Jan 162019
 

Today is the birthday (1691) of Peter Scheemakers or Pieter Scheemaeckers the Younger, a Flemish sculptor who worked for most of his life in London where his public and church sculptures in a classicist style had a significant influence on the development of sculpture. Scheemakers is perhaps best known for executing the William Kent-designed memorial to William Shakespeare which was erected in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in 1740.

Scheemakers learned his art from his father, the Antwerp sculptor Pieter Scheemaeckers the Elder. He visited Denmark where he studied for four years with the court sculptor Johann Adam Sturmberg (1683–1741). He walked to Rome where he and Laurent Delvaux studied both classical and baroque styles of sculpture before settling in London in 1716. He and Delvaux worked there with another Flemish sculptor Pieter-Denis Plumier on a funeral monument to John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, which they delivered in 1722 after the death of Plumier.

In 1723, Scheemakers and Delvaux entered into a formal partnership and set up a workshop in Millbank in Westminster. Their workshop produced many sober classical monuments and garden statuary. The partners sold their stock in the partnership and travelled to Rome in 1728. Scheemakers stayed here for two years to study both classical and contemporary masterpieces. Upon his return to England in 1730 Scheemakers restarted the Milbank workshop on his own. His ‘ideal’ classical sculptures became very popular with the landowning class and the city merchants. He moved his workshop a few times: first to Old Palace Yard in 1736 and then to Vine Street in 1740 where he was active until his retirement in 1771. He returned to Antwerp where he died at the age of 90.

Fifteen of Scheemakers’ works – monuments, figures and busts – are in Westminster Abbey; two were executed in collaboration with Delvaux: the “Hugh Chamberlen” (d. 1728, and therefore perhaps produced during his first visit to London) and “Catherine, duchess of Buckinghamshire.” He is best known for his monument to Shakespeare (1740), but as this work was designed by Kent the credit is not all Scheemakers’. In addition to these, there are the monuments to Admiral Sir Charles Wager, Vice-Admiral Watson, Lieut.-General Percy Kirk, George Lord Viscount Howe, General Monck, and Sir Henry Belasye. His busts of John Dryden (1720) and Dr Richard Mead (1754), also in the Abbey, are noted examples of his smaller works.

Works outside of Westminster Abbey are memorials to the 1st and 2nd Dukes of Ancaster at Edenham, Lincolnshire; Lord Chancellor Hardwicke at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire; the Duke of Kent, his wives and daughters, at Fletton, Bedfordshire; the Earl of Shelburne, at Wycombe, Bucks; and the figure on the sarcophagus to Montague Sherrard Drake, at Amersham. Another example of his work is the memorial to Topham Foote (or Foot) in the parish church of St John the Baptist, Windsor. This burial monument, which includes the young man’s bust and the Foote family crest, greets visitors in the main High Street entrance, just 300 feet (90 m) from the Henry VIII gate to Windsor Castle. He also sculpted a memorial for the Petty family, marking the family burial place in All Saints’ Parish Church, High Wycombe, which depicts the family in Roman dress, and designed the gilded equestrian statue of King William III erected at Kingston upon Hull (1734).

In 1743, Mary Coghill erected the parish church of Clonturk (now Drumcondra Church) in memory of her brother Marmaduke Coghill, and placed in it a statue of her brother by Scheemakers. He also sculpted fourteen of the busts in the Long Room of the Trinity College Library in Dublin, including Homer, Aristotle and Socrates.

Between 1970 and 1993, an image of Scheemakers’ Shakespeare statue appeared on the reverse of Series D £20 notes issued by the Bank of England.

Scheemakers is credited with introducing broccoli to England in the 18th century. I have not done an exhaustive review of sources to check this claim, so you will have to do as I do and trust repetition on the internet. Broccoli resulted from breeding of cultivated Brassica crops in the northern Mediterranean starting around the 6th century BCE and since the time of the Roman Empire, broccoli has been popular in Italy.  A common way to cook broccoli in Italy is one of my favorites and would honor the memory of Scheemakers: broccoli in oil and garlic. Steam the broccoli until it is al dente. Meanwhile gently heat extra virgin olive oil in a wide skillet and add sliced garlic to your taste. I like to add several cloves. Do not allow the garlic to brown, but let it infuse the oil. Drain the broccoli, let it air dry, then toss it in the oil and garlic. Serve immediately. In Italy it is quite common to serve this style of broccoli with macaroni or pasta of your choice.

