The Book of Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, is traditionally held to have been written by St John (variously the apostle, the divine, the evangelist) while exiled to the island of Patmos from Ephesus on the mainland. It is prefaced by letters to seven churches* on the mainland. The classical remains, Christian assocations and pleasures of being in Turkey make the sites of these churches a great focus for a visit.
And indeed various tours are offered. For example with the Reverend James Buxton, chaplain of the Anglican church in Smyrna, with Tutku Tours (details here»).
* Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea
Paola Pugsley explores the history of this now established custom
When faced with a crisis like the death of a much beloved sovereign, human beings tend to seek comfort in ritual. One of these is the tradition of the lying in state, when the deceased is laid in his or her coffin and mourners are invited to file past to pay their respects. One might think that this was a custom hallowed by the centuries. The truth is rather different.
The procedure refers to the placing of the body in an open or closed casket and displaying this in an opulent or solemn setting, as happened in Westminster Hall in the case of the late Queen Elizabeth II. The coffin stood on a raised plinth, covered by the royal standard and topped by a wreath, with the imperial crown, the golden orb and the sceptre on a purple cushion and huge candle stands all around. A selected contingent kept the vigil, dressed in elaborate unifoms, and a steady stream of mourners, some of whom had been queuing for hours, filed slowly past in complete silence. Only the shuffling of feet was heard.
But just how old is this custom? An early mention of the term ‘lying in state’, in the London Gazette in 1705, refers to Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, Queen Consort of Prussia, who died of pneumonia in that year. But there is no suggestion of crowds of commoners filing past to pay their respects. Her death remained a private matter.
That does not mean that the demise of a powerful leader was always kept private. Far from it. Monumental tombs, intended to endure forever, were a good way to announce the fact indelibly to everyone. One need only think of the pyramids. The populace did not visit them to pay their respects, as such, but they would certainly have stood before them in awe. Another, perhaps more subtle way of manipulating public perception was the use of conspicuous consumption. The target in this case was not so much the ordinary people but rival clans and power centres, who could be led to believe, seeing so much money lavished on a monument, that if so much disposable income was available, then there must surely be plenty more where it came from. This conspicuous consumption could take the shape of immense banquets, or the burial of vast riches with the deceased, as happened in the so-called Midas Tomb in Gordion ,Turkey. The procedure was one involving priests, relatives and officialdom. The populace played its role later, as tomb robbers.
Human sacrifice is also recorded. A man’s entire retinue of household servants might be bludgeoned to death and summarily embalmed, according to the latest research, to join their deceased master and ensure faithful, eternal service in the afterlife (mid-3rd millennium in Ur, Mesopotamia). But this system seems not to have endured. The Egyptians made do with moulded models, and the famous terracotta army was made of clay, not of people. For a long time the death of a ruler remained an affair between the surviving relatives and the religious authorities, but prestige might be lent by the architect of a monument. In Florence, Lorenzo the Magnificent had a simple tomb in San Lorenzo, but it was designed by Michelangelo.
The lying in state of a person of authority for the benefit not only of relatives and members of the apparatus of state but also of the common people, seems to have developed in the US, starting in 1852 with Henry Clay, a senator with a long and distinguished political career. In 1865 Abraham Lincoln was the first president to lie in state. The place of choice was the Capitol in Washington, DC. While we know when, however, it is not clear why it came about. Certainly the dramatic circumstances of Lincoln’s death played a part; moreover, as a young country looking for a common identity, the shared moment of grief acquired a momentum of its own in the United States and needed an outlet. The first statesman to be awarded the honour in the UK was Gladstone, in 1898, and from then on the practice spread and has now become routine. The first member of the British royal family to lie in state was Edward VII in 1910.
Another possible explanation for the custom of placing a body in an open casket is the fear of mistaken death. This encouraged people to delay burial for a few days to make sure that the departed was truly no more. The corpse would be kept in the house while well-wishers would come to pay their respects and comfort the family. While the medically accepted phenomenon of autoresuscitation (or Lazarus syndrome) is rare, the fear of being buried alive was and is very real. One can find all sort of examples on the web, including the case of a person who came back to life during his own autopsy.
