Saturday, 29 January 2011

Two great productions of the BBC around the Cambridge Spies ... First , "A question of attribution"


UK, 1991, 90 minutes, Colour.
James Fox, David Calder, Geoffrey Palmer, Prunella Scales, Jason Flemyng.
Directed by John Schlesinger.

A Question of Attribution is a second British spy drama, a collaboration between John Schlesinger and writer Alan Bennett who had previously made An Englishman Abroad, with Alan Bates and Coral Brown, a picture of Guy Burgess in Moscow.

This film is a portrait of Sir Anthony Blunt, his relationship with MI5, his role as the curator of the Queen's pictures - and it includes a fascinating sequence where Sir Anthony Blunt meets the Queen and they have a discussion about pictures and about forgeries and fakes.

The film is brief, is elegantly written by Bennett and provides an insight into the personality of Sir Anthony Blunt and his final emergence as the fourth man amongst the British spies in contact with Moscow. He is a man of the Establishment, a man lacking in moral stance, pragmatic but able to move in English society because of his cultural background and status. James Fox gives an excellent performance as Blunt. David Calder is also excellent as the investigator Chubb, a complete contrast in style and background from Blunt. However, in the interrogations, which are done in a very gentlemanly fashion, Chubb begins to learn a great deal about art.

Bennett uses a portrait by Titian, alleged to be by Titian, as the central core of the study of the British spy. Blunt is involved in the cleaning of the picture, which gradually reveals that there are four personalities in the picture and discussions as to whether the portraits are forgeries or not. The parallel between the forged painting and the cultivated spy are elaborated with interesting detail (including the discussion with the Queen).

Prunella Scales appears to great effect as the Queen in the discussion with Blunt.

The film was made in the early '90s after the break-up of the Soviet Union, whereas An Englishman Abroad was made earlier. However, they form companion pieces highlighting the nature of British attitudes towards espionage and also towards Russia and the changing of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in the early '90s.

Sir Anthony Blunt ( James Fox) goes to Buckingham Palace to study a painting by Titian ...

Suddenly, a corgi appears ...

Realising that the Queen is coming ... one of the assistants runs in panic ... and hides

Without being aware of what is going on, Sir Anthony Blunt continues developing his thoughts about the painting

The Queen enters the room

Without realising that The Queen is present and watching the situation, Sir Anthony Blunt demands impatiently to his "assistent", that is at the present moment hiding under the coach, his spyglass ...

Sir Anthony Blunt ... comes to the Awesome discovery that he actually is talking with the Queen ...

The queen is able to see cleary that someone is hiding under the coach ... but she remains impassible ... and imperturbable ... even if her corgi doesn't

The culminating moment of tension ... of "attribution" ....concerning the character of Sir Anthony Blunt ... as implicitelly "expressed" by the Queen ... is he a fake ? ... in other words a traitor ?

A Question of Attribution

Prunella Scales - The Queen Part 1

Prunella Scales - The Queen Part 2

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Grand Tour ...Aristocratic Initiation ... Individual Privilege instead of Mass Tourism

The more you know ... the more you see ... This is the only weapon against the collective paranoia of mass comsunption that has invaded the modern concept of Tourism ... The old dilemma between "Being" and "Having" with the most important aspect in between ... "Becoming"
Yours ... Jeeves

The Grand Tour was the traditional travel of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transit in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage. Though primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of Protestant Northern European nations on the Continent, and from the second half of the 18th century some American and other overseas youth joined in.

The primary value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music. A grand tour could last from several months to several years. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor. The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance; as E.P. Thompson opined, "ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power."

This group was to fund some of the most important expeditions for the knowledge of the architecture in Greece and Asia Minor. The most famous ones are those of Robert Wood in 1750, and James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, in 1748-1755.

Robert Wood’s expedition to Greece, Asia Minor and Syria was led by James Dawkins (? -1757, a wealthy gentleman) and John Bouverie (1722-1750, amateur archaeologist). Robert Wood was a travel "guide", as he had been in Constantinople, several Aegean islands, Egypt and some cities in Syria and Mesopotamia. Wood was an erudite in classical themes, with sensitivity to capture the characteristics of a place, and a subtle understanding of natural beauties. For this reason Dawkins and Bouverie invited him to accompany them. Along with them went the architect, landscape architect and artist Giovanni Battista (Torquilio) Borra (1712-1786), as well. Wood and Borra drew the ruins of the cities of Palmyra (Syria) and Baalbeck (Lebanon), and published the drawings in two books, The Ruins of Palmyra in 1753, and The Ruins of Baalbeck in 1757.
(Francisco Martínez Mindeguía)

