Coronation of Henry III – 1216

image800 years ago the new King of England Henry III was crowned in what is now Gloucester Cathedral. This anniversary has been largely missed outside of Gloucester with the fanfare over Shakespeare and Magna Carter in the past few years so I decided to make it the topic for my post as I live in Gloucester and the Cathedral are having some commemoration events.

King Henry III was born in Winchester Castle in 1207 to King John and his second wife Isabella of Angouleme. This made him only 9 years old when his father died in 1216. The reality of having a child King meant that his position was particularly precarious but fortunately Henry’s position was strengthened by the support and guidance of the influential elder statesman William Marshall.

After the death of King John the English barons had to choose between the child Henry or the adult but French Louis. Nobody liked King John and the thought of a child of his that would take many years to reach adulthood as King was not immediately appealing but a French King was an even worse prospect for the nobility. Most decided on supporting Henry over the French and arrangements for a regency council were made to last until he came to his majority.

Henry’s administration faced a myriad of extra problems to deal with. Rebels had invited the Dauphin of France Louis to invade England and the French forces had the south east of the country under their control. Hindsight can trick us into believing that that this invasion was of little consequence but at the time many thought the young kings position to be hopeless. This sentiment caused some loyal to the young King and the Royal council, such as the earl of Salisbury to defect. The eventual success of the Royal forces was in no way inevitable and when victory was achieved it was seen as a significant change in fortunes.

This invasion and the youth of the King coupled together had the potential to become very damaging to the position of the monarchy. To try and reinforce the authority of the monarchy the decision was made by Marshall to hold a coronation for the boy immediately. The result was a rather hastily organised ceremony in Windsor Castle. Due to the loss of many of the Royal jewels and other coronation apparel in the wash a golden circlet – a possession of Queen Isabella’s – had to be used instead of a crown.

The regency council led by the aforementioned William Marshall defeated Louis at Lincoln and his hold on the south of England evaporated after a defeat for his naval forces. Marshall also announced his intention to rule in accordance with the Magna Carta which proved to be a popular move among the nobility.

The coronation itself was held in St Peters abbey in Gloucester on the 28th October 1216 due to the deteriorating political situation in London where the ceremony would normally be conducted in Westminster abbey. The legitimacy of the coronation in Gloucester was in doubt however, due to the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury who was banned from England by the Pope. We can assume the ceremony was fairly threadbare as the Pope called into question the legitimacy of the 1216 coronation and another was held with all necessary pomp and circumstance in Westminster abbey in 1220.

In the end the primary purpose of the 1216 coronation seems to have been to boost the legitimacy of the new King and cement support for Henry against the French. This was achieved and the Kings position cemented. In this sense the coronation could be seen as a success, even if the ceremony was minimalist in comparison to previous coronations.

So all in all the beginning of Henry III’s reign didn’t show much promise but eventually the initial problems were overcome. The success of Henry’s reign was mixed at best and ironically later on in his reign the French were supporting him against rebellious barons in the barons war. After the Magna Carta Henry’s reign heralded a new set of standards of accountability for the monarch, paving the way for the rise of parliamentary power.

“Dress suitably in short skirts … and buy a revolver”: The role of women in The Easter Rising of 1916

As we mark the centenary of The Easter Rising, a recent article by Olivia O’Leary for The Guardian lead me to consider the involvement of women in the conflict and on the involvement of the aristocrat-turned-rebel, Countess Markievicz, in particular.

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Three young rebels of Easter, 1916

          Easter fell early this year, on March the 27th, but a century ago Easter Sunday was celebrated on the 23rd of April, with Easter Monday falling on the 24th.  However, the religious festivities of 1916 were to be greatly overshadowed by the outbreak of an armed conflict in Ireland, one which came to be known as The Easter Rising. The Rising, a rebellion against British rule, largely took place in Dublin, with smaller skirmishes breaking out across the country. It began on Easter Monday, 1916, when a group of around 1,800 men and women took over key buildings in Dublin, transforming The General Post Office into their headquarters. It was on the steps of the Post Office that Patrick Pearse read aloud a statement, known as the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which he declared that Irish men and women would fight for their independence from the crown.

The British army, caught unawares by the development and with forces focussed on World War One, was initially slow to react but it soon took measures to halt the rebellion. Within a few days, extra troops had arrived in Ireland. Fighting broke out on the streets of Dublin, and it is thought that almost five hundred people were killed in the conflict. Of them around two hundred and sixty– three for every rebel death – were civilians, with many killed as a result of crossfire in the busy city, or of the British use of artillery and heavy machine guns.  The Rising began on April the 24th and lasted for just five days, though its legacy is still celebrated by Irish Republicans, and the conflict is a common theme in many of the famous Belfast murals. Many others, however, such as the former Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, criticise the ‘celebratory’ tone surrounding memorials. He believes that ‘It is important that in remembering and commemorating what happened that we don’t glorify or justify it.’

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The destruction of Dublin, 1916

The centenary of the conflict lead many to discuss the way it is commemorated, and indeed whether the legacy is worth remembering at all. In a recent article for The Guardian, for example, published shortly before Easter this year, journalist Olivia O’Leary voiced her admiration at her grandfather’s involvement in the Rising, yet her disappointment in the outcome. She wonders, ‘What happened to the promise of equality in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic read out on Easter Monday 1916, … addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen”?’ O’Leary goes on to note that while the proclamation declared an end to British rule, it also guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens. What’s more, writes O’Leary, it made a commitment to universal suffrage, something which was extraordinary at the time, and two years before women in Britain won the vote. O’Leary writes of her disappointment therefore that the progressive message ‘became stifled by a conservative culture obsessed with female chastity and purity.’

‘Historians,’ writes O’Leary, ‘now tell us that there was a tussle to have women included so pointedly in the proclamation.’ It was a struggle won by James Connolly and Constance Markievicz, the prominent feminist and socialist. Yet only two years later in the general election of 1918, ‘when Sinn Féin swept the boards,’ it was clear that the socialists and feminists had been pushed aside. ‘Most of the dreamers and visionaries had been shot in 1916’, writes O’Leary, ‘and a more pragmatic and conservative leadership concentrated totally on the nationalist goal of separation from the UK.’ Thus, when the Irish Labour movement decided to stand aside in 1918 so as not to split the nationalist vote, the only woman elected was Markievicz.

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Constance Markievicz, the rebel countess of 1916

After reading O’Leary’s article, I was curious to read more about the involvement of women in The Easter Rising. In particular, I was keen to learn more about the role of Constance Markievicz, knowing very little about her beside her reputation as the ‘rebel countess.’ One post, by BBC History, notes that her exploits dominated contemporary press accounts of The Easter Rising. An instance of this being ‘the scene at the College of Surgeons when she kissed her revolver before handing it over to the British officer at the moment of surrender,’ a tale which passed instantly into Irish nationalist mythology. Quite something for a woman who had been born into the aristocratic Gore-Booths family in London, 1868, and presented at court to Queen Victoria in 1887.

The author writes that she married a Polish count, Casimir Markievicz, however they had little in common and separated amicably at the outbreak of World War One. Then, in 1909, Markievicz first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping the nationalist scouting organisation Na Fianna Éireann in their mission to train boys for participation in a war of liberation. She was also deeply involved with the Irish suffragette movement and focussed considerable energy into Inghinidhe na hEireann, a militant women’s organisation founded by Maude Gonne. Markievicz demonstrated further compassion in her work with the poor. In 1913, for example, during the Dublin Lockout, she worked tirelessly so as to provide food for the worker’s families.

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Countess Markievicz

Just two years later, she was involved in helping to organise and train the Irish Citizen Army. Indeed, during the Easter Rising, Markievicz was second-in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green/College of Surgeons, and she actively fought throughout the week. After the conflict, she was the only woman to be court-martialled, on May the 4th, 1916. While it has been suggested that Markievicz ‘crumpled up’ during her trial, there is little evidence to support this. Official records instead suggest that ‘she acted with courage, dignity and defiance’ at the trial, and declared “I did what I thought was right, and I stand by it.” The verdict reached by the court was unique; she was found ‘Guilty. Death by being shot,’ yet with a recommendation to mercy based ‘solely and only on account of her sex.’ The sentence was therefore commuted to a life sentence.

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Countess Markievicz during her time in prison

Markievicz ultimately served thirteen months in Irish and English gaols, and later claimed that her inspiration during the period of her imprisonment had been Thomas Clarke, a signatory of the Proclamation who had been executed alongside Pearse and MacDonagh on the 3rd of May, 1916.  Afterwards she also was known for being unforgiving in her attitude towards the Irish Volunteer Chief of Staff, Eoin MacNeill, who had opposed and tried to prevent the Rising. In the General Election of December, 1918, Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. However, as a member for Sinn Féin, she never took her seat in Westminster. Rather, she served as Minister of Labour (1919- 1921) in the first Dáil, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. She is known to have bitterly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December, 1921, and supported the anti-Treaty forces during the civil war. In 1921, aged 59, Markievicz died in hospital in Dublin. At her funeral, the working class of the city lined the streets.

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Crowds line the streets for the funeral of Countess Markievicz, 1921

Markievicz is perhaps the best known woman to have been active in the Easter Rising, but she was by no means the only one. In her article entitled Women of the Rising: Activists, Fighters & Widows, Sinéad McCoole writes of the many who fought alongside her, and are only now receiving recognition. Approximately three hundred women took part in the events of Easter week, 1916. This figure is one which McCoole draws from recently released material held by the Military Archives, and is much higher than previously thought. Beyond the statistics, McCoole also examines contemporary newspapers for ‘a more immediate insight into the roles played by women in 1916.’ One press report, for instance, stated that the women ‘were serving in the dining room of the Post Office dressed in their finest clothes, and wore knifes and pistols in their belts… wearing green and white and orange sashes.’ While another report, based on an account by a Red Cross nurse and published under the headline ‘Fearless Under Fire,’ expresses a great amount of admiration for ‘…these Irishwomen, who did their work with a cool and reckless courage, unsurpassed by any man from the first to the last day of the Rebellion.’

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Some of the approximately 300 women involved in the Easter Rising

Indeed, the contribution of women attracted a great deal of international attention, and in the aftermath of the Rising many representatives of the American press came to interview the women who had been imprisoned. Kathleen Lynn, for example, who had served as Chief Medical Officer in the Irish Citizen Army later reflected that they were not what the media had expected; ‘We were not up to the mark and as snappy as they would have liked us to be. They got the impression that we were a poor lot.’ Yet, whatever the opinion of the American press, and whether or not the Easter Rising should be commemorated or simply remembered, the role of women in the conflict should not be overlooked. In a recent article entitled The Forgotten Role of Women Insurgents in The 1916 Rising, Tom Clonan effectively summarises by stating that while women continue to be ‘effectively airbrushed from historical accounts of the Rising and their sacrifices for the state routinely omitted in discussions around Irish identity and citizenship,’ the role they played in the struggle of 1916 and in the subsequent War of Independence was nonetheless vital.

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Further reading:

The Siege of Acre – 1189-91

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My post this month is concerning a particular event during the Third Crusade, the siege of Acre which occurred between 1189 and 1191, ending with the help of King Richard I of England and King Phillip II of France. I have been looking at this siege as part of my dissertation and I have found it to be quite fascinating, as you can see how people reacted to certain factors over the 2-3 years it took to (spoiler alert!) win the siege.

The siege was begun by King Guy of Jerusalem after he was freed of imprisonment by Saladin, the leader of the enemy during the crusade. He had sworn an oath to Saladin to give up his kingdom and to travel overseas immediately, to stop him from fighting against Saladin, however the clergy of the kingdom of Jerusalem declared this oath invalid due to the conditions it was made in. At this point Acre was held by Muslims, although the contemporary sources claims that they were pagans. Guy attempted to gain the aid of the marquis of Tyre on his way to Acre, but failed. Guy eventually travelled with an army of Pisans alongside his own army from Tripoli and Antioch. The Christians besieged the city by land and by sea, as Acre was a port-city, by cutting off both side of the city the siege should have been over relatively quickly, however Saladin quickly gathered an army to besiege the besiegers! With the Christians fighting on two fronts it became critical that they retain the port for reinforcements, which did come in serious numbers.

Before the main army of Saladin arrived the Christian army decided to attack the city, without any siege machines being finished. This attack would have quickly ended the siege and would have saved so much trouble if it weren’t for a lying messenger claiming that Saladin’s forces were upon them. The army withdrew to face this army, only to find that it was just the advance guard, scouting out the situation. With this mistake the double-siege began.Siege-Acre-Map

For some time King Guy and his army was the only Christians besieging Acre. Late in 1189 some reinforcements, including French, English and German arrived to aid the siege. The Marquis of Tyre, Conrad, also arrived with his own army. This obviously raised the moral of the army already in place, after being attacked almost daily by Saladin’s forces. After these forces arrived the Christian army was able to properly entrench themselves, building defenses and siege machines, at great expense to the army leaders.

The siege was about to end in October 1189 when the townspeople offered to surrender due to a food shortage, however Saladin quickly decided to send in reinforcements via a fleet of ships which drove out the Christian fleet. This happened several times, with Saladin sending in more ships to relieve the city.

During the siege several ‘miracles’ have been recorded by chroniclers. During one particular attack on the city several siege machines had been destroyed by the city’s stone-throwers, however one soldier was struck by a similar stone-thrower and was not injured. According to the chronicle (The Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi) the soldier was standing with his back to the city, not thinking that the stones could reach as far as him, and when the stone hit his back it bounced straight off, without damaging him at all. The unknown author of this chronicle attributes this event to the magnificence of God, who protected those who fought on his behalf. This account and others like it was probably used as propaganda to support the later crusades in their recruiting period, as more people might have thought to take the cross if they believed that they would be protected by God.

This siege lasted for several years with no clear idea of who would win, due to matching numbers for the most part. It was not until Richard I of England and Phillip II of France arrived with their armies and fleets that the Christians gained the upper hand, taking the city together.

One of the reasons that I have enjoyed analyzing the siege of Acre is because it lasted so long you can pick out smaller events to see how both the Christians and Muslim forces reacted to a prolonged battle and the problems that came with it. For example, you can see how they reacted to famines, deaths of their leaders and the anxiety of seeing a ship or fleet in the distance and not knowing if they are friend or foe.

The Viking Ships in Oslo

On our recent trip to Oslo in March we probably spent the majority of our time in museums (you can see the first few in this post). One of the highlights for us definitely has to be the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy. The museum itself is pretty simple, as it mostly just consists of a large hall with three quite different viking ships inside. As the starting point and the centrepiece is the magnificent Oseberg ship. After probably spending quite some time staring at this first ship in awe you’ll find the Gokstad ship and Tune ship behind and to the left and right. Finally at the back of the hall you’ll see the wealth of artifacts that came with the ships and another ship find at Borre. There are plenty of grave goods, as the Oseberg and Gokstad were burial ships.

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The Gokstad is slightly larger than the Oseberg, which is slightly larger than the Tune, but all three appear to be the same type of ship known as ‘karvi’ from the sagas which were relatively small vessels meant for the private use of chieftains and their followers for cruising along the coasts. The Oseberg appears to be more in the style of a pleasure vessel for use in good weather on closed waters, whereas the the other two are more in the nature of sea-going vessels.

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The excavation of the ships in this museum took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the latest being the Oseberg in 1904. For a long time since then these three examples were to remain the only full remains of the Viking Age shipwright’s craft. However, this eventaully did change when in 1962 a significant finding was made in the Roskilde Fjord in Denmark where five ships had been sunk as part of a blockade of a channel that led to Roskilde. These ships are now restored and on display in the museum in Roskilde. In 1970 another addition was made to the Viking Age ships that exist today when remains were recovered from an excavation at Tjølling in Vestfold. This ship has also been preserved and restored, and is now on display at the Vestfold County Museum in Tønsberg. Thus in the course of a few years the number of known and more or less preserved ships from the Viking Age has increased threefold. This has added considerably to our knowledge of the building and use of ships in the Viking Age. These finds give a wide range in terms of geographical location and time, and there is now known to be far more variation in methods of ship-building and types of ship than previously found in written or artistic sources. Hopefully with the increasing interest in ancient ships and improving techniques in modern underwater archaeology there will be more Viking ship finds in the future, despite the rare conditions required to preserve a ship in any state.

The Oseberg Ship
The excavation of the Oseberg find took place during the summer of 1904 on the Oseberg farm at Slagen near Tønsberg. The archaeologist leading this work was Professor Gabriel Gustafson of the University of Oslo. The ship and its burial chamber had been covered by a very large grave mount of 44 metres in diameter and 6 metres high. The amount of tightly packed turf and clay that formed the soil around the ship was fairly air-tight and kept the wood and organic material of the ship in a remarkable state of preservation for more than a thousand years.

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However, the ship and its contents had not gone entirely undisturbed all through time, as is common with large barrows. At some point, probably early in the Medieval period, robbers had broken into the mound, made a hole in the bow of the ship and made their way into the burial chamber. The grave itself was therefore found greatly disturbed and most of the contents were found in the entrance made by the robbers. The ship itself was also in a poor state when first excavated. At the time of its burial it had been filled with a large quantity of stone, the weight of which had pressed the ship into the ground and eventually broken it into thousands of small fragments of wood. This meant that the entire ship had to be taken and practically rebuilt from all these parts.

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The ship and burial chamber contained a large amount of goods still. First there were the ship’s accessories and equipment including oars, a gangway, a bailer, and various tubs and pails. There were also some richly decorated pieces such as a cart, three sleighs and a sled. There were four finely carved animal head posts, three beds and two tents. Inside there were the skeletons of at least ten horses, and several other horses and an ox outside the ship. In the entrance made by the grave robbers there lay the remains of two human skeletons, both women, that were most likely laid upon the beds to begin with. There were large quantities of textile remnants and down and feathers that must have come from the bedding. There were also a number of chests and personal objects of the dead such as implements for textile work. It us unusual however that there were no traces of jewelry with the dead, especially considering that this is the richest grave of its kind to be discovered. It is almost certainly the jewelry that the robbers would have been seeking, so they most likely took it.

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The ship itself was reconstructed once it was fully excavated, and was eventually in a more or less finished state by 1926 with some new material being necessary for its completion. The ship is made entirely of oak, along with some of the other objects in the find, and thus they could all be preserved using the same methods. It’s full length is 21.58 metres, it measures 5.10 metres at its widest point, and its depth from gunnel to keel is 1.58 metres in the middle. Apart from a full height of the mast, the ship now appears in this complete condition at the Viking Ship Museum.

The Gokstad Ship
The Gokstad sip was excavated in the summer of 1880 on the land of the Gokstad farm in the borough of Sandefjord. Like the Oseberg it had also been covered by a very large barrow of 50 metres across and 5 metres in height, and thought to originally have been larger. Archaeologist and antiquarian Nicolay Nicolaysen was responsible for this excavation. The mound had been made of a mix of clay and sand, and the ship was filled with clay, meaning a similarly excellent condition of preservation as the Oseberg find. Some parts of the ends of the ship that were not fully covered by the clay did completely decay however.

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The burial chamber of this ship contained a fair amount less than the Oseberg. There were some good remnants of wool and silk, probably from clothing of the dead and part of the remains of a bed. There was also a gaming board with one antler gaming piece, some leather which may have been a purse, a socketed iron point, the clasp of a casket and three iron fishing hooks together with a large number of harness mounts in iron lead and bronze. Outside the chamber were a number of objects such as buckets and pots, a cauldron and some timbers. A strange find was the remains of a skeleton and some plumage of a peacock. Outside the ship itself were the remains of several horses and dogs, the ship’s equipment such as oars, tiller, rope, the rusted away remains of the anchor and some kitchen utensils. Some of the larger objects were the remains of six beds, three small boats and one sleigh. Finally some of the metal objects included a large copper cauldron, and some iron implements including two augers, a palstave and a small axe blade.

This burial appeared to be for a man by the remains of the one human skeleton found inside the burial chamber. However, this grave had also been subject to plundering, but probably closer to the time of burial than the Oseberg, so presumably more appears to have been taken. Usually a Viking Age man’s grave, especially a large ship burial, would contain plenty of weapons, as well as some jewelry.

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As said before the Gokstad is slightly larger than the Oseberg. This ship was built for 16 pairs of oars whereas the Oseberg was built for 15. It’s length is 23.24 metres, its maximum width is 5.20 metres, and depth from gunnel to keel is 2.02 metres. The weight of the hull when fully equipped is estimated to be at over 20 metric tons based on an exact copy made of the ship in 1893. In addition to the larger dimensions the Gokstad ship also has a more study construction than the Oseberg, making it more seaworthy, demonstrated by the sailing of its copy across the Atlantic.

Like the Oseberg, along with the other parts of the exhibition, this ship can be found in a complete state at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. If you ever find yourself near there, then I definitely recommend you go see them!

 

 

Collett, Wenche and Holberg: Figures of Norwegian Socialism

Please allow me to say that Oslo is a very artistic city and it is full of statues. Now I think I would have to spend a life time to take a picture of every single one. However, the city has commemorated in fine bronze casting some of the most influential cultural figures of Norwegian history, and I felt it my duty to dedicate this blog to three figures who I feel deserve recognition, and whose statues compelled me to photograph them. So today goes to these Norwegians who throve and worked towards making their society a better place.

Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royl Palace grounds in Oslo.

Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royal Palace grounds in Oslo.

The history of Norway comes across as one deeply influenced by artists and writers, at least in modern times. This woman, however was not only a famous and influential writer; she is often considered as the first Norwegian feminist. Camilla came from  family with a huge artistic background: one of her brothers Henrik Wergeland was a famous author, and her father Nicolai Wergeland was a theologian but also a composer. After marrying to Peter Jonas Collett, who was not only a politician but also a literary critic, she found the support she required to start publishing her work. Her pieces were echoes of political and social criticism and realism, where she addressed the difficulties of being a woman in modern society. She was a polemic author, who wrote in a fairly casual tone, which many of her readers appreciated and empathise with. However, Camilla’s story ends on a sad note. After her husband died suddenly, her sons were sent away to be taken care of by their relatives, she was forced to sell their house and suffered severe financial difficulty until her death in 1895. Despite all the stigma and hardship that she undertook, her work has not been forgotten, and it certainly helped waking up the minds of many in the era Nationalism and Romanticism. Camilla was a pioneer, and like many she was and still somehow is undermined – hence why I could not stop myself from bringing her to the spot light.

Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.

Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.

Another special woman in the history of the Norwegian arts – the beloved actress Eva Wenche Steenfeldt Stang (5 December 1917 – 28 March 2011). This woman rocked the stage, television, and any place where she could act. The piece that brought such a star to the centre of the Norwegian arts was her performance in To Tråder by Carl Erik Soya. Since then she became a regular of the National Theatre, with almost constant appearances from 1952 onwards. Foss was also gifted with a great voice, which expanded her shores performing in operettas, as well as doing soe voice acting in her later life – Foss was the voice for the animated character Enkefru Stengelføhn-Glad. But the reason why the Norwegians always have a soft spot for this woman is due to her activism and social support. Foss was mother to a child with Down Syndrome who unfortunately died, and in 1971 she suffered from breast cancer and endured it. She did not let these traumatic experiences to bring her down: she became an active supporter of raising awareness for the disabled members of society, to the point of founding the holiday resort Solgården (Alicante, Spain). After her experience with cancer she spoke publicly about this once again to raise awareness and to give hope to those who may share her fate. Moreover, Foss was supportive of gay rights and gay marriage and often confronted the Christian Democratic Party for their position against homosexuals. This remarkable woman earned in his life the title of Star of the Order of St. Olav (1988) as one of the few civilians who received this knightly title from the king, as well as a number of other awards for her artistic and personal contributions. Her death brought so much grief to the Norwegian population that she was granted an honoured funeral at the expense of this state – making her the firth woman in Norwegian history to receive such privilege. Her funeral was broadcasted on national television and attended by the king, queen and prime minister of the country.

I want to end this post on a completely different note though, because I have a lot of respect for this man, and as a historian, I could not miss him.

Ludvig Holberg - by the National Theatre.

Ludvig Holberg – by the National Theatre.

Holberg, the man who bridges my Norwegian and Danish adventure together. Baron Holberg, born in Bergen in 1684 shined in so many areas I could write endless posts about him, so I will try to keep it brief, but interesting. Holberg started as a theologian and then diverged into the fields of law, linguistic and history out of his own curiosity. What original made him famous, however and the importance of his statue at Oslo, was his contribution to Norwegian and Danish literature with his emblematic series of comedies. Ditching his theological background, he made it to the university of Copenhagen to develop his study in law. Holberg was a great student and soon his knowledge elevated him to the position of assistant professor for the law school, and shortly after  moving to metaphysics, rhetoric and Latin, and finally history – which he seemed to have valued most amongst his acquired disciplines. Nonetheless it was his satiric pieces that brought him to fame, and which he wrote in the period between 1719 to 1731. However, the great fire of Copenhagen of 1728 changed the mood of his audience – a public ridden by misery and despair was not all that keen on is comedies, so he moved onto writing philosophy and history again. Holberg was deeply influences by Humanism and Enlightenment, and devoted his work to urge people to build a better society, awaken their minds and educate themselves accordingly. Despite his wealth and fame he was a man who lived in a moderate manner and did not indulge in the eccentricity of Baroque society. He was a practical man and thought his money would be better of invested. This is best reflected in his physical legacy, for he did not marry or had children: Sorø Academy. Holberg bought this estate to create this institution for the education of the children of the nobility. it was this donation that earned him the title of baron, and the reason for which the king excluded him from paying taxes as his donation was far larger than he could ever pay in taxes.

And thus my brief biographical triptic of Oslo’s statues ends. I hope you join us on the next update:) .

This is America: Projecting Prosperity in the Cold War

From the late 1940s through the 1950s and into the 1960s, how the United States portrayed itself to the world was seen as an important aspect of fighting the Cold War. The ‘Cultural’ Cold War was seen as just as important, because it was necessary to show the U.S. as not only strong economically and militarily, but also to make the U.S. likable. There was anti-Americanism in the world, and not just in the Middle East and Latin America. It was also found in Japan and Western Europe, who often saw the U.S. as hypocritical. Portraying the U.S. in a certain way was not just about combating communism but strengthening ties between allies. President Eisenhower, who was President between 1953-1961, thought Trade Fairs used to showcase American Culture were the cheapest way of fighting the Cold War. They were the cheapest way of protecting national defence and strengthening ties with allies. Psychological warfare grew as the Cold War started in earnest, and it also became an underlined threat in security reports, with the National Security Council underlining the importance of the cultural side of the Cold War to American security in their report on the United States Information Agency (USIA), a program set up by Eisenhower in 1953 to portray American prosperity abroad, and also run by the State Department.

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Portraying the American Way: a house in the suburbs, a young family, prosperity all built on free enterprise and innovation was the tone of many propaganda pieces. Taken from: http://www.herinst.com

How did the US want to portray itself?

The U.S. wanted to portray its ideals in a way to remind people of why they were arming and spending so much on defence, to protect those ideals. It underlined ideals of social mobility, political freedom, cultural diversity and affluence while portraying the characteristics of American life as one rooted in democratic ideals and the ‘American way’ of productivity and innovation. Characteristics which were focused on often countered that of communist ideals, and focused on a similar sort of rhetoric. These characteristics included:

  1. Religion – Americans were religious, opposed to the ‘godless’ communism of the USSR
  2. Family – American families were nuclear and suburban, which was more socially and emotionally fulfilling and gave better chances to their children
  3. Property – Unlike Soviet people, Americans could own their own homes
  4. The U.S. was dedicated to peace and would not get involved for its own interest, unlike the Soviets who wanted to spread communism

Criticisms: What was it missing?

Tensions at home were often the criticism of Trade Fairs. The U.S. was criticised for its treatment of race. This was usually ignored from propaganda, and when it was mentioned it was to say it was something they were progressing on, or to underline it was a Southern problem not a U.S. one. Racial tensions got so bad in the U.S. that many African Americans refused to be a part of their propaganda, such as Louis Armstrong. After the Little Rock Crisis in 1957, in which nine black students were prevented entry into Little Rock Central High School, he refused to be the face of black America and jazz in one of the U.S. tours.  Propaganda also ignored issues of poverty in the U.S. Although more affluent shown by its growing suburban life, 50 million people still lived below the poverty line.

A lot of the criticism of propaganda itself was the expense. It cost a lot of money to put together brochures and advertisements and send showcases on tour. Although there were criticisms of subversion of the State Department, these did not focus on subversion by the CIA but by communists, which fed on growing fears in the early fifties by McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Trade Fairs too did not necessarily fare well themselves, and in 1956 they proved no more popular than Soviet Fairs and did less well than the Chinese fairs. There were criticisms that there was no real sense of what American culture was. In Moscow in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev claimed that the U.S. display felt like a Department Store instead of an exhibit of culture, showing off American Materialism. The message of capitalism was certainly getting through, but was democracy?

Moscow 1959

The Moscow 1959 exhibit is one of the most famous and important fairs in the U.S. cultural Cold War. Not only was it the first time the U.S. had the chance to reach Soviet people since the late 1940s, it was also part of a cultural exchange program between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In June 1959 the Soviet Union displayed their exhibit in New York, and the following month the U.S. exhibited theirs in Moscow. Walter Hixson underlines that this was a new way the Cold War was being fought, especially with Khrushchev’s visit to the U.S., and showed the changing relations between the two leading world powers.

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Nixon and Khrushchev look over America’s Miracle Kitchen. Innovative… or ‘simply gadgets’?

The Moscow exhibit portrayed all of American prosperity and advancement, of course continuing its trend with a section on the ‘People of Plenty’, illustrating how the American economic system benefited U.S. citizens through affluence and prosperity. It had also originally had a more self-critical section in which it discussed racial issues in the U.S. and how it could go forward. However, some Southerners reacted badly to this and it was pulled out. The rest of the displays focused on the theme of American prosperity, with ones on Disney, The Miracle Kitchen, and an IBM computer which could answer a series of questions, as well as a display of consumer goods, including Pepsi Cola, which even Khrushchev liked.

The most famous part of this exhibit is that of The Miracle Kitchen, for stimulating The Kitchen Debate between Vice President Nixon and Khrushchev. Although the debate centred around the kitchen and its modern gadgets, it was really one of differing ideologies and underlining the different principles of U.S. capitalism and Soviet communism. When Nixon said these were homes affordable for ordinary Americans, not just the rich, Khrushchev said all Soviet people have a home and don’t need to pay for one. When Khrushchev said the U.S. was a slave to technology, Nixon said it made home-life easier, opening up time for leisure. The New York Times criticised the debate for ignoring substantive issues and claimed it was more of a political stunt than anything, but it did increase Nixon’s popularity at the time and cement the Trade Fairs place in fighting the Cold War in public consciousness.

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Nixon and Khrushchev discuss their differing positions, and their mutual dislike of Jazz at the 1959 Moscow Exhibit

The Leader of the Free World

Propaganda was used to portray U.S. strength and prestige and its position in the world. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Western Europe had relied on the U.S. for aid. Its image as the leader of the free world was an important one to hold up. It was not just about boosting the U.S.  image but that of capitalism’s. It is important to remember that not long before the 1950s had been the Great Depression, which for many was seen as the great failure of capitalism. Reinventing the system was also a part of this propaganda to describe the American economic system as ‘People’s Capitalism’. No longer just for the few, it proclaimed, but for the many. According to this, capitalism had gone through a peaceful and democratic revolution and was not like the capitalism of the 1920s and 1930s, which led to mass poverty, corruption and Depression. These were all major themes of U.S. propaganda in the Cold War.

 

The Invisible Contributors and Maintainers of Society

woman giving birth

Until recently, history consisted only of men. The writers of history were mainly men, portraying history as being created and maintained by their fellow gender. Men always carried out the most important roles: they formed the armies, were preferred as the monarchs and took up the roles in government. It’s this disallowance of women to perform these jobs that they are seen less within history, benefitting these writers in portraying men as more important, and the lesser jobs women did perform not being noted by the writers. This leaves us with a male-orientated and controlled development through time in which women are invisible. They hardly have any importance to this development and to history itself, except providing future generations. The recent shift to look at their importance and the vital roles they performed has been caused by gender equality and the increase, if not introduction of, female historical writers. It has revealed the countless jobs women had throughout history, this article focusing on the early modern period in particular. This period was a fascinating time that included the modernisation of society and social thought, as well as the growth of individual wealth and national economy. Women played an astounding role in these changes and proves that without them, they wouldn’t have taken place.

Women performed multiple roles essential to the economy and Dr Anne Stott claims that their work was essential to this component of society but was frequently under-reported. In the French village of Artigat, for instance, women hoed, trimmed the vines and cut the grapes as well as rented the land, sheared sheep and took cows and calves in contracts. They were also known to be midwives, healers and market traders. Furthermore, Monica Chojnacka argues that in early modern Venice, unmarried, married or widowed women worked for a living and helped keep the city running through their labour, services and products. This shows the amount of jobs women pursued just in two European countries during this time, revealing a different side of them not previously thought. A possible reason for gender inequality, including that women weren’t allowed to carry out many jobs associated with men is that the female body was seen as imperfect, the female organs being the male turned inside out. They were seen as weaker to men, true to some extent, as men’s bodies are naturally built to be stronger. This perception of the female body causes us to turn to the role of women as mothers as this was seen as their staple role in life due to their biological childbearing and rearing abilities.

The nature of a woman’s life in terms of having children depended considerably on social class. Upper-class women were more likely to be pregnant most of the time once married compared to working-class women. Despite this, the Virgin Mary was regarded as the perfect example of a woman, suggesting women should have children to follow her example, and to fulfil their goal of life. After the Reformation, the worship of the Virgin Mary in England was not allowed, but she still remained a significant figure in Christianity. Due to higher-class women being pregnant more of the time, they were more likely to be at risk of dying in childbirth compared to working women. Despite women having the ability to feed their children biologically, only poor women actually breastfed their children. A reason for this was the belief that sex had a bad effect on the quality of the milk and therefore the health of the baby. A wet-nurse would be decided to be used by the father.

So why are women so often forgotten in history? It clearly supports and reflects the patriarchal dominance at the time. After all, until the Suffragette Movement in the early 1900s, societies bowed down to the needs and wishes of men and women couldn’t do anything to help their situation because they were sinful from being born. It also begs the question of whether society has developed behind schedule. Did women in early modern Europe, or even in the medieval period, agree to the limitations of jobs they could perform and the expectation of them to have children? This is difficult to unearth due to their illiteracy which was ironically caused by this inequality. However, what we do know is that women played a highly active if not vital role in society which would not have developed in the way that it did, quickly and effectively, despite all of the fall-backs that weakened this development. Therefore, we can confidently say that without women, our society wouldn’t nearly look the same as it does today. They are the invisible contributors and maintainers of society.

Lady Mary Bankes and the Siege of Corfe Castle

 

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‘Courage even above her sex’, this statement immortalised on a plaque as part of a eulogy for Lady Mary Bankes by her son Sir Ralph Bankes is located in St Martin’s Church in Ruislip, Greater London. This statement was in actual fact a rather fitting and accurate description of her; particularly concerning her valour during the Civil War whilst defending her home, Corfe Castle in Dorset. This post will account for Lady Mary’s bravery concerning this siege against Parliamentarian assault on Corfe Castle.

Lady Mary Bankes neé Hawtrey was the only daughter born to Ralph Hawtrey Esquire of Ruislip, Middlesex and Mary Altham in c.1598. Bankes married John Bankes, later made an Attorney-General, Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas to King Charles I and knighted as Sir. Looking at her marital family connections in hindsight that Lady Mary was married to a pro-Royalist. Lady Mary bore ten children in total, four sons and six daughters. There only appears to be later information relating to two of her sons, Sir Ralph Bankes and that he married Mary Bruen with issue and Jerome along with Ralph later purchased a manor on behalf of their mother after the events of the siege at Corfe. Considering there is no later information accounting the lives of her other sons it can be presumed that they died in infancy without issue or that later records are of them at adulthood have been lost or are hard to come by. There are more extensive records relating to who her daughters married and if they had issue. Alice Bankes married John Borlase, Jane Bankes married George Cullen, Mary Bankes married Sir Robert Jenkinson (with issue), Joanna Bankes married William Borlase of Great Marlow (with issue) and Arabella Bankes married Samuel Gilly. Her other daughter Elizabeth, it can as with her sons; Charles and William that she died in infancy or that she reached adulthood without marriage. However considering all her sisters married, the former theory is more likely.

The most thorough account we have of Lady Mary is surrounding her involvement in the Siege of Corfe Castle. Corfe Castle had a rather imposing appearance, dominating the surrounding landscape of Corfe Village since the times of William the Conqueror and the site was used for the construction of the castle as it was close to Purbeck forest as the so that he could use it for hunting purposes. The ruins as they appear today, indicate that the design was Norman but the site was used in Saxon times and even further back to the Iron Age. It was acquired by Sir John Banks from Lady Hatton (otherwise known as Lady Coke) who was twice widowed by her first husband William Hatton. William Hatton inherited the castle through his uncle who died as a bachelor, Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite of Elizabeth I. This suggests the castle was once a royal domain of the Tudors, however they did not take much notice of the place as William the Conqueror did. Henry VII handed the residence over to his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort and she was said to have not visited the castle more than once, Henry VIII like his father passed it down to Henry Fitzroy. At the point that he died it fell to Edward VI upon Henry VIII’s death and passed it on to Lord Protector Somerset before Elizabeth I inherited it.

Sir John Bankes most likely purchased the castle as a country retreat intending to use it for leisurely purposes but considering the political climate at the time Sir John Bankes did not manage to see the positives of his investment. This was mainly due to his work commitments for Charles I, he did in actual fact preside over cases against Members of Parliament who refused to comply with royal prerogative. One of which was John Hampden who refused to pay one of Charles’ taxes ‘Ship money’, by claiming it was an unjust tax that Charles instigated without the consent of Parliament in spite of the King and his supports saying it was needed for the upkeep of Naval defences along coastal areas. This tax soon was imposed on inland areas too, which increased further animosity. Upon the outbreak and throughout the Civil War he appeared to be loyal to Charles and the Royalist cause and as a result of this loyalty he followed the King North to his new seat at York and later to Oxford. This is where Lady Mary Bankes’ involvement comes in at the time of war.

Lady Mary Bankes along with her children and servants withdrew to Corfe Castle in 1642, whilst her husband was away serving Charles. At first life for the Bankes’ seemed relatively peaceful until the Parliamentarians became interested in the site. The local parliamentary commanders, Sir Walter Earle and Sir Thomas Trenchard along with 200-300 men set out to capture it and planned to storm the grounds on 1st May 1643 at a May Day gathering at the castle making it seem less suspicious. However this plan never worked as Lady Mary was informed of this plan beforehand and she was well equipped to prevent these troops from entering the premises on that day. She stepped up security surrounding the castle and required that the gates were to be kept shut. At this point Lady Mary was successful in preventing a Parliamentary coup. However, it is equally as important to consider the fact that she prevented this from happening with a bit of luck as she learned of this coup as it was leaked. Nevertheless she demonstrated great courage and wisdom by protecting herself, family and servants from the Parliamentarians. From this point they kept watch on her actions from afar, this was to monitor who she lets in and in the sense who she may be corresponding with. Additionally she also enlisted the help of 80 soldiers led by Captain Robert Lawrence. June proved to be a testing month for Lady Mary at Corfe as the Parliamentarians openly attacked the royalist stronghold. Erle came back this time with a larger force of men, this time about 500-600 men and two siege engines. This was designed to break through the fortress of Corfe Castle. Captain Lawrence defended the Middle ward of the castle, whereas Lady Bankes, her daughters, servants and an additional five soldiers dropped stones and hot embers in order to protect the garrison from the Parliamentarian troops. Bankes, her family, servants and Royalists who were loyal to her acted valiantly and managed to hold up the castle until 1646. By this time her husband Sir John Bankes had died and with the formation of the New Model Army by Oliver Cromwell the Parliamentarian tactics seemed to undermine the Royalists. Charles I and his supporters were in a weak position at this point. In 1646 unfortunately Corfe Castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians. It does some though again that luck did play a part in this, albeit bad luck. It was chiefly down to a dissenter who switched allegiance to the Parliamentarians, Colonel Pitman. He led a Parliamentarian force through a sally gate into the castle. At this point they used a shrewd tactic by wearing their garments inside out so that they resembled Royalist clothing. Being caught out by this ambush Lady Bankes was forced to surrender Corfe Castle over to the Parliamentarians.

Bygdøy Museums in Oslo: 4 Exhibitions in 1 day

Welcome to another post related to our recent trip to the Norwegian capital! Today I will be giving you a quick review and visit to these 4 fantastic museums that are all placed in the peninsula of Bygdøy. You can get there either by boat service or on the bus, takes about 10-20 minutes from Oslo’s city centre depending on the method of transport that you take and the time of the day. These are the museums Alex and I wanted to see, but there are some more, so you could certainly get 2 days worth of visits in this area if you really wanted – we simply did not have time for the Holocaust Centre or the Maritime Museum! Now, I appreciate that 4 museums in one day seems like a lot, but do not let this scare you away, they are all actually not very big museums at all. And if you are willing to stretch the area of Bygdøy to a 2 day affair, then you can spread them out even more.

Let me give you a breakdown of our schedule for that day: Viking Ship Museum dead on the opening hour at 10:00 am, we finished there around 11:30 am, and walked for a couple of minutes to the Norwegian Folk Museum. We were done there by after lunch, around 1:oo pm roughly. Then we headed for the waterfront and decided we had time to see the Fram Museum, where we spent a little bit more than an hour. Finally we landed next door to the Kon Tiki Museum right before 3, having an hour exactly until the museum closed – we did not miss anything terribly important, apart from the film showing of the Oscar-winning documentary, for which they have specific shows during the day. In any case, the visit were not overwhelming (this was Alex’s judgement, not mine! He is the saner one, you can trust him), and the ship thematic really worked well, highlighting the individual contexts and really bringing forward how important boats have been for the Norwegian nation throughout all of history, and for different purposes. Now I wont go mad, expect a few pictures, videos and text reviewing out experience. In any case, I hope you get if nothing else a glimpse of a very interesting cultural enterprise!

Viking Ship Museum

I could not be happier than seen the fascinating viking age ships that have made such a deep mark in historiography – I was there, and with the ones from Denmark, this is all something I can tick off the list of things to do in life. The museum itself is not very big, and it does not have loads of material in exhibition, or explanatory panels, but to be honest – if you’re here is because you want to see the ships, and they are totally work the visit. This will only be a teaser as I have plans for a combo update with the ships of Roskilde too, so here you go:

Oseberg burial ship, in all its glory.

Oseberg burial ship, in all its glory.

It was incredibly difficult to photograph the boats with my incredibly poor equipment – aka my phone – so I decided at some point that video was useful – my comments and difficult for words show how boggled I was at this. Vid. 1 – Gokstad. Vid.2 – new museum competition.

Thinking about the future! Conscious effort of preserving the past, which I prominently saw all across different museums in Oslo.

Thinking about the future! Conscious effort of preserving the past, which I prominently saw all across different museums in Oslo.

One of the carved head posts from the burials at Oseberg and Gokstad.

One of the carved head posts from the burials at Oseberg and Gokstad.

One of the burial wagons - simialr to those from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen.

One of the burial wagons – similar to those from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen.

All in all a fantastic place, but I would recommend now, knowing that they are planning on remodelling soon, that you wait and visit when that is sorted. Unless you are dying to go, in which case hurry up!

Norwegian Folk Museum

This was a very pleasant visit – very similar style and idea to the Open Air Museum in Copenhagen, but with more exhibitions. They have 2 buildings with small exhibits regarding local history about the Saami, the history of regional costume, and other items from Norway’s history from a domestic, rural and cultural point of view. This place has much more activity during the summer months – they have daily activities and different areas of the museum open. Some places were being improved or restored so I would suggest this may be better suited for warmer seasons. In any case, it was very quaint.

Displays from the Saami exhibition.

Displays from the Saami exhibition.

Buildings from the reconstructed Old Town.

Buildings from the reconstructed Old Town.

The Starve Church - my main reason for oming to this place. Absolutly glorious.

The Starve Church – my main reason for coming to this place. Absolutely glorious.

Fram Museum

Considered the best museum in Norway (period), this was not scheduled but as we had some time spare, we decided we should not go without seeing it. The museum is dedicated to the Norwegian expeditions to both poles, and I must say that, although it is really not my area of expertise, it was a great experience. I have taped most of our interaction in the museum, simply because it was fairly difficult due to the layout to take decent pictures. Inaaddition, the museum is very modern in its approach to the story it tells so taping it allowed me to reflect this a bit better. I have to say, as a piece of contextualisation and suiting purpose to the materials displayed, is probably one of the best museums I have been in the last few years that achieves this greatly. The actual Fram ship is the centre piece o the exhibition – inside it there are displays from cabinets and objects within the boat, while the 3 levels created around the ship talk about the different expeditions. They even have an area dedicated for children to feel like a pole explorer. Overall, this museum gets a 5 star rating. And on a last comment, the museum shop is absolutely terrific, with some great books on the subject which are difficult to find elsewhere – so if you stop by, do consider taking some of those gems home with you.

The Fram.

The Fram.

Example of the varied displays from the museum, these metal sheets creating timelines and conecting pictures really bring forward the information while keeping some sort of modern nautical spirit.

Example of the varied displays from the museum, these metal sheets creating timelines and connecting pictures really bring forward the information while keeping some sort of modern nautical spirit.

The Kon-Tiki Museum

This is a museum that every humanist should visit – in my very modest opinion. This is the story of a man who did not give up his theory and vision despite the odds and the criticisms. This is the story of a man who even put his life at risk to proof a valid point regarding the interactions between the people in South America and the Pacific Islands, and beyond. Thor Heyerdahl, man and legend, and the work of a life time, all neatly displayed in this museum, with no ostentation, and no oversimplification of the matter, which is not easily achieved. The man who picked a raft boat and proved his peers wrong, or at least created reasonable doubt. If you can make it for the documentary showing, I am sure you would not regret it – unfortunately we could not make it, which I regret. But in any case the museum is worth a visit, they have the preserved balsas that Thor got made for his historical experiments, as well as some information regarding his involvement in the Easter Island archaeological excavation. This is not only a biographical piece about the man, but also a top piece of ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological research in a subject perhaps not very prominent in Europe.

Ra II - the boat with which Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in 1970 trying to prove that there could have been a cultural interaction between the old mediterranean cultures such as Egypt the Americas.

Ra II – the boat with which Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in 1970 trying to prove that there could have been a cultural interaction between the old mediterranean cultures such as Egypt the Americas.

The Kon Tiki expedition balsa.

The Kon Tiki expedition balsa.

Displays from the museum - the pannels are concise but present enough information. The objects perhaps are not displayed in the best way, but it works.

Displays from the museum – the panels are concise but present enough information. The objects perhaps are not displayed in the best way, but it works.

And that is all for today folks – I hope these brief looks at these 4 amazing exhibitions gets your wanderlust going so you embark in your own cultural expedition to Norway. See you in the next update!

Oslo’s Artistic Highlights: featuring Vigeland and Munch

Welcome to a post inspired by our recent trip to Oslo! Just like a few months back after my expedition to Denmark, we will be featuring a series of blog posts created from the material collected from the trip – And I say we as Alex was my partner in crime this time. I have decided to open with this post as it was one of the features of this Norwegian capital that striked me most. Oslo is full, ridden almost with art galleries and collections of all sorts! In the short span of time we had, there was only so much we could see  (and as you all know Alex and art are not an expected combo). However, I could not leave without seeing works on these 2 iconic artists. From one side of the city to the other – quite literally – I bring you this post, including photos of my own, a couple of videos (excuse my terrible pulse!) as well as reviews when appropriate. I hope you enjoy it!

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park - at the Monolith

Vigeland Park – at the Monolith

Originally known as Frogner park, this site now is the living work of Gustav Vigeland, dare I say one of the most influential (if not the most) Norwegian sculptors of the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries. Vigeland’s amazing creativity birthed hundreds of creations, including the design for the Nobel Peace Prize. We ought the existence of the park in it current due to the demolishing of Vigeland’s house by the city of Olso in 1921 – after the confrontation between the artist and the city council they provided him with a new building where to work and live. In exchanged he promised that he will donate all his works from there on to the city. Shortly afterwards, Vigeland decided to relocate to the borough of Frogner, where he envisioned the perfect spot for his fountain. He had been thinking for a while on the exhibition of his work in public and out in the open, and so his wishes were granted.

Vigeland's fountain at the centre of the park

Vigeland’s fountain at the centre of the park

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However his installation at Frogner was perhaps his most controversial piece of work. Many of his contemporaries compared his work to that of the Nazis monumental art and aesthetic Arian values. It probably did not help that he did proclaim himself quite happy of the Nazi puppet government in Oslo during the Third Reich.

Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors

Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors

Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland

Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland

His old studio and apartment became the Vigeland museum – right next to the park – at the time of his death. That was, after all, the agreement he had reached with the City of Oslo. If you are in Oslo, at any point, the park is really worth a visit – this is just a sample of my pictures there, it is truly otherworldly and such a feat – if I did not know better, I’d say it’s the work of giants.

Nasjonalgalleriet – ascending to Vigeland and Munch

This stop is compulsory – you must visit the National Gallery at Oslo. The National Gallery is part of the huge complex known as the Nasjonalmuseet, which encompasses several buildings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, all part of the concept behind the National Museum. The permanent exhibition at the National Gallery is called the Dance of Life (after Munch’s work), and also it is not massive, it includes pieces that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. In addition, I would like to say that the conceptualization of the pieces was very well achieved, just like I felt at the National Gallery in Copenhagen. The exhibition is divided in 4 sections: art from the antiquity to the baroque, Romanticism, from impressionism to Munch, culminating with modernism until the 1950s. I will give you a brief look of the pieces I found that I appreciated most – after all, art is personal.

The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutly beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutely beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Compulsory multiple shots at the “Masters Room” – this are all the pieces donated to the gallery by Christian Langaard, who was an important art collector without whose contribution, the gallery would have not been able to obtain some of these pieces. He died in 1922, and the room was constitutes in 1924.

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Tapestry from the master tapestry makers of this time period – the Gobelins (France).

 

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I would recognise this anywhere even possibly with my eyes closed – if it’s something I appreciate of my Spanish heritage is the great art produced in Iberia, and this is from El Greco (or someone in his school). Produced 1541-164. Jesus Christ Stripped of his Garments. The art style is something unique, and difficult to reproduce – the man had an issue with his eye sight so his paintings are certainly quirky.

Moving on to the Romanticism, here is a selection of my photographs.

You may recognised this guy from my trip to Denmark - Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.

You may recognise this guy from my trip to Denmark – Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.

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IMAG1721_BURST002 Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857): the hero of Norwegian painting. He was the first Norwegian painter to reach international fame for his work. The smaller piece really got me – the cracks in the paint kind of add to the somber, gothic landscape, like if it was intentional. Age has only helped this painting even more. Dresden by Moonlight (1838).

Now, on to Impressionism and Modernism.

I brought a print of the painting on the right home - it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).

I brought a print of the painting on the right home – it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).

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This requires no words of course – it is what I came for.

This is a short video at Munch’s room – I know the comment is rather superfluous but it was so quiet, I felt bad just talking normally.

Leaving the museum, I could not skip the Picasso’s and abstract paintings…

Picasso - Guitar and glass 1911.

Picasso – Guitar and glass 1911.

 

Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction - cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.

Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction – cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.

 Munch Museum

It saddens me to say that this was the most disappointing visit of the entire trip. And I will explain you why. As you have seen above, the National Gallery is in ownership of Munch’s most famous pieces – he did after all leave all his work to the city of Oslo as part of his testament, so it is the city’s right to dis play the pieces as they may. But Munch was a very prolific artists. He did not only paint, but also practiced wood carvings, print making, and indulged in sketching. He also experimented with photography. So I was aware, there would be a repository for all the rest, at Munch museum. However it appears that the way the gallery there works is the following: they use Munch’s pieces as permanent exhibit, and display them usually in correlation to another artist, highlighting thematic, concepts and evolution – which is wonderful. However, it seems I was unlucky, for the composition during my visit was Mapplethorpe + Munch. Unfortunately for Mr Mapplethorpe, I am not a huge fan, and although I appreciate his work, I failed to agree with the comparisons produced by the gallery. They tried to compare a 1980s photographer with a serious agenda on sexuality, and more precisely homosexuality, with a man who talked about life, and the world around us, and people – and of course touched on the subject of nudity, bodies and sexuality, but nowhere near in the same degree or with the same intention! To my disappointment there was a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work, and little Munch in contrast – Mapplethorpe as a photographer has a huge portfolio, regardless of how many Munch pieces exist. But it was not all bad. I got to see some very interesting pieces – see the photos and video below.

Dance of Death - Munch's lithograph, 1916.

Dance of Death – Munch’s lithograph, 1916.

 

Munch - Mystical Shore print (1897).

Munch – Mystical Shore print (1897).

*I am afraid the video is interrupted as my phone run out of battery! However I thought you ought to see what I could film*

One last thing to show you before I sign off, is the last pieces of Munch’s art which I was hoping to see here. Munch made a series of monumental friezes for the University of Oslo. I thought they would be exposed out in the open – what was my surprised that I had to get in and out of the exhibition twice to realise they were locked behind doors in a conference room! But, in any case, I managed to take a couple of pictures – despite there is a bit of reflection, they are so worth it.

Alma Mater

Alma Mater

 

The Sun - like nothing I've ever seen before.

The Sun – like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I tried hard to take a good shot of History, but from that angle is was very difficult. I suspect the reason why they are locked has to do with preservation issues, which is a shame because those beauties deserve an entire audience just for themselves.

And with this we come to an end of this first piece on Oslo’s interesting history and heritage. Drop by for some more shortly!

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