Sunday 14 February 2016
Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

Arts & Culture

A writer, blogger, and historian, born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, now based in London. read more
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Cape of Good Hope
The Levant

No ‘Malvinas’ Here

Some difficulties of Latin place names in 1930s cartography

It’s no great secret I’m a lover of maps. When calling in to the Secretariat of State on the terza loggia of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican the other day, I was very pleased to see the cartographic murals there, including the two hemispheres done by Ignazio Danti in the 1580s. Moving to the next interior offices, however, the visitor is greeted by a much more recent mappa mundi, dating from the 1930s, replete with the glamour of empire’s heydey. (more…)

December 10, 2015 2:28 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Letter to the Editor

SIPPING a postprandial Coke last week while flipping through the Irish Times, my wandering eye was drawn towards that newspaper’s report on the Madrid congress of the European People’s Party, the grouping of Christian-democratic and centre-right political parties across the European continent (Madrid congress provides forum for delegates from EU centre-right parties, Suzanne Lynch, Irish Times, 22 October 2015). The correspondent first elucidates some of the purpose of these pan-European gatherings before going on to summarise a number of the issues raised. She ends, however, on a bit of a downer by describing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “lurch to the far right”, evidenced by his “clampdown on media and internet freedoms, apparent support for the death penalty and hardline approach to refugees”.

This breezy litany of crimes is little more than shoddy journalism. The alleged “clampdown” refers to proposed internet legislation which has been withdrawn while other media laws requiring balance reflect the U.S. broadcasting rules rescinded under Ronald Reagan. The “apparent support” for capital punishment is another damp squib: Orbán called for it to be debated as intellectual speculation — a canny “dog-whistle” political move to gain votes without requiring any legislative action or serious challenge to the E.U. ban on the death penalty. (It was abolished in Hungary at the fall of communism and there are absolutely positively no government plans to bring it back.)

The refugees allegation was the most interesting, however. As it happened, I had attended a small meeting of British MPs and Hungarian foreign ministry officials the day before Ms Lynch’s report was printed. The Welsh MP David Davies gave his first-hand account of visiting the refugee camps near the Hungarian-Serb border and reported that refugees were being well-looked-after, with the quality of the facilities on the whole at least as good as when he was in the British Army, often better. An advisor from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry briefed us on the general situation, which has calmed down immensely since the Serb border has been more or less closed. He noted that broadcast media across the continent showed footage of Budapest police’s treatment of migrants gathered at the railway station without pointing out that the police were responding to violent attacks from a small minority of migrants.

Proprotionate self-defence for officers of the law is the norm across Europe, but this has mattered little when it comes to depictions of Hungary: the bien-pensant official groupthink is that anything Hungary does is wrong, so long as Fidesz is in power. Luckily some voices of dissent have emerged. The novelist Tibor Fischer — no conservative — described in The Guardian the media treatment of Hungary as “hysterical” and “ignorant nonsense”.

Anyhow, I felt obliged to send off my “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” to the Irish Times and it’s very good of their letters staff to print a diverging (if abridged) opinion. The last letter to any editor I succeeded in having printed was in the Times Literary Supplement in 2008 about P.G. Wodehouse’s career in banking at H.S.B.C. Who knows what the next shall bring…

October 27, 2015 11:42 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Open-minded Stellenbosch

Paul Moorcraft is a Cardiff-born journalist and academic who spent many years in southern Africa, lecturing, researching, and working. I stumbled across this passage about Stellenbosch from his 2011 book Inside the Danger Zones: Travels to Arresting Places and found it interesting (though not surprising):

I found many of my all-white students at the University of Cape Town tediously dogmatic in their supposed progressiveness. I also lectured at the Afrikaans-language university of ‘Maties’ at Stellenbosch, established in 1918 [sic, f. 1866; accorded university status in 1918] as the Afrikaner Oxbridge, where I found the students much more open-minded. Simon van der Stel, a stiff Dutch bureaucrat, founded a frontier town on the banks of the Eerste River in 1679. Van der Stel loved oaks, and the graceful boulevards he planted still adorned picturesque Stellenbosch. I spent as much time as possible in the area because of the architecture. The Cape Dutch style contains elements from Dutch architecture but is also influenced by colonial Indonesian traditions and the local environment. The most characteristic feature is the graceful gabled section built around the front door, which is flanked by symmetrical wings, thatched and whitewashed, extending on either side.

