Category Archives: Architecture

Museum Day Live! Is This Saturday


It’s that time of the year again.

“Museum Day Live!”, Smithsonian magazine’s annual celebration of American museums, takes place across the USA this Saturday, 23 September 2017. You can get free admission tickets for any of the 1,000+ participating museums, galleries, and cultural institutions at the magazine’s Museum Day Live! website.

The website makes it easy to find the participating museums in your area.

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The Arab Hall in Lord Leighton’s House

“Of all the Arab Halls in all the towns in all the world…”

…this is my favorite.

I’ve spent hours in this room, in what was once the Holland Park home of Sir Frederic Leighton. The house is a museum now—I’ve posted about the current Alma-Tadema exhibition, which is taking place there—and I visit it whenever I’m in London, which is never often enough.

And now you can visit too, in a way. I’ve just found some gorgeous 360-degrees panoramic views of many of the rooms in the Leighton House Museum.

Clicking this link will take you to the museum’s Reception area.  From there, you can travel directly to the Arab Hall, or take a narrated tour through the rest of the house.

It’s a great place to visit, and I’d really love to live there.

MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco House Is on the Market

When I heard that the house that was the setting for The Real World: San Francisco was on the market, three things surprised me:

  1. It’s been 23 years since that third series of MTV’s Real World franchise was televised. Season Three was undoubtedly The Real World’s high point, focusing as it did on the tragic, charismatic Pedro Zamora, the 22-year-old AIDS educator who died a few hours after the last show of the series was televised. MTV gets a lot of well-deserved criticism for the coarsening and dumbing down of the culture, but there have been times when it redeemed itself, and this was one of them.
  2. I had no idea that The Real World is still on the air. I’m well out of the demo and haven’t watched MTV for years, so I was unaware that the network has been cranking out its saga of drunken bad behavior, narcissistic fame whoring, and pixelated nudity for 32 seasons. That means the children of the earlier cast members are now old enough to be on the show.
  3. The asking price for the RW house, at 953 Lombard Street on Russian Hill, is $5,800,000. It was originally listed at $7,999,995 in May, dropped to $6,999,000 this month, and dropped again a few days ago. If you’re interested, you can view the listing, with pictures, at realtor.com.

International Agatha Christie Festival

The 2017 International Agatha Christie Festival will take place from Wednesday, 13 September through Sunday, 17 September, in Torquay, the British seaside resort where Christie was born. This year’s festival emphasizes her connection to the Middle East, where she spent considerable time with her husband, archaeologist Sir Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan.

The full schedule for the festival has just been posted, and it includes readings, films, concerts, tours, performances, and workshops. One of the highlights is likely to be the weekend-long Garden Party at Torre Abbey,

Torre Abbey

Torre Abbey

The historic Torre Abbey gardens “… will come alive with music, films, stalls and gastronomic delights for all the family.” There will be a garden marketplace and an open air screening of a classic Agatha Christie film.

Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson, will be on hand to discuss his memories of the writer.

Given the setting and the theme, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if someone is the victim of murder most foul during the weekend. If festival guests are in search of clues clews, they’d be well-advised to begin by looking in the herbaceous borders….

Single-day passes start at £15, and top out at £150 for the Grand Tour Ticket.


Torquay is about four hours from London, by car or train. While it’s certainly proud of its most well-known daughter, the city’s greatest claim to fame is probably that it was the (fictional) home of Fawlty Towers, Basil Fawlty, prop.

Take a break and watch as Basil, suffering from a concussion, tries to avoid embarrassing some German guests by not mentioning WWII.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria Rides Again

The girl in the painting would soon become Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. She gave this portrait to the Emperor for Christmas after the two were engaged to be married. It became one of Franz Joseph’s most prized possessions, and hung on the wall above his bed for 60 years, until his death.

It was sold at auction in Vienna last month for €1,540,000 (US$1,721,643).


It’s curious how people, places, and things you’ve never been aware of can make an unanticipated appearance in your life, and gradually draw you in until they become, at least for a while, a prominent part of your existence. An exhibition of Victorian art at the National Gallery totally altered my views on painting, for instance, and led to an ongoing obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites. A few years ago, my appreciation for The Hunger Games eventually resulted in my spending an entire summer reading nothing but teen dystopia novels.

OK, some unexpected tangents are more rewarding than others.

Until a few years ago, I knew next to nothing about Sisi–sometimes written as  “Sissi”–the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. But then in Vienna, I visited the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Complex and did The Grand Tour of 40 (out of 1,441) rooms of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg imperial summer residence.*

Sisi as Empress

Sisi as Empress

The unconventional and brilliant Sisi has been on my mind ever since. She was a searcher, always looking for something different, something new. She hated court life, and spent months at a time away from the capital, travelling to Morocco and England, Egypt and Corfu, France and Malta, learning languages as she went. She championed the empire’s Hungarian subjects, and they, in turn, idolized her. She was only 16 when she married the 24-year-old Emperor. He loved her passionately; her feelings were less intense.

The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. I just recently discovered that her favorite cousin was another historical figure who has always fascinated me, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, builder of Schloss Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace, and patron of Richard Wagner. Researching that relationship immediately landed a spot on my To Do list.


*There are some ravishing pictures of those sites at the links, most of them found on the Net, but a few of them my own. You can also view some pictures of her partially restored apartment in the Museo Correr that I took when I was in Venice this spring.

Paradiso, and the Chamber of the Great Council

I didn’t take this photograph. I’m using it because it there was no way for me to come close to capturing the texture and detail of the massive painting behind the Doge’s throne in the Chamber of the Great Council. It’s titled Paradiso, and it was painted by Jacopo Tintoretto and the members of his workshop.

Click the image to enbiggen.

I first saw a picture of Paradiso in Venice: Art and Architecture, a two-volume, slip-cased entry in the superb series of art books that the Konemann publishing house released around the turn of the century. The picture took up two full pages of the oversized book.

I was thoroughly enraptured. Venice had always been near the top of my list of cities I dreamed of visiting, and that picture cinched the deal.

And now I was here.

Paradiso is the world’s longest painting on canvas, and the Chamber of the Great Council itself is one of the largest rooms in Europe. It was here that the Great Council of Venice, made up of all patrician males over 25, regularly met to determine the fate of Venice.

I spent more than an hour in this room, moving from place to place, trying to absorb as much of the emotional atmosphere of the room as I could.

Like Schloss Neuschwanstein, like Sainte-Chapelle, like Château de Chenonceau.

A peak experience.

In the Doges’ Palace

We’re near the end, now. And we’re right back where we started, at Piazza San Marco.

For centuries, Venice was a dominant—sometimes the dominant—force in the commercial and cultural life of Europe, playing a role similar to that of New York City in the 20th century. The Doges’ Palace was Venice’s ultimate power center.

The Palace is adjacent to Saint Mark’s Basilica, and its entrance is just around the corner.


The Courtyard

You approach the palace grounds through this dim passageway…

…which opens to the central courtyard, and a magnificent assemblage of architecture. It’s a much smaller space than Piazza San Marco, but every bit as awe-inspiring..

Emerging from that shadowy entrance into this exquisite space is similar to going from Kansas to Oz.


“Much have I travelled in the realms of gold…”

Beautiful as the exterior is, it doesn’t prepare you for the grand rooms of the Palace.

This is why I keep going back to Europe. It takes centuries of civilization for a society to create an environment like this.


In the Armory

Every palace needs an armory.


The Reason I Came to Venice

There’s one more room in the palace still to visit: The Chamber of the Great Council. It gets a separate posting.