14 January 2015

Old tech, new tech

The "old tech" of the title is the heavy book that is currently my bedtime reading, "John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art" - 500+ pages and a slew of colour plates. A serious work, "copious and erudite", placing the work in context, containing much that is new to me.

John Piper is a very important English artist - he formulated a certain kind of Englishness with his paintings and prints of buildings in the landscape. His great talent was to evoke a sense of place. Myfanwy founded and edited Axis magazine in the 1930s and went on to write librettos for Benjamin Britten, she also ran a house with no mod cons, two children, lots of guests, and a husband who was off painting all over the country. They knew a lot of people in the arts, some with considerable influence, and seem to have had a very interesting time of it.

The "new tech", which I also keep at the bedside, is my electronic reference library, aka the ipad, which is brilliant for impromptu look-ups of items of interest arising during reading. With this book I first had to google images of Piper's work - most of the work here is his. After which, interesting-sounding works that weren't illustrated in the book were easy to search for, and of course it's been impossible to avoid getting diverted and spending time reading about altogether obscure subjects...

Piper was very fond of old churches and of 13th century stained glass, and suddenly I felt the need to see some 13th century stained glass. "A significant feature of the 13th century was the development of the grisaille window, composed largely of white glass, generally painted with foliage designs, and leaded into a more or less complicated geometric pattern" (via).

Of course when you google-images you get pix that aren't truly of the subject of your search (and with those come certain temptations for diversion, digression, and time-wasting, as we all know). In this instance it was this little picture, which is 15th-century rather than 13th-century, that caught my eye -
It led to an article on medieval agriculture, all very interesting ... and to further digressions into "labours of the months" series, which appeared early in the medieval period on church facades and interiors, and in illuminated manuscripts; they were most common in stained glass in the 15th century. Labours of the months are found throughout Europe and the occupations depicted are standard but vary according to the local climate. The imagery on stained glass roundels that are believed to have been painted in England is fairly uniform and must have come from a common source, most likely from a series of woodblock engravings that circulated between the glazing workshops.

The July labours picture has a bit of a modern feel to it - as if the rake leaning against the haystack has been left there while the worker has stopped to pull out his camera and photograph the other workers, taking an extra moment to pose them carefully.

Back to John Piper, briefly - in the 1930s he started using collage, like this "Beach with Starfish" (1933-4) -
He was also interested in fonts and took lots of photographs inside churches. The font at Toller Fratrum, Dorset, is probably the best known (via) -

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