Jul 192018
 

Today is the birthday (1834) of Edgar Degas, born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, a French artist who is now mostly remembered for his paintings of dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. I will begin by saying that Degas was, by contemporary accounts of him, a thoroughly unpleasant man. I’ll get into details in the body of the post.  For now, I will content myself with saying that if I rejected posts on all famous creative people who led hideous personal lives, my writing would be a great deal slimmer.

Degas was born in Paris, France, into a moderately wealthy family. He was the oldest of five children of Célestine Musson De Gas, a Creole from New Orleans, Louisiana, and Augustin De Gas, a banker. His maternal grandfather Germain Musson, was born in Port-au-Prince in Haiti of French descent and had settled in New Orleans in 1810. Degas (he adopted this less grandiose spelling of his family name when he became an adult) began his schooling at age 11, enrolling in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. His mother died when he was 13, and his father and grandfather became the main influences on him for the remainder of his youth.

Degas began to paint early in life. By the time he graduated from the Lycée with a baccalauréat in 1853, at age 18, he had turned a room in his home into an artist’s studio. Upon graduating, he registered as a copyist in The Louvre Museum, but his father expected him to go to law school. Degas duly enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853, but put little effort to his studies. In 1855 he met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, whom Degas revered and whose advice he never forgot: “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist.” In April of that year Degas was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts. He studied drawing there with Louis Lamothe, under whose guidance he flourished, following the style of Ingres. In July 1856, Degas traveled to Italy, where he remained for the next three years. In 1858, while staying with his aunt’s family in Naples, he made the first studies for his early masterpiece The Bellelli Family. He also drew and painted numerous copies of works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and other Renaissance artists, but—contrary to conventional practice—he usually selected from an altarpiece a detail that had caught his attention: a secondary figure, or a head which he treated as a portrait.

Upon his return to France in 1859, Degas moved into a Paris studio large enough to permit him to begin painting The Bellelli Family—an imposing canvas he intended for exhibition in the Salon, although it remained unfinished until 1867. He also began work on several history paintings: Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah in 1859–60; Sémiramis Building Babylon in 1860; and Young Spartans around 1860. In 1861 Degas visited his childhood friend Paul Valpinçon in Normandy, and made the earliest of his many studies of horses. He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865, when the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, which attracted little attention. Although he exhibited annually in the Salon during the next five years, he submitted no more history paintings, and his Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey (Salon of 1866) signaled his growing commitment to contemporary subject matter. The change in his art was influenced primarily by the example of Édouard Manet, whom Degas had met in 1864 (while both were copying the same Velázquez portrait in the Louvre, according to a story that may be apocryphal).

Upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his defense of Paris left him little time for painting. During rifle training his eyesight was found to be defective, and for the rest of his life his eye problems were a constant worry to him. After the war, Degas began (in 1872) an extended stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. Staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, on Esplanade Avenue, Degas produced a number of works, many depicting family members. One of Degas’s New Orleans works, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, garnered favorable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum (the Pau) during his lifetime.

Degas returned to Paris in 1873 and his father died the following year, whereupon Degas learned that his brother René had amassed enormous business debts. To preserve his family’s reputation, Degas sold his house and an art collection he had inherited, and used the money to pay off his brother’s debts. Dependent for the first time in his life on sales of his artwork for income, he produced much of his greatest work during the decade beginning in 1874. Disenchanted by now with the Salon, he instead joined a group of young artists who were organizing an independent exhibiting society. The group soon became known as the Impressionists. Between 1874 and 1886 they mounted eight art shows, known as the Impressionist Exhibitions. Degas took a leading role in organizing the exhibitions, and showed his work in all but one of them, despite his persistent conflicts with others in the group. He had little in common with Monet and the other landscape painters in the group, whom he mocked for painting outdoors. He abhorred the scandal created by the exhibitions, as well as the publicity and advertising that his colleagues sought. He also deeply disliked being associated with the term “Impressionist”, which the press had coined and popularized, and insisted on including non-Impressionist artists such as Jean-Louis Forain and Jean-François Raffaëlli in the group’s exhibitions. The resulting rancor within the group contributed to its disbanding in 1886.

Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he continually belittled their practice of painting “en plein air.” He wrote:

You know what I think of people who work out in the open. If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on artists who paint landscapes from nature. Oh, I don’t mean to kill anyone; just a little dose of bird-shot now and then as a warning.

Mlle. Fiocre in the Ballet La Source, exhibited in the Salon of 1868, was his first major work to introduce dancers as a subject with which he would become especially identified. In many subsequent paintings dancers were shown backstage or in rehearsal, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job. From 1870 Degas increasingly painted ballet subjects, partly because they sold well and provided him with needed income after his brother’s debts had left the family bankrupt.

