Huis Marseille

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There are two photography museums in central Amsterdam – Huis Marseille and Foam – both on the Keizersgracht. Huis Mareille is the longest established and is located in a couple of adjacent 17th Century canal houses. During our day in Amsterdam at the end of December we decided we’d visit to see the current exhibition of work by African photographers and also to have a look at the buildings. I’d have liked to have visited Foam as well, but time was limited. I’ll have to save that for another time.

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Amsterdam’s first photography museum was opened in 1999 in the old canal house, Huis Marseille, at Keizersgracht 401. The house, which was
built around 1665, was originally owned by a French merchant called Isaac Focquier, who named the house after the French port he must have known. In September 2013, the exhibition space was was extended by incorporating the house next door, at Keizersgracht 399. Although adapted as modern exhibition spaces, both houses still include original features, such as the ceiling stuccowork in the entrance hall and a painting on the ceiling of the Garden Room.

There’s a garden at the back of the house with an 18th Century “garden house” which has been renovated and also used as an exhibition space.

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The exhibition, Recent Histories, features images by African photographers from the museum’s own collection and also works from the Walther Collection (New York/Neu-Ulm).

The museum website tells us that

Until the last decade of the 20th century African photography was generally seen in the context of travel and ethnological photography, and usually done by Westerners.

but this exhibition reveals different aspects and interpretations of the continent by 15 African photographers, particularly

the influences that social, economic, and political developments are having on landscape, public space, architecture, and daily life, and what these developments mean for their own identity.

I didn’t have time to make any detailed notes or to take too many snaps of the images (always seems odd, photographing photographs!) However, my favourites were probably the photographs of buildings by Mame-Diarra Niang , who, although she was born in Lyon, and lives in Paris, was raised between Ivory Coast, Senegal and France.  The photos were from her series Metropolis, shot in Johannesburg and At the Wall, taken during taxi journeys in Dakar. I really liked the way that some of the photos looked more like abstract paintings than images of real buildings.

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Byzantine Churches in Thessaloniki

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Although Thessaloniki is predominantly a modern city, rebuilt in the 20th Century following the 1917 fire, as we walked around the streets we kept stumbling on old, stone churches, mainly from the Byzantine era.

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Churches in Britain, and most of the European countries I’ve previously visited tend to be Mainly Gothic (including Gothic revival) and Romanesque, with some Neo-Classical and Modern buildings. So seeing these Byzantine buildings was a new experience. Their architecture is quite different – no Gothic style tall pointed arches, slender columns and flying buttresses in these churches.

The main architectural feature of Byzantine churches is usually a great central dome. The buildings tend to be constructed from brick, not stone and relatively plain on the outside. But the inside is very different with the walls and ceilings covered with mosaics and gold leaf.

One of the distinguishing features of the Greek Orthodox Church is the prominence of Icons. All the churches we saw had several in prominent positions inside the church and also outside in small outside chapels. Greek visitors to the churches would kiss the icons – something rather surprising to someone who was brought up a Protestant. Worshipping graven images being something of an anathema!

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Two of the oldest churches in the city are the Hagios Demetrios (7th century) and Hagia Sophia (8th century. We managed to take a look inside both of these. They were both very sumptuously decorated with icons, frecoes, musrals, paintings and lots of gold leaf.

The Hagia Sophia was the ‘Great Church’ of Thessaloniki – that is, the city’s cathedral – until its conversion into a mosque in 1523/24. It was significantly damaged during the 1917 fire but has been gradually restored. The restoration of the dome only being finally completed in 1980.

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We also visited the Hagios Demetrios which is dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. There’s been a church on the site since the early 4th century AD with the current structure built between 629 and 634. It was severely damaged during the 1917 fire, but has been restored, although this took many years to complete

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Cartmel Priory

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It was a rather grim day as we left Portiscale at the end of our holiday, but rather than drive straight home we decided to extent our break stopping off at Blackwell to take a look at the latest exhibition showing there and then driving down to Cartmel. I’d been there during a recent walk, but wanted to have a proper look around.

Cartmel is a small, attractive village on the Furness peninsula which is something of a “honeypot” with a number of touristy shops (although good quality ones) a Michelin 2 star restaurant, three pubs and is also renowned for sticky toffee pudding. Despite the weather, it was very busy with visitors.

We parked up at the Racecourse and made our way towards the centre of the village. We wanted to take a look around the old Priory church which dominates the village which was originally part of a monastery. Like many old churches it evolved over many years and although mainly Gothic in style there are some Norman / Romanesque features.

The tower is particularly interesting – the top half having been constructed diagonally across the original tower.  There’s not another one like this in the UK.

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(I took this photo during my previous visit when it was hot and sunny and the light was much better for photography)

The priory was founded in 1190 with extensive work curing the next couple of centuries. The oldest parts of the building are the chancel, transepts, the south doorway, and part of the north wall of the nave.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 the church survived as it was used as the village Parish church. Little else of the monastery remains other than the gatehouse in the village square which is now owned by the National Trust.

We entered via the south door which is inside a much later porch

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The semi-circular arch with its decorations is very typical of Norman/Romanesque architecture.

Looking down the Choir from the nave. Classic Gothic pointed arches

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in the north aisle

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and supporting that eccentric tower

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but round Norman style arches with dog-tooth decoration in the Choir

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The choir stalls look like they could be Elizabethan or Jacobean

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The old font, dating from 1640

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A monument to the “Cartmel martyrs” who resisted the destruction of the church during the Dissolution of the monasteries.

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Monuments by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos, an English sculptor with a Brazilian father and British mother, who lived in Cumbria much of her working life.

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The Cavendish memorial. The tomb of Lord Frederick Cavendish, son of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, who was Chief Secretary to Ireland in Gladstone’s government, and who was assassinated by Fenians in Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1882.

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The Cavendishes, a branch of the Duke of Devonshire’s family, are the local big wigs. Nearby Holker Hall is their ancestral home and they own property around Cartmel including the racecourse.

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Browsing on the web after the visit, I came across this interesting clip on the BBC website where Nicholas Pevsner visits the Priory and discusses its architecture.

 

Wythburn Church

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My recent walk up Helvellyn started and finished in the car park next to Wythburn church.

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It’s a small, but attractive building with white rendered walls and a green Lakeland slate roof.  Originally constructed in 1554 on the site of an earlier chapel, it was rebuilt  in 1640, and again in 1740 with some additions in the 19th Century. It’s a Grade II listed building

The church used to serve a small, isolated, rural community but the local population was severely reduced once Thirlmere was turned into a reservoir to provide water for Manchester at the very end of the 19th Century. Despite this it is still in use with services held during the summer months.

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After I had finished my walk I went to have a look around the outside of the church and noticed that it was open. So I had to go inside to have a peek inside.

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It was surprisingly light inside and clearly well looked after.

The church was well known to the Lakes poets. Hartley Coleridge (the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge) called the church a ‘humble house of prayer’, while William Wordsworth saw it as a ‘modest house of prayer.’

Two East End Buildings

One of my main objectives during my mooch around Spitalfields last week was to have a look at a couple of Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau buildings  in the area, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. He was a Scouser – well, almost, he was born in Birkenhead – who moved to London in 1880.

The first of the two buildings was the Whitechapel gallery, a short distance down Whitechapel from Aldgate where I’d been working. I’d been there a few times before to visit exhibitions and always admired the building with it’s twin towers and massive, off-centre round arch above the front door.

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It’s creamy stone stands out in a street of dark brick buildings. In a number of ways, with it’s solid stone construction and relatively but curved surfaces, it rather reminds me of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, particularly the Glasgow School of Art.

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Originally, it was intended that the upper part of the facade would be filled with mosaics by the renowned Arts and Crafts designer Walter Crane, but these were never completed. However, today there’s a lovely metallic frieze of leaves and branches by Rachael Whiteread that was installed just a few years ago.

The gallery was founded  1901, intended to bring art to the working classes of East London, and was one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in the Capital.

The second building was on Bishopgate at the far side of Spitalsfields and close to Liverpool Street Station – The Bishopgate Institute.

Like the Whitechapel Gallery, it has a broad semi-circular arched entrance and twin towers, in this case topped by ornate, multifacetted turrets. It has a different look, though – a little more traditional, more ornate and influenced by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.

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There are beautiful friezes above the entrance and towards the top of the towers, representing the Tree of Life. It was difficult to get a photo of them – the street was busy with commuters at rush hour, but I’ve done my best to enlarge sections of my pictures of the building

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According to the Institute’s website

The original aims of the Institute were to provide a public library, public hall and meeting rooms for people living and working in the City of London. The Great Hall in particular was ‘erected for the benefit of the public to promote lectures, exhibitions and otherwise the advancement of literature, science and the fine arts’.

So both buildings reflect the Art and Crafts Movement’s dedication to the cause of social progress (and, in may cases, Socialism) by providing facilities for the education and enlightenment of the working class. It’s good to see that both buildings are still being used for the purposes originally intended.

Charles Harrison Townsend designed another Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau building, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, South London. I’ve had a look at some pictures of the Museum on the web and it’s now on the bucket list. It’s not so far from the Dulwich Picture Gallery so perhaps I can arrange to combine a visit to both of them.

Street Haunting in Spitalfields

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Last Tuesday I was working in the east of London, in Aldgate. After work, I still had 2 and 1/2 hours to kill before my train so, as it was a pleasant afternoon, I decided to have a wander around Spitalfields, a short walk away.

In the 17th and 18th century the area was associated with silk weaving after Huguenots fleeing from persecution in France settled here and brought their skills with them. Later, Irish linen workers settled here. In the Victorian period, following the decline of the silk and linen industries it became something of a notorious slum. There were further waves of Jewish and then Bangladeshi immigrants bringing new cultures and energy to the area. Today, like much of the East End it’s become somewhat gentrified. The old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped.

It’s an interesting place to walk around, with some historic buildings and modern street art to look at.

For me, the star of the show is Hawksmoor’s magnificent gleaming white Christ Church

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one of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known.

There’s an interesting war memorial in the church yard.

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Close by, on Commercial Street,  the Fruit and Wool exchange building has been controversially redeveloped against local opposition, over-ruled by the former Mayor of London and current “Clown Secretary”. The white neo-Classical façade has, fortunately, been preserved.

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A number of old commercial buildings nearby  have also been preserved

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I quite liked this building with it’s neo-Gothic features

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and these more modern flats with an Art Deco look

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There’s street art dotted around the redeveloped market. Here’s a selection I spotted.

The Spitalfields Goat by Kenny Hunter

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A pear and a fig by Ali Grant

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Dogman and Rabbitgirl with coffee by Gillie and Marc

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Wooden Boat with Seven People by Kalliopi Lemos, features an authentic boat that was used to transport refugees from Turkey to the shores of the Greek islands. The installation aims to reflect Spitalfields’ rich history of providing shelter for successive waves of migrants across the centuries.

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I couldn’t find out who had created this “steampunk” motorbike

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