Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Terrible Tilly lighthouse for sale

Thursday, April 28th, 2022

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the north coast of Oregon is perched on a storm-tossed rocky island that can only be reached by helicopter. It is covered in bird guano and sea lion excrement and the windows are all boarded up. The sea lions have knocked down the door. The interior is being used as a columbarium, a depository for human cinerary remains, including those of the parents of the current owner. It is a National Wildlife Refuge and cannot be visited during nesting season from April to September. And all of this can be yours for $6.5 million.

Terrible Tilly, so dubbed for its terrible storms and dangerous navigation conditions, was commissioned by Congress in 1878. Construction on the remote basalt stack in the middle of stormy seas was challenging, and the lighthouse took a year and a half to build. One man, a surveyor, was swept out to sea and drowned in the planning stage, cementing Tilly’s Terrible reputation before the first brick was laid.

The first-order fresnel lens was first lit on January 21st, 1881. By the time it was decommissioned in 1957, it had become the most expensive lighthouse in the United States to operate. Tilly then passed into private ownership, changing hands several times. It was acquired by the Eternity at Sea Columbarium in 1980, but they lost their license in 1999 for violations including proper storage.

Legal difficulties notwithstanding, the columbarium is still the crux of the sales pitch.

The plan is for the lighthouse to appeal as an alternative to scattering cremated remains at sea, by encasing them in titanium urns in a bank of niches.

David Adams, a funeral business consultant with the Johnson Consulting Group in Scottsdale, Arizona, who is brokering the sale, is aiming for an official pitch by Memorial Day.

“It’s going to have to take somebody with an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

The cremation rate in the United States was low when Morissette, a 77-year-old Oregon resident with a background in real estate development, purchased the lighthouse over four decades ago. The rate reached 56% in 2020 and is rising, the Cremation Association of North America said.

“I find it intriguing some people still like the romance of scattering ashes at sea: ‘Dad’s out in the ocean and Mom’s still floating with sharks,'” Adams said.

“Although romantic in many regards, it is somewhat final. There is no real place to focus on, to go back and memorialize,” he said.

The lighthouse, he added, “gives them a specific focal point.”

Well yes, but a specific focal point that can only accessed half the year and then only by chartering a helicopter. On the other hand, what a view:


18th c. gold box recovered 19 years after manor raid

Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

An 18th century gold box stolen from the Rothschild estate of Waddesdon Manor 19 years ago has been recovered. The box was one of more than 100 stolen by a gang of masked men in blue boilersuits in the wee hours of June 10th, 2003. They broke a window and raided the Rothschild collection of small boxes, rings, bottles and watches, stealing millions of dollars worth of highly portable precious objects in less than four minutes.

The manor had excellent security and the thieves were so precise in targeting the high-value pieces that police believe they were professionals working on commission. They disappeared without a trace and the police investigation went nowhere. Only a handful of the looted objects have been found in the two decades since the theft.

Last August, one of the stolen gold boxes resurfaced at a small regional auction. The auction house contacted the Art Loss Register (ALR), an international database of stolen art, as part of their due diligence process and ALR experts flagged it as one of the boxes taken in the Waddesdon raid. Staff at Waddesdon confirmed the identification.

The gold box that has surfaced is a French bonbonniere dated 1775-1781 and made in Paris, a centre for the production of gold boxes in the 18th century. These small circular boxes were personal accessories, kept in a pocket, in a boudoir or salon, and used for sweets. Often embellished with painted or enamelled scenes, this one has a miniature of an unknown woman holding a basket of roses on its lid. It is decorated with gold piqué (inlaid) stars on a dark blue ground and has a tortoiseshell interior. […]

The box has now been returned to Waddesdon and will go on display from 27 April in the Rothschild Treasury, a gallery that houses more than 300 objects made from rare and precious materials that celebrates the Rothschild family as collectors of extraordinary objects.

This is serendipitous timing for this particular gold box to return home to Waddesdon, as it was acquired by Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922). Alice was the sister of Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), who built Waddesdon, and she inherited the Manor and its contents from him. This spring Waddesdon is marking the centenary of her death by celebrating her life, collections and legacy with Alice’s Wonderlands – a comprehensive programme of exhibitions and displays that highlight her pivotal role in Waddesdon’s history.

Pippa Shirley, Director of Collections, Historic properties and Landscapes at Waddesdon says “I am absolutely delighted that this box has returned, and very grateful to the Art Loss Register for its part in its successful recovery. The 2003 theft was deeply traumatic for everyone at Waddesdon – I remember it vividly – and this feels such a positive outcome and gives us hope that the other boxes may yet come back to us. It is also such a happy coincidence that it should reappear in the year in which we are celebrating Alice de Rothschild and her extraordinary contribution to the collections here.”

The bonbonnière will be in the most august of company in the Rothschild Treasury gallery. It goes on display next gifts of jewelry from Queen Victoria, gold tableware, a Boucheron diamond and pearl tiara, and a carved amber casket from 1660 the glows like fire in the light and is believed to have been purchased by the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812). There’s also a literal august object: a cameo portrait of Augustus Caesar’s grandson Gaius.


Museum acquires lost Charlotte Brontë mini-book

Monday, April 25th, 2022

The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, has acquired A Book of Rhymes, a newly-rediscovered miniature manuscript  written and hand-bound by Charlotte Brontë in 1829. Just 3.8 x 2.5 inches, smaller than a playing card, the 15-page manuscript was the last mini-book of Charlotte Brontë’s known to be in private hands. It will now return to Charlotte’s childhood home where it was written.

Between August and December of 1829, Charlotte and her brother Branwell produced six issues of a miniature magazine they named Blackwood’s Young Men’s Magazine. In 1830 they rebranded the publication as The Young Men’s Magazine and released another six issues between August and December. The manuscripts were written in tiny handwriting mimicking the regularity of print and bound with hand-sewn covers made of sugar paper.

They were inspired by the real literary periodicals like Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine that the family read avidly. Each issue contained short stories, poetry, art critiques and even advertisements, all set against the context of the city of Glasstown, capital of Angria, the imaginary world the Brontë siblings had invented as the background story for a box of 12 toy soldiers Branwell had been given for his 9th birthday.

A BOOK OF RHYMES comprises : i). The Beauty of Nature; ii). A Short Poem; iii). Meditations while Journeying in a Canadian Forest; iv). Song of an Exile; v). On Seeing the Ruins of the Tower of Babel; vi). A Thing of fourteen lines; vii). A Bit of a rhyme; viii). Lines written on the Bank of a River one fine Summer Evening; ix). Spring, a Song; x). Autumn, a Song. xi). Contents.

On the verso of her title page, Charlotte writes: “The following are attempts at rhyming of an inferior nature it must be acknowledged but they are nevertheless my best.” At the end of this Book of “Ryhmes” she refers to the secondary world created by the Brontë children amongst themselves, while asserting her authorship and creative control over that world:

“This book is written by myself but I pretend that the Marquis of Duro & Lord Charles Wellesley in the Young Men’s World have written one like it, & the Songs marked in the Index so * are written by the Marquis of Duro and those marked so † are written by Lord Charles Wellesley.” At the head of the page she also alludes to one of her best known early productions, Tales of the Islanders: “I began this book, the second volume of the Tales of the Islanders, 2 magazines for December, and the Characters of the most Celebrated Men of the Present time on the 26th of October, 1829, & finished them all by the 17 of December, 1829”.

The mini-manuscripts were kept together for decades after Charlotte’s death in 1855, first by her widower Rev. A.B. Nicholls, then by the reverend’s second wife. A Book of Rhymes was known to Brontë scholars because the 10 poems in the book were listed in the catalogue of works Charlotte compiled in her own hand and mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1857 biography of Charlotte, but none of the poems had ever been published. After the second Mrs. Nicholls died, the manuscripts were sold off by her estate and dispersed into British and US collections.

A Book of Rhymes was last seen in November 1916 when it was sold in New York and then disappeared from public view altogether for more than a century. It emerged again four weeks ago when James Cummins Bookseller announced it had been rediscovered in a private collection and would be sold at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair on April 21st. The price tag was $1.25 million.

The seller was an anonymous private collector who thankfully prioritized the long-term preservation of the book. James Cummins Bookseller reached out to the Friends of the National Libraries in the UK and offered them first dibs if they could raise the purchase price. They only had two weeks to accomplish this daunting task. The organization reached out to multiple institutional and private donors and was able to meet the goal just under the wire. Once the sale was made, the Friends of the National Libraries donated the little book to the Haworth Parsonage Museum which is already home to nine other little books and will soon welcome another seven from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.