I was supposed to be using my visiting lectureship to finish my doctoral research, so I became friendly with Retha, a librarian at Maties. She was a fund of knowledge on Afrikaner culture and offered herself as an intellectual guide. My scholarly investigations soon degenerated into a three-month tour of the local wine farms, for which I am eternally grateful. We drove through the old, beautiful vineyards of the valleys around Paarl, Franschoek, and Tulbagh; then returned to eat in splendid eighteenth-century farmhouses converted to hotels.

October 14, 2015 11:03 am | Link | 2 Comments »

In Old Rio

The city’s administrative and electoral units were its parishes, and the tallest buildings were all church towers. The day of the colonial port began with the cannon shot announcing the beginning of harbour commerce, at half past five.

This was followed by the opening of shops and homes of merchants and tradesmen. Early mass was signalled by church bells, and it was church bells which marked the day’s turn as they sounded the day’s regular prayers as the sun rose and set. …

One of the first, common sights in the city was that of Catholic brotherhoods seeking alms in the streets and shops, or, perhaps, a lady, humbly barefoot, seeking to fulfil a vow by begging alms with a heavy silver tray covered with rich cloth — accompanied by her servant, of course.

— Jeffrey D. Needell, The Party of Order:
The Conservatives, the State, and Slavery in the Brazilian Monarchy, 1831-1871

August 25, 2015 9:45 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

A Horror in the Hague

The old and new buildings of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts

SINCE 1682, the Hague has been home to the oldest art school in the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten or Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The school has its origins in the civic corporations of the late medieval period. The Guild of Saint Luke incorporated all the artists of the Hague, and later from this group emerged a self-selecting gang of painters and sculptors who founded themselves as the Pictura Brotherhood. This fraternity in turn founded an academy of art which on its 275th anniversary was granted the royal patronage and name.

Having had previous quarters in the Korenbeurs and the Boterwaag, the Academy engaged the architect Zeger Reyers (or Reijers) to design its own building in the Prinsessegracht in 1839 (above, top). This neo-classical temple to the arts was very much in keeping with the French academic tradition which the school practised at the time, but in later years this fashion faded. Just before the Second World War, the barbarians sacked the temple and erected in its place a Bauhaus-style box (below).

Like all too many changes, it was not an improvement. (more…)

April 29, 2015 3:11 pm | Link | 2 Comments »


United Nations Headquarters, New York

AMONG THE LEGACIES of my New York childhood is a sentimental fondness for the United Nations, and especially for the stylish swank of its headquarters at Turtle Bay in Manhattan. The name of the small neighbourhood originates (scholars tell us) not from the turtles which were once abundant upon the shores of the island and its environs but rather from a small inlet shaped, in the eyes of the old New Netherlanders, like a particular type of bent or curved blade called a deutal knife in Dutch. The woods and meadows surrounding Deutal Bay were easily rechristened as Turtle Bay once the English established their ascendancy and New Amsterdam became New York.

Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the tiny port founded at the bottom tip of Manhattan grew further and further up the island, swallowing up the old colonial villages like Greenwich, Bloemendal, and Haarlem, or farms like Turtle Bay, Inclenberg, and Kip’s Bay, until as today there is just one giant urban mass stretching from the Battery at the bottom tip of the island all the way to Spuyten Duyvil at the top.

While New Yorkers like to think that there is no possible competitor to the city’s status as capital of the world, there was of course a great debate over where the United Nations should be based. Geneva was an obvious candidate, as the beautiful art-deco Palais des Nations provided a ready-made home for an international organisation. The fathers of the UN, however, did not want to associate themselves so closely with the failure of the old League of Nations the Palais was built for, and so the Geneva option was nixed.

Given the shifting balance of world power, it was thought a New World site might be a wiser choice than a European location. Quebec, as I have written previously, was an obvious possibility as the city is a beautiful melange of Old World and New, and for Europeans was easily accessible by passenger liner. Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific states, however, were in favour of San Francisco for geographic reasons to their obvious benefit, and cited the Californian city’s hosting the 1945 Conference on International Organisation which brought forth the UN Charter.

