An Interview with Jan Garside

Jan Garside, with one of her collaborators, John Angus, and the woven book

Jan Garside, with one of her collaborators, John Angus, and the woven book

Jan Garside, a textile artist, recently completed a set of three responses to our research and to the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition at Hardwick Hall. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Jan to talk through her inspiration and the challenges of her work, and to learn more about the ‘Drawing Room’ installation. Continue reading

Weaving histories: contemporary textiles at Hardwick Hall


Yesterday, I made another trip to Hardwick Hall to help (well, mainly watch) textile artist Jan Garside and her collaborators install a set of three responses to our research, and to the themes of the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition.

Continue reading

Picture of a reading table?


A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about Bess of Hardwick’s reading. What I didn’t mention there was the description of the table on which Bess kept her books. According to the 1601 inventory of Hardwick, Bess’s books sat in her bedchamber, next to an hourglass and a mirror. Whilst it’s tempting to imagine these as the early modern version of an alarm clock and a looking-glass, for Bess they almost certainly had a more serious purpose. Continue reading

An inlaid table, as you’ve never heard it before…

On 13th April 2013, visitors to the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall were in for a surpise…

‘Les Canards Chantants’, a talented quartet currently based in York, delighted visitors by singing ‘live’ from the Eglantine table, which is delicately inlaid with wooden sheet music. Visitors were amazed to ‘hear’ the table – some demanded an encore, and others wanted to know if the Canards could get a regular gig!

For me, it was a revelatory experience. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Curating ‘Virtue and Vice’


The first of the four rare painted hangings in the Hardwick Chapel which inspired our exhibition. ©NTPL/John Hammond.

On a visit to Hardwick in the summer of 2011, I encountered two striking textiles. One was a magnificent appliqué hanging depicting ‘Faith and his contrary, in the person of Mahomet’: something I had read about in the inventories Bess made of her three properties in 1601, but never seen. The other was a rare and important painted cloth which illustrates the conversion of St Paul: a theme beloved of artists across Europe during the Renaissance, but which I was surprised to find painted onto fabric in a household chapel. Between them, these two luxurious objects encapsulate many of the obsessions and events of the Elizabethan age. The connections and conversations they make possible inspired the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition. Continue reading

Fingers and Mirrors: Caravaggio and the Conversion of Mary Magdalene in Renaissance Rome

Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598. Detroit Institute of Arts, 73.268.

When the Conversion Narratives team went to Fort Worth, Texas for the Sixteenth-Century Studies conference in October last year, we were lucky enough to catch an incredible exhibition, ‘Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome’ at the magnificent Kimbell Art Museum. We particularly enjoyed the chance to spend some time face-to-face with Caravaggio’s potent image of Martha and Mary Magdalene, often called ‘The Conversion of Mary Magdalene’.

The image, which is usually housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts, where you can zoom in to see much of the fine detail of the painting, depicts an earnest Martha persuading a lavishly-dressed Mary of her sins. For Roman viewers, the scene would have gained a particular frisson from their knowledge that the sitter who portrayed Mary was a well-known courtesan, Fillide Melandroni (Martha may have been another courtesan, Anna Bianchini) — so that the dynamic of the painting is frustrated by the non-conversion of the real-life counterpart to this ambiguously pious figure. Continue reading

Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court

Mughal Painting from the Royal Court, c. 1600

Searching the V&A catalogue, I stumbled across this fabulous image. It is a characteristically refined and naturalistic painting done by an unknown artist at the Mughal royal court, probably between 1600 and 1610. The Mughal Empire stretched across most of present-day India and Pakistan, where it consolidated the presence of Islam, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture into South Asia. Continue reading

Northern convert artists in Rome


Peter Paul Rubens, St. Gregory the Great surrounded by male and female saints adoring the miraculous image of the Virgin and child, the so-called Madonna della Vallicella, 1606, oil on canvas. Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble, France.

In 1606 the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), who had come to Rome from Antwerp, won perhaps the most important commission of his young career. This was the high altarpiece painting for the Chiesa Nuova, the Roman mother church of the Oratorians, a Catholic reform religious order founded in the papal city during the sixteenth century. That same year, German engraver Mattheus Greuter (c. 1564/1566 – 1638), come to Rome from Strassburg, executed two engravings for the Roman Oratorian congregation that echoed the composition of Rubens’ altarpiece. Continue reading

A Leyden Take on Conversion

Last Spring, the museum De Lakenhal in Leiden hosted the exhibition Lucas van Leyden and the Renaissance, featuring prints, drawings and paintings by the Dutch engraver Van Leyden (1494-1533) and his colleagues, including Albrecht Dürer and Marcantonio Raimondi. In addition to showing the work of the leading Renaissance artist of the Northern Netherlands, the purpose of the display was to present it in the context of the art of his contemporaries. Continue reading

Fishy Tales part III: Fishing for Souls

This fantastic oil painting by the Dutch artist Adriaen van de Venne was produced in 1614. Van de Venne was inspired by the story from Matthew 4:19 in which Jesus passes two fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew, at work and tells them ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ In the painting Protestant clergymen compete with Catholic priests to haul souls from the river – their respective congregations fill the opposing banks, clearly depicting the competing sides in the European Reformation. ‘Fishing for Souls’ is on display in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.