21 January 2018

King Charles II: Art and Power at the Queen’s Gall­ery

After over a decade of austere Cromwellian rule, the restorat­ion of the monarchy in 1660 led to a resurgence of the arts in England. The court of King Charles II ((1630-85) became the centre for the pat­ronage of leading artists and the collecting of great works of art, which served a) as decoration for the royal apart­ments and b) to glorify the restored monarchy and rein­force Charles’ position as the rightful king. Now an exh­ibition called Charles II: Art and Power at the Queen’s Gall­ery is on at Buckingham Palace, until 13th May 2018.

In May 1660 Charles II made his triumphant return to the thrones of England and Ireland, end­ing a dec­ade of republican Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. After 14 years in exile, Charles II was keenly aware of the im­p­­ortance of princely tradition and magnificent display in en­for­cing his right to the throne and his position as Head of the Ch­urch.

He ordered royal regalia and crown jewels to repl­ace those sold off or melted down by the Parliamentarians, and his coron­ation in April 1661 was the most extravagant since that of El­iz­abeth I. See the stunning altar plate in West­min­­ster Abbey, including the silver-gilt alms dish by Henry Green­­­way, a metre in diamet­er, and a solid-gold chalice and gold paten.

Charles planned to regain legitimacy, amongst other ways, by re-claiming his fath­er’s fabulous art collection. Although the royal resid­en­ces had survived the Civil War largely undisturbed, the Common­wealth government had sold off much of their contents. Par­liament commanded that all persons holding goods formerly bel­ong­ing to Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria or the new king were to return them with imm­ed­iate eff­ect. This order was later made leg­ally binding through the 1660 Act of Indemnity and Oblivion.

King Charles II
by John Michael Wright in c1661
282 × 239 cm

Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlem­aine and Cleveland, 
by Peter Lely

Charles II had placed an order for a large group of paintings from the dealer who had sold works to his father in the 1630s. Among these were Pieter Bruegel the Eld­er's The Mass­acre of the Innocents c1565–67 and Georges de la Tour's St Jerome c1621–3. In the same year the King was pres­ented with great paintings, sculp­ture and furniture by the States of Holland and West Fries­land. And, to strengthen the alliance between the two countries and to discourage Char­les II from agreeing to a treaty with his cousin Louis XIV, they sent Paolo Veron­ese's Mystic Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria c1562–69 and Titian’s Mad­onna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel c1535–40.

Having grown up surrounded by his father’s art collection, Char­les II knew that paintings promoted pleasure and decoration, and also promoted the king’s power. Soon after his return to Eng­land, he appointed the portraitist Sir Peter Lely as official Limner and Picture Drawer. Lely was seen as the natural successor to Van Dyck, the first holder of the post established by Charles I. The miniaturist Samuel Cooper became Royal Picture Maker in 1672. In 1674 Italian Antonio Verrio, who had assisted the artist Charles Le Brun at Versailles, was commissioned to decorate the newly built State Apartments at Windsor Castle.

The two great groups of drawings (by Hans Holbein II and Leonardo da Vinci) that came to King Charles came from Thomas Howard 14th Earl of Arundel, the first signif­icant English collector of drawings. They were gifted in thanks for the restitution of the noble family’s lands.

Charles II's new court style was influenced by the lux­urious French fashions he had seen at Louis XIV’s court when his exile started. His royal apartments at White­hall Pal­ace were filled with elaborate decorative arts, including tap­es­tries woven in Parisian workshops and silver furniture in the French taste. The royal palaces were the setting for lavish masques and balls attended by poets, writers, scientists, act­ors and beautiful women, several of whom were painted by Sir Peter Lely in a ser­ies of Windsor Beauties, including portraits of the King's mis­tress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlem­aine and Cleveland.

An image of the restored monarchy was painted by John Michael Wright in c1661. The King wore St Edward’s crown and parliam­ent­ary robes over the Garter costume, and he carried an orb and sceptre which were made specially for the. as the earlier reg­al­ia had been destroyed during the Interregnum. The King is seat­ed in front of a tapestry apparently representing the Judgment of Solomon, which may allude to the king’s wisdom.

The gallery is displaying artefacts from the King’s Touch Cerem­ony in which each monarch touched tens of thousands of members of the public suffering from scrofula. God would cure the unsightly swelling disease VIA the Royal touch. The weekly ritual had bec­ome so popular that the palace was com­pelled to issue tokens to tens of thousands of scrofula sufferers, proving they had been blessed by the King’s hand. See the 1662 “Pro­cl­amation for the better ordering of those who repair to the Court for their Cure of the Disease called the Kings-Evil”.

silver-gilt alms dish by Henry Green­­­way, 1660
embossed with The Last Supper and the royal Stuart arms
West­min­­ster Abbey

The exhibition also shows how the king used science to build his reputation, countering the traditional view of Charles II as the Merrie Monarch who loved women, pleasure, parties, horse racing, yachting and theat­re. Clearly patronage of these popular pastimes was a sure way to gain the support of the country, and to enjoy himself. By contrast, science was a source of intellectual fascination for Charles II, a tool for improving the navy and milit­ary, and a way of identif­ying himself with other powerful European princely patrons of science. In 1660 he founded the Royal Soc­iety which included other great scientific minds like ast­ronomer Edmund Halley, who worked from the newly established Royal Observ­at­ory in Greenwich. And Isaac Newton.

The book Charles II: Art & Power by Martin Clayton and Rufus Bird was published by Royal Collection Trust in Dec 2017. It includes glittering silver-gilt plate from the high-altar of Westminster Abbey during the King's coronation, old master paint­ings, tapestries and spectacular furniture i.e the rich material world of Charles II's court.

20 January 2018

Krakow Salt Works Museum, under- and over-ground

Since first writing about art stolen by the Nazis during WW2 and hid­den in various underground salt mines in Germany and Aust­ria, I have read everything I could on The Monument Men. When the Nazis found the Altaussee Salt Mines in Alp­ine Bavaria, for examp­le, they were delighted to ship their 6500 stolen art treas­ures into this salt-heavy, pastoral hideout. Today, ever since the film Monument Men appeared in our cinemas, tourists have flocked to the Altaussee Mines.

When I heard of the Krakow Salt Mines Museum of Art on tv, I assumed it was another amazing memorial to art stolen by the Nazis during WW2. Wrong! Nonetheless it is fascinating.

The Krakow Salt Works Museum is a large exhibition space in the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Southern Pol­and, established after WW2. The mine, which continuously pro­duced table salt from the Middle Ages on, now consists of Two Worlds, A] an underground with a large exhibit in the salt mine 135m below and B] an above­ground in the Salt Works Castle.

A] The Underground World is located in 17 historic mine work­ings, designed out in the 19th and early C20th. The museum has a rich collection of mining technology, inc­l­uding a collection of treadmills for horses, an early form of lifting gear which is displayed in its original environment.

The tourist route takes up only 2% of the mine’s total length. The large Under­ground Salt Cathedral of Poland, with walls carved to replic­ate chapels from the earlier centuries, has chandeliers made from rock salt which have a glassy appear­ance, and rel­ig­ious sculpture. Plus there are historic and modern stat­ues eg Copernicus, Goethe, Chopin.

Wide salt stairs, from which one can admire St Kinga's Chapel (started in 1896) in its full splendour, lead inside. Opposite the entran­ce to the chapel is the main altar with a statue of St Kinga, car­v­ed by Józef Markowski. The chapel walls are adorned with salt reliefs featuring various scenes from the New Testament and decorated by the Wieliczka miner sculptors. It is here that the only exist­ing underground salt-carved monument of Polish Pope John Paul II.



There is reception room that is used for priv­ate functions, including weddings. The chamber has walls carved by miners to resemble wood, to resemble medieval wooden churches built all over Eastern Europe. A wooden staircase provides access to the mine's 64m level and a lift returns visitors to the surface.

Many shafts were dug throughout the time the mine was op­er­ating. See the preserved mining equip­ment, small under-ground brine lakes, and salt-hewn spaces. The underground ex­hibition features a unique collection of horse powered extracting tread­mills of three different types: Polish, Saxon and Hung­arian, and machines to haul the salt to the top of the surface.

There is wide range of exhibits: specimens of beautiful salt cryst­als, ancient utensils for salt production, documents and maps, paintings and sculptures from the non-existent und­er­ground chapels, ceremonial mining weapons, a Miner’s Union Horn, a collection of mining lamps and tools illustrating the various historical stages of salt production locally.

 Żupny Castle

B] The Aboveground World is located in Żupny Castle, built on the hillside above Wieliczka, started under the C14th reign of Casimir III the Great and compl­eted in the C16th reign of Sigismund I the Old. It was built in a square form­ation, in­cluding liv­ing quarters outside the castle walls. Until 1945, this defensive castle was the administ­ra­tive and business headquarters of the salt mine

The Saltworks Castle has a great collection of salt cellars – the oldest, silver Baroque salt cellar was made in the C17th in Augsburg. The most interesting include the por­c­elain salt-cellars with figurines of African girls carrying baskets, made by the Meissen manufacturers. My favourite collection exhibits the small works of salt art: silver saltshakers and dishes, armoured strong boxes, bronze ornam­ents and the C16th silver-mounted horn of the Diggers Brotherhood, the treasure showing the mine's wealth. The Gothic Hall displays portraits of mine managers. 

 Biblical sculptures

silver salt cellars and shakers

The Krakow Salt Works Museum Wieliczka duration of sightseeing tour about 3 hours in total with the route length of about 4km. Tourists can only visit the mine with a guide.

C] World War Two
The complex of Kraków-Płaszów concentration camps was located nearby and slave labour was readily available. So the mine shafts were used by the Germans to create war industries here, doubly suitable because the underground spaces were safe from Allied bombing raids. How ironic that thousands of Jews were trucked from the slave labour camps in Plaszow and Mielec to the Wiel­iczka mine; ever since the laws of Polish king Sigimund August (mid C16th), Jewish settlement in Wieliczka was banned until 1867.

As soon as the Soviets were about to liberate the area, the German war industry was disassembled and transp­orted to Lieb­enau slave lab­our camp in the Sudetes mountains. The Jew­ish lab­ourers were trucked to camps in the Czech Republic and Austria.

In 1978, the Wieliczka salt mine was placed on UNESCO World Heritage Site because it reflected all the historic stages of devel­opment in mining techniques from C13th-C20th, while the preserved devices and tools documented the old systems of working the deposits, drainage, lighting and ventilation of the mine in a unique manner by world standards. In 2010 a sis­ter mine 28ks apart, hist­oric Bochnia Salt Mine, was added to the list of UNESCO World Her­it­age sites. In 2013 Żupny Castle was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

16 January 2018

The true story of Pocahontas - in Virginia and in England

English King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Co. to form a North America settlement in 1606. The Virginia Co. was to search for local riches and a sea trade route to the Pac­ific Ocean. 100 colonists left England on three ships and landed on a narrow peninsula in the James River. Cap­tain John Smith chose the inland location to hide them from Spanish ships and to pro­vide protection from any Native American enemies.

John Smith and the English colonists stayed near the Powhatan on nearby Jamestown Island, but later began to explore out-lying areas.

In the meantime Smith terrorised Native people when he put guns to heads of village chiefs, demanding food and supplies. In fact the early 1600s were a horrible time for all local tribes. Young children were targets of rape, so the Native women offered themselves to men, to keep their children safe. The Powhatan people were in an unwinnable situation since the English government offered them no protection.

The true story of  Matoaka (later Pocahontas c1596-1616) has been gathered from years of extensive research of the written records and oral histories from her descendants and tribal peoples of Virginia. Read Vincent Schilling  who tells a tale of tragedy and heart­break about a young Native girl Matoaka who was kidnapped, raped and perhaps murdered by those who were supposed to keep her safe.

Matoaka’s mother was Pocahontas (who died giving birth) and her father was Wahunsenaca, the tribal chief. Little Matoaka was raised by the Mat­tap­oni women, along with her many sib­lings.

Matoaka was c10 when John Smith and English col­on­ists arrived. Since Pocahontas was liv­ing with her father Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, she seemed to be protected. In wint­er 1607, the colonists and Smith met with Powhatan warriors and Smith was captured by the chief’s younger broth­er. Later Wahunsenaca grew to like Smith, offering him the position of werowance/colonists’ leader, plus land with great access to game and seafood.

"English" Pocahontas' portrait, 1616
She was in rich red and gold, with white lace cuffs and high collar, pearl earring, and an ostrich feather fan.

Years later, Smith alleged that Pocahontas saved his life in the four-day process of becoming a werowance. But children were not allowed to attend any sort of religious rituals, so she could not have thrown herself in front of John Smith to beg for his life. [In 1624 Smith pub­lish­ed his book General Historie of Virginia where he claimed Pocahontas had twice saved his life, but Vincent Schilling said it wasn’t true].

In 1608-09, Smith’s role as the colonists’ wero­w­ance had failed. The colonists made inadeq­uate attempts to plant crops to harvest, and Smith violently demanded supplies from surrounding vil­lages. Pocahontas’ father was disgusted.

When Matoaka turned 14, she choose a new name after her moth­er, Pocahontas. During a ceremony she danced a courtship dance with Kocoum, younger brother of Potowomac Chief Japazaw. She married the young warrior and soon became preg­nant. It was at this time rumours surfaced that colonists planned to kidnap Pocahontas.

An English colonist Captain Samuel Argall was particularly keen to find her, thinking that a captured daughter of the chief would prevent Native attacks. Argall came to the village and demanded Chief Japazaw, Pocahontas’ brother-in-law, to give up Pocahontas or suffer violence against his village. So he relented in the ridiculous hope that she would only be gone temporar­ily. Before Argall left the village, he gave Chief Japazaw a copper pot as a “trade” for her.

Pocahontas had to give her baby, Kocoum, to the women of the village. She was trapped onboard an Eng­lish ship and her husband was killed by the colonists. The tribal chiefs of the Powhatan never retaliated for the kidnapping of Pocahontas, fearing they would suffer!

Pocah­on­tas’ anxiety was so severe that her English captors allowed sister Mattachanna and brother-in-law Utta­mattamakin to help. In The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, Linwood Custalow wrote that when Mattachanna and Utta­mattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided she had been brutally raped.

By the time John Rolfe arrived in Virginia in May 1610, 600 colon­ists had been reduced to 70 by famine, disease and clashes. Mat­taponi history is clear that Pocahontas and Rolfe had a son out of wedlock, Thomas. Event­ually Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

During her captivity, the English colony of Jamestown was fail­ing. John Rolfe was under a 1616 deadline to become profitable or lose financial support from home. Rolfe sought to learn tobacco-curing techniques from the Powhatan, but curing tobacco was a sacred Native practice. Realising the value of aligning himself with the tribe, he eventually married Pocahontas.

Only then did the Powhatan spiritual leaders and family share the curing practice with Rolfe. And soon Rolfe’s tobacco was a sensation; he saved the colony of Jamestown!

The Powhatan tribal lands were now highly sought after for the tobacco trade and the tribe suffered badly of greedy tobacco farmers. Rumours of the colonists’ desire to take Pocahontas made its way to the Powhatan, who feared for her well-being. They thought of rescuing her, but once again Wahunsenaca did nothing because he feared his daughter might “be harmed”.

Rebecca Pocahontas Rolfe travelled to England in 1616 with John Rolfe, son Thomas Rolfe, John Argall and some Native tribal members. The bringing of Pocahontas to Eng­land was to show friendship with Native nations; it was a key to continued financial support for the struggling colonists.

According to Mattachanna’s record, Pocahontas realised that she was being used and desperately desired to return home. According to Jane Dismore, Pocahontas carried herself with great dignity. The Bishop wrote he ‘accustomed her selfe to civilitie’ and ‘still car­r­ied her selfe as the Daughter of a King, and was accordingly respected [by] persons of Honor, in their hopefull zeale by her to advance Christianitie’. Clearly she was very popular in King James’ court, and did not want to go home.

Plans were made to return to Virginia in 1617 when Pocahontas was in good health. Yet at only 20 she died (of TB?) in March 1617 and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend.