Tolstoy’s War and Peace as BBC TV series


This video series says about itself:

The BBC’s War & Peace

Twenty part drama of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel. The Rostov family prepares to celebrate the name-day of Countess Rostova and her younger daughter, Natalia, nicknamed Natasha.

First broadcast in 1972/3 this was one of the BBC’s earliest historical drama series for colour television. Stretching into a mammoth 26 episodes if memory serves, it received only a luke-warm reception and never really garnered much interest from the viewing public. The original series was heavily edited into 20 parts and re-broadcast a few years later, but it never really caught on.

This upload is the 20 episodes version. Very much a novelty at the time, colour TV across our measly three television channels in the UK was all the rage. The broadcast of episode 1 coincided with the arrival of our first colour TV at home. War & Peace became something of an obsession with me at the time and I could never understand why it had such a dismal reception. The modern viewer might spot a few familiar faces and wonder what ever happened to them. There might be one or two faces that went on to find greater fame and fortune.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace dramatized in a new television series

11 February 2016

Leo Tolstoy’s titanic novel War and Peace has received a new adaptation by the BBC and is now airing globally. Directed by British filmmaker Tom Harper, the serialized television production stars American actor Paul Dano and British actors Lily James, James Norton, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea in leading roles as part of a large, predominantly UK cast.

This video from Britain says about itself:

Lily James: New BBC drama the best adaptation of War and Peace

14 December 2015

Former Downton Abbey star Lily James has swapped one period drama for another, as she plays Natasha Rostova in what the Cinderella actress describes as the most truthful and faithful adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Lily stars alongside James Norton and Jim Broadbent in the six part drama of the Russian writer’s depiction of the Napoelonic wars.

The Joanne Laurier article continues:

Tolstoy, one of the greatest of the great Russian fiction writers of the 19th century, was born in 1828, three years after the Decembrist Revolt in which a group of officers rose up in one of the first open struggles against tsarism. He died November 20, 1910, five years after the 1905 Revolution in Russia and seven years before the October Revolution. Tolstoy’s other great works include Anna Karenina (1877) and Resurrection (1899).

His epic War and Peace, first published in its entirety in 1869, is set during the period of the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) and the French invasion of Russia. It follows the members of several Russian aristocratic families as they seek to survive the confusing, frenzied, bloody times.

The eight-hour miniseries opens in 1805 in St. Petersburg, as Napoleon’s victories and his army’s conquest of significant portions of western Europe are having an increasing impact on Russian life. Many of the central characters are introduced at an upper crust social gathering. Among them is Pierre Bezukhov (Dano), awkward but amiable, and initially a supporter of the French leader: “Napoleon’s a great man! He stood above the revolution, he put an end to its abuses and kept all that was good about it! You see good in revolution, sir? The equality of all citizens, freedom of speech, liberty, equality, fraternity, these are ideas we could learn from in Russia.”

Pierre looks on with disgust at the room’s “overfed aristocrats.” The illegitimate son of a wealthy count, he will soon become the object of intrigue for the sinister Prince Vassily Kuragin (Rea), who makes an unsuccessful attempt to suppress the will that names Pierre the inheritor of his father’s vast estate.

Another guest at the party is Pierre’s friend Andrei Bolkonsky (Norton), the intelligent and ambitious son of retired military commander Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky (Broadbent). Also present are the Rostovs, a noble, but down-on-their-luck Moscow family that includes a vivacious daughter Natasha (James), a quiet niece Sonya (Aisling Loftus) and a son Nikolai (Jack Lowden), who has just joined the army commanded by the veteran General Kutuzov (Brian Cox) (“He’s about the only man in Russia who knows what the war’s about and that includes our glorious Emperor.”). Nikolai’s parents (Greta Scacchi and Adrian Edmondson) are depending on their son to reverse the family fortunes.

Russia is in alliance with the Austrian Empire at this point (in the Third Coalition against Napoleon) and a restless, unhappy Andrei (“I can’t bear this life”)––whose young wife is pregnant––and Nikolai set off for the front. Meanwhile, Kuragin maneuvers Pierre into marrying his morally loose but beautiful daughter Helene (Tuppence Middleton). Her incestuous relationship with her dissolute brother Anatole (Callum Turner) is one indication of her manipulative, deceitful character.

