Monthly Archives: December 2013

Tilia

Tilia, otherwise known as lime trees, limewood trees, linden trees, or basswood are prevalent throughout the history of art and literature, in both its uses and depiction. Albrecht Dürer was probably in his twenties when he painted his famous Linden Tree on a Bastion.

Albrecht Dürer, Linden Tree on a Bastion, watercolor, gouache on parchment, 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13.5 × 10.5 in), circa 1489-1490, Musée Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Albrecht Dürer, Linden Tree on a Bastion, watercolor, gouache on parchment, 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13.5 × 10.5 in), circa 1489-1490, Musée Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The wood of Tilia trees was also a popular painting surface during the Renaissance.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), A Stag Hunt with the Elector Friedrich the Wise, oil on linden wood, 80.2 × 114.1 cm (31.6 × 44.9 in), 1529, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), A Stag Hunt with the Elector Friedrich the Wise, oil on linden wood, 80.2 × 114.1 cm (31.6 × 44.9 in), 1529, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


 
Limewood was a favorite carving material of sculptors in Renaissance Germany. Tilman Reimenschneider is perhaps the most famous of these artists, and his masterpiece, The Holy Blood Altar in St. Jacob’s Church is a great example.

Holy Blood Altar, sculpture limewood; shrine work fir, overall height 900 cm, (1499-1505) by Tilman Riemenschneider in the St. Jacob church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany, photo by Berthold Werner

Holy Blood Altar, sculpture limewood; shrine work fir, overall height 900 cm, (1499-1505) by Tilman Riemenschneider in the St. Jacob church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany, photo by Berthold Werner

There are also many literary references to the tree. In Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, the love-stricken Werther eventually commits suicide and is buried under a linden tree.

I have implored your father to protect my remains. At the corner of the churchyard, looking toward the fields, there are two lime-trees—there I wish to lie. Your father can, and doubtless will, do this much for his friend. Implore it of him. But perhaps pious Christians will not choose that their bodies should be buried near the corpse of a poor, unhappy wretch like me. Then let me be laid in some remote valley, or near the highway, where the priest and Levite may bless themselves as they pass by my tomb, whilst the Samaritan will shed a tear for my fate.

In Mythology, Ovid tells the story of Baucis and Philemon who accept Jupiter and Mercury into their home, and in return for their kindness they are transformed, she into a linden tree and he into an oak, at the end of their lives.

From Henry T. Riley’s translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid (other editions), 1893:

Then, the son of Saturn uttered such words as these with benign lips: ‘Tell us, good old man, and thou, wife, worthy of a husband so good, what it is you desire?’ Having spoken a few words to Baucis, Philemon discovered their joint request to the Gods: ‘We desire to be your priests, and to have the care of your temple; and, since we have passed our years in harmony, let the same hour take us off both together; and let me not ever see the tomb of my wife, nor let me be destined to be buried by her.’ Fulfilment attended their wishes. So long as life was granted, they were the keepers of the temple; and when, enervated by years and old age, they were standing, by chance, before the sacred steps, and were relating the fortunes of the spot, Baucis beheld Philemon, and the aged Philemon saw Baucis, too, shooting into leaf. And now the tops of the trees growing above their two faces, so long as they could they exchanged words with each other, and said together, ‘Farewell! my spouse;’ and at the same moment the branches covered their concealed faces.

Books about linden trees…

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Earth’s Answer

Blake's illustration and print of "Earth's Answer" in Copy B of Song's of Innocence and Experience, 1789, 1794, The British Museum

Blake’s illustration and print of “Earth’s Answer” in Copy B of Song’s of Innocence and Experience, 1789, 1794, The British Museum

Earth’s Answer by William Blake
from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, 1794

 

EARTH’S ANSWER

Earth raised up her head
From the darkness dread and drear,
Her light fled,
Stony, dread,
And her locks covered with grey despair.

Prisoned on watery shore,
Starry jealousy does keep my den
Cold and hoar;
Weeping o’er,
I hear the father of the ancient men.

Selfish father of men!
Cruel, jealous, selfish fear!
Can delight,
Chained in night,
The virgins of youth and morning bear.

Does spring hide its joy,
When buds and blossoms grow?
Does the sower
Sow by night,
Or the ploughman in darkness plough?

Break this heavy chain,
That does freeze my bones around!
Selfish, vain,
Eternal bane,
That free love with bondage bound.

 

Books by or about William Blake

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Hayden’s Chats

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century there were lots of books around for collectors of old objects. The books would contain photographs or illustrations alongside descriptions(chats) of things such as, furniture, miniatures, lace and needlework, books, etc. The old photographs often have a haunted and animated quality that belies the rather straightforward descriptions.

The following are some selections from one of the more well-known books, Chats on Old Furniture: A Practical Guide for Collectors by Arthur Hayden, 1905.

***

Take, for example, the mirror with the frame of carved oak, with scroll outline and narrow bands inlaid with small squares of wood, alternately light and dark. This inlay is very coarsely done, and unworthy to compare with Italian marquetry of contemporary date, or of an earlier period. The uprights and feet of the frame, it will be noticed, are baluster-shaped. The glass mirror is of nineteenth-century manufacture. The date carved upon the frame is 1603, the first year of the reign of James I., and it is stated to have come from Derby Old Hall.

oldmirror

MIRROR.

Glass in oak frame with carved scroll outline and narrow 

bands inlaid with small squares of wood. The glass nineteenth 

century.

