Friday, June 24, 2005

High 8 Us.

I shall be adopting the nomadic lifestyle for the next while and will be away from my computer. Don't expect to see any new entries here for the next couple of weeks.

To mark the day that's in it, I'll link to this image on the British Library's webpage.


How cool is this? Pope Benedict being escorted by the mounted Presidential guard of the Italian Republic (31 cavalrymen in total) to the Quirnal palace to meet President Ciampi. I happened to stumble across this as I was passing through Piazza Venezia!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Berlusconi Soap...

Okay, I'm fairly sure you won't read anything stranger than this today:
A bar of soap believed to be made from fat pumped from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has gone on display.
Artist Gianni Motti says he made the soap made from fat from Berlusconi's liposuction operation.
It is part of an art exhibition in Basel, Switzerland, where for a price tag of £10000 (about R123 000), you can wash your hands with Berlusconi.
The 47-year-old artist who put the soap on display, Gianni Motti, claims to have acquired the fat from an employee of an elite plastic surgery clinic in Lugano in Switzerland.
The artist said: "Berlusconi had face lifting and liposuction operations in a clinic in Lugano, where I have good connections that provided me with some of the fat. It was jelly-like and it stunk horribly, like butter gone off or old chip pan oil."
According to Motti, the artwork called Mani Pulite (which means "clean hands" in Italian) expresses opposition to corruption and mafia structures in Italy, as well as his personal opinion of Berlusconi's policies.
Motti said: "I came up with the idea because soap is made of pig fat, and I thought how much more appropriate it would be if people washed their hands using a piece of Berlusconi." -

Pregnancy, virility and the Italian economy...

There's an interesting article in the Independent about pregnancy and the dangers that older women face by artificially prolonging fertility.
Professor De Swiet, who specialises in treating complications during pregnancy, said: "I have had 90 women in my clinic in the last year over the age of 40 and I do have concerns. There are worries about miscarriage, chromosomal disorders like Down's, high blood pressure and diabetes.
"At the moment, doctors are not telling women about the risks, and even when they do, the women often don't take it in. What you have to remember is that some of these women who become pregnant with IVF techniques are fundamentally unwell - they are not good breeders and they are at high risk of both morbidity and mortality."
It was not simply life-threatening conditions that affected older expectant mothers, Professor De Swiet said. "They seem to be more at risk from what I call the misery factor during pregnancy," he explained. "They tend to suffer more from breathlessness, heart palpitations and fainting. Often by 35 weeks, they have had enough and come in demanding a Caesarean."
He said that women should ideally have their children between 25 and 35, be aware that between 35 and 45 they were "safe enough" but that over that age, they should be made fully aware of the dangers.
BTW, I think it takes a particular type of medical personality to talk about 'good breeders'.
The article continues in a slighty unusual vein:
When Cherie Blair gave birth to her fourth child at the age of 45, the Prime Minister was widely admired for his virility and uniqueness at becoming a father while in office.
But it may be that the conception of Leo, now five, was down to Mrs Blair's genes rather than her husband's potency. Scientists have identified a certain type of genetic make-up in women who have continued to be able to become pregnant naturally over the age of 45.
Researchers from the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem studied 250 Ashkenazi Jewish women, all of whom had children in their late forties and all of whom did not use contraception. Eighty per cent of the women in the study had at least six children, as well as a low miscarriage rate.
The researchers tested eight of the women and studied their genetic make up compared to a control group of non-Ashkenazi women. They found the Ashkenazi women had a pattern of gene expression which appeared to protect against DNA damage and cell death in the ovaries.
Dr Neri Laufer, who led the research, said his team had proved that the "pregnancy" genes were not unique to these particular Jewish women because they had also been found in Bedouin women.
There's also a piece about Italy's economic woes. Berlusconi sounds particularly desperate as he tries to project a positive image of the country:
The idea of Italy as sick, he said, was "profoundly at odds with the reality we live. Italy has thousands of monuments, historical palaces, archaeological sites, we have the greatest per capita ownership of cars and houses and the largest number of mobile phones." Not only that, but Italians knew how to make good use of them. "As they are playboys, our lads send at least 10 SMS messages to their girlfriends every day!"
One typically well-informed character incredibly manages to blame the church for the country's economic woes:
"We don't know what model of society we are working towards. So what are we trying to achieve? Nothing works properly. This is a country where the Church is trying to drag us back to the Middle Ages. You can feel the pressure from the Church, for example during the recent referendum on IVF treatment.
"Twenty years ago we had the idea that we were working for a society more equal, more just. We were trying to understand how to develop this country in the best possible way. Today the logic of the big fish which eats the smaller fish has won out. And what this country really lacks is a sense of community. Everyone thinks about his own little problems. The problem is one of values, of what to tell one's children, when the people in power are so corrupt.'

Cardinal Sin, RIP

The Telegraph obituary focuses mainly on the late Cardinal's wit, but also gives a good account of the fall of the Marcos regime:
But it was after the opposition leader Benigno Aquino was murdered at Manila airport as he returned from exile in 1983 that Sin's criticisms increased. He warned that there was an ugly mood in the country, which could lead to results that would hurt the poor. When Ronald Reagan pushed Marcos into a general election, Sin urged Aquino's widow Cory to run. As the government became more repressive in its efforts to win the vote, the national bishops' conference issued increasingly outspoken pastoral letters.
After Marcos's victory, Mrs Aquino used the Church's radio station to call for non-violent resistance, prompting the defence minister and vice-chief of the defence staff to break with Marcos. As troops marched on their headquarters, Sin went on air calling "all the children of God" to protect the two former government members. During the next three days, hundreds of thousands of unarmed Filipinos formed a human shield in Manila's Avenue of the Epiphany of the Saints, pressing rosaries and sandwiches on the tank crews and thrusting flowers down the barrels of their guns and prevented them reaching the errant pair.
Soon Marcos fled to Hawaii. The whole episode was a miracle, Sin declared, "scripted by God, directed by the Virgin Mary and starring the Filipino people". After attending a large open-air Mass with President Aquino, he visited the Soviet Union and China before arriving in Rome. At his audience with Pope John Paul II, Sin declared that a moral dimension, not a political one, had been involved in the recent events. "He smiled because he understands," Sin explained afterwards. "He comes from Poland."
Imedla Maros commented: "With the death of Cardinal Sin, let us pray that all Filipinos will at last be united in spirit." (Make of that remark what you will...)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Great Moments in Recent History...

I've not blogged the Jackson trail/circus, but am gobsmacked by this (official???) page which compares his 'not guilty' verdict to the fall of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela's release.

Religious Jokes...

The Laodiceans blog about the new Religious Hatred Bill proposed for England and Wales. The Independent has a series of religious jokes to mark the occasion. Be warned that you may find some of them very offensive...
"I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: 'Stop. Don't do it.'
'Why shouldn't I?' he asked. 'Well, there's so much to live for!' 'Like what?' 'Are you religious?'
He said: 'Yes.' I said.
'Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?'
'Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?'
'Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?'
'Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?'
'Baptist Church of God.'
'Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?'
'Reformed Baptist Church of God.'
'Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?'
He said: 'Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915.'
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off."
"A Jewish grandmother is watching her grandchild playing on the beach when a huge wave comes and takes him out to sea. She pleads: "Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back." And a big wave comes and washes the boy back on to the beach, good as new. She looks up to heaven and says: 'He had a hat.' "
"Ex Leper: 'Yes, sir, a bloody miracle, sir. God bless you.'
Brian: 'Who cured you?'
Ex Leper: 'Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business. All of a sudden, up here he comes. Cures me. One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood's gone. Not so much as by your leave.' 'You're cured mate.' Bloody do-gooder."
"Bad weather is God's way of telling us we should burn more Catholics."
That last one is kinda context-dependent...

