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Marking World Heritage Day today we are focusing on the ancient Japanese art of picture conservation and mounting known as Hyōgu.

1923 woodblock print after the earliest known image of a hyōgushi priest and his assistant Original by the 14th century Japanese painter Fujiwara Takakane
Private collection Great Britain

Hyōgu and the hyōgushi

The art of restoring and mounting works of art on paper and silk has been practiced in the Far East for nearly two millennia. Originating first in China at the beginning of the Christian era, conservation techniques and materials then spread to Japan where they developed into the refined art that we now know as Hyōgu.

The word Hyōgu means a picture or piece of calligraphy lined with paper and mounted as a hanging scroll. The words hyōgushi, hyōguya and kyōji refer to the mounter/conservators of Japan who not only repair and mount hanging scrolls but also conserve other forms of pictorial art such as the handscroll, screens, sliding doors, murals etc.

The hyōgushi of today is required to undergo a long and strict period of training. During this time he or she learns not only the skills which will enable him to conserve scrolls, screens etc, but also the knowledge and sensitivity required to present them in their correct context. He must know the appropriate style of mount used for any subject and be aware, for example, of the meanings associated with the patterned silks used with such mounts. He or she must also know how and where an object will be used as this will often dictate the materials and techniques employed in its conservation.

Like the Western bookbinder, the hyōgushi is responsible for objects which must be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The objects he is conserving are made to be opened and closed, rolled and unrolled and, apart from the demands of conservation and aesthetics, the hyōgushi must always bear in mind that they are to be constantly handled and not merely viewed.

 
St Andrew’s Church, Normanby, North Yorkshire, England
 
The Heritage Trust is fortunate to have our HQ in a little village in North Yorkshire, England that boasts a thriving pub and a pretty little Norman church. This morning we saw an elderly gentleman take some faltering steps towards the church. He’s a frequent visitor to the village and makes a daily pilgrimage to the church when no-one else is there. He went there this morning before the Easter Service. Why does he go alone you may ask. It’s because the church here is Church of England and he is a Roman Catholic. But he does go, daily when visiting, unlike the majority of those in the village and surrounding area. As the church bells rang out this morning, calling its ever dwindling congregation to attend, the words of Simon Jenkins came to mind; “ I don’t go to church, but I do go to churches.”
 
There are some 16,000 churches in England, many of them architectural gems and places of sanctity and peace. The majority however are poorly attended. The church here has two services a month, with a regular congregation of a dozen or so (most in their seventies and eighties). The rest of the time, other than the occasional wedding, funereal or coffee morning) the church stands open but unused. So what is to be done? Simon Jenkins, in his Guardian article here writes –
 
England’s biggest, most plentiful, most beautiful buildings are its churches. They are also its emptiest. There are some 16,000 churches in total, and every now and then their owner and janitor, the Church of England, utters a howl of pain. This month a church report points out that more than a quarter of churches have fewer than 20 worshippers on a Sunday – fewer than 10 in rural areas. Help, it cries, opening its mind (at last) to a future for local churches as everything from farmers’ markets to digital hubs, and even to naves as “champing” sites.
 
Every few years the church gets itself into a mess over how to use its churches. Like millions of people, I don’t go to church, but I do go to churches – 85% of the public visits a church every year. We regard them as the community’s ritual forum, its museum, its art gallery, its concert hall, its occasional retreat for peace, consolation and meditation. Many in the church view us as freeloaders (though I always leave money) and cannot see why they should give us such delight when their proper business is prayer, not heritage custody.
 
As long as parish churches are seen as shrines belonging to a tiny minority of the community, any hope of wider commitment is pie in the sky. Struggling local churches must be secularised, desanctified. They must be vested in an endowed local trust or parish council that literally owns them, so they become community assets, for whose upkeep local rates can be levied, as with public parks and gardens. There will be many spills along the way. But these buildings cannot be demolished or nationalised. There is simply no alternative.
 
In a nutshell then, our lovely little parish churches must embrace the wider community. They should become places of worship or meditation for people of all faiths as well as for those of none. Places where concerts are performed, exhibitions held, talks on all matters delivered. Most of all they should be places where all are made welcome and do not feel it necessary, like our elderly gentleman above, to feel excluded.
 
Happy Easter to all our readers.
 
 
Detail of the 450 year-old Thomas Tallis’s motet Gaude gloriosa manuscript
Oxford Corpus Christi College MS 566. Image credit DIAMM.ac.uk
 
Writing for the Rhinegold Group, News Editor Katy Wright, reports on this evening’s performance of Thomas Tallis’s motet Gaude gloriosa. The manuscript on which the motet is written was found behind plasterwork in the walls of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, England in 1978. This evening’s performance will be the first time it has been heard for 450 years. What makes it even more interesting is that although the music is by Thomas Tallis the text is thought to be by Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr.
 
Alamire is to perform a work by Thomas Tallis which has not been heard for over 450 years as part of its concert at St John’s Smith Square on 14 April. The words are from Parr’s psalm paraphrase ‘Against Enemies’ in her first publication Psalms or Prayers, published in London in 1544, and were set as a contrafact of Tallis’s Gaude gloriosa Dei mater.
 
[Conductor David Skinner…] discovered that See, Lord, and behold (Parr’s text, set to music by Tallis) and the composer’s five-part Litany (using text by Thomas Cranmer, which was the first departure from the Roman rite in Henry’s reign) were first performed following an elaborately orchestrated series of events at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, which culminated on 23 May 1544 with a procession and sermon.
 
More here.
A thought… by Moss.
 
 
 
Stonehenge by Hesketh David Bell (1849 – 1872)
 
Can one ever imagine  Stonehenge as peaceful and open as this painting, the clawed hand of industrial farming is still not to be seen, as are also the trees. Sometimes romantic versions of what we want and not what we have are just flights of fancy, as I am sure this painting is, though obviously painted when the dreaded car was yet to be seen.  I have seen elsewhere discussion about the rocks in the foreground, not to be seen today, but I think a certain artistic licence is granted to  artists, and Bell’s other work features dramatic rocky landscapes.  Strangely it reminds me of the North York moors, featureless except for the open space but coloured by the vegetation of its underlying stone. Subject matter contrasts our lowly ‘peasant’ with his two cows and smattering of sheep against the far off prehistoric stones. Judge against the ‘horror’ of the traffic laden road which is the subject of  controversy today and weep.
 
 
 
Stonehenge today. Image credit BBC News

 

See also Mike Pitts’ feature, What did the world heritage site mean to people who built Stonehenge? Nothing, here.
 

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