As his financial situation improved through sales of his own work, he was able to indulge his passion for collecting works by artists he admired: old masters such as El Greco and contemporaries such as Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Édouard Brandon. Three artists he idolized, Ingres, Delacroix, and Daumier, were especially well represented in his collection. In the late 1880s, Degas also developed a passion for photography. He photographed many of his friends, often by lamplight, as in his double portrait of Renoir and Mallarmé.

Renoir and Mallarmé

Other photographs, depicting dancers and nudes, were used for reference in some of Degas’s drawings and paintings. He also photographed individuals and family groupings.

Over the years Degas became more and more isolated, due in part to his belief that a painter should have no personal life.  He wrote, “the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown.” In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an “old curmudgeon” by the novelist George Moore, and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. His argumentative nature was deplored by Renoir, who said of him: “What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn’t stay till the end.”

Self Portrait

Degas was profoundly conservative in his political opinions. He opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his anti-Semitism became apparent by the mid-1870s. His 1879 painting Portraits at the Stock Exchange is widely regarded as anti-Semitic, with the facial features of the banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time. The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid-1890s, he had broken off relations with all of his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic “Anti-Dreyfusards” until his death.

Although he is known to have been working in pastel as late as the end of 1907, and is believed to have continued making sculptures as late as 1910, he apparently ceased working in 1912, when the impending demolition of his longtime residence on the rue Victor Massé forced him to move to quarters on Boulevard de Clichy. He never married and spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying in September 1917. He was buried in the family vault in Montmartre cemetery.

Degas’s only showing of sculpture during his life took place in 1881 when he exhibited The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. A nearly life-size wax figure with real hair and dressed in a cloth tutu, it provoked a strong reaction from critics, most of whom found its realism extraordinary but denounced the dancer as ugly. In a review, J.-K. Huysmans wrote: “The terrible reality of this statuette evidently produces uneasiness in the spectators; all their notions about sculpture, about those cold inanimate whitenesses … are here overturned. The fact is that with his first attempt Monsieur Degas has revolutionized the traditions of sculpture as he has long since shaken the conventions of painting.”

Degas created a substantial number of other sculptures during a span of four decades, but they remained unseen by the public until a posthumous exhibition in 1918. Neither The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years nor any of Degas’s other sculptures were cast in bronze during his lifetime. Degas scholars have agreed that the sculptures were not created as aids to painting, although the artist habitually explored ways of linking graphic art and oil painting, drawing and pastel, sculpture and photography. Degas assigned the same significance to sculpture as to drawing: “Drawing is a way of thinking, modelling another”.

After Degas’s death, his heirs found 150 wax sculptures in his studio, many in disrepair. They consulted foundry owner Adrien Hébrard, who concluded that 74 of the waxes could be cast in bronze. It is assumed that, except for the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, all Degas bronzes worldwide are cast from surmoulages (i.e., cast from bronze masters). A surmoulage bronze is a bit smaller, and shows less surface detail, than its original bronze mold. The Hébrard Foundry cast the bronzes from 1919 until 1936, and closed down in 1937, shortly before Hébrard’s death.

Parisian café food in general would work to celebrate the life of Degas because he is known to have frequented both cheap and expensive cafés in Paris, although what he ate is not recorded. One of my favorites is steak tartare, so I will maunder on about that delicacy for a bit. First a STERN WARNING. Classic steak tartare uses raw beef and raw egg, both of which can be vectors for crippling, even lethal, diseases. You must be fully confident in your sources before eating either, and I cannot recommend them publicly. Chefs in France use hand chopped beef, not ground, so that they are sure that the meat does not pick up contaminants from the meat grinder. They also have to be scrupulous about the sources of both their beef and eggs.

I have eaten steak tartare in numerous restaurants in France (and elsewhere), and have made it myself. It is one of my favorite dishes. I had it first at a cast party in Australia for a play I was in at age 11, and have enjoyed it ever since. The two photos below give you the basic idea.

You will be served with the hand cut beef on a platter with a raw egg yolk on top, and in addition will be given a choice of things to add. Standard are chopped cornichons, chopped green onion, and capers, plus sauces of one sort or another, as well as salt and pepper. You might also get freshly chopped onions or shallots, anchovies, lemon, and Dijon mustard. Your job is to mix in what you prefer, stir it all together really well, and then heap the mixture on toasted bread slices. Yum. It is remarkably filling.