The Haworth Parsonage Museum  will conserve and digitize A Book of Ryhmes before putting it on display later this year.


Theater of Herculaneum reopens

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022

Herculaneum’s theater was built in the 1st century A.D. during the reign of Augustus. Iniscriptions found at the site document the name of the sponsor — Lucius Annius Mammianus Rufus — and of the architect — Publius Numisius. It had a capacity of about 2,500 people (half of Pompeii’s theater) and was designed in the traditional Roman fashion with a cavea divided into three horizontal orders corresponding to the social status of the ticket-holder.

The ancient theater was the first monument to remerge from the hardened volcanic rock that had covered the Vesuvian sites for 1,650 years. What would later prove to be the ruins of the theater were first encountered by a farmer digging a well the early 1700s. When the news that ancient remains had been found filtered back to local potentate Prince Emanuele Maurizio of Lorraine, Duke of Elbeuf, in 1709 he bought the property and funded excavations that recovered, among other artworks, three statues of women that were the first major sculptures recovered from Herculaneum.

The Herculaneum women, elegantly garbed in draped gowns, originally decorated the stage of the Roman theater. Representing honorable women of the elite, they are copies of Greek originals from the 4th century B.C. that were popular throughout the Mediterranean in the imperial era. Unearthed just before excavations ceased in 1711 out of concern that the modern town above would collapse, the statues are now in the Dresden Skulpturensammlung.

The prince had no idea what he was pillaging. He thought it was a Temple to Hercules. It wasn’t identified as a theater until excavations resumed in 1738 by order of King of Naples and Sicily Charles III Bourbon. Much like the Duke of Elbeuf, his aim had little to do with archaeology and everything to do with harvesting statuary and antiquities to furnish his new palace, and they were systematic about it, digging tunnels that paralleled the architecture to strip it of its decorative statuary, including portraits of the imperial family, local magistrates, gilt bronze equestrian statues and chariots with bronze horses. Even the columns were pillaged. The Bourbon looting program ended in 1762 under pressure from renown art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann who had sternly criticized the treasure hunting approach to excavation.

It was a popular stop on the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries, accessed by a Bourbon-era staircase built 65 feet down into the hardened volcanic rock separating the ancient city from the modern one. Visitors today will tread the same path, descending into the theater through the 18th century tunnels. All tours will be guided and limited to no more than 10 people at a time.

“The theater is located in a nerve center for the restitching of the two Herculaneums, the ancient and the modern, where we have concentrated the efforts of urban regeneration to create new public spaces with the collaboration of the Municipality and the Packard Humanities Institute. The theater area is also a privileged place to access the famous Resina market and the historic center of Herculaneum…. “The visit will be a real exploration experience,” says park director Sirano, “on the trail of visitors who over the centuries have passed through the wells and tunnels created by the engineers of the Bourbon army by torchlight. An underground path that transports us back through the centuries and makes us the protagonists of a discovery that is renewed every time before our astonished eyes.”

The theater will be open to visitors ever Saturday from now until December, minus a two-month summer break in July and August.


1896 glider restored for new exhibition

Saturday, April 16th, 2022

A rare 19th century glider has been restored and will go on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The glider was made in 1896 by German aviator Otto Lilienthal, the first man to successfully make consistent, repeated, thoroughly documented and witnessed flights. He was dubbed “The Flying Man” and 1891, the year when his flights began, is considered the dawn of human heavier-than-air flight.

He literally wrote the book on wing aerodynamics, observing the flight of birds for translation to flying machines. One of his glider models, the Lilienthal Normalsegelapparat (“Normal soaring apparatus” would make a pretty great band name), was the first aircraft in series production. His manufacturing company, Maschinenfabrik Otto Lilienthal, was the first airplane production company in the world.

Unfortunately Otto Lilienthal would pay for his pioneering vision with his life, dying on August 9th, 1896, when his glider stalled and he plunged 50 feet to the ground. He broke his neck in the fall and died in the hospital the next day. His last words were “Sacrifices must be made.”

There were 10 documented Lilienthal Normalsegelapparat examples sold between 1893 and 1896. The only American buyer was newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst bought his glider in late April 1896. Lilienthal’s daring flights had generated a great deal of public interest and Hearst staged flight tests for public spectacle and to increase the circulation of the New York Journal. The dream lasted a few days only. On May 3rd, the glider, piloted by Frank Ver Beck, an illustrator known for his comedic drawings of animals, crashed. Ver Beck was unharmed, but the glider sustained some broken ribs on the right wing.

The Hearst glider was put in mothballs until it was acquired by John Brisben Walker, editor of Cosmopolitan. He displayed it once in 1905 at the debut event of the Aero Club of America before donating it to the Smithsonian in 1906. Restoration of the fragile winged machine began in November 2019 and it took experts 18 months to restore it not to its pristine condition, but to the broken-rib condition it was in right after the crash.

According to Smithsonian records, an employee rebuilt the Lilienthal glider in 1919. But for this conservation treatment, curators determined that the horizontal stabilizer had been lost after the crash, and its 1919 copy was inaccurate and incorrectly positioned. The original vertical fin was too damaged to be reattached, so it was preserved and placed in storage.

But the broken ribs from the crash, which are part of the glider’s history and identity, says [chief conservator Malcolm] Collum, were preserved. “As a rare and special artifact, we consider events like that part of its operational history,” he says. “Just like a fighter plane that comes back… and has combat damage like bullet holes…we consider that to be sacred.” During previous restoration efforts, Collum says, “a lot of historical manufacturing details were just skimmed over.”

Smithsonian conservators worked with colleagues at the Otto Lilienthal Museum and the Deutsches Museum in Germany searching for details in the historical record. “What really differentiates this project from previous restoration work: Every time it was restored in the past, they were using … the wrong information, and not studying the artifact itself,” Collum says. “In this process, we’ve actually done the technical analysis, done the archival research, and collaborated with colleagues in Germany to bring out as many original historical details as possible.”

In some places where the wood needed support, they used glue to reinforce it. They did make a discovery. They had not realized the glider had an impact bar, so they added one after finding the original mounting hardware. And they added a new plain-weave cotton fabric, as the original was long gone. And the tail, which had been poorly fabricated in a 1967 restoration, was replaced with historically accurate components made with bamboo and willow.

The Smithsonian’s restored Lilienthal glider will go on display in Early Flight, an exhibition exploring the first decade of the airplane era, which opens this fall.


Still no takers for the Villa Aurora

Monday, April 11th, 2022

Villa Aurora, the 16th century mansion in one of Rome’s most expensive neighborhoods that boasts Caravaggio’s only known ceiling painting has failed to sell at auction for the second time.

The villa was listed for €471 million when it was first put up for auction in January, an astronomical sum based on the valuation of art experts. The Caravaggio alone could easily run a hundred million plus even if it weren’t attached to a whole villa, so the exorbitant price tag didn’t seem incongruous. There were no takers, however, not even lowball opening bids. Total radio silence.

A second auction was scheduled for Thursday, April 7th, and this time the price would drop 20% to €377 million. Even at a discount, the Villa Aurora failed to attract a single bid, so the quarrelling heirs of the late Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi are going to have to take it to the auction mattresses again on June 30th when the villa will be offered at auction for another 20% drop in price to €301 million. If there are STILL no takers at that point, the widow Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi and the prince’s three sons from a previous marriage will have to agree to ANOTHER price drop.

The problem is that the American-born princess does not want to sell. Prince Nicolò’s will granted her lifetime rights to live on the property as long as she wanted to, and should she choose not to, Villa Aurora was to be sold and the proceeds divided between his wife and sons. The Boncompagni Ludovisi sons contested the will, disputing her lifetime right of occupancy, and a court decision forced the sale.

So the four parties who are responsible for negotiating a new price if June’s auction fails to attract bidders are not exactly on the same page here. Should they be unable to come up with a lower figure for the fourth bite at the apple, the judge will step in and decide the price.

According to Beniamino Milioto, the princess’s lawyer, interested parties will have to put down a 10% deposit to qualify to bid, plus proof of enough assets to close the sale and complete a restoration plan said to cost at least €10m.

Milioto said that while there had been multiple informal expressions of interest, including from Microsoft’s Bill Gates, nobody had completed the process of qualifying to bid for either round.

