Archive for the Art Category

Extensive view of Carton House, County Kildare, with Maynooth in the distance – Willem van der Hagen

Posted in Architecture, Art, History, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 8, 2021 by telescoper

I came across the above painting on the Maynooth local history Facebook page the other day and thought I’d share it here. It’s by a fairly obscure artist called Willem van der Hagen who was Dutch but who settled in Ireland around 1720. The painting (oil on canvas, 107.6 cm by 133.6 cm) dates from around 1730 and was sold at Christie’s in 2017 for £428,750. The painting was probably commissioned by Henry Ingoldsby who inherited Carton Demesne on the death of his father Sir Richard Ingoldsby in 1712.

The view is of Carton House, a location very close to where I live and which I blogged about here. The grounds of Carton House are very pleasant for taking recreational walks.

The bird’s-eye view in the painting shows Carton and its demesne before the house was extensively remodelled in the mid-18th Century, although the layout is still recognizable in the modern house:

Th refurbishment of the house was undertaken by architect Richard Castle for the 19th Earl of Kildare between 1739 and 1745. The view in the painting dates from before this change and shows Carton at the centre of an elaborate formal garden. In the foreground, on the southern side of the house, avenues of lime trees radiate outward into the countryside from the enclosed entrance courtyard; on the northern side of the house can be seen a stepped series of walled gardens and terraced walks.

The gardens and demesne were also transformed when the house was rebuilt to reflect mid eighteenth-century taste. More recently the grounds have been turned into golf courses, one to the front and one to the rear as the house itself is now a golfing resort hotel so nothing remains of these extensive gardens.

In the distance to the far left you can see the ruins of the keep of the ancient FitzGerald castle in Maynooth, but St Patrick’s College was not built until the end of the 18th Century and much of the present-day town centre dates from the 19th Century so in those days Maynooth was a small place. The area between the castle and the walls surrounding Carton House demesne is now largely built-up although there is a pleasant tree-lined avenue leading from Maynooth towards the House as far as the Dunboyne Road.

In the right foreground you can see the Prospect Tower built by the Earl of Tyrconnell, which still stands. I always assumed this was some sort of folly but it was apparently intended as a mausoleum for one of the previous owners of the house.

Birthday Treats

Posted in Art, Biographical, Covid-19 on June 5, 2021 by telescoper

As planned I took some time out yesterday, hopped on a train for the first time in 15 months and went into Dublin. I was shocked by some of the scenes I saw when I reached my destination: large crowds with no masks and no social distancing and all kinds of rowdy behaviour. Here’s an example:

I was at the National Gallery of course. I wandered around for a couple of hours and then returned to Maynooth. The gallery is still free for visitors but these days you have to register online beforehand so they can control numbers. I have been there before but didn’t realize until yesterday that there’s an entrance on Clare Street, which is even closer to Pearse Station than the main entrance of Merrion Square, so I’ll be using that from now on. There’s a lot to see in the National Gallery and I hope to spend more time there in future.

After getting home I had Zoom drinks with some old friends from Cardiff, which was very pleasant indeed, and then cooked myself a self-indulgent dinner which I ate with a nice Barolo.

Earlier in the day, I was able to publish another paper in the Open Journal of Astrophysics (of which more anon).

Then, as a lovely present, I received a text telling me of the appointment for my second Pfizer/BioNTech Jab: Tuesday 8th June, exactly 4 weeks after the first. People (and the leaflets I was given on the occasion of Jab Number 1) say that the second dose is more likely to produce side effects than the first but I’m glad that in a few days I’ll be fully vaccinated and can start thinking about the possibility of travelling at some point this summer, regulations permitting.

Anyway, the relaxation isn’t over yet. This is a Bank Holiday Weekend in Ireland so I’ll be doing as little as possible until I return to work on Tuesday for Examination Matters, etc.

P.S. My birthday fundraiser has almost reached its target but is still going so if you feel like contributing you can still do so here.

P.P.S. There were some rowdy scenes in Dublin yesterday evening but not where I was (and I was home before they started).

Analysis of Diverse Perversities

Posted in Art with tags , , on May 14, 2021 by telescoper

by Paul Klee (1879-1940), painted in 1922, 24cm x 31cm, pen and watercolour on paper.

The Moon and Blackrock Castle

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on April 14, 2021 by telescoper

Picture Credit: Cian O’Regan

This image of February’s Full Moon (the “Snow Moon”) by Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork is by Cian O’Regan. Prints of this and other beautiful images can be bought from his website here.

The Dead Christ

Posted in Art, Literature with tags , , , on April 3, 2021 by telescoper

The Dead Christ, 1521 (oil on limewood) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)

Twitter reminded me this evening of this extraordinary painting by Hans Holbein the Younger and I thought I’d share it here because I realize it was painted in 1521, which means it is 500 years old this year. Despite its age this work still has the power to shock, not least because it is so different from so many works of religious art of its period. The depiction of the dead Christ is 2m long, life-size (so to speak). His eyes and mouth are open, the clear signs of putrefaction appearing in the colouring of his face, hands and feet, the body marked by wounds, is brutal in its frankness and shocking in its authenticity.

But what is the message of this work? Was Holbein questioning the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection? Or was he emphasizing how miraculous it must have been? And where was a painting of this enormous size and peculiar shape supposed to be displayed? What purpose was it meant to serve? And what’s the reason for the extended middle finger?

I’m not the only one to have asked these questions. The author Fyodor Dostoevsky was famously moved by this work, so much so that in his novel The Idiot he has a character remark “Why, a man’s faith might be ruined by looking at that picture!”.