Thus the stage is set for the various personal and political stratagems, unions and disunions, as the epoch of war heads toward its denouement following Napoleon’s fateful invasion of Russia in 1812 and the declaration of war by a reluctant Tsar Alexander I (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). On the eve of the invasion, Napoleon (Mathieu Kassovitz) brags that he has 600,000 men while the Russian army has only one-third that number and lies in shambles.

The mini-series

War and Peace has been adapted by Andrew Davies, best known for his reworking for television of such classics as Pride and Prejudice (1995), Vanity Fair (1998) and Sense and Sensibility (2008). He also wrote the popular British political thriller serial House of Cards (1990). His work on the current production results in a credible condensation of Tolstoy’s massive, complex story, some 1,400 pages and more than half a million words long.

Visually graceful and aided by numerous accomplished performances, this large-scale, high-quality production is, on the whole, a gripping experience.

The series paints a picture of a Russian aristocracy in which petty and selfish motives predominate. Andrei Bolkonsky goes off to war primarily to escape a vapid, stuffy life. Nikolai Rostov has other motives: his gambling debts have nearly bankrupted his family. He considers it more honorable to turn soldier than remain in the clutches of a nasty, egotistical mother and kindly, but ineffectual, father. In the end, under pressure from his parents, Nikolai breaks his engagement to the impecunious Sonya in favor of a more advantageous liaison.

Andrei Bolkonsky’s sister, the modest Marya (Jessie Buckley), shows her spiteful landlord coloring when she deals with the serfs on the family estate who refuse to help the household escape from the invading French army. Bellows one angry peasant: “The French will set us free and give us land! What have you ever done for us?”

Unfortunately, the production seems to side with Marya and her self-centered concerns. She is soon rescued from the legitimate wrath of the peasants by the timely appearance of Nikolai and his regiment. It is the one major scene that points to the fact that this parasitical social layer lives off the exploitation and enslavement of the peasantry.

Pierre, the moral conscience of War and Peace, tries to be honest when he sadly admits that “my life is one mistake after another … I wanted to change the world for the better, help my fellow men and look at me a fat, drunken aristocrat who makes a bungle out of everything.” To make amends for what he considers his mistakes, Pierre becomes obsessed with assassinating Napoleon.

In a relatively modest way, the mini-series does provide some sense of the great events that shaped the Tolstoy novel—namely, the aftermath of the world-altering French revolution. The depiction of the Battle of Borodino in September 1812, the bloodiest single day of the Napoleonic wars, with some 70,000 Russian and French casualties, is one of the series’ strongest sequences. Here, at least for a moment, the aristocratic lifestyle is left behind and we see something of the horror of war: men cut in half, doctors sawing off legs, the misery of the wounded and dying. And later there are the horrific consequences for Moscow’s population.

A duality exists in Tolstoy’s work between sharp condemnations of the aristocratic life and his acceptance of the inevitability of that life. In his remarkable 1908 tribute to the novelist, Leon Trotsky observed that, despite everything, Tolstoy continued to place in the center of his artistic attention “the one and the same wealthy and well-born Russian landlord” as though outside this universe “there were nothing of importance or of beauty.”

The mini-series tends to adopt the same standpoint, which is far less defensible given the subsequent course of Russian and world history. Trotsky noted that at the end of the novel, Tolstoy showed Pierre Bezukhov, “the restless seeker of truth,” as “a smug family man,” and “Natasha Rostova, so touching in her semi-childlike sensitivity,” as “a shallow breeding female, untidy diapers in hand.” The present series does the same, only more so. The final scene grates with its complacency and suggestion that contented family life offers some consolation for the massive destruction and loss of life.

