Mysterious Rosslyn Chapel Gets Facelift

Rosslyn Chapel
Sean McLachlan

Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland has been the center of conspiracy theories for at least a century before Dan Brown wrote it up in The Da Vinci Code. This private chapel less than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh has an interior filled with carvings that many believe have symbolism linked to the Masons and the Templars.

In recent years the 15th century chapel has suffered from damp that has been corroding the sculptures and undermining the integrity of some of the windows. The BBC reports that the owners of the chapel — the very same family that built it — have now finished a 16-year conservation project.

In 1997 a steel roof was put over the entire chapel in order to shelter it from rain and let it dry out. It stayed in place until 2010. Workmen also repaired the stonework and windows and made the roof watertight. Now all scaffolding has been removed and visitors can see the chapel unobstructed for the first time in 16 years.

I visited Rosslyn Chapel earlier this week and was impressed by the quality of the restoration. The chapel itself, however, left me underwhelmed. While attractive and filled with detail, it doesn’t contain any more symbolism than any other heavily ornamented medieval church. Go to Notre Dame in Segovia or the Romanesque churches of Segovia and you’ll see what I mean. The 9 pound ($14) entry fee and the rule against taking photos inside also rubbed me the wrong way.

I left with the impression that conspiracy theorists had decided this place was special and have spent generations overanalyzing it. More enjoyable for me and my family was a country walk to the nearby ruins of Rosslyn Castle set above a glittering Scottish stream. Much more picturesque and with far fewer people.

Giant Blue Rooster In Trafalgar Square Leaves Londoners Bemused And Befuddled


Trafalgar Square in London has a new statue — a giant blue cockerel. It’s the latest work of art to adorn the Fourth Plinth, a nineteenth-century base flanking Nelson’s Column. The other three plinths all have statues but the Fourth Plinth never got one, and so in recent years it’s become home to a series of temporary sculptures.

The giant blue cock, as the British media can’t resist calling it, has caused a bit of a stir. The cockerel and the color blue are both symbols of France, and this is a square dedicated to one of the British Empire’s greatest victories over Napoleon. German artist Katharina Fritsch, who created the sculpture, said she wasn’t aware of the symbolism. As London Mayor Boris Johnson says (he’s the blond guy with the awful haircut in this video) it could mean a lot of things, such as the British victory in the Tour de France. At the very least, the royal blue hue ties into London’s recent baby boy mania.

The Huffington Post has more photos of the giant rooster.

Eccentric England: The Headington Shark

Headington Shark
Henry Flower

Once again, I’m back in Oxford for my annual summer working holiday. I love this place. This quintessentially English city offers beautiful colleges, the world’s coolest museum, even the chance to bump into the Queen.

But all this pales in comparison to the sight of a giant shark crashing into a roof.

The Oxford suburb of Headington is a bit dull, so local resident Bill Heine at 2 New High Street decided to commission sculptor John Buckley to create a 25-foot shark to adorn his roof. It was put up on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. As Heine explained, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”

The clipboard Nazis in the local council were not amused. They tried to have it removed as a pubic hazard. When their engineer said it was perfectly safe, they tried various other excuses. Much legal wrangling ensued.

Decades later, the naysayers are all gone and the shark is still there. It’s a much-loved local landmark, a modern folly. I see it every time I come in on the bus from London and enjoy pointing it out to newcomers. There’s even a Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook with more than a thousand members. So if you’re coming to Oxford, pop on over and see the Headington Shark.

Madrid Offers Up Great Summer Art Season

Madrid
Dalí, El gran masturbador, 1929 © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VEGAP, Madrid, 2013

Madrid is one of the best destinations in the world for art, and this summer its many museums and galleries are putting on an impressive array of temporary exhibitions.

The blockbuster of the season is at the Reina Sofia, which is having a major exhibition on Salvador Dalí. “All of the poetic suggestions and all of the plastic possibilities” brings together almost 200 works here by the famous odd man of surrealism.

Organized in roughly chronological order, the earliest paintings in the exhibition date to the mid-’20s and show a surprisingly traditional technique. Once he’d mastered the basics, however, Dalí soon plunged into his own unmistakable style. The exhibition is accompanied by detailed texts on Dalí’s life and career. For example, we learn the reason why we keep seeing the same set of cliffs in Dalí’s work. In his youth Dalí and his family would vacation at the seaside town of Cadaqués, where he became obsessed with the cliffs of Cape Creus. He once said, “I am convinced I am Cape Creus itself. I am inseparable from this sky, from this sea, from these rocks.”

%Slideshow-2876%Many of his best-known works are here, as well as early sketches and little gems, like a painting of Hitler masturbating. Who but Dalí could pull that off? (Pun intended.) Numerous video screens shows Dalí’s many film experiments, including the famous “Un Chien Andalou” with Luis Buñuel and several other lesser-known films. The show runs until September 2.

The Reina Sofia has two other exhibitions. “1961: Founding the Expanded Arts” looks at a vital year in the history of modern art that saw the expansion of artistic collaborations and music experimentation and the launch of Concept Art. It runs until October 28. At the museum’s annex at Retiro park is “Cildo Meireles,” which looks at the acclaimed Brazilian conceptual artist’s work and runs until September 29.

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza has a major exhibition on Camille Pissarro. This cofounder of Impressionism was the only one to take part in all eight Impressionist exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. The museum brings together more than 70 of his works, mostly the lush landscapes for which he was known. The show runs until September 15.

El Prado also has three temporary exhibitions. The headliner is “Captive Beauty: Fra Angelo to Fortuny.” This exhibition brings together almost 300 works characterized by their small size and technical excellence. The point is to demonstrate the ability of some of Europe’s greatest artists to create beauty in a confined space and to highlight works that are often missed hanging next to giant, better-known works. They are arranged chronologically from the 14th to 19th centuries. The show runs until November 10.

Another of El Prado’s exhibitions examines the relationship between two 18th-century artists, Anton Raphael Mengs and José Nicolás de Azara. The two painters traded ideas and collaborated on projects throughout their careers. “Mengs and Azara: Portrait of a Friendship” runs until October 13. “Japanese Prints,” which runs until October 6, showcases items from the museum’s collection from the 17th to 19th centuries.

This year Spain and Japan are celebrating 400 years of friendly relations. In 1613, a group of Japanese emissaries set out to visit Spain. They crossed the Pacific, passed through the Spanish colony of Mexico, and then crossed the Atlantic. After touring Spain they continued on to visit the Pope in Rome before heading back home. The whole trip took seven years. We talk a lot about adventure travel here on Gadling, but nothing in the modern day can measure up to what these early travelers did.

To honor the anniversary, the Museum of Decorative Arts is hosting “Namban,” a fascinating look at the artistic influence these two distant cultures had on one another. One interesting object is a large screen in the Japanese style, yet bearing a Spanish colonial painting of Mexico City. There is as yet no closing date for this exhibition.

If you hurry you can still catch a free exhibition of the work of Swiss surrealist Alberto Giacometti at the Fundación Mapfre. The exhibition includes numerous examples of his famous statues of elongated human figures as well as his lesser-known paintings. This exhibition runs until August 4.

We’re suffering sweltering temperatures here in Madrid right now, so beat the heat and go see some art!

Celebrating Chinese New Year In Estonia

Estonia
When you think of Chinese New Year, the snowy capital of Estonia isn’t the first place you think of for celebrating it. Yet Tallinn put on a big show to greet the new year as part of their annual Fire and Ice Festival.

The Chinese community in Tallinn is pretty small, but the Chinese embassy is reaching out to this Baltic state and helped fund a grandiose program of entertainment to welcome in the Year of the Snake. A big stage in Tallinn’s Kadriorg Park had Chinese acrobats, dancers, and musicians doing their stuff.

The Estonians also took part in their own way. A group of Estonian sculptors, plus an Egyptian guest, did a set of five ice sculptures for the theme of the New Year. The artists were Tiiu Kirsipuu, Aime Kuulbusch, Kalle Pruuden and Elo Liiv from Estonia, and Salah Hammad from Egypt. Their works are based on the Eastern Lunar calendar, the central sculpture being the Black Water Snake of this new year. Flanking it were sculptures representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

A huge crowd came out to watch the unveiling. The night was a mild one by Estonian standards, dipping down to about 0 Celsius (about 20 degrees Fahrenheit) with a steady snowfall. Last year it was -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit). I’m glad I came this year and not last.

%Gallery-178530%Tiiu Kirsipuu, who sculpted the snake, told me that the ice came all the way from Lapland in northern Finland. Tiiu explained that the ice needs to be at least 40 centimeters thick and that Estonia is too far south to generally get ice freezing to that thickness.

I also talked with Salah Hammad, the visiting Egyptian artist. His usual works are comprised of stone, wood and metal formed into an abstract geometric style. This was Salah’s first time working with ice and he found it a tricky medium to control. Here he is next to his work below.

Once the sculptures were unveiled, the crowd pressed in to see them. Everybody felt the urge to stroke the figures. The festival organizers and artists didn’t seem to mind. I wondered aloud how long the figures would hold up to such treatment. One of the artists simply shrugged and said that impermanence was part of the medium.

As it grew later the mercury began to drop. The Estonians didn’t care. Living where they do they’ve made their peace with winter. Scattered all across the park were hundreds of snowmen, snowbears, snowdwarves and snowdragons. Eager kids were busily adding to the population. Snowball fights broke out everywhere. Parents warmed themselves at stalls selling mulled wine and everybody was wowed by the fireworks show the Chinese put on.

Just as it was really starting to get chilly, I managed to get invited to a reception at the Chinese embassy. Chinese cultural representatives told me how anxious they were to get their nation’s traditions better known in the West. Considering how much money they’d spent on a city of a little more than 300,000 people, I imagine they’re pretty serious. Expect more Chinese shows in your town soon.

Everyone felt the show had come off well and was in a good mood. Estonian artists, Chinese dancers, a Portuguese photographer, and a lone Canadian and Egyptian all mingled and enjoyed Chinese food and Spanish wine. Cultures and languages blended with ease.

I love this new international world!

This is the first in a new series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town!

[All photos by Sean McLachlan]

Estonia