14 December 2019

St Basil Cathedral in Moscow and Tsar Ivan the Terrible

Ivan IV the Terrible (1530–84) was Grand Prince of Moscow and Tsar of Russia from 1547. His reign saw the completion of a cent­rally admin­istered Russian state and the creation of an em­p­ire that included non-Slav states.

Naturally the Tsar’s aim of military dom­inance over a central Russian state led to many conflicts. In the 1550s his armies defeated the indep­en­d­ent Tatar/Mongol khanates of Kazan and Ast­rakahn. This extended Mus­covy con­trol to the Urals in the east and the Cas­pian Sea in the south, creating a buffer zone against the Mon­gols. Ivan’s second goal was to gain access to the Baltic Sea. However this time he was not as successful in annexing Lith­uania and gain­ing sea access.

Ivan returned to a hero’s welcome in Moscow and to news that his wife gave him a son, though the infant soon died. In Kazan the Mus­lim popul­at­ion was expelled and Russian colonists were moved in, mosques were repl­ac­ed by Russian Orthodox churches and the Tartars of the surrounding country were pressed to convert to Christianity.

 St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square

Tsar Ivan the Terrible
painted by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926)


St Basil was a votive off­er­ing, com­m­em­orat­ing the Rus­sian capture of  the Tatar capital, Kazar. The church was at first dedicated to the intercess­ion of the Virgin by the Moat, but it came to be known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Beat­ified/Basil the Blessed. Basil, a contemporary of Ivan the Terrible, was the peasant lad who became holy for Christ’s sake and who was buried in the church vaults.

In St Basil, western academic architectural concepts based on rat­ional harmony were ignored; the structure, with no clear design and many different ex­terior decor­ations, was a strangely medieval Russian form and decoration. No-one would ever confuse St Basil’s in Moscow with, for example, the romanesque Durham Cathedral, the gothic Notre-Dame de Paris or the baroque St Paul’s in Rome.

The flame-shaped roofs of St. Basil's Cathedral, which were said to be based on the colours describing heaven in the Book of Revel­at­ion, were probably not always as colourful as they are today. Before the 17th century, it's likely they were painted white, red and gold. 8 of the 9 domes built on the Cathedral represented the number of att­acks on Kazan, and were originally gold. Small renovations con­t­inued until the mid C19th when the domes were given their cur­rent bright colours and patterns. The 9th dome, the small one to one side, marks the sanctuary of Basil the Blessed.

This cathedral was a great example of the union of Byzantine and Asiatic cultural streams that characterised Muscovite culture. The inter-con­nected chapels, with their doors, artworks and niches, made the interior of St Basil's seem unworldly. The icono­st­asis was a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary.

There were nine tiny chapels clustered around a central nave, each topped with a brightly coloured, onion-shaped dome. The nine small, sep­ar­ate chapels  were aligned to points on the com­pass, four of which were  raised to designate their position between heaven and earth. The first 8 chapels were ded­ic­ated to important events eg the Protecting Veil of Mary; or the Entry into Jerusalem. The 9th chapel was added in honour of St Basil. The inside of the chapels, though quite small, were still richly de­c­orated.

Ivan saw the cathedral’s completion in 1561, yet his rage continued. Now he beat his pregnant daughter-in-law, causing a miscarriage, and killed his son in a fit of rage. And he intentionally blinded the cathedral’s It­alian architect, saying he wanted to ensure that its beautiful de­sign could nev­er be replic­at­ed el­sewhere.  I am not surprised that later, when he died, Ivan was interred elsewhere (at the nearby Archangel Cath­edral). His son became Tsar Feodor I in 1584.

8 of the 9 onion domes featured on St. Basil's Cathedral 
represented the 8 attacks on the Khanate of Kazan


The interior walls are meticulously painted with intricate floral designs and Christian motifs. Explore the very narrow labyrinth of corridors and tiny oratories.

Survival was a fickle issue. The 1812 Fire of Moscow broke out when Rus­sian troops and residents abandoned the city, just as the Napol­eonic troops entered the city. The fire all but destroyed the city, yet St Basil Cathedral was spared! Even Napoleon’s specific order to his troops to blow up the cathedral failed; the fuses lit by the Frenchmen were snuffed by sudden rain. Perhaps Napoleon, real­ising he could not count St Basil's Cathedral among his war spoils, had a hissy fit and demanded it destroyed. Or perhaps the Moscow cathedral offended Napoleon’s architectural taste.

