Saturday 27 July 2013

Fresco or wall painting?

For the majority of people they are often seen as the same thing and all too often the terms are interchanged even in informational literature. In addition, sorting one from the other is difficult. You need to get up very close and personal with what has been painted on the wall and anyone but an expert will find it a challenge. The general rule of thumb is that frescos are often more brilliant and deep in their colours and more durable than wall paintings.
Fresco & wall painting side by side
Technically a fresco or "buon fresco" [real fresco] is a painting which has been done on wet [ie fresh] plaster. The artist draws directly on the wet wall and the colours used are absorbed and become one with the plaster through a chemical reaction [calcium carbonate is formed as a result of carbon dioxide from the air combining with the calcium hydrate in the wet plaster]. Pigments used to paint are traditionally created from earth oxides or minerals. 

Wall paintings are painted onto a dry plaster medium and are, therefore, generally held to be less intense and less brilliant in their colours. To create a wall painting the artist would traditionally mix the pigments with either egg white, egg yolk or an adheisive like gum arabic. This would allow the pigment to bond with the dry plaster. This technique was also used to correct or add additional details to a "buon fresco".

The chapel of St Georges-sur-Loire [Rochecorbon] has examples of each side by side.
On the north wall is a 12th century fresco next to a 13th century wall painting. They are indeed very different. The 12th century fresco is more intense in its colours, even if the range is much more restricted than in the 13th century wall painting. In the wall painting the presentation of the figures is more sophisticated, the draping of the clothes is more fluid and the use of persective has advanced--not suprising as there is a century of artistic evolution between them.
12th century fresco
The fresco shows Christ bathing the feet of the Apostles. The Apostle is leaning his head on his hand with his elbow being supported on his knee. He looks as if he's suspended in mid air over the basin in which Jesus is bathing his feet. The motief of the floor is a variant of the quatrefoil pattern which was very common in mediaeval floor tiles. 
13th century wall painting
The wall painting shows the Last Supper. Each Apostle is sat behind the table and has a fish in a dish [apologies for the rhyme!] in front of him. The tablecloth is pleated and the robes are draped. The figures are altogether more realistic than in the fresco of a century earlier and the range of colours used is greater. However, they are softer in tone than those of the 12th century fresco, making them less intense. Behind the Apostles on the arcading is a cityscape which represents Jerusalem.
Angels to the right,
On the south wall are further remains of another 13th century wall painting of the Last Judgement, much of which has now gone with the exception of the angels who are still clearly visible busily sounding their trumpets.
Angels to the left

For such a small chapel, St Georges-sur-Loire certainly offers a range of treasures: lovely stained glassMerovingian remnants and interesting murals.

Mural is the catch-all term for any kind of art on a wall from pre-historic cave drawings to contemporary graffiti art. Use the word mural and you'll always be right and never have to worry whether it is a fresco or wall painting again!

Sunday 21 July 2013

Hollyhocks, a toad and a butterfly

At the front of the house is a small apron of elderly concrete. Last summer while I was collecting seeds from the seed pods of our hollyhocks some "escaped" and ended up in some small cracks.
Concrete busting hollyhocks
The hollyhock seeds sprouted and have now grown and, in doing so, have broken the concrete wide open. Like the others also at the front of the house they are flowering a lovely cerise pink. We didn't have the heart to remove the escapees and they are included in the daily pot/window box watering round.
Cerise pink flower
A few days ago while watering I noticed a movement and a small toad poked his head out to enjoy the unexpected "rain".
You can just see a bit of a hollyhock stem top left

Toad in the hole
The heat [35C today on our thermometer, northside of the house, never any sun] also made a groupie out of a map butterfly the other day.
Map butterfly on Niall's back, proboscis extended
It simply couldn't get enough of Niall's damp salty skin and kept tickling him with its proboscis as it alighted on his back, arm or shoulder. For about 1/2 hr it kept revisiting every minute or so.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Waste "knot"

Recently we wrote about the stained glass at St Georges-sur-Loire. The current building dates to the Romanesque period [11th century] with early Mediaeval [12th/13th century] extensions. However, the very oldest part of the chapel was originally predominantly troglodyte and was hewn out of the soft stone cliff during the Merovingian period [5th to 8th centuries].

