Category Archives: History

The Mystery of William Turner’s Dinefwr Castle

As I’m reading through Art History books of my English-language library, I’ve immersed myself into a book on Turner’s trails in North and South Wales. I bought it on my visit to Valle Crucis Abbey in Denbighshire in 2009.

My visit to Dinefwr

I visited Dinefwr Castle two years earlier, in the summer of 2007. I was accompanying my husband to Carmarthen, and on a free day we decided to travel to see one of the castles. Dinefwr in Llandeilo turned out to be the closest, we didn’t have to change buses, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote about the trip in my Carmarthen Cameos and even received a long comment from a once citizen of Llandeilo, in whom my post awakened lovely childhood memories.

William Turner, Llandeilo Bridge and Dinevor Castle (1796, National Museum of Wales)

Turner’s Dinefwr Castle

Dinefwr Castle, in its turn, inspired Turner: he visited it in 1795, and in 1796 he exhibited the watercolour painting, Llandeilo Bridge and Dinevor Castle. It can now be seen at the National Museum of Wales. Just like in his other paintings, he juxtaposes different viewpoints, making both castle and hill more magnificent and closer to the viewer than they really are. The bridge, as we can see, used to be insecure: in the watercolour Turner depicts it being supported by an uprooted tree. Following his intention to combine the past with the present, Turner concentrates entirely on the foreground, which is ridden in misery, whilst the silhouette of the glorious past glows in the light of the setting sun. The eye of the viewer may travel from top to bottom or the other way round, but in any case, one is moved to consider the fate of Wales and its people.

And this is the extract from the aforementioned Cadw book that sheds light on the variety of techniques an artist could use to enhance the desired effect:

Whilst this picture was undergoing conservation in 1993 an unexpected discovery was made that shed new light on Turner’s experimentation with watercolour technique at this time. Bonded onto the back of the paper was another sheet painted with the same scene, though in a different technique and seemingly unfinished. At first this was thought to be a preparatory sketch that Turner had abandoned, but further investigation revealed that it was almost certainly a deliberate attempt to imitate in watercolour an effect that he had found possible with oil by superimposing layers of pigment. Here he seems to have tried to exploit the translucency of the watercolour paper and enrich the level of reflected light from the surface of the finished picture by placing additional painted work underneath the paper (from: On the Trail of Turner in North and South Wales, p. 30. Cardiff, 2008 (3rd ed.)

More secrets?

To summarise, Turner made another painting of the similar scene on the back on the final picture in order to enhance the light and expressivity of the watercolour. Given his secrecy about his working methods, I’m very intrigued to find out what other methods and techniques he deployed to obtain a previously unknown artistic effect.

How We’re Going Through the Pandemics

I’ve been working from home this week. It’s slightly challenging for going through, delightfully novel and surprisingly wholesome. I start work in the morning and finish any time between 4.30pm and 8pm. And I still have time for other things.

I’m a bit concerned about the attitude of some new “divines” to coronavirus. They preach this is a great, albeit scary, way to “clear the planet”. Look, they say, dolphins are coming back to Venice, isn’t this amazing?! Sure, some people die, and still more will if they are too resistant to change. Be flexible, be liquid, learn to work online, and chances are, you’ll get through alright.

The reason these preachings perplex me slightly is because there is strong evidence of a new kind of biological weapon being tested. And as much as I’m glad for both Venice and dolphins, I feel anxious as to what the future holds.

However, I agree with the sages: we need to be flexible. In the time of great changes it’s futile to try and maintain status quo, ancien régime, the way we were, you name it. I’ve just had a thought that this pandemic may hammer the nail in the EU’s coffin, perhaps penultimate yet. One of my students is going through his personal upheaval, and he’s managing it poorly, so I reason with him thus: everything that is yours will remain yours. Sadly, at time like this it is only us that remain ours; the rest may go.

I’ve been through these crises a few times already, and I’m grateful for the skills that will undoubtedly see me through. I’m grateful for my faith, my work, my talent. These are the things that will always remain mine.

I’ve just been through the posts I wrote in 2008 and 2009, and it’s wonderful to see how the above mentioned skills helped me then. Feel free to read my blog and find all the inspiration and support you need. And I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening in Russia (particularly Moscow) and how things are going for me this time.