Happy Solstice

From the Telegraph:
Modern-day druids, hippies and revellers who turn up at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice may not be marking an ancient festival as they believe.The latest archaeological findings add weight to growing evidence that our ancestors visited Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice.
Analysis of pigs's teeth found at Durrington Walls, a ceremonial site of wooden post circles near Stonehenge on the River Avon, has shown that most pigs were less than a year old when slaughtered.
Dr Umburto Albarella, an animal bone expert at the University of Sheffield's archaeology department, which is studying monuments around Stonehenge, said pigs in the Neolithic period were born in spring and were an early form of domestic pig that farrowed once a year. The existence of large numbers of bones from pigs slaughtered in December or January supports the view that our Neolithic ancestors took part in a winter solstice festival.
An interesting political survivor in Spain:
The future of a Franco-era veteran and Spain's foremost political survivor hung in the balance yesterday as the country waited to see if he had secured a record fifth term as regional president of Galicia.

One seat will save Franco veteran, 82, from hanging up his presidential boots
By Isambard Wilkinson in Santiago de Compostela
(Filed: 21/06/2005)

The future of a Franco-era veteran and Spain's foremost political survivor hung in the balance yesterday as the country waited to see if he had secured a record fifth term as regional president of Galicia.
Manuel Fraga, 82, was himself confident that his centre-right People's Party (PP) would win the one seat it still needs for a majority in the Galician assembly.
If the PP fails to win the last available seat, a coalition of Socialists and Galician nationalists will form the regional government and the career of Spain's most colourful and contrary politician will be at an end.
Mr Fraga himself recently declared that he wanted to die with "las botas puestas" - wearing his boots - as his hero the dictator Francisco Franco did.
Don Manuel, as he is known, has a reputation for falling asleep at meetings, and is sensitive to remarks about his age, even though he recently collapsed while appearing in a live televised broadcast.
Like, Franco, Mr Fraga enjoys shooting and once accidentally shot the dictator's daughter, Nenuca, in the bottom.
What Would Jesus Eat? Incredbibly that's one of the latest diet-books in the States. One of the writers for the Times tries it out:
Dr Colbert is the author of What Would Jesus Eat? the book at the centre of a new dieting craze that is sweeping America (and doing particularly well in states that voted Republican). “We seek to follow Jesus in every area of our lives,” he writes in the introduction. “Why not in our eating habits?” Biblical health has become big business in the USA. Alongside Dr Colbert’s 50-odd books on the subject, other authors have produced The Maker’s Diet, Body by God and the Hallelujah Diet. Not all are about healthy eating (Colbert himself is the author of The Bible Cure for Candida and Yeast Infections), but few other areas have captured public imagination in quite the same way.
To eat as Jesus ate, bluntly speaking, one should follow what we know of today as a Mediterranean diet (fish, grains, fruits, beans and lentils) and observe what Colbert describes as “the law that was given to the Israelites from God through Moses”. This, of course, is the Jewish dietary law of kashrut — what Jews follow in order to keep kosher. Jews and kosher are rarely mentioned in Dr Colbert’s book. To his readership, the idea of eating like Jesus obviously appeals. Eating like a Jew, possibly less so.
Like Jesus I, too, am a Jew. But, as exemplified by the pig, I’m not a very good one. This week I shall be basically learning how to be a better Jew. And Jesus will be helping me.
I have some trouble explaining this to my family.
TODAY starts badly. Habitually, I tend not to eat breakfast. Consequentially, it’s nearly lunchtime before I glance in the book and realise that, according to Dr Colbert, Jesus did.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” he writes. (That’s “he”. Not “He”. “He” was reticent on the subject. I think.) “Think of your metabolic rate as a fire in a fireplace. By morning, the fires of metabolism have all but gone out.”
Breakfast should be whole grain bread, unsweetened yoghurt, wholegrain cereal and fruit. This means that, in order to lose weight as Jesus lost weight, I will have to actually eat more than I currently do. Still, far be it from me to question the Word.
A healthy lunch was all very well for Jesus, traipsing around the Holy Land, but I can’t help but think he’d have had a harder time of it in the News International canteen at Wapping. I opt for a slightly grim chicken salad. Jesus was OK with chicken, apparently. Pork is out, obviously, and while red meat is allowed, it shouldn't be considered a daily staple. Jesus only ate red meat at feasts. Jesus also preferred free-range, organic meats. No battery farms for Jesus.
Up until the time of Noah and the flood, writes Dr Colbert, pretty matter of factly, everybody was a vegetarian. This, apparently, could account for the astonishing life-spans of Adam (930 years), Seth (912) and Methuselah (969). Post-Noah, Abraham only managed 175. Somebody should write a book about the Methuselah diet. That would be a winner.
And so on... The article gets a wee bit tiresome to be quite honest.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

On selecting a gown...

There are few better ways to be disabused of the notion that human nature changes greatly over time than reading Jane Austen:
What gown and what head-dress she should wear on the occasion became her chief concern. She cannot be justified in it. Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. Catherine knew all this very well; her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before; and yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of the time prevented her buying a new one for the evening. This would have been an error in judgment, great though not uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother rather than a great aunt might have warned her, for man only can be aware of the insensibility of man towards a new gown. It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biassed by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.
-From Northanger Abbey

Zimbabwe bishops to confront Mugabe

This article in the Times shows further confrontation between Zimbabwe's bishops and Robert Mugabe:
EVERY morning Father Michael looks out of the window of his Harare parish house and sees an ever larger crowd of homeless families outside. “I feel helpless,” said the Jesuit priest, who was too terrified to give his real name.
“I keep telling them my little homilies, that the violent will not win, they will have to answer for what they have done, but I see a city ringed by fire.
“People who worked to look after their families — carpenters, metalworkers, street vendors and caterers — have been turned into beggars by their own government. This is a crime against humanity and all we can do is give them black plastic sheeting.”
As Operation Murambatsvina or “drive out filth”, moves into its second month, as many as a 1m city-dwellers have been made homeless by government bulldozers and axe-wielding police.
Churches have become the only refuge for people who have lost everything. But priests have now been warned not to help by the government of President Robert Mugabe.
Harare has been turned into a refugee city with marauding bands of families pursued through the smoking rubble by police who move on anyone they find sleeping outside or still retaining a few possessions.
Some have been taken to camps outside the city such as Caledonia Farm, where there is only one lavatory for several thousand people. Those with money have left for villages but many have no family to go to and the country’s fuel shortage means buses are few and far between.
Others have returned to Harare, claiming village chiefs are refusing to accept them because there is not enough food. Zimbabwe is facing its lowest harvest since independence. The United Nations estimates that 6m Zimbabweans are in urgent need of food aid.
With international aid agencies prevented from helping, those who can have sought shelter from the freezing winter nights in church yards and halls.
But confidential minutes of a meeting last Wednesday between community representatives and government officials headed by Ignatius Chombo, the minister of public works, confirm that church leaders have been refused permission to help the homeless.
The Catholic church has called for prayers all over the country today. Bishops will condemn “the injustice done to the poor” in the bravest move yet to stand up to Mugabe.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Does this Vasari hide a Leonardo?