That being said, Davies is genuinely skilled at choosing and adapting enduring, classic works. True, his genre of intelligent costume drama is not the be-all and end-all of artistic effort. One might even say that stylish adaptations like War and Peace have a certain soothing effect on an audience (with the exception of the battle scenes). If we were currently flooded with challenging artistic evaluations of the status quo, it is unlikely that such series would receive quite the attention they do. However, given the actual state of cultural affairs, this version of the Tolstoy epic attracts attention for its general intelligence and pleasing aesthetic qualities.

To their credit, the makers of the miniseries have tried to capture certain crucial features of the novel. A naturalness and elegance underscore and heighten the emotional intensity. As in Tolstoy’s narrative, there is truthfulness, a lack of pretension and artificiality: the viewer is engaging with real people, who have real, complex lives and feelings.

In dozens of essays the leading Russian Marxists, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky and others, pointed to the great contrast between the immortality of Tolstoy’s artistic achievement and the poverty of his philosophical and social ideas. …

Nonetheless, as an indefatigable social critic, an enemy of cruelty and oppression, Tolstoy played an enormous role in undermining the tsarist regime and the entire Russian social order. Reactionary forces in the former Soviet Union have not forgiven him to this day.

In an obituary, Trotsky magnificently paid tribute to the great writer: “Truth in and of itself possesses a terrible, explosive power: once proclaimed, it irresistibly gives rise to revolutionary con­clusions in the consciousness of the masses. Everything that Tolstoy stated publicly… seeped into the minds of the laboring masses … And the word became deed. Although not a revolutionary, Tolstoy nurtured the revolutionary element with his words of genius. In the book about the great storm of 1905 an honorable chapter will be ded­icated to Tolstoy.”

It would be misleading to suggest that Tolstoy’s fierce indictment of Russia’s institutions is sufficiently present in the War and Peace mini-series. However, its honest presentation inevitably communicates elements of the social critique, and also may lead the viewer to investigate Tolstoy’s work further. That would be all to the good.

Hieronymus Bosch painting discovered in the USA


The Temptation of Saint Anthony, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in Missouri in the USA

This photo shows the painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in Missouri in the USA; now discovered to have been painted by Hieronymus Bosch.

Translated from Omroep Brabant in the Netherlands:

New painting by Hieronymus Bosch discovered in United States of America

DEN BOSCH – A new work by painter Hieronymus (Jeroen) Bosch has been discovered. This conclude researchers from the Bosch Research and Conservation Project. This Monday they told about their research findings. It is the canvas “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”.

The painting is owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in the American city of Kansas City. It was hidden for years in the depot of the US American museum.

The painting from circa 1500-1510 has for decades been attributed to a pupil or follower of Bosch. But it turns out to be by Hieronymus Bosch.

Signatures found with infrared

With infrared technology, researchers have made visible signatures on the keypad. “These signatures dovetail perfectly with what is found on other panels from the core work of Bosch,” the researchers said.

Published: Monday, February 1st, 2016 – 10:37

See also here.

The researchers also claim that the number of drawings attributed to Bosh should rise from 10 to 20.

Detail of painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in Missouri in the USA

This photo, via TripAdvisor, is of a detail of another painting about The Temptation of Saint Anthony, also in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in Missouri in the USA; said to have been painted by 16th century Dutch-Flemish artist Jan Wellens de Cock. Look at the woman’s foot in this detail.

Dutch children’s book on Jeroen Bosch: here. And here.

Viking buckle discovery in the Netherlands


The Oudewater viking buckle, photo by Caio Haars

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Viking buckle found in Oudewater

Today, 12:54

Amateur archaeologist Caio Haars from Oudewater found three weeks ago a buckle from the Viking Age, reports RTV Utrecht. He found it with his metal detector.

The buckle is from the 10th to the 12th century. Typical are the inwardly rolled rank ornaments. The lion’s head with outstretched tongue (buckle thorn) was often used in the Nordic art world, especially in sculptures in churches.

The buckle will be exhibited in the town hall of Oudewater. The amateur archaeologist does not say where he made his discovery. He fears that other people will scour the meadows. Farmers may be affected by that, he says.