Feb 192017
 

Today is the birthday (1876) of Constantin Brâncuși  a Romanian sculptor, painter and photographer who was a pioneer of modernism and one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. Brâncuși grew up in the village of Hobiţa, Gorj, near Târgu Jiu, close to Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, an area known for its rich tradition of folk crafts, particularly woodcarving. Geometric patterns of the region can be seen in his later works. His parents Nicolae and Maria Brâncuși were poor peasants who earned a meager living through back-breaking labor. From the age of 7, he herded the family’s flock of sheep. He showed talent for carving objects out of wood, and often ran away from home to escape the bullying of his father and older brothers.

At the age of 9, Brâncuși left the village to work in the nearest large town. At 11 he went into the service of a grocer in Slatina; and then he became a domestic in a public house in Craiova where he remained for several years. When he was 18, Brâncuși built a violin by hand with materials he found around his workplace. Impressed by Brâncuși’s talent for carving, an industrialist entered him in the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts (școala de arte și meserii), where he pursued his love for woodworking, graduating with honors in 1898.

Brâncuși then enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, where he received academic training in sculpture and quickly distinguished himself. One of his earliest surviving works, under the guidance of his anatomy teacher, Dimitrie Gerota, is a masterfully rendered écorché (statue of a man with skin removed to reveal the muscles underneath) which was exhibited at the Romanian Athenaeum in 1903. Though just an anatomical study, it foreshadowed his later efforts to reveal essence rather than merely copy outward appearance.

Here’s a little gallery.  In my humble opinion no one has been able to capture the essence of humanity better than Brâncuși through sheer simplicity of line. He decried the label “abstract artist” and I could not agree more. There is nothing abstract about his work.

This soup, ciorbã tãrãneasca, echoes Brâncuși’s work in a way because (a) it is a Carpathian peasant dish, and (b) it combines simplicity with complexity. Ciorbã is the Romanian word for “soup” and comes from the Turkish word – “çorba.”  The word “tãrãneasca” can be translated as “traditional” or “peasant.” The souring agent for this ciorbã can be lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar, sour grape leaves, or green sorrel leaves (my favorite). Sorrel is easy to grow in your garden; it is perennial and prolific, surviving drought and poor soil with no trouble. Obviously this is a simple vegetable soup, so any combination is fine. The trick is to balance the hot and sour notes. You’ll need to play with it.

Ciorbã Tãrãneasca

Ingredients

400g slab bacon, cut in small dice
200g fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 chile pepper, roughly chopped
sorrel leaves
yoghurt or sour cream
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes

Instructions

Sauté the bacon and onion in a dry Dutch oven over medium-low heat to render the fat from the bacon, and until the onion begins to take on a little color.

Add the vegetables and barely cover with water (or light stock). Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked as you like them. I prefer a little bite to them, but traditionally they are soft. As the soup cooks check the balance of heat and sourness to your taste. You can add a little lemon juice if you desire. Add the parsley towards the end.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread, with yoghurt (or sour cream) and red pepper flakes on the side for guests to add as they wish.

Oct 102016
 

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Today is the birthday (1901) of Alberto Giacometti, Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker. Giacometti was born in Borgonovo, now part of the Swiss municipality of Bregaglia, near the Italian border. He was a descendant of Protestant refugees escaping the inquisition. Alberto attended the Geneva School of Fine Arts. His father, Giovanni Giacometti, was a well known post-Impressionist painter and his brothers, Diego (1902–85) and Bruno (1907–2012), went on to become artists as well. Additionally, Zaccaria Giacometti, later professor of constitutional law and chancellor of the University of Zurich grew up together with them, having been orphaned at the age of 12 in 1905.

In 1922 Giacometti moved to Paris to study under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of Rodin. It was there that Giacometti experimented with cubism and surrealism and came to be regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors. Among his associates were Miró, Max Ernst, Picasso, Bror Hjorth and Balthus.

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Between 1936 and 1940, Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the sitter’s gaze. He preferred models he was close to: his sister, Ottilia, and the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (then known as Isabel Delmer). This was followed by a phase in which his statues of Isabel became stretched out; her limbs elongated. He often carved until his sculptures were as thin as nails and reduced to the size of a pack of cigarettes, much to his own consternation. A friend of his once said that if Giacometti decided to sculpt you, “he would make your head look like the blade of a knife.” After his marriage to Annette Arm in 1946 his tiny sculptures became larger, but the larger they grew, the thinner they became. Giacometti said that the final result represented the sensation he felt when he looked at a woman.

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His paintings underwent a parallel procedure. The figures appear isolated and severely attenuated, as the result of continuous reworking. Subjects were frequently revisited: one of his favorite models was his younger brother Diego.