Fears that the United States would refuse to participate fully in the UN (as with the League of Nations of old) almost guaranteed that the US permanently hosting the world body in order to solidify American resolve in the UN’s favour, but the squabble over precisely where dragged on. The Rockefeller family intervened by offering to the fledgling United Nations Organisation, at no cost whatsoever, a large riparian site at Turtle Bay on the banks of the East River, largely consisting of slaughterhouses at the time. Settled then, but what would the complex look like? (more…)

April 20, 2015 2:05 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

What You Should Read

Three recommendations and some honourable mentions

Over at ISI’s Intercollegiate Review, there’s a post by Joseph Cunningham suggesting eight publications you should be reading. In September I came up with a handful of suggestions of what blogs or websites readers ought to take note of, particularly if they exist in the Catholic/traditionalist/conservative realm so difficult to sum up in a single word or term.

Of course, most of what you should be reading is by dead people (suggestions of who I proffered herein, including some actually alive), but while Chesterton described tradition as the democracy of the dead we would be remiss to carry forth in ignorance of the living.

Publications wise, then, what is the well-read gent, or lady, reading? I’ve judged this question by what I’ve managed to persuade/force/intimidate my friends into subscribing to or buying, as well as by my own habits.

London Review of Books

This fortnightly review is one of the last places where long-form essays are still the norm. One of the adventures of starting to read a piece in the LRB is that one has no idea whether it will continue for two of the Review’s large pages, or six, or maybe more. In addition to intellectual essays it also contains occasional reporting from Patrick Cockburn, arguably the best journalist reporting on the Middle East today. (You can read my review of Cockburn’s latest book over at Quadrapheme.)

Is it left-wing? Unquestionably. But if you’re only reading what you already agree with, you’re missing the point. Your principles should be strong enough to face challenges, or to be informed by them, and the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is the most necessary task for any thinking person.

The New Criterion

This American monthly came in for a lot of flak from a lot of conservative intellectuals for propagating and defending the neo-con support for the Iraq War, but the Daily Telegraph’s description of The New Criterion as ‘America’s leading review of the arts and intellectual life’ remains true to this day. (Disclosure: I was an editor at TNC from 2006-2008.) Feature articles are informative and expanding, the book reviews provide a good guide for reading, and art-wise I’ve always admired the clean prose of James Panero’s Gallery chronicle.

In recent months New Criterion readers have had the privilege of learning about the Jesuit linguist Albert Jamme’s hatred for sleep — “I hate my bed because it keeps me from my texts!” — and a Duke of Mantua’s expensive interest in female dwarves while last year they published the Quaker pacifist classical scholar Sarah Ruden on the darker side of Mandela’s government. Worth reading every month.

Modern Age

Founded in 1957 by Russell Kirk — the greatest St Andrean of the twentieth century — Modern Age is an academic journal which Wikipedia describes as ‘traditionalist, localist, against most military interventions,’ as well as critical of neo-conservatism and generally sympathetic to religious orthodoxy.

Its archive over the past sixty years provides articles and essays of great value by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Virgil Nemoianu, Lee Congdon, Pierre Manent, and others. Take, for example, Lee Congdon on ‘Conservatism, Christianity, and the Revitalization of Europe’.

A rewarding, more scholarly read, with footnotes that will lead you elsewhere.

— • —

These three will prove worthwhile reading for any intellectual of sound principles, but are there any other honourable mentions?

My weekly workplace reads are The Spectator and The Economist which are useful for keeping tabs on things in general.

I have to admit I do read Monocle every month. While it’s aimed at wealthy jetsetters rather than our own constituency of cosmopolitan conservatives living in genteel poverty the magazine nonetheless combines an exacting stylistic excellence with an admirably broad focus.

First Things I would read every month but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere in London except by subscription.

Two or three times a year I pick up The Art Newspaper, another superbly put-together periodical. Fr Christopher Colven of St James, Spanish Place, writes for it often, as it happens.