Merovingian knotwork, south wall
A rare survivor from this much earlier building is a stone which is now set into the south wall. Still pretty crisp even today, the carving is very reminiscent of Celtic knotwork such as can be see in the Lindisfarne Gospels from the late 7th century.
Page from Lindisfarne Gospels 
© Wikipedia
Earlier Roman designs such as can be found in mosaic floors also show a similar pattern, although perhaps a little less free flowing and intricate. An example is The Great Pavement in Woodchester Gloucestershire, once the floor of a main hall of a Roman villa, it was laid around AD 325.  
A section of The Great Pavement, © Wikipedia
Presumably a mediaeval stonemason working several centuries after the stone was first carved felt it was beautiful enough to be worth saving and re-used it in the wall he was building. We are very glad he did so! You can see the stone on your right as you enter the chapel.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Tour de France at Montrésor

Yesterday, Friday the Tour de France was in our area. Stage 12 had finished in Tours and stage 13 ran from Tours to finish at Saint-Amand-Montrond. Part of the route lay along the Indre river valley and we were invited by good friends Susan and Simon to join them in a picnic at the lovely village of Montrésor and watch the whole caravanserai go by. As an added bonus we went in style -- in Céléstine, their superb vintage Citroen Traction Avant.

Crowds begin to gather at Montrésor
Prime postion for a picnic & watching the Tour
Simon found an absolutely 5* location, right in front of an old gated cave under the chateau of Montrésor and we set up camp and set about people watching until the caravane arrived.
A bit late for Agincourt!
Sadly, not very tuneful minstrels roamed the street
There were plenty of people in the village, but not so many as to make it difficult to see what was going on. The caravane swept by chucking freebies to the left and right and Simon got himself a nice wee haul of things and sweeties. Some of the cars were more like floats in their efforts to be creative in emphasizing their brand.

The caravane: LCL's huge lion
Haribo sweeties! A very popular car in the caravane!
After the caravane came a break during which everyone set about the serious business of having lunch. Simon had made some amazing pasties and as we'd brought food as well there was loads.

Just at the tail-end of the caravane a car stopped to judge the local baker's Madeleine cakes -- Montrésor was taking part in a competition linked to the Tour to find the best Madeleines. There was much excitement among those in the know as the head judge was Bernard Hinault, 5 times winner of the Tour.

The peleton sweeps past
The Tour leader: Chris Froome in the yellow jersey and sat on a yellow saddle
A bevy of helicopters signalled the approach of the Tour proper and we watched as groups of cyclists zoomed past. And then it was over. As soon as the bikes had gone everyone just melted away.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Tinka does cute

Tinka, as friends and regular readers of our blog know, is as mad a proverbial box of frogs. She likes cars -- trying to get her out when we open the doors to go somewhere can lead to a serious chase round the seats; she is obsessed with fleece clothing, she is not bothered by the vaccuum cleaner nor the ride-on mower. She also does cute very very well when the mood takes her, and yesterday she was extra cute!
Oh my face is in the sun
Yesterday she discovered the clean laundry pile which was on the window seat in the guest bedroom. A fleece was on top of the pile. Mademoiselle settled down for a nap. As it became warmer she relocated from the fleece to the other half of the window seat and ended up half in on the seat, half out on the window sill.
That's's darn hot
She snoozed like that for quite some time before waking up and deciding to join us below. Happliy this time she didn't use the parasol as her route down. She's done that a time or two and 'rides' the parasol as it tips over, jumping off when it is about to crash to the ground. Mostly she drops to a lower part of the roof and using one of the shutters as a staging point jumps to the ground.

Oh you're down there are you?
Both cats make the roof their own and chase lizards up there which isn't a big problem but they are often the major culprits in dislodging the old tuiles plats [flat roof tiles] which then break and/or slide into the guttering or onto the drive.
Hang on I'll come and join you
Just as well we have a good stock of spares.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Exotic glass

Well exotic in the sense of very unusual subject matter certainly. A King called Melchizedek. Who? Exactly....

13th century stained glass
Last Thursday it was Independance Day and as I had been offiicially cleared to drive again after my operation we decided to go up to Vouvray to buy some wine from one of the producers we like. A tasty way to show a small token of support after the recent destruction wreaked by the ferocious hailstorm in mid June.

