Saturday 31 August 2013

Update Update Update!

The light at the end of  the tunnel shines ever brighter.

I had my U.S. K1 Visa medical in London on the 16th of August, and now, two weeks later, I have an appointment date for my interview at the U.S. Embassy, for Friday 13th September!

It's a good thing I'm not superstitious. As the interviews are early in the morning, I have to get a hotel. Now on my last visit to London, for the medical, I found a nice little hotel ten minutes walk from the embassy. Yes, I walked and timed it. But somehow, London has decided to be busy that weekend. I know the students are back, but for whatever reason, on a host of different booking websites, I was struggling to find a room anywhere near. There's two weeks still to go, and everywhere in walking distance seems to be booked up. I've been searching for hours. My brother and sister-in-law live thirty minutes north of Euston Station, and she commutes.... 
"Stay with us and get the train in".
She has no concept of how big a thing this is for me. If I was late, I might find my interview slot cancelled, and myself waiting a month for the next opening. 
I have to reduce the number of variables. No risk of a train signalling failure, or someone throwing themselves under a tube train.....
Walking distance, it has to be. Even though the hotel room costs as much as a small car.... I'm not joking, I've had cars that cost less. I'm booked. It's 2 a.m., so I'm a bit shell-shocked. I'll leave booking my train ticket for the morning. I'll probably find the whole world wants to travel on the same day too.

If all goes well, I could be in Texas, and marrying the Red Dirt Girl before the end of October!

Though I'm not superstitious... -wish us luck, keep fingers crossed.

On a Visit to the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is to be found in Hertford House, Manchester Square, London. I found it by chance, having been for my medical examination for my U.S. K1 visa application at Westminster doctors, Bentinck street, which is about a hundred yards away. My appointment was or 9:10 a.m., and I got there early. By ten a.m., having been x-rayed and thoroughly scrutinised, groped, reflex-hammered, blood-let, need I go on? I was out on the freshly rained street. And the Wallace was just opening its gates, so I went in.
This is the place where Franz Hals' 'Laughing Cavalier' is to be found, Fragonard's 'Girl on a Swing', and a load of armour.... Well, Nag on the Lake dislikes all of those, but, y'know, there's so much more, shame on you, Nag, for dismissing the Wallace, apart from that delightful courtyard restaurant, there really is so much more. On my visit, some works were going on, and some galleries were closed. Despite that, I delighted in the treasures within.

First treasure, a little mer-thing door-knocker, bifurcated like a Starbucks mermaid.

St George, and the Dragon, 1850-60.carved in boxwood

Another St George, in ivory. Date not known, by me...

"This hand bell is reputed to have come from the Abbey of Fahan, County Donegal in Ireland, founded in the seventh century by St Mura (Muranus). The bronze body of the bell was probably made at Kells, County Meath, the great centre of art and monastic life in Ireland, with further layers of decoration applied in successive stages. The earliest is an Irish style of Viking ornament, visible in the bottom right corner where a later piece has become detached. The silver filigree and cast plaques, and the rock crystal and amber stones were added at various times from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. Several legends are connected with the bell, which is said to have descended from heaven ringing loudly."

Peasant. Boxwood About 6" high

Thing. Inlaid silver.

Watch, 1650. (That's ten-to-five )

More 370 year-old watches

Naughty peasants, carousing

Inlaid pearl, silver, gold guns.

Ohhhhh. I'm a potter. Here comes the real treasures, Bernard Palissy, oh. Bernard was a potter, agronomist, scientist, alchymiste, whatever, Bernard was a Da Vinci of another place.  I have a translated copy of his book, 'The Admirable Discourses of Bernard Palissy", which he wrote in 1580.

Sadly, this admirable man was seized and imprisoned in the Bastille, and died there of sickness in 1589, in his eighties, The King of France offered him freedom if he would recant his protestant faith. Palissy said he would rather die unjustly than live a life based on refuting his true beliefs.

To the modern person, these dishes may not look particularly special. You can go to your local ceramics store and buy glazes and colours. In Palissy's day that was not so. He was a pioneer.