The villa and its property are under the protection of Italy’s ministry of culture, meaning that when a qualifying bid is filed, the Italian state will have a chance to match the price and turn the villa into a cultural site. A petition calling for this to happen has attracted more than 35,000 signatures, a level that requires the cash-strapped Italian government to consider the acquisition. But there is no indication a state purchase is in the works.

Whoever acquires the 40-room villa will become owner of a vast collection of art that goes beyond Caravaggio’s 2.75-metre fresco of the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. Its gardens include a sculpture by Michelangelo, and in the villa are other ceilings featuring frescoes by the baroque master Guercino and a spiral staircase created by the 16th- and 17th-century architect Carlo Maderno, best known for designing the facade of St Peter’s Basilica.

The villa also includes a telescope given to the Ludovisi family by Galileo and a door that was once part of an ancient Venetian warship.

BRB. Off to buy a Powerball ticket.


17th c. polychrome wall paintings found in salt castle

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

Renovations at the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka, southern Poland, have revealed surviving sections of the original 17th century polychrome decorative painting on the walls of five rooms. The headquarters of the UNESCO World Heritage Wieliczka Salt Mine for 700 years, the Castle is now home to the Krakow Saltworks Museum dedicated to the history of salt and of the mine. The museum has been undergoing a refurbishment of previously unused rooms to expand the castle’s exhibition facilities. The paintings were discovered when 300 years of plaster and paint covering them were removed.

The polychrome paintings include floral and plant motifs — bouquets in vases, leafy wreaths — arabesque decorations and the coat of arms of the Vasa family.  One of the rooms has a particularly spectacular array of trompe l’oeil architectural elements in classicist style like columns, arches and landscapes in the distance between them.

They were found on the first floor of the eastern part of the castle which has rooms dating back to the 16th century. The directors of the salt mine lived there in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there were no records describing the wall decoration, so the discovery of a large number of paintings with well-preserved color came as a shock to restorers.

The plan to use the rooms as temporary and permanent exhibition space will now have to find a way to showcase the treasures they’ve found on the very walls.

“The preserved layers, from different periods, intertwine; in some places they are preserved only in small fragments, and in some – in large ones “- emphasized the conservator. “We plan to expose all layers to show them as the history of this object. If such possibilities arise and such a decision is made, we can possibly remove some of the outer layers – this is called a transfer, transfer to a new substrate – and display them in a different part of the castle , wherever the available exhibition space will allow it “- explained Chojkowski.

The “delamination” method allows the reconstruction of a larger area of ​​earlier polychromes. “The fact that one of them is younger does not mean that it has a lower value, because it can be much more interesting. For us, partial removal or transfer of layers to a new substrate is so important that there are probably even earlier plasters here. now it is difficult to say whether there is also any layer of polychrome there “- said the conservator.


Update: stolen Darwin notebooks returned in hot pink gift bag

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

Two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks stolen decades ago from the Cambridge University Library, have been returned anonymously, left on the floor outside the Librarian’s office in a hot pink gift bag. Inside the gift bag was the blue archive box custom-made to contain the notebooks. Both notebooks were inside the box, snugly wrapped together in plastic wrap. Also inside the bag was a brown envelope with the printed note:


Happy Easter


The two notebooks have been carefully examined and are in excellent condition, thankfully. There are no missing or damaged pages.  

The notebooks were last seen in the fall of 2000 when they were removed from Cambridge’s Special Collections Strong Rooms to be photographed in high-resolution for the library’s digital collection. If they were returned, there’s no record of it and a routine check in January of 2001 discovered that the notebooks and the custom blue box that contained them were not back in their previous location. Despite the inestimable historical value of the notebooks, one of which contains the Darwin’s 1837 Tree of Life drawing which has become an iconic image in the history of science, this did not immediately trigger a massive search. The Darwin archives in the Cambridge University Library are enormous, by far the largest collection of Darwiniana in the world, so the staff figured they’d just been misplaced and would be found sooner or later.

Limited searches over the years turned up nothing, and in 2020 the library launched a comprehensive targeted search of the archives and storerooms. That process was expected to take years, but in the interim, the university officially reported the missing patrimony as theft to local and international authorities and launched a public appeal for the recovery of the missing notebooks.

The appeal made the news around the world, and obviously it worked because somebody’s small conscience grew three sizes that day and the notebooks are back where they belong. This time they should stay put, at least if Cambridge University Librarian Dr. Jessica Gardner has anything to say about it:

“The building has transformed significantly since the notebooks were first reported as missing. In the last 20 years this has included completion of new high security strong rooms, new specialist reading rooms and a range of additional security measures.

