Thursday, June 25, 2009

Decorative Details - Doorway

I like collecting decorative details on buildings with my camera. I get especially excited when I notice one that had previously passed me by as it was with this magnificent doorway on Flinders Lane in Melbourne. The National Trust tells us that the building was built in 1901 for Robert Reid and Co as a warehouse and showroom. It was designed by Bates Peebles and Smart. The doorway has a sort of 'pared back till it is almost invisible' classicism. The long vertical grooves set with geometric rosettes suggest pilasters. The central 'keystone' has been transformed into a sort scroll tablet. I think you can see elements of mannerism in the way that classical forms are being played around with (as I suggested in a recent post about a doorway in Fitzroy) as well as the elegant elongation and simplification of classical forms which looks forward to the architecture of the Art Deco period.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bosco Parrasio

Ever since I started this blog I have been meaning to write a post about it's namesake, the Bosco Parrasio in Rome. I am currently editing some chapters which deal with this garden and thought why not procrastinate a little (it is Monday after all) and write a short post about it. I keep feeling I must do it justice and write something long and involved, but then I always think if I have time to write something long and involved it should be my thesis rather than my blog! Also, something short and sweet leaves the door (the garden gate) open to further posts at a later date.

Entrance Gate, always locked, sigh.

The Bosco Parrasio is source of fascination and frustration for me. I have not yet been allowed into this tiny garden in Rome as it has been 'in restauro' (under restoration) for quite a few years. But soon, hopefully. It was designed and built in 1725 by Antonio Carnevari, an architect not really known for much else.

Nicola Salvi, after Antonio Carnevari, Gianicolo Bosco Parrasio,
Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome, c. 1726.

In 1689 the Arcadian Academy was formed by fourteen learned gentlemen in an open field near the Castel Sant’Angelo. The following year in the garden of the Padri Reformati behind San Pietro in Montorio on October 5, 1690 the fourteen founder members, headed by Giovan Mario Crescimbeni officially instituted the ‘Ragunanza degli Arcadi.’ The purpose of the Academy was to create and present literary compositions, to discuss the compositions and also other matters literary. They intended to meet nine times a year and would involve the performance of poetic compositions. Arcadian logic and judgement were based on a few key concepts: balance between nature and reason in the name of ‘good taste,’ between imagination and intellect, and between poetic invention and verisimilitude, in the name of ‘good sense.’ The members were interested in recovering the heritage of Rome’s golden centuries and took its name from the region in ancient Greece associated with the Golden Age. Members adopted a pseudonym as pastori or pastorelle (shepherd or shepherdess). In theory all members were counted as equals once in the garden, with no differentiation ebtween a noble, a cardinal, a musician or a simple man of letters (though we know this was not entirely the case). Famous members include Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the architect Filippo Juvarra, the poet Pietro Metastasio, the composer Alessandro Scarlatti, Pope Clement XI and many others. The Academy still exists today as the Accademia Litteraria Italiana.

The Arcadians met out of doors and initially there was no fixed meeting point with the Academy meeting in various gardens around Rome, including the Farnese gardens on the Palatine, and the Ginnasi garden on the Aventine. The meeting place, whatever its location, was considered to evoke the Parrhasian Woods, the ‘Bosco Parrasio’, the sacred grove of Apollo located on Mount Lycaeus in Arcadia in Ancient Greece.

Zucchi after Gian Paolo Panini, View of the Arcadian Theatre in the Farnese Gardens, 1727.

The permanent garden was funded by King John VI of Portugal and laid out on the slopes of the Janiculum Hill in Rome. The curved staircase that can be seen in the drawing was built, but the two gatehouses weren't. At the top of the staircase was an amphitheatre (a structure with a long history of being associated with both garden and poetic performance) and behind this a small building called the serbatoio, a place where the records of the Academy were kept, and a place where meetings could take place in bad weather.

Jonas Akerstrom, Meeting in the Bosco Parrasio, Rome, 1788,
water colour on paper, Institut Tessin, Paris.