 "According to your request, learn that it is more than five-and-twenty years since there was shown to me an earthen cup, turned and enamelled with so much beauty, that from that time I entered into con- troversy with my own thoughts, recalling to mind several suggestions that some people had made to me in fun, when I was painting portraits. Then, seeing that these were falling out of request in the country where I dwelt, and that glass-painting was also little patronised, I began to think that if I should discover how to make enamels, I could make earthen vessels and other things very prettily, because God had gifted me with some knowledge of drawing ; and thereafter, regardless of the fact that I had no knowledge of clays, I began to seek for the enamels, as a man gropes in the dark. Without having heard of what materials the said enamels were composed, I pounded, in those days, all the substances which I could suppose likely to make anything; and having pounded and ground them, I bought a quantity of earthen pots, and after having broken them in pieces, I put some of the materials that I had ground upon them, and having marked them, I set apart in writing what drugs I had put upon each, as a memorandum ; then, having made a furnace to my fancy, I set the fragments down to bake, that I might see whether my drugs were able to produce some whitish colour: for I sought only after white enamel, because I had heard it said that white enamel was the basis of all others. 
Then, because I had never seen earth baked, nor could I tell by what degree of heat the said enamel should be melted, it was impossible for me to get any result in this way, though my chemicals should have been right; because, at one time the mass might have been heated too much, at another time too little; and when the said materials were baked too little or burnt, I could not at all tell the reason why I met with no success, but would throw blame on the materials, which sometimes, perhaps, were the right ones, or at least could have afforded me some hint for the accomplishment of my intentions, if I had been able to manage the fire in the way that my materials required. 

But again, in working thus, I committed a fault still grosser than that above named : for in putting my trial-pieces in the furnace, I arranged them without consideration ; so that if the materials had been the best in the world, and the fire also the fittest, it was impossible for any good result to follow. Thus, having blundered several times at a great expense, and through much labour, I was every day pounding and grinding new materials, and constructing new furnaces, which cost much money, and consumed my wood and my time. When I had fooled away several years thus imprudently with sorrow and sighs, because I could not at all arrive at my intention, and remembering the money spent, I resolved, in order to avoid such large expenditure, to send the chemicals that I would test to the kiln of some potter ; and having settled this within my mind, I purchased afresh several earthen vessels, and having broken them in pieces, at was my custom, I covered three or four hundred of the fragments with enamel, and sent them to a pottery distant a league and a half from my dwelling, with a request to the potters that they would please to permit those trials to be baked within some of their vessels : this they did willingly ; but when they had baked their batch, and came to take out my trial- pieces, I received nothing but shame and loss, because they turned out good for nothing ; for the fire used by those potters was not hot enough, and my trials were not put into the furnace in the required manner and according to my science. 

And because I had at that time no knowledge of the reason why my experiments had not succeeded, I threw the blame (as I before said) on my materials ; and beginning afresh, I made a number of new compounds, and sent them to the same potters, to do with as before ; so I continued to do several times, always with great cost, loss of time, confusion, and sorrow. When I saw that I could not at all in this way come at my intention, I took relaxation for a time, occupying myself in my art of painting and glass-working, and comported myself as if I were not zealous to dive any more into the secret of enamels. 

Some days afterwards, there arrived certain commissaries, deputed by the king to establish the gabelle in the district of Xaintonge, who appointed me to map the islands and the country sur- rounding all the salt-marshes in our part of the world. Then, when the said commission was ended, and I found myself paid with a little money, I resumed my affection for pursuing in the track of the enamels ; and seeing that I had been able to do nothing, whether in my own furnaces or in those of the before-mentioned potters, I broke about three dozen earthen pots all of them new ; and having ground a large quantity of different materials, I covered all the bits of the said pots with my chemicals, laid on with a brush: but you should understand, that in two or three hundred of those pieces there were only three covered with each kind of compound. Having done this, I took all these pieces and carried them to a glass-house, in order to see whether my chemicals and compounds might not prove good when tried in a glass-furnace. Then, since these furnaces are much hotter than those of potters', the next day when I had them drawn out, I observed that some of my compounds had begun to melt ; and for this cause I was still more encouraged to search for the white enamel, upon which I had spent so much labour.

