The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

April 11, 2020

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52

Made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647-52. Photo by Livioandronico2013 / Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

In these unprecedented times, I find much solace in art and beauty. As many of you know, I am neither Catholic nor a fan of Baroque art, which makes it all the more remarkable that I think Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa to be among the most awe-inspiring things ever created by human hands.

Located in the Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, this white marble sculpture portrays an angel and the Spanish Saint Teresa of Ávila, a 16th century mystical, cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun. The scene depicts an experience Saint Teresa describes in her autobiography when she was visited by an angel of God:

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”

The sublimity of this 17th century set piece, generally considered to be one of the masterpieces of High Roman Baroque art, always overwhelms me. I call it a set piece because Bernini designed not just the sculpture, but the explosion of materials and color that surround it, including the hidden yellow stained glass window that naturally illuminates the golden rays that reach down to the angel and Saint Teresa.

Chippendale Hall Chair from Harewood House

August 30, 2020

Hall Chair, Thomas Chippendale, Harewood House

Made by Thomas Chippendale, probably circa 1770. Photo by Dadero / Wikipedia. This photo is in the public domain.

Neoclassicism brings me immense joy, which is why I am particularly excited to share this painted beechwood hall chair, dripping with Neoclassical elements, that was made by Thomas Chippendale in the 18th century for the entrance hall at Harewood House in Yorkshire. One of a set of eight, this chair remains in the divine Robert Adam room for which it was designed. I should also mention that hall chairs were made to be decorative additions to a hall; they were not meant to be sat upon :-).

Chippendale, of course, is considered the finest English furniture maker of all time. He was born very close to Harewood (in Otley) in 1718 and died in 1779 in London. Besides his scrumptious furniture, his fame rests with his 1754 publication, The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker’s Director, the first example of a cabinetmaker publishing his designs.

Harewood House is still owned, and lived in, by the Lascelles family, who built it in the 1760s and 1770s (it is today the seat of David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood). Scholars believe that Harewood contains the finest collection of Chippendale furniture in the world. You can see more photos of Chippendale’s creations, together with images of Harewood’s interiors, on my website.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Argyll from Kedleston Hall

October 26, 2020

Made in London by Louisa Courtauld, 1772-73. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This is what I consider to be one of the most beautiful pieces of silver ever created: a Neoclassical English argyll that has been in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, since 1985.

Argylls are pretty much forgotten today. In the 18th and 19th centuries they were used for keeping gravy warm. This was accomplished by hot water in a self-contained vertical cylindrical tube that was inserted into the gravy. The argyll was invented at the suggestion of John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll, who was frequently cranky because the gravy arrived cold at his dinner table at Inveraray Castle in Argyllshire. You won’t be surprised to learn that this all happened in frigid Scotland!

This exceptional piece of silver was made by Louisa Courtauld, a Huguenot refugee who became one of the leading English silversmiths in the 18th century. Her family’s home, on Princelet Street in the Spitalfields section of London, is today a museum of immigration and diversity.

Commissioned by Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (1726-1804), this argyll was designed to complement Curzon’s grand, new Neoclassical house, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. Today owned by the National Trust, you can see more photos of this astonishing house on my website.

Phil in Pink

March 9, 2021

I think it’s important to realize that some of the most beautiful things in our lives are people. In fact, they are the MOST beautiful! So, in this issue of One of my favorite things, I’m highlighting one of those people: someone who radiates kindness and joy and who shares a smile, warmth, and good humor wherever he is.

I’m talking about Phil (pictured above, relaxing on a piece of modern sculpture in the garden of Lismore Castle that professes to be a bench), who made our September 2019 tour, The Great Country Houses of Ireland, one of the best trips we’ve ever done.

In the ugly the world in which we currently live, people like Phil make all the difference. They remind us that life can be kind and good and filled with people who shine with inner beauty and make other people’s lives better. I have had the privilege to know many people like Phil throughout my life. They give me hope that enlightenment, toleration, acceptance, and forgiveness can prevail in these dark times.

You can see some lovely photographic highlights of our 2019 Irish tour by clicking here.