Friday, March 16, 2012

"Fel Temp Reparatio..."

01 XII 00 AE centenionalis (0.022m).  Constantinople mint.  AD 348-354.  Constantius II diademed, draped and cuirassed bust, to r.  D N CONSTAN   |   TIVS P F AVG.  Rev., Fallen Horseman (Persian embracing its neck, the fallen horse with its brow to ground).  FEL TEMP RE   |   PARATIO and in exergue CONS H; in field at left, gamma.
Sear RCV4, no. 4003 = RIC 72 (not, of course, same mint).
The coin at the heading is one of many issued for Constantius II, this one at the Constantinople mint, proclaiming the restoration of prosperous times; the Fallen Horseman motif conveying protection from the foreign powers that threatened the Roman Empire on most of its borders (or, if we believe the reputation of Constantius, of anyone that threatened his power—for P F, pius, felix, need not be taken literally).  Therefore, the Persian bonnet of the fallen rider (for which I chose this specimen for showing it clearly) probably is not meant specifically.  It had been more than a century since the legends on the coins of the Empire announcing forethought, providentia, of the emperor, or security, securitas, or the primacy, in some abstract sense, of the People, genius populi romani, was really reassuring.  I have a few of these late Roman bronzes that, following the excellent example of my professor in the history of Roman art, decades earlier, I used to make the dynasties of the Empire both concrete and alive, besides exemplifying stylistic and thematic changes.  The citizens and subjects of the Empire had no 24/7 media, but the coinage did provide the official point of view, rather as wartime posters did in the 20th century.
When I decided to write a blog, nearly three years ago, I decided that there were plenty of blogs, both independent and at media sites, about the State of the World, diplomatic, military, economic, political, spiritual, and sociological.  There were plenty of memoirs, too, and explorations of personal experiences and life choices, some of them very well written, but in these decades, it seemed to me, there was a tendency to dubious narratives and self-diagnosis; patterns recurred, reminding me of the old motif indexes of folk literature and the transformation, via oral transmission, of memory into epic and fabulous tradition.  Repressed memory is always perilous, not least in oneself, and retrieval  of merely lost memory for the sake of reconstruction of what must have been not much less so.  I had an awful time writing the last Post.  Then there is the problem of respect for others, for one's friends and associates, not merely to avoid blame but to respect their reticence.  I have told my own sister to write her own blog, not that we have "issues" but I cannot remember her memories, nor she mine.  To cover the last twenty years I have not yet figured out how to write without saying much about everyone I know and their children, who now are growing up and should not have to come across echoes of themselves in an old lady's life.  Neighborly life, in an older neighborhood of a university town, has been a real pleasure, but . . .  This reticence applies even more to my former colleagues.  Those academic novels make me cringe, except for Randall Jarrell's, somehow.
Sometimes my consciousness is so invaded by the often terrible news of the day, that I must force myself to write about trees or, if I am lucky enough to take a photograph that seems to exemplify something about photography, about a hobby that I have shared with my grandfather and father as well as several friends.
When the Oscars ceremony reminded me of John Le CarrĂ©, I sought comfort in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which, as it happened, I hadn't read.  It had been some comfort, too, to download Rose Macaulay's earlier novel, Potterism, and find her deploring the same kind of phrasemaking just after World War I.  But what next?  I had read Robert Harris's The Fear Index, and it's a very good read, but the last third of it reads like an action film with great special effects, and he may have had one in mind, but it's not up to the standard of Tinker, Tailor.  So I turned to the great, last Roman historian, the post-Constantinian Ammianus Marcellinus, whom I've resolved to read ever since I met his name first in Erich Auerbach's Mimesis when it first appeared in an Anchor Paperback.  Actually, my studying coins since 1999 proves to be a great preparation for Ammianus.  It really is a great history, which I recommend, and it suggested this Post and the use of the Fel Temp bronze for its heading.  I don't mean to say that the present age is the Late Roman Empire all over again.  History does NOT repeat itself that way, but humanity does keep explaining itself the same way and expressing its anxiety catastrophically.  But beautifully and graciously, too.  Oh, well.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

For Love of Roger de Trumpington

A day in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire
Snapshot from Lawrence Stone's Pelican History of Art on English Medieval Sculpture, 1955, p. 137, fig. 1(b).  The brass of Sir Roger de Trumpington (d. AD 1289) in the church of SS Mary and Michael in Trumpington village, Cambs

 A very old friend of mine, since 1952 (though born only a couple of years before me), has written to me remarking on my omitting to write blog posts on things that at the time, to judge from letters that he has (to my astonishment) saved all these years, I had strong feelings about and enjoyed.