 Concerning other colours I did not give myself any trouble; this little symptom, which I then perceived, caused me to work for the discovery of the said white enamel for two years beyond the time already mentioned, during which two years I did nothing but go and come between my house and the adjacent glass-houses, aiming to succeed in my intentions. God willed that when I had begun to lose my courage, and was gone for the last time to a glass-furnace, having a man with me carrying more than three hundred kinds of trial-pieces, there was one among those pieces which was melted within four hours after it had been placed in the furnace, which trial turned out white and polished in a way that caused me such joy as made me think I was become a new creature ; and I thought that from that time I had the full perfection of the white enamel, but I was very far from having what I thought. This trial was a very happy one in one sense, but very unhappy in another happy, because it gave me entrance upon the ground which I have since gained; but unhappy, because it was not made with substances in the right measure or proportion. 

I was so great an ass in those days, that directly I had made the said enamel, which was singularly beautiful, I set myself to make vessels of earth, although I had never understood earths; and having employed the space of seven or eight months in making the said vessels, I began to erect for myself a furnace like that of the glass-workers, which I built with more labour than I can tell ; for it was requisite that I should be the mason to myself, that I should temper my own mortar, that I should draw the water with which it was tempered; also it was requisite that I should go myself to seek the bricks and carry them upon my back, because I had no means to pay a single man for aid in this affair. I succeeded with my pots in the first baking, but when it came to the second baking, I endured suffering and labour such as no man would believe. 

For instead of reposing after my past toil, I was obliged to work for the space of more than a month, night and day, to grind the materials of which I had made that beautiful enamel at the glass-furnace ; and when I had ground them, I covered therewith the vessels that I had made : this done, I put the fire into my furnace by two mouths, as I had seen done at the glass-houses ; I also put my vessels into the furnace, to bake and melt the enamel which I had spread over them ; but it was an unhappy thing for me, for though I spent six days and six nights before the said furnace, feeding it with wood incessantly through its two mouths, it was not possible to make the said enamel melt, and I was like a man in desperation. 

And although quite stupefied with labour, I counselled to myself, that in my enamel there might be too little of the substance which should make the others melt ; and, seeing this, I began, once more, to pound and grind the before-named materials, all the time without letting my furnace cool: in this way I had double labour, to pound, grind, and maintain the fire. When I had thus compounded my enamel, I was forced to go again and purchase pots, in order to prove the said compound seeing that I had lost all the vessels which I had made myself. And having covered the new pieces with the said enamel, I put them into the furnace, keeping the fire still at its height ; but thereupon occurred to me a new misfortune, which caused great mortification namely, that the wood having failed me, I was forced to burn the palings which maintained the boundaries of my garden ; which being burnt also, I was forced to burn the tables and the flooring of my house, to cause the melting of the second composition. I suffered an anguish that I cannot speak, for I was quite exhausted and dried up by the heat of the furnace, it was more than a month since my shirt had been dry upon me. Further to console me, I was the object of mockery ; and even those from whom solace was due, ran crying through the town that I was burning my floors ! And in this way my credit was taken from me, and I was regarded as a madman. Others said that I was labouring to make false money, which was a scandal under which I pined away, and slipped with bowed head through the streets, like a man put to shame : I was in debt in several places, and had two children at nurse, unable to pay the nurses; no one gave me consolation, but, on the contrary, men jested at me, saying it was right for him to die of hunger, seeing that he had left off following his trade. 

All these things assailed my ears when I passed through the street ; but for all that there still remained some hope which encouraged and sustained me, inasmuch as the last trials had turned out tolerably well, and thereafter I thought that I knew enough to get my living, although I was far enough from that (as you will hear afterwards) ; and you must not be discontented if I make a rather long discourse, to make you more attentive to the matters which concern your interest. 

Sevres plaque, picturing the hapless potter, Palissy, assailed by all around him.

