Antwerp Kimono Show

Last weekend we travelled to Antwerp to see an exhibition of kimono by the late Japanese master Itchiku Kubota. Kubota is one of my favourite artists and the chance to see some of his pieces that I only knew in reproduction made the trip a must.

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The exhibition was small with just eight kimono, six from the “Symphony of Light” series (the “Universe” set) plus two from his “Mount Fuji” series. The works were fabulous, which I knew they would be, but sadly the quality of the display was very poor with untidy hanging and lighting totally unsuitable for this type of work. The main light came from an internal paved courtyard but this caused so much reflection on the glass that you could only really see the piece directly in front of you. Fortunately we were permitted to take photographs, which is normally strictly forbidden in Kubota exhibits.

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Reflections on the glass made viewing very difficult!

The “Universe” set of kimono represents a mythical dragon within Mount Fuji breathing out flames and magma. They form one amazing continous image which was impossible to photograph but I have put together a set of individual photos to show the effect.

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The Universe set from “The Festival of Light”

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The complexity of the shibori work is amazing

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The subtle areas are among the most beautiful

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One of the Mount Fuji kimono

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The hand-stitched shibori textures are breathtaking!

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The other Mount Fuji kimono

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Kubota would spend as much as a year working on each kimono

The exhibition runs until the 19th June at MOMU – The Antwerp Fashion Museum. Antwerp itself is not a city I had ever considered visiting but proved to be a very pleasant and enjoyable destination.

Metal sculpture in Florence

A few weeks ago I posted some photos of Florentine wrought ironwork. Here is a follow-up featuring Florentine metalwork closer to the fine art end of the spectrum. This is a huge subject with a great tradition but these are just a few pictures that appealed to me.

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The main bronze doors of Florence Cathedral by Augusto Passaglia

The casting of relief-decorated bronze doors has been a major art form in Florence since the start of the Renaissance. In fact, many classic texts date the true start of the Italian Renaissance to the sculpting of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors for Florence’s Baptistery.

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“The Annunciation” – A panel in a side door of Florence Cathedral

Sadly, the two sets of doors that Ghiberti made for the Baptistery have now been replaced by modern copies in order to preserve the originals. The copies are superb, however, and a great testament to an enduring Florentine bronze casting tradition.

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One of the North doors of the Baptistery (a modern exact replica)

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The second set of doors by Ghiberti were christened “The Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo

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Detail from “The Gates of Paradise” (a modern replica)

Cast sculpture can be found throughout Florence both in the galleries and out in public spaces. A favourite of mine is the fountains in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata by Pietro Tacca.

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Detail from a mannerist fountain by Pietro Tacca

As well as skills with bronze, Florence has long been renowned as a centre for gold-smithing. In the Pitti Palace fine examples are displayed of gold working from many periods.

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A gold mounted drinking horn

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A large gold snail featuring a real seashell

Finally, though not high art, I noticed a number small metal tortoises scattered around the city, often in hard to spot places and usually carrying heavy loads on their backs.sculpture 8

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See also: Florentine Ironwork

 

 

Stokesay Castle

A few weeks ago we spent a weekend in the lovely city of Hereford. As well as spending time visiting the beautiful cathedral and interesting shops we also took a trip by car to see an old favourite of ours.

Stokesay Castle is a medieval fortified manor house situated on the A49 between Hereford and Shrewsbury. It was originally built in the 1280’s and much of that first building phase has somehow survived.

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The entrance to Stokesay Castle with its ornate gatehouse

Some additions and alterations were made in the 16th century, most notably the construction of an ornate gatehouse. The only other major change to the layout came during the civil war when the Parliamentarians demolished the curtain wall after the castle was surrendered to them.

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The South Tower is the most military looking part of the structure

Stokesay was built as a grand country residence by a powerful wool merchant named Richard of Ludlow, who was one of the richest people in England.

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The great hall stands just as originally built

The great hall is the stand out feature of the castle and gives a powerful impression of how basic life in a medieval household must have been. We had last visited Stokesay about fifteen years before on a warm summer’s day. This time we came on a bleak freezing day in February and it really brought home how cold life was in large uninsulated buildings without glazing to keep the wind out.

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The impressive roof of the great hall

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The main door to the great hall

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The carved wooden fireplace surround in the 16th century solar

Things became more civilized in the sixteenth century when a private room adjoining the great hall was converted into a solar, with glazed windows and wood panelled walls.

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The elaborate and decorative gatehouse

The building of the decorative gatehouse as part of the sixteenth century updating illustrates how life had become much less dangerous on the Welsh borders by this time. The gatehouse is very beautiful but looks slightly incongruous in the context of the other buildings. The missing outer castle wall adds to its sense of dislocation.

