Monday, 27 May 2013

Quarrelling and making up - Sir Noel paints Oberon and Titania

In 1834 the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire and in the following decade there were a series of competitions to chose artists to decorate the new building. In 1847 Sir Joseph Noel Paton submitted the second of these two pictures, The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania. He won a prize but was not given a commission. Parliament's loss is our gain, as the picture now hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. Three years later in 1850, he painted the first of these paintings, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania - it seems logical to present them here in reverse chronological order. The paintings hang next to each other and apart from the central characters, many other of the little folk appear in both paintings. My photos of the whole pictures aren't that great but you can see a better picture of them on the BBC Your Painting website, here and here. I notice on the site that there is an earlier version (1846) of the reconciliation, here, which has the same basic composition but isn't nearly as busy.

You can spend a long time in front of these paintings, the more you look at the goings on the more you see, smaller and smaller high jinx, and deeper and deeper into the shadows. If you've finished with this painting, you can pop over to Glasgow where this painting with a similar cast of millions is on display. Without further ado. here's my photos of them and a small selection of the details.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery in Eskdalemuir

There has been a Buddhist centre it Eskdalemuir since 1965 but it was in 1967 that two exiled Tibetan Buddhist monks were invited to take over and gave the monastery the identity it has today. Despite a certain amount of controversy, the Kagyu Samye Ling monastery and Tibetan centre appears to have gone from strength to strength in the intervening years and there was still a fair amount of building work going on when I was there for a visit last week. The name is taken from the Samye monastery in Tibet and ling means place.

A view of the monastery as I approached from the car park.

In the middle of a pond is a statue of Nagarjura who was a Mahayana Buddhist master from the 1st century AD in India. He travelled to the land of the Nagas, or water spirits. The cobra rising up behind him in this statue is the king of the Nagas and is shielding him from the sun and rain.

This is the Victory Stuppa. A Stuppa is a structure which contains Buddhist relics or as commemoration of something. This one is dedicated to honouring people who have died and is used in the monastery's funeral ceremonies.

I'm not sure if there are ashes contained within the stupa itself, I didn't go in, I'm not sure if you can, but there are certainly some contained withing the cupboards of the Prayer Wheel House. The prayer wheels contain millions of mantras, or prayers, written on paper, soaked in saffron water and blessed. As the wheels are turned clockwise the mantras are activated. Traditionally turned by hand as you walk through, and here the first few can be, but I noticed that technology has caught up with them and the rest had little motors on them and turned constantly on their own.

The eight stupas line the entrance to the Samye Ling. When the Buddha died his ashes were put into eight Stupas, each representing an important event in his life. If my arithmetic is still sound after all these years, there are quite a few more than eight here so perhaps some are for another reason.

There is a small gold Buddha in each.

This stained glass window is situated outside the courtyard leading into the courtyard outside the temple.

Finished in 1988 impressive Tibetan temple is the spiritual centre of the monastery.

The main shrine room is richly painted in gold and red, with two large gongs and numerous cushions for sitting. As well as the large Buddha in the centre, there are a thousand small golden Buddhas in glass cases around the wall. A sign post asks that pictures shouldn't be taken without permission, so I have snaffled this one from the Guardian's website (it looks like a bigger version of the one the Samye Ling's website)

A rather gloriously painted door round the back of the temple.

A couple of close ups of the paintwork.

A stone in a wall is carved with a mantra.

Here's another in granite with the characters painted.

The Cloutie tree invites people to make a wish and and tie a cloth to tree in the hope that as the cloth wears away the wish may come true (considerably neater than the Clootie well in the Black Isle featured near the bottom of this blog)

The Tara garden wasn't really accessible due to building work but the statue of Tara was quite big enough to be taken from a distance.

This peacock looked quite content to be sitting on top of a pile of building materials.

On the way out I passed through the Samye Liberation Gate, similar in design to the gates on Tibetan temples. The Dharma wheel and two deer on the roof represent the Buddha's teachings and around the gate are various scripts and symbols which are relevant to Buddhism.

At the bottom of the pillars are painted the Four Great Kings who are guardians of the four directions and ward of negative forces. Here are two.

As I was walking back to the car, I spotted this sign on a gate across the road.

There's the hill and looks like some prayer flags on top of it.