In 1958 Giacometti was asked to create a monumental sculpture for the Chase Manhattan Bank building in New York, which was beginning construction. Although he had for many years “harbored an ambition to create work for a public square”, he “had never set foot in New York, and knew nothing about life in a rapidly evolving metropolis. Nor had he ever laid eyes on an actual skyscraper,” according to his biographer James Lord. Giacometti’s work on the project resulted in the four figures of standing women—his largest sculptures—entitled Grande femme debout I through IV (1960). The commission was never completed, however, because Giacometti was unsatisfied by the relationship between the sculpture and the site, and abandoned the project.

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In 1962, Giacometti was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and the award brought with it worldwide fame. Even when he had achieved popularity and his work was in demand, he still reworked models, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned to years later. The prints produced by Giacometti are often overlooked but the catalogue raisonné, Giacometti – The Complete Graphics and 15 Drawings by Herbert Lust (Tudor 1970), comments on their impact and gives details of the number of copies of each print. Some of his most important images were in editions of only 30 and many were described as rare in 1970.

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In his later years Giacometti’s works were shown in a number of large exhibitions throughout Europe. Riding a wave of international popularity, and despite his declining health, he traveled to the United States in 1965 for an exhibition of his works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As his last work he prepared the text for the book Paris sans fin, a sequence of 150 lithographs containing memories of all the places where he had lived.

Giacometti died in 1966 of heart disease (pericarditis) and chronic bronchitis at the Kantonsspital in Chur in Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, where he was interred close to his parents.

Normally I end my posts on artists with a gallery (before my recipe), but for Giacometti I’m going to give you some of my favorite quotes of his. I look at his art better through them.

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What I am looking for is not happiness. I work solely because it is impossible for me to do anything else.

The more you fail, the more you succeed. It is only when everything is lost and – instead of giving up – you go on, that you experience the momentary prospect of some slight progress. Suddenly you have the feeling – be it an illusion or not – that something new has opened up.

When I make my drawings… the path traced by my pencil on the sheet of paper is, to some extent, analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness.

In a burning building I would save a cat before a Rembrandt.

The one thing that fills me with enthusiasm is to try, despite everything, to get nearer to those visions that seem so hard to express.

Failure is my best friend. If I succeeded, it would be like dying. Maybe worse.

The head is what matters. The rest of the body plays the part of antennae making life possible for people and life itself is inside the skull.

I don’t know who I am or who I was. I know it less than ever. I do and I don’t identify myself with myself. Everything is totally contradictory, but maybe I have remained exactly as I was as a small boy of twelve.

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The cooking of the Italian Graubünden or Italian Grigioni (Grigionitaliano or Grigioni italiano) where Giacometti was born and lived for some time is very much like the cuisine of Lombardy because most of the Swiss Italians of that region came originally from Lombardy. Milanese-style saffron risotto is a popular dish and I gave a recipe for it here on Verdi’s birthday which happens to be today also — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/giuseppe-verdi/ . In fact pretty much any dish from Lombardy would work.

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Turkey with chestnut stuffing is popular in this region at this time of year. Italian turkeys are usually smaller than the U.S. monsters which I think is great deal better from a culinary standpoint. For me an 8 to 10 pound turkey is more than adequate for a family meal and if you have a large number of guests (at Thanksgiving for example) cook two, rather than one giant bird. That way you stand a chance of the meat tasting of something other than cardboard. Here’s the classic Lombardy chestnut stuffing for a turkey that is no more than 5 pounds:

Chestnut Stuffing

Ingredients

250g chestnuts
2 eggs, hard boiled
125ml white wine
50ml milk
30g butter
4 fresh Italian sausages,
salt and black pepper,
100g sliced white bread, diced

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C with the rack in the middle.  Cut an X in the rounded side of each chestnut with a small sharp knife. Roast the chestnuts, cut side up, in a shallow baking pan until the shells curl away from the nut meat (20 to 30 minutes). Wrap the hot chestnuts in a kitchen towel and squeeze gently to further loosen shells. Whilst still warm, peel off the shells.

Soak the bread in milk.

Chop the chestnuts and eggs coarsely.

Heat the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and, when melted, add all the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook for 5-10 minutes stirring frequently so that the ingredients do not stick and so that they are all combined thoroughly.

Stuff the cavity of the turkey and roast.

Nov 122015
 

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Today is the birthday (1840) of François Auguste René Rodin, renowned French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past. Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were roundly criticized during his lifetime. They clashed with the predominant figure sculpture tradition, in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, but refused to change his style. Successive works brought increasing favor from the government and the artistic community.

