SIX-LEGGED, BACKWARD-LOOKING, FIRE-BREATHING SHAGGY BLACK DOG

Milan, 17 April 2019

One of the nice things about being in Milan at this time of the year is that it allows my wife and me to visit the various exhibitions which make up the city’s annual Design Week. This last week saw us tramping the highways and byways of Milan and dropping into exhibitions of design, mostly of furniture and furnishings, this week also being the time that Milan was holding the Salone del Mobile, its huge international exhibition of furniture and furnishings. I cannot say that I saw anything that knocked my socks off, or even just rolled them down. But it did allow us to visit a good number of old palazzi which were hosting exhibitions and which are out of bounds to the general public the rest of the year. It also allowed us to visit a small botanical garden that is tucked away behind the Brera Academy in the heart of Milan’s fashion district, a garden which neither of us knew existed. It is that visit which started off this post.

Our reason for going to the botanical garden was that ENI, Italy’s huge national oil and gas corporation, was holding an exhibition there on the theme of circular economy. This is an idea that is currently growing in importance in the environmental world and one which I have been running trainings on, and I was curious to see what ENI had to say on the subject. The short answer is: not terribly much. But I came away with this picture.
For readers who might be interested, the white core of this ring is composed of fungal mycelium, which ENI reminds us is completely biodegradable, and the outer casing is made of birch wood, which ENI says will be reused once the exhibition is over. Without much exaggeration, that pretty much sums up what ENI had to say about the circular economy in its exhibition.

Of greater interest for this post is what the makers of this ring have etched into the mycelium: apart from the title of the exhibition and the company’s name, the company’s logo: the six-legged dog. It is this dog which is the subject of this post. Or rather, given where this post started, it is the design history of this dog which I will write about.

My story starts in 1949, when Enrico Mattei, the charismatic boss of Agip, Italy’s national oil company, announced that oil and gas reserves had been discovered in the Po River plain. In truth, the finds were quite modest: the oil fields were to run dry quite quickly, while the gas fields, although they continue to chug along, have only a very modest output. But Mattei talked up the finds, offering a vision of Italy finally being self-sufficient in the fuels it needed to power its economic development, and thereby created a huge national stir. By late 1951, Italian refineries were beginning to produce the first petrol derived from Italian crude oil and Mattei’s PR office had come up with a name for this purely Italian petrol: Supercortemaggiore (Corte Maggiore being the place where the find had been made). In May 1952, Mattei decided to crank up excitement levels by announcing that Agip would hold a public competition open to all Italian citizens, inviting them to come up with, among other things, a publicity poster for Supercortemaggiore petrol. He made 10 million lire (or about 160,000 euros in today’s money) available in prize money to further whet people’s appetites. He composed a jury of very eminent persons to judge the entries; to give readers an idea of their eminence , the chair of the jury was the world-famous architect Giò Ponti.

Creative Italy got to work. By the closure of the competition in September, some 4,000 entries had been received. The jury ploughed through the submissions and for the Supercortemaggiore poster, it plumped for this:

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The caption read: “Supercortemaggiore: the powerful Italian petrol”. But what really dominated the poster was a six-legged shaggy black dog blowing out a red flame over its back. The whole poster had a bright yellow background. The original drawing as submitted actually had the dog facing frontward with the flame shooting out forward. Mattei decreed that this was too aggressive, people could imagine they were faced with a canine version of a flame-thrower. No problem! The head was swiveled 180 degrees so that the flame flared harmlessly back over the dog’s back. The net result was that by late 1952 Italians up and down the land found themselves faced with huge billboards such as these.

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Most advertising ideas work OK, some are a complete flop, and some work spectacularly well. The six-legged, fire-breathing, backward-looking, shaggy black dog falls into the last category; it was an instant hit with Italians. So popular did it become that in 1953, when Mattei created the new national oil and gas holding company, the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi or ENI, with Agip as one of its subsidiaries, he decided that the dog should become the corporate brand. And so quite soon when Italians went to fill up at their local Agip petrol station they were faced with something like this.

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In fact, this was how I first came across this intriguing dog. This was in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, where I was born a year or so after the shaggy black dog burst upon the scene. As an ex-Italian colony still full of Italians in the 1950s, Agip had a monopoly on the country’s petrol supply. It took a little while for the new ENI/Agip logo to grace every Agip petrol station, especially when the petrol stations were as far away from the center of the ENI empire as those in Asmara were. But they eventually got there, and I would have first seen the dog in 1958-59, from the back seat of the car as my father filled her up at the petrol station just behind our house.

Just to finish the design part, the dog has gone through some discreet remodelling as ENI has redesigned its look over the years. This is what it now looks like: slightly shorter than it was at the start and half out of the box rather than all in it. But the essentials are all still there.

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At some point, everyone who looks at this dog asks themselves “why six legs?” or the more-or-less equivalent question “what kind of animal is this, actually?” To discuss this properly, I need to take a step sideways and relate a dramatic turn of evens which occurred in 1983, 30 or so years after Mattei held his competition. In that year, the startling news broke that Giuseppe Guzzi, the person who everyone had assumed was the creator of the dog – because the submission to the competition’s jury was in his name – was not in fact its author! He had been merely the front man for the dog’s real creator, Luigi Broggini, a respectable Milanese sculptor. Broggini died in 1983 and his children, who broke the news, felt that it was time for the real creator of the famous dog to get the credit he was due. It seems that Broggini was a bit of a cultural elitist; he felt that being linked to such a vulgar enterprise as designing a publicity poster for a brand of petrol was unworthy of a true artist such as he. This is a typical product of his artistic inclinations.

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The cynic inside of me whispers that he probably didn’t deign to take the prize money; I only hope he shared it fairly with Guzzi to reward him for agreeing to be his front man.

So now we can return to the question of why six legs. Unfortunately, because Broggini died before his true role in this whole affair was revealed, we will never be able to ask the dog’s creator what he had in mind. I presume Broggini never told Guzzi, because it doesn’t seem that Guzzi ever gave any coherent response to this question. Maybe he would just smile mysteriously when asked and invite the questioners to come up with their own theory.

And come up with theories people have. One suggests that Broggini, thinking about the fact that the original crude oil lay underground, looked for possible models to the panoply of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses that peopled the shadowy underworld. Cerberus, the dog which guarded the entry to Hades, is considered one model. Cerberus was normally described as having three heads, a serpent for a tail, and snakes writhing out from his body in various places. But he had the normal amount of legs and he didn’t breathe fire. Here is a Greek vase depicting him.

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The idea to have a fire-breathing animal no doubt comes from petrol’s readiness to burn. But what animal breathes fire? The answer is the dragon.

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So another theory suggests that Broggini took a cue from a local Lombard legend of a dragon named Tarantasio which lived in a lake near Lodi, south-east of Milan (and perhaps not coincidentally quite close to the natural gas finds which Mattei announced in 1949). It was said that its breath was pestilential and it liked to devour little children. The Visconti, Lords of Milan, claimed that their ancestor had killed the terrible child-eating dragon and took it as the symbol on their coat of arms.