By the time I got to the top, there were quite a lot of prayer flags

There were a number of little altars where people had left offerings.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Drumlanrig Castle

The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury is one of the countries biggest land owners in the country (in acres that is - I'm sure in person he's quite small enough to pop into M&S and pick up something of the peg). He's beaten only by organisations, from largest to not quite so large,  the Forestry commision, The National Trust, the Ministry of Defence, Pension Funds (if you get to gather them all together), Utilities (collected water, railways, electricity etc.)(and to think only £150 in Monopoly), The Crown Estate (does that mean the Queen or something a little different do you think??) and the RSPB (Hurray for birds). The Duke of Westminster has more than 100000 acres less but he's got a great lump of his in London rather than rural Dumfriesshire so he's six times richer in value of land.

The Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensbury trace their ancestry back to James Douglas, or the Black Douglas, who was Robert the Bruce's chum. It's always good to pick the winning team and through the 14th century the Douglas family became one of the most powerful in Scotland. It is in 1388 that a Douglas is first recorded owning the land in the area of Drumlanrig. Because they became so powerful, in the following century the Douglas family started to fall out of favour with the royal family and it wasn't until the union of the crowns that the family found them self back on completely solid ground again. It was in the reign of Charles II that Sir William Douglas became the 1st Duke of Queensbury and it was he that built the rather magnificent house we see below, known as Drumlanrig castle between 1679 and 1691.

On the death of the 4th Duke of Queensbury (who enjoyed everything in life that his mother told him not to), the title passed on to the great grandson of the 2nd duke, who as it happened was also the 3rd duke of Buccleuch, which is where the titles were joined up. A few hundred years later, the current Duke (10th of Buccleuch and 12 of Queensbury) has added quite a host of other titles to the collection.

The castle as we see it today is very similar to the original of the 17th century though the curved stairs you see at the front here are a later addition - there was just one straight staircase when it was built.

The duke has one of the finest collection of paintings in private hands in the world and many of them are in the castle. As in most stately homes, photography isn't allowed in the house but I've managed to round up some pictures of a few of the more interesting paintings that I saw.

This painting is of Francis I of France, painted in around 1530 by what is described as "circle of Joos Van Cleve". For all it is 500 years old and shows some of the painting peculiarities of the time there seems something quite fresh about the painting. A little more about Francis later.

This tapestry is said to have been done by Mary Queen of Scots and her ladies in waiting while imprisoned in England. I'm not sure she'd be pleased with it hanging here in the castle as she once referred to "Drumlanrig young and old" as "hellhounds, bloody tyrants, without souls or fear of God" for their part in deposing her in 1567.

A little further along the tapestry she has a go at Elizabeth I of England by portraying her with a beard and masculine clothing.

Of the more famous artists features in collection is this painting by Hans Holbein the younger (though it is listed as workshop or follower in places) of Sir Nicolas Carew.

There might be some debate over the Holbein but nobody is suggesting that the Rembrandt isn't the real deal. It's a Portrait of and Old Woman reading from 1655.

Once the Duke's most famous painting and now probably his most infamous after it's theft in 2003. It is Leonardo da Vinci's Madona of the Yardwinder. It turned up again in 2007 and is currently not at Drumlanrig but at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, but since I've seen it there, it seems quite reasonable to give it a mention.

What would a da Vinci be without a bit of mystery - there are two versions, probably both with a large input from Leonardo as far as I can make out - and 40 copies by pupils or followers. Wikipedia has a page devoted to it here which you can read for yourself.

Briefly to return to Francis I of France - he knew Leonardo and persuaded him to move to France into his service (he took the Mona Lisa with him). Francis probably knew the painting well as it was his father in law, the previous king, Louis XII, who owned the painting. His portrait would have seen the 2003 theft as it was hanging on the same wall.

This portrait by Philip de Laszlo is of Mary, countess of Dalkeith, wife of the future 8th Duke of Buccleuch in 1932. The Earl of Dalkeith is the title held by the next in line to the Dukedom.

This is probably my favourite painting in the castle. It's of Jane, Countess of Dalkeith (future 9th duke's wife this time) from 1957 by John Merton. Before she was married she was a fashion model for Norman Hartnell. Here she is again on the cover of Life in 1953.

There is a what looks like a walled garden entrance but no walled garden behind it. Just a few acres of  manicured lawn and topiary hedges. running into woodland and the distant scenery.

Had I read the guide book before I left (rather than later when tucked up with my cocoa) or if the weather had been a bit more conducive to a longer walk round the grounds then I would probably have found the Andy Goldworthy striding arch that has been built in a stream in the woods below the castle. This blogger found it in weather worse than I had.

A view of the castle from the back - it's a square old thing.

A cup of Earl Grey in the cafe. Look at that! most places give you a little biscuit with your tea, here you get a bit of tablet - very nice too.

A last look back from the drive as I was leaving.