These include CCTV, card-and-pin access to secure areas, a dedicated Security Team onsite and further root-and-branch reviews of all our security protocols to come – to make sure we minimise any future risk as far as humanly possible.”

Police are continuing to investigate the theft and now the return of the notebooks. The prodigal notebooks will go on public display this summer in Darwin in Conversation, a Cambridge University Library exhibition dedicated to Darwin’s extensive correspondence of 15,000 letters written over a lifetime.


Visit Henry III’s toilet at restored Clifford’s Tower

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

Clifford’s Tower in York is the only structure remaining from York Castle. The original structure on the site was a timber Norman motte-and-bailey castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The wooden keep was burned down in 1190 in a horrific anti-Semitic riot where the 150 members of York’s Jewish community had barricaded themselves inside the tower from the wrath of the mob. Under violent attack from knights, a siege engine and the rioters, the Jews inside the keep killed themselves and set fire to the tower. The few who opted out of suicide and managed to escape the tower were massacred by the mob.

The present Clifford’s Tower was constructed on the ashes of this tragedy. Reconstruction began in the early 13th century, but the new stone keep would not be completed until the end of the century. York Castle would mainly be used for administrative purposes — prison, mint, briefly as headquarters of the Exchequer — not as an actual royal residence. It was not well-maintained. Accounts from the 15th century already report some of the buildings were in ruins, and there was a scandal in the 1590s around the gaoler of the castle purportedly trying to demolish the tower to sell the stone.

Clifford’s Tower saw real action in the English Civil War. Queen Henrietta Maria had it restored and a new wood roof put on in 1643 just in time for it to be taken by Parliamentarian forces in 1644. After the Restoration, the tower was garrisoned by troops who were notorious carousers. On April 23, 1684, they fired a ceremonial salute indoors and set the place on fire again. The fire gutted the wooden interiors and Henrietta Maria’s roof and the tower fell to ruin. Occasionally people used it as a stable or barn.

Finally it became property of the state in the 1915 and it was repaired and stabilized in the 1930s so it could be opened to the public for the first time in centuries. It was sort of a look-in attraction, however, a 15-minute visit at most to walk up the stone circular staircase to see some great views of York, including the Minster. There was no signage to speak of, limited information panels, and nothing to do inside but look up at the sky.

Now English Heritage has invested £5 million in a total transformation of the tower’s interior. Timber stairs and hanging walkways criss-cross up the tower walls, giving visitors access to long-hidden spaces like Henry III’s garderobe, ie, his toilet. It was a high-tech bathroom in the 13th century, complete with a built-in toiletries cupboard, a flushing spout that ran water down the lavatory hole all the way down and out the tower. Visitors who Escher their way up the walkways will reach the new roof deck with spectacular views of the city.

The new interior and roof deck at Clifford’s Tower has been designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, a leading contemporary architectural practice. Supported by four slender wooden columns, the ingenious structure sits on a raft foundation, which spreads the load without impacting on the archaeological remains beneath the tower. The practice has worked closely with conservation specialists Martin Ashley Architects to produce a scheme which sits respectfully within the heritage structure.

New interpretation will help place the tower in the context of both the historic York Castle and the city of York itself as well as introducing visitors to the tower’s long and turbulent history. Visitors can explore the castle’s founding by William the Conqueror, the tower’s role as the site of the tragic 1190 massacre and suicide of York’s Jewish community – one of the worst anti-Semitic episodes in English history – and the role of the castle as both a medieval royal stronghold and a garrison during the Civil War.

Integral to the new scheme is its soundscape. Layers of background sound will take visitors back in time, allowing them to experience the tower as it would have been at various periods in its long history. Visitors can engage with five key moments in that history with the help of the voices of local residents who bring the stories of fictional characters to life, each representing a different chapter in the tower’s past.

