REVIEW: Chicken Show, Roman Road Gallery, Bethnal Green

London’s Roman Road runs from Bethnal Green tube station all the way up to Bow. It has a Costcutter on one corner, a Hallmark-style greetings card shop that’s been there for years, and several shops selling fried chicken and various kinds of takeaway – much of it the sort of food people grab on their way home from the pub, throwing greasy bones and empty boxes back into the street.

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Hodge's History of Cats

I wrote a while back about making a book about cats for Dr Johnson's House Trust. It's now complete and available to purchase directly from Dr Johnson's House, Gough Square or on their online shop. 'Hodge's History of Cats' covers cat and pet-keeping from the medieval and early modern period to the height of the eighteenth century, a moment of profound change for our relationship with animals, and particularly cats. It's hard to believe today, in the age of the internet and Instagram cat, but for many years cats were hated and ill-treated by people who feared their traditional connection with witchcraft and the devil. Only with the increasingly swaggering confidence of eighteenth-century man's colonial expansion did people start to normalise pet- and cat-keeping as a normal aspect of (mostly middle-class) life.

This book explores how cats were conceptualised and treated in the eighteenth century, when they were increasingly the companions of intellectual and literary giants such as Horace Walpole, Christopher Smart, William Cowper, Jeremy Bentham and, of course, Samuel Johnson, whose cat 'Hodge' has his own statue outside the museum dedicated to his owner in Gough Square. It's illustrated throughout with details from contemporary Hogarth engravings, my own drawings of the House, and printers' devices drawn from the book collection at the House, which includes several books owned by Dr Johnson himself.

I hope he'd be pleased.

Written, illustrated, designed and typeset by Kirsten Tambling; available for purchase through Dr Johnson's House Trust

Into Brontë Country

The dales, in Haworth, open out from the back of the Bronte parsonage museum, and are the evocative heart of an area popularly known as 'Bronte country'. Here, Charlotte, Anne, Emily and Branwell Bronte would walk and, apparently, write: the 'Bronte waterfall' retains a 'seat-shaped stone' upon which Emily Bronte - the most nature-obsessed of the family - would compose poems. On top of a steep hill is Top Withins, a ruined farmhouse said to have been an influence for the eponymous Earnshaw home in Wuthering Heights - though, as a plaque in the wall 'placed in response to many inquiries' asserts, it bears no physical resemblance to the house she described, except its isolated situation in the moorland.

As with many 'writers' countries' in England, and elsewhere  - Wordsworth's Lake District, Hardy's Wessex - there is a strange mingling here of fact and fiction: Top Withins is not Wuthering Heights, but Wuthering Heights' very unreality links the two places together, via Emily Bronte's imagined inspiration.

Berlin

Just got back from six days in Berlin, mainly focused on the museums therein: particular highlights for me on an architectural / aesthetic level were Schinkel's Altes Museum, which is very much about architecture-as-nation-building, the Jewish Museum (obviously) and David Chipperfield's reworking of the Neues Museum, which, alas, I didn't photograph very well. I also did some work on my sky-skills, largely non-existent up to this point. Photos below.

Ghent and Gericault

Went to Ghent this weekend mainly to have a look at the Museum of Fine Arts' Gericault exhibition, which has transferred from Frankfurt and includes the two Cauis Cibber 'Melancholy and Raving Madness' statues from Bethlem Museum and Archives. Summary review: I thought the exhibition as a whole worked quite well: although extremely disparate in places, the Cibber statues actually sort of tied it all together. They were displayed on high pedestals at the entrance to the show, much as they used were when they flanked the entrance to the old Bedlam building in London's Moorfields. Combined with the final engraving from Hogarth's Rake's Progress, which mirrors the Cibber poses, it formed a nice loop which worked alongside Gericault's broader exploration of anatomy and bodies (I did say it was disparate). Also took a few photos. I seem to be getting quite obsessed with small things, either embedded into walls or carved on top of them. Ghent was good for street carvings.

Adam and Eve

I was asked to write an 'ekphratic response' to a painting of my choice in the Courtauld Gallery this week, which is not the sort of writing I've ever really done before. I chose Cranach's Adam and Eve (below) and I really had to force myself not to research it to within an inch of its life before I dared write anything. Interestingly, when I'd finished and set myself free to research, I realised that I'd actually spotted most of the things in the Courtauld catalogue listing just by looking at the picture really carefully (the only one I didn't get was the roebuck drinking from the stream, which is apparently a common metaphor for the Christian soul's longing for God).

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