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So maybe Broggini was imagining a dog from the underworld with dragon-like characteristics. Adding a dragon to the mix might explain the flaming mouth, but as far as I can make out dragons are, like dogs, four-legged. So we still have no explanation for the six legs. The best I can think of is that Broggini liked the idea of using Cerberus as a model, perhaps allied to a dragon-like ability to breathe fire, but didn’t think having multiple heads was a good idea and so decided on multiple legs. Whatever the reason, the ENI PR office came up with a really pathetic slogan: “the dog with six legs, faithful friend to the man on four wheels”. And the man who came up with this slogan was none other than the great film director, Ettore Scola! As I always say to my wife in cases like these, he surely needed to pay his rent and electricity bills.

Let me finish this post recounting what happened to the man who started the whole business of the competition which brought us the dragon-dog, Enrico Mattei. For Mattei, the real point of the competition was to strengthen public support for a strong national oil and gas company, which he could translate into political support. He succeeded spectacularly well. A year after the competition, he got the politicians to back his idea of creating ENI. He used the profits which Agip petroli and its sister company Agip gas made from the Italian oil and gas finds to fund his ventures in foreign countries rich in oil and gas. His long-term strategy was for ENI to become a competitor to the Seven Sisters (a term he invented to describe the seven – mainly US – corporations which at that time dominated the world’s oil and gas markets). To make this happen, he went to places the Seven Sisters couldn’t or didn’t want to go to, he offered the countries really good deals in the share of profits, and he wasn’t above offering succulent bribes. Judging by ENI’s heft today in the world market, I would say that Mattei got it right. But in the process he stepped on many, many toes. In 1962, he died when his private plane crashed while coming in to land at Milan airport. The inquest was rushed through and arrived at the conclusion that it was an accident. But this is Italy. Rumors continued to circulate that his plane had been sabotaged. In the early 1990s, his body and that of one of the two passengers on the plane with him were exhumed, and examination of metal fragments in their bones showed they had been deformed by an explosion. In 1994, the case was reopened and eventually the episode was reclassified as a homicide by a person or persons unknown. There has been enormous amounts of speculation as to who these “unknown persons” might be. At one time or other, the finger has been pointed at the British Secret Service, the French Secret Service, the OAS (the French irredentists for a French Algeria), the CIA, the Mafia (as a favour to their cousins in America, the Cosa Nostra), one or more of the Seven Sisters, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. We’ll no doubt never know.

But we can all thank Mattei for that splendid six-legged, backward-looking, fire-breathing, shaggy black dog which he bequeathed the world!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Milan, 16 March 2019

Let me start this final post on the topic of UK industry in art by throwing in photos of a couple of paintings which didn’t make it into my previous posts but which really are worth being seen.

A Street with Washing (1962) by Peter Brook Calderdale (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Metropolitan Borough Council
Halifax (Bowling Dyke) (1925) by Claude Muncaster (1903-1974), © by kind permission of Claude Muncaster’s estate. Photo credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council
Backyard of Otaco Ltd Factory, 16 Market Road (date unknown) by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre and Museum
Mill in Winter (1958) by Peter Brook (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Steeplejacks (date unknown) by Harold Blackburn (1899-1980), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Lilly Clare, Last of the Taker-Inners (1979) by Christopher Brady (b. 1956), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: St Helens Council Collection
Miner on G6 Face (date unknown) by Jack Crabtree (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: University of South Wales Art Collection Museum
High Rake Lead Mine (2008) by Susan Loft (b. 1945), © the artist. Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

 

And now, with that out of the way, let me meditate for a minute on where things stand for UK industry and what its future might look like.

Through sheer coincidence I have been publishing these posts just when the British Parliament is going through what will probably be the last moments of a contorted, acrimonious process which will take the UK out of the EU, a process that was kicked off by the Referendum results of 23 June 2016. It is the leave vote that interests me here. There were many reasons why people voted to leave, many of them I’m sure having nothing – or relatively little – to do with the EU per se. Consider the following map, which gives a regional distribution of the vote.

The first thing that strikes one is the very clear difference in voting patterns between England and Scotland, and to a lesser degree Northern Ireland. That explains some of the Parliamentary shenanigans we have been witnessing these last two years. Putting that aside, the other major thing that strikes one is that, just from a territorial point of view, the vast majority of England and Wales voted to leave! (although the vote was admittedly close in many places) If the overall vote ended up such a close balance between leave and remain, it is because the bigger cities, which have big populations squeezed into small territories, voted strongly for remain. The following population-adjusted map shows this effect: London and its heavily populated surrounding swells, Scotland and Wales with their small populations shrink.

This divergence in the Referendum results between the large cities and the rest of the country has been interpreted as a protest vote on the part of those who live in the smaller towns. The Referendum was, so the thinking goes, a way they could figuratively stick a finger in the eye of the big-city elites. Since the EU is seen in the heartlands to be very much an elite project, a vote against the EU in the Referendum was very often a vote against the big-city slickers. The people who live in England’s and Wales’s small towns feel left behind, abandoned by the big cities. This must be especially true of towns which were once heavily industrialized whose citizens have seen their proud towns founder and collapse while the big cities seemingly have continued to grow and be ever more prosperous. One of the things that struck me as I prepared the last six posts is how many of the small towns in the paintings I was looking at were once busy, prosperous industrial towns and are now, because of deindustrialization, shells – ghosts – of what they once were. Looking at where the towns in the paintings I chose are on those voting maps, I can understand how the bitterness which has accumulated over the last forty years in these small industrial towns could have spilled over into a vote against the EU – especially since the UK’s membership in the EU started a mere decade before the UK’s deindustrialization started in earnest.

It’s so tragic really, because it looks like many leave voters actually stuck a finger in their own eye. As we have seen over the last few months, manufacturing, which although much diminished still mainly takes place in the old industrial towns, has taken a hit because of Brexit, with one multinational company after another closing down or downsizing their British operations. It will continue taking a hit: in the long term, it has been predicted that Brexit will cause more harm to those who voted to leave than to those who voted to remain.  I fear that the divide between England’s big cities and the rest of the country will only deepen once – as I think is now inevitable – the UK leaves the EU. In turn, this will increase the social tensions which already exist and I see no obvious way of defusing them outside the EU. I must confess to being quite gloomy about the UK’s future prospects.

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All photos of paintings are from the Art UK website

Map of Brexit voting: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_Kingdom_EU_referendum_2016_area_results.svg

Population adjusted map of Brexit voting: http://www.viewsoftheworld.net/?p=4848

 

IT ALL WENT AWAY

Milan, 15 March 2019

In the late 1980s, globalization really took hold and industry massively began to move out of developed countries and into developing countries. The UK suffered especially heavy losses of its manufacturing capacity. Whole communities not only lost their jobs but their whole raison-d’être. Their ancestors had been forced off the land to work in the factories, the towns they lived in had been created to house the factories, now there was no reason anymore for these towns to exist.  People my age remember that time, especially the miners’ strikes, which was their last-ditch attempt to save an industry that was doomed by global market forces. Artists memorialized those terrible moments in the UK’s recent history.

Miners’ Strike 2 (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Miners’ Strike (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Picket Line (2009) by Paul Schofield (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: Haig Colliery Mining Museum
Miners’ Strike (c. 1985) by Margaret Varis, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
On Strike (1985) by David Lawrence Carpanini (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust

But it was all to no avail. One after another, industries closed or moved away, leaving joblessness and broken communities behind

No Vacancies at This Colliery of Any Category (1984) by Andrew Hay (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Glasgow Museums

and leaving old workers with their memories of better times.

‘There are no longer any birds in last years’ nests. Times change and we with them’ (1993) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

What of industry’s environmental impacts, the topic of my professional interests? Well, there was all that black smoke belching out of factories’ chimneys. Painters readily included these smoking chimneys in their paintings of industry: black smoke meant industrial activity, it meant economic progress, it meant wealth! But as we now know, all that black smoke must have also played havoc with people’s lungs, especially poor people’s lungs – they couldn’t escape to comfortable suburbs far away from all that factory smoke – and especially poor children’s lungs. As industry developed, especially the chemical industry, chimney stacks began emitting different coloured smoke, something which artists picked up.

Leith (1970s) by George Mackie (b. 1920), © the artist. Photo credit: Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Industrial Panorama (1`953) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Nottingham City Museums

Artists seem to have been less interested in painting the black rivers – or even sometimes highly coloured rivers if textile factories were involved – which were another by-product of industrialization. As usual, L.S. Lowry seems to have been the only painter who turned his unflinching gaze on this watery ugliness.

The Lake (1937) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Industrial Landscape, River Scene (1950) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Of course, when industries closed or went away, this air and water pollution disappeared (only to reappear, though, in the developing countries where the industries relocated). Not so with industry’s solid wastes. In the early days, there was always a useful hole somewhere behind the factories where wastes could be conveniently dumped and forgotten about.

The Tip, Hanley (1946) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975), © estate of the artist. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Reflections (Rose Hill, Bolton) (1954) by Brian Bradshaw (b. 1923), © the artist. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

Industries may have closed down and moved away, but these noisome deposits stayed. How many of them have I dug up over my career! A poisoned present from past industries left for current and future generations to clean up.

And of course the mining operations – coal mines, tin mines, slate mines, … – have left indelible scars on the UK’s landscape, with their tips of mining waste looming up behind the mining villages.

Landscape, County Durham (date unknown) by Marjorie Arnfield (1930-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
Elliot Colliery (c. 1970) by Gilbert House (1919-2007), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Caerphilly County Borough Museums & Heritage Service – Winding House
Miners and Colliery (1970) by Tom C. Brown (1925-2006), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
The Slate Mines (date unknown) by Fred Uhlman (1901-1985), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

In my next and final post, I’ll slip in some paintings which didn’t fit my narrative but which deserve to be seen by a wider audience. I’ll also meditate on what has been the deeper impact of this story on the UK.

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All photos from the Art UK website

 

CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITIES

Milan, 14 March 2019

The rural poor may have been chased off the land and dragooned into factories, but at least they went on to create vibrant, closely-knit communities. Artists celebrated this throng of humanity in the shadow of the factories.

Unidentified Mill Scene (c. 1820-25) by British (English) School. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Morledge, Derby, by Night in Fairtime (1882) by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore (1853-1901). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence
A Scene in a Village Street with Mill-Hands Conversing (1919) by Winifred Knights (1899-1946). Photo credit: UCL Art Museum
Poole Pottery, Dorset (c. 1925) by Eustace P. E. Nash (1886-1969), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Poole Museum Service
Any Wintry Afternoon in England (1930) by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Street Scene (1935) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection
Market Scene, Northern Town (1939) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Sunnyside Mill Bride to Be (date unknown) by Roger Hampson (1925-1996), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Mill Girls, Ashton, Lancashire (1948) by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
Spring Evening (1950) by Joan Baker (1922-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Aberystwyth University, School of Art Museum and Galleries
Cheetham Street, Middlesbrough, Tees Valley (1953) by Kenneth Gribble (1925-1995), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
The Cooling Tower, Stockport, Cheshire (1960) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Lady Windsor Colliery, Ynysybwl (c. 1980) by Christopher Hall (b. 1930), © the artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales

In the bigger cities, these communities began to be ripped apart in the late 1950s, early 1960s by well-meaning attempts to upgrade people’s living conditions, but it meant that the centres of industrial cities were laid to waste as factories were moved out into industrial estates and the people were moved into high-rise blocks of flats.

Terrace House Demolition, Barton Hill (c. 1963) by Gerald Albert Cains (b. 1932), © the artist. Photo credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives
The Green Fence, Hulme (1960) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1988), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
New Street (1961) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Embryo, Moss Side, Manchester (1965) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service
Wharf Street Vista, Leicester (1970) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service
Elephant and Castle, London, High Rise (1988) by Oliver Bevan (b. 1941), © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of London

Far greater wreckage was to occur a few decades later when the UK started deindustrializing under Thatcher as globalization shifted factories into the developing countries and left many old industrial towns and cities with no future. This topic will be covered in my next post.

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All photos from the Art UK website.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Milan, 12 March 2019

The industrial revolution could only take off because the rural poor were chased off the land, herded into towns, and put to work in the burgeoning factories. These foot soldiers of the industrial revolution were immediately of interest to painters, who caught on right away to the military, drill-like quality of the work for many.

The Richardson Cutting Shop (date unknown) by Emily Hodgetts (active 1820-50). Photo credit: Dudley Museums Service
File Cutters (1917) by Edward Frederick Skinner (1865-1924). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Blouse Factory (1917) by Charles Ginner (1878-1952), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Government Art Collection
Women at Work: The Belgian Steel Factory, Goldhawk Road, W12 (1918) by Edgar Seligman (1867-1958), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
Elswick, 1917: Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth & Company by John Lavery (1856-1941). Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
The Weaving Shed, Old Glamis Factory (1929) by James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)
Women Making Munitions Boxes (1946) by John Campbell Hutton (1906-1978), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of Farnham
Body Shop, Austin, Longbridge, Warwickshire (1947) by Robert Johnston (active 1947-1985), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

It is striking indeed that most of these pictures have women workers, but this might be more a reflection of the fact that many of the pictures were painted during the two World Wars, when women were drafted into the workplace to replace the men; when the wars were over they were expected to go home. (It is also striking that in the pictures in yesterday’s post, which were all from “heavy industries”, there were NO women.)

The harsh working conditions, the tendency of the factory owners to pay their workers as little as possible, the lack of job security, all led to worker agitation and the creation of the Trades Union movement as well as of left-wing political parties. Artists captured these political trends early.

The Opening of the Chartists’ Meeting House, Hyde [in 1838] by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
National Builders Labourers And Construction Workers Society Banner (1921) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
The Sunderland Employers Banner (1871) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum

In later decades, some artists were perhaps not so sympathetic to the workers’ movement.

The Communist, a Political Meaning (c. 1932) by Evan Walters (1893-1951), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Union Men (1975) by Harold Blackburn (1899-1980), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

Others were decidedly more sympathetic.