Wine duly sampled, bought and stowed in the car we drove off. Rochecorbon is one of the villages which make up the Vouvray appellation and, like Vouvray, is made up of little valleys which run up from river Loire to the actual slopes where you find the vines. Each little twisty road hides a multitude of semi troglodyte houses and wine producers.

One of these little valleys used to be the parish of St Georges-sur-Loire. That was many years ago [since 1808 it forms part of the commune of Rochecorbon]. Part way up the valley, squashed between two houses, each the home/domaine of a Vouvray producer, lies the small Chapel of St George which has a number of treasures. The oldest section is troglogyte and grew up round a 5th century oratory carved out of the rock. It contains some lovely wall paintings. However, in addtion it also has what, for us, is the star of the show: 'proper' mediaeval stained glass. This is quite special, as very little glass in this area survived firstly the French Wars of Religion [1562 -98] and then secondly the ravages of the French Revolution.

The glass is 13th century and in a window above the altar, though the border is late 19th century. Not only is it a rare survivor, but its subject matter is highly unusual to say the least. The top panel shows a king and an angel making a flagellant's stick. You can clearly see the knotted ropes on the end of the stick and the angel seems to be handing it to the king on the left.

Angel with flagellant's stick on the right
The bottom panel shows King Melchizedek receiving homage from Abraham. We'd never heard of this king and had to do some digging. A priest-king, he met Abraham and blessed him, giving him bread and wine. In return Abraham gave him a 10th of everything he owned. This is the scene which is shown in the window. Melchizedek is on the left holding an orb and crown. On the right Abraham is seated in a chair bowing to receive the King's blessing. Not what you'd call a commonly seen piece of iconography.

King-Priest Melchizedek on the left
In additon to the 13th century window there are two roundels on the south side. They clearly show the connection of the area to viniculture. One shows a labourer tending the vines and the other a cooper hammering in a band to keep the staves of a wine barrel together.

Tending the vines

A cooper making a wine barrel
Both are very much in the same style as the 13th century window, but their condition is so good that we are fairly sure these are very good late 19th century copies of originals and done about the same time as the border of the 13th century window.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Bat protection

We have pipestrelle bats. These cute little beasties sleep away the day behind the shutters of two of our south facing windows. We like bats and enjoy seeing them fly out in the evenings. The fact that they eat zillions of tiny insects is a bonus.

The bats -- we have never more than 4 -- use the shutters as a summer roost. When summer is over they decamp to a permanent roost somewhere else. This will be a larger, more sheltered structure where there will be a bigger colony able to all huddle together for warmth.

We've written about them before here. Last year they appeared in March. This year, with the very poor weather we've had, they have been only very infrequent visitors. Now however, the weather seems to have finally settled down.

We've had warmer days so they are back on a regular basis and we've had the usual interest from the cats, so operation bat protection has been activated. Sounds grand doesn't it? All it really means is that we ensure that the window sills are occupied with things so that the cats can't jump on them to poke a paw up behind the shutter.

A friend who dropped by recently and brought a lovely little plant and it, along with two candle lanterns, have made an effective and pretty 'barrier'.

bat protection on windowsill
Just as well, as we were reminded of how efficient our cats can be at hunting recently. We were out on the terrace and rolling one of those solid rubber balls about for Shadow. As befitting a mature [8yrs] feline gentleman he obliged us by giving it a bit of interest, but to say he was putting 100% effort into chasing it would be an exageration! Until...

A house martin diving down over the pine trees shot into the open kitchen door. It was obviously following a tasty insect and didn't realise it had flown into the house. There was a slight knock as it first flew into the other half of the double door trying to get out -- happily not at full speed as that would have been the end of it -- before it shot out of the door chittering indignantly.
the energetic hunter....
All of this happend in a few seconds. It also transformed Shadow. In a nano second he changed from slightly indolent cat humouring its owers into ultra focused hunter! As the house martin flew in he clocked it and whipped round to follow its flight into the kitchen. Then he produced an almighty leap to try and catch it as it flew out. He missed by a whisker. It was quite impressive stuff!