When I had dwelt with my regrets a little because there was no one who had pity upon me, I said to my soul: Wherefore art thou saddened, since them hast found the object of thy search? Labour now, and the defamers will live to be ashamed. But my spirit said again : You have no means wherewith to continue this affair; how will you feed your family, and buy whatever things are requisite to pass over the four or five months which must elapse before you can enjoy the produce of your labour? Then, when I was thus seized with sorrow and debating in my spirit, hope gave me a little courage ; and having considered that it would take me too long to produce a batch entirely with my own hands, and more promptly to cause to appear the secret which I had discovered of the white enamel, I took a common potter and gave him certain drawings, in order that he might make vessels in accordance with my own designs, and whilst he made these things, I occupied myself over some medallions ; but this was a pitiable thing, for I was forced to maintain the said potter in a tavern upon credit, because I had no means whatever in my house. When we had laboured for the space of six months, and it was required to bake the finished work, I had to make a furnace and discharge the potter, to whom, for want of money, I was forced to give part of my clothes for wages. Then, because I had not any materials for the erection of my furnace, I began to take down that which I had built after the manner of the glass- workers, in order to use the materials again. Then, because the said furnace had been so strongly heated for six days and nights, the mortar and the brick in it were liquified and vitrified in such a manner, that in loosening the masonry I had my fingers bruised and cut in so many places that I was obliged to eat my pottage with my fingers wrapped in rags. 

When I had pulled down the said furnace, it was requisite to build the other, which was not done without much difficulty; since I had to fetch for myself the water and the mortar, and the stone, without any aid, and without any repose. This done, I submitted the before-named work to the first baking, and then, by borrowing, or in other ways, I found means to obtain materials for making the enamel for the covering of the said work, which turned out well from the first baking; but when I had bought the said materials, there followed a labour for me which appeared to baffle all my wits; for after I had wearied myself, through several days, in pounding and calcining my chemicals, I had to grind them, without any aid, in a handmill which it usually required two strong men to turn : the desire that I had to succeed in my enterprise, made me do things which I should have esteemed impossible. 

When the said colours were ground, I covered all my vessels and medallions with the said enamel then, having put and arranged them all within the furnace, I began to make the fire, thinking to draw out of my furnace three or four hundred livres, and continued the said fire until I had some sign and hope of my enamels being melted, and of my furnace being in good order: the next day, when I came to draw out my work, having previously removed the fire, my sorrows and distresses were so- abundantly augmented that I lost all countenance; for, though my enamels were good, and my work was good, two accidents had happened to the furnace, which had spoilt all ; and that you may be cautious against them, I will tell you what they were: also, after these, I will tell you a number of others, that my misfortune may to you be fortune, and my loss your gain. It  was because the mortar, of which I had built my furnace, had been full of flints, which, feeling the vehemence of the fire (at the same time that my enamels had begun to liquefy), burst into several pieces, making a variety of cracks and explosions within the said furnace. 

Then, because the splinters of these flints struck against my work, the enamel, which was already liquefied and converted into a glutinous matter, retained the said flints, and held them attached on all sides of my vessels and medallions, which, except for that, would have been beautiful. So, knowing that my furnace was tolerably warm, I let it cool until the next day; then I was more concerned than I can tell you, and not without cause, for my furnace cost me more than twenty-six gold dollars ; I had borrowed the wood and the chemicals, and so had borrowed part of my hope of food in making the said work. 

I had held my creditors in hope that they would be paid out of the money which would proceed from the pieces made in the said furnace; which was the reason why several began to hasten to me after the morning when I was to commence the drawing of my batch. Yet by this means, my sorrows were redoubled: inasmuch as, in drawing the said work, I received nothing but shame and confusion; for my pieces were all bestrewn with little morsels of flint, that were attached so firmly to each vessel, and so combined with the enamel, that when one passed the hand over it, the said flints cut like razors : and although the work was in this way lost, there were still some who would buy it at a mean price; but, because that would have been a decrying and abasing of my honour, I broke in pieces the entire batch from the said furnace, and lay down in melancholy not without cause, for I had no longer any means to feed my family.