The garden was the subject of a study by Susan Dixon, which came out in 2006 and is a must read for anyone interested in the garden. I have been al around the outside, I even climbed through a bamboo grove in the Botanic Gardens so I could peak over the side. I look forward to seeing it when the restoration is finished.

Key Sources
Susan M. Dixon, Between the real and the ideal: the Accademia degli Arcadi and its garden in eighteenth-century Rome, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006.

Liliana Barroero and Stefano Susinno, 'Arcadian Rome, Universal Capital of the Arts', in Edgar Peters Bowron and Joseph J. Rishel, Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000, pp.47-77.

The amphitheatre as seen by me peeking through a gap in the wall.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Snapshot, East Melbourne

A snapshot from the side of the Eastern Hill Fire Station, built in the 1890s. I always like it when traditional classical architecture has additions of non classical imagery. Obviously this one is in keeping with the theme of fire fighters, though its juxtaposition with classical decorative detail almost makes one start to think of Ancient Roman armour. Perhaps this is deliberate, an indication of the long and proud heritage of the fire fighter!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Old Garden Treatises and Handbooks online

I have been following up some bits and bobs during the delightful (not) process of editing my footnotes and I have discovered that several sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century treatises and dictionaries of gardening are now available to download from various libraries. Found these via Europeana that I mentioned below, it is in the Bibliotheque nationale du France, link to the book here.

The book is by a Phillip Miller and the titlepage reads:

The Gardeners Dictionary
The Best and Newest Methods
Cultivating and Improving
Kitchen, Fruit, Flower Garden, and Nursery
As also for Performing the
Practical Parts of Agriculture
The Management of Vineyards
with the
Methods of Making and Preserving the Wine
According to the present practice of
The most skilful Vignerons in the several Wine Countries in Europe
Together With
Directions for Propagating and Improving
From real Practice and Experience
All sorts of Timber Trees

Phew, a snappy title indeed.

Some entries provide an interesting window into ideas about gardens in the period. For instance under the entry for 'Gardens' we read that:

Gardens are distinguished into Flower Garden, Fruit Gardens, and Kitchen Gardens. The first being designed for pleasure and Ornament, are to be placed in the most conspicuous Parts, i.e. next to, or just against, the back Front of the House, the two latter being principally intended for Use and Srevice, are placed less in Sight.... Ina Garden for Pleasure, the principal Things to be considered are, 1st, the Situation, 2nd The Soil, Aspect, or Exposure, 3dly, Water, 4thly, Prospect.
Perhaps it is still a distinction we have now, though modern gardening books tend to be less authoritative.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Melbourne Snapshot

St Paul's Cathedral in eth afternoon sun, bifurcated by electricity and tram lines. A glimpse of Burke (or is it Wills?) as a dark sentry. I do sometimes go to great lengths to find an angle without any lines across the view, a difficult thing to do in Melbourne. However, I have decided their presence adds something to the image.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I have been slowly adding to my list of exciting databases to look at, if you are the sort of person who loves a database. I though this one deserved special mention. It was originally launched last year but crashed due to the overwhelming number of people who wanted to use the website. It is back now, bigger and better. 'Europeana' is an initiative of the European Union and it brings together the digital databases of a range of libraries, museums and galleries across Europe. At the moment the website states that it "links you to 4 million digital items." These include images of paintings, drawings, photos, the texts of books, newspapers and archives, music recordings, videos and so on. There was a piece about it on Radio National's Book Show yesterday, see here.

Some of the participating institutions include the British Library, the Louvre, the Biblioteca Nazionale of Florence, National Library of Spain, the Federal Archives of Germany and on and on an on. I assume that as more and more collections are digitised they will be added to the database. The site is incredibly useful as a sort of 'one stop shop' (if such a thing could ever exist in research). I have already found a couple of digital databases useful to me that I didn't know existed, such as the Ministero per i beni e le Attivita' Culturali, which holds a lot of images of Italian villas and gardens. It also makes it much easier to search collections that have strangely organised and inefficient websites where you seem to continuously click through to another page telling you about the catalogue and never reaching the search function (I'm looking at you Italian libraries!) It also helps with searching collections where language is a barrier. You can even create an account and save your searches and records.