Clifford’s Tower reopens Saturday, April 2nd. Here’s some cool drone footage of the new roof deck:


Versailles restores Royal Tennis Court as Museum of the Revolution

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

The Tennis Court Oath was one of the pivotal moments of the French Revolution. The day was June 20, 1789. The deputies of newly-formed National Assembly, a little too heavy on the Third Estate, too light on the Clergy and Nobility and way too keen to make France a constitutional monarchy for King Louis XVI’s taste, arrived at the meeting place of the Estates General only to find the doors barred and the premises occupied by troops. So they regrouped a few streets over inside the Royal Tennis Court Louis XIV had built a hundred years earlier to play the “jeu de paume,” a precursor to tennis, on the recommendation of his physician.

Deputy Jean Joseph Mounier proposed that in response to this insult to their rights, the nation’s representatives take a solemn oath in defense of the public good and national interest. The proposal was received with thunderous applause and the Assembly quickly drew up a decree:

The National Assembly, considering that it has been called to establish the constitution of the realm, to bring about the regeneration of public order, and to maintain the true principles of monarchy; nothing may prevent it from continuing its deliberations in any place it is forced to establish itself; and, finally, the National Assembly exists wherever its members are gathered.

Decrees that all members of this assembly immediately take a solemn oath never to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the realm is established and fixed upon solid foundations; and that said oath having been sworn, all members and each one individually confirm this unwavering resolution with his signature.

The deputies then each “signed” by swearing:

We swear never to separate ourselves from the National Assembly, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the realm is drawn up and fixed upon solid foundations.

This was the first direct confrontation between the revolutionaries and the king. They were still on board with a monarchy, but only as bound by the will of the people. By this oath they declared to Louis XVI that the National Assembly was in service of the public and national good, not the king.

A year after the momentous event, oath-taker Edmond Dubois-Crancé asked his friend painter Jacques-Louis David to commemorate the anniversary with a monumental painting that would put the Tennis Court Oath on the same plane as David’s famed historical works like 1784’s The Oath of the Horatii. David exhibited a preparatory pen-and-ink drawing of his planned painting in 1791, hoping to sell engravings of the drawing via national subscription to raise the 72,000 pounds he needed to complete a painting 33 feet long.

Unfortunately for David, the France of 1791 was very different from that of 1789. Constitutional monarchists were very much not in favor anymore and many of the 1789 heroes were either fired, disgraced or, well, dead, by 1791. The subscription model failed because the public had no interest in celebrating the event. David never finishing the painting and kept it in his workshop until his death in 1825. The unfinished work was cut up into three pieces by his heirs. The largest portion was sold to the state and is now on display in the Chimay attic at Versailles.

The Tennis Court itself became property of the state in 1793 and was closed to the public in 1798. It was used for random purposes — storage, workshop, painter’s studio — for a while and listed as a national historic monument in 1848. Come the Second Empire, the Royal Tennis Court was neglected, its associations no longer appreciated by the powers that be.

The idea of celebrating the Tennis Court Oath came back into favor a century later under the French Third Republic which embraced its revolutionary antecedents. In 1880, July 14th, Bastille Day, was declared the French National Celebration, and the government began to plan for a museum of the Revolution. In 1882, the old Royal Tennis Court, abandoned for decades by that point, was chosen as the spot for the new museum.

It was refurbished by the architect of the Palace of Versailles, Edmond Guillaume. The French government also commissioned a new artist, Luc-Olivier Merson, to make a painting of the Oath based on David’s drawing and unfinished canvas. Ninety-four years to the day after the deputies of the National Assembling took the Tennis Court Oath, the new Museum of the Revolution opened in the Royal Tennis Court complete with a statue and portrait busts of the most important signatories. Above the busts is a band painted on the walls containing the names of all signatories. Beneath the band the walls were painted in rich Pompeian red.

This new vision of the Royal Tennis Court also faded quickly. After the centenary of the oath in 1889, the court was just maintained but not handled with the care it required. There was even talk in the 1930s of converting it into a ping pong room for Senate functionaries who worked at Versailles.

Last year, Versailles undertook a comprehensive restoration program to return the Tennis Court to its 1883 condition when it was reborn as the Museum of the Revolution. Over eight months of work, restorers were able to restore the black cement floor, the Pompeian red wall paint, the names and laurel wreaths and decorative borders on the band, and Merson’s monumental painting.

The room is reopening on Friday after eight months of work, giving the public “a forgotten part of our history,” Catherine Pegard, president of the palace’s public administration, told AFP.

It is dominated by a monumental canvas, also restored, which was based on the famous unfinished work by Jacques-Louis David depicting the signing of the oath.





June 2022


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