I had nothing but reproaches in the house; in place of consolation they gave me maledictions ; my neighbours, who had heard this affair, said that I was nothing but a fool, and that I might have had more than eight francs for the things that I had broken; and all this talk was brought to mingle with my grief. When 1 had remained some time upon the bed, and had considered within myself, that if a man should fall into a pit, his duty would be to endeavour to get out again ; I, being in like case, set myself to make some paintings, and in various ways I took pains to recover a little money ; then I said within myself, that my losses and hazards were all past, and there was no longer anything to hinder me from making good pieces ; and I betook myself (as before) to labour in the same art. But in heating another furnace there occurred an accident of which I had not thought; for the vehemence of the flame of fire had carried a quantity of ashes against my pieces; so that in those parts which had been touched by the ashes, my vessels were rough and ill- polished ; because the enamel, being liquefied, had united with the said ashes. 

In spite of all these losses, I remained in hope of remounting in fortune by means of the said art; for I caused to be made, by certain potters, a large number of earthen lanterns, to contain my vessels when I put them in the furnace ; in order that, by means of the said lanterns, my vessels might be protected from the ash. The invention proved a good one, and has served me to the present day. But having guarded against risk from ashes, other faults and accidents occurred; as, when I had made a batch, it might prove to be too much baked, or another time too little, and all would be lost in that way. I was so inexperienced, that I could not discern the too much, or too little.

One time my work was baked in front, but not baked properly behind ; another time I tried to obviate that, and burnt my work behind, but the front was not baked at all ; sometimes it was baked on the right hand, and burnt on the left;- sometimes my enamels were put on too thinly, sometimes they were too thick, which caused me great losses ; sometimes, when I had in the furnace enamels different in colour, some were burnt before the others had been melted. In short, I blundered for the space of fifteen or sixteen years. When I had learnt to guard against one danger, there came another about which I had not thought. During this time I made several furnaces, which caused me great losses before I understood the way to heat them equally. At last I found means to make several vessels of different enamels intermixed in the manner of jasper. That fed me for several years; but, while feeding upon these things, I sought always to work onward with expenses and disbursements as you know that I am doing still. 

When I had discovered how to make my rustic pieces I was in greater trouble and vexation than before : for having made a certain number of rustic basins, and having put them to bake, my enamels turned out some beautiful and well melted, others ill melted; others were burnt, because they were composed of different materials, that were fusible in different degrees {he green of the lizards was burnt before the colour of the serpents was melted; and the colour of Small models of the wild animals, reptiles, &c., of the country, were these "rustic "pieces, coloured after nature. Rustic basins were the bowls or plates, about which they were introduced as ornaments. the serpents, lobsters, tortoises, and crabs, was melted before the white had attained any beauty. All these defects caused me such labour and heaviness of spirit, that before I could render my enamels fusible at the same degree of heat, I thought I should be at the door of my sepulchre. Also, while labouring at such affairs, I was, for the space of ten years, so wasted in my person, that there was no form nor prominence of muscle on my arms or legs; also the said legs were throughout of one size, so that the garters with which I tied my stockings, were at once, when I walked, down upon my heels, with the stockings too. I often walked about the fields of Xaintes considering my miseries and weariness, and, above all things, that in my own house I could have no peace, nor do anything that was considered good. 
I was despised and mocked by all; nevertheless, I always made some vessels of different colours, which kept house tolerably; but, in doing this, the diversities of earth, with which I thought to forward myself, brought me more loss in a little time than all the accidents before. For having made several vessels of different earths, some were burnt before the others were baked ; some received the enamel, and proved afterwards extremely suited to my purpose ; others deceived me in all my enterprises. Then, because my enamels did not work well together on the same thing, I was deceived many times; whence I derived always vexation and sorrow. Nevertheless, the hope that I had caused me to proceed with my work so like a man, that often, to amuse people who came to see me, I did my best to laugh, although within me all was very sad. 