Take care and #staysafeathomeinrussia

Megxit, or Coat-hangers and Coat-bearers

Being a trained specialist in English history, I cannot avoid commenting on the recent scandal in the British Royal Family, poignantly called Megxit by the media. Harry and Meghan walked out on the British royal family. I didn’t want to engage in the hysteria of Harry’s exiting the family when the news had just broken out. I now feel I can share my view of the situation.

Personally, I don’t sympathise with either Harry or Meghan. Even Kate Middleton didn’t instantly become the nation’s favourite, and she’d been in the public eye for much longer before her marriage than Meghan. Never mind the latter’s cinema career, I suppose few people had heard of her before she got engaged to Prince Harry. So, I cannot see why the public wouldn’t judge Meghan where it had previously judged Kate. The British mouth can blurt out some scathing criticism. This had to be foreseen, obviously, and not just by the PR services but by Harry and Meghan themselves.

So, I feel for Meghan for any misery she endured at the royal court but it was in the cards anyway. The monarchy has to maintain its public image, and it costs a lot – financially, as emotionally. If she thought that the BRF is no Hollywood and she could be herself here, it was a very silly thought indeed. I’ve never been to either place but it seems no Hollywood may be as restricting and false (to someone’s liking anyway), as a royal family of any country.

Coat-hangers and coat-bearers of the British monarchy (Image courtery: Telegraph.co.uk)

To portray Harry as a poor guy torn between the beloved Granny, the native country and the wife-and-child is also to do him no justice. He’s not a teen nor even a young adult. He’s the sixth in line to the throne, and even if he was unlikely to get there ever in his life it doesn’t change the main thing: he represents the British monarchy. I cannot imagine what it was that eventually prompted him to break the news on Instagram of all places, but it is clear that this was a thoughtful decision, not a fly of fancy. Of course, he’s got a historical precedent in the face of Edward VIII. However, there isn’t as much pressure on Prince Harry, for he simply decided to get rid of royal responsibilities that demanded the presence of his wife. It is in no way critical as King Edward’s abdication in the wake of the Second World war.

Following the Megxit has led me to this observation. When it comes to joining a high-profile family, women apparently fall into 2 categories: coat-hangers and coat-bearers. Coat-hangers dream of nice clothes, family jewellery, publicity and other perks of an aristocratic dolce vita. So duties and not-always-nice-comments come as a surprise. Coat-bearers are more grounded. Being women, they certainly dream of the above, but they realise that to be a wife to a president, a king, a prince etc. means to carry the coat-of-arms of his country and his family.

Speaking of royal couples, the Spanish Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia have long been my favourite Royal family, for they both had successful public careers before getting married and ascending the throne. Princess Letizia reported from war zones and was an established professional in her own right. The image of a “normal” family that Prince William and his wife have adopted has made them popular but I cannot see them projecting the country to any new heights. They were so “normal” that they left practically no mark on this world prior to their marriage. Perhaps, the forward movement is no longer important after Brexit.

Having said that, Kate Middleton is certainly a coat-bearer. And there’s a good reason why she also is. She’s British. Whether she’s always dreamt of joining the Royal family or it happened by chance, she’s aware that she represents the country – hers, as her husband’s. You may remind me of members of other European royalty and aristocracy whose wives or husbands are foreigners (the Netherlands and Monaco come to my mind). What we still see is that a spouse becomes a full member of the royal household, complete with all duties this entails.

In case with Meghan Markle, she comes from the country that abandoned monarchy from the very beginning of its political life. America has been the country of the people – at least, nominally. When you elect and re-elect presidents, it’s hard to force yourself to be a part of the family where you will have to work like a queen but never get the chance to sit on the throne. British Royal family is very undemocratic and has evidently made some impossible demands on the good, young American.

So, Meghan is a coat-bearer, too – but of her own country and interests. It’s hard to say whether her attempt at bearing the arms of Britain and the Windsor family was good enough or it was doomed from the start. Yet even  her appearances as a coat-hanger didn’t always impress the media. Her being a brunette meant constant comparisons to Kate. Since William is more likely to get the throne than Harry, it’s more important for the media to keep Kate in the spotlight, than to let Meghan have her share thereof.

