Sunday 8 March 2015

Spring Intermezzo

A brief intermezzo before we post the second part of the Sculptures in Touraine exhibition.

After seemingly endless grey skies and rain we've suddenly been given some super springtime weather and for the last 3 days the temperature outside has been hovering around the 18C mark. Glorious! Especially nice for Charnizay's annual fete which takes place over this weekend with the obligatory brocante yesterday. We went down to have a wander and despite the fabulous weather it was relatively quiet. Being so early in the year we think reduces the number of visitors. There were more stalls than last year and on one you could even buy a pair of bronze scantily clad ladies for the modest sum of €480! A slight cut above the usual stuff on offer.

Snowdrops on their way out, double daffs in bud
Our snowdrops are disappearing while you look and the daffodils have taken over, as have the cowslips. The double daffodils are still in bud, but give it few more days like today with wonderful sunshine and they'll be breaking open as well. The small sweet smelling wood violets are beginning to unfurl their tiny purple flowers as well.
Early daffs by the drive 
On Friday Niall dusted off the two chairs and table we have at the front south-side of the house and even put out the flag to celebrate the 'first cup of coffee outside in 2015'!
Ready for morning coffee outside
It is still cold in the mornings and Météo France forecasts rain again on Tuesday, but the temperatures look like they will hold up around the 14 or 15C mark or so in the afternoons this coming week and some hazy sun is predicted from Wednesday onwards.

Cowslips, if you look carefully you can just spot some kind of fly on one of the flowers
Finally we couldn't resist putting up this photo of the roe deer out the back one morning just before it got light. The quality is terrible, even with loads of tweaking -- Niall had to take it in a rush through a crack in the kitchen door in low level light with no tripod and no time to set the camera for the light conditions. All three had been lying down when Niall spotted them. Seconds after this was taken they ran off.
Morning to you!

Saturday 28 February 2015

A sculpture promenade from the Gallo-Roman to the Medieval

Earlier this week we went up to the Logis Royal in Loches with friends Simon & Susan from Days on the Claise. The reason for our visit was the exhibition 'Sculptures en Touraine, promenade autour de cent oeuvres' which has been put together by the Conseil général d'Indre-et-Loire.
Le Logis Royal, Loches

It was very much worth the visit. The exhibition, a collection of 100 works, is arranged chronologically from the early Gallo-Roman period to the present day and offers a fantastic insight into the rich sculptural heritage of our region. There are lots of informative panels and maps showing locations of the finds. In addition, the Conseil général d'Indre-et-Loire has published a superb catalogue to accompany the 'promenade' which, in our opinion, is worth it as an art book on its own.

Cinq-mars-la-pile's captive barbarian
The first pieces date from the Gallo-Roman period [the earliest from the 1st century BC]. Not much has been found from the earlier part of this era as the Gauls worked more in wood than in stone. However, in 1937 a small stone bust was found in the commune of Paulnay by some agricultural workers, who dug it up accidentally. A slightly later, but still early statue which we've blogged about before is that of a "captive barbarian" found very close to the Gallo-Roman tower at Cinq-mars-la-pile. Having read about it, and visited the location of the 'Pile', it was nice to see the actual statue.
Le Griffon de la Riche
The griffon, found in 1998 at the edge of the river Loire in la Riche, is a beautiful example of a copper alloy sculpture made via the lost wax method. Originally it would have been placed on some form of support which is now lost. It's a typical mythical creature: it has an eagle's beak, pointy ears, a horse-like mane and the body of a bird. It wasn't created in Touraine but, according to the catalogue, the style and quality of the casting indicate that it came from the Mediterranean and as such it serves to underline the importance of Tours and the region as a crossroads during the Gallo-Roman period.

Just down the road from us is Preuilly-sur-Claise, a small town where we go for our local services. It has a little museum, the musée de la Poterne, which has a wide and varied collection of objects. A number of 11-12th century Romanesque capitals and other stone carvings in its collection have been lent to the exhibition. We've written about Preuilly's Romanesque abbey, where the capital most likely originated here. The most striking capital shows another mythical beast. This one has a human-ish face, a long sinuous neck, a feathered & winged bird-like body ending in a dolphin-like tail.
11/12th century capital: mythical beast, on loan from Preuilly

11/12th century capital: foliage and faces, on loan from Preuilly

Wood polychrome 12th century Virgin & Child from Yzeures-sur-Creuse
We thought that one of the most fascinating and 'alive' sculptures was one which was found in Barrou, another village not far from Charnizay. Dug up in the 1970s in the garden of the former presbytery it is the figure of a woman from the Romanesque period [12th century]. Dressed in beautifully detailed clothes she has elegantly long hands, elongated fingers and shows traces of polychrome. The catalogue describes it as follows:' La reine de Saba?' [the Queen of Sheba]. Although it is reckoned to be a statue of the Queen of Sheba, this by no means a definitive attribution and the catalogue goes into some detail in explaining the two competing attributions, as some scholars have claimed her to be a representation of the Annunciation of the Virgin.
La reine de Saba?? from Barrou
The reasonings are as follows: One the one hand the figure does not wear a crown, which, though frequently seen, was by no means universal in the Romanesque period in depicting a queen as it was later in the Medieval period. Nor it is clear if the Barrou lady originally stood in a column niche as does a figure of the reine de saba adorning a column on west door of the Cathedral of St Maurice in Angers [ca 1155] which it closely resembles. Her right hand does however, clearly finger a necklace and her left hand holds her elaborate braids.
Informative panel on the elusive lady [click to enlarge if you want to read the text]
On the other hand, the lack of a crown and a beautifully detailed veil, the slightly sideways-on positioning of the face as well as her close similarity with a figure of the Annunciation of the Virgin found in the frieze above the main door of Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers [1130-40] has led other experts to claim that she is a representation of the Annunciation of the Virgin. The jury remains out.

More promenading into the Renaissance and the modern period will follow.

Saturday 31 January 2015

Wishing for blue skies

The forecast says that we are going to be in for a week of colder weather; we might even see a few snow flurries. It would be lovely if we got a week of the clear blue skies and sun such as we had during our visit to Chenonceau.

Recently we've mostly had days and days of grey, rainy weather. In fact so much rain that the  "ponds" reappeared at the back. Thankfully they have subsided a little today but the ground is still very boggy.

However, on the positive side the snow drops have been out for a number of weeks and the early daffs have very fat buds. Earlier this week we even saw a daffodil in a sheltered spot in flower.

These views taken at Chenonceau in December serve as a reminder of the beautiful blue skies we can have here, even during winter.

Looking out at the Tour des Marques, which is all that is left of the oldest buildings -- a castle and fortified mill, built about 1430. To the left you can just see a tiny bit of Catherine de Médicis garden.

Looking upstream on the Cher from the second floor of the long gallery which stretches across the river. Catherine de Médicis threw a grand bash in the long gallery in 1577 in honor of her son Henri III. In the left hand corner you can just see a bit of Diane de Poitiers' garden.

Diane de Poitiers' garden with the water jet fountain at the center. It is very formal rectangle dissected with sharply delineated paths which slice the space in  triangular beds. The paths converge at the water jet.

A classic winter blue sky. Looking out at Diane de Poitiers' garden from the ground floor library cabinet which leads off from Catherine de Médicis' study.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Chenonceau challenge

When, over Christmas, we visited the chateau of Chenonceau with Susan & Simon it was lovely and quiet and we were able to look around in a very leisurely fashion.

The kitchen and food preparation areas, as well as the servants' dining room are located in the cellars of the older building whose foundations, like that of the later gallery extension, are built in the river. The food preparation areas are on one side and the main kitchen with cooking ranges is in the other. There's a set of stairs which links the two areas -- rather like an internal version of a canal bridge; you walk up the inside of an arch span and then descend to the other side. Through the windows you can look out at the river Cher flowing underneath you.

In the photo above - taken on Christmas Day -  you can see the central rounded arch underneath the older, square section of the chateau. The main kitchen area is on the left and the servants' dining hall and food preparation rooms are on the right.
The 19th century kitchen, full of gleaming copper utensils
While we were looking at the 19th century kitchen range and paraphernalia we came across two mystery items.
First mystery object
If you look closely at the first mystery object you'll see our reflections in the beautifully polished copper. It was sat on the main range. The bulbous addition to the pan is what puzzles us. Without it it would seem to be a fish pan, albeit a fairly deep one. The bulbous section isn't a handle -- there are two obvious ones for carrying the pan and it is sealed, there are no vents or apertures. As the pan is on display and there's a strict 'don't touch' policy we didn't lift the lid so we don't know what it looks like inside.
Second mystery object
The second mystery object is obviously a useful Victorian labour-saving gadget of some type but we couldn't decide what for. It reminded me a little of a giant cigar cutter. Simon thought it was to grip something.  The two small 'ax' shapes in the center have blunt serrated edges.

So, despite some extensive speculation and discussion amongst the four of us, none of us have any real idea what these items are for. Do you?

Thursday 1 January 2015

Morning, New Year's Day 2015

A good start to 2015 with none of the lowering grey skies we've had too much of recently, but a frosty day with sun and clear blue skies; so went out with the camera.

Looking west-north west from the edge of our property over Eric's field of colza to the other side of the Aigronne valley in the distance.

Again looking north-west. The low morning sun is casting long shadows and has already melted the frost under the trees.

Looking towards the south east. Deer often come up from the wooded gully and then cross our land, heading to the copse to the west of our house.
Looking east-north east along the same gully as in the photo above. In the forefront is a small strip of hedge which juts out. The field carries on down to the gully just behind it.

Mistletoe berries dropped from one of the poplars lying amongst the frosted grass and leaves.

Not long after that we cooked our New Year's Day brunch - croissants, chipolata sausages from our local farmer, bacon and soft scrambled eggs.  All washed down with fresh orange juice and a glass of sparkling Vouvray - aptly named Cuvée Antoinette.