April 17, 2015 1:56 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Kerkplein, Pretoria

Gauteng, the province which forms the highly urbanised heart of the old Transvaal, is not my area of specialty in South Africa, enamoured as I am of the Western Cape. Johannesburg, for all its financial prowess, is one of those towns that went from a collection of tents to a major city almost overnight with the Witwatersrand gold boom.

Pretoria, on the other hand — Pretoria Philadelphia to give its original name — exudes a more detached respectability perhaps enlivened by the ceremony of its century-long status as the executive capital of a unified South Africa. And sitting at the heart of the city of jacarandas is Kerkplein — Church Square.


January 19, 2015 10:58 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Shedding light on the Cape Baroque

Nuwe lig op die Kaapse barok deur Dr Hans Fransen

A NEW BOOK BY Dr Hans Fransen, the leading authority on Cape Dutch architecture, intends to shed new light on the Cape Baroque style through an examination of the work of the sculptor Anton Anreith. Cape Baroque and the contribution of Anton Anreith offers us the hefty subtitle of ‘A stylistic survey of architectural decoration and the applied arts at the Cape of Good Hope 1652-1800’, covering the period of the Dutch East India Company’s rule at the Cape.

The author investigates (says the publisher’s note) whether, and to what extent, the surprisingly rich body of Cape material culture can be seen as part and parcel of the international Baroque: that ebullient style of painting, architecture, and design that swept across Europe and some of its spheres of influence. After a highly interesting account of the origins of the Baroque in Italy and of its development in other parts of the world, the author concludes that ‘Cape Baroque’ does indeed form part of this. But he also points out that it has a very distinctive character of its own.

The book of 180 pages contains over 200 illustrations, mostly from the author himself, whose other works include The Old Towns and Villages of the Cape, The Old Buildings of the Cape, Drie Eeue Kuns in Suid-Afrika, and the introduction to A Cape Camera, the book illustrating the photography of early Cape photographer Arthur Elliott.

The sculptor Anreith, born in Germany at Riegel between the Rhine and the foothills of the Black Forest, was the finest and most florid artist of the Baroque in the Cape of Good Hope. His exceptional work on the pulpit of the Lutheran Church in Cape Town provoked the envy of the more prominent Dutch Reformed congregation, who quickly commissioned Anreith to carve an even more ornate pulpit for the Groote Kerk.

Cape Baroque and the contribution of Anton Anreith: a stylistic survey of architectural decoration and the applied arts at the Cape of Good Hope 1652-1800
by Dr Hans Fransen, 160 pages, R250
Kaapse barok en die bydrae van Anton Anreith: ’n stilistiese oorsig van argitektoniese versiering en toegepaste kuns op die Kaap die Goeie Hoop 1652-1800
deur Dr Hans Fransen, 160 bladsye, R250
January 19, 2015 10:56 pm | Link | No Comments »

Change in the air at the Catholic Herald

Title will cease to operate as a newspaper and relaunch in magazine format

Britain’s leading Catholic publication, the Catholic Herald, will be relaunching as a magazine before the end of this year. Invites have already gone out to an event celebrating the change to be held in early December.

The relaunch might be interpreted as a move against the Tablet, which styles itself “the international Catholic weekly” and has been nicknamed “The Bitter Pill” by English Catholics for its widely perceived lack of faithfulness to Catholic teaching. The Tablet is associated with the country’s old liberal Catholic elite, counting among its trustees such figures as Chris Patten and Sir Gus O’Donnell. A Herald reader, meanwhile, is more likely to be young, intellectual, and strongly influenced by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

When told of the news, one young churchman welcomed the change as a good move for the generally orthodox Herald against its looser rival. (more…)

October 23, 2014 11:36 am | Link | 5 Comments »

New Yorkers: See New York!

Old-School Ads Employed for City’s Internal Tourism Campaign

NYC & Company, the official tourism and marketing board of New York City, has cottoned on to the fact that in such a vast metropolis many parts of the city are virtually unknown to the natives of whichever particular borough.

They recently launched the ‘See Your City’ campaign encouraging New Yorkers to visit places perhaps less familiar to them within their own city. Part of the campaign involves the above series of posters for display in bus shelters.

