September, my birthday month has come and gone. It has always been my favourite month. In the past it included my grandmother’s birthday (Maria Horbal) and that of the child I believed to be my granddaughter, Chiara Harding. Chiara would be the only great, great grandchild of my grandfather Mikhail Horbal and the only great grandchild of my father Robert James Gordon Finnigan. Families of two distinct cultures who happened to connect in a third nation.
People should think of these things before they commit perjury to get their own way. Those governments, institutions and individuals who conspire and are accessories should think about this while they accept their untruths and perpetuate them. If shame comes to those who think evil what is the punishment for those who do evil?
September is always a time of new beginnings; the end of summer and the prelude to winter. For many a new school year. Gardens have to be cleared for the coming winter and in the past pickling and preserving. Seventy years ago it also meant the annual slaughtering of one of my grandfather’s pigs. In 2013 I have come to appreciate and treasure my son’s reverence for birthdays. They are a three day event, rather like Xmas but family birthdays are real and not mythical. I read so much these days of families and christenings and celebrations and never cease to be discomfited by the divisions at all levels of society. For what end?
My birthday presents this year from my son are very special. I have lamented the loss of the library of art books collected over decades amongst my belongings which were sold at a ‘cowboy auction’ in Kelowna, Canada for $600. The insured value for it all had been $35,000. Ruan keeps a lookout in the many book stores and trys to find special art books for me at affordable prices for these special occasions such as my birthday. As he has no address for the child (now 13) which may be his daughter, my birthday takes on more gravitas.
Ruan gave me three books this year. The first one with 926 pages, ’A world History of Art’ by Hugh Honour and John Fleming published by Lawrence King includes ancient art history and religions with many unusual maps and illustrations. It has much in it that I am not familiar with and has parallels with the older versions of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is well documented and illustrated. I had visited the Chapel briefly in the fifties with my then husband and was stunned when over 50 years later my son was able to arrange a private viewing for me of the Sistine Chapel and papal repository for arms and vestments including the famous ‘Room of Tears’ which the newly elected pontiff reflects upon prior to addressing the public audience. It was an overwhelming experience to quietly sit undisturbed in the Sistine Chapel and visualize centuries of people in that space. I thought of Michelangelo painting on his back for 4 years on scaffolding . Light years away from any artist but he had been there in that room and created what it became. The book discusses Michelangelo and Raphael succinctly and integrates architecture well into the story. I have studied some architecture but welcome the more in depth analysis that the book offers.
The second illustration is a horse effigy by the indigenous Sioux artists in the Dakotas. The Sioux were also present in the area of the town in Manitoba where I was born and lived. To quote from the book; ”Sitting Bull, the great Shaman and Chief and one of the leaders of a movement for the purification and revitalization of indigenous culture associated with the Ghost Dance religion. This was to lead, tragically, to the decimation of his people and the confinement of survivors on reservations.” (Page 757). To add to this story one need only take a cursory glance through the first few chapters of ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ to appreciate that although the Canadian authorities gave Sitting Bull and several thousand of his people permission to reside in Canada they did nothing to prevent the American authorities in Washington, USA from continuing to hound and hunt him down. I grew up with the splendours of the First Nation art and artefacts in the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Museum and was overjoyed to see something written about the Sioux in an international art history book. This resonated well when I recently thought about my son’s first piano teacher in Winnipeg, Tom Stevenson. Tom’s musical lineage went back in a direct line via Myra Hess to Clara Schumann. Tom was also the first musician, a First Nation Cree, to become an accredited music teacher in Canada and a concert pianist. He was also a practising yogi.
Another Illustration that I had not seen elsewhere was Joseph Beuys ‘Plight’. An installation with felt, grand piano, blackboard and clinical thermometer. The book includes the more usual Beuys work ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’. Joseph Beuys is one of the cerebral art wonders of the 20th century. When the long German series ‘Heimat’ was shown in the eighties in the UK I watched it repeatedly as Beuys’ engaging voice both narrated and illustrated the story. A firm legacy of Durer. Thankfully no one attempts to copy him. I love this book for the chapter on Cubism alone.
The second book was truly a rare find. I had noticed it in the window of an Ox-Fam book store several months ago but thought it was over priced and moved on without going into the shop. My son however went back a few weeks later and saw it on a shelf and bought it. The book ’Splendours of the Gonzaga’, a catalogue of an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, November 1981- January 1982 edited by David Chambers and Jane Martineau. It’s a catalogue like no other having 248 pages which comprise extravagant commentaries and lengthy inciteful essays. In addition to being a good history of the Gonzaga family who were important patrons and collectors of art it reveals many details of the works that were bought from the Gonzagas for King Charles 1 in Britain contributing to the greatness of the British Royal Collection. Many of the Titians in this collection are from the Gonzaga family. There is a somewhat unique painting in the catalogue which I keep going back to ,’Young woman With a Lap Dog’ (the dog has a human face) by Lorenzo Costa which is also in the Royal Collection. The first 100 pages of the book are devoted to essays on the various members of the family and what they commissioned. The Gonzaga were the Dukes of Mantua. Mantua was also the home of Virgil and became the seat of the Gonzaga dynasty from 1328-1708 .
Why my keen interest in this chapter of art history? My son, after the dissolution of my marriage was estranged from me for 12 years. It was extremely complicated but I understood and waited it out. It was a long 12 years. The 2nd time in my life that I had been on my own. I studied and worked, looked after my Mother, made some blunders and life moved on. I had read about Mantua and the Gonzagas and their patronage of art especially Isabella d’Este, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Ferrara who became a Gonzaga in 1490. My son left England in 1997 disillusioned with an ever changing educational system and accepted a post in Rome at Marymount International School. He excelled himself producing a special Xmas concert for the school at the American church of Santa Susanna for an audience of members of the diplomatic corps,various dignitaries and others associated with the school. It was a huge success. However, Ruan’s classroom rules of behaviour did not correspond with those of some of his pupils and after placing a phone call to one of the parents to discuss a student’s use of a lighter in class, the parent a Mr. Previti then associated with Mr. Berlusconi in a legal capacity, his contract was not renewed which resulted in many of the teachers at Marymount resigning in protest.
While at the school a sister Theresa introduced Ruan to Princess Gonzaga, (Adriana Buitoni) who had known Adriana from childhood and had known her mother the former Princess Gonzaga. Adriana was looking for someone to walk her dogs, live with her rent free and carry out other tasks. When he arrived in Rome, Ruan lived at Marymount in the convent from November 15th 1997 until he moved into Adriana’s residence a couple of weeks later. He had become interested in Catholicism and under the auspices of Princess Gonzaga and His Eminence, Antonio Pietroborgo (Padre Nino), the Gonzaga family Excorcist, my son entered into an intense study and dialogue which culminated in his baptism and other sacraments with Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica on April 11, 1998: the Easter Vigil. Coincidentally his father’s birthday. Although Ruan’s paternal grandfather, Brian Harding was extremely active in the High Church of England all his life, Ruan’s father was a committed atheist and although he was brought up with Christian principles (his father had gone to the Anglican school – Bloxham – not Westminster which had historically been the paternal family school) he was generally kept away from anything Catholic. After about a year and a half Ruan ended his stay in the Gonzaga household, married in Santa Anna in the Vatican parish and had his assumed baby daughter baptized a Catholic.
For me all these events were quite extraordinary. Closely tied to art in a rather grand way. My father-in-law, Brian Harding, in his day, was recognized as one of the foremost authorities on Titian. This catalogue has been an engrossing experience. To commemorate the occasion Ruan was given an antique medallion as a present on the night of his baptism by Adriana which was said to have come from her family collection. Unfortunately in 2012 unable to raise money to pay for accommodation Ruan had to sell the medallion. It was his decision and I believe a sad one. There are some illustrations in the catalogue which reveals medallions not unlike his which appear to have been created at the same time. So that is the story of why I was so pleased to receive this catalogue/book for my birthday.
The 3rd book that was was part of my 76th birthday present was ‘The Secret Code’ by Priya Hemenway which is an in depth and very original analysis of the theory of the Golden Section and the Greek letter Phi. Ruan had seen this book and said he had been looking for something like that for me and so it was purchased and put away for September 21st. Unless you are very fortunate it is unlikely you will be taught these things in art school today. My familiarity with the Golden Section i.e. ratio – 0.618 was firstly intuitive and then later learned and applied. Fortunately at long last a truly accessible and user friendly work has been written with a holistic and multi disciplinary approach to the Divine Ratio. Divine Ratio also relates to music which is also defined in this book. My son was thoroughly taught this when he studied composition privately with Dudley Hyams in Sussex. Later he was published as Joshua Ruan. I have chosen 4 illustrations. The first from Chapter one – Probing the Mysteries of Divine Proportion, a woodcut by Camille Flammarion showing someone breaking through the medieval world to see the underlying mechanisms that turn the world. The second illustration from Chapter 6 ‘The Sacrament Of The Last Supper‘ by Salvador Dali and the third illustration, Kepler and his Theory of the Music of the Spheres exemplified in his Mysterium Cosmographicum. I am always looking for something about Kepler and a few months ago picked up a small paperback by the Irish writer John Banville on him. The book has 203 pages and on page 106 the 4th is the Golden Section illustrated. This is self-explanatory and is what causes problems for those who do not understand a lot of contemporary art. In my opinion all artists in all disciplines whether they are mathematically inclined or not should have a sound understanding of what Golden Section means in order to work with it’s application This particular book of Phi is almost like a book of hours but instead of prayers they are litanies on how to make art.
A year ago in this blog, in ¾ Time I wrote about my 75th birthday. Much has evolved in these past 12 months. I have a greater awareness of the depth of involvement of strangers and other ‘family’ members in my life. This involvement has a far reaching impact and is clearly intended to destroy not only myself but also my son. This is not too extreme a point. The intention has been clearly for us to be on the street, so death has been the ultimate aim. I would conservatively call it constructive homicide. It is an issue to reflect upon. As more information on the situation surfaces the number of people involved and who some of them are is both disturbing and puzzling. It is a microcosm of the world as it appears today. I have no doubt whatsoever that as more and more is revealed it simply reflects the sheer shabbiness of the human race. The legend of Faust is no longer a legend but has become the beacon for what can only be the ultimate end for all as in Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road.