Selling the ‘Daily Worker’ outside Projectile Engineering Works (1937) by Clive Branson (1907-1944). Photo credit: Tate. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
The History of Labour (1975) by Maureen Scott (b. 1940), © the artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
Two Trade Unionists (1986) by Ken Currie (b. 1960), © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: North Lanarkshire Council / CultureNL
Glasgow Communist Party Committee Banner (1983-85) by Ken Currie (b. 1960), © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: Glasgow Caledonian University
Unemployment on Merseyside: Campaigning for the Right to Work (1993) by Michael Patrick Jones (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of Liverpool

While all this was happening, a number of artists went about using the new art forms of 20th Century art to depict the real nature of work.

The Weaver (1910) by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Munitions Factory (1940s) by William Patrick Roberts (1895-1980), © estate of John David Roberts. By courtesy of The William Roberts Society. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Female Glass Worker (date unknown) by Cliff Rowe (1904-1989), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
Machine Shop (1963) by Leroy Leveson Laurent Joseph de Maistre (1894-1968), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
The Machinist (1970s) by Tony Evans (1920-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection
Workers in a Frozen Pea Factory (1979) by Francis Higgins, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Artists were also interested in capturing the flow of workers into and out of the factories, at the beginning and end of their day or their shift. Miners’ shift changes got pride of place.

Miners Return from Night Shift (1928) by Richard Schmick, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Miners Returning from Work (1931) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
Bedford Colliery, Leigh (date unknown) by Roger Hampson (1925-1996), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
The Crossing (Colliery at Night) (1964) by Tom McGuinness, © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Pit Road near a Colliery, Winter (c. 1990) by Norman Stansfield Cornish (1919-2014), © Northumbria University Gallery on behalf of the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Northumbria University Gallery
Back and Forth (date unknown) by Brian Maunders (b. 1942), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England

But pictures were painted of other factory workers too, catching them when they came out

Coming from the Mill (1930) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
End of the Day (1947) by David Ghilchik (1890-1970), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Chesterfield Museum & Art Gallery
Men Leaving Work (1954) by Carel Victor Morlais Weight (1908-1997), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

or went in.

Going to the Mill (1925) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Pallant House Gallery
Entrance to a Factory near the Canal Entrance (date unknown) by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

Paintings of workers’ lives in their local community outside the factory gates will be the topic of the next post.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website

 

DARK SATANIC MILLS

Milan, 12 March 2019

Right from the start of the industrial revolution, artists were fascinated by the factories which glowed red in the night or sent flames leaping up into the night sky – William Blake’s dark satanic mills. Here is a series of paintings on this theme.

Coalbrookdale by Night (1801) by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Steelworks, Cardiff at Night (1893-7) by Lionel Walden (1861-1933). Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Dowlais Works at Night (1929) by Charles William Mansel Lewis (1845-1931) (attr. to). Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Lever House Mural (date unknown) by Leonard Henry Rosoman (1913-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Williamson Art Gallery & Museum
Industrial Landscape (Hulme, Manchester in the Sixties) by John Bold (1895-1979), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
BP Baglan Bay at Night (1963) by Andrew Vicari (1938-2016), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Industry (1987) by Leslie Frederick Clarke (1907-2000), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Erewash Borough Council

Much of that fire has emanated from iron and steel works, whose interiors have also drawn artists – like moths to a flame, we could say.

The Wealth of England, the Bessemer Process of Making Steel (1895) by William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858-1930). Photo credit: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust
Bessemer Process Plant, Abbey Works, Margam (1958) by Charles Ernest Cundall (1890-1971), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Steelworkers (1940) by Roland Vivian Pitchforth (1895-1982), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
Tapping a Blast Furnace (1957) by Charles William Brown (1882-1961), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Last Tapping of the Blast Furnace at Brymbo (c. 1978) by Jan Boenisch, © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives

While the molten metal went on to further working, the slag from the foundries was thrown onto heaps where, still incredibly hot, it glowed sullenly until it had cooled sufficiently.

Tipping the Slag (date unknown) by Edwin Butler Bayliss (1874-1950), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

These slag heaps must have looked quite satanic at night, giving off a deep red glow.

Rolling mills, where molten – or at least red-hot – metal is rolled out, have also been a constant source of artistic inspiration.

Interior of a Rolling Mill (1855-65) by Godfrey Sykes (1824-1866). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Hot Strip Mill (c. 1952) by Norman Hepple (1908-1994), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust
Rolling Mill, Avesta, Sheffield (1990) by M. Lawrance, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

Forging, too, has had its enthusiasts.

The Tyre Mill (1940-44) by Edith Grace Wheatley (1881-1970), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
‘Becking’, Locomotive at Blaenavon Works, 1947 by R. Smith (possibly), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Torfaen Museum Trust

Moulding has also attracted followers.

Ley Maleable Works, Lincoln (1920) by L. Hare, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of Lincolnshire Life
Pouring Metal into Moulds (date unknown) by Norman Biddle (1932-2000), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

I finish with a spray of sparks

Scarfer (1971) by John Collins, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust

and a homage to the men who spent their working lives in those dark satanic mills.

The Black-Country Steelworkers (1992) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This last picture is an introduction to my next post, which will cover the theme of industrial workers.

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All photos from the Art UK website.

IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – II

Milan, 11 March 2019

The new structures created by the industrial revolution were immediately of interest to artists, who memorialized these new activities

A Pit Head (1775-1825) by the British School. Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

as well as the buildings that sprang up to house them.

Mill Landscape (1800-1830) by the British (English) School. Photo credit: The Whitaker

No doubt the owners of these new activities – the “capitalists” – were proud to have them memorialized, much as in previous centuries landowners had been proud to have their country seats memorialized.

‘A’ Pit, Backworth, Newcastle upon Tyne (1823-1867) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: Laing Art Gallery
Ebley Cloth Mills, Stroud, Gloucestershire (c. 1850) by Alfred Newland Smith (1813-1877) (attributed to). Photo credit: The Stroud District (Cowle) Museum Trust Collection
Restronguet Creek Tin Works (1874) by T. May. Photo credit: Royal Institution of Cornwall. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Lord Derby’s Works, Redvales, Bury, 1893 by James ‘Clock’ Shaw. Photo credit: Bury Art Museum
Eastwood’s Crown Brewery (1898) by F.L. Carter. Photo credit: Compton Verney

The industrial buildings got bigger and more complex, but still their owners wanted artists to memorialize their factories.

A Two-Year-Old Steel Works: Erected during the War for Messrs. Steel, Peech & Tozer, Ltd, Phoenix Works, Rotherham (c. 1918) by Charles John Holmes (1868-1936). Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
British Industries: Steel (1924) by Richard Jack (1866-1952), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

But I suppose at some point artists just wanted to show the factories the way they really were.

The Thames at Hammersmith (1930) by David Murrary Smith (1865-1952), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And they tried using the new painting techniques of the 20th Century to capture the industrial reality they saw around them.

 Ullathorne Mill, Startforth, County Durham (date unknown) by Douglas Frederick Pittuck (1911-1993), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council
The Brewery and Paper Mill, Ely (date unknown) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Gathering the Jewels
Steel Works near Swansea (1944) by Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Argyll and Bute Council
Dawn, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland (1949) by Oliver Kilbourn (1904-1993), © Ashington Group Trustees. Photo credit: Woodhorn Museum & Northumberland Archives
The Zinc Works (1954) by Peter Knox (b. 1942), © the artist. Photo credit: Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service
Industrial Landscape, Hope Valley, Derbyshire (c. 1959) by Harry Epworth Allen (1894-1958), © Geraldine Lattey/Harry Epworth Allen Foundation. Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery
Industrial Landscape (1959) by George Kennerley (1909-2009), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Sugden’s Brighouse Mill (date unknown) by Peter Brook (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

From the 1960s onward, artists who painted industry seem to have focused almost exclusively on recording the passing of the coal industry, which had underpinned the whole industrial revolution in the UK and was now entering its death spiral.

Shotton Colliery, County Durham (1967) by Everard, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Durham County Council
New Stubbin Colliery (1977) by Peter Watson (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Six Bells Colliery (1980) by George H. Godsell, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Abertillery & District Museum
Coal Wagons (Seafield Colliery) (1985) by Brian Joseph Fojcik, © the artist. Photo credit: Fife Council
Bickershaw Colliery, Leigh (1992) by Max Ayres, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Pithead Sunset (2007) by Stephen Simons (b. 1984), © the artist. Photo credit: Langwith Whaley Thorns Heritage Centre

By 2007, the date of the last painting I show here, the British coal industry was effectively dead, along with much of the manufacturing industry which had powered itself with that coal.

A line from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem has given me the title of both this post and the previous one. Blake asks if Jesus ever walked over England’s green and pleasant land. When Blake wrote that poem, England mostly was still a green and pleasant land, a rural land. It was only slightly pockmarked by the “dark satanic mills” of industry which he mentions in that poem (“And was Jerusalem builded here / Among these dark Satanic Mills?”). Blake died in 1827, before – as the paintings in these two posts show – the blighting ugliness of industrial development had really started disfiguring the land. In my next post, I will explore artists’ fascination with the most satanic of those industrial mills.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website

 

IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – I

Milan, 10 March 2019

I recently came across a wonderful website, Art UK. It is the fruit of a long effort to digitize absolutely every single painting, watercolour, etching, and drawing being held by public bodies in the UK. And I mean every such piece of art, from the products of the most exalted artists to those of the humblest, from pieces in a perfect state of repair to pieces which are dirty, discolored, scratched and peeling. And I mean every public body. Why, we are talking of as humble a body as the Goole Museum (I challenge anyone to tell me where that is without looking it up on Google Maps or some such). In this way, the website is able to make available 222,572 artworks. The purpose of the exercise is to give every UK citizen access to that body of art which in theory they own but which in practice is often locked away in physically inaccessible parts of public buildings or in store rooms. And of course, through the worldwide net they have made this a gift to the whole world. This exercise democratizes art not only by making it more accessible but also by taking away the filters imposed on it by an artistic elite who decide what is worth seeing and what should be hidden away from view in store rooms. Art UK has now turned its attention to all the sculptures being held by these same public bodies. I wait with bated breath for the result!

As readers can easily appreciate, it would be impossible to enjoy these 220,000-plus works of art without having the ability to use filters to extract from the site’s database some manageable subset of artworks. And indeed the website gives its users the tools to do this. So I have been spending my spare moments in the last couple of weeks doing just that, extracting works of art which fit a particular theme close to my heart: the depiction in art of industry. Allow me to explain.

I have spent my entire career at the interface between industry and the environment, trying to minimize the impacts of the former upon the latter. As readers can imagine, this has left me with a somewhat jaundiced view of industry. Although tangential to my areas of expertise, I have also seen close up how industry can impact the health, safety, and the general well-being of its workers, which has increased my jaundiced view of industry. Nevertheless, I also have to recognize that many workers have found in their industrial work a reason for pride in their skills and a comforting communal solidarity. It is also true to say that industry has created many well-paying jobs and has contributed significantly to general economic well-being – or at least it did so in the industrialized countries until the deindustrialization of the 1980s and 1990s wiped out whole swathes of industry and ripped out the fabric of many communities, a collective harm from which they have not yet recovered.

Now these are my own, very personal views of industry. How, I have been asking myself for many years, have artists been reacting to this phenomenon which has transformed our economies and our societies over the last 200 years, both for better and for worse? As readers can imagine, most mainstream museums show very few, if any, pieces of art about industry.

Art UK has finally offered me a wonderful way of checking how artists have been tracking the phenomenon of industrialization – and deindustrialization – in the UK, the country where the industrial revolution started some 200 years ago. Using search terms like “factory”, “industry”, “industrial”, “mill”, “mine”, “worker”, “union”, and “strike” I have been drilling down through the database. To do justice to all the artwork I have unearthed, I have prepared several posts, each on a different thread which I found running through the paintings. This post will look at the theme of industry in the landscape.

I start with the earliest painting I could find in this genre, from 1810, which places it in the first decades of the UK’s Industrial Revolution. In this landscape, which has figures dressed in Regency style in the foreground, we see the English town of Halifax. Industry has a very modest presence in this landscape, in the form of those three-storey mills close to the bridge.

North-West View of Halifax (c. 1810) by Nathan Fielding (1747-c. 1814). Photo Credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council

In this next painting, from some twenty years later, we have a typical landscape painting: old, gnarled trees in the foreground, some rustics working at something among the trees to the left, the city of Bristol in the background. A black plume of smoke – that instant marker of industrial activity – signals the presence of some factory in the city. The industrial presence still seems modest.

View of Bristol (1827) by Patrick Nasmyth (1787-1831). Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

In Rotherham in the same period, industry is much more present in the landscape. The tall cathedral spire is matched by several tall industrial chimneys belching their black smoke, while figures in the foreground carry on with what still seems to be a bucolic life.

View of Rotherham, South Yorkshire (c. 1830) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Rotherham Heritage Services

And what could be more English than this, playing cricket while a factory chimney emits its smoke discreetly in the background?

Cricket Match at Edenside, Carlisle (c. 1844) by Samuel Bough (1822-1878). Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

By the late 1830s, industry has become very much more present in what were to become major hubs of industry in the UK, like this view of Sheffield from 1838.

View of Sheffield from Shrewsbury Road (1838) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Museums Sheffield

The next two paintings, painted within a few years of each other, were painted about twenty years later. They are views of Manchester, and they too show this city, which was to be at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution, with the same array of chimneys spouting black smoke.

View of Manchester from Kersal (1856) by John Barton Waddington (1835-1918). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester from Belle Vue (1861) by George Danson (1799-1881). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence

In this painting of 1861, the traditional rural past of the UK still takes pride of place, although the future, in the form of a forest of smoking chimneys, lurks in the background. As we will see in a minute, that future will eventually engulf everything.

Looking West of St Luke’s Church, Silverdale (1861) by Henry Lark I Pratt (1805-1873). Photo credit: Brampton Museum

By about this period, the traditional landscape painting with industry a minor player in it disappears. I suppose this reflects the reality of what was going on. The small towns which had adopted industry grew rapidly and sucked into them the rural poor, who were to become the industrial proletariat of the future. Now landscapes give way to cityscapes, with industry now embedded in an urban fabric.

The River Derwent from the Great Northern Railway Bridge, Derby by Raymund Dearn (1858-1925). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

The countryside disappears to give place to views of the new industrial cities.

View of Camden Town (1915) by D. Connor, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

The bleakness of these new cities was well captured by L.S. Lowry, who from the late 1910s to the early 1960s was to paint these industrial cityscapes over and over again.

A Manufacturing Town (1922) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Science Museum, London

I add this next Lowry as a counterpoint to the earlier painting of church and industry. Now the church has been completely engulfed by the spread of industry.

A Street Scene (St Simon’s Church) (1928) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford

Not all industrial landscapes of these years were as bleak as Lowry’s paintings. Here is one from 1932, which gives a more optimistic view of a typical industrial city.

Accrington from My Window (1932) by Charles Frederick Dawson (1863-1949), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

But to my  mind Lowry represents better the soul-destroying element of the UK’s industrial development.

The Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford (1930s?) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit:York Museums Trust

Other painters, while not denying the bleakness of these industrial towns, pick up on the linear geometry of modern life.

Cubist Quayside and Railway Industrial Landscape with Figures (1930s-40s?) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Cardiff Council

But Lowry continued with his really depressing paintings.

An Industrial Town (1944) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Birmingham Museums Trust

This next painting shows what the landscape around an industrial town had become: a dirty and torn-up landscape devoid of any life.

From a Back Lane (1949) by Jack Simcock (1929-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Other painters continued to give a sunnier view of industry’s place in the landscape – we are now five years after the Second World War.

Sunlight and Mills (1951) by Harold Hemingway (1908-1976), © the copyright holder. Photo credit:  Salford Museum & Art Gallery

But others continued producing relentlessly dark landscapes – in this painting, cooling towers, which were to displace chimneys as the typical symbol of industry, make their first appearance.

A Leicester Vista (1955) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Another dark cityscape from the late 1950s.

Coventry (1958) by Jane Sutton, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

A sunnier version from the same year. Cooling towers are now very visible.

Walsall, as seen from Peal Street (1958) by Herbert W. Wright (b. 1912), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This painting is a return to earlier landscape paintings. It is celebrating the industries of the future, which are leaving behind the bleak, coal-dirty towns of the past (seen in the far distance) and starting afresh in the new industrial zones of the post-War period.

Trostre Works, Llanelli (1959) by Charles Ernest Cundall, © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

This is a slightly more realistic depiction of the huge industrial zones that are still with us today.

Industrial Skyline (1964) by W.D. Staves (active 1964-1965), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: North Lincolnshire Museums Service

This is another throw-back to the landscape paintings of the past, although I suspect that this one is a mourning for what once was. The steel plant in the background was eventually closed down some 15 years after this picture was painted.

Landscape with Consett Steel Works (1972) by Mary Jane Kipling (1912-2004), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council (Derwentside)

Here we have a bleak vision – not messy and dirty, just alienated – of industry from the 1980s.

Industrial Landscape (c. 1980) by Stephen Meyler (b. 1956), © the artist. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection

This one is a commentary on how the beautiful object in the foreground was birthed in the ugliness behind it.

The Ruskin Connection (2000) by Stephen Morris, © the artist. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And finally, a contemporary vision of industry: still there but much cleared away, leaving  joblessness and broken communities behind.

Slipway (2008) by Frances Ryan (b.1960), © the artist. Photo credit: Northern Ireland Civil Service

Here I have shown paintings where factories were but one of a number of elements in the landscape. The next post will show paintings of factories as the sole element in the landscape.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website.

 

BUTTERFLIES

Milan, 8 February 2019

If your mother tongue happens to be a European language, one of the things which always happens when you learn another European language is that you begin to see words very similar to those in your mother tongue used to describe the same object: “well how about that, the German word for cow is kuh” or “whaddaya know, the French word for quay is quai”. In some cases, like for the word quay, the similarity is caused by straight borrowing: “the French call this new thing they build these days a quai, so let’s call it the same”. But in other cases, experts believe the similarities point to deeper connections between European languages, as in the case of cow and kuh. And these connections span languages from Ireland in the west to northern India in the east, the family of so-called Indo-European languages.

I won’t go into the details of how experts believe the Indo-European languages developed and spread, fascinating as they are. Suffice to say that in Europe we now have three major families of languages – the Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages – one minor family of languages – the Celtic languages – and a number of loners – Albanian and Armenian (there are also a few non-Indo-European languages, like Hungarian and Finnish).
A lot of basic words – words that our ancestors would have used thousands of years ago – have remained quite constant across different European languages. Look at “cat” in this table, for instance.
Pretty much every European language has got the same word. The two languages out of step here are Serbo-Croat and Romanian, which seem to have gone off together in another direction.

And how about that other friend of us human beings, the dog? (or hound, using the somewhat old-fashioned English name for it – Elvis Presley reminds us of their connection in his inimitable song “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound-dog”)
We see in this case how the words fall very clearly into their Romance, Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic clusters. I think, though, that linguists would tell us that there is actually an underlying connection between the Germanic cluster and the Romance and Celtic clusters, in that the “k” sound being used in the Romance and Celtic languages can slide into the “h” sound used in the Germanic languages. They might even tell us that by some strange alchemy of linguistics the Slavic root word was also connected long ago with their Germanic, Romance and Celtic colleagues.

The same clustering holds for the word “cow” I mentioned at the beginning.
In this case, the Celtic languages seem the odd ones out, although I suspect their root is another term for cow, the one we have in the English word “bovine”. The Romance languages, which superficially also look different, probably connect with the others – I would say that somewhere along the line, someone added a “va” to the “ca” sound.

I could go on at great length, giving other examples, but I don’t want to bore my readers and, anyway, these examples are enough to discuss the real subject of this post: butterflies.

All my meditating on the similarities which one finds across European languages was set off when my wife and I walked by the Butterfly House in Vienna a week or so ago – beautiful place, by the way; an old greenhouse from Vienna’s Art Nouveau days
whose space has been transformed into a home for butterflies.
On the door, in large lettering, was written Schmetterling Haus, Butterfly House in German. Readers will immediately see the house-haus connection. But butterfly-schmetterling? And then I thought of the equivalent words in French and Italian: papillon and farfalla. No noticeable connection between any of the four. This table shows the larger picture, with other languages thrown in.
Hardly any connections anywhere!

How was that possible, I wondered? It’s not as if we humans have just recently discovered butterflies. They fluttered around our ancestors living on the Pontic-Caspian steppes, where the experts believe the original Indo-European language was created some 5,000 years ago. Here is one such butterfly whose range covers that part of the world, the Parnassius apollo.
Surely they gave these creatures a name?

Butterflies such as this Orange Oak Leaf were also there to welcome the arrival of Indo-Europeans in India
as was this Peacock when they arrived in in Ireland
and indeed in every place in between. Surely, when our Indo-European ancestors saw new butterflies, they didn’t say “Oh look, it’s those thingies again!”

Pondering about this, I have arrived at a theory. It is based on the assumption that in those far-off days (actually not so far-off for many of our ancestors) we humans were supremely utilitarian, viewing the world around us primarily in terms of what material value it brought to us. Under these conditions, my theory says that words stayed the same – they were conserved – if they were for things which we humans felt were really important, which added value to our lives. And the animals I’ve given above as examples did indeed add great value to our lives: cats, to fight off rodents which otherwise invaded our food stores; dogs, as useful adjuncts to the hunt and to corralling those pesky cows, and for our defence; cows, as givers of milk, as givers of meat, as signals of wealth.