J.M.W. Turner art exhibition in Canada


This video from England says about itself:

7 October 2014

Tate Britain

The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free is the first exhibition devoted to the extraordinary work J.M.W. Turner created between 1835 and his death in 1851. Bringing together spectacular works from the UK and abroad, this exhibition celebrates Turner’s astonishing creative flowering in these later years when he produced many of his finest pictures but was also controversial and unjustly misunderstood.

Highlights of the exhibition include such important pictures as Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus and Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino, rarely reunited since first exhibited together in 1839; The Wreck Buoy 1849; and magnificent watercolours like Heidelberg: Sunset c.1840 and the seldom-seen Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland c.1837.

By Lee Parsons in Canada:

Comments on an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario

26 January 2016

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto—October 31, 2015–January 31, 2016

One senses a growing hunger for something recognizably human (and humane) in the surging popularity of representational imagery in art these days. So, as well as being a profound aesthetic experience in itself, the exhibition of the late work of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto is of particular interest. In this work one can discern the fundamental elements of what were extraordinary achievements of the imagination in their time, which may also speak to the present impasse in contemporary art.

The AGO is the final stop for this touring exhibition that began in 2014 at the Tate Britain, home to over 30,000 works by Turner bequeathed by the artist to its predecessor, the National Gallery. One is left slack-jawed in the face of his prolific efforts. With supporting material from other artists, as well as artifacts (which it has to be said add little to the experience and in some ways detract from it), the show includes over 50 paintings and drawings by Turner from the Tate Britain, as well as four pieces from the permanent collection of the AGO.

Peace–Burial at Sea (1842)

Certainly, other artists working at this time made important and unusual contributions, but Turner’s late artwork in particular represents a defining moment in the formation of sensibilities and conceptions that underlie the breakthroughs of modern art. Though the paintings were controversial in their day, this exhibition brings together some of the most beautiful and disturbing work done by this artistic genius: the painting that Turner did in the last 15 years of his life when his work most boldly broke from literal depiction, legitimizing more spontaneous and even abstract expression in art.

Hailed as the greatest landscape painter of the age, Turner is also arguably the greatest watercolourist of all time. It nevertheless took nearly a century of subsequent developments before this work was properly understood in terms of its role in art history, anticipating and—to a certain extent—even overstepping the great strides of the impressionists who followed after him.

In the watercolour on paper, “The Blue Rigi, Sunrise” (1842), for example, a delicately hazy, almost formless landscape, Turner’s ethereal brushwork conveys the poignancy of its title in a style that is possibly a generation ahead of its time.

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842)

His earlier work is closely associated with Romanticism in art, with its emphasis on emotional expression and aesthetic appreciation. But Turner expanded and developed on this in these later years as he discovered astonishing new ways of communicating emotion and meaning in painting—hence the title of the exhibition, “Painting set Free.”

Reproduction never conveys the full richness of a painting or drawing, but this is especially true in the case of Turner’s work because of the sensual, tactile relationship he developed with his media and his canvas, the precision and grace of which can only be fully appreciated by direct viewing. In addition to experimenting with new materials, he was known to use a variety of tools in his application of paint, at times even his fingers and fingernails.

In a work such as “Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London” (1841), one sees the subtle depth of tones, the fine lines, the mysterious layering of light that he achieves, and one comes to understand why his peers considered him something of a magician.

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London (1841)

His innovation did come at some cost, and many of the paintings shown are badly cracked, the colors faded or damaged in other ways. This premature deterioration is due to a variety of factors—Turner’s use of new, commercially available media for oil painting, his experimentation with new pigments. But it is also the result of the tensions created by inventive yet flawed techniques in his layering of paint—for example, the mixing and layering of water color over oil.

Converging currents

Turner was a deeply contradictory figure, and in a number of ways. Preoccupied with his reputation and status, he avidly sought official recognition and support, yet ignored the criticism and derision that he was eventually subjected to. Artistically, he saw himself as a guardian of established traditions in landscape painting, but at the same time he was among the most inventive and unorthodox artists in history, pushing the limits of his materials and what was considered the proper subject matter in his day.

Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) (1843)

Staunchly conservative and yet truly independent and revolutionary, Turner was a living, breathing embodiment of the tensions of the age, of the struggle between the vestigial hold of the land-owning aristocracy and its cultural traditions, and powerful new social forces, including humble, plebeian ones.

Turner’s life spanned the tumultuous years between the American Revolution and the Revolutions of 1848, and encompassed the great French Revolution of 1789, the industrial revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and more—these were the convulsions that shaped his generation and informed artistic development in Britain and across Europe. This was the period that saw the social and political transformation of Europe and North America, ushering in the bourgeois order—ushering in, in effect, the modern age.

Joseph Mallord William Turner grew up essentially as an only child—his younger sister died at the age of four. His father, from Devon, became a barber and wigmaker in London and his mother came from a propertied family of London butchers. His father’s shop, situated near the city’s theatre district on Maiden Lane, afforded the young Turner contact with a variety of patrons, including writers, artisans and artists, as well as influential figures in the art world, many of whom proved to be of great benefit later in building his career.

The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846)

This clientele provided the young artist, as an adolescent, a steady market for his drawings and watercolours, which his father proudly displayed in his shop, allowing the boy to earn both his own money and public notice from an early age.

Drawing and painting were considered essential to a proper, all-rounded education at the time because such skills were in great demand in various commercial enterprises. Young Turner quickly figured out he had marketable talent and even greater potential, and sought to position himself for financial success. He apprenticed with a noted architect where he learned architectural and perspective drawing, the mastery of which can be seen in even his earliest work.

He began a relationship early in life with the recently founded Royal Academy of Arts (RA), an association that was to last until his death. Enrolling at the age of 14 (the momentous year of 1789!), Turner was immediately recognized as a major talent and, remarkably, his work was accepted for exhibiting the following year. Becoming an associate at the young age of 24, the painter maintained a strong relationship with the Academy, entering his artwork in their annual exhibitions, teaching, lecturing and otherwise supporting the institution throughout his life, long after it had become a bastion of conservatism.

The Departure of the Fleet (1850)

Turner carefully guarded his personal life, but it is generally agreed that he had significant romantic liaisons with at least two women. Sarah Danby gave him two daughters with whom he had little apparent contact. Later on, and to the end of his life, he maintained a secret relationship with Sophia Booth, a widow whom he boarded with in her house on the Thames River. Also kept secret was the declining mental state of his mother, who spent her final years shut away in an asylum, abandoned and ignored by her son. Here is a man who apparently exhibited considerable callousness in his most personal relationships, but who expressed the most profound humanity and compassion in his work—the contrast, while hardly unique, is still jarring.

His father was a lifelong advocate and supporter, working after a certain point exclusively as his assistant and valet right until the end of his life. In his later years, Turner considered himself something of an invalid and indeed suffered from an array of ailments, losing his teeth and also his eyesight towards the end, leading critics to dismiss these later paintings as the work of a blind man, or alternatively, a lunatic.

Many of the relationships with friends and collaborators Turner had maintained throughout his life began to fall away, but this period also brought him his most ardent champion in the person of the noted young art critic and historian John Ruskin. About the latter Turner once declared, “[He] sees more in my pictures than I ever painted.” Though Ruskin’s interpretation was at the time controversial, he later won great respect for his six-volume work, Modern Painters. The first volume was published in 1843 and was dedicated explicitly to the defense of the last period of work by J.M.W. Turner, a service for which the artist was most grateful.

A view forward

The Royal Academy of Arts in London was established in 1768, following the examples of France and Holland, enforcing strict guidelines over subject matter and style in art. It cast off the extravagance of the Baroque period and imposed the classical tradition. Artists who worked beyond these boundaries had great difficulty gaining public recognition and yet this was the institution with which Turner, the most experimental artist of his time, staunchly allied himself.

There is no genuine equivalent in the contemporary world to the social position artists held in the early 19th century, but the fame and prestige Turner enjoyed might be compared to that of a film star today. Throughout his career he was at the top of the heap. His relationships and transactions with the aristocracy and political establishment brought him great wealth and ranked him in the cultural elite, a position he both sought and enjoyed. Politically, Turner was a republican and a British patriot, although he was never very vocal about his views.