I am currently writing about the Boboli gardens in Florence and unearthed some old postcards of the gardens. A teeny example of what is available.

View of the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, 1905. Courtesy of ICCD.

The Avenue of the Cypresses, Boboli Gardens Florence, 1903. Courtesy of ICCD.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Snapshot, Melbourne.

View of the Horti Hall and the old Russell St Police Station with its recent appendage Concept Blue, or as I call it, Concept Poo. And some brown brick thing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Urban Gardens

I often notice this garden outside the Audi dealership on the corner of Victoria St and Swanston St as I walk to the Vic Market. It sort of clings on against the odds. A perfect example of the badness of corporate and instant gardens. The company clearly paid someone to come in and install it and never have any thought to its maintenance, except maybe to replace an area if it dies completely. I often look at it and think - 'how sad'.

But then today I noticed that the plants are going a bit wild, some are clearly content in their setting despite the fact they must get virtually no water and an unhealthy dose of exhaust fumes. There is a wonderful sense of texture with the massing grassy leaves and colour contrasts. Almost like a foaming sea of foliage.

There are flashes of blue and orange from the bird of paradise plants and patterns of the succulents against the steel grey wall and the sandy soil.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Snapshot, Melbourne.

Victoria Street, Melbourne, late afternoon, early winter. A reflected view of the city baths, RMIT, and the Melbourne Central. tower. I do like a good reflection, or borrowed fa├žade, as I also like to refer to them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Free talk at the NGV - UPDATED

UPDATE - Apologies apologies! I forgot to put the date down for the talk. It is this Friday, June 5th at 11am, meet at 10:50am.

A little heads up about a floor talk at the National Gallery of Victoria (International). These talks are great, usually they introduce just one painting in the collection and give a history of it and talk through the visual aspects of the particular image. The talk talk is a bit more general and addresses the relationship between person and picture, always an interesting area to delve into, details below.

The talks are organised by the Fine Arts Network (FAN), and independent organisation that promotes the study of the visual arts in Victoria. Attendance is free and open to all, though FAN encourages you to join up to recieve details of other events and to receive the Melbourne Art Journal.

The ‘Quality of Relationship’ between person and picture

John Armstrong
Philosopher in Residence, Melbourne Business School

Bernardo Bellotto, Ruins of the Forum, Rome, c. 1743. Image from the NGV website.

One of the most elusive—but most important—topics in the study of art is that of the relationship between the beholder and the image. Think of how we speak of our relationships to pictures: liking, loving, knowing about, hating, being excited, being bored, being puzzled. These are not just about the object, they are also about how we experience it. I’m going to talk about ‘the quality of relationship’ between a person and a picture—what makes for a good relationship.

This might seem like an unconventional topic. Mostly we talk about the works—and try to find out more about them. But surely that’s all in the service of individual relationships to individual pictures. But the leading edge in intellectual thinking is now paying much more attention to issues of evaluation: what is it to like a picture, to need it in your imagination? Why is it a good object? And this is of deep importance in cultural transmission. Culture isn’t only a matter of knowledge: it’s also to do with liking, loving and caring.

I want to explore how this picture, painted over 250 years ago continues to live, not just as a memento of another time and place, but as a living force in the present.

Meet at the Information Desk, NGV International, at 10.50 am.
Free event, all welcome, but RSVP to:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Romesick Snapshot

I get Romesick rather than Homeseick. Haven't been there in over a year and I miss it. I need to see and touch and smell the things I write about. Sometimes writing about Baroque art and gardens and architecture can seem so very alien in Melbourne.

The delicate stuccoed ceiling of a room in the Villa Doria Pamphilj, or the 'Bel Respiro.' The imagery and design are based on classical motifs.

The fine coffered ceiling of the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. This ceiling was designed by the artist Domenichino in 1617, the church structure itself dates to the twelfth century.

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