In this optic, butterflies brought us nothing, so our ancestors did not feel it was important to conserve their name. And so their name just drifted. At some point, though (my increasingly fanciful theorizing continues), butterflies began to be appreciated aesthetically, for their beauty alone. So butterflies began to be given fancy names:
– butterfly: “from butter + fly; perhaps from the cream or yellow colour of common species, or from an old belief that the insects stole butter”
– schmetterling: “from schmetten (cream) due to an old belief that witches transformed themselves into butterflies to steal cream and other milk products”
–  mariposa: “the union of Maria and posate, perhaps from a children’s song”
– babochka: “seems to be a diminutive of baba ‘(old) woman,’ a doublet of babushka ‘grandmother’—a fact that seems to strengthen the alleged connection between witches and butterflies”
– glöyn byw: “literally ‘living coal’
And on and on … I think readers get the picture.

At some point, the artists weighed in, especially the still life painters who liked to decorate their fruit and vegetable compositions with beautiful butterflies.

Van Gogh later put butterflies in their more natural habitat, as in this Long Grass with Butterflies:
The poets also weighed in. For instance, we have William Wordsworth’s poem To a Butterfly:

I’ve watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!–not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

Or Emily Dickinson’s From Cocoon forth a Butterfly, one of many poems she wrote about butterflies:

From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged — a Summer Afternoon —
Repairing Everywhere —

Without Design — that I could trace
Except to stray abroad
On Miscellaneous Enterprise
The Clovers — understood —

Her pretty Parasol be seen
Contracting in a Field
Where Men made Hay —
Then struggling hard
With an opposing Cloud —

Where Parties — Phantom as Herself —
To Nowhere — seemed to go
In purposeless Circumference —
As ’twere a Tropic Show —

And notwithstanding Bee — that worked —
And Flower — that zealous blew —
This Audience of Idleness
Disdained them, from the Sky —

Till Sundown crept — a steady Tide —
And Men that made the Hay —
And Afternoon — and Butterfly —
Extinguished — in the Sea —

Or Robert Frost’s Blue-Butterfly Day:

It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.

But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

Yes, all very beautiful …

But of course our ancestors didn’t know everything. Beautiful they may be, but butterflies add value to our planet. A number of plants need butterflies for their pollination (a process we humans didn’t understand until the early 19th Century). They are prey to some insects and in turn are predators for other insects, helping to keep everything in its natural balance. So its name should never have drifted, we Europeans should always have had one common name.

I guess this is yet another example of how our half-knowledge of the world around us is leading us to destroy it. I write this as butterfly numbers continue to drop precipitously, with pesticide use, changes in land use, climate change, and who knows what else decimating them. Just as an example, take the monarch, a lovely butterfly native to North America.
Its populations have plummeted by 90+% over just the last few years. It is facing extinction.

Will we ever learn, I wonder?

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Map of Indo-European languages: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_languages
Schmetterling Haus – exterior: http://farewell-owl.blogspot.com/2010/08/imperial-butterfly-house-vienna.html
Schmetterling Haus – interior: https://www.tripadvisor.it/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g190454-d591133-i80628931-Schmetterlinghaus-Vienna.html
Butterflies in Schmetterling Haus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dainsk/5726792178
Parnassius apollo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_(butterfly)#Distribution_and_habitat
Orange oak leaf: http://indiasendangered.com/7-spectacular-butterflies-of-india-photos/
Peacock: http://butterflyconservation.ie/wp/
Jean Mortel, Still Life with Apricots, Grapes, Fig and Butterfly: https://www.pinterest.it/pin/291045194650938994/?lp=true
Laurens Craen, Still Life with a Lobster on a Pewter Plate, Lemons, Grapes, Apricots, Oysters and a Gold-Mounted Blue and White Porcelain Ewer, all on a Wooden Table Top with a Swallowtail Butterfly: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2011/important-old-master-paintings-sculpture-n08712/lot.173.html
Vincent Van Gogh, Long Grass with Butterflies: https://theartstack.com/artist/vincent-van-gogh/long-grass-butterflies
Monarch butterfly: https://sovasgottalent.com/10931-pic-of-butterfly/now-pic-of-butterfly-new-jersey-s-key-role-in-the-monarch-migration-conserve-wildlife/

TWO PANETTONI FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

Dedicated to my son, who too often gets strep throat

Milan, 3 February 2019

Today is February 3rd!

This exclamation of mine will, I’m sure, leave all of my readers puzzled, so I need to explain: February 3rd is the feast day of Saint Blaise!

I fear, though, that this piece of information will still not help my readers much, so let me plough on.

Saint Blaise is one of those delightfully obscure early Christian martyrs, lost to us in the mists of time and fog of hagiography. His story is quickly told. He lived in the late 2nd, early 3rd Centuries AD. He was the Bishop of Sebastea, now Sivas, deep in the heart of modern Turkey. He was a holy man and a miracle worker. It is one miracle in particular that interests us here. A young mother came rushing to Blaise with her son, who was dying from a fish bone (or possibly a fish scale) stuck in his throat. As someone who, at the age of 12 or 13, got a fish bone stuck in my throat, I can deeply empathize with the poor boy. Luckily, I wasn’t dying but it was an incredibly painful experience. After various home remedies had been tried, I was taken to a doctor who extracted it. It so happens that Blaise had also trained as a doctor, but it seems he favored a faith-based approach to healing (I don’t know whether this was merely a reflection of his strong faith or a commentary on the parlous state of medicine at the time). So he laid his hands on the boy’s throat and uttered the – extremely sensible – words: “either come up or go down”. The fish bone (or scale) duly came up, or went down, and the boy was saved. This is the best painting I have found, by the Neapolitan painter Pacecco de Rosa, commemorating this touching scene.
Blaise was caught up in a final burst of persecution in the Roman Empire against Christians, which was the fruit of a vicious power struggle between the co-Emperors Constantine and Licinius. It is narrated that Blaise was arrested and dragged before the local governor and “invited” to abjure his faith. Here we have the scene commemorated in a stained glass window from Picardie, in northern France.
Of course, Blaise did no such thing. In fact, he used the occasion to lambaste idolatry (no doubt using strong and colourful language to make his point). At which, the governor in a fury ordered his men to torture Blaise. Which they did, with gusto, using combs or brushes with pointed metal teeth to tear his flesh to pieces. This is the best painting, by Filippo Vitale, another Neapolitan painter, which I could find of this painful event. I particularly like the Caravaggesque approach adopted by the painter. I have to say, I also find the pop-eyed torturer fantastic.
I feel moved, however, to also add a picture here of a section of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo painted Saint Blaise, because he made a great a depiction of the saint holding a wicked-looking pair of combs. Imagine having your skin scraped with those things!
In passing, I have to say that I am always amazed at the wonderfully inventive tortures early Christian hagiographers came up with for their martyrs. The muscular-looking lady in the green dress below Saint Blaise in the Last Judgement is Saint Catherine, holding the spiked wheel which she was meant to be broken on. I have written an earlier post about the flaying of St. Bartholomew. I went to a school whose patron saint was St. Laurence; he was basically grilled like a pork chop over a fire. The list of incredible tortures is endless …

But I digress. For some reason – no doubt because he was a saint – Blaise survived this harrowing of the flesh. He was thrown into jail, presumably to give his jailers time to think up even more hideous ways of torturing him. But they were clearly not up to the task, for the next thing we are told is that the governor ordered Blaise to be drowned in the nearby river. His men duly threw him into the river, where he miraculously floated. In frustration, they hauled him to the shore and cut off his head. And that was the end of Blaise (although I have to ask myself, if he could miraculously float in the river why could he not also miraculously stop the sword from cutting his head off? But, as they say, God moves in mysterious ways).