First, it may be wrong, but I was fairly young then, one does tend to write the letters that one feels will please a friend. . . Now, what have I done that will make a good letter?  Then, one tries to write it in a nice style.  When letters are sent back to the writer after nearly half a century, the nice style sometimes does show a bit of improvement, in depending more on nouns and verbs than modifiers.  More often, as also in my maiden article, the fine phrasing that I took pride in makes me squirm.
In the blog, when I wanted to record something that I still felt keenly, I found that I fell into what I recently learned to call Potterism of the fictional kind.  I’m not a good enough writer. 
Besides, apart from the limits of my writing, I resolved never to consider what recently was called “the inner child”.  Icky-poo.  Also, I must confess, like almost anyone else, I am still ashamed of my bad taste as well as selfishness whenever sexual relations were involved.  Sex is no shame, but as such it is private rather than personal.  Now, having lived more than three quarters of a century, I simply must conclude that my talents lay elsewhere, in friendship, in scholarship, in attentiveness to all sorts of things, but not in glamour or fascination.
I greatly enjoyed playing the Sather Tower bells (not yet a carillon but a ring of twelve English bells, fitted with pulleys and levers, so that tunes could be played).  Every time a Berkeley professor appears on television as an expert you see the Campanile in the background, but, when  a man leaped to his death from the observation platform and what had been open was enclosed in heavy glass, the bells sounded different, even before someone endowed the tower with a carillon (which had to be played by a real musician), and one could no longer feel and smell the atmosphere of San Francisco fog from the Bay.  Besides, a man had died.  So did my pitiable fantasy of possessing an instrument huge and visible from San Francisco but simple enough for an untrained amateur to play.
As I mulled over the questions of the indescribable and of the imperfectly remembered, into my mind trained to be nearly eidetic came the image of Roger de Trumpington which I’d met in Lawrence Stone’s Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages, Pelican History of Art, 1955, in the fine rubbing for which he thanks Donald Bell-Scott.  Making a rubbing of my own of Roger and sending it home successfully was one of the most joyous things I ever did, and it was part of an eventful day.  With a friend who has a car and knows how to get around England, one can do Sir Roger and see Earls Barton and visit Castle Ashby (for which Martin Robertson was just finishing a fascicle of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum and after which Beazley had named a red-figure vase-painter), and, with luck, drop by Peterborough before it was dark.  I’m almost sure we did get to Peterborough that day, and I know that we did the rest.
By deduction I think that this must have been in the summer of 1970, when the Greek vases were no longer at Castle Ashby (if I hadn’t been nearly a decade in Oregon, where no one knew of Castle Ashby or its painter, I’d have known that).**
By deduction it will have been Louise, who with her first husband, a physicist, and two children will have been in Cambridge.  I think I actually stayed with them; none of my family were still in England.  Now, I have the most vivid memory of them and their children, but last night I was forced to admit that I do not remember how it all fit together.  I actually remember threading all the roundabouts of the middle of southern England, the look of fields and hedgerows, the towns (Castle Ashby being a mere village, apart from the house itself), how large a life-size brass is and how beautiful,  overcoming the objection that we had not made an appointment to do a rubbing.  Yet all went well.  Had the Greek vases still been at Castle Ashby, and had I been able to get to see them, we’d have seen less.  Quite by accident, too, I learned that large country houses might be called abbeys and castles, with sometimes only the slightest pretense of continuity with actual religious or defensive predecessors; moats could be parts of landscape architecture.
At that time, though I had had a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead”, first in paperback, but since the ‘60s in hardback (both thanks to my librarian friend), the fountain and the folly were much clearer to me than the house.  Yes, something less than the chateaux of the Loire, but what?  Granada TV had yet to offer Americans Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard, much less with Geoffrey Burgon’s haunting score.  Last night it occurred to me that a house like Castle Ashby might the nearer the right size (and not in Yorkshire).  They advertise for Weddings now.  So do most of the others, including Highclere Castle, which, need I add, is not by Vanbrugh; I thought it looked like the period of the Houses of Parliament, and that is about right, since, if you dig enough on the web page, a unified design dates from 1838.  Castle Ashby about 40+ years ago still had some very nice paintings and things, which I hope that it has kept.
Anyway, Castle Ashby was a pure surprise, but I had to solve the enigma of Earls Barton: why it is never illustrated except for its Saxon tower.  Well, today I got around to learning that Pevsner said that it was not meant to have a nave.  The nave is maybe Decorated, but some of the rest is modern.  What I saw there, not mentioned in the current sources, is a sanctuary screen that looked to me like misunderstood Art Nouveau.  This sanctuary corresponds nicely to Evelyn Waugh’s send-up (a send-up is something that Waugh could never, and seldom tried to, resist) of the Brideshead chapel, not in the least like Castle Howard's.  Waugh’s intolerance of novelty far exceeded Prince Charles’s.
So one keeps learning.  Little bits fall into place.  It was quite a day, and Louise (and it must have been her; who else but Louise or Evie would know what kind of paper and grease crayon to buy and where to buy it?) and Louise was one of my most unselfish friends.  I don’t recall that Evie was in England at the same time as I was.
As for Peterborough Cathedral: it is not Ely, but if anything under-advertised.
But it all hung on realizing that Trumpington was now merely a suburb of Cambridge.

Reference:  From Google Books, you can download free, in your choice of formats, Herbert Walter Macklin, The Brasses of England, Methuen, 1907, still very useful, though with fewer illustrations than we'd expect today.  Roger is not shown, being already richly published, but wonderfully described on p. 18 (the .pdf page number, of course, being different).  If you're interested in Sir Roger's armor, Macklin is wonderful, and, as he says, as far as can be ascertained, he not only is the second earliest but the only crusader, who actually was commemorated by a monumental brass.

** Not for the first time, and actually on principle, I forced myself to write what I thought I could remember and spend the next day or so checking up, so far as local library sources permit.
First, Castle Ashby still belongs to the present Marquis of Northampton (you can look him up on line in the peerage), though the vases were sold at Christie's, London, in 1980 and, as I said, were not available at the house when I tried to see them.  Second, Ashby really is old, and the building of a Castle Ashby is old, though older than the present building's style; you can find "Ashby" in an historical atlas for the 13th century.  I was right, I think, that it may be more like the kind of house Waugh had in mind, being old, for one thing (but I like Vanbrugh, nonetheless).  Third, I was dead wrong in saying that there is a 'Castle Ashby Painter'.  I know how I got the false notion, and, as I said, I deliberately forebore going to Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, 1962, last night.  H.R.W.Smith, with whom I studied red-figure vases, had us read all of Beazley's early articles; they really are seminal.  Though I don't have them here, now, I have Donna Kurtz's The Berlin Painter, Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology, Clarendon Press, 1983, which publishes the Beazley drawings preserved in the Beazley Archive.  Northampton had a stamnos (he had two, but the other one is not in such good condition), ARV2, 207, no. 141, "Early", of which Kurtz illustrates his drawings 52-54.  He also had a plate by Epiktetos ARV2, p. 77, no. 92, and a cup of his.   Just to mention two, these are two of Beazley's favorite artists, and he had had generous access to Castle Ashby.  It is evident that verbally 'Castle Ashby' caught my fancy then, in the mid-1950s!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

With Camera at Campus Lake

Natural Gnomes
The Realities of Lenses and Chips compared with being there
I hope this is different from my grandfather's attachment to a cliff-rock at Morro Bay in California, which he pointed out to me more times than I could count, because the resemblance to George Washington's profile not only was general but obviously meaningless (like most adolescents, I was highly intolerant of that).  Similarly, I hope it is not quite comparable with the gnarly roots that seemed to have an angry aspect, like that of Guardians and Monsters
At the southern extremity of the University Lakes is the small body labeled "Campus Lake" on the maps, the lake on one side of the road and on the south side the stock barns of the Agriculture Center.
You can see the place in the photos I took on Tuesday, March 6, nos 17-47 in Album March 2012, some with more elaborate identifications.  Some of the images, with no thought of art (and the sun was shining into the monitor reducing me to guesswork anyhow), are to help me to learn to recognize tree species by their bark and structure.  Seeing that about half the leaves seem to be five-pointed in one way or another, the solid, year-round character of a tree seems a better choice.  I think I ought to learn these just as I have done with the mints of coins and the centers, workshops, and artists of vase-painters: one does not learn by memorizing lists of traits, of rules of thumb, which will always betray you.  Other images just caught my eye.
At the City Park end of the University Lakes (a lovely and beloved WPA project, also across town at the State Capitol), nos. 1-16 in Album March 2012, I had noticed "knees" in one place, but on the campus,  a small, final lake allows studying the "knees" remaining from the native swamp much more closely than at the larger lakes.  When I first came down here and, as one drove past Lake Pontchartrain, I saw such things sticking up in the water alongside cypresses that looked practically dead (that was in what passes for Winter down here), I thought they resulted from the lumbermen's nearly eliminating the bald cypress; that is what textbooks had suggested to my mind.  I had to be corrected: these are the "knees" that the tree growing in water puts up to reproduce itself.  Unfriendly to canoes, but otherwise admirable.  So I decided to use the close access on campus, with a zoom lens, too, to see them better, especially when some seemed to be lopped and to show a cross section.  The ones in the image at the top of this essay do not reveal a section, but they have developed the illusion of character, as if they were a family of knees.  I didn't see that, however, as I got them centered and focused; only at home did the image seem gnome-like on the computer screen.
In fact, the CCD (the chip) and the lenses, or the zoom lenses,  often produce perfectly true images that have quite different effects from those of living eyes focusing on and following and mentally processing the same subjects and views.  And the living ocular and mental imaging is also perfectly true.  It is really even more interesting than the difference between thinking digitally with algorithms and thinking organically and complexly and perhaps distractedly (but nonetheless also perfectly truly)—and the organic logic machine has the additional task of taking care to understand the digital machine.
Is it foolish to find this interesting?
Rather differently, conditioned by teaching so many surveys of art history and art appreciation for over a half century, though the living scene did not remind me of any painted water, probably owing to the slight ruffling of the water which my eyes did not 'freeze', several of the water photos when they appeared on the screen made me think that if he had been confined to Louisiana (or probably a number of other places) Claude Monet could have worked with our water as well as he did with Giverny.  See especially no. 36 in Album March 2012 (and use the magnifier at the top to zoom it), not that Monet painted "knees" nor that we have waterlilies.