The style evokes old-school travel posters of the 1920s & 30s, and NYC&Co commissioned one for each of the five boroughs.

Elsewhere: Adweek | New York Times | Untapped Cities | NYCgo

October 16, 2014 8:28 pm | Link | No Comments »

Russia’s Classical Future

Design chosen for St Petersburg’s new judicial quarter

While a vast and multifacted state, the Soviet Union was nonetheless one in which power was highly centralised, not just within one city — Moscow — but even within one complex of buildings, the Kremlin. For the past fourteen years, however, a St Petersburg boy — Vladimir Putin — has been the man at the helm of the ship of state, and while Moscow is still the top dog St Petersburg is increasingly stealing the limelight. The number of commercial bodies (several subsidiaries of Gazprom, for example) moving from Moscow to St Petersburg is growing, and even a few government departments and other entities have moved back to the old imperial capital.

Among these is the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, which transferred to the old Senate and Synod buildings in St Petersburg in 2008. The Supreme Court and Higher Arbitration Courts have yet to make the move, however, and a scheme by architect Maxim Atayants has been chosen as the winner of the design competition for the new judicial quarter on the banks of the Neva. (more…)

September 30, 2014 12:24 pm | Link | 11 Comments »

Ones to Watch (or Read)

In this commonwealth of knowledge, it is necessary to share out our sources of insight and wisdom. Here are just a few sites (“blogs”, even) that readers of this little corner of the web ought to take notes of.


Fr Edmund Waldstein is a monk of Stift Heiligenkreuz near Vienna. He has been writing at Sancrucensis for some years now, but of course with so many distractions it often takes time to realise what is actually of value.

Fr Waldstein writes clearly and likes Charles de Koninck, so he can’t be all bad. His subject matter ranges from Saki to Žižek, and not long ago he weighed in on the Zmirak controversy.

His Amazon wish list is even larger — much, much larger — than my own, so perhaps you might think of shortening it through buying him a book.

Foolishly I neglected to visit Heiligenkreuz when I was in Vienna last year (though I did meet a chap there who wrote a history of the abbey), so I must make a pilgrimage next time I venture to the Kaiserstadt.

Opus Publicum

This blog by Modestinus somewhat irritatingly uses the same WordPress theme as Sancrucensis, leading to occasional confusion in the Cusackian mind about who read what where. (UPDATE: It’s changed its design now.) Regardless, his ‘Weekly Reading’ updates feature selections that are very small-c catholic in taste (as well as big-C Catholic).

The names of Juan Donoso Cortes and Carl Schmitt are bandied about, and Modestinus is keen on elaborating upon Catholic Social Teaching, which seems to be getting a bit more attention all around these days.

Like Sancrucensis, Modestinus too has weighed in on our friend John Zmirak’s apostasy into liberalism. As a certain clerical personality on the outer reaches of London might put it: “Illiberal Catholicism? I’m into that!”

The Josias

This is not quite a blog, more of an occasionally updated resource. A multi-part series explores the American ‘Founders’ and the Aristotelian tradition, and be sure to check out ‘Have the Principles of the Right Been Discredited? Leo Strauss’s Rome and Ours’.

Worth reading also are ‘Theses against American Whig Catholicism, prompted by the atmosphere of 2012 and by the antiliberal writings of Deneen’, which De Koninck fans will enjoy.

For the Whole Christ

Dr John C Rao posts a great deal of his work online at For the Whole Christ — skip to ‘Shorter pieces’ to find the more recent updates.

I am proudly in the Raovista camp, and this history professor and Catholic intellectual’s ongoing series of lectures in New York is enlivening, entertaining, and above all enlightening. Scandalously I have yet to attend the Summer Symposium in Gardone John organises every year under the auspices of the Roman Forum (it clashes with the part of the summer I am usually in the Lebanon). Some day, though, some day…

&c., &c., &c.

Of course there are the other usual places one ought to check often: The American Conservative and the much re-invigorated First Things. The Benedictus Trust (Patron: HMEH the P&GM) has been putting some of its lectures up on YouTube and Roger Scruton is headlining their Research Forum in London next year at the Linnean Society.

