Saturday, 16 April 2011

Musidora Research

As promised I'm returning to The Mystery of Sin Journal Quilt. First of all because both my winning JQs were published in the latest issue (No. 71, April/May 2011) of the Fabrications magazine, together with other submissions for the Fantasy Journal Quilt competition. You may have already noticed this in the sidebar of the blog.

But I said in my previous blogpost that for my information on the vintage engraving that I used on this JQ I had trusted the Ebay seller I obtained it from. However I like to do my own investigations so one day I plonked myself down behind my computer to start what is almost my most favourite thing to do online: a spot of research (after all I'm a trained reference librarian). I googled Musidora and discovered first of all that the name comes from the Greek and means: Gift of the Muses (should have guessed that, I did classical Greek!). It also took me almost immediately to the name of the original painter of this vintage image which was Sir William Hamilton (1751 - 1801), a romanticist par excellence. It was painted around 1795 and the engraving was done by P. W. Tomkins.
So far so good, but what had led William Hamilton to produce his painting, what was his inspiration? And where did the name Musidora come from? It took quite a bit longer to come up with that but finally I discovered that the inspiration for the painting was taken from the poem Summer by James Thomson (1700 - 1748). He broke with the poetic tradition of his day and turned to nature for the subject matter of his poems. Summer is mainly about the power of the Sun over the earth, as well as the power philosophy has over men. In Summer, he mentions two lovers, Damon and Musidora.
Damon finds himself accidentally (isn't that always the case??!!) observing his sweetheart Musidora, when she thinks herself alone in the woods and taking a bath in a stream. Of course this romance results in a happy ending. The language in these poems is slightly (!) over the top for those of us living in the 21st Century! Here is a taster:

This cool retreat his Musidora sought.

Warm in her cheek the sultry season glow'd;

And, rob'd in loose array, she came to bath

Her fervent limbs in the refreshing stream.

I then sought out some more information about James Thomson and that's where a splendid example of synchronicity came my way once again. James Thomson is a Scottish poet although by the time he wrote The Seasons (of which Summer is a part) he had travelled from Scotland to London. The poem was written druing 1726 - 1730 and was revised by him from 1744-1746. It was extremely popular in its day and his style of writing fresh, vivid descriptions of natural scenes in rich blank verse let to the romantic movement later in the 1700's. And guess where in Scotland James Thomson was born? In the Scottish Borders.

So in the end I made a circular research journey only to end up back where I was when I started. At home in the Scottish Borders. Oh how I love these co-incidences. They make life worth living.

As you can see I could not resist the temptation after all that, to see if The Seasons were for sale on Ebay and I bought a lovely dainty version printed in 1797, although it has been re-bound at some stage after that, probably to have matching bindings fit for a 19th Century library.

And once again I had gone off on one (as John describes my research fancies). I only have to walk around the house to find evidence of past adventures, searching for info on Dutch Flower Painting, French vintage nude photography, the glass artist Chihuly and much, much more!! They all have one thing in common. More books for my collection!


Lenna Young Andrews said...

It certainly seems like synchronicity follows you Frieda ; ^ )))) lucky you! And what a lovely story you told to go with such a beautiful journal quilt. Scottish Borders!! xo

Alex said...

There was an earlier representation - Thomas Gainsborough, no less - who depicted Musidora in the 1780s and the impressive result is, I believe, in the National Gallery, Lonsdon. Perhaps one artist influenced the other?


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