From the Times:
IT IS a mystery that has confounded the art world for generations: what became of the Leonardo masterpiece, described as miraculous for its breathtaking beauty and scale, which has not been seen for 500 years? First, the facts: in 1505 Leonardo da Vinci began a vast work, The Battle of Anghiari, on a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The work, a whirl of horses and soldiers in battle, was to commemorate Florence’s defeat of Milanese forces in 1440. It was described at the time as a miraculous thing.
What happened next is less than clear. It is not even known if the painting was finished, or whether it later suffered irreparable damage.
Now art experts, backed by a British foundation, say that they are convinced that the masterpiece is hidden behind a later Renaissance fresco, and the one real person to feature in The Da Vinci Code wants to pierce a hole in it and use an endoscope to prove that the masterpiece lies behind it.
But Maurizio Seracini, an engineer who specialises in using medical techniques to investigate artworks, faces opposition from fellow art historians who claim that the lost Leonardo is a myth and fear that the huge Giorgio Vasari painting that covers an entire wall in the council chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio will suffer extensive damage for no good reason.
Leonardo was commissioned to paint The Battle of Anghiari in the early 16th century, during the short-lived Florentine Republic that overthrew the Medici dukes.
However, the Medicis returned to power, and in 1563 Duke Cosimo apparently instructed Vasari to paint The Battle of Marciano, depicting one of the Medicis’ own victories, apparently replacing Leonardo’s work.
Signor Seracini says that he does not believe that Vasari destroyed the Leonardo. “Instead he erected a wall between his painting and Leonardo’s,” he says. “In fact, I am convinced he used the Leonardo as a model for his own work.”
Vasari even left behind a clue worthy of Dan Brown, says Signor Seracini. One of the pennants in his battle scene bears the words Cerca Trova, Italian for “seek and you shall find”.
1 Leonardo is known to have finished at least the central part of The Battle of Anghiari. An eyewitnesses said it was “miraculous”
2 Vasari was an admirer of Leonardo and is unlikely to have simply painted over his work
3 Technical soundings have shown there is a cavity behind the Vasari, strengthening the theory that he put a protective wall in front of the Leonardo
4 Vasari painted the words Cerca Trova — seek and you shall find — in small letters on a pennant. It is high up and not obvious to the naked eye. It is the only writing in the painting
5 A masterpiece by Masaccio was also hidden behind a Vasari painting but was later rediscovered.

Friday, June 17, 2005

On the Magi...

From Where is Your God by Michael Paul Gallagher, SJ.
My favorite example is in the stonework of Autun Cathedral where the three are in the same bed under a large blanket, and all are wearing their crowns! An angel is waking them to point at the star. One of them is shown with eyes wide open in wonder, another half-awake, but the third remains sound asleep - as if to represent the three stages of spiritual alertness in the medieval tradition.
In all the early tradition they were protrayed as identical figures. It is only from the twelft-century onwards that the magi-kings assume individual characteristics, being depicted as the three ages of life, or as representing different races and continents of the world. from this epoch comes the delighful legend that the three met for Christmas Mass in Armenia in AD 54 and that they died happily within a few days, all being well over a hundred years old. At some point their supposed bodies showed up in Milan, but after the sack of that city in 1164, Cologne Cathedral managed to acquire the relics and they remain there still in a magnificent enamelled shrine. In the late Middle Ages a Cologne breviary announced that the kings had in fact been consecrated bishops by St Thomas in India, thereby creating another problem for artists concerning what headgear to give them.
Apart from the legends and the art, spiritual writers reflected in the Magi in many ways. The Venerable Bede was one of those who suggested meanings for the three gifts: gold signified kingship, incense divinity, and the myrrh was a prophesy of the Passion. A few centuries later St Bernard's interpretation was more down to earth: money for the poor family; incense to disinfect the stable; and myrrh as a herbal remedy against worms in children.

In Brief...

A new addition to my blogroll - go visit Therese over at Logres for a nice mixture of literary (Hopkins!) and spiritual content.
In the Telegraph we read of a gambling coup related to the colour hat worn by a certain Mrs Windsor.
It might surprise some of you to know that in some parts of the world there are still pirates:
Pirates clutching knives and AK47s boarded a supertanker moored off Basra in the latest of a series of seaborne robberies in the Persian Gulf.
In recent weeks there have been a number of audacious attacks on ships waiting to load at the city's overstretched terminals, raising concerns about the safety of oil exports and adding piracy to the area's list of security threats.
In the most recent incident, three men boarded the tanker in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Here in Rome we have the chance of seeing a 'lost' Donatello!
A marble masterpiece in private hands for 400 years and now attributed to the Renaissance sculptor Donatello went on public view yesterday for the first time.
The bas-relief of the Madonna with 13 cherubs is said to have come from the tomb of St Catherine of Siena in Rome's Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The work is thought to have been sculpted by Donatello in 1430 and 1431, but all trace of it was lost after the tomb was dismantled in the 1570s.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

When Grandfathers Turn Bad...

Do any of you remember the nice old Italian gentleman who put himself up for adotion as a grandfather?
Unfortunately things haven't worked out well for the family that adopted him:
Two weeks ago, the adopted grandfather vanished, but not before leaving his trusting hosts with various unpaid debts and stealing a couple of post office cheques. In the end, Mr Angelozzi had selected Elio and Marlena Riva’s home at Spirano, in the province of Bergamo, from the many offers that had flooded in. Apparently, his loneliness was at an end. There was going to be a happy ending. Eighty-year-old Mr Angelozzi charmed everyone with his erudite conversation, the mania for precision that he had “acquired in all those years of strict Jesuit schooling” and the old-fashioned courtesy that prompted him to say “Marlena is my angel. Her voice is just like that of my dear wife,who passed away twelve years ago”.
But the fairy-tale was destined to end in tears. The truth began to come out at the beginning of May. “We discovered there was an unpaid bill for 3,500 euros with one of the local dentists. ‘Granddad’ had been having treatment without telling us”, say Elio and Marlena Riva.

The human canonball who wouldn't fly...

In the Independent:
He is accustomed to hurtling through the air at 60mph in a daily death-defying act as a human cannonball. But the circus stuntman Todd Christian was without a job yesterday because of his fear of flying.
Christian, 26, said he fell out with his employers, Cottle & Austen circus, when they tried to send him to a special training camp in Brazil after he injured himself several times during the act. "I know it sounds silly because I'm a human cannonball, but I don't like long flights and if I'm on a plane for a long time I start to panic," he said.
Marnie Dock, the circus's expert cannon trainer, said Christian had been dismissed because he was not in good enough shape for the job.
"Todd simply wasn't fit enough," said Dock, who became the world's first female cannonball at the age of 16. "When we took him on he didn't tell us about previous injuries, and several times over the last couple of months we have had to drop the act from the show because he had injured his knee.
"He was supposed to go to the gym every day but he didn't and when he refused to go on a training course in Brazil we had no choice but to replace him.
His role has been taken over by Diego Zeman, a Brazilian known as Diego the Human Rocket, who - unlike Christian - has received the specialist space training that helps him deal with the G-force of being fired through the air at 60mph.
"I feel sorry for Todd but being a human cannonball is what I have always dreamed of doing and I'm very happy," he said.