What have I been reading offline? Some Antal Szerb (Journey by Moonlight), some Tom Holland (In the Shadow of the Sword), and greatly enjoying some Régis Debray.

I recently forced the remnants of a dinner party I was hosting to listen to two and half pages of Voltaire-hatred from Maistre’s Soirées de Saint-Petersbourg (a sublime work!). The consistently interesting Dorchester Review featured an article on Joseph de Maistre not long ago, but it is impossible to obtain in London and I am too poor to subscribe. Perhaps I should give in and get a cheapo online-only subscription — this, after all, is what my iPad mini is for.

September 30, 2014 12:20 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

The Cusackian Academy

The other day I started drawing up a list. It started out as a list of people you should know, but then it took on its own life in the realms of my imagination as an assemblage of notables whether of thought, word, or deed. There is, of course, an Académie française, so why not an Académie cusackienne?

Membership of this list does not necessitate approval or sanction. It is more that these are the stars that speckle the Cusackian sky and in some way shine down providing some form or another of illumination. Some I like, others I admire, others still I disapprove of but at least find amusing. (Some, such as that swine-herding relativist Maurice Barrès, I strongly disapprove of.)

As you might expect, it’s rather French-heavy, with a disproportionate dash of Magyars as well. Needless to say, very few of these illustrious academicians are still amongst the living. (more…)

September 30, 2014 12:18 pm | Link | 10 Comments »

Rowing Blazers Book Launch

© Steve Finn Photography

© Steve Finn Photography

Rowing Blazers
by Jack Carlson, 2014
Thames and Hudson, 255 pages
£34.95 / ISBN: 978-0-500-51755-0

I am probably Jack Carlson’s worst friend — luckily for me, he is long-suffering. Many have been the mornings I have awakened in Oxford on some friend’s uncomfortable sofa (or worse: floor) and toddled haphazardly down to Jack’s regular coffee place for a restorative morning brew and inflicted upon the poor fellow my recounting of the previous night’s events in untrustworthy detail. Jack sits there, politely, smiling, waiting for the caffeine to take effect on me so that my tedious monologue can miraculously give way to the honoured pastime of friends: conversation.

It was during one of these chats — or it may have been over a winter evening pint in the King’s Arms; or a late summer afternoon pint in the Bear — that Jack revealed his book project: a coffee-table book on rowing blazers.

How tedious is that term ‘coffee table book’ which contemptuously mediocratises such beautiful, large-format, lusciously illustrated, and well-researched printed volumes into a mere additament of interior design. This format is probably my favourite kind of book, and I’m frightened to think how many pounds, dollars, rand, and euros I’ve invested in them over years.

But never mind. Rowing Blazers is now hot off the presses from Thames and Hudson here in Britain (and soon from Vendome Press across the Atlantic). And of course the perfect accompaniment to a good new book is a launch party to celebrate.

Jack assembled an impressive array of friends, rivals, and rowers to launch his latest book at Ralph Lauren in Bond Street last Thursday. There was an even more impressive array of stripes, colours, and piping on display amidst the bottomless glasses of Pimm’s and flutes of champagne generously refilled to no end by our hosts.

What about the book? It is beautifully presented, well-written, and includes a surprising variety of clubs from across the world. Rowing Blazers is a perfect gift for any rower — a must-have — so keep it in mind for birthdays and Christmases.

A number of the guests on Thursday flicked through the book’s pages to find their own clubs, rival clubs, friends photographed, and a fair amount of gossip was shared as well. Even when it came time to close up shop (literally, for once), the party continued at Bodo’s Schloss late into the wee hours. (more…)

June 9, 2014 10:45 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Evolution of a Napoleonic Parliament

The Salle des états in the Palais du Louvre

Among the numerous rituals of the ordinary visitor’s pilgrimage to Paris — trip up the Eiffel Tower, lunch at a tourist-trap café — braving the teeming hordes in the Louvre to view da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ ranks near the top. What very few of the camera-toting hordes realise is that they are shuffling through the room that once housed France’s parliament. The history of the Palais du Louvre is long, exceptional, and varied.