The cathedral’s exterior colour was originally white, to match the Kremlin’s white stone. St­arting in the C17th, the façade be­gan to be paint­ed in the bright colours that are still seen to­day. The colourful ext­erior of the cathedral is constantly maintained by fresh coats of paint.

Moscow’s large open Red Square market area had been the geog­raph­ic centre of Russian life since the C15th. Red Square cover­ed an area of 800,000 sq feet, housing the historic government Kremlin building at its western end. Some beautiful cathedrals were located in Cathedral Square, while other historic sites in Red Square included the State Historical Museum and Lenin’s Tomb.

After Lenin's death in Jan 1924, Stalin grabbed pow­er. St Basil’s became a secular tour­ist attraction, used as a mus­eum. But the church became an obstacle for Stalin’s plans to open up Red Square for political power displays. In 1933, the cathed­ral was deleted from the heritage reg­is­ter. Architect Pitor Baran­ovsky was summoned to do the last survey of the church sched­uled for dem­ol­it­ion, and was then gaoled for refusing to destroy the Cathedral as inst­ructed. By 1937 even brutal Stalin admitted that the church had to be saved.

Red Square in the snow

Only since the Soviet Union ended in 1990 have occasional church ser­vices been held in this cathedral. The Kremlin, cathedral and Red Square were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990. However St Basil’s Cathedral is neither the city’s main cathedral, nor the headquarters of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow.





10 December 2019

Ocean Liners exhibition: great speed and stunning style

I am passionate about two aspects of early C20th history: ocean liners and Art Deco. In 2018, a V&A exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed & Style had my name all over it. It rekindled the era’s gorgeous Art Deco glam­our of ocean liners.

Speed & Style was the first international exhibition devoted ocean liners; strange, given that maritime disasters, public romances and the bright poster art of shipping companies have been part of popular culture for decades. In their Inter-War heyday, rival Brit­ish, French, German and Italian ships dashed across the Atl­antic.

As the largest machines of their age by far, ocean liners became powerful symbols of progress and modernity. No other form of trans­port was so romantic, so impressive. From the late C19th to the mid C20th, the ocean liner revolut­ionised ocean travel. So the exhibition wanted to explore the design and cultur­al impact of the ocean liners.

Model of the Queen Elizabeth
5 ms long

Beginning with Isambard Kingdom Brunel's steamship, the Great East­ern ship of 1859, the exhibition traced ocean liner design - from the Beaux-Arts interiors of Kronprinz Wilhelm, Titanic and its sister ship, Olympic, to the floating Art Deco palaces of Queen Mary and Normandie, and the streamlined SS United States & QE2. It examined all aspects of these ships' design, from innovative engineering and fashionable interiors, to the lifestyle on board. Plus it examined the impact on art, architecture, design and film.

The exhibition displayed the golden age of ocean travel with 250+ objects eg film clips, publicity posters, branded crockery, haute couture dresses and luxury luggage. Children loved the engine-room telegraph made of teak and brass that the P&O ship Canberra installed in its nursery, and the small captain’s wheel.

Especially clothes! The exhibition showcased one of the most imp­ortant flapper dresses in V&A's collection, Jeanne Lan­v­in's Salambo dress, displayed at my all-time favourite Exp­os­ition Internat­ionale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. Also the Christian Dior suit worn by Marlene Dietrich as she arrived in New York aboard the Queen Mary in 1950. And there was a handsome Lucien Lelong couture gown worn for the Norman­d­ie’s maiden voyage in 1935.

Maison Goyard luggage and Dior suit, 1950 


Publicity posters
from shipping companies

A precious Cartier tiara, recovered from the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915, was beautiful, as was a lacquered wall from the Smoking Room of the French lin­er, Normandie, and  Stanley Spencer's painting The Riv­eters from the 1941 series "Shipbuilding on the Clyde". The display also feat­ured works by Modernist artists, designers and architects inspired by liners including Le Corbusier – and revealed the largely forg­ot­ten history of leading artists and designers who contributed to their design eg William De Morgan and Richard Riemerschmid. Be still my beating heart!