In brief...

From the Telegraph:
Italians worried about their image are taking out insurance against going bald.
The policy is open to anyone aged between 15 and 70, of either sex. It was developed by an insurance firm and a chain of hair care clinics, which ask for £220 annual premiums regardless of how much or how little hair the insured party has.
The pay-out, capped at £5,300, depends on the amount of hair lost between a client first taking out insurance and their final claim.
An article about child-labour in India:
A boy of five has been forced to take a job in the Indian police station where his late father worked.
In a case that highlights the huge problem of child labour in the sub-continent, Saurabh Nagvanshi spends his days running small errands, such as delivering reports to desks and carrying cups of tea for adult officers.
He was given the post at a police station in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh on "compassionate grounds" after the death of his father.
The practice, in which jobs are passed on within a family when a public servant dies to compensate for the loss of income, was instituted by the British. Although illegal, it remains common in rural areas.

Another parrot.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Trafalgar account for sale...

In the Telegraph:
A description of the horrors of the Battle of Trafalgar written by a barely-literate below-decks seaman is to be auctioned next month.
The document describes the action of Britain's greatest naval victory from the point of view of Robert Sands, a 17-year-old "powder monkey" on the Temeraire.
Sands, from Rochester, Kent, was rated as "Boy, third class", the lowest form of life on a line-of-battle ship in Nelson's command.
His story opens with a description of the famous signal to the fleet sent by Nelson: "He said he oped that Everey man would doo his Duty this day for old Englands sake for it would be a gloureus day for them that lived to see the end of it."
A new theory on why it becomes more difficult to learn languages as we age:
Instead of language skills deteriorating with age, as was once thought, the brain becomes better at filtering out sounds which are not needed in the native tongue.
As a result, adults do not recognise sounds which are vital to other languages because they have lost their childhood ability to hear small sound differences.
A chocolate Elton John sculpture... *shudder*

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


One of the finest paintings in Rome is Velazquez's portrait of Innocent X Pamphilj at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery. Famously, the Pope himself described it as 'troppo vero' - too realistic. It captures the character of a typical Renaissance Pope - crafy, not without intelligence, but with a certain weakness.

It's interesting to see how the (often distasteful) modern artist Francis Bacon was inspired by this masterpiece of portraiture.

In the news...

Oprah Winfrey claims Zulu blood...She told 3,200 fans at her Live Your Best Life seminar in Johannesburg: "I went in search of my roots and had my DNA tested and I am a Zulu."
Local historians, however, were disinclined to believe her claim, as there are few records of the Zulus having any connection to the African slave trade. "If there were Zulu people taken as slaves they would have been taken eastwards by Arab traders or Portuguese to their South American colonies," said one.
Even more bizarrely...
A celebrity hairdresser beat up his 62-year-old neighbour during a row over a dead seagull, a court heard yesterday.
Daniel Galvin, 35, whose clients include the Duchess of Cornwall, is said to have repeatedly punched James Hicken in the face, leaving him semi conscious and in agony, after Mr Hicken dumped the bird at his feet.

And on a more religious note...
The British are making provisions to liberalise their law on the religious content of civil weddings:
Couples marrying in register offices may soon be able to celebrate with Bible readings or anthems such as Bread of Heaven under proposals to relax the ban on religion at civil ceremonies.
Civil weddings are currently required to be strictly "secular in nature" and registrars often bar poems and popular songs with only passing religious references.
Ministers believe, however, that the legal restrictions should be eased to allow readings or music that contain an "incidental" reference to a God or deity in "an essentially non-religious context".
Bishops will, however, be even more worried about any changes which could make civil partnerships appear more like religiously authentic marriages, something they insist the ceremonies are not.
A spokesman for the Church of England said: "The Church is not seeking to prevent the use of readings, poems or music simply because they have some religious association.
"But we recognise that the singing of a hymn or prayers, or possibly even readings from the Bible or other sacred books, may give rise to more difficult issues."
There's also an interesting editorial in the Telegraph:
There is a reason why 1 Corinthians 13 ("Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…") is so popular in modern church weddings. The word "God" does not occur in it. Apart from that passing nod to angels, the verses have no reference to the Christian religion.
This would please certain officious public registrars, who have interpreted the rule banning "religious" content in civil marriage ceremonies to exclude the merest mention of the divine. Forget about Corinthians: even Robbie Williams's song Angels has been blacklisted. This rule now looks likely to change, with the Government considering allowing "an incidental reference to a god or deity" in civil services.

Monday, June 13, 2005


An interesting story in the Telegraph about Fundamentalist Mormans and polygamy:
The leader of a polygamous sect has been charged with child sex abuse in connection with an arranged marriage between a teenage girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married.
Warren Jeffs, a self-proclaimed prophet and despotic president of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, faces up to two years in jail if convicted.
Although Jeffs, 49, was charged with sexual conduct with a minor, he did not have sex with the 16-year-old girl but arranged her marriage to the man, said prosecutors.

In the Times
Archaeologists were due to dig up the chancel of a Suffolk church today in search of the remains of a relative of one of America’s earliest founding fathers.
Scientists want to take DNA from the bones or teeth of Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, who died 400 years ago.
Mrs Tilney was the sister of the British sea captain Bartholomew Gosnold, who was born in Grundisburgh, Suffolk, and is said to have founded the first English-speaking American colony in Virginia in 1607.
Archaeologists in Virginia, USA, recently found what they believe to be the remains of Captain Gosnold, and to confirm their suspicions they plan to make cross-checks with the DNA of his sister.

St Anthony of Padua
I think St Anthony has found enough stuff for me to own me twice over... I popped by the Basilica of S.Antonio today and was pleased to see the place packed with Mass-goers. Outside was a large statue of the saint, tables where one could acquired blessed bread and lilies and a Francisan friar wearing a white soul drenching everyone with holy water and blessing us throught the intercession of the saint. I understand there was a parade this evening - Italian Catholicism at its best.

Books, books, books...

I naively thought this post might be of help to me in deciding what to buy for the summer... Instead, I've received more recommendations than I know what to do with. (But don't let that stop anyone adding further suggestions!) It looks like I'd enjoy pretty much all the books suggested and I'd like to reply to all the comments, but alas that's not possible. However, I will hit a few of them.

