Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Why we need to keep printing the Acts of Parliament on Vellum


Vellum making a 2000 year process
What do paper, tape cassettes, CD ROMs, photographic paper, 35mm slides, hard drives, USB sticks all have in common as storage media? Answer : they will all fail as permanent storage media over time, for one reason or another. There is one media that will out last them all - vellum.

Vellum’s what the Magna Carta was written on in 1215 and it’s what the laws of England are written on today, 2115, 900 years later. In fact all the laws of the UK - Acts of Parliament - since 1497 have been printed on vellum.

Vellum has been a medium of record since Bronze age.

There is a move a foot in the House of Commons to save money in Parliament by moving to printing on high quality “archival paper” in order to save £27,000 - the difference between the cost of printing on  paper and printing and vellum. We need to protest now against this short sighted move.

Unrolling the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll printed on vellum
with images just as bright today as they were in 1511
Section from the 60foot 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll - drawn on vellum
Vellum printed documents are for the ages. I speak as one who has had the pleasure of handling at first hand the 700 year old Domesday Abbreviato, it survived only because it was written  on vellum, further I was allowed to handle it as vellum documents benefit from the natural oils in human hands (unlike paper!).

Vellum is the natural media for documents to last the ages. Vellum can last 2,000 years plus while “archival paper” is only 250 years without an expensive air conditioned environment to ensure. So we should fight to keep vellum.

Vellum's been on TV and Radio indecent weeks -  listen into Jeremy Vine where Paul Wright from Crowley the last remaining vellum manufacturer will be talking, Paul has already made the case for vellum on BBC2's Newsnight.

We need to  Paul and Crowley’s to continue to have our Acts of Parliament printed on Vellum.

Write to you MP and talk part in the petition to have the MPs reconsider.

On line Petition to save vellum
To finish -  Why do we use vellum for some documents?  (Thanks to Paul Wright ) We use vellum for the same reasons  we use Bronze, Silver and Gold medals in the Olympics - we consider these things to be important , worthy of note so we use the finest materials available.

Sign the petition, write to your MP let’s keep the Acts of Parliament on vellum for future generations!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Black Tudors' Trail at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, Epping Forest

Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge (1589)
Visiting the Black Tudors’ trail  at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Epping (Thu 1 Oct - Sun 1 Nov 2015) Forest was a fun day out with my friend and colleague Dr Miranda Kaufmann.

The fun started at the door where  we were greeted by a very welcoming & cheerful volunteer who invited us  to don Tudor caps to get into the spirit - which did and did!


The Black Tudors' trail consisted of cheerful, bright caricature cartoons by Joe Lillington accompanied by text by Sophie Lillington. To her great pleasure Miranda identified text coming from her web site - Miranda's book Black Tudors is due out next year. There were also quotes from  Onykea’s work on the subject - Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England Their Presence Status and Origins, which I have reviewed in this blog.


The brightness and cheerfulness of  the Black Tudor images by Joe contrasted sharply with the only human figure portrayed in the house that of the figure of a servant in front of the fire. His role wasn’t clear - maybe his job was to keep the fire - but his filthy, ragged appearance and his dirty, grey cloths for footwear indicated he was not as happy as Joe’s smiling Black Tudors.

Peter Blackmore - Black Tudors' Trail Image
The only evidence we have for the actual existence of any Black Tudors are fleeting references found in official records of the day. For example Peter Blackmore that record is a 1522 military survey in the parish of St Petrock in Exeter, where he is listed as an ‘alien ….a moren born…..billman able for war  …who is worth nil in goods’ This brief, sketchy bio is expanded thru informed fabrication & conjecture based on the lives his contemporaries of whom more is known by  the exhibition’s researcher and illustrator to create Peter Blackmore’s image.

View from top floor
The building itself was well worth the visit for its spectacular views of Epping Forest. One could easily imagine the Queen and her entourage enjoying viewing  the hunt from the high vantage of the Lodge gives with its panoramic views of the forest below.

Dressing up 
On the first floor there was the opportunity to dress up in Tudor clothes. An excellent idea, as along with caps really put one in the mood as well as being a lot of fun.