The 5 ms-high lacquered gold panel was part of the art deco int­erior on the French ship Normandie and was loan­ed to the V&A from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. It was 5 ms high and was the lat­est expression of French luxury design.

A golden wall panel from The Normandie, 
1935, 5 ms high


Decorated doors, panels and furniture
The SS France, 1912

Speaking more architecturally, the Ocean Liners exhibition explored how the structures on board changed as the requirements of new markets shifted attitudes, as well as the democratisation of travel and development of leisure activities in the C20th. It also considered the shrewd promotional strategies used by shipping companies to re­position the on-board experience, as emigration gave way to asp­ir­at­ional travel, and highlighted the political shifts and the int­ernational rivalry that developed over 100 years, as liners became floating national showcases.

No wonder the objects being displayed were expensive. Curator Ghislaine Wood said the Normandie, which travelled between Le Havre and New York in the 1930s, was “luxury beyond the means of most people. A ticket for two passengers on the Normandie in 1935 was about £17,000 in today’s money”. Unsurprisingly, the 1st class decks were full of royals, actors, society beauties and magnates.

It was less luxurious in the lower decks. More cramped and less decorated, few migrants would have described their experience as attractive. And yet, far more than the stained-glass ceilings, libraries and string quartets on the upper decks, the ships on which the migrants sailed were actually very well designed both for speed and heavy seas. A 22ft-long model of the Queen Elizabeth revealed how proud the liner’s owners were of its pleasing form: creat­ed in 1940 to stand in the window of Cun­ard’s Broadway offic­es. And an entire wall was given over to a rippling blue sea, crossed by a series of computer-generated liners trailing smoke from their funnels. The exhibition care­fully remembered the tech­nology that made this poss­ible, and the 1.4 million European migrants who left for the New World in 1913 on which the trade’s profits were originally founded.

The exhibition was a cooperative work between the V & A and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Mass; it then moved to the Scottish V&A in Dundee. The project was sponsored by Viking Cruises.

The QE2, built to cross the Atlantic in wint­er, was among the last of the big ships shaped by design traditions rooted in the late C19th. So now the old ocean liner is remembered only via modern culture, literature and films. They demonstrate how nostalgia for the great Floating Palaces of the past can still be felt today.


Fans might like to order a beautiful book that accompanied the V & A exhibition, written by Daniel Finamore (2018).







07 December 2019

A very surreal Salvador Dali and a very dodgy Belgian art dealer

With his trademark wax moustache and pleasure from giving lect­ures in bizarre settings, Salvador Dali (1904–89) thrived on court­ing con­t­roversy and enjoyed a wildly eccentric lifestyle. Throughout his life, his detractors said the man was more concerned with cul­tiv­ating his own avant-garde im­age than the quality of his artistic output. Friends staunchly defended the Spanish painter, say­ing that he simply lived his brand of surrealism as much as he painted it.

Three Dali films were written, revealing just how much Hollywood loved Dali stories decades after the painter’s death. The first film to appear was Little Ashes (2008), a biography star­ring Rob­ert Pattison about Dali’s avant-garde teen years in 1920s Madrid. The film centred around his sexually ambiguous friendships with the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca and aspiring filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

The 2nd film, Dali, was to be directed by British film-maker Sim­on West, and to star Antonio Banderas as Dali, with Catherine Zeta-Jon­es as his hot wife Gala. It would explore how the painter conqu­er­­ed America and the world with sex, sin and sur­realism, only to succumb later to world wide scandal and misfortune. But was the film produced?

The third and most cont­roversial film, Dali & I: The Surreal Story, came from a 2008 book by little known Belgian art dealer, Stan Lauryssens (born 1946).  His book alleged that most of Dali’s works were faked and were done so with the artist’s approv­al. This sent shock waves through an art world which was long used to str­an­ge Dali stories.