SWP says:
"Splendor of Faith" by Avery Dulles- the latest edition offers a more complete retrospectus of the late pope's theological patrimony.
Sounds interesting. I quite like Dulles. From a methological point of view one could critque his 'models' approach, but I've found his Models of the Church and Models of Revelation VERY useful in quickly understanding positions advanced by various theologians. His recent book on Newman is excellent and his book on Faith is very comprehensive and enlightening. (It's the kind of masterpiece one could only dream about being smart enough to write...)
Lauren suggests a whole bunch of stuff. She's very right about Charles Williams - why don't more people read him? I, for one, found 'A Charles Williams Reader' an excellent introduction to his fiction.
Berenike's comment exposes her as the ultimate Catholic nerd...
Kristina Lavransdattir (variations on that theme depending ont he translation!) by Sigrid Undset. First novel to make me cry since I was at school (sooo long ago!) first thing to make me cry since Mystici Corporis.
That said, the idea of a book about 14th Century Iceland has a weird appeal. :)
Sara Virginia suggests Benedict XVI's 'Introduction to Christianity' with the comment 'It may seem too basic for you...' I'm actually enjoying this book very much at the moment and in my experience any book describing itself as an Introduction to Christianity is rarely basic.
Boeciana says:
For purely frivolous pleasure, Martin Pryce's Aberystwyth books, beginning with "Aberystwyth, Mon Amour". Somewhat surreal Welsh spoof noir. If that description doesn't put you off, you'll probably like it. Some genuinely good writing as well as funny concepts (unlike Jasper fforde, who has oodles of the latter but doesn't quite make it on the former).
Well, I've enjoyed everything Jasper Fforde has produced so far, so if Pryce is anything like as inventive as him he sounds right up my street.
Amongst Jeff's suggestions is the following:
The Poor Mouth by Flann O'Brien, is another very funny book, originally written in the Irish language and translated by the author himself into English. It's a spoof on the peasant Irish tale of growing up that was popular at the beginning of the century. Even if you don't like At Swim-Two-Birds, you will probably like this one.
I've read this one already. In fact, I've read just about all the Flann O'Brien books out there. I think he's probably the most underrated Irish writer of the 20th Century. My favourite novel by O'Brien is The Third Policeman - an off-the-wall farce with interesting theological and philosophical forrays. I'm also a huge fan of his collected newspaper columns. One Anthony Cronin wrote an interesting biography of O'Brien - however the work is flawed because of Cronin's premise that O'Brien's convinced Catholicism was a negative thing.
Carol suggests some Pieper - I've been meaning to read him for ages!

As I say, I want to respond to all the comments, but haven't the time...

My suggestion...
I suppose it's only fair that I suggest something to my readers... I'm not going to suggest something theological or religious... If you want a good page-turner of a novel, I strongly suggest a book that hooked me a couple of years ago. It's Glen David Gold's first (and only!) novel Carter Beats the Devil. It's a historical novel based very loosely on the life of the magician Charles Carter. It's very readable, well-plotted and even though I half-figured out the ending relatively early on I was impelled to keep reading to see how the inevitable ending would be reached.

Church Victory in 'Fertility' Referendum?

It's looking good here in Italy - the referendum to 'liberalise' the assisted reproduction legislation looks like failing. I hope to do an analysis of the region-by-region results eventually (if I ever have the time!) but in the mean time this article from the Times gives an excellent summary of what's going on.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

One more thing...

I'm about to order some stuff from Amazon to keep me out of trouble over the next few months... In my comments box suggest one book that I should buy. (And read.)


Expect little to no blogging from me over the next couple of days due to other commitments. Life has the nasty habit of getting in the way...

I'll probably post about funeral and mourning customs at a later date, but for now I'll post a few images...

Firstly, from the 14th Century Catalan Atlas we have 'Funeral customs of the peoples of Asia: a corpse is immolated to the sound of music'. Charming. (The atlas itself is also well worth a look...)
From the church of the Santa Trinità in Florence we have Ghirlandaio's Obsequies of St Francis. Note the spectacles perched at the tip of the bishop's nose and the artist himself depicted examining St Francis's wounds (like St Thomas).
Similar in composition is the Funeral of St Augustine by Gozzolli. (Any one care to comment on the surplices worn in both those frescoes? I've seen that style worn by secular clergy in some parts of Italy.)

Good News
Lauren at the Cnytr blog shares some good news... firstly she was at an ordination mass, but secondly and most importantly there's been a birth in the family! Welcome to her new nephew, baby Zachary! (Why not baby Zadok? If you're going to give your child an unusual initial...)

In the news
It's a boat race, but not as we know it... The Telegraph reports that Oxford and Cambridge crews are going to race each other across the English Channel.
The Times speculates on the possibility of the first ever black (Anglican) Archbishop of York.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Saturday Morning Miscellany

No surpise here - the Telegraph reports the arrest of 17 Milanese postal staff for theft:
Cameras installed by police in the office's washrooms showed employees nonchalantly going into cubicles not only with envelopes concealed in their clothes, but in some cases carrying bags of letters. Workers could be seen removing money and flushing away the letters.

Fr Tucker has an interesting contribtion from one of his readers about Italian funeral customs:
Of course, having been born and raised in Italy, I can only speak from personal experience. My parents never 'sheltered' me from death, funerals, and such. I remember not only attending all-night wakes at people's homes, but actually witnessing the agony of close relatives at a very young age. It was just part of life, and it felt very normal to me. The dead was placed on his/her own bed, four candles at each corner, a black drape over each mirror in the room ( a custom that I later discovered is shared by the Irish and the Jewish as well), a little metal bucket with holy water and an olive tree branch by the edge of the bed. People walking in blessed the dead with the holy water, expressed their condolences and then took a seat among the other visitors
I'd better restrain myself here because the subject of funerals and the modern approach to death is one of my hobby-horses. I'll just comment that there's something unhealthy about a society that keeps children away from funerals and where adults are unwilling to pay their respect to a corpse by giving a farewell sqeeze to a hand or by touching the deceased's forehead.
My readers seem very well informed - regarding the El Greco pictured below David Kubiak comments:
A good illustration of the vestural fact that before 1969 prelates had to put on the mantelletta under the mozzetta when in the presence of a greater prelate, which accounts for the many pictures of cardinals in Rome dressed this way.
The mantelletta is the sleeveless 'coat' the Cardinal is wearing, whilst the mozzetta is the garment worn about the shoulders.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Do we like El Greco?

Yes, we like El Greco.
In the news
St Paul's in London - restoration works finish.
Roald Dahl museum to open.
*shudder* Teen slang in Britain.
Spotted in Laodicea
Vote Aquinas!

Sumo Wars...

In the Times we have this tale of a feud between two Sumo-wrestling brothers:
THERE have been few dynasties in any sport as glorious as that of the late Futagoyama. In his heyday in the 1970s, he was one of the best-loved sumo wrestlers, admired as much for his looks as for his prowess.
Twenty-five years later, his sons, the grand champions known as Wakanohana and Takanohana, achieved even greater feats, and Futagoyama’s stable of wrestlers dominated the sport. His passing was always going to be a blow to sumo — but no one predicted how destructive it would be.
Since the death of the great man a fortnight ago, his family have indulged in an orgy of bickering. They have quarrelled over his corpse, at his funeral and in interviews. The feud has dominated daytime television, to the appalled fascination of viewers.
Taka inherited his father’s sumo stable after his retirement. Waka became a TV celebrity and sports commentator and opened a chain of restaurants that serve chanko nabe, the stew that gives sumo wrestlers their essential bulk. As long as their father was alive, their antipathy was kept in check, but from the moment of his death — from mouth cancer at the age of 55 — it has been out in the open.
According to Japanese magazines, the brothers argued over Futagoyama’s body for five hours about who should be chief mourner at the funeral. As the elder son, Waka was the traditional choice — but Taka insisted that he had forfeited the place of honour when he abandoned the dignified world of sumo for the tawdry realm of showbiz.
“He should understand what his public role is,” Takanohana told reporters. “He has quit sumo circles and (to lead the funeral) is impolite to the sumo elders attending the service. We’re not on speaking terms over these matters. People tell us to get along well with each other, but it is impossible.”
The OED is looking for help in establishing the origins of certain modern words. Here's the list - can you prove that any of those words were used earlier than indicated? (Warning: Lots of Britishisms...)
The Corriere della Sera's excellent cartoonist depicts Cardinal Ruini's appeal to Italians to abstain from the forthcoming 'fertility' referendum. The Church wants the measure defeated and it seems the best way to do so is to ensure that it doesn't reach the 50% quorum required by law. Ruini is saying 'I give you my blessing, but don't make any signs of the cross'.

