28 May 2013

The Burial of Count Orgaz

The Burial of Count Orgaz, Santo Tomé,Toledo.
1586-1588. 480 x 360 cm.

This is the greatest painting I have ever seen. It is a very large painting -- more than fifteen feet high, and nearly twelve feet wide, and it hangs in the location for which it was painted.  There is a row of chairs where you sit in amazement, a very poorly-dressed extension of the witnesses to the miracle, witnessing Miracle.

The fourteenth-century Count Orgaz was noted in Toledo for his great charity to the poor. At his funeral, Saints Sebastian and Augustine appeared and themselves lowered his body into the tomb.  Notice the saints' tenderness in this detail, the protective shape formed by their bodies  as they lift the dead weight of the body encased in steel armor, themselves encased in cloth-of-gold. The detail will enlarge a little here, but go to the link above to look at the extraordinary details of the embroidery on their vestments.

 Look at the extreme contrast in the sheer fabric worn by the man to the right, the detail so important that you can see how the surplice was constructed -- the central seam, the backing around the neckline, and then its fragility contrasted with the weight of the cloths-of-gold.  If you follow his hands, his left -- turned up and full of light -- points to an open hand, a red embroidery, the warmth of Augustine's colorful robe. His right hand -- turned down and dark -- indicates the Death's head on the robe of the officiating priest, probably Andrés Núñez, priest of Santo Tomé, who commissioned the painting from his Greek parishioner.

At his death in 1323, Count Orgaz, Gonzalo de Ruiz, had bequeathed Santo Tomé an annual donation. This was supposed to be collected from the good citizens of Orgaz as the town belonged to his seignury.  They had, reasonably enough, stopped paying in 1562, but two years later, Andrés Núñez brought suit to have it collected again.  He won his case, and decided to use the money for the chapel.  Some years later, in 1584,  Núñez got permission from his archbishop for a painting, and in 1586 a contract was signed with Domenikos Theotokopoulos.  

The commission specified the burial, the saints, and then the witnesses, which Theodokopoulos made into an extraordinary frieze separating the heavens from the earth, their flaming torches rising to touch the heavenly light, and their hands like flames. (This picture becomes much larger when clicked.)  

The commission also specified the glory of the heavens with an open sky, but the winds of the Spirit were too strong and they have filled the heavens with whirling clouds of witnesses and angels and saints, and pull the torch flames upward. The heavens are not so much full of light as they are are illuminated by the light shining out of the holy ones.

But the astounding thing in this painting is the conception -- and this is not a pun -- of the entrance to heaven.  Theotokopoulos has taken the Orthodox representation of the soul as a new-born infant, though in them Christ holds the infant soul above the dead saint.  Here an exquisitely beautiful angel gently guides the infant soul of Count Orgaz from the womb of the world through a cervix of clouds into the heavens.  Waiting by a person who is dying is very like waiting beside a woman in labor, and the heavenly witnesses turn in the intensity of their excitement at the death-and-birth to Christ.  Except for the only woman present, Mary, who is waiting to help the infant be born.

21 May 2013

The Spanish princess marriages

 Alfonso V.

"Spanish Princess" came into the United States by the 19th century as the name of a scam, and it would be difficult to prove that it was not a scam used on the Palaiologues in the 1440s.  The phrase may derive from the "Spanish prisoner" scam of 1588 in which money was sought to free a high-ranking prisoner. A high-ranking lady was offered as part of the reward in that one.

From 1442 to 1458, Alfonso V of Aragon, Barcelona, and Mallorca, was also king of Naples and Sicily.  Many of the Catalan ships that turn up in Moreote history were his -- it was one of his ships that took Constantine to Constantinople to be Emperor. When Constantine briefly held Athens between 1444 and 1446, Alfonso asked for Constantine to give it to him so he could renew Catalan Greece. For at least a decade, Alfonso held out promises -- to Constantinople, to Constantine, to Theodoros, to Thomas, to Demetrios -- of financial aid, of ships and troops, of brides.  Brides were of some concern: there were no male heirs after their generation to the throne of the Eastern Empire, and Constantine and Theodoros were currently unmarried.

story of Alfonso V is much too involved to relate here but some very slight details from the Spanish-princess promises have survived.

The summer of 1443 the Neapolitan consul to Constantinople, Pere Rocafort, had taken the new King Alfonso a series of proposals he had worked out with John: in exchange for the support of twenty to twenty-five galleys, Alfonso could have his choice of Imbros, Lemnos, or Skiros. John's brothers in the Morea could produce 40,000 horsemen and 20,000 archers (again, the epenthetic zero appears). Alfonso was to have a consul at Patras.  Thomas was asked for a coastal castle, while Constantine was to give Alfonso the fief of Chalandritza, inland from Patras, for a colony.  Bessarion thought this would be a great help for the Morea and wrote Constantine, "It will be of great benefit to our power and our future hopes to give an enthusiastic welcome to volunteers from whatever part of the external world who wish to dwell in Peloponnesus."

In addition, Alfonso was to arrange marriages for Constantine and Theodoros to two Spanish ladies related to him:
 "la una, jermana de don Pedro de Cardona, l'altra, filla del comte Gilabert dels Exovars."  The one for Theodoros was Beatriu Coloira Caterina de Cardona i de Villena, daughter of the Catalan Count of Collesano in Sicily, but whatever happend, she was married to two other people.