Sadly, this fun day out for Black History Month 2015 is not as well known as it should be as Miranda and I only found out by accident, perhaps more could have been done on the web and through social media. Also there was no Black Tudor related merchandise on sale in the gift shop to support the event, sales opportunities missed perhaps.

Having said that in the space allocated a very reasonable introduction to the Black Tudors the exhibition was fun and its setting is very original. I shall certainly take Sophie up on her request for contributions to next year’s Black Tudors’ Trail.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The St Maurices at Magdeberg Cathederal


Finally made it to see the original St Maurice in Magdeburg Cathedral.

The post I  wrote was far too long so I've given the visit a page all of its own here on the BlackMagusBlog - The St Maurices at Magdeberg Cathederal


Monday, 27 July 2015

John Blanke, Henry VIII’s Black Trumpeter, Petitions for a Back Dated Pay Increase

John Blanke Detail from 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll
My post on Voices of the People on line symposium posts that look to recover the voices of people across a range of geographical and historical contexts  principally about early modern England:

John Blanke, Henry VIII’s Black Trumpeter, Petitions for a Back Dated Pay Increase


Saturday, 30 May 2015

God's Bottom on view in The Sistine Chapel ?

God creating the plants of the Earth
(Detail from UNRESTORED Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
Let me state up front I believe the Sistine Chapel to be THE greatest work of Western European art of all time - period. It is the ultimate fusion of painting, sculpture and architecture – a jaw dropping monumental magnificence,  an absolute joy, a delight to behold.

I’ve studied The Sistine Chapel for some time and found black presences on its walls  and in its tapestries but not in its ceiling or in its Last Judgment – until now.

However before I describe the possible new black presence let me share with you some something that has troubled me since I first started studying the Sistine Chapel – the presence of God’s bottom -  God disappearing  into the distance with his bottom in full view. As he creates the plants and trees:  bringing forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind Genesis 1:11.

There is no mention of that bottom in any of the Chapel’s literature I’ve read , the image is variously and tactfully described for example :
The figure of God that is seen from behind as He descends to create the plants of earth is …… disturbing  and mysterious. His hand , held out in a gesture of creation is drawn with a foreshortening as extraordinary as it is simple. [1]
The only other bottom that I know to be so prominent is any one the many to to be found in the works of the Baroque painter Fran├žois Boucher - for example his 1745 L'Odalisque.

Francois Boucher L'Odalisque 1745
The absence of discussion on God’s bottom is in complete contrast to the Last Judgement’s genitalia debate on the number of  penises on display. Discretion won that debate, as it concluded as soon as Michelangelo died in 1564 with most of the bottoms and genitalia in The Last Judgement being discreetly draped.

Methinks there are double standards at work here!

Pope Julius II's Master of Ceremonies Biagio de Casena
(Detail from The Last Judgement)
In the Last Judgment Michelangelo immortalizes the Vatican's Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena who condemned The Last Judgment’s nudity. Michelangelo, angered at Cesena's criticisms, used his face for Minos, the god of the underworld, painting him with donkey ears and a snake with its body wrapped around  Cesean’s body biting his penis!

Michelangelo Self Portrait
(Detail for Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
Also the Sistine ceiling is packed full of what called Michelangelo his  ignudi aka the Classical nude male figure, including a young naked Michelangelo self portrait, his rumoured  homosexuality is well documented. Hence why I raise the question of possible double standards.

Detail from The Family of Darius before Alexander 1565-7,  Paolo Veronese
I had considered The Sistine Chapel’s God’s bottom to be a result of ageing, where the over painting  on a background image fades away with time from the corrosive effects of atmosphere, exposing the under lying background image. You can see this in the classical columns at the rear of Paolo Veronese’s 1565-7 The Family of Darius before Alexander ,which originally had a horse in front of the column, the  painting of the horse has faded over time allowing the background column to show through.

Similarly, God's bottom appearance might have been a result of the way Michelangelo was trained to paint. During the period one writer on how to paint described creating well proportioned figures in a pictorial space as follows - we first have to draw the naked body beneath  [the clothed figure], then cover it with clothes ..