Artemisia Gentileschi

I previously posted about Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes. I decided to do a search at the Web Gallery of Art for other renditions of the subject.
I was quite surprised to come across three paintings dealing with this theme by a 17th Century (1593 - 1652) female artist - Artemisia (daughter of Orazio) Gentileschi. (Self portrait as The Allegory of Painting)
The first may be found in Naples and the influence of Caravaggio is obvious. It is even more violent than Caravaggio's painting and unusually involves Judith's maid very directly in the action - she holds down the struggling Holofernes. I think it's worth noting that Gentileschi's Judith is much calmer than Caravaggio's and is more chastley dressed.
In Florence we find her second canvas depicting Judith Beheading Holofernes. It's quite similar to the first one, with the maidservant retaining her unusual role. I think Judith's face is a little more determined in this second painting.
Thirdly, in Florence we have the aftermath - Judith and her Maidservant. It's a curious composition with the two main characters looking off to the right as if distracted and the head of Holofernes being almost incidental to the whole scene.
I suppose the interesting thing about these paintings (and this may explain some of the unusual aspects of the works) is the context in which they were painted. They are dated about 1612. This biography explains:
Among those with whom Orazio worked was the Florentine artist Agostino Tassi, whom Artemisia accused of raping her in 1612, when she was nineteen. Her father filed suit against Tassi for injury and damage, and, remarkably, the transcripts of the seven-month-long rape trial have survived. According to Artemisia, Tassi, with the help of family friends, attempted to be alone with her repeatedly, and raped her when he finally succeeded in cornering her in her bedroom. He tried to placate her afterwards by promising to marry her, and gained access to her bedroom (and her person) repeatedly on the strength of that promise, but always avoided following through with the actual marriage. The trial followed a pattern familiar even today: she was accused of not having been a virgin at the time of the rape and of having many lovers, and she was examined by midwives to determine whether she had been "deflowered" recently or a long time ago. Perhaps more galling for an artist like Gentileschi, Tassi testified that her skills were so pitiful that he had to teach her the rules of perspective, and was doing so the day she claimed he raped her. Tassi denied ever having had sexual relations with Gentileschi and brought many witnesses to testify that she was "an insatiable whore." Their testimony was refuted by Orazio (who brought countersuit for perjury), and Artemisia's accusations against Tassi were corroborated by a former friend of his who recounted Tassi's boasting about his sexual exploits at Artemisia's expense. Tassi had been imprisoned earlier for incest with his sister-in-law and was charged with arranging the murder of his wife. He was ultimately convicted on the charge of raping Gentileschi; he served under a year in prison and was later invited again into the Gentileschi household by Orazio.
If you want to find out a bit more there's an interesting web site dedicated to the life and works of Artemisia Gentileschi here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Tom over at Disputations posts about the strange priorities evident in some sections of society. His link to the Dominican Nuns' guestbook shows the latent anti-Catholicism and warped priorities present in some sections of the Animal Rights movement.
Hopefully the resolution of the issue will mean that the nuns no longer have to put up with such abuse.

In the news...

Cross removed from crematorium chapel:
A wooden cross has been removed from the wall of a crematorium chapel "to cater for everyone in a diverse multi-faith society". Torbay council, in Devon, has also renamed the building a "ceremony hall".
The Rev Anthony Macey, vicar of nearby Cockington and Chelston, discovered that the 5ft cross had been taken down when he arrived to conduct a funeral. No other religions had complained about the cross, he said, and he hoped the council would reconsider its decision.
"It is political correctness gone mad. That cross has been in the chapel for 50 years. It seems stupid to remove it when most of the funerals are Christian.
*Sigh* Don't get me started about the approach of modern Western society to death and funerals... It's one of my hobby-horses. :I
Also in the Telegraph, Squirrel paté dished by protests:
A restaurant selling squirrel terrine has been forced to withdraw it after death threats from animal rights activists.
Protesters threatened to firebomb the Hadley Bowling Green Inn in Droitwich, Worcs, and to smash up the staff's cars over the £7.95 paté starter.
A female housekeeper was told: "I'm glad I don't work here because I wouldn't want to die in the fire."
He (a spokesman) added: "We've never had to take something off the menu before because of threats from protesters. I don't know why squirrel meat is so controversial.
"In the past we've sold meat from fluffy little lambs and it's not been a problem."
I've not been blogging about the Jackson trial, but this did catch my attention:
MICHAEL JACKSON, once the richest musician in the world, now faces the ignominy of handing over his back catalogue to pay off a $270 million (£147 million) debt.
Hints of the troubled star’s dire financial circumstances were revealed during his 13-week child molestation trial in California, as it was claimed that his enormous and unusual expenses have far outweighed his earnings for years.
Experts believe that, guilty or innocent, Jackson will eventually be forced to sell his prized 50 per cent stake in Sony/ATV, a company that owns a huge back catalogue of songs, including 251 famous Beatles tunes, some of Bob Dylan’s finest work and hits by Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks.
Teams of advisers, which included the Rev Jesse Jackson, the one-time presidential candidate, have tried to intercede on the star’s behalf to keep the debt collectors from his door.
Others have advised him to sell at least a part of the catalogue but the singer is said to have an emotional attachment to the catalogue, especially the Beatles songs.
I've never been happy with Jackson owning the Beatles back catalogue.
Phone chicken seems to be the latest idiotic teenage craze:
CHILDREN are using mobile phone cameras to film themselves playing “chicken” on railway lines in front of high-speed trains, police said yesterday.
Children as young as 10 stand on the tracks as the trains approach and leap clear at the last moment. Their friends record the stunt using the latest mobile phone technology.
Train drivers, who regularly have to deal with the traumatic effects of suicides on the line, say that the “chicken” incidents are causing huge amounts of stress. Tosh McDonald, of Aslef, said: “Even if no one is hurt, this kind of thing can cause enormous stress for a driver. When you’re travelling at 120mph it is stressful to see a kid standing right in front of you.”

Baby tiger!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It's Bach!

From the BBC news site:
A previously unknown composition by Johann Sebastian Bach has been discovered by researchers in Germany.
The vocal piece was found among papers removed from the historic Anna Amalia Library in Weimar before a devastating fire there last September.
The piece is a musical accompaniment to a 12-verse poem composed for the Duke of Saxony in 1713.
Plans are being made for the first performance, under the English conductor Sir John Elliot Gardiner.
A researcher interested in a rare type of 18th Century paper stumbled across the musical treasure.

On families and vocations...