The themes and subject matter in his paintings drew on classical mythology, historical parallels to the ancient world and contemporary political events (and particularly the progress of the Napoleonic Wars), as well as the colonial expansion of the British Empire. Ultimately, Turner departed markedly from the traditions of landscape painters such as the French artist Claude Lorrain (c. 1600–1682), whom he openly revered. There are striking contrasts in Turner’s landscape work in these later years, which place him clearly on the leading edge of advances in artistic form and content, as he responded—perhaps in spite of himself—to the pervasive and explosive social transformations taking place around him.

Regulus (1828, 1837)

In addition to the various land and seascapes that he was known for early in his career, in this period of rapid innovation, Turner was both fascinated and suspicious of groundbreaking inventions such as photogravure—which seemed to threaten the very need for artists—and also the steam railway, which broke down barriers of time and space. He was also electrified by such historic achievements as human flight, realized with the advent of hot-air balloons. His enthusiasm for such astonishing advances is conveyed in his own artistic striving against all forms of physical, earth-bound restraint.

One of Turner’s most extraordinary depictions of steam locomotives is “Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway” (1844). Here he develops imagery that is highly evocative and, in its technical exploration and lack of pictorial detail, pushes beyond even the later work of the impressionists.

Another striking work, and a favourite of Ruskin’s, is the subtle but brilliant oil painting, “The Sun of Venice Going to Sea” (1843). Centre frame, a Venetian fishing boat with painted sails unfurled approaches the viewer. The subject, perhaps from a previous era, is seemingly outside time, floating on an ethereal sea, the faint outline of Venice on the horizon, drawn in tones of green, brown and yellow, with an inspired stroke of color in the sky above. This extraordinary work has been interpreted as a reflection by the aging artist on his own mortality, which seems probable. Alternatively, it has been taken to refer to the decline of the Venetian Empire with ominous implications for the British.

The Sun of Venice Going to Sea (1843)

Turner made efforts to write throughout his life, particularly poetry, and he even occasionally lectured, but he never articulated (or perhaps never dared articulate) what were clearly deeply held democratic and humane beliefs. Aside from the lyrical flourishes of his incomplete verse work, “The Fallacies of Hope,” his true feelings are only recorded in his visual art work. All of his paintings, although only a few are explicit in this regard, offer a protest against human cruelty and against slavery and colonial subjugation in particular.

Turner’s body of work as a whole is a staggering achievement, but it is these late paintings that incarnate in the most sophisticated and advanced fashion the strivings of art to grasp and adapt to a challenging new world. There is a great deal to learn and draw from this work, in all its contradictions and ambiguities, in informing and developing the art of our own revolutionary period.

World War I and poetry


This video from Britain about World War I says about itself:

The Somme – Lions Led By Donkeys

Documentary about the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A number of excellent interviews from old soldiers.

By John Green in Britain:

Well versed in the realities of first world war

Monday 25th January 2016

Everything to Nothing: A History of the Great War, Revolution and the Birth of Europe by Geert Buelens (Verso, £20)

EUROPEANS plunged like lemmings into the engulfing abyss of WWI under the influence of “the massage of propaganda, the gospel of terror,” as Polish poet Anatol Stern observed in 1914.

That perception is typical of this very different and fascinating take on the conflict, reflected in the outpouring of writing amid the tumult and chaos.

The war opened up new imaginative possibilities for exploring personal tragedy and the extremes of human experience.

Poetry, particularly, took centre stage, both as a means of propaganda and for manipulating sentiments but also as a means of portraying a scarcely communicable horror.

Buelens undertakes a cultural history of the war through the writings of those caught up in the maelstrom, from the point of view of poets from all the European countries involved, including Anna Akhmatova, Rupert Brooke, Guillaume Apollinaire and many less well-known writers.

He provides a panorama of those short but intensive four years from 1914-18 through the eyes of those poets who charted its course but also imagined its aftermath and encapsulated the human Calvary in a way that no traditional history, however good, could do.

The author draws on an amazing range of poets to weave a comprehensive picture of the psychology of the immediate pre-war period and the premonition of the chaos, nihilism and nationalism as well as a yearning for change.

