in a castle in north-east Scotland. The high price paid for the piece reflects the fact that it had been well looked after.

Ice-Age art: all dancing girls and hunting

At the international conference held at Creswell Crags (Nottinghamshire, England) in mid-April, Paul Pettitt, of Sheffield University's archaeology department, said that the newly discovered cave paintings at Creswell placed Britain in the mainstream of a continental culture spanning France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. He added that the core preoccupations of this north European culture were not much different from those of tabloid newspapers and their readers today: sport (in this case hunting rather than football) and dancing girls.

Paul Pettitt, one of the three archaeologists who discovered the paintings, said that the artists behind the Creswell paintings would have spent summers in the Nottingham area in pursuit of migrating reindeer, but in winter they returned to the lowlands which now form the North Sea, the Netherlands and the Rhine areas. They would have kept in close contact, possibly through yearly meetings, with people in the middle Rhine, the Ardennes forest and the Dordogne, and art helped to reaffirm their common cultural affiliations.

Of particular interest is a depiction of an ibex, an animal that features in the paintings, even though not one Ice-Age ibex bone has been found in Britain, the nearest ibex remains being from Belgium and mid-Germany. It is possible that the Creswell cave painters were following an artistic tradition rather than painting from life.

Other shapes found at Creswell were initially thought to be long-necked birds. ‘But’, Paul said, ‘looked at another way, you see a naked woman in profile, with jutting out buttocks and raised arms. It appears to be a picture of women doing a dance in which they thrust out their derri�res. It's stylistically very similar to continental examples, and seems to demonstrate that Creswellians are singing and dancing in the same way as on the continent.’

Images of the cave art can be seen on the Creswell Crags website.

Biography throws light on the personal story behind the Elgin Marbles

A new biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, reveals the extent to which her wealth and charms were involved in securing the Parthenon marbles (named after her husband) for the British Museum. Based on Nisbet’s private papers, letters and diaries, the biography (by Susan Nagel and called Mistress of the Elgin Marbles) suggests that it was Mary who persuaded the Sultan Selim III to part with the marbles, ostensibly as a reward for Britain’s victory against the French in Egypt. ‘I found it necessary to use my persuasive powers ... female eloquence as usual succeeded’, she wrote triumphantly to her husband of their acquisition. Mary is also said to have cajoled a sceptical British naval captain into ferrying the massive blocks home even though his vessel was supposed to be on a war footing in the Mediterranean.

After bearing Lord Elgin five children in six years, their marriage ended in divorce when Mary fell in love with his best friend, Robert Ferguson. Without the divorce, it is possible that the marbles would have remained in private hands. Elgin expected to hold on to much of his wife’s substantial fortune. Instead, he became so short of money that he sold the marbles to the British government in 1816 for far less than the cost of rescuing them.

Sistine Chapel sketches by Michelangelo surface at the Prado

Nicholas Turner, a former curator of the British Museum in London and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and Paul Joannides, a Michelangelo scholar from Cambridge University, have rediscovered two Michelangelo drawings, identifying them for the first time as studies for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The unpublished sketches in black chalk, found in the archives of the Prado museum in Madrid, match two of the figures in The Last Judgment (1536—41).

One of the drawings, a study of a man’s muscular right shoulder, chest and upper arm, relates to the demon carrying a woman, a damned soul, over his shoulder, at the lower right of The Last Judgment. The other, a depiction of a man’s arm hanging down, is a preliminary sketch for a male figure who is bending forward and reaching down. Both drawings were part of a collection of 3,000 Old Master drawings bequeathed to the Prado in 1930 by the Spanish connoisseur Pedro Fern�ndez Dur�n.

Neither drawing has been published or exhibited before. Although kept in a box marked ‘Michelangelo and his circle’, they had not been studied because they did not appear in any of the existing literature on the artist.

Barely three dozen sketches have survived from Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel. Writing about the rediscovered sheets in the Prado’s scholarly Bulletin, Mr Turner and Dr Joannides describe the studies as rapidly drawn figures that, in the middle and late period of his career, Michelangelo may have executed by the hundred. The drawings will be included in an exhibition at the museum in November.

Crucifixion also claimed as newly discovered work by Michelangelo

A polychrome wooden carving of Christ on the Cross (which will go on show in the Museo Horne in Florence in May 2004) is being claimed as another previously unidentified work by Michelangelo. Professors Luciano Bellosi of the University of Siena, Umberto Baldini of the University of Florence and Giancarlo Gentilini of the University of Perugia all believe that Michelangelo carved the figure when he was about twenty years old.

The figure of Christ is said to display an ‘impressively precise’ grasp of anatomy for the period, leading the three Italian art experts to suggest that it might be the Crucifix that Michelangelo is supposed to have given the monks of Santo Spirito in Florence in return for their help in making it possible for him to carry out dissections of corpses in their hospital in secret at night. On the basis of his own experience, Michelangelo later felt confident that he could tell just by looking at another artist's work whether or not he had ever dissected a body.

Italy's newest political party aims to protect the country’s culture

A former under-secretary at the Italian Ministry of Culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, has announced that he is launching a new political party — the Party of Beauty and Reason — on the single issue of protecting Italy's culture from depredation. Described as ‘a former professor of art history with a deep and visceral disdain for most things modern’, Mr Sgarbi has campaigned successfully to prevent museums being built around the Temple of Augustus in Rome and alongside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Mr Sgarbi resigned from the government over plans by the Minister of Culture to sell off many of Italy's thousands of cultural assets.

But will he be able to stem the tide of Italian corruption?
Italian law forbids the building of any new building at or near the site of Agrigento's Valley of the Temples in the south west of Sicily — one of Italy's most magnificent and important heritage sites whose Greek temples, built by colonists from Rhodes and elsewhere since the sixth century BC, are unrivalled outside Greece proper.

Yet Agrigento’s temples are hemmed in by hundreds of illegal modern buildings, large and small, and earlier this month proposals to build a gigantic new shopping complex at the site collapsed only because the two developers behind the plan were arrested on suspicion of paying large bribes to politicians and civil servants to obtain the necessary permits.

Even now there are many in the town who want the scheme to go ahead, saying they ‘support the project, though not the developers’, because it is claimed that it will create 400 jobs. But Giuseppe Arnone, a lawyer in Agrigento who is heading up the efforts of environmentalists to halt the depredation of the town, says the project ‘contravenes every norm’.

Agrigento is not an isolated example: Legambiente, the environmental protection organisation that Mr Arnone works for, says that last year’s Government amnesty for buildings erected illegally since the end of World War II has sent the wrong signals, and that in the last two years alone, illegal buildings have been constructed on 5.4 million square metres of land with a value of 2.7bn euros (�1.8bn).

At the other end of the country, SAVE Europe’s Heritage and the Landmark Trust, along with Italia Nostra and WWF Italia, are campaigning against the construction of a motorway through the flatlands of the Veneto that will pass close to some of Palladio’s best-preserved villas. Those members of a state commission appointed to make an environmental impact assessment of the project who voted against the motorway’s construction were recently sacked by the government, an act described by our Fellow, Marcus Binney, as ‘an appalling scandal by Berlusconi and Co to gain a favourable verdict ... it must be fought and fought and outside help is needed’. SAVE is gathering signatures for a petition opposing the motorway: details are available by email from SAVE.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage Annual Book Fair

SAVE’s annual book fair for heritage organisations, big and small, will take place on 20 May 2004 from noon to 7pm at The Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street (opposite Farringdon tube station), London EC1. Wine will be available from 6pm so that people can also use this as a networking opportunity. If you would like to take part as an exhibitor or bookseller, further information is available from SAVE. SAVE also asks anyone with a newsletter or events listings to advertise the fair as widely as possible.

Public seminar to celebrate England’s wetland archaeology.

English Heritage is hosting a public seminar on 8 May 2004, from 11am to 4.45pm, at the London Wetlands Centre, Barnes, under the title: Fragile Archives of History: wetlands, archaeology and past landscapes. A panel of distinguished speakers (all of them Fellows) will give illustrated talks about archaeological wetland projects across Britain and ask what are the threats to their survival and how can we manage wetlands to care for their future?

The cost is a mere �10 per person: please telephone 0870 333 1183 to book.

Books by Fellows

The Revd Dr David H Williams has written to inform Fellows that his latest book has just been published. The Five Wounds of Jesus (ISBN 0 85244 620 9, �6.99, published by Gracewing, 2 Southern Avenue, Leominster HR6 OQF) is both devotional and historical, and seeks to trace the history of devotion to the Five Wounds of Jesus. The plates include several medieval images of the wounds from Wales.

Antiquarian howlers

Claude Blair, FSA, writes to ask: ‘Have you ever thought of running an occasional feature with a title something like “Antiquarian Howlers”? I thought of this last night when I watched — briefly — the BBC 1 programme “Wren — the Man Who Built Britain”. It included the following: Dean of St Paul's discussing his design for the new one with Wren. “I was very fond of the old cathedral. Can't you make this a little more Gothic?”

‘Perhaps of less interest to some Fellows was a close-up shot in a reconstruction of a siege of 1695 in the “Russia: Land of the Tsars” programme on Channel 4 on Saturday of a soldier placing a percussion-cap on the nipple of a musket. The percussion system wasn't invented until 1807, and the percussion-cap only came into regular use in the 1820s!’

(PS: Further contributions along these lines would be very welcome.)

The Society’s apartments on TV

BBC2 will be broadcasting ‘Handel's Water Music: Recreating a Royal Spectacular’ on 8 May 2004. Parts of this documentary were filmed at the Society’s Burlington House apartments earlier this year.

Vacancies

English Heritage, Historic Areas Adviser for the London Region
Salary �30,000, closing date 19 May 2004

As Historic Areas Adviser, you will need the knowledge and flexibility to deal with a wide range of conservation issues, including proposals for individual buildings, regeneration policies and strategic objectives. Ideally with a degree and/or postgraduate qualification in a conservation-related subject, you must have sound buildings and areas conservation experience gained in either the private or public sector. A thorough knowledge of historic buildings and areas of all periods will be essential, together with familiarity with statutory procedures and the role of other conservation bodies and professionals. Further details from Charlotte Butcher, Human Resources Department, English Heritage, Room 409, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET, quoting reference number LON/44/04 and enclosing a self-addressed A4 envelope (no stamp needed).

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Government Art Collection, Curator: Collections Projects
Salary up to �33,000, closing date 19 May 2004

The Government Art Collection needs someone with a knowledge of twentieth-century art to join the team of fifteen that looks after a Collection of around 12,000 British works of art. Further details are available on the recruitment page of the Government Art Collection website.

National Trust, Historic Properties Director
Salary c �65,000, closing date 2 June 2004

Working closely with the Land Use Director and the Director of Conservation (to whom the post reports), the Historic Properties Director is responsible for ensuring that the Trust’s strategy of combining conservation with access is reflected seamlessly in the work of a team of specialists including archaeologists, curators, gardens and parks advisers and conservators. For further details, send an email to Zoe Broderick.