An extract from the Holy Father's address of last Monday.
Un ultimo messaggio che vorrei affidarvi riguarda la cura delle vocazioni al sacerdozio e alla vita consacrata: sappiamo tutti quanto la Chiesa ne abbia bisogno! Perché queste vocazioni nascano e giungano a maturazione, perché le persone chiamate si mantengano sempre degne della loro vocazione, è decisiva anzitutto la preghiera, che non deve mai mancare in ciascuna famiglia e comunità cristiana. Ma è anche fondamentale la testimonianza di vita dei sacerdoti, dei religiosi e delle religiose, la gioia che essi esprimono per essere stati chiamati dal Signore. Ed è ugualmente essenziale l’esempio che i figli ricevono all’interno della propria famiglia e la convinzione delle famiglie stesse che, anche per loro, la vocazione dei propri figli è un grande dono del Signore. La scelta della verginità per amore di Dio e dei fratelli, che è richiesta per il sacerdozio e la vita consacrata, sta infatti insieme con la valorizzazione del matrimonio cristiano: l’uno e l’altra, in due maniere differenti e complementari, rendono in qualche modo visibile il mistero dell’alleanza tra Dio e il suo popolo.
A final message I wish to leave to you regards the care of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life: we all know how much need the Church has of them! So that these vocations might grow and reach maturity, so that people might keep themselves worthy of their vocation, prayer is above all decisive and must never be lacking in any family or Chrsitian community. But the life-witness of priests and religious is also fundamental, the joy which they express for being called by the Lord. The example that children receive within their own family is equally essential as well as the conviction of the families themselves that, also for them, the vocation of their own children is a great gift of the Lord. The choice of virginity for love of God and the brethern which is demanded for priesthood and consecrated life goes together with esteem for Christian matrimony: the one and the other, in two different and complementary ways, make visible in some way the covenant between God and His people.

I'm in a mood again...

A generous one. I have five copies of the booklet for His Holiness's Inauguration Mass and visit to St Paul's Outside the Walls to give
away to Catholic bloggers.

Edited to add: The booklets have all been won... Hard luck or congratulations depending on whether you e-mailed me on time!

Same rules as usual apply:

1. E-mail me at zadokromanus [at] gmail [dot] com with a postal address and the URL of your blog.
2. A booklet will be posted to the first 5 bloggers to e-mail me.
3. I shan't retain your address or pass them on to VOTF or the CDF.
4. My decision in all matters is binding. ;)

CoE Cash Crisis

There's a fascinating piece in the Times about the difficult (financical) condition of the CoE:
A CASH crisis in the Church of England is forcing bishops to consider radical moves including cutting clergy numbers by up to a third and making worshippers meet in each other’s homes, The Times has learnt.
A report to the General Synod next month says the Church has allowed itself to “drift apart from society”, undermining its mission to the whole nation. Some parts of the Church are little more than a club for existing members, the authors say.
Spelling out a deep-seated need for change, the report proposes solutions such as cutting the existing clergy numbers of about 9,400 by more than 3,000, training more laity to work unpaid and closing churches.
One diocese is already considering a plan to persuade congregations to forsake traditional church buildings and worship God in the living rooms of fellow churchgoers instead. [Emphasis mine]
That whole idea about 'cutting clergy numbers' shows that the CoE is on a different ecclesiological planet.

Monday, June 06, 2005

My Favourite Caravaggios...

In my comments box I am asked by Bryan Jerabek what my favourite Caravaggio is. Well, there is one Caravaggio I like more than any other, but I'm also going to mention (in no particular order) 3 other Caravaggios I really like, as well as mentioning one or two I don't find appealing at all.
In the past 12 months I've met two fellow-bloggers here in Rome and went Caravaggio-spotting with both of them. Romy mentioned that she liked Caravaggio (and I'd like to hear her thoughts as to why) and so during her brief stay in Rome I hit the maximum number of Caravaggios in the minimum time by bringing her to the three Caravaggios in the St Matthew (Contarelli) Chapel in S.Luigi dei Francesi followed by a flying visit to the Church of S.Agostino (a mere 5 minute walk away) to see the Madonna of the Pilgrims. Lauren is decidedly less of a Caravaggio fan and as she spent several months in Rome I made her suffer by showing her (at one time or another) pretty much every Roman Church with a Caravaggio in it, as well as the Galleria Borghese which has quite a collection of Caravaggios.
Anyway, why do I like Caravaggio? I suppose he's most famous for his 'realistic' protrayal of religious figures. We hear stories of him getting in trouble for presenting apostles with dirty fingernails or sitting with their legs crossed. That's not actually a huge factor in my appreciation of Caravaggio - I actually prefer some of his less 'realistic' stuff. What I like about him is his talent for compostion, for arranging the figures in a thought-provoking and dramatic fashion. He protrays emotions very well and in the main his pictures are very dramatic and evocative.
Anyhow, without further ado, I present four Caravaggios I really like...
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt at the Galleria Doria-Pamphili in Rome.
I just adore this work. I think Lauren once told me that she liked this picture because it didn't look like a Caravaggio at all. She has a point - it's set in a kind of magical world and could hardly be called grittily realistic. A musician-angel stands before St Joseph who holds sheet music (one can actually play the tune) whilst the Virgin Mary dozes with the sleeping Child Jesus in her arms. It's an early work, but I think there are aspects of the later (more controversial) Caravaggio in the weary face of St Joseph. It's a curious and very appealing mix of the idealistic (the landscape, the angel) and the realistic (the authenticity of Joseph's fatigue and the figure of the sleeping Mother and Child).
The Taking of Christ at the Irish National Gallery in Dublin.
A relatively recent discovery of a 'lost' Caravaggio. Some scholars say that it's a copy of another Caravaggio, albeit a copy painted by the artist himself. This, to my mind, is the finest depiction of Judas's betrayal of Christ ever painted. Look at the anguished resignation in the face and hands of Christ. The composition is simply perfect - note how the cloak of the fleeing disciple frames the central action. See how the themes of light and darkness are used - one could write a theological dissertation about it. (The figure holding the lantern is a self portrait of Caravaggio himself; it's significant that the light shines back on him rather than illuminating the central scene which is lit from another source.) I could go on...
The Supper at Emmaus at the Pinacoteca di Brera of Milan.
I know there's a more famous one in London, but I prefer the Milanese Supper. The emotions of the watchers are much more restrained and the face of Christ more intense. I think the disciples are just on the cusp of realising what's going on, whilst the inn-keeper and his wife are somehow slightly anxious - instictively they know that this is no ordinary guest. The use of light is interesting - Christ's face is half illuminated, almost like a half-moon. One gets the impression of a gradual unveiling of his identity. Interestingly, the face of the inn-keeper and his wife seem to be disproportionately illuminated - I'm not quite sure what the point of that is, but it certainly makes for a more interesting composition.
My Favourite Caravaggio
St Jerome at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
I'm not sure why, but I've always had a particular attraction to depcitions of St Jerome. There's something fascinating about the hardened scholar-ascetic wrapped in his red (Cardinal's!) cloak. I suppose he's the epitome of a particular type of service to the Church - a life poured out in the pursuit of learning for the sake of his brethern. He's not the most pastoral of figures, and I think this argumentative and agressive old biblicist is a helpful reminder that not all saints are cuddly people-persons and the scholar has a role to play in the sanctification of God's people too. (If Jerome could become a saint, there's hope for all of us!)
Anyway, here we have the scholar in the midst of his labours - there's no unnecessary comfort in the cell - just a hard chair, his books and the memento mori of the skull which keeps the scholar's labour in perspective. This emaciated old man has evidently given his life for learning and I like to think that the parallelism between Jerome's bald pate and the skull is suggestive not only of his personal mortality but also of the sacrificial nature of his life's labours.
Appendix 1: Caravaggios I don't like
The Madonna dei Palafrenieri at the Galleria Borghese.
It is said that the unflattering depiction of St Anne led to the original owners disposing of the painting. I find the whole thing very unappealing, although the fact that the Child Jesus and Our Lady crush the serpent simultaniously is an ingenious theological device.
Medusa at the Uffizi in Florence.
I'm not impressed - 'nuff said. ;)
Appendix 2: Caravaggio's Women
I've previously mentioned that my lack of enthusiasm for the pre-Rephaelites is based in part on the fact that I don't think they were particularly good at painting women. I think Caravaggio is the opposite - I think he had a particular talent for painting women and female emotions. I therefore present a few of my favourite Caravaggio women - the sharp-eyed among you will notice that he repeatedly used the same models.
A surprisingly chastely dressed Magdalene repents of her vanity. (BTW, note the wonderfully painted dress and the discarded jewels next to the jar of oil...)
The same model (I think) as Our Lady with the Child Jesus - a beautiful domestic scene.
St Catherine of Alexandria.
Judith and Holofernes - look at a close-up of Judith's face - I think he's caught a wonderful combination of concentration, determination and disgust. Judith's maid shows that it's not just pretty young women he could paint.
The same point could be made about this touching depiction of Our Lady as she beholds the deposition of Christ.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I remember reading about this assasination years ago. Now they reckon they've discovered the identity of the killer.
ON A SEPTEMBER evening in London in 1978, Georgi Markov, prize-winning Bulgarian author and BBC broadcaster, felt a stinging pain in his thigh as he mingled with rush-hour commuters waiting for a bus on Waterloo Bridge.
A heavily built man in the queue momentarily dropped an umbrella, mumbled “sorry” and quickly crossed the road to hail a taxi.
An exile from the communist regime of Todor Zhivkov, the Bulgarian dictator, Markov, 49, had been aware of the danger he was in. An anonymous caller had told him he would be poisoned and he ate and drank only in the company of close friends.
But Markov thought little of the seemingly trivial incident and continued his journey home. He was dead in three days.
It remains one of Britain’s most famous unsolved murders — made all the more notorious by the James Bond nature of the killing. The murder weapon was an umbrella, partly developed by the Soviet KGB, which fired a pellet the size of a pinhead, containing the poison ricin.
Last week, in a serialisation containing leaks of secret service files in the Bulgarian daily newspaper, Dnevnik, the identity of Markov’s killer was finally revealed.