Michelangelo Study for the drapery of the Erythraen Sybil

Above is a study by Michelangelo in which he clothes a naked  seated figure. So the underlying naked body might be revealed as the over painted clothes faded with time.

Even the restored image has that bottom clearly on display for all to see. Thus God’s bottom is not the result of fading, it is exactly as Michelangelo painted it.

God Creating the plants of the Earth
 (Detail from RESTORED Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
So Michelangelo has left us looking up God’s robe with his bottom in full view as he floats above us creating the plants of the earth, but please don't mention that bottom!

[1] Chastel, A, Okamura, T , The Vatican Frescoes of Michelangelo, Abbeville Press












Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Catalina - A Play at Colchester Arts Centre 31st March 2015


I was invited to take part in a post-show discussion about the history behind Catalina by Untold Theatre group which tells the story of the Moorish, black servant of the first wife of Henry VIII  Katherine of Aragon.

This was a very sparse production in Colchester Art Centre’s small intimate space, that intimacy was reflected in the small company of actors, each actor playing at least two roles. Just as the actors moved effortlessly from one character to another so the stage's setting  moved from one space to another  thru lighting changes,  moving a few props around created marital bed chambers, a church and a tavern, all done convincingly, to great effect.

The device used to explain and develop  Catlaina’s life story was witty, effective and totally believable. The  story was told with humour and dignity thru some very effective acting. I was particularly impressed how they handled  Leon Stewart a black actor playing at one stage the role of a white character, for those in the audience who were not so sure, Zainab Hassan's character Catalina asks for the house lights to be brought up and she speaks directly to the audience.

She addresses those who are concerned about the black actor playing a white character that they should take a picture of the black actor with their mobile phones. Zainab then encouraged them to find an app to convert Leon’s face to white, so if they had any concerns about a black actor playing a white character they could look at their phone rather than the stage. Zainab then returned to Catalina; a novel twist on colour blind acting.

The sex scenes were equally inventive with mostly everything left to the imagination, in doing so creating some of the most highly believable and memorable scenes of the entire evening.

The story upon which the play was based unfolded at good pace thru out the evening, I was waiting for the appearance of the other known Black in Henry’s court ‘John Blanke, the blacke Trumpet’. John was a contemporary of Catalina so it would have been natural for them to have met at some point, as you can see for their mentions in the records, wee know from at least 1507 to 1511 they were present in Henry’s and Katherine’s courts. We have a picture of John, in fact he is the first Black to be portrayed in British painting,  from the College of Arms 1511 Westminster Tournament roll, while sadly we have no pictorial record of Catalina so can only speculate ( maybe like Velasquez's KitchenMaid or an Anonymous painting of a Mulatto women from Mexico dated 1711) on how she might have looked.
The panel session was brief but lively, discussing amongst other things the play’s setting,  how the device to tell the story was managed, accents and was my opportunity to mention John Blanke as a possibility a future version of Catalina.



However don’t let John’s absence take anything away from the play and its production. Untold Theatre group have created a fun, innovative and informative production shedding light on a character – Catlina – who we know tantalizingly little about yet might have played a part in acts that fundamentally changed the history of England forever. 

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Image of the Black In Western Art 10 Volumes - Complete

I took delivery of the last four volumes of the Image of the Black in Western Art (IBWA) almost four years to the day from taking delivery its first four volumes, I now have all ten volumes.


I purchased those first four volumes of the IBWA at its UK launch back in March 2011at the British Museum, I was so pleased with the whole experience I wrote about it. True to their word the publishers kept that special launch price offer for me for all the subsequent volumes making the purchase slightly easier.


They are simply magnificent to look at, stunning layouts and high quality paper and their physical size (and weight 17,580 kgms aka 2.7 stone) give them a presence and monumentality of their own. They now have pride of place on my bookshelf.


It has been a joy to open each volume as they come sealed in plastic to protect them and I in turn cover the covers in plastic to protect them. Turning each page to reveal so many extraordinarily beautiful paintings and drawings all with a Black presence; some up front and center, others reserved and marginal, many controversial and shocking.

So many eye catching pictures – many stand out - here are ones that have touched me so far:

An extraordinary self portrait sketch by Goya.