From the unexpected realism of his first major figure – inspired by his 1875 trip to Italy – to the unconventional memorials whose commissions he later sought, Rodin’s reputation grew, such that he became the preeminent French sculptor of his time. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist. Wealthy private clients sought Rodin’s work after his World’s Fair exhibit, and he kept company with a variety of high-profile intellectuals and artists. His sculptures suffered a decline in popularity after his death in 1917, but within a few decades, his legacy solidified. Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.

Rodin was born in 1840 into a working-class family in Paris, the second child of Marie Cheffer and Jean-Baptiste Rodin, who was a police department clerk. He was largely self-educated, and began to draw at age ten. Between ages 14 and 17, Rodin attended the Petite École, a school specializing in art and mathematics, where he studied drawing and painting.

In 1857, Rodin submitted a clay model of a companion to the École des Beaux-Arts in an attempt to win entrance. But he did not succeed, and two further applications were also denied. Given that entrance requirements at the Grande École were not particularly high, the rejections were considerable setbacks. Rodin’s inability to gain entrance may have been due to the judges’ Neoclassical tastes, while Rodin had been schooled in light, 18th century sculpture. Leaving the Petite École in 1857, Rodin earned a living as a craftsman and ornamenter for most of the next two decades, producing decorative objects and architectural embellishments.

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In 1864, Rodin began to live with a young seamstress named Rose Beuret, with whom he would stay – with ranging commitment – for the rest of his life. The couple had a son, Auguste-Eugène Beuret (1866–1934). That year, Rodin offered his first sculpture for exhibition, and entered the studio of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a successful mass producer of objets d’art. Rodin worked as Carrier-Belleuse’ chief assistant until 1870, designing roof decorations and staircase and doorway embellishments. With the arrival of the Franco-Prussian War, Rodin was called to serve in the National Guard, but his service was brief due to his near-sightedness. Decorators’ work had dwindled because of the war, yet Rodin needed to support his family; poverty was a continual difficulty for Rodin until about the age of 30. Carrier-Belleuse soon asked Rodin to join him in Belgium, where they would work on ornamentation for Brussels’ bourse.

Rodin planned to stay in Belgium a few months, but he spent the next six years out of France. It was a pivotal time in his life. He had acquired skill and experience as a craftsman, but no one had yet seen his art, which sat in his workshop because he could not afford castings. Having saved enough money to travel, Rodin visited Italy for two months in 1875, where he was drawn to the work of Donatello and Michelangelo. Their work had a profound effect on his artistic direction. Rodin said, “It is Michelangelo who has freed me from academic sculpture.” Returning to Belgium, he began work on The Age of Bronze, a life-size male figure whose realism brought Rodin attention but led to accusations of sculptural cheating.

Rodin earned his living collaborating with more established sculptors on public commissions, primarily memorials and neo-baroque architectural pieces in the style of Carpeaux. In competitions for commissions he submitted models of Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Lazare Carnot, all to no avail. On his own time, he worked on studies leading to the creation of his next important work, St. John the Baptist Preaching.

In 1880, Carrier-Belleuse – now art director of the Sèvres national porcelain factory – gave Rodin a part-time position as a designer. That part of Rodin which appreciated 18th-century tastes was aroused, and he immersed himself in designs for vases and table ornaments that brought the factory renown across Europe. The artistic community appreciated his work in this vein, and Rodin was invited to Paris Salons by such friends as writer Léon Cladel. French statesman Leon Gambetta expressed a desire to meet Rodin, and the sculptor impressed him when they met at a salon. Gambetta spoke of Rodin in turn to several government ministers, likely including Edmund Turquet, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Fine Arts, whom Rodin eventually met.

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Rodin’s relationship with Turquet was rewarding: through him, he won the 1880 commission to create a portal for a planned museum of decorative arts. Rodin dedicated much of the next four decades to his elaborate Gates of Hell, an unfinished portal for a museum that was never built. Many of the portal’s figures became sculptures in themselves, including Rodin’s most famous, The Thinker and The Kiss. With the museum commission came a free studio, granting Rodin a new level of artistic freedom. Soon, he stopped working at the porcelain factory; his income coming from private commissions.

Although busy with The Gates of Hell, Rodin won other commissions. He pursued an opportunity to create an historical monument for the town of Calais, and was chosen for a monument to French author Honoré de Balzac in 1891. His execution of both sculptures clashed with traditional tastes, and met with varying degrees of disapproval from the organizations that sponsored the commissions. Still, Rodin was gaining support from diverse sources that propelled him toward fame.