The essential place to visit, however, was Italy. The British traveler Charles Thompson speaks for many Grand Tourists when in 1744 he describes himself as "being impatiently desirous of viewing a country so famous in history, which once gave laws to the world; which is at present the greatest school of music and painting, contains the noblest productions of statuary and architecture, and abounds with cabinets of rarities, and collections of all kinds of antiquities." Within Italy, the great focus was Rome, whose ancient ruins and more recent achievements were shown to every Grand Tourist. Panini's Ancient Rome and Modern Rome represent the sights most prized, including celebrated Greco-Roman statues and views of famous ruins, fountains, and churches. Since there were few museums anywhere in Europe before the close of the eighteenth century, Grand Tourists often saw paintings and sculptures by gaining admission to private collections, and many were eager to acquire examples of Greco-Roman and Italian art for their own collections. In England, where architecture was increasingly seen as an aristocratic pursuit, noblemen often applied what they learned from the villas of Palladio in the Veneto and the evocative ruins of Rome to their own country houses and gardens.

...and many were eager to acquire examples of Greco-Roman and Italian art for their own collections...

Zoffani ... Charles Townley at home ...

The Grand Tour gave concrete form to Northern Europeans' ideas about the Greco-Roman world and helped foster Neoclassical ideals. The most ambitious tourists visited excavations at such sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Tivoli, and purchased antiquities to decorate their homes.

Kedleston Hall by Robert Adam

The dining rooms of Robert Adam's interiors typically incorporated classical statuary; the nine lifesized figures set in niches in the Lansdowne dining room were among the many antiquities acquired by the second earl of Shelburne, whose collecting activities accelerated after 1771, when he visited Italy and met Gavin Hamilton, a noted antiquary and one of the first dealers to take an interest in Attic ceramics, then known as "Etruscan vases."

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Roman Obsessions

The emotion that overwhelms you when you see the open dome of the Pantheon in Rome is difficult to describe ... certainly in these times os mass tourism have to visit Rome with information capable of giving you back the spirit of the origins of tourism ...of "The Grand Tour"... when aristocratic souls were able to discover these remains in natural landscapes and untouched atmospheres ...
Besides some images of Caspar van Willet and Huber Robert ... I offer you the very touching painting of the Great Goethe visiting the Colosseum ...These were the days for Romantics and "Milordi" ... Yours Jeeves.

Goethe and the Colosseum

Pope Sixtus IV was responsible for the creation of the Musei Capitolini's nucleus when in 1471 he donated to the Roman People some bronze statues that had previously been housed in the Lateran (the She-Wolf, the Spinarius, the Camillus and the colossal head of Constantine, with hand and globe).
The return to the city of some traces of Rome's past greatness was made even more important by their collocation on the Capitoline Hill, the centre of ancient Roman religious life and seat of the civilian magistrature from the Middle Ages onwards, after a period of long decline.

The sculptures had intitially been arranged on the external façade and courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The originary nucleus shortly became enriched by the subsequent acquisition of finds from excavations taking place in the city, all of which were closely linked to the history of ancient Rome.

During the middle of the 16th Century a number of important pieces of sculpture were set out on the Capitoline Hill (including the gilded bronze statue of Hercules from the Boarius Forum, the marble fragments of the acrolith of Constantine from the Basilica of Maxentium, the three relief panels showing the works of Marcus Aurelius, the so-called Capitoline Brutus, and important inscriptions (including the Capitoline Fasti, discovered in the Roman Forum).

The two colossal statues of the Tiber and the Nile, currently outside the Palazzo Senatorio, were moved at about the same time to Palazzo del Quirinale, while the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius was brought form the Lateran in 1538 on the wishes of Pope Paul III.
The overall layout of the collection was altered in the second half of the XVI century, when the museum acquired an important group of sculptures following Pope Pius V's decision to rid the Vatican of "pagan" images: notable works of art increased the collections thereby adding an aesthetic dimension to their hitherto generally historical nature.

With the building of the Palazzo Nuovo on the other side of the square it became possible from 1654 onwards to house in a more satisfactory manner the large collection of works that had been gathering in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, by utilising part of the new building.
The Capitoline Museum, however, was only opened to the public during the course of the following century, after the acquisition, by Pope Clement XII, of a collection of statues and portraits of Cardinal Albani. Pope Clement inaugurated the Museum in 1734.

A few decades later, in the middle of the XVIII century, Pope Benedict XIV (who was responsible for the addition of fragments of the Forma Urbis from the Age of Severus, the largest marble street-plan of ancient Rome) founded the Capitoline Picture Gallery, which saw the conflation of two important collections, the Sacchetti and the Pio.