Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Silk Road

PALACE TREASURES from the East arrived on my doorstep last night! I could barely contain my excitement as I opened the package sent by Sans of "My Maharajah's Palace" Blog. The contents were not so much a mystery because Sans had made a Blog Post about these gifts a few weeks ago. But the question of WHICH colors I would receive was about to be answered! The ribbons are just BREATHTAKING in real and close up! Gold, Silver, Green and Turquoise are the colors she has given to me! They are a TREASURE beyond measure because they are the GIFT of a Friend from afar! She wrapped them so carefully to keep them safe and dry on the voyage!

But once unwrapped and glittering in this morning's sunshine, I could not help but think of how far they traveled to reach me here, CONTINENTS and OCEANS away! The OTHER side of the WORLD, in fact! These were treasures from the FAR EAST! That fact alone makes them EXOTIC and MYSTERIOUS!
For thousands of years, the EAST has been the source of all things Precious to Westerners..... Porcelain, Gold, Jewels, Spices, Silk...... and they Traveled here along the Fabled SILK ROAD.....

To BEGIN with, you must remember that in THOSE days, the Earth was still FLAT and Oceans surrounded the LAND. For the Medieval Europeans travel was difficult and DANGEROUS. Most people lived their entire lives in their own small regions. The CRUSADES, undertaken in the Early Middle Ages, first brought the Westerners into contact with the TREASURES of the East. And once they were aware of these riches, there was no looking back! Slowly but surely the wealth of the East was brought to the West. But the Road was Long and Hard and Mysterious. Here is a map from the "Penguin Atlas of Medieval History" that shows the trade routes around Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. It also shows the Western end of the Silk Road. Silk, in those days was a secret guarded carefully by China, and the only way for silk cloth to reach the West was along the Silk Road that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to China.
Marco Polo, the son of a merchant from Venice is reputed to be amongst the first Westerners to travel the Silk Road to China and Back again. At least, he is the First to WRITE the TALES of his journeys to the East, in 1274 AD, and so he became enshrined in the annals of Western History. Here below is one of numerous Medieval Illuminations that portray Marco Polo on his travels. I believe this is taken from a Catalan Atlas drawn in 1375 by Abraham Cresques. You can see the travelers have joined with a Caravan of Camels laden with their treasures.
So you will not be at all surprised when I show you the Camels laden with the Package that has journeyed all the way from SINGAPORE!
It was one of a CARAVAN that surely trekked over lands too many to number on it's passage to the WEST!
They traveled for days......
And eventually they would reach the Ports of the Mediterranean Sea! There the Silks would be loaded onto ships that would take them to the Ports of Europe. Here below is a Medieval Illumination of Venice..... supposedly of the time of Marco Polo, but actually showing a later view, drawn in the fourteenth century.
And here is a view of a boat being loaded with goods... this is from my favorite Boccacio's "Decameron" that is so full of useful illuminations of everyday life in the later Middle Ages. It actually shows two parts of the story, loading the ship and the man being rescued after a shipwreck.... demonstrating the kinds of dangers involved in so long a voyage! Alas, I have no ship to show you the package from SINGAPORE on it's voyage over the seas.....
And even once the ship has reached Port on the Western shores of Europe, it is still a long journey over land to the Castle. Here is a Medieval Illumination showing travelers on the road, some with their packs on their backs, and some with pack animals to carry their goods.
The road to the Castle is a LONG one! But the silks were carefully loaded into strong chests and strapped to the back of a trusty pack horse. It takes yet MORE WEEKS to traverse the land and so reach their DESTINATION!
You can imagine the SURPRISE and AMAZEMENT of the humble Castle folk when the chests are opened to reveal the treasure within......
They have NEVER seen such treasures!
I THINK Henry is Speechless!
Just LOOK at the Beautiful GOLD embroidered and spangled silks!
Here, come closer!
And the other chest.....
Belle is sure she has NEVER seen anything so BEAUTIFUL in her life!
So, dear readers, can you forgive me for wandering off on my Medieval Fantasy Trip down the SILK ROAD as I contemplate the beautiful GIFTS that have come to my Castle in the WEST from Sans' PALACE in the East? Even though I am on a continent not yet KNOWN in Medieval Times, and there are no REAL Castles in this land.... my Medieval Castle Dollhouse will be forever blessed by these treasures! They will be PERFECT for adorning the future GOWNS of the future Ladies of the Castle.... not to mention trimming the BED Curtains of the Lord and Lady's bed, as well as turning into CUSHIONS for their chairs! I am certain that there will be MANY future blog Posts that feature these beautiful ribbons!
And to think that they came all the way from the EAST!