ENGLISH. DATED 1603.

(Victoria and Albert Museum.)

***

The French Renaissance cabinet of walnut illustrated is from Lyons, and is of the later part of the sixteenth century. It is finely carved with terminal figures, masks, trophies of ornaments, and other ornament. In comparison with the sixteenth-century ebony cabinet of the period of Henry IV., finely inlaid with ivory in most refined style, it is obvious that a great variety of sumptuous furniture was being made by the production of such diverse types as these, and that the craftsmen were possessed of a wealth of invention. The range of English craftsmen’s designs during the Renaissance in this country was never so extensive, as can be seen on a detailed examination of English work.

oldcabinet

CABINET OF WALNUT

FRENCH (LYONS); SECOND HALF OF SIXTEENTH CENTURY.

Carved with terminal figures, masks, and trophies of arms.

(Victoria and Albert Museum.)

***

The illustration of the fine Elizabethan bedstead gives a very good idea of what the domestic furniture was like in the days immediately succeeding the Spanish Armada. It is carved in oak; with columns, tester, and headboard showing the classic influence. It is ornamented in marquetry, and bears the date 1593.

oldbed

ELIZABETHAN BEDSTEAD. DATED 1593.

Carved oak, ornamented in marquetry.

(Height, 7 ft. 4 in.; length, 7 ft. 11 in.; width, 5 ft. 8 in.)

(Victoria and Albert Museum.)

***

FINIS.

oldworms

PIECE OF SPANISH CHESTNUT 

SHOWING RAVAGES OF WORMS.

Also by Arthur Hayden

Chats on Old silver

Furniture Designs of Chippendale Hepplewhite & Sheraton

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Sakasa-bashira

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, aka Koizumi Yakumo, 1889, from photograph by Frederick Gutekunst (1831–1917)

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, aka Koizumi Yakumo, 1889, from photograph by Frederick Gutekunst (1831–1917)

 

Famous for his writings on Japan and its folklore, some of Lafcadio Hearn’s best pieces are ghost stories. His most well-known collection of strange tales is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, which, besides ghost stories, also includes a short piece on insects. Born in Greece and raised in Ireland, Hearn lived in and wrote about Cincinnati, New Orleans, and the West Indies before eventually moving to Japan where he started a family, became a citizen, and took the name Koizumi Yakumo. For further reading on Lafcadio Hearn, I recommend the biography Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn (library) by Jonathan Cott.

 

The following piece is from the 1905 collection The Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies & Stories, from the section entitled “Goblin Poetry”.

 

 

SAKASA-BASHIRA

 

Toriyama Sekien, Sakabashira from the Gazu Hyakki Yakō, circa 1781

Toriyama Sekien, Sakabashira from the Gazu Hyakki Yakō, circa 1781

The term Sakasa-bashira (in these kyōka often shortened into saka-bashira) literally means “upside-down post.” A wooden post or pillar, especially a house-post, should be set up according to the original position of the tree from which it was hewn,—that is to say, with the part nearest to the roots downward. To erect a house-post in the contrary way is thought to be unlucky;—formerly such a blunder was believed to involve unpleasant consequences of a ghostly kind, because an “upside-down” pillar would do malignant things. It would moan and groan in the night, and move all its cracks like mouths, and open all its knots like eyes. Moreover, the spirit of it (for every house-post has a spirit) would detach its long body from the timber, and wander about the rooms, head-downwards, making faces at people. Nor was this all. A Sakasa-bashira knew how to make all the affairs of a household go wrong,—how to foment domestic quarrels,—how to contrive misfortune for each of the family and the servants,—how to render existence almost insupportable until such time as the carpenter’s blunder should be discovered and remedied.

 

   Saka-bashira

Tatéshi wa tazo ya?

   Kokoro ni mo

Fushi aru hito no

Shiwaza naruran.

 

    [Who set the house-pillar upside-down? Surely that must have been the work of a man with a knot in his heart.]

 

   Hidayama we

Kiri-kité tatéshi

   Saka-bashira—

Nanno takumi no

Shiwaza naruran?

 

    [That house-pillar hewn in the mountains of Hida, and thence brought here and erected upside-down—what carpenter’s work can it be? (or, “for what evil design can this deed have been done?”)]

 

   Uë shita wo

Chigaëté tatéshi

   Hashira ni wa

Sakasama-goto no

Uréï aranan.

 

    [As for that house-pillar mistakenly planted upside-down, it will certainly cause adversity and sorrow.

 

   Kabé ni mimi

Arité, kiké to ka?

   Sakashima ni

Tateshi hashira ni

Yanari suru oto!

 

    [O Ears that be in the wall! Listen, will ye? to the groaning and the creaking of the house-post that was planted upside-down!]

 

   Uri-iyé no

Aruji we toëba,

   Oto arité:

Waré mé ga kuchi wo

Aku saka-bashira.

 

    [When I inquired for the master of the house that was for sale, there came to me only a strange sound by way of reply,—the sound of the upside-down house-post opening its eyes and mouth! (i.e. its cracks).]

 

   Omoïkiya!

Sakasa-bashira no

   Hashira-kaké

Kakinishit uta mo

Yamai ari to wa!

 

    [Who could have thought it!—even the poem inscribed upon the pillar-tablet, attached to the pillar which was planted upside-down, has taken the same (ghostly) sickness.]

More by or about Lafcadio Hearn…

 

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