Do I dare to suggest that the camera got for me images better than I could see 'live' with my own unaided eyes?  Yet a great artist reinterprets sensuously, emotionally (as well as analytically), freely incorporating bits of memory, and that is exactly what the inert lens and the CCD cannot do for us.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A little brick home

Just noticed
A Home the size of a a recreational vehicle
Over the couple of decades since the original owners of the house next to me moved to a Senior apartment, I have had at least half a dozen new neighbors, but now at last the latest may be permanent.
All of our houses, dating from the 1920s, had freestanding garages, and thoughtful planning gave them all access from alleys, where also our power poles were planted and our pipes for natural gas went underground, about nine or ten feet deep.  They still do.  Now add cable TV.  It makes the neighborhood much more attractive.
So long as my first neighbors were here, their brick garage matching their brick house (both very well built and the house about 1/3 larger than mine--mine one of dozens built at once of pre-cut timber when the town turned industrial) served as intended.  Each garage would house one car (even one larger than a Model A) and at the end opposite the door for the car a laundry and a place for garden tools.  I got rid of mine promptly, because it hadn't been used or maintained.  It was filthy, but also it was sheathed in corrugated metal rather than brick, and its wooden frame was termite ridden.  My first act of ownership was to hire a crew of male students to dismantle it and remove all the metal and wood; then, of course, I called a well known exterminator.
Over the years, like most of my juniors, successive purchasers of the house always parked on the street and used the garage for storage, if at all.  Some of them, however, rented it to students.  The advantages of garages incorporating laundries (need I remind you that African-American women, in the days before spinning washers and dryers, when the washing machines had wringers and every yard had clotheslines, came up the alleys and did the laundry?) is that they were wired, to code, for electricity and piped for hot and cold running water, and when, after WW II, ordinary houses were put on concrete slabs rather than raised on foundations or, more often here, on brick pillars, students looking for affordable housing didn't mind concrete floors.  Those post-war warehouse import stores, precursors of WalMart and its competitors, had cheap rugs and Japanese matting to cover it.  But I never noticed the renters using it for more than to come home and sleep.  I never heard radio or TV.  I never heard a cozy party.  Since there is a second door to the garage opposite the back door of the house, I daresay that renters shared the back yard, which by the mid-90s was high-fenced, fully enclosed.  Perhaps art students mostly wanted a studio.
Yet, in my first decade here, I did know the red-brick garage inside and out.  My dear neighbors taught me how to drain my pipes when a hard freeze was expected.  Once a neighbor's cat got in and climbing to the rafters was unable to find its way down, but only yowled, and since I was then unafraid of tall ladders I climbed up and got it down with only a couple of scratches.  And I knew that they still had a washer with a wringer and that the laundry had its own toilet and a window unit for AC, from the few times that I came in from the yard, and it was separated from the main space.  I'd have been glad to live in it in my undergraduate days when I worked for a dollar an hour.  Almost every Berkeley garage within walking distance of the campus was rented out, supposedly only for studio space (lip service to single resident dwelling).
Careful not to include the street number, I took the above snapshot two days ago.  Not only have they had the spirit to call it HOME, they have two planters (I show one with a cactus in it) flanking the door.  The original width to admit a car long since was filled and provided with a small door for human use, as you see.
DON'T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS, blaming the recession.  Maybe my neighbors are letting a young relative stay in it.  Maybe it IS a studio, just marked HOME for fun.  I thought it was delightful fun.  As for living in it, it is about the size of the recreational vehicle that my sister and brother-in-law enjoyed every winter, for so long as their health permitted, and you don't have to fasten up hoses for water, much less find a place where you can (yourself) empty all your waste.  And your monthly electric bill (even if not included in your rent) will be less than half a tankful of gasoline for an RV.  It measures about 12-14 feet wide and about 25 feet long, as my sister's RV did.