From 1443 through the summer of 1448, Theodoros was Despot of Selybria, a two-day ride from Constantinople, and a position that allowed him to obsess about becoming Emperor himself. He must have been conducting his own negotiations as in 1444, the Prince of Taranto had contracted to give him his niece and heir, Isabella of Claramonte, as a bride. 

Isabella was heiress to much of southern Italy, and the titles of Prince of Achaia and Latin Emperor of Constantinople had belonged to several direct ancestors. Probably no heiress in western Europe was more suitable for marriage to an heir to the throne of Constantinople.  Unfortunately for Theodoros, Taranto's overlord, Alfonso V of Naples, stepped in very quickly and married her to his (bastard) son and heir, Ferdinand. Ferdinand had six children by her, eight by other women. 

Theodoros apparently continued to negotiate for a Spanish bride, but he died abruptly of plague at the end of July 1448, before anything could happen.  One of the eulogies for him says: 

O most holy despot, you sent out envoys to Iberia suggesting a most advantageous course for yourself, but time had different ideas and wedded you to a tomb. The returning messenger will carry a fine message, that you are dead, you have been committed to burial and that you have no further concern with life. How your betrothed will cry out, as instead of being surrounded by brilliance and splendor, she becomes dark and downcast. No wedding hymn will be sung for her, nor will the bridal lamps be lit; there will be only sad music, the shearing of her hair in mourning and wailing, prophetic of many evils, All this she has unhappily come to through your death.

That is all we know about that one. 

My great appreciation to Daniel Duran y Duelt for introducing me to this topic.

13 May 2013

The Tall Book

I still own, after 68 years, the first book that I remember, and in that memory I am in my crib refusing to be settled down for sleep if I don't have my book with me. The front cover is gone, and parts of many pages, but my favorite pictures survive.  The Tall Book -- this one is Mother Goose, and there are other Tall Books of fairy stories, of make-believe, of nursery tales, of Christmas -- was published in 1942, republished ever since. If you google on "the tall book" you can find an infinite number of original copies to buy, from $4.25 to $110 or so, as well as other books of the same name but not of the same character.

The artist, Feodor Rojankovsky, had only moved to the United States from Russia, by way of France, in 1941.   In my early years I had a stack of books illustrated by Rojankovsky.  He gave me -- and how many other children? -- the idea of an artist's style, the immediate sense of comfort and familiarity.  His images combine a quality I later learned to recognize as "European" with something else that could only be "American."  Like this boy who prepared me to meet Huckleberry Finn.  If his sweater was not American in 1942, his ears and sunburn certainly were.

It was only when I was reading The Tall Book to one of my own children that I recognized Humpty-Dumpty and could admire the slyness of the artist, or the publishers, who chose to publish this sequence in 1942.  

This lovely boy could be drawn from my grandson, Ryan:

A few more:

07 May 2013

Mapping the territory, Part Two

Detached fresco, Berroia, Ag. Photida
Late 14th-early 15thC.

In March 1489, Ianni Dilalo, Vasili Pullisiano, and Nicola Capsocollo were directed by Antonio Venier and Dominico Bembo, the "magnificent and generous rettori and most worthy provedditori" of Koroni, to make a survey of the property held by Nicola Xachili that had formerly belonged to the late ser Farante Suppin. Dimitri Cutrulli, the captain of Meronada, brought them their orders and papa Dimitri Calamara wrote down the legal record.  This was part of the same survey that was discussed last week.

Nicola Xachili (that Venetian X can be pronounced as a Z or an S or an H) held land at Milopotamia -- notice the mills mentioned.  He was one of the larger landholders, owing 28 perperi* a year.  This is what he owned -- notice that single trees are counted.

*A free tavern, bordered by the public road and the mill of Calamara.

*A garden, one
octava: it has 3 orange trees and 1 walnut.

*On the west a garden, one
octava: it has 4 orange trees.  It borders with the garden of Calamara, and with the garden of ser Gilio Defrancheschi, and with the mill of the signoria, which borders on the public road and is held by the said Nicola Xachili.**

*A vineyard, worked by 1/2 man, produces annually 4 measures of must. It borders on the east with the field of Dimitri Palamida, on the west with the garden of
ser Theofilato Cocalla, on the north with the public road, on the south with the garden of the late Zorzi Chalifa.

* A little garden, one
octava. It has 7 orange trees, 3 fig trees, 1 cherry tree, 1 pomegranate, and 1 walnut. It borders on the east with the public road, on the west with the field of ser Theofilato Cocalla, on the north half with the mill of the signoria, and the other half with the mill and property of Nicodimo, and that mill borders on the public road and on the north with the field of Colafti.

* A field of one mozada. It has 6 olive trees, 3 orange trees, 1 walnut tree, and 6 fig trees.  It borders on the east with the watercourse for the mill, on the west with the field of
ser Theofilato Cocalla, on the north with Colafti, on the south with the said ser Theofilato.

* * * * * *

It is striking to find cherry and walnut trees so far south.  Both this document and the one from last week suggest that land was held  in very small parcels.

Again, I would be grateful if someone could tell me how much land was contained in a mozada and an octava.

* Based on the monetary equivalents Bartolomeo Minio gave 8 years earlier: 1 ducat was the equivalent of 13 perperi & 10 soldi di tornese, while 20 soldi equalled 1 perpero.

** The mill belongs to the Venetian administration.  Xachili pays an annual rent for it and is then free to charge customers what he can get.

I am indebted to Konstantina Papakosma for these documents, which I am glad to make available to anyone else.  The originals are found in the Venetian archives, ASVe, Avogaria di Commun, Miscellanea Civil, b. 145, f. 17 et seq.