Patrons and politicos

The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance by Paul Strathern. Pimlico 2005

Despite their name (medico means physician in Italian) the Tuscan de’ Medici family rose to prominence as bankers in the 14th century beginning with Cosimo the Elder. With money comes power, and by 1531 the family became hereditary Dukes of the powerful city state of Florence, then Grand Dukes of Tuscany.

Two centuries later, however, the Grand Duchy became bankrupt and then sputtered out with the death of the last Duke, Gian Gastone de’ Medici, in 1737. Over some four hundred years the family had held sway in Tuscany as monarchs in all but name.

Paul Strathern’s chronicle of the rise and fall of the Medici family charts the characters who made it as merchants, dukes, popes, queens, scientists, patrons and villains from Medieval to Enlightenment Italy.

Real characters that one can alternately cheer or boo but rarely be indifferent to, their lives are described in some detail against a backdrop of international intrigue, trade and war in a narrative that at times almost feels like fiction if we didn’t know that it really happened. Strathern strikes just the right balance between scholarship and accessibility, and the text is complemented by a selection of maps and portraits.

It’s difficult not to attribute characteristics to the faces that one can see on canvases, even ones that were painted many years after the subject had died, but one is tempted to apply adjectives like ‘ruthless’, ‘determined’, ‘arrogant’, even ‘cruel’. What rarely springs to mind is ‘humorous’, ‘compassionate’ or ‘sensitive’, but we owe the Medici some gratitude as patrons of the arts, even if it was mostly for their own aggrandisement and future renown rather than pure altruism.

Everywhere one goes in Florence stands evidence of their legacy and sometimes largesse, from former offices (now the Uffizi gallery) to the Pitti Palace (which they acquired from former rivals), from public artwork in the Piazza Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio to work they commissioned for various churches in the city. Without their input over those four centuries Florence might not be the same gorgeous tourist trap it is today.


Repost of review first published 5th March 2014

Dark portraits in the gallery

in medias res

Now that you’re back
by A L Kennedy.
Vintage 1995 (1994)

Opening a collection of short stories is a little like getting into a lift (or elevator, if you prefer) — you never know who’ll get in, for how long they’ll ride, whether you’re likely to engage with them or what relationship, if any, they are likely to have with each other. Your curiosity may or may not be piqued, you may wrinkle your nose at the smell or be embarrassed at the enforced intimacy, however transient.

What you do know is that, like any passenger in the lift, you’re unlikely to be vouchsafed someone’s life story, that your experience will only produce brief and probably blurry mental snapshots of your fellow travellers.

And so it is with this collection of A L Kennedy vignettes. In virtually every tale the reader arrives in medias res — you pass through gates straight into the midst of the action (such as it may be), trying to guess at characters, motivation, context, relationships, tone; and as each story concludes you never quite know if you’ve got a handle on it all, if your grasping at the situation attains something substantial or merely thin air.

Continue reading “Dark portraits in the gallery”

Trilogy

Stained glass triptych of Faith, Charity and Hope (St Catwg’s church, Llangattock: own photo)


A trio of recent micropoems from sister blog Zenrinji which you may have missed: an alphabetical, quizzical and musical triptych

Alpha et omigosh

Aetiologically, behind church dogma
exist fairytales, glossed historical
in Jewish knowledge: legends,
mythological now our periodic questing
reveals said tales unverified;
voices waxing xenial, yet zigzagging.


A maze

A
man,
woman
and a cat
amazingly
attracted my
attention: they
entered a zoo, flew
through a maze. Exits
blocked, quick as a
flash, cornered,
three jumped,
reversed, u-
turning,
and so
did
I


Impromptu
Inspired by a recital given by pianist Llyr Williams

The audience is audibly awaiting:
chattering, anticipating, alert.
Now obbligato applause, a white noise,
greets our soloist, striding then still,
biding by keyboard, lid glinting, spotlit.

A waltz by Chopin, a mazurka or two,
insinuate themselves into the silence.
Tinkles and ripples and staccato notes
stipple the auditorium airwaves.

Seconds pass, minutes; a barcarolle beckons us
for an aural tour right round Europe,
through France and Poland and then into Italy.
But now a crescendo glissando, fortissimo:
an impromptu motorbike adding its basso
to the soundscape again and again.
And again. Then diminuendo.

Now, as Greig’s trolls begin their march
a monotone idée fixe intrudes
its extruded ostinato from the street:
the persistent trill of burglar alarm riffing its repetitive roundelay.
Through the Norwegian notturno it rings
and on into rippling brooklet arpeggios
till suddenly conspicuous by absence.

Interval over, Fauré leads us back
to La Serenissima with a barcarolle.
His nocturne’s punctuated by a percussive bark,
subsiding, stifled, as cough-calming,
transcendental Liszt breathes un sospiro,
his sighs and harmonies du soir checking chair creak
and soft yet sonorous snores.

Tumultuous hail-like clatter greets our virtuoso.
He smiles, he acknowledges, he returns
and settles to our final reward:
Schubert’s G flat Impromptu.
You can hear a piano drop to pianissimo;
a few tear drops are shed, and shared.


More poems, micropoems, senryu, haiku, doggerel and flash fiction on Zenrinji

Bloggers Unite for Peace

http://wp.me/p3EwFG-4xF

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke

We are normal, everyday hard-working people with a common hobby, blogging. We hail from far and wide. We reside in different lands, on different continents. We speak different languages, eat different foods, and are of varying ages, professions, and religious and cultural backgrounds.

We do have one thing in common…

We believe that terrorist attacks, wherever they may be perpetrated; whether in France, Tunisia, Canada, Iraq, or in Denmark, Turkey, UK, Algeria, Yemen, USA, Lebanon, or in the skies over Egypt, or in India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kuwait, Libya, Bangladesh, Syria, or Mali are nothing less than attacks on humanity itself. The list is long, and probably many more besides. In every place, in every country, we, as a community of human beings, are always the innocent victims.

However, we, as members of this humanity, have found we have much more, not less, in common than those who seek to polarise our global community through indiscriminate murder of our fellow brothers and sisters.

These attacks are carried out in the name of, or in support of, a cause few of us, irrespective of religious conviction, can even start to comprehend. Murder is murder, irrespective of whatever motive or cause. As a community of bloggers, standing together for peace, we say simply this…

We will not be separated or forced to cease our friendships.
We will not change our ways – we are happy as we are.
We are all different, and proudly so, and stand together as one.
We respect each other’s right to life.
We want to live in peace.

Text reposted from https://unclespikes.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/bloggers-unite-for-peace

Do visit this post and reblog, repost or share on other media if you support this declaration, especially during this so-called ‘season of goodwill to all’.

Imagine no Lancelot, no Camelot, no Holy Grail

Norris J Lacy and Joan Tasker Grimbert (editors)
A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes
D S Brewer 2008

We have a lot to be thankful to Chrétien de Troyes for: without him there would be no Lancelot, no Camelot, no Holy Grail; he virtually kickstarted the romance tradition through his use of a vernacular language, French; and of the six surviving texts ascribed to him five have — to a greater or lesser extent — an Arthurian background. So, one of the great literary what-ifs must hinge on whether Arthurian literature, both medieval and modern, would have been what it is now if not for Chrétien. Continue reading “Imagine no Lancelot, no Camelot, no Holy Grail”

Stonehenge’s mythic history

Early print of Stonehenge: the bluestones are the smaller pillars surrounded by the trilithons

Brian John The Bluestone Enigma:
Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age

Greencroft Books 2008

Ancient man didn’t
transport stones hundreds of miles.
And nor did Merlin.

Brian John, who lives in Pembrokeshire (where much of this study is set), has had a long interest in this whole subject area. A Geography graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, he went on to obtain a D Phil there for a study of the Ice Age in Wales. Among other occupations he was a field scientist in Antarctica and a Geography Lecturer in Durham University, and is currently a publisher and the author of a number of articles, university texts, walking guides, coffee table glossies, tourist guides, titles on local folklore and traditions, plus books from popular science to local jokes. His credentials are self-evident when it comes to discussing Stonehenge.

One of the strongest modern myths about Stonehenge to have taken root is that the less monumental but no less impressive so-called bluestones were physically brought by prehistoric peoples from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales to Wiltshire. The second strongest modern myth is that the whole saga was somehow remembered over a hundred or more generations to be documented by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century as a feat of Merlin. In this self-published title Dr John examines these and other myths and finds them wanting in terms of echoing reality. Continue reading “Stonehenge’s mythic history”

Still exploring the world of ideas through books

WordPress has just reminded me that I began this blog three years ago. Since April 28th 2012 — minus the odd deletion — I’ve apparently published 364 posts, which is approximately one every three days. I’ve tried to stick to my stated mantra of “exploring the world of ideas through books” ever since that first post, reposted here:

Without getting too philosophical, we imbibe many of our ideas about the world around us, our relationships with others and insights into ourselves from what we read, in books, papers, magazines or online. We try to make sense of what we experience by fitting them into expected narratives (like Good versus Evil, or A Just World) or stereotypes (heroes and villains, tyrants and victims, helpers and bystanders) or personal scripts (“I’m on a personal journey” or “I deserve to discard these rags for riches”).

When books introduce or reinforce these memes I think it’s worth reflecting on the message that we’re receiving and the medium through which that message gets to us. It would be nice to think that some of these reviews will explore those ideas and aid those reflections.

Along the way I’ve also felt free to discuss tangential matters, from bookmarks to ghost followers, from poetry spam to threats to libraries and bookshops; and, good readers, many of you have stuck with me through thick and thin. (“Thick” is how I’ve sometimes rather clumsily expressed myself, “thin” is when I’ve not hit that post-every-third-day frequency.)

So, when WordPress wish me Happy Anniversary and thank me for flying with them, I in turn wish that you’ll continue to be as entertained by my commentaries as you often appear to be, and I also thank you for being fellow passengers on my frequent flights of fancy — despite so many being delayed in recent weeks. Bon voyage!

Chris Lovegrove