Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Lady and the Unicorn

During the first half of 2018, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries were on loan from the Musée de Cluny - Musée national du Moyen Åge to the Art Gallery of NSW. I bought a multi-pass ticket so that I could return as many times as I liked. I managed to fit in three visits in five months.

Little is known about their provenance, which simply adds to the mystique and intrigue surrounding these splendid tapestries.

Commissioned by an unknown member of the Le Viste family around 1500, the tapestries were rediscovered in 1841 in the Château de Boussac, a small castle in Creuse in central France. Their condition had deteriorated, and it was recommended that they be purchased by the state.

The Art Gallery of NSW produced a booklet for the exhibition. It states that
the tapestries were made at the very moment of transition from the Medieval period to the Renaissance, but they continue to reveal a poetic medieval world of the senses, the spirit, romance, chivalry and morality.

The tapestries have inspired artists, writers and poets down through the ages, including novelist George Sand who contributed to their fame by writing about the ‘curious enigmatic tapestries’ in her 1844 novel Jeanne.

The tapestries were also described in detail by the narrator of Rainer Maria Rilke's novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Quotes from the book lined the entrance to the exhibition space.

The tapestries also inspired Rilke’s famous unicorn sonnet -

O dieses ist das Tier das es nicht gibt

This is the animal that doesn’t exist.
But they didn’t know it and dared nonetheless
to love its transformations, its bearing, its gait
so much that in the tranquil gaze of light, it lived.

Really it never was. Out of their love they made it,
this pure creature. They always saved a space.
And in that place, empty and set aside,
it lightly raised its head and scarcely

needed to be. They fed it no corn,
only the possibility that it might exist –
which gave the beast such strength, it bore

a horn upon his forehead. Just one horn.
It came to a virgin, all white,
and was in the silver mirror and in her.

- Unknown translator -

...there are six tapestries; come, let us pass slowly
in front of then. But first of all take a step
back and look at them, all together.
Are they not tranquil? There is little variety
in them. See that blue, oval island in
all of them, floating over the soft red
background, which is filled with flowers and 
inhabited by little animals busying about...

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910

No one really knows what the meaning or intent was behind the tapestry design. Were the women based on real people? The Le Viste family coat of arms features in each one and the choice of animals was probably very symbolic. 

One of the widely accepted interpretations involves the use of  the five senses as an allegory with the sixth frame representing the soul and morality.

My Sole Desire

A tent has been erected. Blue damask flashed with gold.
The animals open it and she advances, simply, in her
princely garment. For what are those pearls by her side?
The maidservant has opened a small casket, and the
lady now takes from it a chain, a marvellous, heavy piece
of jewellery, which has been always locked away...
And have you read the inscription at the top of the tent?
You can see it says 'A mon seul desir'.

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910


She is weaving a crown, a small round wreath of flowers.
Thoughtfully she chooses the colour of the next carnation
in the shallow dish held out to her by the maidservant, while
threading in the previous one. Behind her, on a bench, there
is a basket of roses that a monkey has found. But it is of
no use; this time, it's carnations she needs. The lion has no part
here; but on the right, the unicorn understands.

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910


What has happened? Why does the little rabbit leap about
at the bottom, why can we immediately see that he is leaping?
All is so disquieted. The lion has nothing to do. She herself
is holding the banner, or is she holding on to it?
With her other hand she touches the horn of the unicorn.

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910


She's feeding a falcon. See her magnificent garment!
The bird is perched on her gloved hand, and is moving.
She's watching it while putting her hand into a cup...
On the right, at the bottom, sitting on her train,
is a little silky haired dog, raising its head and hoping
there'll be something for him. And - can you see? - a low
rose-covered trellis closes off the island at the back...

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910


Shouldn't there be music in this stillness? Or was it not
already there, restrained? Her heavy adornments make
no sound as she progresses (how slowly, do you see?) to the
portable organ and, standing plays...She has never
been so beautiful...The lion, disgruntled, unwillingly endures
the sounds, biting back its howl. But the unicorn is beautiful,
as if caught in the rolling waves of music.

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910


The lion turns, almost threatening nobody is permitted 
to approach...she extends her other arm towards
the unicorn and the animal rears up, flattered, and
leans on her lap. It is a mirror she is holding. Do you see?
She is showing the unicorn its reflection.

-Rainer Maria Rilke -
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910

Two more recent novels referenced the tapestries, Rumer Godden's 1938 novel The Lady and the Unicorn and The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier (2003). Chevalier's story is a fictionalised account of the making of the tapestries. 

Between my second and third visit, I read Tracy Chevalier's The Lady and the Unicorn. It inspired me to focus more on the smaller details within each frame. According to Chevalier, the background detail was most likely designed by the weavers themselves; only the main picture would have been created by a commissioned artist.

Zooming in on individual creatures and plants only increased my appreciation and admiration for the work.

I felt so sorry for the woman in this particular tapestry.
She looks so sad - resigned with a sense of hopelessness.
While the unicorn looks smug and self-satisfied!

And one curious little titbit I picked up along the way was that several of the tapestries can be seen hanging on the walls in the Gryffindor Common Room in the Harry Potter movies (below).

This is my creative, artsy post for Paris in July.
I've also created a French Spotify play list. It's called Brona's Paris in July if you'd like to follow or make suggestions.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Thursday Travels

I love to travel - overseas, interstate and all around my local area.
I've collected a LOT of photos documenting these journeys.
The aim of this meme is to highlight the best ones.

One at a time.

Some easy to follow rules:

  • Pick just ONE photo that shows something unique, unusual or quintessential about your travels.
  • You can label it, write a story or do a travelogue piece about your photo if you so desire.
  • These photos are about the place, the environment (man-made or natural), panoramas, macros - whatever captures your eye.
  • All photos must be your own.
  • NO selfies or family pics please.
We're all about the scenery at Thursday Travels!

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Outside Shinjuku Station (apparently the busiest station in Japan) is a pedestrian overpass with a great view of the street scene below.
What this busy, busy scene doesn't convey, though, is the incredible quiet and calm that surrounds the city.
I was expecting an onslaught of sound, sirens and the usual city noise.
Instead, all we heard was the quiet hum of electric cars and auto stop-start engines.
There was no blaring music, loud beeping traffic lights or car horns. 
People spoke quietly, using their inside voices, outside.
Everyone's phones were on silent or mute.
People always left the room or removed themselves from the group to talk on their phones.
The only conversations I overheard in public the whole time we were in Japan were from loud tourists!
It was incredible to be in one of the busiest cities in the world and to feel so calm and peaceful.

This article goes a little way to explaining the phenomenon.

For now I won't include a linky, but if we get enough participants with time, then I will add one.
Use the code <a href="URL">word</a> to hyperlink your post in the comments below.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Miyajima Otorii

The torii gate is the boundary between the human world and the spirit world in Japan.
In this case the Otorii of Itsukushima Shrine spends half its day floating in water as well.

We spent an entire day exploring Miyajima Island which meant that we saw Otorii circled by water on our arrival, then stranded on wet sand at the end of the day.

The vermilion colour is meant to keep evil spirits away.

 This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Hirosaki Park and Castle, Japan

I studied Japanese for 2 years in high school.
I loved it.
For 35 yrs I have been promising myself I would go to Japan & see the things I’ve only ever dreamt about & experience their amazing culture first hand.
I’m finally living the dream!

Part of the dream was to join in the cherry blossom fever that sweeps Japan every spring.
We thought our timing may have been off as the blossoms bloomed early this year.
But on the northern tip of Honshu we found the last of the blossoms.
Hirosaki Park and Castle is near the port town of Aomori.
It was a long train trek from Tokyo, but worth every mile.

Hirosaki Park has over 2500 cherry trees. The park consists of blossom-covered ponds (yes, we hired a boat for an hour to row through the petals), red bridges, tunnels of trees, a three-storey castle keep and night-time illuminations.

Thousands of people joined us in wandering around the cherry trees, enjoying picnics underneath them and taking many, many photos. The blossoms were outstanding & thanks to a lazy breeze, I regularly experienced blossom bathing as the petals fluttered all around us.
It was magic!

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Kirribilli Walk

I recently did the walk from the brand new Milsons Point Ferry Wharf to the Kirribilli Ferry.

Last year, whenever I caught the ferry into the city, we bypassed the stop at Milsons Point whilst it was under reconstruction. The NSW Government has been gradually updating all the ferry stops around the harbour with new and improved jetties and shelters.

These jetties have some of the best views in the whole wide world!

Milsons Point, underneath the north-western side of the Harbour Bridge, is no exception.

Although if you turn around, it's this other view that is actually the main draw card to Milsons Point.

Luna Park has been smiling over Sydney Harbour since 1935.

It has had a checkered history beginning with it's closure after Ghost Train fire in 1979. It's reopening in 1982 only lasted until 1988 when engineers discovered that several of the rides were in need of major repair. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing kept the park closed until 1995.

It only lasted a year as some of the neighbours complained about the noise.

Luna Park finally reopened in 2004 after a major revamp and much community pressure, including a petition by local high school students.

It is possible to walk through the main concourse of Luna Park and to have your photo taken underneath the big smile. It only costs money to go on the rides.

Milsons Point was named after the settler James Milson (1783 - 1872).