These poets, in the main, were actual participants and describe the war’s raw reality, unlike the onlookers and outsiders who could afford to squander their patriotic rhetoric and appeals to romantic sacrifice while others were obliged to squander their blood.

The French poet Paul Valery wrote: “The illusion of a European culture has been lost.” How right he was.

Despite the ideals of pre-war socialists throughout Europe that working men and women of all nations would stand together and refuse to slaughter each other, a short time later they followed their governments like lambs to the abattoir, cocooned in the heady patriotic fervour of national anthems and swirling banners.

This book undoubtedly represents a unique approach to the history of the war but without a political and economic context it can of course provide only a literary reflection on it, without offering any analysis.

Dutch museum acquires portrait of 17th century princess


Amalia van Solms portrait by Honthorst

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:

Het Loo museum acquires portrait of Amalia of Solms

Palace Het Loo has recently purchased a double portrait by Gerard van Honthorst. It depicts the wife of Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, Amalia of Solms, with a cousin.

The curator of the museum says it it is special that specifically this Honthorst could be purchased. “His portraits of the Orange dynasty are rare on the market,” says curator Hanna Klarenbeek. …

The portrait, in which Princess Von Solms is depicted as hunting goddess Diana and her cousin Charlotte de la Trémoïlle [countess of Derby in England] as [the Roman goddess of agriculture] Ceres, was ordered in 1632 from Honthorst, the favourite painter of the Orange dynasty.

In The Netherlands, there was no monarchical court like in most other European countries then.

There was only the Stadhouder‘s court.

Which would have liked very much to be a princely court like elsewhere in Europe; but constitutionally wasn’t.

Rembrandt got one commission from the princely court (princely, as the Stadhouders were also absolute monarchs in the tiny statelet of Orange in southern France).

But when his portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms, wife of Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik, turned out to be not flattering enough, he never got a commission from that court again.

A Hermitage Amsterdam exhibition notes that Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik prefered painters from the feudal southern Netherlands (now: Belgium), though that region was the military enemy, to “bourgeois” northern painters like Rembrandt. He also prefered Gerard van Honthorst to Rembrandt as a painter of portraits of his wife. Honthorst was not from the Spanish occupied southern Netherlands. However, his home province Utrecht in the central Netherlands was less bourgeois rebellious than Rembrandt’s Holland. And Honthorst had spent much time in feudal Italy.

It hung for years in the princely hunting lodge Honselaarsdijk House in South Holland.

It disappeared around 1795 from the stadholders’ art collection and according to Het Loo for decades it was gone without a trace. In 1951 it surfaced at an auction in London, and then it disappeared again into a private collection. …

The museum plans to hang the work in the bed chamber of Mary II [wife of King of England and Stadholder of Holland Willem III], because there guests were received, as in the original room where the portrait hung in Honselaarsdijk House.

Klarenbeek: “With this painting we can not only show visitors in what showy splendor Amalia and Frederik Hendrik had themselves depicted. They also demonstrate the value which William and Mary attributed to these portraits of their ancestors, by giving them prominent spots in their palaces.”

Hieronymus Bosch, new film on ancient painter


This video says about itself:

Jheronimus Bosch, Touched by the devil – Official Trailer

2 December 2015

This new Dutch film, by Pieter van Huystee, is on late medieval-early Renaissance painter Jheronimus Bosch (or Hieronymus, or Jeroen Bosch) (about 1450 – 9 August 1516).

More precisely, the film is on the complex preparations for having an exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the painter in the North Brabant Museum in Den Bosch, the city where he was born and worked.

This 30 November 2015 video is about that exhibition.

The preparations for it were so complex as not one of Bosch’s paintings was in Den Bosch. Most of his work is not in Dutch museums. The biggest collection is in the Prado museum in Madrid. The Spanish King Philip II ruled over the Netherlands until the Dutch revolt and had Bosch paintings brought to Spain. Other work is in Belgium, Italy, France, Germany and the USA.

I went to this film, on 22 January 2016 in a packed cinema.