Palace Treasures from the East

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Ah, Winter! A Lament.

Pollyanna (and someone else we know) has a cold. She is feeling very sorry for herself. It is winter outside. Christmas and the excitement of the Holidays is over. The Christmas trees have been taken down and all the decorations put away. The rooms feel strangely bare without the trees, and all the guests have gone home.

Somehow there is always an ornament left after all the boxes have been put away.... found behind the curtain. Must have been one of the cats that knocked it off the tree.
So now it is just Winter. Without all the Christmas lights to cheer things up, it is dark. And Cold! While by no means record cold for this part of the world, the temperatures hover on both sides of zero, (farenheit) day after day. (The thermometer outside my window this morning).
And the icicles hang over the windows in long curtains, like dragon's teeth.......
It is not so bad when you are sitting by the fire with your friends and loved ones.... all cozy and safe indoors. There is a great deal to be said for the warmth of a real fire burning in the hearth!
But even the warmth of the fire cannot keep away the snow which now starts to pile up outside the windows.
Arthur's cat is content to stay inside and just watch the world turn white. He knows better than to go out in the snow!
And once it starts snowing, it can't seem to stop!
Deeper and deeper grow the drifts around the Folly!
But despite her best intentions, Pollyanna has caught a winter cold!
She hopes it isn't the flu! She is staying in bed and resting.
She is feeling very sorry for herself! Because the worst thing about being sick is that you have all this time to think about all the things you wish you felt well enough to do!
She has used up BOXES of tissues! And drunk POTS of tea! Day after day is the same! She has read every book on her bookshelf! She is thoroughly SICK of being SICK!
She is too worn out to go to work, even though she has so many projects and plans to finish! She HATES being sick! And she even feels guilty because it is only a bad cold.... not something SERIOUSLY wrong! She knows she will get better soon!
Arthur came over to bring her more books to read. And to cheer her up he brought her a flower! I am sure he doesn't have the slightest idea what KIND of flower it is.... but he knows Pollyanna loves flowers.....
So now, no matter how horrid the weather gets outside the window, she has a flowering plant inside to remind her of spring.....
So she will be patient a little while longer.... and she will dream of spring......
Because that is the stuff of Winter Dreams!

No matter how Cold!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lighting The Castle

Medieval Illumination (of the lighting kind)

In our Modern World we have come to take for granted the ability to light up the Night. This was not always so, and really only recently became the norm. Before the electric light was invented, there were only one or two options when it came to lighting the night. Candles, torches and oil lamps were the basic methods used for thousands of years. Primitive shell shaped oil lamps have been found in the stone age caves of Europe. Ceramic shell shaped oil lamps are still in use today in Temples in India. The oil used is mostly olive oil or the oil of various seeds. Perhaps the MOST primitive form of light is the torch, originally probably just a burning stick held aloft. The need to have reliable PORTABLE light gradually transformed the burning branch into a metal spike with flammable substance attached to one end.
As I began to think about the kinds of lights I would need for my Castle Dollhouse, I searched through all my Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts for examples that would be true to the era I am trying to portray. I was surprised at how FEW examples there are of lights of any kind! Because the Medieval artists were very focused on the little details of their worlds, I have to assume that they would have included lighting in their paintings if it were commonly present. And because they DIDN'T include it very often, I am going to assume that it was not as common as some would think. Perhaps the Kings and Lords would stay up late burning the oil, but the Common folk lived their lives in daylight with a curfew (cover fire) at dark. In the Northern countries in Winter there were surely hours spent awake after dark descended, but candles were expensive and used sparingly.
I have included a few pictures of the illuminations I found that DID show lighting in use. Here is one from my favorite Boccaccio's Decameron. It shows a night watchman with his lantern pursuing a couple of misbehaving gentlemen. While this is set at night, there is no attempt by the artist to make the scene look darkened.
Below is another painting that shows several types of illumination - lantern and torches. This type of torch, essentially a metal basket with fire in it hanging on a long metal pole, is shown often in this type of painting. The subject is the betrayal of Christ in the Garden, a scene that happens at night. Here again, the artist does not try to darken the picture. This illumination is from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.
Here below is a scene with candles lighting a meal. This is from the Boccaccio's Decameron that I mentioned before, and is the only meal in the whole book that shows candles being used. The artist has clearly depicted all the various dishes and foods that were used.
Here is another dining scene. This is one of my favorites, and is actually quite late, almost not Medieval at all, but set in the early sixteenth century. Notice the beautiful brass chandelier hanging overhead with no candles, and only one lighted candle on the table.
Here below is another illumination from my favorite Boccaccio, showing a tiny chandelier hanging over the bed in a scene of seduction! This is one of the earliest portrayals I have found of a hanging chandelier! This manuscript was illuminated in the early fifteenth century.
Another illumination shows candles burning around the bier of a dead person of importance. As this is shown in many books for the Offices of the Dead, it is clearly an important part of the rituals.
One of the most common places where candles were shown in use were the altars in prayer scenes.
Below is another example of candles at an altar, this time in tall metal candle holders beside the altar.
Below is another scene showing the use of a torch at night to light the way outdoors. This is from the Boccaccio, and the torch appears to be a wooden pole with a flaming end. It is not quite clear to me what is used to make the burning part......
This one below shows more torches, both the pole type and the basket type, quite clearly.
And again, a similar scene with torches, but a later Medieval version where the artist is showing the realism of night illuminated by fire! This is from the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, painted in the late fifteenth century. For comparison, this is the same scene shown in the second picture (above) where Christ is betrayed in the Garden. There are conventions used in both, common to this subject, most notably the little lantern at the bottom that has been tipped over!
And below we have a scene where a torch is being used to light the way..... Oh, wait... That's Henry carrying a torch in my Castle Dollhouse!
He's on his way to the well and it is dark in that part of the Castle!
Having decided that I need to make torches for my Castle Dollhouse to light the more Common areas, like the Great Hall, and the Pantries, I came up with a combination of metal jewelry findings and some candle flame bulbs and sockets. I wanted to be able to replace burnt out bulbs and the whole unit needed to fit into the jewelry finding........ like this!
The wire is threaded out through the bottom of the "wooden" part made from sculpey. I also made a holder bracket out of black sculpey, to look like iron, with two eye screws to hold the torch. The wire will be threaded through a small hole in the wall at the base of the bracket and run behind the wall to the power strip.
The torches in the Great Hall are attached to the wall, but I still have to run the wires through the walls..... For the flame shaped bulb cover I raided a bunch of those LED tea-lights. I might paint some orangey yellowish streaks on them so they aren't so white.......
Here is a close-up of the bracket before the torch is added....
And a closer view of the lit torch in the bracket......
And another one....
Here is a shot of the torches, assembled from metal jewelry findings, with the wires from the bulb threaded through and out the bottom.....
Slightly closer view... Of course, I got carried away with the findings and these torches are WAAAAYY more ornate than anything a typical Castle would have.......
And while I had the jewelry findings out and my fingers were already sticking together from the super glue, I decided to make a pair of tall candlesticks for the Chapel. The candle part is from sculpey, and I had to bake it with the socket and wires (but not the bulb) in the clay! Please ignore the crooked misaligned findings! It was very tricky to get them glued together and even a little bit off center ends up being noticeable! I console myself with the thought that it is quite dim in the Chapel and noone will notice the crooked candlesticks.......
And here they are in the Chapel.... almost as good as real candle light!
I still have to run the wires through the floor and out the back wall.

Medieval Illumination - Uncommon Lights