He had a 50 acre grant around Lavender Bay as well as leasing another 120 acres around the Kirribilli side. The last of his family landholdings were resumed by the State government in the 1920's to make way for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Luna Park is not the only attraction on this site.

North Sydney Olympic Pool is one of the most picturesque spots to do your laps in Sydney.

Built after the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it opened in 1936 featuring art deco style trimmings. Heating was added in 2000 and a 25m indoor pool in 2001.

There are a number of eating and drinking options here too:

Aqua Dining is where we tend to take overseas visitors when we want to WOW them with our spectacular harbour #showingoff

The walk begins as you head underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Bradfield Park on the other side. Don't forget to look up as you go under. The geometry of the bridge is beautiful.

Bradfield Park is a hotspot on New Years Eve to watch the fireworks, but the rest of the time, it's a pretty quiet area to enjoy a peaceful walk.

Take the time to explore the upper reaches of the park to get some amazing photos of the bridge pylons and girders at various angles.

There is a fenced playground area if you're walking with little ones.

Underneath the bridge is a memorial to the HMAS Sydney.

It's bow has been set into the sea wall.

Standing guard on the eastern side of the bridge is the Australian Angel sculpture.

It was presented to the people of NSW by the Swiss Government and the Swiss Australian community in honour of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

You can also find the sculptures, Harbour Cycles and Foxie around the park as well as the old art deco sign (brought back to its former glory although in a new spot) welcoming visitors to the park and pool.

The path around the foreshore will take you through a couple of these old stone shelters.

There are plaques dotted around the area detailing the history of the place.

The Aboriginal Cammeraygal people lived along the Kirribilli and Milsons Point foreshores prior to white settlement. Kiarabilli means 'good fishing spot', which is how the name Kirribilli came to be. 

As you head out of the park, follow the path around the foreshore, past the Jeffery St Wharf, to bring you into Kirribilli proper.

Dr Mary Booth Reserve Foreshore Walkway has been recently rejuvenated although there are still steps and paths made uneven by tree roots to negotiate.

There are sections where you can wander off closer to the water's edge as well, so keep an eye on the little ones and have your camera ready for all the stunning views of the harbour.

The final climb up the steps brings you to Dr Mary Booth Lookout and Warunda St.

Turn right and wander along this quiet street, remembering to glimpse the harbour views between each apartment block.

Towards the end of this street is the Beulah St wharf. You can walk onto it to get some fabulous views of the Opera House directly opposite.

When you finally come to the end of Warunda St, you will spot a steep stairway on the right.

The Mirradong Place sign was partially hidden by foliage and shadows the day I was there, but since these steps are the only way out, I figured I had found the right spot!

At the top of the steps is Kirribilli Avenue, home to Admiralty House and Kirribilli House - the official Sydney residences of the Governor-General and the Prime Minister respectively.

Security is discreet but ever present as you wander down this leafy avenue.

The Royal Family, the Pope and various Presidents have been entertained at Admiralty House over the years. It's not easy to see from the street, but the ferry ride back to Circular Quay at the end of this walk, affords better views of both these buildings. They are open to the public once a year, usually in the spring, although there have been a few years recently with no open days at all due to security concerns.

At the end of Kirribilli Avenue is Lady Gowrie Lookout, a terraced, park that leads right down to the harbour. Locals often fish off here.

I enjoyed a cool drink, a snack and some time with my book in this lovely shady, quiet park.

Double back along Kirribilli Avenue until you come to Carrabella St, turn right.

Halfway down you will spot Glenferrie Lodge with its rather startling statue at the entrance.

A right turn down Holbrook Avenue will lead you to Kirribilli Ferry Wharf and cafe (although judging by the Saturday I was there, the chances of getting a table or a cheap coffee is questionable), but if you have time to still wander, continue along Carrabella St until you reach the Peel St intersection. Turn right. One of the old stone street markers is on this corner.

Continue down Peel St past the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron grounds to Colindia Reserve for a glimpse of Neutral Bay.

Double back to Holbrook St to catch the ferry back to Circular Quay.

The entrance to the ferry is down a rather narrow, gloomy pathway. I assume this wharf is slated to be renovated at some point as well as it is not wheelchair friendly, and thanks to the cafe, very squishy.

The F5 Neutral Bay Ferry service stops twice at Kirribilli on the loop around Neutral Bay so that you can enjoy a trip around the Bay or simply hop on when it loops back to continue onto the Quay. Check times on your Sydney transport app or at the ferry wharf.

I did the loop around Neutral Bay which gave me a better view of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron grounds...

...then Kirribilli House...

...Admiralty House...

...and finally the Opera House and Circular Quay.

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.