According to experts, only about 25 paintings are certainly by Bosch. Others may be from Jheronimus Bosch’s workshop (sometimes with more than one artist working at the same painting, like Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder later); or by artists inspired by Bosch.

While preparing the exhibition, researchers found out that some work, attributed to Bosch, cannot have been by the famous master, as the wood was from trees which did not live yet when Bosch died. They also discovered an unknown drawing which Bosch had most probably drawn.

They also discovered what the subject of a Bosch triptych in Venice, Italy was: it depicted a (fictitious) female saint, St. Uncumber, killed by crucifixion.

This video shows some of the research.

Though only about 25 paintings are (almost) certainly by Bosch, he depicted owls scores of times. He definitely knew the differences between owl species, like barn owl and little owl.

Human embracing tawny owl, detail from Bosch's Garden of earthly delights

The film suggests the owls are in the paintings and drawings as symbols of the devil. This superstition about owls was widespread in Europe about 1500. We are not sure whether Bosch shared it.

Bosch also depicted other birds, including the kingfisher and the goldfinch.

His work is full of many details. Because of that, the new research, including macro photography, for the jubilee exhibition was able to make new discoveries.

We know more or less which art is by Bosch. We know something about his life from Den Bosch city records. However, we don’t really know about the connections between his life and his work.

There are not any writings by Bosch about how he saw his work.

Well, maybe there is one: a sentence in Latin above a drawing, about innovating oneself being better than relying on other people’s innovations. Is that Latin sentence by Bosch? We don’t know. We don’t know Hieronymus Bosch’s handwriting.

There may be one other connection between Bosch’s life and art, a Prado museum art historian says in the film. When Hieronymus was small, there was a big fire in Den Bosch. Though it did not burn his home, that fire must have left a big impression on the child. It may explain why there are so often fires in Bosch’s paintings; mainly hellfire.

Like other painters of his age, Bosch often depicted heaven and hell. With more hell and less heaven than his contemporaries. Maybe in this Bosch was a bit similar to actresses today, who prefer playing evil scheming women like Ms Alexis Colby in the Dynasty TV series, to goody two shoes style virtuous roles.

Bosch, like the Latin sentence above the drawing says, was an innovator (which medieval patrons of arts often disliked). Bosch depicted fantasy (eg, half animal, half human) beings never depicted before.

He was one of the first artists to depict common people; not just angels and people at the top of political or church hierarchies.

As Alan Woods points out, Bosch lived in turbulent times, and these times reflect in his art. One year after Bosch died, Martin Luther started the religious Reformation. Already before that, the stability of feudal society had been undermined: by the Black Death plague, by wars, by persecution of ‘witches’, by the rise of the urban bourgeoisie which eventually became rivals of the nobility and Roman Catholic clergy ruling classes.

King Philip II of Spain tried to restore feudal stability by forcibly oppressing the revolt against his rule in the Low Countries. He tried it by concentrating secular and religious power in one hand: his own hand, as absolute monarch ‘by the grace of God’. His El Escorial building, both a palace and a monastery, symbolized this unification of power. Philip brought Jeroen Bosch art to the Escorial, where some of it still is. Alan Woods writes that King Philip II did not understand Jeroen Bosch’s sharp criticism of the powers that be. Bosch’s art says that in choosing between good, leading to paradise, and evil, leading to hell, also many religious and political authorities choose evil and should burn in hell. Among his many depictions of priests, monks and nuns, not one shows these religious people in a favourable light.

Jeroen Bosch, detail of the Garden of earthly delights

This detail of Bosch’s Garden of earthly delights shows a nun with a pig’s body. On the left of the detail is a being, half fantasy animal, half noble knight.

This 20 January 2016 video is about Bosch’s Garden of earthly delights.

A main theme in Bosch’s work is money corrupting people, including popes, monarchs and other elite people. As shown, eg, in his painting The hay wain. Today, in different ways, money still corrupts, helps to kindle flames of wars, etc. That is, according to Woods, why Bosch is still relevant today.

This video series is the BBC documentary Hieronymus Bosch and the delights of hell.