I don’t expect we’ll ever know what Holbein was trying to say, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Great art should make you think, but should not necessarily tell you what you should think…

Laocoön and his Sons

Posted in Art, Biographical, Poetry with tags , , , , on March 15, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday I was remind of the above very famous statue which is on display in the Vatican. It dates from antiquity but was unearthed almost intact during an excavation in Rome in the 16th Century. It’s an extraordinary work that depicts a legendary episode in the Trojan wars of priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents. Evidently it was very cold that day…

This scene is described in Book II of Virgil‘s Aeneid which happens to be the text I studied for Latin O-level back in the day. Virgil’s verse takes the form of a strict (dactylic) hexameter which provides a rhythmic pulse perfectly designed for action sequences such as this. Before this part, Laocoön (whose name has to be spoken as four syllables – Lah-o-co-ohn – in order to scan correctly) warns the Trojans about their gift of a wooden horse using the most famous phrase in the entire Aeneid:

Primus ibi ante omnis magna comitante caterva 40
Laocoon ardens summa decurrit ab arce,
et procul: ‘O miseri, quae tanta insania, cives?
Creditis avectos hostis? Aut ulla putatis
dona carere dolis Danaum? Sic notus Ulixes?
Aut hoc inclusi ligno occultantur Achivi, 45
aut haec in nostros fabricata est machina muros,
inspectura domos venturaque desuper urbi,
aut aliquis latet error; equo ne credite, Teucri.
Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis

Then, while about to sacrifice a bull to the god Neptune, he and his sons meet their grisly end:

Laocoon, ductus Neptuno sorte sacerdos,
sollemnis taurum ingentem mactabat ad aras.
ecce autem gemini a Tenedo tranquilla per alta
(horresco referens) immensis orbibus angues
incumbunt pelago pariterque ad litora tendunt;
pectora quorum inter fluctus arrecta iubaeque
sanguineae superant undas, pars cetera pontum
pone legit sinuatque immensa volumine terga.
fit sonitus spumante salo; iamque arva tenebant
ardentisque oculos suffecti sanguine et igni
sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora.
diffugimus visu exsangues. illi agmine certo
Laocoonta petunt; et primum parva duorum
corpora natorum serpens amplexus uterque
implicat et miseros morsu depascitur artus;
post ipsum auxilio subeuntem ac tela ferentem
corripiunt spirisque ligant ingentibus; et iam
bis medium amplexi, bis collo squamea circum
terga dati superant capite et cervicibus altis.
ille simul manibus tendit divellere nodos
perfusus sanie vittas atroque veneno,
clamores simul horrendos ad sidera tollit:
qualis mugitus, fugit cum saucius aram
taurus et incertam excussit cervice securim.

(You can find a translation into English here.)

The colour and energy of this verse, propelled by the remorseless rhythm, brings the horrific episode to life in truly compelling and typically gore-filled way. You don’t really have to be fluent in Latin to appreciate its quality. The line sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora is particularly brilliant. It’s no surprise that Virgil is regarded as such a literary superstar.

My Latin teacher at school pointed out that epic poetry like this would probably have been performed in the Roman era by an actor as a dramatic recitation, probably with a drum pounding out the rhythm and with various sound and lighting effects to boot.

Anyway, today is the Ides of March so I thought I’d keep up classical theme by posting this  priceless bit of British cultural history relevant to such a fateful day.

This is from the First Folio Edition of Carry On Cleo, and stars the sublime Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar delivering one of the funniest lines in the whole Carry On series. The joke may be nearly as old as me, but it’s still a cracker…



Birth of a Galaxy – Max Ernst

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 17, 2021 by telescoper

by Max Ernst (1891-1976), painted in 1969, 92 x 73 cm, oil on canvas.

The Hunger

Posted in Art, History, Television with tags , , on December 8, 2020 by telescoper

An iconic image of the Great Irish Famine: pen & ink drawing of Bridget O’Donnel and two of her children by (it is believed) James Mahony, published in the London Illustrated News on 22nd December 1849.

The last couple of Monday nights have seen the airing of a two-part documentary series called The Hunger on RTÉ. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever; the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels.

The series, based on a serious scholarly book called Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, and narrated by Liam Neeson, was unflinching and sometimes harrowing to watch, the dreadful personal accounts of suffering juxtaposed with equally shocking graphics showing the scale of the depopulation of rural Ireland. I haven’t read the book on which the The Hunger is based, but have ordered it from the local bookshop.

‘No imagination can conceive — no tongue express— no brush paint— the horrors of the scenes which are daily exhibited in Ireland’, observed Senator Henry Clay in 1847 at the height of the Great Hunger.

I think it would be great if The Hunger were shown on British television, though I suspect few would watch it. The British prefer their own propaganda to the truth about the empire. Oscar Wilde once remarked “The problem is the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it”. I don’t think the Great Famine will be forgotten soon, but I for one don’t see that as a problem.

Et in Arcadia…

Posted in Art with tags , on November 28, 2020 by telescoper

“It says ‘Top Shop’…”

I doubt if anyone will get the joke without a hint.

Astronomy Photograph of the Year 2020

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on September 24, 2020 by telescoper

Very busy today so I only have time to share a this stunning picture, the overall winner of the 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year, Andromeda Galaxy at Arm’s Length? by Nicolas Lefaudeux (France).


Photo credit: Nicolas Lefaudeux/2020 astronomy photographer of the year