Regarding Today's Gospel...

...the Calling of Levi
One of the amazing things about this city is the fact that one can walk into a church and find a sidechapel containing 3 Caravaggios.

Now, I quite like Caravaggio but this one isn't actually one of my favourites. However, there are a few points which are worth noting. Firstly, the lighting is used to great theological effect. It comes from, or rather from above, Christ and shines on Matthew who is at that moment responding (albeit incredulously) to Christ's call. Note too that the same light falls on some of his colleagues who remain blindly indifferent to anything other than the money on the table. Secondly, there are the fingers - I'm not quite sure what to make of Christ's hand. He doesn't seem to be either beckoning or pointing. Is it meant to be a reference to Adam's hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Peter seems a bit more decisive - pointing at Matthew in confirmation, or perhaps in confusion. Matthew's gesture is by far the easiest to read. He points to himself boldly with a questioning look in his eyes asking if he is really the one being called.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The strangest requests...

Sometimes people find this blog through a search engine. I get a fair number of hits from people looking for info about Ingrid Stampa.

However, one of today's referrals is the strangest I've ever had and I just wonder what the searcher is looking for. It's a google query 'roman colosseum giraffe adultery death'

Tiananmen Square - 16th Anniversary...

Commemorations in Hong Kong, tight security in Peking:
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents were set to hold a candlelight vigil Saturday to mark the 16th anniversary of China's bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations.
In Beijing, security was tight and there were no signs of public commemorations on the giant square, where 1989 student-led protests that ended when soldiers and tanks attacked, killing hundreds of people.
China's Communist Party has eased many of the social controls that spurred the student-led Tiananmen protests, but still crushes protests against the event _ or any activity that it worries might threaten its monopoly on power.
But in a handful of other cities, some tried to keep the memory of the brutal crackdown alive.
A senior Chinese diplomat who abandoned his post and is seeking political asylum in Australia came out of hiding on Saturday to speak at a Sydney rally to observe the anniversary.
I, for one, find it incredible that 16 years have past since we first saw this:

This is wonderful - Luther Lego!

Via Eve Tushnet: scenes from the life of Martin Luther in Lego. It shows Luther Nailing the 95 Theses to the Church Door at Wittenberg, his refusal to retract his works at the Imperial Diet of Worms and scenes from his period of 'protective custody' in Wartburg Castle where he translated the New Testament into German and allegedly threw an inkwell at the devil.
Incidentally, did Luther actually nail the theses to the Church door on October 31st 1517?
It was like a slap in the face when the catholic Luther researcher, Erwin Iserloh, asserted in 1961 that the nailing of the theses to the door of the Castle Church belonged to the realm of legends.
The facts are convincing, the first written account of the event comes from Philipp Melanchthon who could not have been an eye-witness to the event since he was not called to Wittenberg University as a professor until 1518.
Also, this account appeared for the first time after Luther's death and he never commented on 'nailing anything up' in 1517.

Needless to say, much scholarly ink has been spilled on this issue. What seems more likely is that Luther initially sent the theses privately to his ecclesiastial superiors, then (unwisely) started circulating them without waiting for a response.

Armed Police in Harry Potter Raid...

From the Times:
Last night two stolen copies of the new Harry Potter book were back under lock and key, a reporter was reliving an extraordinary experience and a shot had been fired during an operation to recover the books.
Two men were being questioned by police about the copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which are believed to have been taken from carefully-guarded stocks awaiting publication next month.
The incident happened on Thursday when two unarmed officers attended a routine call in Kettering, Northamptonshire — only to hear a gunshot.
A spokesman for Northamptonshire Police said last night that detectives did not have a clear idea what had happened, but John Askill, a reporter for The Sun, described his experience: the shot was fired over his head as he tried to make off with a copy of the novel without handing over a £50,000 “fee” for the stolen goods.
Earlier he had met two men in a one-bedroom flat to investigate their offer to supply the sought-after novel in exchange for money.
“I looked down the barrel of a gun — and thought I was about to die for the sake of Harry Potter,” he writes in The Sun today. “For two horrific minutes I pleaded with the gunman not to shoot. Then he fired over my shoulder and into the air. I headed straight for my car and drove off, still shaking, leaving the two men with Harry Potter’s secrets.”
Luckily for Mr Askill, police had already got wind of the negotiations and had sent unarmed officers to investigate.
After the shot was fired two armed response units arrived at the scene.

Friday, June 03, 2005


In the news
A duck!
The Telegraph reports on attempts to remove the Bible from some English hospitals:
The century-old tradition of bibles in hospital bedside lockers could be ended in one health trust today after officials decided they might offend ethnic minorities.
Senior executives at the University of Leicester NHS Trust said it was also concerned that the books helped to spread the MRSA bacteria and it would rule on whether to remove them from wards.
The proposal angered Christians and Muslims who accused the hospital of political correctness.

Because of today's feast...

My True-Love Hath My Heart

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given.
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss:
There never was a bargain better driven.
His heart in me keeps me and him in one;
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own;
I cherish his because in me it bides.
His heart his wound received from my sight;
My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;
For as from me on him his hurt did light,
So still, methought, in me his hurt did smart:
Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,
My true love hath my heart and I have his.
-Sir Philip Sidney