The result is that Prince Harry chose to altogether abandon the Royal family instead of withdrawing from the public eye for some time and helping Meghan to come to terms with her duties and a new lifestyle. Perhaps, Meghan decided that being married to a Prince is quite enough for her. And Prince Harry whose past behaviour occasionally outraged the public apparently thought that he could finally live his life on his own terms. Whatever the reports say, he’s always been the younger brother: always second, always in the shadow. Now he’s got the spotlight, and it remains to be seen what use Harry and Meghan will make of it.

Julia Shuvalova

Image is courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Belated Snowfall

A late January snowfall in Moscow

There’s a chance that Moscow people will enjoy some proper winter weather soon. The first sign is the snow which is well overdue but is nonetheless welcome. I may try to be funny and say that Britain with the Brexit has waved goodbye to Europe and various European organisations, like PAEC, by sending a heatwave that saw the warmest December and January in all Russian history. But no, things are getting back to normal here, while we’re yet to see what lies ahead for Great Britain.

The 75th Anniversary of the End of Leningrad’s Blockade (1944-2019)

January 27th, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of Leningrad’s Blockade (1944-2019).
It’s been a few years now that some folk in Russia are wondering as to why this date is still being marked. They have gone as far as to state that the Blockade was instigated by Stalin to kill as many civilians as possible, while in fact the Fascist troops were never going to destroy the city or its people. Never mind that there are German sources that prove the opposite intentions of Hitler and Co. As if the mere instance of such view was not enough, what I personally find disgustingly amazing is that this view is often expressed by the Jewish people. The very co-nationals of those who would be completely annihilated, had Herr Hitler had his way. 

Last year millions of Russian people, myself included, were outraged when one Russian teenager gave a speech at Berlin’s Reichstag. The speech was claimed to have been his own research into the hardships of a young German soldier who fought on the Fascist side and died of wounds during the Stalingrad Battle. The boy’s speech sounded apologetic of the soldier’s sad fate; he expressed compassion and a hope that such war would never happen again. Of course, for the sake of poor invaders who’d have to face the brutal Russians once more. 

This year some Germans have voiced their surprise: how much longer will they have to apologise to the Russians for the massacres of the Second World War? More precisely, what’s that thing about the heroes of Leningrad’s Blockade? They are not heroes, no way.

Indeed, given that most European countries gave in to Fascist regimes in weeks, if not days, after the invasion of each of them, it must be really hard to get a European head around the fact that it was possible to stay in a city for nearly four years, enduring hunger, cold and air raids, watching your friends and relatives die, and never wishing to leave it or to surrender. The more I follow these morone blurts of contemporary Europeans, the more I am inclined to believe that in 1939-45 in Continental Europe one could either collaborate, if he was a European, or die, if he was a Jew. A small proportion who weren’t prepared to do either joined various Resistance movements. They could still die, but at least their conscience was clear.

Ever since Hitler’s watercolours surfaced in early 2000s and art historians have taken a keen interest in them, I felt it wasn’t long before we’d hear that this great dictator who is duly loathed by every sane person was a really nice chap. A good fella who had the misfortune to lead Germany in that terrible war against the USSR under that tyrant, Stalin. 

And surprise! We only had to wait until the Ukrainian Maidan to hear it all: that Fascist demonstrations should be allowed in a progressive democratic society; that it was the USSR that invaded Germany and Ukraine (they don’t mention that Ukraine was the Soviet Republic at that time); and that the Russians should stop being so touchy about their casualties. Shortly before 2014 we had heard that Leningrad should have been given up instead of enduring the Blockade. For at least a decade there have been torrents of criticism of the annual Victory parades and, more recently, of the Immortal Regiment movement. And finally, last year “the voice of the progressive Russian youth”, Nikolay from Novy Urengoy, sympathized for the young German invader whose life so sadly ended somewhere in Stalingrad.

Add the fact that a European school curriculum is either ambiguous or altogether taciturn about the role of Russia (formerly the USSR) in the Second World War, and it is clear that the anti-Soviet propaganda has been working to mask, downplay and perverse the Soviet effort and victory practically since May 9th, 1945. And now it has come to Germany asking, how much longer it has to remember its atrocities against the Russian people in that war.

Can you imagine Germany asking how much longer it will have to hold various Holocaust Memorial Days? Can you imagine anyone asking when the Holocaust as a theme will stop being a sure guarantee for either an Oscar or a Nobel Prize in Literature? Just a reminder of that Austrian professor who’s had the misfortune to deny the Holocaust and was persecuted for it, and it’s clear what the answer to the above questions is. Never. Never will the Holocaust cease to be the scare and an opportunity for fame in either Europe or America. I’m looking at it from the point of various propagandist efforts, I’m not denying anyone’s personal sentiments.

Just for the record: according to what we know from existing documents, Hitler didn’t really distinguish between Russians and Jews. For him and his financiers both peoples were to be disposed of. Apart from the affluent few, Russians and Jews were too populous, too poor, and too grounded – historically. One could tell tales about the superior Aryan race to the fellow Europeans, but not Russians or Jews. Besides, despite the differences, both nations would never subscribe to the Protestant ethics, as professed by the Fascists. And therefore they both had to be driven to extinction. 
Nowadays Europe wants to remember only about the Jewish genocide. Perhaps, it’s easier (in various sense) to contemplate the murder of some 6 mln people. Even if we include non-Jews and the figure rises to 17 mln, it is still easier to stomach, given that in both cases the number is spread across much of Europe. It’s different when you are left to swallow the unbelievable 28 mln dying in Russia alone. It’s different when, instead of an orderly sequence of “arrest-detention-transportation to a camp-death in a gas chamber”, you are faced with war-time footage of the Nazis shooting Russian toddlers, hanging the women soldiers, and destroying the entire villages and cities. The uncivilized Russians defended their country and caused the Fascists to kill 28 million of people (the search for the unknown victims of war continues, and the figure is now approaching 30 mln).

So, yes, it’s easier to remember the Holocaust; it’s “only” 6 mln, and it was so “civilized”.

I’ve been monitoring these morons both in Europe and Russia for years, and whenever it was appropriate I have never shun from expressing my opinion. So, while I don’t deny the Holocaust (which has been marked separately in the last few years in Russia), my sense of patriotism and historical fairness proposes the following suggestion on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of Leningrad’s Blockade:

— Europe and America stop apologizing for and otherwise remembering the Holocaust, and we stop reminding the world about 30 million dead Soviet citizens (Jews included) and of who really won the Second World War.

In the unlikely event of the Holocaust Memorial Days being erased from European and American calendars in the upcoming years, our Victory Day on May 9th will, too, become just another day when we remember the heroes of our history, rich in defensive wars. Cue in Borodino Battle, the Battle in Kulikovo Field, or the Battle on the Ice. 
You should realise, of course, that the above suggestion is proposed with a great deal of bitter irony. The way history is going, however, the Victory Day we celebrate now may be changed by another of its kind one day too soon. As much as most of us don’t want it, it can only happen in the event when that unbelievable quid pro quo comes to life. For, the moment we stop being sorry about either 6 mln, or 30 mln, the new catastrophe will explode.

The Revolutionary Smolny Telephone

In Russia, when you cannot get through a certain number, you say that the number is engaged ‘like at the Smolny’. The Smolny Palace was built by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1806-08 to house the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, Russia’s first institution for women’s education. However, in 1917 the Smolny Institute was moved out of Petersburg, and between October 1917 and March 1918 the building served as the headquarters for the Bolshevik Government. Vladimir Lenin resided here, and several revolutionary decrees got passed here in November 1917, including the Decree on Peace and Decree on Land. Naturally, the phone line must have been engaged most of the time, due to a high activity of the Bolshevik government, and so the abovementioned expression originated.

The Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow’s Tverskaya St. has tweeted a picture of the phone that was used by the Military Revolutionary Committee in Vassilevsky Island to keep in touch with the Bolshevik headquarters at the Smolny.

 

Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland Goes Online – British Library

alice-in-wonderland-manuscript-goes-online

The manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has gone online. It is now the part of Turning the Pages project by the British Library and thus has joined the following masterpieces: Leonardo’s Notebooks, The Lindisfarne Gospels, The Curious Herbal, and many more. To check the contents of this digital library, go to its Menu.