Dali & I: The Surreal Story, 2008 
by Stan Lauryssens 

In Spain, where Dali was a national hero, Lauryssens’ book caus­ed outrage. This was apparently because A] Lauryssens portrayed the art­ist and his wife Gala as two insatiably charged lovers who reg­ul­arly sh­ared in orgies with famous actresses. But I wasn’t sure about the out­rage - rather I thought the Spanish would semi-admire Dali’s exotic sex life. B] Lauryssens told how he sold thousands of fake Dali paintings and how Dali approved of the fake-Dali indus­t­ry

The Salvador Dali Foundation, which controls Dali’s estate, vig­or­ously denied many of the claims made in the “Dali & I” book, and threatened to sue Lauryssens. When the book, which has been transl­ated into 33 lang­uages, was released in Spain, the Foundation said: The contents of “Dali & I” lack the most minimal credib­ility and were only part of a promotional campaign for the book and the film. Of course Hollywood was going to be attracted to this shock­ing book!

Long before he entered the fake art world, Lau­r­yssens had been inv­olved in many other dodgy activit­ies. He later moved into journalism where he pretended to interview a host of Hollywood celebrities for a Belgian magazine. In 2 years he had fake-inter­viewed every major Hollywood star, including Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.

In 1972 Lauryssens turned his attention to Salvador Dali. He made up a great story about how Dali and Walt Disney were working on a cart­oon together. That story caught the attention of a shady investment group in Belgium who assumed Lauryssens was a Dali expert and hired him as a fine art dealer. So, at just 25, Lauryssens found himself flying around Europe buying up Dali paintings, despite having no prior experience in the world of fine art.

Lauryssens thought that some Dali’s less popular stuff was dis­taste­ful to look at, so it was very hard to find buyers. Eventually he was introduced to some of Dali’s entourage who said the best mon­­ey could be made in selling fakes because they were the items that tended to have his most popular elements, like the melting clocks. The more he indulged in fake Dali works, the more Laurys­sens uncov­ered a world where fake prints, sculptures and litho­gr­aphs were created by the people closest to Dali. In fact probably 75% of all the works attributed to Dali were not done by him.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Salvador Dali was able to churn out thousands of artistic pieces - paintings, scul­ptures, prints, lithographs and photographs. And from the 1960s on, the fakes were clear­ly with the painter’s alleged approval since Dali needed a truckload of cash each month to fund his lavish lifestyle. In any case, Dali readily admitted he had made enormous sums of money by signing hundreds of quick sketches and lithographs which would then sell for huge profits.

Persistence of Memory, 1931 
by Salvador Dali 
a surrealistic image of melting pocket watches, at MoMA

Dali himself was an enormous fan of film which he believed was a superb medium for surrealist art. He didn’t create films him­self, but he contributed to other peo­ples’ surrealist film-making from 1930 on. Dali coll­ab­orated with Alfred Hitchcock to produce the famous dream sequence in his 1945 thriller Spellbound. Hitchcock called on Dali to use his surrealist vision to build a bizarre set that could re­­present a dream. A 1946 collaboration with Walt Disney was aban­d­oned only 3 months into production, after Disney ended the pro­ject. "Destino" was only resurrected and redone by Disney’s nephew, Roy, and a team of French animators in 2003, long after both Disney and Dali had died!

In the early 1980s, before his prison stint, Lauryssens moved next to Dali in his seaside villa in Catalonia. The dealer said that Dali had lost his hair, his stomach was swol­l­en and his limbs shaking. It was all a far cry from the flashy show­­man. 

Lauryssens was finally tracked down by Interpol in the late 1980s and served two years in gaol for selling forgeries. He did not deny his part in the art crimes. And in the end, Lauryssens made and lost millions in modern art, selling Salvador Dalí fakes.

Yet the surrealist's work must have been a hot commodity for shady businessmen, looking to launder their cash. After all, when Dali died from heart failure in 1989, his estate was worth a huge $87m!








03 December 2019

First registered nurse in the world. Yay New Zealand!

In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation on earth to enfranchise its female citizens. Now for another New Zealand first.

New Zealander Ellen Dougherty was born at Cutters Bay, Marlborough in 1844. Her father had been a whaler before estab­lish­ing a whaling station at Port Underwood in Marlborough Sounds. Then the family moved to Wellington where dad was ap­pointed harbour pilot. They lived in the pilot-house at Palm­er Head near Lyall Bay, where Ellen and the other children spent their time in boats and expl­oring the bush on horseback. Education was home-based.

