Italian Minstrel

Italian Minstrel

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Antique French Tapestry

Panel from 19th C French Curtains
The photo above shows a detail from some absolutely superb French tapestry curtains dating from about 1870. The Chateau curtains are in wonderful condition, a tiny amount of fading and 2 small holes, so you still get the glorious and original colours, so easy to imagine these 11 ft long (that is 3.2 m to your Euro measurers!) panels hanging in a stone Chateau in somewhere like the Loire Valley! They are totally irresistible but as I already have many fantastic curtains in our house I have resisted them - but only just!

The French tapestry panels always have such interesting subjects, almost always connected with the countryside or country pursuits, surrounded by borders of foliage. They usually are loomed in wool, cotton and a little silk, sometimes linen mixed in for strength. These of course are machine made, but surprisingly there were mechanical looms from very early on in the 1800s, which made these more economic to produce than say the hand-loomed Aubusson tapestries which would take a couple of years to loom just one! That of course is why Aubusson hand-made tapestry is so sought after and expensive! And relatively rare.

These curtains will make a wonderful window dressing and I am a little envious of the person who will eventually have them!

Friday, 1 October 2010

La Dolce Vita

An Italian Village By Lake Bracciano
I now know what they mean by La Dolce Vita. The picture above is of the promontory of rock upon which a pretty little fishing village called Anguillara is built. Lake Bracciano is the large volcanic lake you can see in the photograph, and it is located about 20 miles north of Rome in the region of Lazio.

We have just been to Rome to spend a long weekend with very dear friends and I feel like I must have been there for ages, and I can only think it is the place that makes you feel that way. And what a place!
Roman history is so tangible, everywhere in and around Rome has a column, a temple, maybe a viaduct or perhaps a triumphal arch - it is unbelievable, overwhelming and incredibly mind-boggling.
Rome is so full of architecture and works of art, you would need a very many weeks to even start on seeing the highlights, without the discovery of all the delights hidden down little streets off the beaten track.

So we decided to have a day visiting Lake Bracciano to clear our heads and see the landscape and I am so glad we did, it was peaceful, beautiful and full of charm. We found a fantastic Gelateria and had the best ice cream - pistachio and custard for me! And I have to say I thought it an inspired selection! The next day in the centre of Rome we went to the famous Giolitti's where I had the classic Limone and my other scoop (you get 2) was Champagne, which was so refreshing and completely delicious - and what a shop - the choices were just amazing and imaginative, who would have thought of pine nut gelato?

La Fontana di Trevi - The Trevi Fountain - of course!
We walked around a corner from Giolitti's and I could hear a roaring noise like a waterfall and something that looked like a lump of coarse white rock. Puzzled, I followed everyone round the edge of the rock to be faced with the most fantastical man-made creation, gushing clear blue water over bright white marble, with wonderful statues and such detailed carved flora and fauna. It literally took my breath away.

I had already been saying 'Wow!! I mean really wow!' having just walked into the Pantheon, easily the most perfect Roman building and utterly incomparable, so to see the Trevi fountain just half an hour later, well. it was a memorable day. And yes, I know that there is so much more. That will be for another visit.
View from the Palatine to the Forum

Oh, and I forgot to mention the total experience that is the Forum and Palatine, practically a small city by itself spanning something like 1400 years of Roman civilisation, a representative portion of which is still standing. After a day of bombarding my brain and all my senses, I certainly needed a sit down, a delicious cappucino and a Pizza Napoli! There you are, that is La Dolce Vita.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Gorgeous Butterflies

Gorgeous Butterflies embroidered on silk 19th c  
This is the most delightful work, fine, even embroidery so delicate and colourful, on a 19th c oriental panel. The colours are very good, as you would expect from silk, which holds its colour well if protected from sunlight. I imagine this came from a beautiful costume originally, and I can just picture the butterflies almost fluttering on the costume when the light picks up the luminescence of the silks.

The autumn season is now upon us, today is the official first day, so for me there is a sadness in the falling of the leaves and the gradual closing down of all the plants until the joy of seeing snowdrops and aconites again in January. I cannot say I enjoy the feeling of impending darkness, it just makes me want to migrate South! I mean Mediterranean south not Surrey!

However I just have to manage, and try to plant even more things to encourage our own beautiful aristocratic butterflies, which have been lapping up the nectar on our enormous buddleia trees up until the cold snap a few days ago...

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Emir of Bukhara had a very fine coat

The Emir of Bukhara 
Let me introduce you to the Emir of Bukhara c. 1910 a fellow highly decorated with medals and sword, but for me, it is the beauty of his silk coat which stands out. The gorgeous peacock blue with the vibrancy of those flowers, all of which would have been hand-embroidered, are just exquisite. The quality of the work would have been of the highest order.

My son sent me a link to a series of photographs showing life in the Russian Empire during the first decade of the 1900s - with all its diversity - and the Emir was one of them, as well as the demure Armenian lady in her national costume below, again very finely embroidered. Being highly interested in history as well as textiles these two photographs really captured my imagination.

How careful people must have been with their clothing when they had to make everything by hand. These photographs are so evocative and capture something of life in the Russian Empire which seems so colourful and almost tribal, a far cry from the drab communist the Russia, of the majority of the 20th century.

Armenian Lady in National Costume c.1910

The link for those who want to see more of these excellent photographs is:
- they are from the Prokudin-Gorskii collection bought by the Library of Congress (USA) in 1948 and who have made these accessible. Thank you.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Original Decorator's Label

c. 1910 Interior Decorator's Label 
This is fab! I couldn't resist putting this on the blog. We have a new website launching soon which is for original architectural pieces and this label was on the reverse of a door pediment fitted when the house was refurbished. The door pediment and various other items were marbelised - that special painted marble effect and by dint of the label we know who did it. The website is called coming soon!

The French quality...

19th C Lyons Silk Border
This is the most wonderful quality 1890s French Lyons silk and wool woven border, which looks warm and glowing, the bouquets of summer flowers so lifelike in their detail. It is an irresistible piece and there are 6 metres so enough for a project like edging curtains or making many, many cushions.

19th C Woven Silk Seat Cover
Another Lyons Silk piece, a woven seat cover in the most subtle of colour combinations, would make a fantastic cushion if not wanted for its original purpose...the French really are a classy nation, and were even more so in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sometimes I just shake my head in utter awe at the level of quality of fabric, design and workmanship!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Stunning flower design needlepoints, almost better than the real thing!

19th C needlepoint and beadwork piece
This is the most delicious piece of work, the colours are riotous, and the beadwork on the Lily trumpet gives an almost 3-dimensional feel, especially with the deep black background, so typical of the Victorian era.

Then there is the royal red background of this beadwork piece below, adding a touch of class. 
Victorian beadwork on needlepoint
You could be forgiven for thinking that the flowers so beautifully worked by such skilled needlewomen look almost better than the real thing, but then... the bee knows that nature has the edge!
Acanthus flower with bee
And so does the humble hover-fly.

Exotic phormium flower attracting the interest of a hover-fly

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Bee Banquets and Blackcurrants

Now the weather has settled down and we have warmth once more, the bees have come out in force. We have several bee banquets going on at our house. There is the Lincolnshire lime tree banquet. This is held in the many Lime trees which surround our farmhouse, and it sounds like the nearby race-track at Cadwell Park. The bees adore lime flowers, the humming is just phenomenal, and they are definitely drunk - they fall down on the ground before staggering off in a very haphazard way! Then there is the Lavender path party also going on; probably these are a different class of bees, bumbling away and socialising nicely with the various discreet butterflies that are also attending this non-stop event. I tried to photograph the bees but they were far too busy finding the next delicious flowerhead that I could only capture the butterfly which had the good manners to stay for her photograph...
Butterfly and Bee Banquet

The other thing that is happening in the garden is the ripening of all sorts of delicious produce. I have got some fab French Rond de Nice courgettes which can be halved and stuffed with onions, breadcrumbs and fresh tomatoes, topped with cheese and breadcrumbs, then baked in the oven for 40 minutes and make a complete meal. Then there are the blackcurrants which are just dripping off the branches. I have just made syrup, very like the French have (it is a cordial really) and it tastes so fruity, and not too much of blackcurrants, which is just as well because I don't like them at all! Same with blackcurrant jelly (instead of jam) - it too is just fruity and delicious, so a better choice for those who find blackcurrants too strong.

Blackcurrants ready for the picking
Rond de Nice Courgette
Whilst thinking about recipes, there is another one which I enjoy at this time of the year; that is lavender scented peaches - it tastes divine and well worth trying. Just ensure that you infuse about 5 or 6 lavender flowerheads in the syrup in which you have poached 6 fresh peaches. It turns the liquid a beautiful rose purple colour and scents it in the most appealing way.

There is a bit of a lull in my garden after the lavender because I so love the Spring and early Summer that my garden is full to the brim with a large collection of old roses, sweet rocket, campanulas and species geranium, and I have never really got the hang of what comes next! However I do have a gorgeous black hollyhock that is just about to flower - that will be worth the wait!

Having chatted away about my garden I realise that I intended to talk a bit about the textiles I have recently acquired, which I will do, but maybe next post...

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Perfect June, perfect roses!

This has been the most fantastic weather for the garden, it has been one of the best Junes I can remember: warmth, flowers, soft summer rain at just the right time and sunshine! My garden also looks at its best in June because I am a rose-aholic and they are everywhere! I only like scented roses, old fashioned ones by preference, some roses  dating back to Tudor times: the red rose of Lancaster, Rosa Mundi, and Rosa Damascena. Growing amongst the roses are the original sweet peas, heady-scented and beautiful. These delightful perennials come up every year and look like ladies peeking out from their bonnets, like approving audiences popping up all over the border to see what is happening next, fabulous value - I love June!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Lincolnshire Sunday

This Sunday, we spent here in Lincolnshire. A very warm June day, and whilst the weather is so hot, it makes sense to get up early a pick the strawberries, sweet and juicy...and there were pounds to gather, enough for jam already!

But before I did that I fed our hens. I saw there were two young squirrels in the crewyard where the hens live, they had found a way into the feed shed where they were helping themselves to the corn. There is only one advantage to this which is that they are consequently not stealing our strawberries!

The garden is full of roses, utterly heady and scented (I only have smelly roses, I have trouble understanding why anyone would give garden room to a rose that doesn't smell!). Sweet peas, campion, lupins, poppies etc.A riot of colours.
This is a giant allium, also in the garden, just stunning, I love the tiny details even as it turns to seed pods, still beautiful...

Friday, 25 June 2010

What a way to spend a French Sunday

I have just been in France this month at our house in Normandy, and took some time to spend weekends looking around the vide greniers - the French summer pastime which comprises of the population of villages or town communities putting the contents of their attics onto a table in the street, for sale. It is a charming thing, and I have visited many delightful villages which I would otherwise never have done.

We went to an utterly lovely village called St Christophe de Jajolet, in the Orne department and spent several hours marvelling at the selection of wares for sale. There was honey and cider (always present in Normandy of course), 2nd world war artifacts, linen, clothes, tools and so on. And of course, we found things to cherish, things that we never knew we always wanted! The weather was hot, the fields were full of wildflowers, poppies, corn-cockles, hearts-ease and the small stream babbled its meandering way between fields and under the bridge, whilst we watched goldfinches bathing. Perfect.

Amongst all sorts of treasures, household linen is a regular item for sale, sheets and pillowcases, unused Trousseaus with embroidered initials of husband and wife, lace and tea towels. Some of the linen is 19th c home-spun and loomed, some of the later sheets are the French metis which is half cotton, half linen and very durable. The tops of sheets sometimes have wonderful detailing, one I bought had a triple band of drawn threadwork and was 10 ft long. Prices have gone up though! but worth every penny when you think of the work in each sheet and that some have never been used.

France has a wonderful tempo of life and if you get the chance, go, it is such a pleasant way to pass time and it affirms a way of life long gone from here.