Vol IV Part 2 pg 248
A dramatic German expressionist wood cut of the three Magi

Vol IV Part 2 pg 241
A monumental photograph of a Senegalese street seller entitled The Merchant of Venice

Vol V Part 2 pg 214
I have to  mention that the volumes' images of Blacks are not complete, there are some - to my mind - glaring omission. I don’t believe the editors claimed to include every image of the Black in Western Art so I have no real criticism of any absences – the selections are inevitably subjective.  However it is a pity that three important early English images - which I have written about elsewhere on this blog - did not make it into those IBWA volumes covering the Medieval and the Renaissance periods.

The Black presence in the Doomsday Abbreviato


The Black Magus in Great Malvern Priory


The Black Magus from the V&A Panel


I feel churlish bringing these omissions to light nevertheless perhaps they can be included in the next edition of IBWA! Their absence takes absolutely nothing away from the brilliance of these volumes. The IBWA will continue to be my starting point - my reference - when considering any image including a  Black presence. I cannot recommend IBWA highly enough.

BTW the books are on offer at the IBWA web site 20% for single volume 40% for all ten -  expensive and priceless -Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic online




Monday, 23 February 2015

Presented at Tate Britain's Symposium The Black Subject


What an excellent day I had at Tate's Symposium The Black Subject. I presented an interpretation of the black presence in 1241 Doomsday Abbreviato with great, professional support from the team at Tate Britain. You can see my presentation here – be patient it's 50M but the wait's worth it as the pictures of the illuminated capitals are stunning - and read the basis of my presentation here.

It was a full-on day with much networking , learning new things, making new, meeting old friends and listening to arty talk, all  thoroughly enjoyable. I’ll try to sum up it with apologies to James Joyce.

I was in the opening session On Presence and Absence chaired by Prof Sukhdev Sandu  who introduced me to two new words to describe my self an  Autodidact and a ParaAcademic no less always good to hear S I Martin talk about Blacks in eighteenth century London must go on one of his walks I should have included a piece from the Tate collection a Medieval or Renaissance work with a character dressed in  variegated or stripped hose or dress note to self to find those works  Kimathi Donkor gave for me one of the two most engaging talks of the day on his Andromeda Africana I was shocked to learn that Andromeda was the daughter of an Ethiopian King not the white Greek Goddess I have been led to believe all these years  Prof Bindman reminded me that The Image of the Black In Western Art Project is now complete all 10 volumes so I need to buy the remaining 4 volumes which I do not have great to catch up with and share ideas with Madge Dresser  must listen to her on BBC Radio 4's Great Lives talking/debating about Ida B. Wells the African American civil rights and women's rights activist also must contact Maxine had an excellent selection of books of interest to WHBBH audience set out by Tate Library must obtain the list for WHBBH web site Kelly Ann Foster  told me about her Blue Badge walk on 12th March at BCA which I must book  a really pleasant surprise to meet Julius a fellow ClydeSider from the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last summer as I had only just been looking at his picture that day wondering where he was  great catching up with David Olusoga finding out what he is working on and discussing common interests  brief chat with Mekada and note to catch up after the Symposium to discuss and learn from her experiences of developing black culture capital for my WHBBH activity  surprised and saddened to learn that no London Gallery would take Jan Marsh exhibition The Black Victorians will have to find time to do the research in to why the blacks presented by Dr Caroline Bressey seeking work in Victorian newspapers described themselves as coloured loved  Dr Gemma Romain idea of book yourself into an archive it is just like visiting an art gallery or museum taking part in US seminars from the UK is easy Dr Michael Fisher did his presentation by Skype and it worked seamlessly he even joined in the panel by video Skype I now know what an Ayah is thanks to Tate Public Wifi and Wikipedia they were much discussed but never explained excellent talk by Prof Partha Mitter aligning  Jamani Roy with German Primitvisim  although they never met each other they shared a common art form perhaps both critiqued Urban Capitalism but in their own way. 

As I said a full-on day, great fun & now the work begins to pick up those networked connections.....

Section of Final Panel Session
from the Auditorium
Section of Auditorium
from the Panel on Stage