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The Thinker (originally titled The Poet, after Dante) was to become one of the most well-known sculptures in the world. The original was a 27.5-inch (700 mm)-high bronze piece created between 1879 and 1889, designed for the Gates of Hell’s lintel, from which the figure would gaze down upon Hell. While The Thinker most obviously characterizes Dante, aspects of the Biblical Adam, the mythological Prometheus.

During the Hundred Years’ War, the army of King Edward III besieged Calais, and Edward ordered that the town’s population be killed en masse. He agreed to spare them if six of the principal citizens would come to him prepared to die, bareheaded and barefooted, and with ropes around their necks. When they came, he ordered that they be executed, but pardoned them when his queen, Philippa of Hainault, begged him to spare their lives. The Burghers of Calais depicts the men as they are leaving for the king’s camp, carrying keys to the town’s gates and citadel.

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Rodin began the project in 1884, inspired by the chronicles of the siege by Jean Froissart. Though the town envisioned an allegorical, heroic piece centered on Eustache de Saint-Pierre, the eldest of the six men, Rodin conceived the sculpture as a study in the varied and complex emotions under which all six men were laboring. One year into the commission, the Calais committee was not impressed with Rodin’s progress. Rodin indicated his willingness to end the project rather than change his design to meet the committee’s conservative expectations, but Calais said to continue.

In 1889, The Burghers of Calais was first displayed to general acclaim. It is a bronze sculpture weighing two tons (1,814 kg), and its figures are 6.6 ft (2 m) tall. The six men portrayed do not display a united, heroic front; rather, each is isolated from his companions, individually deliberating and struggling with his expected fate. Rodin soon proposed that the monument’s high pedestal be eliminated, wanting to move the sculpture to ground level so that viewers could “penetrate to the heart of the subject”. At ground level, the figures’ positions lead the viewer around the work, and subtly suggest their common movement forward.

The committee was incensed by the nontraditional proposal, but Rodin would not yield. In 1895, Calais succeeded in having Burghers displayed in their preferred form: the work was placed in front of a public garden on a high platform, surrounded by a cast-iron railing. Rodin had wanted it located near the town hall, where it would engage the public. Only after damage during the First World War, subsequent storage, and Rodin’s death was the sculpture displayed as he had intended. It is one of Rodin’s best-known and most acclaimed works.

Commissioned to create a monument to French writer Victor Hugo in 1889, Rodin dealt extensively with the subject of artist and muse. Like many of Rodin’s public commissions, Monument to Victor Hugo was met with resistance because it did not fit conventional expectations. Commenting on Rodin’s monument to Victor Hugo, The Times in 1909 expressed that “there is some show of reason in the complaint that [Rodin’s] conceptions are sometimes unsuited to his medium, and that in such cases they overstrain his vast technical powers”. The 1897 plaster model was not cast in bronze until 1964.

The popularity of Rodin’s most famous sculptures tends to obscure his total creative output. A prolific artist, he created thousands of busts, figures, and sculptural fragments over more than five decades. He painted in oils (especially in his thirties) and in watercolors. The Musée Rodin holds 7,000 of his drawings and prints, in chalk and charcoal, and thirteen drypoints. He also produced a single lithograph.

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Later, with his reputation established, Rodin made busts of prominent contemporaries such as English politician George Wyndham (1905), Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1906), Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (1909), former Argentinian president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and French statesman Georges Clemenceau (1911).

After the revitalization of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890, Rodin served as the body’s vice-president. In 1903, Rodin was elected president of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. He replaced its former president, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, upon Whistler’s death. His election to the prestigious position was largely due to the efforts of Albert Ludovici, father of English philosopher Anthony Ludovici, who was private secretary to Rodin for several months in 1906, but the two men parted company after Christmas, “to their mutual relief.”

During his later creative years, Rodin’s work turned increasingly toward the female form, and themes of more overt masculinity and femininity. He concentrated on small dance studies, and produced numerous erotic drawings, sketched in a loose way, without taking his pencil from the paper or his eyes from the model. Rodin met American dancer Isadora Duncan in 1900, attempted to seduce her, and the next year sketched studies of her and her students. In July 1906, Rodin was also enchanted by dancers from the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, and produced some of his most famous drawings from the experience.

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Fifty-three years into their relationship, Rodin married Rose Beuret. The wedding was 29 January 1917, and Beuret died two weeks later, on 16 February. Rodin was ill that year; in January, he suffered weakness from influenza, and on 16 November his physician announced that “congestion of the lungs has caused great weakness. The patient’s condition is grave.” Rodin died the next day, age 77, at his villa in Meudon, Île-de-France, on the outskirts of Paris.