I pursued my affairs in such a manner that I received a good deal of work from one part of my business, which succeeded well; but I had another affliction, allied with the before-named, which was that the heat, the cold, the winds, and rains, and droppings, spoilt the largest portion of my work before I baked it; so that I was obliged to borrow carpentry, laths, tiles, and nails to make shift with. Then, very often having nothing wherewith to build, I was obliged to make shift with green boughs and sticks. Then again, when my means augmented, I undid what I had done, and built a little better; which caused some artisans, as hosiers, shoe- makers, sergeants, and notaries, a knot of old women all those, without regarding that my art could not be exercised without much space, said that I did nothing but boggle, and blamed me for that which should have touched their pity, since I was forced to use things necessary for my house to build the conveniences which my art required ; and what is worse, the incitement to the said mockeries proceeded from those of my own house, who would have had me work without appliances a thing more than unreasonable. Then the more the matter was unreasonable, the more extreme was my affliction. I have been for several years, when, without the means of covering my furnaces, I was every night at the mercy of the rains and winds, without receiving any help, aid or consolation, except from the owls that screeched on one side, and the dogs that howled upon the other; some- times there would arise winds and storms, which blew in such a manner up and down my furnaces that I was constrained to quit the whole with loss of my labour, and several times have found that having quitted all, and having nothing dry upon me because of the rains which had fallen, I would go to bed at midnight or near dawn, dressed like a man who has been dragged through all the puddles in the town, and turning thus to retire, I would walk rolling, without a candle, falling to one side and the other like a man drunk with wine, filled with great sorrows, inasmuch as having laboured long I saw my labour wasted ; then, retiring in this manner soiled and drenched, I have found in my chamber a second persecution worse than the first, which causes me to marvel now that I was not consumed with suffering. "

Oh Bernard.  There's not a potter, I swear, who can read those words without a kindred feeling.
When I build my time machine, I'll go back and take him plans for a Fred Olsen Fastfire woodkiln, and modern refractory bricks, and shelves. and a pyrometer, And a truckload of food, and I'll chop wood, and drink wine with him,and tell him he was right in his analysis of wind and rain, and why the crops don't grow where fertiliser has been heaped upon the fields. He was a man before his time. I don't know if there's a statue to him anywhere in France, there should be.

On, now, to Italy, and Majolica ware from Urbino, in the 1500s.

The foreground plate is 'sgraffito ware', made out of red clay, when it's, as potters say, 'leather-hard' liquid white pipeclay, in the consistency of double cream is poured into it, and the dish is swirled, the white clay poured out, so it leaves an even, thin covering over all of the surface.
The dish is again allowed to dry back to leather hard, and a design is incised through the white clay to show the body of the red clay dish beneath. This is slow, careful, pains-taking work, all done by hand and eye. 
One ceramic artist I can think of who has the patience for work like this is Jim Gottuso, also a blogger.... I have not got the patience, nor the steady hand required.
 My favourite piece of all, just look at it.
I'll declare, openly, that the subject matter, Women Bathing, delights me. I'm a great admirer of naked ladies in art.... and out of it too. So was the Duke of Urbino, who, back in the 1500s, regularly commissioned pieces like this from potters in his little town of Gubbio. 
This dish was made in Maestro Giorgio Andreoli’s workshop in Gubbio in 1525, and its final of three firings, in which lustre was applied, was on the sixth of April, 1525. We know, because it was written on the back, before the firing.

The three women in the foreground, embracing, are modelled on the three graces by Raimondi.
The one on the background, right of centre, with a big red hole above her breast, has not been attacked by a hungry bear, she's suffered from a problem all too well known by potters, a plaster spit-out. Somehow, a tiny fragment of lime plaster fell in the clay, back in 1525. And it dried with the clay, was fired, glazed, caused no problem. But slowly, moisture found its way back into the clay, not much, but when it met the fragment of anhydrous lime, the lime swelled, hydrated, and exerted a huge force that burst a fragment of glazed clay out of the surface of the pot.

A wine-cooler depicting a sea battle. Also Urbino.
It was commissioned for Cosimo di Medici.

 Dish with gold lustre, depicting an Ottoman knight.

 Lustreware dishes, Ottoman empire. These are very fine serving plates, from a culture that ate, communally, picking food from the plate with the right hand. The raised dome in the centre is common in arab lands, it deals with the tricky question of who takes the last morsel in the middle of the plate, The dome tends to point the morsel to one or other of the diners.

The Nag said she did not care for armour. But look!

The armour is art of itself.
 And scary too.
I'd run away.
 Inlaid work. Unimaginable number of man-hours to create this.
And this.
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