 

Church of St. Nicholas in Pushkino near Moscow (1692-94)

saint-nicholas-church-pushkino

The church of St. Nicholas is the oldest building in Pushkino (Moscow Region). Its construction was blessed by the Patriarch Adrian and started in 1692. Apparently, Pushkino had already existed in the XIVth c. and for a long time belonged to the Church. St. Nicholas’s ensemble consists of two chapels, a bell-tower and a five-dome church. I made the photo from the car, so you can see the bell-tower and all five domes. The church had been rebuilt and restored many times throughout its history; however, uzorochie window frames and the 1912 art nouveau flooring have survived intact. The Classicist bell-tower erected in XIX century culminates in the Yaroslavl-type tent. The graveyard preserves several old burial monuments, including those of the Armand and Kamzolkins families.

 

The 1980 Olympic Games Memorabilia

As we know, the first time Russia got to host the Olympic Games was in 1980. Turns out, at home we’ve got quite a collection of the Olympic memorabilia, which I’ve now collated into a PDF document. What awaits you inside are postcards, tourist materials (phrasebooks etc.), advertising materials of the Soviet Railways, perpetual calendars until the year 2000, mascots and badges. Regarding mascots, apart from the famous Mishka there was also a Seal that represented Tallinn, Estonia where the sailing competitions were held. There is also a sleeve for a Russian adaptation of Pablo Neruda’s Xoaquin Murieta’s at the Lencom Theatre. My parents went to see it in early 1980, and bought a vynil disk that had already been adorned with the Olympic symbol. Browse the PDF, ask questions, and I’ll find you the answers.

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The Olympics 2014: Thoughts and Hopes

I was born in the year when Russia (then the USSR) hosted its first ever Olympic Games. And I know about the scandal that surrounded the Games. I successfully celebrated the opening in front of the telly, dancing in my mum’s tummy to the tune of Kalinka. The Olympics are not the reason why I came to like the winter sports, but I’ll have another post for that.

Tomorrow, February 7th, the Games open again, this time in Sochi. Lots of scandals are brewing this time. The instances of corruption at the construction stage, incorrect translations, “uncovered” loos with two water closets behind one door, not to mention the infamous “anti-gay law”. And a revolutionary Maidan in the Ukraine. Although Russia has announced the Olympic truce, the example of the Beijing Olympics when an armed conflict between Russia and Georgia had burst out proves that, when some forces are hell bent on having their way, the age-long tradition is no excuse to postpone the plan. I hope this is not the case this time.

I have changed jobs in autumn last year, and I can honestly say that one of the reasons for looking to move was a continuous disdain of the Olympic effort in the company and the support given to the voices who wanted to sabotage the Olympic Games. I certainly have my own criticism of the regime, and the Russian Orthodox Church, and God knows what else in Russia, but you won’t see me trying to bring down an amazing international event organised and presented by my country.

The reason is simple: what sportsmen do throughout their career is so much more important and inspiring than the work of many a contemporary politician. We tend to discuss and decry the payments of sportsmen, but in the world where a politician easily appears in a nude photoshoot and becomes a member of the Parliament for rather obscure reasons it’s great to see someone working on themselves, competing, winning, losing, and still keeping their determination to win. It’s an amazing victory over one’s weaknesses, an ability to make your strengths serve you right, while adhering to and displaying the best human qualities and values. The Olympics have changed considerably over the decades, today it’s an advertising opportunity for the country, so the money ethos is omnipresent to a bigger or lesser extent wherever the Games are held. It’s strange that you do need to be paid zillions to showcase your best qualities and to inspire others, but considering that those values are priceless, perhaps it makes sense to pay a little extra to see them applied in real life.

However, these people have dedicated their lives to sport, training, and competition. It is unreasonably selfish to want to deny them the chance to add more medals and tropheys to their collection, to strengthen their reputation, and to continue their work in the chosen field. So, for the next three weeks all I care about is the performance of the athletes, and not about money. And, of course, I sincerely hope Yevgeny Pluschenko wins his Olympic Gold.

Anyway, I’m happy and proud Russia is the host of the Olympic Games in 2014, and I strongly believe we will be able to deliver a great performance as a national team and to ensure that other sportsmen also perform to their best level. The rest can eat snow 😉

The book I’m sharing may be of more interest to my Russian-speaking readers who will be able to understand the text. I hope, though, everyone of you likes illustrations by S. Ostrov to the story by Ye. Ozeretskaya about an Ancient Greek boy who once visited the Olympic Games.

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