After her father's death in 1857, Ellen and siblings were raised by their mother, who opened a boarding house in Wellington. Ellen worked first in a Wellington pharmacy and then, from 1885, she worked at the Wellington District Hospital. She completed a cert­if­ic­ate in nursing in 1887, studied elementary anatomy and physiol­ogy, and became head of the hospital's accident ward.

In 1893 Ellen became matron of Palmerston North Hospital. On arrival she found very little money av­ailable for providing bas­ic materials for the hospital. Her priority was to ensure a suf­fic­ient supply of linen because, pre-antibiotics, hospitals req­uired clean linen to help prevent infection.

Matron and nurses outside Palmerston North hospital c1900.
Photo credit: Pressreader


Matron Ellen Dougherty had the assistance of two nursing staff, whom she brought from Wellington, and two part-time med­ical off­icers. The nurses worked demanding 12-hour shifts and more, because Palmerston North was then a centre for the North Island's main trunk railway line, for bush-clearing and for saw-milling. Accid­ents were common and doctors were not always avail­able. So Dough­erty had to set broken limbs, dress wounds and even amp­utate limbs. And she ran the hospital's dispensary at all hours.

In 1899 she was formally registered as a pharmacist.

At her retire­ment in 1908, Palmerston North's hospital had grown to twice its original size when she had first become the chief admin­is­t­rator. A single lady, Ellen Dougherty retired to Carterton to be near members of her family. She died there in 1919.

So my biggest question is “why did a hardworking but ordinary nurse like Ellen Dougherty become so famous”? I would have expected Britain under Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) to be the first nat­ion to register nurses, but Nightingale strongly opposed state registration because:

1. nurses in the late 1880s and 1890s were not educated well enough to be registered as a profession.

2. the proponents of state registration wanted to exclude working-class nurses, in order to make nursing a profession for ladies only. Nightingale wanted competent working-class women.

3. Registration proponents did not distinguish adequately between medicine and nursing

4. the state registration proposal for registration was inadequate and

5. she disliked the dishonesty and lack of profess­ion­al ethics expressed by the campaign's leaders.

The training of nurses in New Zealand had also been rather ad hoc. During the 1880s some hospitals began to offer training and acc­omm­odation on-site, to attract more respectable women into nurs­ing. As more women entered the profession, there was increased demand for improved conditions for both nurses and their patients.

Ellen Dougherty, c1895
matron of Palmerston North Hospital

A major advocate for professional nursing in New Zealand was Grace Neill. This Scottish woman had been trained in nursing in Charing Cross Hospital London, then emigrated to Aust­ralia and later New Zealand. For a number of years, Mrs Neill trav­elled around New Zealand visiting hospitals, but transport was poor and communities were isolated. Standards were so variable that Mrs Neill strongly recommended standardised training services.

Grace Neill was made Assistant Inspector in the Department of Asyl­ums and Hosp­it­als from 1895 on. In 1899, she spoke at the congress of the International Coun­cil of Women in London, calling for a national system of regist­er­ing trained nurses. Those who passed a final exam after undergoing training could then be regist­ered.

After 2 years of camp­aign­ing, the Nurses Registration Act 1901 was enacted, followed by introduction of State Examination throughout the country. Mrs Neill had drafted the necessary regulations, defined the curriculum and appointed the examiners.

Thus New Zealand became the first country to have formal legislat­ion for the registration and regulation of nurses. As in all New Zealand acts requiring professional registration, the grand­father clause allowed registration of any nurse with 4+ years experience.

In Jan 1902, Ellen Dougherty was the first nurse in the world to be formally registered!

Nurses were trained in a 3-year training scheme in hospitals, and sat an examination at the end. Successful candidates were reg­is­tered. Nursing became more specialised; women could train as a general nurse, psychiatric nurse or nurse who specialised in intellectual disabilities.

Until 1904 most midwives received no formal training. Government concern about high maternal and infant mortality rates led to the Midwives Act 1904. Soon midwives were trained at seven St Helens hospitals throughout New Zealand.