Paola Pugsley is the author of Blue Guides to Crete and Turkey
The colour always favoured by Eleanor was red, and the entrance to this exhibition devoted to her life and patronage, which has just closed at Palazzo Pitti, was hung with a sumptuous crimson curtain. Beyond it, the visitor was at once confronted by what at first glance seemed to be the most famous portrait of Eleanor and her son, by Bronzino, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a good replica made some 40 years later by a pupil, the little-known painter Lorenze Vaiani, or Lo Sciorina. He replaced the portrait of Eleanor’s son Giovanni with another son, Garzia. The significance of giving this work pride of place as an introduction to the exhibition is that it demonstrates how Eleanor’s image was often replicated to perpetuate her importance as a member of the Medici court.
Two Utens lunettes, from his famous series of paintings of the Medici villas around Florence, depict Poggio a Caiano (with its garden and extensive estate) where Eleanor was received on her arrival in the city, and which remained her favourite residence, as well as the place where she chose to rest before the birth of each of her eleven children. The lunette of the Boboli behind the Pitti reminds us of how much Eleanor did to create that famous garden, ten years after she had married Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1539. It was her immense wealth that enabled her to purchase Palazzo Pitti and the park behind it.
Eleanor’s family background was Spanish: on loan from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich came an imposing portrait of her father, Don Pedro de Toledo, Viceroy of Naples. Holding a long pilgrim’s staff, symbol of the Spanish military order of the Knights of Santiago, the portrait has been attributed to Titian. The beautiful marble statue of a young river god, by Pierino da Vinci (now in the Louvre), was a gift from Eleanor to her father. Many ancient Roman statues, often reworked or restored by 16th-century sculptors, were chosen to adorn the Boboli gardens. Alongisde these, there were a number of much less pretentious ones, recording ordinary farmers about their work. These were a particular feature of the gardens which were largely created by Eleanor, and a genre sculpture of a peasant emptying a small barrel (designed as a fountain), which was part of the exhibition and is now replaced in the gardens by a copy, is known to have been specially commissioned by her from Baccio Bandinelli (his was the design but not the execution). The peasant, dressed in his work clothes, has a very expressive face and he introduced an entirely new type of sculpture to populate Italian gardens, a type which was to remain a feature of all subsequent formal gardens of this kind.
In quite a different spirit, Bandinelli was also responsible for the pair of small bronze busts, very refined portraits of Eleanor and Cosimo. The couple are also depicted, with five of their children, in a precious little agate cameo made by Giovanni Antonio de’ Rossi (displayed beside a drawing of it by Vasari from Christ Church, Oxford).
The most magnificent portraits of Eleanor and her husband, however, are those by Bronzino, and it is he who was inevitably the star of the show. His portraits are all still in Florence, including some very small portraits of the children, in oil on tin. He also possessed extraordinary skill as a draughtsman, producing studies for the chapel in Palazzo Vecchio which he painted for Eleanor.
It is known that Eleanor kept two weavers at her court and some very fine 16th-century tapestries survive.
Also part of the show were Eleanor’s exquisite little Book of Hours (now in the V&A in London) and a very small Deposition by Gérard David (1515–20), which is in the Uffizi but not normally on view and is thought to have been owned by Eleanor’s mother. Some of the most precious pieces of jewellery were fashioned by setting engraved Roman gems in gold mounts worked by Florentine jewellers. Two rings found in Eleonora’s tomb (opened in 1947) are Roman but refashioned by a Florentine craftsman, and almost certainly commissioned by Eleanor herself.
Also found in Eleanor’s tomb was a corset and pair of knitted stockings, both in her favourite red, apparently worn in her lifetime to keep her warm and taken with her to the tomb for the same purpose (she died of malaria in 1562). Displayed close by was an alarming steel corset which we are told she also wore on occasion.
The closing images were a pair of oval portraits of Eleanor and Cosimo, carved in maroon and green porphyry, an exceptionally hard rock occasionally used for imperial portraits in ancient Rome: these are certain to perpetuate for all time the couples’ remarkable lives.
Pietro Vannucci, the artist always known as Perugino, after Perugia, the chief city of his native Umbria, was born c. 1450. A superb new exhibition, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of his death in 1523, is currently on show at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria.
It was probably in Umbria that Perugino’s apprenticeship began and the exhibition begins with that background, with works by Benedetto Bonfigli (d. 1496) and Bartolomeo Caporali (d. before 1505), then considered the best artists of the Umbrian school. However, it was in Florence that Perugino reached his artistic maturity, in the workshop of Verrocchio—whose members included Botticelli and Leonardo. Looking at examples of the art of Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio and the Florentines, of which this show has several examples, it is clear how Perugino’s pictorial imagination was shaped. Altarpiece after altarpiece is populated with colourfully clad characters of somewhat ambiguous gender, standing in sinuous contrapposto, eyes rolling almost epileptically heavenwards.