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This serpent is one of many carved decorations on the gatehouse walls

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Stokesay Castle is situated in a beautiful valley

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Sheep grazing by the castle

Today, Stokesay Castle is owned and maintained by English Heritage. In a world where heritage sites too often try to be entertaining, this old building that has survived so miraculously is presented to visitors with the minimum modern embellishment possible and that is very refreshing. If you are ever in that part of the world it is worth a visit.

An Ocean of Foxgloves

I went for a walk in the local forest a few weeks ago and came across this glorious patch of purple. This area had been cleared last year, and the foxgloves seem to have wasted no time in colonising!

Foxglove 5Unfortunately, there was no way to get a better view (though I did consider sending Alex up a tree), but hopefully these photos will convey some of the drama.

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Solitary Pale Bloom

A lone spire of white amongst the purple. 

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Digitalis purpurea (Common Foxglove)

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Wilsey Down Forest

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Clearing in the conifers


India – Early Morning

I recently made another trip to visit India, the fourth time I have gone there and every visit is unique. This time instead of concentrating on crafts we were visiting some of the great heritage sights in Central India. I hope to produce a number of posts based on the photos I took but for a start here are a few pics of a beautiful morning spent in a beautiful heritage hotel.

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The Neemrana Deo Bagh in Gwalior is a fabulous place to stay. Converted from a 17th century aristocrat’s residence, it features two 17th-18th century temples, two cenotaphs and a beautiful arched pavilion all within the grounds. What an amazing place to wake up in!

The grounds of Deo Bagh are renowned for the variety of bird life

The grounds of Deo Bagh are renowned for the variety of bird life

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Making a new acquaintance

Making a new acquaintance

The tranquil light of morning

The tranquil light of morning

Icy Photos in Cornwall

Many parts of the UK have had a lot of snow recently. Here in Cornwall we have only had a light dusting but it was enough to get me out of the house with my camera. I ended up having a lot of fun trying to get shots of just one lump of ice. This had frozen inside a bowl in the garden and when I turned it out, it had all sorts of interesting curves and textures. I am not sure that the photographs do it justice but here are a few.

When water turns to solid!

When water turns to solid!

Not much snow here but a lovely crisp winter's day

Not much snow here but a lovely crisp winter’s day

This piece of ice formed in a bowl full of water in my garden

This piece of ice formed in a bowl full of water in my garden

Side view

Side view

Top view

Top view

Frozen ground

Frozen ground

Japan 5 – Hida no Sato

Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is a wonderful open air museum situated on the outskirts of Takayama, a delightful town in the mountains of central Honshu, north of Nagoya. The site consists of around 30 old buildings from all over the mountains that were dismantled and then rebuilt here in the 1970’s. The buildings are mainly large farmhouses of various types and most are over 100 years old.

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The Hida region of Gifu Prefecture is subject to heavy snowfall (often up to two metres) and the different styles of architecture show alternative approaches to dealing with this climate. In the north of the region the farmers built using steeply sloped roofs so that snow would slide off. This is the “gassho-zukuri” (praying hands) style of building used at the nearby Shirakawa-go village that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other areas built houses with very strong, low-pitched roofs so that people could climb up and shovel off the excess snow.

The "gassho-zukuri" farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

The “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Visitors are able to wander around and enter the buildings. Inside are many of the everyday tools and artifacts used by their original inhabitants. Each structure also functions as a museum for one aspect of traditional mountain life, including weaving, house building and repair, cultivation, transport, etc.

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

This building displayed many looms and other fabric processing equipment

This building displayed many examples of looms and other fabric processing equipment

Models are also used to show house construction techniques and such things as farm layouts.

A model showing the construction of a "gassho-zukuri" house

A model showing the construction of a “gassho-zukuri” house

The immense size of many buildings is very impressive. Large extended families would have all lived together under one roof.

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Most buildings also feature space for the domestic animals

Buildings also feature space for the domestic animals alongside the people

Hido no Sato even features an original village well that has been painstakingly reconstructed on the site.

A village well

A village well

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A fascinating old phot showing one of the buildings before it was moved

A fascinating old photo showing one of the buildings before it was moved

Hida no Sato is a very peacefull and picturesque place to visit

Hida no Sato is a very peaceful and picturesque place to visit

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

The village has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

The village even has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

Developing rice

Developing rice

This is a wonderful place to visit and certainly proved much more interesting than we had anticipated. In one part of the site visitors can watch traditional craftspeople at work and buy their wares.

The doll is called "Sarubobo" and is a symbol of Takayama

The doll is called “Sarubobo” and is a traditional symbol of Takayama