Originally built as a stern castle in the 1190s, the Louvre’s secure reputation led Louis IX to house the royal treasury there from the mid-thirteenth century. Charles V enlarged it in the fifteenth century to become a royal residence, while François Ier brought the grandeur of the Renaissance to the Louvre — as well as acquiring ‘La Gioconda’. In 1793, amidst the revolutionary tumult, part of the palace was opened to the public as the Musée du Louvre, but the Louvre has always housed a variety of institutions — the Ministry of Finance didn’t move out until 1983.

Napoleon III took as his official residence the Tuileries Palace which the Louvre was slowly enlarged towards over the centuries to incorporate. The Emperor needed a parliament chamber close at hand so he could easily address joint sittings of the Senate and the Corps législatif (as the lower house was called during the Second Empire) which opened the parliamentary year. By doing so at his residence, the Bonaparte emperor was following the example left by his kingly Bourbon predecessor Louis XVIII. (more…)

March 4, 2014 9:05 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Italy inspired by Wall Street

Il Foglio is one of the most interesting newspapers in the world, and quite unique. It’s not a “great” newspaper like the FAZ or the Financial Times, with reporters in every major city around the globe, but this little “sheet” — usually just four or six pages — contains both a gazette of the day’s events alongside some of the best analysis and commentary in Italy. I’ve often thought that a London-based newspaper of a similar mould — not an everything-paper but instead simple, accurate, brief reporting combined with intelligent insight — could have an impact in Britain (and perhaps even America).

Its editor is the affable atheist, anti-abortion campaigner, and friend of Benedict XVI Giuliano Ferrara — an ex-Communist and former minister in Berlusconi’s first cabinet in the 90s — and it’s been said that Il Foglio comes closest to being the Italian proponent of a more Anglo-Saxon style of conservatism.

Today is Il Foglio’s eighteenth birthday, and looking back at the first edition, the design of the front page (above) obviously takes its inspiration from that of the Wall Street Journal. Things have changed since then, and while the Italian daily still clings proudly to its broadsheet format, the WSJ converted to what I call narrowsheet in 2006, as reported by us at the time.

In honour of this anniversary, Il Foglio has made available in PDF form its first ever edition (shorn of advertisements) which you can download here. (more…)

January 30, 2014 11:45 am | Link | 4 Comments »

The Crowned Banner

The Emblem of the Scottish Parliament

Legislatures often have their own symbols. Often these are appropriated or stylised versions of national emblems. Stormont uses a flax plant. Some time ago Westminster adopted the Tudor portcullis which now represents the Parliament of the United Kingdom — in green for the Commons or in red for the Lords.

In Scotland, however, the unicameral parliament has adopted a crowned banner as its distinctive insignia. (For previous posts on prominent emblems of modern Scottish design, see the Clootie Dumpling and the Daisy Wheel). The crown expresses authority — ultimately the sovereign power of the monarchy — while the corded banner hanging from a pommelled pole displays the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag. While early versions of the emblem were in blue, it is now standard that the symbol be depicted in purple, long a colour associated with Scotland through the national florae of heather and thistle. (more…)

January 27, 2014 1:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

End of the Line for Rizzoli Bookshop

Another New York bookshop bites the dust

In New York, good things are only allowed to last a little while: eventually they must all be destroyed. The latest to add to the pile is the Rizzolli bookshop on West 57th Street, which has received notice that the landlords intend to demolish the 109-year-old structure in which the bookshop is housed.

Rizzoli, publishers of some of the finest and most luxuriously printed books on the market, have not yet said whether they will be opening shop elsewhere.

If so, it would be the second move for the shop, which opened in 1967 at 714 Fifth Avenue (below), just around the corner. A developer tried to tear that building down as well, but preservationists managed to have the façade, with its lalique glass, incorporated into the new tower. It’s now home to Henri Bendel.

Other New York bookshops to close in recent years include the Librairie française, Coliseum Books, Gotham Book Mart, Urban Center Books, and further back more venerable institutions like Scribner’s and Brentano’s.

Top three photos: Mais Uma Pagina

January 15, 2014 7:00 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

A Bunny Rampant

The carto-heraldic creativity of MacDonald Gill

If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.

“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).

The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.

January 5, 2014 11:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »
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