St-Dunstan-in-the-East

The ruins of this medieval church can still be found in the eastern end of the City of London and now play host to a rather delightful little park.

Originally built around 1,100 in the Gothic style, the church – which stands between St Dunstan’s Hill and Idol Lane (off Great Tower Street) was enlarged and repaired in ensuing centuries before suffering severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not enough to destroy the church, however, and it was repaired in the late 1660s with a new steeple and tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren to fit with the existing structure, was added in the late 1690s. Inside were carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

St-Dunstan-in-the-East-smallBut by the early 19th century, however, the weight of the roof had pushed the walls dramatically out of line and, after an unsuccessful attempt to repair the church, it was decided to demolish it (with the exception of Wren’s tower) and rebuild.

Built in the Perpendicular style to the designs of David Laing, the new church reopened in 1821.

The church lasted for more than 100 years before it was again severely damaged, this time during the Blitz of 1941. Wren’s spire and tower thankfully remained but other than that it was a shell with only the north and south walls remaining.

The Anglican Church decided not to rebuild – the parish was incorporated into that of All Hallows by the Tower – and the City of London Corporation opted to turn the (now) Grade I-Iisted remains into a public park. It was opened in 1971 by the then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Studd.

It remains there today, with beautiful climbing foliage – including many exotic plants – and a fountain in the nave. The tower, meanwhile, is used by a complementary medical centre.

A great place to pass a lunch hour!

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Christmas is looming and at the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton that means the museum’s many period rooms have been transformed for the Christmas festivities. The rooms span 400 years of history, from 1600 until today, and show how the middle class have lived over that time. The Christmas display will also provide insights into such Christmas traditions as kissing under the mistletoe, hanging up stockings, sending Christmas cards and decorating trees. The Christmas theme carries through to the restaurant and gift shop. Entry to the exhibition is free. Runs until 6th January. For an online gallery showing some of the rooms, click here. For more on the museum, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

• Meanwhile Kensington Palace is to be transformed into giant advent calendar in the lead-up to Christmas with a daily ‘reveal’ inspired by Princess Victoria’s Christmas diary entries and letters. The halls of the palace will be decorated with 24 specially designed mirrored baubles, Christmas music will be played throughout and a sparkling 25 foot high Christmas tree will be placed in the gardens. As part of the Christmas festivities, an evening of carol singing will be held on 5th December in the King’s Gallery with carols sung by the Hampton Court Palace Royal Chapel Choir. Other events include a Midwinter Masquerade Ball on 13th December and an Eerie Evening Tour on 20th December. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

• A new permanent furniture gallery opens at the V&A this Saturday. The Dr Susan Weber Gallery – the first at the museum dedicated to furniture – will display more than 200 pieces of British and European furniture, spanning a period stretching from the Middle Ages through to present day, as well as examples of American and Asian furniture. Each piece is examined in detail with information provided about the materials and techniques used in creating it. Among the designers represented will be Thomas Chippendale, Grinling Gibbons, Robert Adam, Ron Arad and Tom Dixon. Highlights include a 20th century Frank Lloyd Wright-designed dining chair, a gilded cassone made for the Duke of Urbino in about 1509, and a scagliola decorated table which was formerly at Warwick Castle and dates from 1675. Twenty-five ‘key’ pieces have been selected for a central chronological display including a storage unit by Charles and Ray Eames dating from 1949-50, a Gothic revival cradle dating from 1861 and designed by Richard Norman Shaw and one of the museum’s newest acquisitions, the 2011 ‘Branca’ chair, designed by Industrial Facility. The display includes the use of touch screen interfaces, films and audio recordings. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

• On Now: Bronze. Last chance to see this exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts which closes on 9th December. The exhibition brings together more than 150 of the finest bronzes in the world, spanning 5000 years of history, with many of the pieces on display never seen before in the UK. Among the earliest works are the 14th century BC bronze and gold Chariot of the Sun from Denmark, ancient Chinese ritual vessels including an elephant-shaped vessel dating from the Shang Dynasty (1100-1050 BC) and an Etruscan masterpiece – Chimera of Arezzo, dating from about 400 BC. Other highlights include a Roman cavalry helmet found in Cumbria in 2010 and the Portrait of King Seuthes III, dating from the early Hellenistic period, and found in Bulgaria in 2004 as well as a series of Renaissance bronzes and more recent works like Rodin’s The Age of Bronze (c 1876). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

One of the most famous painters of his age, Dutchman Sir Peter Lely – currently the subject of an exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery – rose to become the foremost portrait painter at the English Court during the latter half of the 17th century.

Born to Dutch parents on 14th September, 1618, in Westphalia (now part of Germany) where his father was serving as an infantry captain, Peter – originally named Pieter van der Faes – studied art as an apprentice in Haarlem in what is now The Netherlands. While there he is believed to have changed his name to Lely based on a heraldic lily which appeared on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.

Lely appeared in London in the early 1640s and, while he initially devoted himself to the sort of narrative-style paintings inspired by classical mythology, the Bible and literature he had been working on in Haarlem but having found no great success there, soon turned his hand to portraiture.

The death of court portraitist Anthony van Dyck in 1641 had left a vacuum he stepped into the gap, soon becoming the most in-demand portrait painter at the Royal Court, his sitters including none other than King Charles I himself.

However, Lely, who was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers Company in London in 1647, managed to straddle the political divide and after the beheading of King Charles I and the end of the English Civil War in 1651, was able to continue painting portraits of the most powerful people in the land including Oliver Cromwell – whom he painted “warts and all” as per the Lord Protector’s request – and his Cromwell’s brother Richard.

Already renowned as the best artist in the country, following the Restoration in 1660, Lely became Principal Painter of King Charles II, placed on an annual stipend as van Dyck had been before him during the reign of King Charles I.

Lely’s workshop was large and its output prolific, with his students and employees – who at one stage apparently included scientist and architect Robert Hooke – often completing his paintings after he sketched out some details, only painting the sitter’s face in any great detail.

Among his most famous works are a series of 10 portraits known as the Windsor Beauties (currently at Hampton Court Palace), a series of portraits of senior naval officers who served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the Flagmen of Lowestoft (most of the works at are the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) and Susannah and the Elders (currently at Burghley House in Cambridgeshire) as well as some of the paintings in the current Courtauld exhibition including Nymphs by a Fountain (usually found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Boy as a Shepherd (also the Dulwich Picture Gallery).

Lely was also known as an avid collector of art and is credited as being the first artist in England to do so in any serious manner – among his purchases were works which formerly formed part of King Charles I’s collection. At the time of his death, he is said to have owned more than 500 paintings, although more than half of these were works of his or his studio.

Sir Peter, who never married but had two children who survived him with a common-law wife Ursula, lived at a house in the north-east corner of Covent Garden from about 1650 until his death in 1680 (some sources have him knighted in this year, others in 1679) but also had a house at Kew and owned property outside of London including in Lincolnshire and The Hague.

He was apparently working at his easel in the studio of his Covent Garden house when he died on 30th November, 1680. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The monument to him, the work of Grinling Gibbons, was destroyed by fire in 1795.

Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision – which focuses on some of his early non-portrait works – runs at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January. For more on the exhibition, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2012/peter-lely/index.shtml. Running alongside the exhibition is a display of some of the drawings from Sir Peter’s own collection, Peter Lely: The Draughtsman and His Collection.

A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.

Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.

Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.

But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.

It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).

In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).

Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.

Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.

Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.

While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.

Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).

For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.