BBC Four broadcast Emma Dante’s beautiful, eccentric, poignant film last night, a deserved winner of the 2020 Italian Golden Globes award. I particularly liked this scene with Franco Battiato’s song Inverno.
THE FLORIST’S SHOP
Our local florist’s had all the girls in today to deal with the rush for Valentine’s Day bouquets. I’ve never seen so many flowers in such a small space, with dozens of bunches ready for collection, the floor ankle-deep in leaves and trimmings and the shop crammed with big, tough men queuing up for their two dozen red roses.
As 14th February is the florists’ busiest day, you’d think that St Valentine would be their patron saint, but he’s not. He’s the patron of love and happy marriage of course, but also of beekeepers, the mentally ill, plague, and epilepsy.
The patron saint of florists is Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (1873 – 1897), popularly known as the Little Flower of Jesus. She was sanctified only in 1925, so the poor, hard-working florists only got themselves a patron a hundred years ago.
WAGNER AND DANCE
After reading my post on Ballet Royal de la Nuit, Ken Ward, who for many years was editor of the international Bruckner Journal, corrected my assertion that dance isn’t part of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk. He pointed out the Tanz der Lehrbuben in Die Meistersinger and the bit of dancing in the Flying Dutchman, and he said that the Rhine maidens, the Valkyries and the Flower Maidens often dance, though not on Wagner’s instructions. He pointed me in the direction of Thomas Grey’s paper in Musicology and Dance, which observed that Wagner – as I suspected – explicitly rejected the traditions of French dance.
“Wagner’s feelings towards dance were double-edged. On the one hand, the composer acknowledged the importance of movement and gesture in the creation of his ideal artwork. Indeed, Wagner sought to play up the two, emphasizing the role of the erotic, sexualized body onstage. On the other hand, Wagner liked to ridicule contemporary ballet. But, to Wagner, ballet’s problematic status did not relate to its explicitly bodily and human aspects. Instead, it was the genre’s association with an institutional context – ballet as produced and consumed at the Paris Opéra – that troubled the composer.”
BALLET ROYAL DE LA NUIT
I don’t usually write about theatre arts, but the realisation of Ballet Royal de la Nuit by Sebastian Daucé and Ensemble Correspondences at Théâtre de Caen (2017) which I’ve just seen is so original and spine-tingling that I thought I might say something about it.
The Ballet Royal de la Nuit was a vast theatrical event mounted in 1653 at the Louvre for the young Louis XIV and his court under the direction of his first minister Mazarin. It was performed throughout the night and lasted about twelve hours. It was intended not just as an entertainment but as a demonstration of the king’s power and of French cultural superiority, and although it was ostensibly for the royal court was performed before the ambassadors of every European kingdom. France had come though the convulsions of the Fronde, Mazarin had returned from the exile to which the Fronde had condemned him and Louis demonstrated his elevation by dancing the part of the Sun, who rose in splendour at the climax of the performance. The memorable presentation of The Sun King was was spoken of throughout Europe for the rest of the century.
In this ballet de la cour song, dance, music, costume and theatrical performance are deliciously combined in a total work of art. (Romantics might need to be reminded that Wagner didn’t include dance in his cut-down version of the Gesamtkunstwerk.) It was performed only once. Despite its fame and splendour, the record of it is fragmentary. There are pictures of the costumes but there isn’t even a complete record of the music, let alone choreography. Sebastian Daucé and his colleagues spent three years reconstructing it.
And so the Ensemble Correspondences performance has had to be conjectural, and it is not possible to see the Ballet Royal as it was once performed and performed once only. But what has been achieved is breathtaking and succeeds in conveying the spirit of Baroque in a 21st-century interpretation that is beautiful, inventive and bizarre. Song dance and circus are combined to make a thing of the present as much a record of the past (period instruments, of course). There are three CDs and a DVD.
THE NEAPOLITAN MAID
This plate caught my eye on an antique stall in Trieste and as it was pretty and unlike any Italian ceramic I’d seen before I bought it. It’s painted in overglaze enamels, not maiolica colours, and is made in a cream body, not pink terracotta.
There’s no makers mark. The Facebook group for Italian pottery and ceramics kindly identified it as made either by the Giustiani factory or the De Vecchio factory in Naples sometime in the early 19th century.
GIARDINO GIUSTI, VERONA
After a few days in hectic, commercial Milan we were quickly seduced by Verona’s quiet charm. Of course it’s also built on commerce, wool-dyeing to be exact. We visited Giardino Guisti, the property of an ancient wool-dyeing family, made on land where they once had their dying vats and next to their palazzo.
The garden is maintained all’antica, preserving the Renaissance tone, with architectural features and references to Classical mythology. There are few flowers or shrubs and the more recent additions of exotic plants have been removed. The garden makes clever use of the hilly site, with a path up to a grotto from where you can look down over the house.
Part of the house is open to the public as The 20th-Century Apartment. It has the slightly shabby, under-curated air typical of private museums.
From 1921 until it was damaged in the war it was the residence of Giovanni and Nora Guisti and their children Francesco, Alfonso and Carlo Alberto. It’s been restored as it was during their occupancy and the style is not of the 20th century but the 19th. Among the silk hangings and ornate furniture are letters from Gabriele d’Annunzio and family photos – albums of holidays in Cornwall captioned in English and this uncaptioned fancy dress party.
There was a time when writers separated every clause and phrase with a comma, but it’s now common practice to reduce commas to a minimum and to eliminate semicolons and colons. The effect is to make prose more informal and fast-moving. Lynn Truss, in her funny and clever book, Eats Shoots and Leaves, is generally in favour of the low comma-count.
As the purpose of writing is to communicate – or it should be, because some people write to impress and bewilder – the only purpose of punctuation is to improve communication. It also aids rhythm, but as the purpose of rhythm is to aid understanding, that amounts to the same thing.
Rules of grammar can help tyros who don’t know how to write. In every field of activity, the absolute beginner doesn’t know the rules, the inexperienced person keeps all the rules and the experienced person breaks the rules.
Apart from the distraction value of Therese Coffey’s laying down the law about the Oxford comma, her instructions suggest a lack of writing experience. Her exhortations to civil servants about clear writing are anachronistic, since Ernest Gowers’ guidance revolutionised official communications sixty years ago. Good writers don’t bother about rules like this.
ARTS AND MANUFACTURES
The Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures was appointed by Parliament in 1835 to ‘enquire into the best means of extending a knowledge of the arts mong the people (especially the manufacturing population) of the country.’ Out of it came the schools of design which evolved into our modern art schools.
Witnesses gave two reasons why British design was inferior to that on the continent, singling out France and Prussia and to a lesser extent Bavaria and Italy. The first was that design education was widespread abroad but absent in this country. The second was the lack of adequate protection in Britain for original designs. There were many talented artisans who made work of high quality, but they had, with few exceptions, no formal education and none in the principles of design. Because of the weakness of patent protection, their work was often copied by other manufacturers and consequently employers were reluctant to employ trained artists at greater expense. Lack of education and lack of protection acted on one another and depressed the quality of British goods. In consequence there was much copying from foreign design.
This evidence from men engaged in manufacture and trade about the depression of design standards tells rather a different story from that told by Ruskin and his followers, who made much of the alleged separation of art from manufacture following industrialisation. That story became central to the Arts and Crafts movement and a trope of design reform until the Second World War. It was, for example, repeated by the Gorell Committee in 1932 and the Council of Industrial Design in the late 1940s. Ruskin, of course, lacked practical experience of manufacturing, but he was an eloquent and persuasive writer. Manufacturers told a different tale: there was no separation of art from manufacture but there was no training for designers and designs did not receive the legal protection they needed.
CLAUDIA CLARE (5)
I wrote earlier about Claudia Clare, the artist whose talk at Ceramic Art London was cancelled in spring, apparently because of her Gender Critical beliefs.
Claudia has now started legal action against the Craft Potters Association on the grounds that in cancelling her they unlawfully discriminated against her. She’s relying on the Forstater judgement, which classes Gender Critical beliefs as a protected characteristic.
This is a significant action for artistic freedom against a creeping Macarthyite tendency to exclude from events and organisations creatives who hold unacceptable views. The case, which Claudia reports on in detail in her blog, is at a preliminary stage where documents are being asked to be put before the court.