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A cast of The Thinker was placed next to his tomb in Meudon; it was Rodin’s wish that the figure serve as his headstone and epitaph. In 1923, Marcell Tirel, Rodin’s secretary, published a book alleging that Rodin’s death was largely due to cold, and the fact that he had no heat at Meudon. Rodin requested permission to stay in the Hotel Biron, a museum of his works, but the director of the museum refused to let him stay there.

Rodin willed to the French state his studio and the right to make casts from his plasters. Because he encouraged the edition of his sculpted work, Rodin’s sculptures are represented in many public and private collections. The Musée Rodin was founded in 1916 and opened in 1919 at the Hôtel Biron, where Rodin had lived, and it holds the largest Rodin collection, with more than 6,000 sculptures and 7,000 works on paper.

I could probably dredge up for you a suitable Parisian recipe for you to celebrate Rodin, but I feel an inherent connexion between Rodin, decorative art, and cake making. So instead of a recipe I leave you with two images of wedding cakes using The Kiss as their motif. There’s also a certain ironic twist here in that Rodin had a relationship with the same woman – off and on – for decades and yet only married her weeks before her death.

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Dec 072013
 

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Today is the birthday (1598) of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (also spelled Gianlorenzo or Giovanni Lorenzo), Italian artist and a prominent architect who worked principally in Rome. He was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. In addition, he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets. Bernini possessed the ability to depict dramatic narratives with characters showing intense psychological states, but also created large-scale sculptural works which convey a magnificent grandeur. His skill in working with marble made him a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation. His artistry extended beyond the confines of his sculpture to consideration of the setting in which it would be situated. He had an extraordinary ability to synthesize sculpture, painting, and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole.

Bernini was also a leading figure in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture along with his contemporaries, the architect, Francesco Borromini and the painter and architect, Pietro da Cortona. Early in their careers they had all worked at the same time at the Palazzo Barberini, initially under Carlo Maderno and on his death, under Bernini. Later on, however, they were in competition for commissions and fierce rivalries developed, particularly between Bernini and Borromini. Despite the arguably greater architectural inventiveness of Borromini and Cortona, Bernini’s artistic pre-eminence, particularly during the reigns of popes Urban VIII (1623–44) and Alexander VII (1655–65), meant he was able to secure the most important commission in the Rome of his day, St. Peter’s Basilica. His design of the Piazza San Pietro in front of the Basilica is one of his most innovative and successful architectural designs.

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During his long career, Bernini received numerous important commissions, many of which were associated with the papacy. At an early age, he came to the attention of the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and in 1621, at the age of only 23, he was knighted by Pope Gregory XV. Following his accession to the papacy, Urban VIII is reported to have said, “Your luck is great to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini Pope, Cavaliere; but ours is much greater to have Cavaliere Bernini alive in our pontificate.” Although he did not fare so well during the reign of Innocent X, under Alexander VII, he once again regained his place of artistic domination and continued to be held in high regard by Clement IX.

As persistent readers of this blog know well, I could ramble on a long time about Bernini’s life and works.  But I won’t. There are plenty of books and websites to consult if you are interested. The greatest testament to his life is his work itself. So here is a small gallery of some of my favorite pieces.  To me, Rome and Bernini are synonymous.  Well, I suppose Michelangelo should get a mention.  But Bernini is EVERYWHERE.

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The great cookbook of Bernini’s era was Bartolomeo Stefani’s L’arte di ben cucinare (1662), still consulted today by Italian cooks.  Here is one of my favorite recipes from Stefani, mostarda mantovana.  It is actually Mantuan rather than Roman, but it is a perennial favorite in Italy to this day. You can use this spicy apple dish as an accompaniment to meats, especially pork, or serve it after the main course with a nice, ripe cheese.  Obviously, the type of mustard and quantity will radically affect the flavor and piquancy of the resulting product.  Cook’s choice.  I like it hot, so I use a tablespoon of English mustard powder.  Once stored in jars it will keep indefinitely and will continue to mature with age.

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Mostarda Mantovana

Ingredients:

2 lbs tart cooking apples

½ lb sugar

mustard powder or ground mustard seeds to taste

Instructions:

Peel, core, and cut the apples into thin slices. Place them in a non-reactive container and mix well with the sugar.  Let them sit for 24 hours.  Refrigeration is unnecessary, but it is best to keep the apples in a cool place.

At the end of 24 hours a syrup will develop.  Drain off the syrup and boil it for 5 minutes, then pour it back over the apples and let them sit for another 24 hours.

Repeat this process on the next day, and let sit for another 24 hours.

Next day bring both the syrup and the apples to a boil and add the mustard.

Store in sterilized containers.