Perugino’s reputation was made when, together with a group of Florentine painters, he was called to Rome in 1481 to produce works for St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel. As a result, some of the finest connoisseurs of the age, among them Lorenzo the Magnificent and Isabella d’Este, sought his services. He was described as “Italy’s finest maestro”; the colours of his palette were acknowledged to possess a special “sweetness”—a quality he is thought to have learned to convey from time spent in the lagoon light of Venice in the mid-1490s. The quality of his palette seems to suggest an everlasting sunny springtime.
Perugino, in his heyday, was formidable and prolific and maintained a large workshop. His self-portraits reveal a man of stocky, thickset appearance, probably capable of driving a hard bargain. He had no interest whatsoever in God, Vasari tells us, and an obsessive compulsion to make money. The star exhibit in this show is his Marriage of the Virgin, painted for the cathedral of Perugia in 1504. It hung there, in the Chapel of the Holy Ring, until 1797 when it was stolen by Napoleon. It is still in France, in Caen, but has returned to Umbria for this show. It contains many of the elements for which Perugino is distinctive: the serene and idealised backdrop; the rolling eyeballs; the outlandish headdresses; the rich colour blocks provided by the protagonists’ robes; the acute portrait studies in some of the faces.
But Perugino often overstretched himself. “Pietro always had so much to do,” Vasari tells us, “that he frequently repeated himself, and his theory of art led him so far that all his figures have the same air.” It is true. There are undeniable similarities between his Holy Ring and the Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, which he had painted for the Sistine Chapel in 1481–2. The Renaissance building in the centre, the enigmatic figures in the middle ground, the crowd at the front, the mountainous backdrop, the heavily stylised trees, the mixture of idealised, androgynous faces and contemporary portraits from life. It was the formula which had made him famous and he saw no reason to diverge from the tried and tested path. All of its elements can be found again in his Marriage of the Virgin.
Perugino, at his height, was very influential. The Marriage of the Virgin painted in the same year by Raphael is nothing short of a downright copy (though Raphael places his signature very prominently on the central building).
Raphael—Perugino’s greatest pupil— went on to far surpass his master, even though he predeceased him. Perugino, on the other hand, remained a painter of the 15th century, and as the 16th century wore on and revolutionary younger artists began to break the old moulds, he found that he could no longer get away with recycling past successes. Vasari tells a story about an altarpiece for the Annunziata in Florence, completed by Perugino after the death of Filippino Lippi. “But when this work was uncovered it was severely criticised by all the new artists, chiefly because Pietro had employed figures of which he had already made use. Even his friends declared but he had not taken pains, but had abandoned the good method of working, either from avarice or in order to save time. Pietro answered, ‘I have done the figures which you have formerly praised and which have given you great pleasure. If you are now dissatisfied and do not praise them, how can I help it?’” This was 1507, four years after Leonardo had painted his Mona Lisa and three since Michelangelo had sculpted his David. Perugino could not cling on forever to his spot at the top of Fortune’s wheel.
This show is clever, though, in that it ends on a high note. One skill that Perugino had that perhaps neither Michelangelo nor Raphael could ever equal was his gift at taking a keen and vivid likeness. In one of the last rooms of the exhibition are displayed a number of his portraits, many of them from the Uffizi. His own self-portrait is among them and there is something about the face that is instantly knowable. You feel you’ve seen this man. He might be the municipal carpark attendant or the man behind the fish counter in the supermarket. The waiter at the corner café. The man who came to fix the boiler. Back in Renaissance central Italy, he was the painter of softly serene altarpieces who didn’t believe in God.
Italy’s Best Maestro: Perugino and his Day, curated by Marco Pierini and Veruska Picchiarelli, runs until 11th June at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia.
Blue Guide Venice (ed. 10) is now in full colour, the first of a new look for the core series.
Since 1918, when the first Blue Guide appeared, the books have been through a number of redesigns but the quality of the text remains completely unchanged. The detailed focus on history, archaeology, architecture and art is exactly the same, the product of careful study and painstaking on-the-ground research. Now, though, all the maps, plans, illustrations and photographs are beautifully reproduced in colour – essential for presenting works of art, for showing the light and subtle shades of the lagoon, and for making maps that are easy to read and navigate.
Blue Guide Venice (ed. 10) is available in bookshops from March (UK) and May (US). As a taster, here a few sample pages from the new edition: