Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cross-posted from Monstrous Beauty.

This is something I only became aware of a few years ago. During the 15th century in in Burgundy, especially during the time of Philip the Good, there was a trend of making luxury manuscripts on vellum that had been dyed black. Unfortunately, the process of dying the vellum made it brittle and fragile, so these manuscript did not survive in great numbers. There are fewer than twenty surviving manuscripts and only three of them are still bound as codices. The remainder are preserved as single leaves, often pressed in acrylic to protect them. So far as I know, all of the surviving examples are Books of Hours. The Pierpont Morgan Library has one, and this is a two page spread from it. The illumination on the left is of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

While I'm not a huge fan of Books of Hours, this is certainly striking.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Limoges Enamal Châsse.

Crossposted from Monstrous Beauty

I must confess a certain ignorance when it comes to medieval metalwork and enamels. But here is a pretty thing.

This is Châsse or casket from Limoges, c. 1190-1200. A Châsse was a reliquary shaped sort of like a house with a sloping roof and triangular gabled ends. Limoges was center enamel work at the time. This is Champlevé enamel. Champlevé is created by casting a metal piece with impressions for the area to be enameled. The depressions are then filled with powdered glass. The entire piece is the fired and the glass melts and fuses with the metal.

This is reliquary for St. Thomas Becket. The main body shows his murder while the roof shows his entombment. On the end is a saint, probably Becket himself.

The reliquary is in the Musée de Cluny in Paris.

Image wikipedia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

16 years.

Cross posted from The Weekend Scrub

Today is the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. I wrote this a year ago.

Today I'm going to eat at Sonic.

Fifteen years ago I was lying in bed reading when there was a loud noise and the house shook. I initially thought that a car had hit the house. I lived in Oklahoma City and I was three and half miles away from the Murrah Federal Building.

Within a couple of hours I was scrubbed in surgery at St. Anthony's. I was no longer an employee, having parted ways with the hospital almost a year earlier. I was part of three separate teams working at the same time on the most seriously wounded patient. I've been scrubbing for almost twenty years. I remember two patient names. This woman is one of them. (The other had the same first and last name as I do.)

At one point I went to see if I could help in instrument processing. St Anthony's was the nearest hospital to the federal building. (Close enough that the hospital building itself had minor damage.) Hundreds of walking wounded had found their way to the St. Anthony ER. Almost all of them had severe lacerations. The average hospital stocks maybe thirty suture trays. Luanna, the scrub in charge of processing, had her staff opening every tray we wouldn't being using that day, the GYN instrument and the like, and reassembling them into suture trays: Two hemostats, a needle holder, a pair of scissors and some forceps.

When I came out of surgery, I was surprised to find bags full of Sonic hamburgers. Someone at Sonic had figured that there would be a lot of people working a lot of hours at the hospitals who would not have much chance to eat. They made and sent thousands of burgers to every hospital in town without being asked.

Today I will say a prayer for the souls of the departed and a prayer for the continued health of the survivors and families. And I'll eat at Sonic.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Child Ballad No. 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded"

Crossposted from Dafydd's Random Music.

"Riddles Wisely Expounded" is the first ballad in Francis Child's collection. In it a knight comes wooing three sisters. The youngest sister (who in some of the versions, sleeps with the knight first), is chosen by the knight to answer a series of riddles. If she answers the riddles correctly, then she will wed the knight. In some of the versions collected by Child, the questioner is not a knight, but the Devil disgused as an "unco knicht". When the daughter names him in answer to the last riddle, he shrieks and disappears, and thus the maiden escapes. Until that moment, however, she did not appear to know that she was competing for her soul.

Like many English songs, this ballad has also been collected in America, where it is usually know as "The Devil's Nine Questions." In it, the wooing aspect is dropped and if the maiden (who has often lost her sisters in these versions) fails to answer the riddles, she will be taken to Hell. What binds the two versions together is the set of riddles and their answers. Although there is some variation in the riddles, all of the versions include many of the same riddles. Some of the typical riddles are:

What is longer than the way? (love)
What is deeper than the sea? (hell)
What is higher that the tree? (heaven)
What is louder than the horn? (thunder)
What is sharper than a thorn? (hunger, or death)
What is whiter than milk? (snow)
What is softer than silk? (down)
What is greener that the grass? (poison)
What is worse than woman? (the devil)

Interestingly enough, the American version may be the older version. A mid-15th century version called "Inter diabolus et virgo" (Between the devil and the virgin), was included by Child in his later editions. It bears more resemblance to the American version, being a straightforward confrontation without the wooing setting.

This ballad was one of those that became part of the mid-cetury folk revival, being recorded by Ewan MacColl, Jean Ritchie and others. As such it has had a fairly wide circulation. The following is a listing of every recorded version I could find. I make no guarantees that I have found them all. I also expect this list to fall quickly out of date as there have been seven recordings released in the last five years alone. I welcome any corrections or information about recordings I may have missed.

"Riddles Wisely Expounded"
       Daniel Dutton on Murder of Crows, ?
       Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on The Long Harvest, Vol. 2, Argo, 1966
       Jacqueline and Bridie on Hold Back the Dawn, Fontana, 1964
       Jean Redpath on Lowlands, Philo, 1994
       Lon Loomes on Fearful Symmetry, Fellside Recordings, 2005
"A Riddle Wisely Expounded"
       Hanita Blair on Minstrel, Millefolia, 2005
"A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded"
       Askew Sisters on All In a Garden Green, Wild Goose Records 2007
       Demon Barbers on Waxed, Demon Barbers Sounds, 2010
"The Devil's Nine Questions"
        Atwater-Donnelly on The Weaver's Bonny, Rabbit Island Music, 2009
        Bonnie Kolac on After All This Time, Ovation Records, 1971 (out of print)
        Bruce Molsky on Song Links 2, Fellside Recordings, 2005
        Elizabeth Laprelle on Rain and Snow, Old 97 Wrecords, 2007
        Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on The Long Harvest, Vol. 2, Argo, 1966
        Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on Two Way Trip, Folkways, 1961
        Jean Ritchie and Oscar Brand on Shivaree! - A Folk Wedding Party, Essential Media Group, 2008
        Jill Trinka on The Little Black Bull, Gia, 2007
        Stephen Moore on Sourwood Mountain: American Folk Traditions, Vol 1, Stephen Moore, 2005
        Texas Gladden on Ballad Legacy, Rounder, 2001
"The Devil's Ten Questions"
        Phil Cooper on Written in Our Eyes, CDBY, 2007
"The Devil's Question"
        The Golden Glows on A Folksongbook, Glans and Luister, 2007
        Jean Ritchie and Paul Clayton on American Folk Tales and Songs, Tradition Records, 1956.

Here's The Askew Sisters performing "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded" live.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Apse Painting from Sant Climent de Taüll

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty.

The Valle de Boi in Catalonia, with nine standing Romanesque churches and several ruins in about 85 square miles, has the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in the world. The largest and best preserved of these churches is Sant Climent de Taüll, consecrated in 1123.

Catalonia in the 12th century was not a prosperous region and the builders of the church could not afford expensive mosaics, so the church was decorated with fresco. These frescoes are amongst the extant Romanesque murals. The apse mosaic is a Christ in Majesty, with Christ seated on the throne of the world. He is flanked by angels and is above medallions bearing the four beasts of the apocalypse. Mozarabic influence is seen in the broad bands of color that form the background.

In 1922 the murals of Sant Climent de Taüll were removed to protect them from theft and are now in the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona.

Image credit: