and the tale hath had its effect….like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead. Jonathan Swift
All the world wondered.
A true friend tells you the truth, even when it hurts. We are all better at judging other people’s mistakes than our own. The reflection that I see in the mirror is not the person other people see.
We should listen to friendly warnings before we walk over a cliff. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13.20.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, Meditation XVII
“So Theresa May will not promise to accept the will of our democratically elected Parliament when we vote on Brexit options – but she will carry out the result of an advisory referendum, won through cheating and lies, regardless of the cost to the country.” David Lammy, 25 March, 2019
Lorenzetti THE EFFECTS OF BAD GOVERNMENT 1337 -39,
Sala della Pace (Hall of Peace) Siena. Image: WGA
“May is making a very straightforward argument that the will of the executive is more important that the will of parliament. I had always thought that Oliver Cromwell had settled that argument with Charles I in a fairly conclusive manner.” Craig Murray, 25 March, 2019
“I live and practise in the United States, a parliamentary democracy where a written Constitution is supreme. The UK, though, has a system of contingent Parliamentary supremacy (with the Crown in Parliament – the Executive – dominant), and no written constitution.
One may prefer one model over the other. I prefer that of my adopted homeland, as it happens. But one may argue for either, and the UK’s has, in fairness, generally muddled along pretty well on precedent and incremental adjustment.
Until now, that is. In the last week or so, you back home have seen the UK Supreme Court deciding, obiter dicta, that it knows better than legislators what voters want; and Parliament ruled not to be supreme, but bound by an ad hoc referendum in a past Parliament.
Moreover, Parliament has ceded control to the Executive in making laws – the so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, agreed without discussion – and decided not to give itself a say over the Executive determining the UK’s standing in the world, instead freeing the Executive to act unfettered.
Oh, and as you may not have noticed, witnesses summoned to give evidence to Parliamentary select committee enquiries only come by their own discretion, and, like Arron Banks, can seemingly walk out when they feel like it.
So, which system is it? Parliamentary supremacy? Judicial control? Executive control? One popular vote nearly two years ago that seemingly now binds all future parliaments?
I honestly do not know. I doubt if anyone can say with true certainty. (Scots constitutional lawyers are meanwhile brawling, as if about the last bottle of full-sugar Irn-Bru, over a Sewel convention that nobody is even sure is broken.)
So far as I can tell, UK constitutional structures at the moment aren’t just mixed, they’re scrambled. Brexit is a universal solvent, and all the previous structures are crumbling and mingling within the struggle over it. And that cannot be a sustainable state of affairs.
Whatever ultimately happens with Brexit, the UK is going to have to clarify constitutional structures in a way it hasn’t done since the Irish Home Rule crisis. The uncertainty, muddle and drift, where nobody is truly sure who has what powers, under what limits, cannot continue.
The thing is, I’m uncertain, on the evidence of the mess that’s been allowed to develop today, that there is the requisite appetite or expertise to carry out the difficult constitutional exercise of picking one system, clarifying it and sticking with it. I am sure, though, that Victorian theories of government simply don’t describe any longer the reality of how the UK is misgoverned.”
Tim O’Connor, Attorney at Law
Brexit Exposed EDITORIAL: “Andrew Adonis’ letter to former minister and leading Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith who told him to leave the country and ‘find somewhere else to live’ if he disagreed with Brexit.
The implication for the countless millions who don’t share the view of the hardline Brexit zealots is clear.
You don’t deserve British citizenship or the right to reside here.
You don’t have a basic right of free speech either – the same free speech enjoyed by Leave supporters for over four decades whilst in the European Union to question the issue of membership, or not.
This is totalitarianism, pure and simple. It’s the ideology behind the practice to arrest, deport or kill citizens who have a different political view to those in power.
It is the thinking behind authoritarian states throughout history. It is also the ideology behind the right wing cult of Brexit.
The Ian Duncan Smith remark is revealing. We see it in his supporters across social media every day.”
Lucas Vorsterman TRIUMPH OF POVERTY c. 1624 -30 Pen in brown, with gray and brown wash, black and red chalks, and white highlights, British Museum, London. Image source: WGA
John Constable Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows c. 1830
Private collection. Oil on canvas. Image source: WGA
You don’t have to be someone who voted Remain to send a message to the Government that they must change course if any of the things we need and value are to be salvaged. Leavers are being betrayed, too.
The country that Brexit will create is not the one we love. The fight to stop Brexit is bigger than the fight to stay in Europe.
If you want a united, modern, fair country, stop Brexit.
Brexit will impoverish our economy, our health service and our culture. It will make many of the working poor destitute. It will split families and blight future generations. It is idiotic, xenophobic, unrealistic. It does not represent the best of Britain.
The political culture in England is sick, and it will infect the whole of the United Kingdom and your own families, everything you love, unless you act now to STOP BREXIT.
Save us, by all the means at your disposal.
After the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy, the fashionable ruling class no longer wanted to be portrayed in an elevated spiritual sphere where they knew they didn’t belong. The reward they claimed for going to hell and back was instant gratification, not introspection. Some of them were still secretly very religious, but knowing how short and brutal life could be, waited till their deathbeds for their conversions.
They had lived through Civil War and exile, and they didn’t want to look other-worldly like the previous generation. Nothing was sacred, except survival. A new generation of court painter was happy to oblige with contemporary takes on traditional allegory in a flashier, worldly-wise presentation. The studied nonchalance of Van Dyck’s figures, inspired by Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, crumpled into the straight out of bed look.
On the great consensual casting couch of the Restoration Court, Charles II‘s mistresses competed to make him laugh as much as get into his bed, and one of Lady Castlemaine’s jokes was to have herself painted as the Virgin Mary with her eldest bastard son by the king playing baby Jesus.
Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles FitzRoy, as the Virgin and Child
by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1664. National Portrait Gallery. Image: Wikipedia
Like a modern supermodel, but without make-up, she set the look of the day. Lely used her sensuous features, the heavy-lidded eyes and full lips, as the template for all his portraits of high society beauties, so there were complaints (from Pepys, for instance, and Rochester when he saw the portrait of his wife) that nobody else looked anything like themselves.
She was a sex-addict with a terrible temper and a gambling addiction. Today, she’d be diagnosed with a personality disorder. If she was a man, we’d be terrified of her, and prosecute her for harassment. Instead, we find her entertaining, titillating, challenging, ultimately pathetic.
Barbara is famous for being the most promiscuous, and unfaithful, of Charles II‘s mistresses, portrayed as the nymphomaniac Fuckadilla in a contemporary pornographic satire. Her list of lovers, including Jacob Hall the tight-rope dancer, John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, England’s most victorious general, and the playwright William Wycherley, shows she picked talent. She also paid them generously.
She was a life-force, and could be great fun. She enjoyed the thrill of power, or its illusion, and exerting political influence whenever she could, but for purely selfish reasons, to settle personal scores. She acted from the heart, not the head. She was unsentimental, and sometimes compassionate, an important distinction that we have lost sight of.
She was shocking to the country outside the King’s circle, the incarnation of the immorality and waste at Court, a curse on the country, a scapegoat for all the frustration and disappointment with the restored monarchy.
She was politically useful, that way.
She was not popular, like the People’s Choice among the King’s Ladies, Nell Gwyn; she was the Bad Girl, the Dirty Girl, the Bunny Boiler, the Alien Succubus, the space vampire played by Mathilda May in Lifeforce; she was X-rated, HBO, not terrestrial TV.
She was culturally essential, that way.
Barbara Palmer (née Villiers) as The Penitent Magdalene by Sir Peter Lely.
There was one gender injustice she could not defy, the plight of the older but still sexual woman. Barbara was forty-five when her protector, the King, died, and everything started going wrong. She got desperate and stopped discriminating. The once gorgeous predator became the prey of bad actors and con-men. She made a disastrous second marriage when she was sixty-five to a bigamist who was after her money.
The last years of her life read like the moralists’ revenge. It is documented in the DNB that in her final illness a dropsy “swelled her gradually to a monstrous bulk”, exactly the kind of private detail about our own or our beloveds’ deaths that we would want kept quiet.
There is a very sad ghost story about Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland as an old woman lamenting her lost beauty as she walks in her high heeled shoes tapping on the wood floor to stare out of the windows of her house on Chiswick Mall.
Good plastic surgery might have prevented that.
The woman while she lived was not penitent. She seized her moment, enjoying the sexual, and bi-sexual, liberation of the Restoration Court as much as any man. Her appetites, or addictions, and her temperament were entirely suited to her time.
The female libertine did not see herself as objectified or victimized, and we should not judge her differently.
Part nine of Nothing
Gijsbrechts was deliberately more frugal in his imagery than most Vanitas painters, so though he produced the staple props of floral, fruity sumptuousness, lobsters and lemons, dead ducks and game, melodramatic skulls and overwrought tankards, in deceptively three-dimensional form, he preferred to concentrate on his bits of paper stuffed into strapped letter boards. A diversion for the spectator merges into metaphysical reflection.
Gijsbrechts, Board Partition with Letter Rack and Music Book, 1668. Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. The seal of the artist’s patron, King Frederik III of Denmark, dangles above the music book on the left.
It became a popular theme for other trompe l’oeil artists in northern Europe, most notably the Dutch born and trained Edward Collier who had a successful career in London from 1693 – 1706. Sometimes topical political messages were included amongst the letters, pamphlets and royal proclamations.
Collier commemorated the accession of Queen Anne in 1702, not with a portrait of the woman, but with a collage of documents associated with the event and the Stuart line of succession, symbolized by the seal of her grandfather, Charles I, instantly recognizable in profile by his beard, who had been executed over 50 years earlier. Anne was the last of her family to reign. Dynasties are as transient as everything else.
Edward Collier, Trompe l’oeil with writing materials, ca. 1702, oil on canvas. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Like some photo-journalism today, particularly at Election time, Collier’s patriotic letter rack is more interesting for its omissions than inclusions. The legitimacy of Anne’s right to succeed is implied by her descent from her grandfather, not her father, also a crowned king with absolutist ambitions, who had been kicked off the throne and out of the country in a coup d’etat fourteen years earlier which saved England, but not Scotland and Ireland, from renewed civil war. To please his patrons of the new political Establishment, Collier erased James II and his son from history.
Vanitas painting, like much of 17th century literature and philosophy, is veined with the dread of civil war, the condition Hobbes decried as having “no place for industry”, no agriculture, no trade imports, no communication with the rest of the world “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death…” (Leviathan).
This is why Vanitas celebrates the prosaic commodities of peace; people with memories or imagination knew their value. Neither the objects nor their owners last, but the impulse to have them is carried on through generations.
Nothing is what it seems – or Nothing is not what it seems.
The trompe l’oeil artist was meeting a demand to both reassure and beguile his patrons, to trick their eyes without disturbing their minds. He could have chosen glamorous symbols of wealth. He chose everyday, random clutter, and transformed the ordinary into a permanent monument to ephemera.
A random street scene observed, not posed, by a contemporary German-born photographer from Hamburg living in England.
Gijsbrechts experimented with modern graphic minimalism. He explored the liminal space between reality and illusion which preoccupies many artists today. He went behind the picture, beyond conventional religious morality to the other dominant philosophy of the late Baroque, nihilism, and beyond 17th century Vanitas to 20th century Existentialism, to the back of a framed canvas, a picture in search of a painter.
Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil, Reverse of a Framed Painting, 1668 -72, oil on canvas Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Image: Wikipedia