Blaise might have been dead but his reputation lived on. Over the centuries, he became the patron saint of various things. The one that interests us here is that he is the saint to whom one prays if one has a sore throat. Well, sore throats are a very common ailment for us humans, especially at this time of the year, but they are not life-threatening. So initially I found it somewhat surprising that people in the old days felt the need for a saint to intercede specifically for sore throats. But then it occurred to me that perhaps I was actually just reflecting the modern state of our health. Perhaps in the old days a sore throat was actually often the harbinger of something much more deadly creeping up on us, especially if we were children. For instance, there is whooping cough, which I would assume has a component of sore throat (luckily, never having had whooping cough, I wouldn’t know). Until quite recently pretty much every child caught whooping cough and a not insignificant number died as a result (and still do in developing countries, because they don’t get vaccinated as we do in the developed world). Strep throat also comes to mind. This is another disease that predominantly strikes children – it is responsible for as much as a third of their sore throats. It is incredibly painful, as I remember from my one run-in with the disease at the age of 10. To make the point, I throw in here a picture of a nice case of strep throat.
Strep throat is now treatable with antibiotics, but perhaps in the pre-antibiotic days, i.e., any time before World War II, strep throat was more deadly. And perhaps there are other diseases out there where sore throats are a warning signal of death around the corner, especially for children – I welcome further elucidation from any of my readers with a medical background.

In any event, my fancy tells me that early Christians had noticed a sometimes deadly correlation between youth and sore throats, and concluded – based on his miracle with the little boy and the fish bone – that Saint Blaise was the ideal saint to pray to when sore throats reared their ugly heads. Out of all this grew a custom that had the faithful flocking to churches on February 3rd, Saint Blaise’s feast day, to have their throats protected for the rest of the year with a special blessing. Although not so common now (I would say that we generally have greater faith in our doctors being able to cure us), it is a custom that lives on. And it’s not just any old blessing that one receives, no sirree! A pair of lit candles are crossed at one’s throat while the blessing is pronounced.
I have never been blessed in this way, so I don’t quite understand how it is that one’s hair isn’t set alight in the process; I would be extremely nervous about the whole thing. Where the idea of involving candles in the ceremony came from I have no idea, although it must be an old tradition. Here is a painting of Saint Blaise by Hans Memling, where readers can see that the Saint is serenely holding a candle.
All of this brings me to the real reason why I’m writing this post. It has to do with Milan, where I am currently spending the winter. The Milanese, like all other good Christians, firmly believed in Saint Blaise’s powers to cure sore throats. Indeed, there is a saying in Milanese dialect which proclaims: San Bias el benediss la gola e el nas, “Saint Blaise, he blesses the throat and the nose” (it seems that the Milanese sensibly extended the saint’s miraculous powers to the nose, or perhaps they simply wanted to make the rhyme). Nevertheless, the Milanese have added a special twist to this credence. Somewhere along the line, they concluded that eating panettone was just as good at protecting their throats as were two crossed candles and a priest’s benediction. So the ceremony in church was followed by a sit-down at home to eat a slice of panettone.

For those of my readers who are not familiar with this glory of Milanese cuisine, I throw in a picture.
Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf. It’s been around since at least 1599, date of the first credible mention of it in the written records. What we see today, though, is not what our ancestors would have seen in 1599 or indeed at any time before 1919. In that year, the manufacture of panettone was revolutionized. An enterprising Milanese baker by the name of Motta introduced a new proofing step, where the dough was allowed to rise in not one but in three separate stages over a period of 20 hours. It is that which ensures the panettone’s tall domed shape as well as its wonderful fluffiness. A few years later, he was copied (“the recipe was adapted”) by another enterprising Milanese baker called Alemagna. The Motta and the Alemagna brands of panettone have been battling it out ever since.

I suspect that panettone originally looked more like a fruitcake (or plum cake to the English), which my French grandmother was very fond of and liked to buy for the Christmas festivities.
This too was the original role of panettone. It was a special, sweet bread that the Milanese made for Christmas. Like all these things, I would imagine that the “fruit” that Milan’s housewives and bakers added to their panettoni were closely guarded family secrets. Nowadays, as the Italian Government strives to give the panettone a DOP certification, the additions have been standardized: raisins – dry and not soaked! – as well as the candied zests of orange, lemon, and citron (the last of which I have written about in an earlier post).

I’m sure my alert readers will have noticed a problem. Panettone was originally made only at Christmas while the feast day of Saint Blaise is on February 3rd. Undeterred, the Milanese made it a habit of setting aside part of their Christmas panettone to eat on Saint Blaise’s day after they had braved their annual encounter with the crossed – and lighted! – candles. How exactly they kept their panettone from going stale in the meantime I don’t know. The web is full of suggestions on this topic for fruitcake, my favourite being to wrap it in towels soaked in brandy or wine and then in something like oiled paper. And anyway, as my wife sensibly remarked, if the panettone had become a trifle stale it could always be dunked in milk or tea or coffee.

But nowadays the Milanese don’t need to bother putting aside a piece of their Christmas panettone. No foodstuff is seasonal anymore, and panettone is no exception; you can buy it any time of the year. In fact, in a canny marketing move, sellers of panettone in Milan will offer two panettoni for the price of one on Saint Blaise’s day. Which is really why I’m so excited that it’s 3rd February today. I can buy two wonderfully delicious panettoni for the price of one! The moment I’ve posted, I’m off down the road to buy them, like this gentleman has (although he seems to have scarfed down half a panettone before even leaving the shop).
And maybe on the way back I’ll pop into a church to have my throat blessed. You never know …

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Saint Blaise blessing the child: http://necspenecmetu.tumblr.com/post/46439176152/giovanni-francesco-de-rosa-pacecco-de-rosa-the
Saint Blaise before the governor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Blaise
Saint Blaise being harrowed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/91590072@N04/15982366258
Saint Blaise in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement: http://www.everypainterpaintshimself.com/galleries/michelangelo_last_judgment
Strep throat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streptococcal_pharyngitis
Blessing of the throat: https://www.gazzettadiparma.it/scheda/246883/San-Biagio—la-benedizione.html
Saint Blaise holding a candle: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaise_de_S%C3%A9baste
Panettone: https://www.buy-me.it/panettone-classico-1kg-pasticceriabiasetto/
Fruitcake: http://dish.allrecipes.com/holiday-baking-fruitcakes/
Two panettoni: http://gateau.catamarcainfo.com/what-to-eat-with-panettone/