The mirror of the Gods

I’ve found it difficult to write about anything else when we were seeing unpleasant images from Ukraine, which, even allowing for the fog of war and dishonesty of propaganda still provide evidence of much suffering and horror. But I’ve not wanted to write about Ukraine either as my voice is to some extent a dissenting one and passions are understandably running high now. But muteness doesn’t please me either so I’ve broken my informal rule about keeping political subjects to a modest minimum on my blog.

Anyway, now I’ve done that, I’ll turn to other areas of life. As my bedtime book, I’ve been reading “Mirror of the Gods” by Malcolm Bull, who at the time of writing was Head of Art History at Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford. I have this book on my shelf for some time and have wanted to read it as it looked lush and attractive. It’s a very well written account of the reappearance of classical myths and motifs in renaissance art, sculpture and architecture. The first half is an account of the gradual discovery of statues etc. from the classical period, especially in Italy and the second deals with the treatment of various figures – Hercules, Jupiter, Venus, Diana, Bacchus, Apollo etc.

I’ll only remember a fraction of what I’ve read but hopefully it will make viewing renaissance art more rewarding. It’s a fascinating period – the change from art focusing on the Christian bible, martyred saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus on the cross, sometimes lush and attractive but often denying the value of life on earth in favour of spiritual values. And, in the course of a relatively short period, art becomes filled with representations of pagan deities and myths, generously nude and anything but life-denying.

Of course, it can reflect changed purchasers of art from religious institutions to aristocrats adorning their properties. There is after all quite a lot of joie de vivre in Chaucer’s writings in the fourteenth century and there were probably not a few chaste holy folk with eyes upturned to heaven while naked folk were being portrayed in Bacchanalian revels. But it must still have represented quite a change in what was acceptable and how people thought.

Otherwise, I have been trying to sort out a large basket or box with family history papers. I would like to make it into a properly organised archive, user friendly for any future Kendalls who wish to throw light on their past.

I’ve collected these papers over many years with scribblings in any number of notebooks so they are in urgent need of systematic attention. My father is particularly interesting as he was old (55) when I was born and my grandparents on his side were both dead before the end of the nineteenth century (my grandfather died of sunstroke in Surrey while at a military shooting and marching competition in 1895). Even a very modest shuffle of my papers revealed a couple of new facts as well as the location of the place where my father (who was in the artillery) was injured in the First World War (near Lens in 1917). And details of his life post-war as a taxi driver in Herne Bay, Kent. He lost a leg in the war so I’m not sure how he could drive a car safely as I doubt whether he had a car with hand controls but it was probably before driving licences were compulsory.

I’ve just tried to ask Alexa about the year when driving licences became compulsory but, as I expected, she failed to help, telling me first that you need to be 17 to have a driving licence and then finding information about conscription to the Army. She’s anyway useful when I can’t remember what day it is but I don’t use her for anything else (I suspect she is not too hot on the definition of imperialism….).

2 thoughts on “The mirror of the Gods”

  1. Driving licences introduced 1903 and driving tests in 1935 (in the UK) apparently according to Google. I knew about the latter because my mother leaned to drive in the mid-1930’s but never got her licence and then they introduced the test which she never took!

    1. Quite late then. Of course, come to think of it, my Dad must have had a driving licence, which he kept up all through the years and which enabled him to drive without taking a test in the 1960s when he was given a mini with hand controls as someone wounded in the First World War.

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